My Dream Book

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Yuri Gagarin

Last night I tried to make an order in a Russian restaurant. I entered a room on the second floor. The waiter who took orders at the counter separating the dining room from the dressing room (crowded by customers) looked like someone famous although I could not remember who exactly that was. Apparently, he did not want to take my order. He said to me that I should choose something from the menu, and do not “give him shit”. I told him that I did not give him shit but read directly from the menu and turned the brightly colored page right to his face so that he could understand me better. The line I am pointing at says (in English) something about the “steak a la Stroganoff”. True it is all in English but this is their menu so he should know what it means even if he does not understand English. Then I turn the menu back to myself and see that while I explained to him what I wanted, the time was wasted and sure the line had changed, or perhaps I had misread it from the very beginning, and the “steak a la Stroganoff” has been replaced with the “spike a la Gagarin” (must be something vegetarian). I am confused, probably I should go outside and take a good look at the menu posted at the entrance door.

I put on my coat and walked out but very soon came back apparently having made up my mind. Really, I cannot just walk out like that with my hair totally messy. The hell with the steak, let it be the “spike”. Also a pretty fashionable haircut it is. I nodded at the man, and he responded with a big smile and started moving toward me. However, as it turned out, he was smiling at a different person in the crowd, apparently his regular client: an old friend of my wife’s family, who had been reported missing long time ago. People said he probably had died of alcoholism. And here he is, the same as before, wearing a nice coat and even a scarf, just his hair had grown a bit too long partially covering his ears and the scarf. He says he does not want to get his haircut here, but would like to invite the hairdresser to go with him, or rather with them, because he is “with the family.” He presents his family to us, as he speaks - two companions whose faces had witnessed heavy drinking, and are clearly in need of a haircut, and maybe more than just a haircut. They also look like someone I had met before: twin-brothers in their early twenties, both tall and disoriented, a living incarnation of “fatherlessness”. All the “family” is drunk, revealing few iron teeth through their grins.

The hairdresser is responding with a cordial smile as he approaches them. Without changing the smile on his face he deceives both rascals by a clever move: he grabs them by their front hair and makes them turn around quickly like soldiers do in the army. He forces them to make an about turn without losing their balance and sends them outdoors with a single kick. Then he notices me still trying to get his attention (though I do not have the menu in my hand anymore) and addresses me in a soft voice suggesting, let’s try a sporty haircut. Judging by my outfit it will be just right. I immediately agree, as arguing with him would be unreasonable after the decisive actions he has just shown. I say yes, let us cut my hair short, and presently he leads me into the room, apparently, where the armchairs are. Says he, now we’ll cut your hair a la Yuri Gagarin (our first cosmonaut and a national icon). I suddenly realize what I should have known all the time, as it is quite obvious: the hairdresser is Yuri Gagarin himself, and I look like Yuri Gagarin too, even before my hair was cut. We look as much alike, as two drops of water. I follow the hairdresser thinking how much I am in love with our people and our wonderful ways of life! With such positive thoughts I wake up … in America.

“An interesting dream,” I thought, “I should write it down until it evaporated from my mind.” It’s not very clear, though what does Yuri Gagarin have to do with all that? And what does “our ways of life” really mean? While I was writing it down, it suddenly popped up in my memory.

At one time my mother had a half-crazy childhood friend who also lived in our apartment complex. The apartments were built by the State to accommodate “Scholarly people”, and it was not entirely clear who in their family went by as “scholarly”. She had as her dependents two lanky troubled sons-a living embodiment of “fatherlessness”, and her elderly mother-an invalid of some category, already over 80 years of age (pretty unusual age in our country), whom I had never met in person. The old woman sometimes called my mother on the phone (my mother was adored by the squalid, crazy, elderly and those disabled by other causes), but once when she called I picked up the phone and chatted with me for a while, and after that she called me again. Apparently, she was bored sitting there alone watching her TV, as her grandsons felt squeamish about her and shied away from her. She told me that by the sound of my voice she had right away recognized me as a half-angel who must have landed upon our sinful earth from heaven. “Sometimes I imagine you look just like Yuri Gagarin, and sometimes as if not Yuri, but ....”, then she gave it a thought and I felt on the phone as her decrepit lips were moving, as if grabbing me over the edge of my ear, “... Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Yesenin.” I imagined her as an old tortoise from a cartoon. She often repeated: “You know, I love our Soviet ways so much, for is not it true that we are destined to live in such happy and wonderful times !?” However, she did not demand an answer to her question.

Then we had the “perestroika” that led us into dashing 90′s, her grandsons grew up, and one of them even got involved in some sort of business, though not entirely successfully. Once, in the middle of the day, they rang at their door, his mother opened the door and two guys burst in, their heads covered with masks. While one of the guys was holding the woman, the other one shuffled into the room of her son, the one who was engaged in business, and a muffled sound was heard, as if someone had opened a bottle of Champaign, … and that was all that his mother had remembered. My mother told me about this in a calm sorrowful tone, as if it could not be otherwise, and I imagined the scene as if I was there. I hope that their grandmother did not survive to witness these new “ways of life.” And Yuri Gagarin was gone just in time ...

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