I was first drawn to this little book, I admit, by it's cover art. Intrigued I clicked on it, and hey, it was free. I...more
Girl from Baku (Девочка из Ваку)
I was first drawn to this little book, I admit, by it's cover art. Intrigued I clicked on it, and hey, it was free. I've been known to check out works with less going for it than the above, so, having nothing to lose, I hit "download now." I'm so glad I did. Russell Bittner writes with an original flair that appeals to me. I liked the way the book was structured, in small paragraphs throughout, from one to about twenty lines, broken up by spaces of white. It's meant to be read rythmically, poetically, indeed he starts us off with a poem, a hint of the voice to come.
I once idly wandered the wharfs of New York, like Charles L. Dodgson, but hunting for snork, and found there a girl set to pass on review: a cunningly shrewd parvenue.
I curtailed my search on a quay in Paree for some lass du jour (but who’d toujours love me); instead, vowed to wow this m’moiselle from Baku who’d love me till death us undo.
She sent me away—a degenerate jerk— to diddle with donkeys in dingy Dunkirk, or else, to get clued in on ewes from Baku, who do it with didgeridoo.
And so from Москва, where I’d spied in a spa a Riga-rous sprout in a sporty red bra, I sent the news home to my girl from Baku, who sniffed, then pronounced it ‘taboo.’
I next found a floozie in boozie Berlin. “Just try her!” I said with a lewd little grin. “Refreshingly hip!” quipped my girl from Baku, not knowing that I’d had her, too.
I then stroked the id of a kid from Madrid, who’d offered me bulls as baksheesh for my bid to find him a strumpety girl from Baku as fetching as my Guinea Pooh.
I last hooked some kink in the heart of Helsink’— a pert pair who plied me with VSOPink. I flung both Finns out for my girl from Baku… who showed me the door with “Fuck you!”
The book itself, Bittner claims is a memoir of sorts. It may very well be possible he had some kind of twisted relationship with this Bakuian Girl, which ended up on these pages, this fusion of lust, language and mystery:
"What? You think this girl from Baku got to be this girl from Baku by waiting around for someone to pick up the phone?
Before you can say ‘rickety-sprit,’ she’s out of her thong, between my sheets and, well, you get the picture.
When not writhing, we’re writing—our own saga right here between the sheets. And this scion of Paul Bunyon is chopping wood so furiously, calluses would grow on his thrifty member faster than kudzu on cypress were the chopping not all so lubriciously wet, warm and friction-free.
It is, in the end, all about energy. And even if the delta between static and kinetic in this instance is negligible, I’m beat. Exhausted, really, to the bone—and so slip away once again for a snooze. When I awake an hour later, she’s—you guessed it—gone."
Following the deluge of delights, it’s silence once again for two solid days. Not a word; not even a ring. In the meantime, my testosterone is bouncing. Add random, chaotic ricocheting off the wall to the forward, circular and elliptical motions of the planet, and I’m ready to fuck or kill anything that moves.
I wait, hover really, while she sips. “So,” I finally say. “What’s doing?” English idioms are not her forte I realize as she gazes back at me in stunned silence—and so I re-phrase. “Perhaps you could tell me what you have in mind. Perhaps you could make some sense of this, uh, relationship we have.”
I can see from her gaze now turning inward that some of my words are not striking up the band. Or maybe they are—but in the wrong key. In any case, I stand up; walk to my library; take out my English to Russian dictionary; blow off the dust of years’ neglect; walk back to my little glass house; sink to my seat. When in doubt—I think—consult. I have a hunch this particular book is about to become my new best friend. It will save us from pitfalls, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, maybe even asteroids and meteors of misunderstanding.
“I think relationship good for sex and language,” she says with the “r” in relationship sounding like the rumble of a real volcano. I don’t mind admitting, I also like her particular susurration of the letter “s” in sex. Who wouldn’t? But ‘good for language?’ What can she mean? I ask for clarification.
“I think you good for my language. For to improve my English.”
So that’s it. I’m to be her TESL boy-toy. Are there fates worse than death, and is this one of them? “Let me think about this for a while,” I say. “K?”
“Ничего,” she answers as she stands up, kicks off her sandals and slips out of her slinky.
It’s going to be another pleasant sunset, I’m thinking as I return the dictionary to its place on the shelf. Consultation concluded, the time to dally, I think, is done."
"Why doesn’t it surprise me that Girl from Baku has neither called nor shown her vigorous self in several days? I conclude it may finally be time to face facts and spring clean.
I’m still not certain I’ve got it right. What I distinctly do recall is the labor of pushing around nouns, subordinate verbs, adjectives, articles. Then of holding the whole tedious load aloft until I could finally get to the principal verb at the end of a sentence and know how to dispose of the lot. Before moving onto the next, that is. German, a manly-man’s language—and so, not for the weak of mind, the soft of heart. For that, there’s Russian—a man’s language, certainly, but the language of a man with two hearts, two souls, two tongues. In sum, a woman’s language with its soft sibilance, curvaceous letters, rumors and whispers between consonants and sheets. At this point, there remains nothing but the sheets.
En route to the corner Laundromat, I think back lasciviously to her thong—a sliver of a thing out of which she used to slink. Easily, quickly and with practiced hand. No muss, no fuss. But now? Now, that particular show ‘n’ tell is done, over and out.
“I like your panty-line,” I whisper. The back of Pink Patti’s neck turns from flaxen and flesh-colored to crimson. At lunch, I notice, Patti’s nowhere to be seen. Later that same afternoon, I catch sight of her standing in front of her locker. Same pink, but now over the camouflage of a slip, to the detriment of a soft panty-line. And so it’s my turn to blush. Not only then, but now. Funny how a blush can sometimes last a lifetime.
As can a scream—however silent, alone and in the desert."
"I decide to go for a walk in the park—and so, sludge through two blocks of subfusc gray and brown—the drub drab of Sunset Park asphalt and concrete—only to enter into a small, celebratory world of green.
Which may explain why women’s hems rise; neon glows brighter; timecards get trivial; and couples grow feckless, then reckless, then wreck on ridiculous shoals.
I think it’s fair to say I miss her."
"GfB called last evening out of the wild blue yonder. We traded trivia once again like a slow drip—until she fired up spoon and syringe. And then came the plunger.
“I went to Miami,” she says.
“Hmm,” I say, pretending not to notice the drip."
"Out of the motherfucking Mother’s Day blue, GfB calls and cuts immediately to the chase.
“Have you showered today?” she asks.
“Yes,” I answer truthfully, “this morning. And again about ten minutes ago,” I lie.
“I’m coming over.”
She comes. And arrives even before I’ve had a chance to wash the white off my little lie with a second shower.
A call from GfB? Hah! Not on your life!
What was I just saying about graphs and axes? Fuggetaboutit. Kisses obviously don’t even figure.
My world is the best of all possible worlds—and I mean no sarcasm, Master Pangloss."
"She didn’t come. She didn’t even call. C’est la vie; c’est GfB.
Last night when she called, I capitulated—and did what I swore to myself I’d never do. I begged. Begged her to come. I wanted to be close to something other than my own pillow."
The narrator, Bittner, is unhappy at work, while doing a job he loves. He is employed at a Garden Center and interspersed throughout the book are images reflective of his life, ones that he photographed himself. The ones of flora and fauna are quite beautiful, as is his prose regarding that aspect of his life.
"First day on the job—and I’m flying up, up and away with Ulnus, Ilex, Acer, Philadelphus, even Hypericum hookerianum. Guys who dream this shit up—pace Linneus—have got to be a tad touched. I’ve seen ‘Net ads for phone sex more subtle than “Hypericum hookerianum.” (“A vigorous 4-foot to 6-foot shrub so very free with its cupped flowers of a rich warm yellow.”) Or maybe, like me, they’re also feeling the lack of a GfB—and so, searching in their hearts, their minds, their lonesome loins and buttercups for a Betty Boop.
In today’s task, I’m merely a day-laborer—and grateful to be just that as I prepare beds for a fairy garden.
Deschampia (Fairy Grass); Primula veris (Cowslips primrose); Polemonium (Jacob’s Ladder); Disporum hookeri (Fairy Lantern). And, of course, Heliopsis (Sunglory), Coreopsis verticillata (Coreopsis ‘Golden Showers’!); and Campanula (Bellflower) in abundance for the fairy—however occasionally kinky the Coreopsis—in all of us. The visual and olfactory sensations this garden promises to one lucky little girl in White Plains put me in mind, once again, of GfB and of how—by her own admission—it was the smell of service stations that sometimes tweaked the needle of her meter with longing for the motherland. Baku: rife with refineries, gas basket to the world.
One woman’s tar pit is another’s fairy garden. And smells—whether of just-plucked rose petals, yesterday’s swamp gas, or the millions of years of ferns, lichens and mosses buried and pressure-cooked for millions more to stampede out of the sediment as oil—well, who’s to say what’s perfume to one and putrefaction to the other if each smell, in its peculiar way, brings them both back home?
I pause on the precipice. She doesn’t know this idiom, I think. If I had a tic, her answer would’ve toggled it into overdrive. I reflect further. Has she been snooping? Is Calliope (that double-timing bitch of a muse) switch-hitting on me in the night? What if GfB’s also scribbling some kind of “Malchik iz Brukleen?” Good thing, at least, I’d showered only minutes before each time we’d engaged. I like futzing around in the soil of flower-beds; I just don’t want to smell like a gardener in bed-beds.
If this job blows, I’ll likely blow with it. I’m just tired of feeling, when all is said and done, useless."
All that is great, like I said, it appeals to me in a linquistic kind of way, but as to the reality of the story, for me he shines in the passages relating to his children. When lines of ink come into full bloom that we can perceive as truth, the naked kind, then you have no choice but to say, "Well done."
"You are, grave girl, my daughter, and you, brave boy, my son. No writ shall write—however rote— that felicitous fact undone. From the first orgasmic token till the three of us lie dead, our thread shall not be broken, nor the rigor of it gainsaid. Your sperm are mine, re-booted; your egg, my alter-egg— no drop of which shall be denied unless you both renege. You’re a splash of my libido, a dash of my posthaste, a burst of brash albedo, élan vital to taste. You are, bright boy, my soldier, and you, sprite girl, my sun; so let the brace of you bestir the tale we’ve just begun.
“Oh, and kids… De mortuis, nil nisi bonum, however tempting. ‘K?”
Today, the kiddoes come to lunch. Spring break for them; dreary job search for me once again. I invite them over for popcorn shrimp and Gatorade—their favorite—in my little garden.
“An artist,” I tell her, “goes off in search of fame and fortune, only to first learn death and derision. Some come back with glory. Most, however, come back wearing sackcloth. It’s a fact, Jack.”
She looks at me and blinks. So young and tender-hearted. So unfair it is she has me for a daddy. However, I at least have the good sense not to let her read Bryson. She could do worse."
"My guy and I go for Japanese; it’s our ritual. Best little sushi-house in town right there in his Windsor Terrace ‘hood. He goes for Japanese the way oysters go for pearls: with something more than a shrug, something less than shoulders pumping like a camshaft. We talk baseball, school, chicks, and I realize—not for the first time—that I adore this little guy.
He asks whether we can stop the film mid-reel. I tell him “Sure. No problem.” And then, barely concealing tears, he asks me whether he can ask me something. In child-speak, I sense this means heavy. Confession. Something deep, personal, painful. Else, why the preamble? I take a deep breath. I have my own theories, of course—have had since the beginning."
"I like that. I like that he, at thirteen, may already have a better eye than I do, at fifty-four. I like that he risked showing them to me, which is always a bit daunting for a kid. But he did. And I told him: “Yours are better.”
I’d like both of my kids to become artists—whatever the cost, first to me for as long as I’m still around, then to them once Vera and I are both gone."
I've had several other of Bittner's shorts on my I-Pad for awhile. I plan to make a point of reading them soon to see how they compare with "Girl From Baku." This one is going on my favorites shelf. (less)
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