Russian Literature Short Story
In the interest of just putting down content, I’m dropping in a shameless plug on a story I wrote freshman year second semester in my Russian classics course for Ungurianu. It’s a rip-off of Gogol’s Diary of a Mad Man, and I make some painfully obvious philosophical references to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I could edit it right now and make it much better. But the reason it entertains me so much is that I wrote almost the entirety of it while very drunk, so instead of trying to make it better I’d rather leave it, flawed as it is, as testament to my ability to write something while hammered at UPC.
September 14th. Today, the strangest thing occurred. I was late to class again! You know how alarm clocks are. One day they work, the next they decide not to, one day I wake up, the next I smack the alarm silent and go to sleep, telling myself just a minute more, every minute for an hour, two hours, until I have stayed in bed all day. It was 11:05, and my class begins at 11. I jumped up and fed my hamsters Pushkin and Lermontov – though Lermontov may be female, and that name may not be apt. They are good hamsters, strong and proud. They spin in their cage all day, as resolute as Huns on the march. If the President of Jewett were to enter my room and see such hamsters, he would exclaim, “What hamsters! They are like God’s come to life! I would give my wife and children for such magnificent hamsters!” yet I would not trade them for the world, they are so great. They may bite when bothered, but that was in their nature. They were models of excellence.
I put the TV on and ran to class. I was late to my Greek class. Ten minutes late. Why would anyone care? What is ten minutes out of an hour? What is ten minutes of my life? Was I wasting his time? No, I was wasting my own. Who cares if I lose ten minutes of my life to sleep and feed hamsters? I don’t. I’m not even sure what ten minutes is. It is so trivial, so meaningless, but clearly not to him. He glared at me. “Late again, student? Pass in your declension sheet.” “Here is my declension sheet sir. I hope it meets to your satisfaction.” He was a stickler for declensions. He had his method, I had my own, and unfortunately they were not similar. He thought he was the best teacher ever, and his way to decline verbs was the only way! It must go first person singular down the page to 2nd person plural. I liked to write the singular on one side and the plural across from it, lining up the persons. He did not approve, and I did not perform well. But I would not change. No, I would not sacrifice my principles for a grade, for the sake of some arbitrary letter on a piece of paper. Does he not know that I am as capable of declining a noun as the rest of them? That he is no better than me!
What does he have, besides a piece of paper signifying graduation with the name of an institution on it, proclaiming his worth? And yet… That institution. Yale. Storied Yale. Land of a thousand splendid students, a shining temple of academia, the glorious home of the finest in the land. I would give to be among their number, would decline correctly, would do anything. I had called Yale once, their admissions office, when applying. Had heard the ring-tone associated with its hallowed ground, had listened to the melodious voice of that paragon of schools, “Hello? Are you a prospective student?” I did not have the strength to talk to them, to hear their words of thunder and might. I wanted to shout “admit me! let me in! But if you must, if it is destiny for me to be denied entry, strike me down! Strike my application down with the strength of a thousand drunken dwarves, the fury of a thousand enraged admissions staffers, insulted by the idea of one such as myself applying, but do it yourself! Let me find comfort in the dealings of your own hand, painful as they may be, rather than allowing a lackey the honor.”
Instead, I replied “No. Ma’am. Wrong number.” And hung up, ashamed, struck down by the weight of my own folly, as if I could get into Yale, as if I was among those storied few, me, lame The Leach, of the 14100 SAT score and the 3.5 GPA… I was not worthy.
School was torture. Class was torture. I returned to my room. The hamsters were watching. Writing little notes to each other. I could see them, with their little pens, paws busy, scribbling away. They were smart, Pushkin and Lermontov. I took their scraps away, and read, determined to learn from them. “The Leach is crazy.” Lermontov had written. “All humans are crazy. I do not even understand where we are. What is this ‘College,’ which he is partaking in? He lives here for four years. Almost all of these students, these children, do it. They live in these brick buildings, and attend talks given by learned men. Sleep amongst their own filth. Eat bad food, exhaust themselves, go to bed late and wake up late. From dawn ‘till dusk, nothing but listen to men who are smart talk and read books by smart men. They tap their fingers away on small keys for hours on end. On certain nights, perhaps when they have had enough of their tapping and lectures, they set up tables with red cups on them, pour some colorful liquid out of small aluminum cans into them, and throw small bouncing balls at them. They act merry and drink for hours, but when two nights have passed thus they work hard again. They are a strange people.” “Let them do what they want.” Pushkin wrote. “They are young and stupid. My concern is more pressing. I do not think much of our master. He gives us poor food. He drinks too much and does poorly on his homework, but dreams of attending Yale. How could he get into Yale, fool that he is? And he shouts names like Pushkin and Lermontov at us. Am I not named Shakespeare, after my father, and are you not named Voltaire, after your own? Where has he dreamt up these falsehoods? What a fool he is.”
I read with a mixture of anger and awe. Their prose was lovely, far beyond the skill of my English teacher, these hamsters had much the better of him! But their names… Who are they to name themselves? They are hamsters! I am a student, a 22 year-old sophomore. A man among boys, I should be their God. Who are they to insult me so? What would Yale students do in response to this insult? I did not know, but I knew they would not stand for it. Who cares if I am a poor student? And what do hamsters know of scholarship? Nothing. They know nothing. What right do they have to insult my poor scholarship? What is a scholarly person anyways, a Yale student? But he is just a man. What differentiates me from these other men? Do they not brush their teeth at night and go to bed in the morning, breathe in and breathe out? What makes me a Rasavs student? Perhaps I am truly a Yale student in disguise, perhaps I am no more a Rasavs student than those hamsters? Many men have begun their lives as one thing and ended up as another. Perhaps I am one such man. What have I done to make me a Rasavs student, and precisely why am I one?
My friend Jake came in the evening. He cut a horrid figure. His skin was a pale yellow, his eyes adorned with the deep bags of those not accustomed to sleep. “The Leach!” he cried. “I am a wretched man, a terrible student! I have four papers due tomorrow! They are all research papers, all will require many days to complete, and they are due tomorrow! I have known of them for months, but waited, painstakingly waited, until this moment, to begin.”
“What for, Jake!” I cried. “You have one night! You have no time! Four papers? This is torment! I cannot write one in a week and you must write four in one night, it is impossible.”
“Impossible it may be, but you understand? You see what torment I am in? You see how I suffer now? Look at me! I have not slept in two days, nor have I eaten. Nature has given me deadlines, it tells me I must write my papers, the work must be done, that 3+3 = 6 and that I must comply; to not do so would be to fail. What do I care if I fail? What is failure besides an ‘F’, a letter on a piece of paper? What if these natural laws, this decree to write my papers is not to my liking? What are deadlines, who are they to make me write what they wish when they wish it? These papers are my wall, they are nature, and I refuse to recognize their power over me. I spit on your deadlines, teachers!”
“How can you say this?” I asked in horror. These are your teachers, they are wiser… This is rebellion. You cannot do this” I said softly, dropping my eyes, humbled by the depths of his thoughts.
“They are not my law, I do as I wish. You see how I am now? My soul is tormented; this assault on my teachers’ will is killing me. It is unnatural, what I am doing – how can I not do my work? But see me now, am I not happy? Is my voice not stronger than ever? The enormity of these papers and the suffering I have allowed them to induce crushes me, but I am exultant. Everyone can see this work that I must do that I am not doing. I may suffer, I may fail, I may never get into medical school and may never make the money I need to make to secure my future, indeed may never even have a future because of my choices this night and these past weeks, but what pleasure there is in these thoughts! People know, they see the torment of my soul and say ‘Jake, you have lots of work that you are not doing! How can you live!’ and I say ‘it is nothing to me, the work. I will survive, I always do.’ And they walk away saying, ‘that Jake, what an upright and strong young man. He will survive, he always does. Nothing can bring him down.’ Their pity and love, their knowledge of my suffering is worth more to me than all of the papers in the world. These teachers may attempt to defeat me with their implacable wall of grades and future and what we ‘must do’ and I will not have it, I will not!”
I embraced him. “Do this then. Fail your classes. Be happy. I don’t understand where you developed this twisted sense of schoolwork and nature but it is important to you and I will never allow it to come between us.”
“I knew you would understand. You always understand. I must leave you now.” We embraced again, and he left, his back arched under the weight of his work, but soul upright with the triumph of one who knows that 3+3=7, and that nature can be defeated and our own souls justified in the defeating of it. He left, and I turned away. The TV was on, the news was showing. A Yale student had been dismissed. One of their hallowed students was no longer there. Wouldn’t he be missed? How could they lose a student? Surely they must find another soon. I went to sleep. As I lay there, waiting for sleep, I was humbled by Yale’s problems. Indeed, I didn’t even truly understand them. How could a school be absent a student? They say the spot does not have to be filled, but how? For every spot there must be a man. There must be a Yale student somewhere, waiting to assume his place. Perhaps he has been forced away for some reason, a corrupt administration, a drug problem, or just something.
September, Kekaw Kekaw.
The next morning, the most extraordinary thing happened. The news was on again, the Yale position was still open. I am that missing student. I only just learned it now that I truly opened my eyes, it hit me suddenly, as a moose who is loping smoothly through the woods jumps out into the open to be hit suddenly by a speeding SUV, so was I hit. I went to my classes for the day, determined to give all of Rasavs another day to bathe in my glory, to see for themselves a true Yale student. I went to the registrar to pick classes, partly in jest, partly to spite the school, who would be calculating classes for a student who wouldn’t be going. As I was waiting, the murmers began. The children beside me were growing ecstatic, for Lisa Kudrow was here! I did not twitch. Who is Lisa Kudrow that I should grow excited at her approach? She is not an actor, she is a plate. An ordinary plate, a plate from ACDC. Nothing more. She walked past, and I nodded at her, as one nods to an equal, as I imagine all Yale students nod at all celebrities.
October in the Age of Titans
I have given Rasavs my last week, allowed them time to bask in my genius. Now I must go, to fulfill my destiny. I walked out of the school, to Main circle, and hailed a cab. “To Yale!” I said, and we went to Yale. When I arrived I immediately announced myself to the administration. “I am here. Your student is here.” They feigned confusion, and when I refused to leave or ‘explain what I’m talking about’ they called the police. It is ok, it is a custom, I understand. All Yale students must go through this. I allow the blue-clad man to take me.
December, Year of the Squid
It has been a week. They are not kind, but they are rough to all children of Yale, I understand this. I know this. But still, it seems ridiculous. Why have they not put an end to it yet? It seems so unnecessary. What folly of these Yale students, to allow such an archaic initiation ceremony. I am sure that they will let me out soon, to rejoin my brethren. Pushkin and Lermontov have not been fed in over a week. I hope they are dead. They are mighty hamsters, but they are wicked, and an insulted Yale student must have his vengeance.
March, April, May
They used to question me incessantly – “who are you! Where do you come from?” I ignored them. Now they ignore me. Sometimes they beat me. I am tired and hungry. I have discovered that Oxford is not real: in fact it was never real. I should write Cambridge, they could press their assault on the rankings if only they knew their enemy was an illusion. But I cannot reach them.
Day of the Leopard and of the Hen, 1845
I have found them out, it is a trick. The guardsman wears a Harvard ring. He is the enemy, I know it. But I fear Yale has forgotten me. They have made no contact, I fear that Harvard has the better of them, and that I will not last any longer.
83rd of Janvier
No one cares for me. I am weak and I fear that I am dying. I see Rasavs, it’s trees, it’s library, Main Building. They are in the distance, and I am here. Jake has crumbled under his workload. The hamsters have taken my room for their own, they have begun a family, they plan their assault on Noyes from my own room and I cannot stop them. Take me home, cab driver. I must save Noyes. No! They are moving too quickly! We must halt them! … Were you aware that Tolkien had first-hand knowledge of Hobbits, having visited Bag-end as a child?
This episode occurred at Rasavs College in the autumn of last year. It seems now to be based on nothing. Harvard does not imprison Yale students out of spite, nor does it have control over the prisons in Connecticut. More importantly, everyone knows the proper method of declension, and so there is no reason for the student in question to decline nouns in his own fashion, it just makes no sense. It is further known that no college student would ever wait until the last night before it was due to write one paper, let alone four. Yet most importantly, why would hamsters attack Noyes? Everyone knows that Lathrop is far more amenable to the needs of hamsters. But perhaps the idea of paramount importance is why would anyone ever write something like this? It is nonsensical, irreverent, and above all, completely useless. And yet… people have gone crazy before. And we do not know the secret lives of hamsters; perhaps they can read. And if we allow for that, why can’t we allow for The Leach to be accepted to Yale? After all, transferring into colleges is not difficult. After that, more things become possible. Is this story any less believable than any others? Perhaps it could happen. Not often, obviously, but there is always the chance that it could happen.