ON WORK


There's sunshine

The grass has cake crumbs on it

Our dark-eyed king sips Chardonnay

Behind his desk he sometimes kissed

A client he seduced and then betrayed

The wrong one he seduced and missed

At first her vengeance when he sent her to her death.


When I first came in August to that ambiguously titled company situated on the fifth floor of a run-down gray office structure that mostly housed some hydro-technical institute, it was my first job interview. I had shamelessly called and asked if they needed a translator, and was asked to show up. When I opened the door to that office in that muddy tower in northern Moscow, I did it so shyly that the Armenian sitting on the window-sill yelling at everyone (he that was Aram, as I found out momentarily when he was called) laughed that "no one bites around here except me, and I've already had lunch". Five minutes had passed after I said I was here for an interview and sat down, when he asked if I was not the translator. I sat and stared at a poster that said – . Fifteen minutes later I was lead into Andronik's office, who was listening to Gypsy Kings and dancing. Listened to me very seriously, both of them like that, hung noodles around my ears, and told me that I should learn to do the same, since I should not only translate, but look for clients as well. (Watch this- I didn't know it then: the role of an "office manager" is often given to young inexperienced girls, and they are to bring clients into the firm. At that time I had understood this additional role to be a little more prestigious and accordingly grew indecisive.) On the way to the bus stop Aram learned that I am also an artist, and brought be back to be hired as a designer-in-training as well as language consultant and manager. The next day I translated one page of text, which was supposed to cost me fifteen dollars or a hundred rubles, but got fifty and never saw the rest of it. I swear that in the month I came to work I never translated another thing, nor drew a single interior or poligraphic design, nor brought a single client to the firm, nor made another ruble. It happened once that an artist was needed to paint the walls of a nightclub in a very grotesque style, and for two days without sleep I was sitting in the office drawing sketches. When we went to that place on Monday- Andronik, Aram and I- the owner said everything was fine, but that he needed "something like Dali" and could only pay us in rubles at the current exchange rate, which devaluated by fifty percent the next day just as we predicted. They fed me, made me drink wine, took me to movies, joked with me, we hung out. Only after Aram Margaryan and Alexander Batchaev left and tried to start their own company was I able to introduce a client, betraying Andronik after Aram told me that it was in my own interests. It never worked- the designer we had who was supposed to design the business cards for twenty-five dollars never told us a thing, and did his job badly so that the long-promised brochure we were supposed to work on in February never happened. This is a strange, surreal memory for me, something that never really happened, consisting of too many details that all almost happened, but not quite- like the genre of the play Aram starred in yesterday, before we all drank vodka in someone's yard. Because the first time we drank together in the office, on my second or third day, I declared that I was a "muzhik" when Andronik asked me to wash the teacups. Since then, I was called Muzhik by all that were willing.


An accumulation of details grows as contradictory as the whole which each embodies with time: for some reason two nights ago I had set the easel so that the canvas mirrored my window. That night I had been working on Tanya's portrait, and later, in the club, I had wandered off the empty dance floor to self-consciously plant myself at the table and examine the placid new general director of the Design House (Lena, who had a sour face when Andronik emerged out from behind some car in a side-street two steps away from my house, and desperately cried "Muzhik!" when he saw me carrying a coconut and cilantro to a party where I should have never discussed Michael Joyce and system analysis). From cunning nostalgia I simply had to take a peek at the gray portfolio folder that might have revealed what that elusive old "new Russian" had been up to in the three months I hadn't heard a word about him and his deceased business. I took it up again- have it here- laminated by plastic, those old prints: the futuristic office drawn in 3-D Max, the heart unwinding into lace advertising shoes or something, and that's it- the wooden wine shelf manifested here, the same one I saw undergo a thousand transformations from marble to cherry, once rounded, once cubistical, me sitting next to Andronicus with an unfinished dirty teacup of vodka while Yaroslav lounging on the couch teased me for complaining about Aram who yelled at me from the main room for insulting his solitude while he played solitaire (they had that print taken to the client a thousand times before they finally came up with a good variant). I saw also, listing painfully, three examples of a chandelier, one with four cobras looking out in four directions with their backs to the source of light because that had been Aram's idea.


Good King Andronicus read Machiavelli during lunch

Unknowingly bound subjects by their blood

and by their toil and bread

and other aspects, used and then discarded


On that couch I once lay, but mostly Yaroslav fell into it drunk, to sleep it off every single night in the office where Alexander, Kristina, Aram and I once left him to drink beer by the garbage can between the closing market with its flapping plastic covers and drunk Ukrainian muzhiks after the crisis, and the subway station. He slept there every night until Andronik finally gave up that office for lack of money, and in debt... I remember our editor Valera telling me about it at another party where he got drunk after dancing the tango too candidly with Vera or Marina (she- my onion sorrow and mirroring sorrower)- how in the one month of working for some serious Tigran guy (perhaps the one Aram was talking to on the phone) Andronik made not a bloody devaluating ruble, until the roof of that Ceramic Tile company (I saw the print of the add for that too, sipping something orangy in the club) slid and the racketeers that collected from them, their proverbial "roof", demanding four thousand dollars, shoved the poor poet Valera (did Aram really call him girlish in the crowded trolley?) into a truck between two thugs, and relieved Nazaretian of two Pentium computers, after they politely threatened his life in order to compel him to produce the other two thousand dollars (I believe Aram and I really had run away on a tram to the Crimea on that money, and he had not just suggested it, removing two thousand dollars from a sixty-year old leather pilot jacket to pay for the construction order in a Turkish company located God-knows where, in the mud off of Alex. & Zoya Kosmedeliansky Avenue, where we found a forest and river, and much much more). Andronik has not paid it back yet- he went into hiding, as did Yaroslav for his own unexplained and nonexistent reasons, though he once walked a thousand kilometers into the frozen crystal brink of one night with his girlfriend.


Tatyana, who is nineteen but knows how to make business deals, turns her head to the side with a smile that doesn't look bittersweet to anyone except someone from the Design House- Not a Business, But a Diagnosis. Hers and Slava's DJ friend Max plays at the club I was in Wednesday and Thursday nights, but that night Tanya spent consoling Max, and I believe has gone home with him and his turn-table. Pool tables, a cheap and bad kitchen, airshaft tubes in the ceiling, da hard-core industrial thang, •-̚ ۷, a room with red couches where lemon vodka costs thirty rubles. Max brushes past everything in a gloomy hurry because there is never any money, and hardly anything else substantial. Slava has Խ my Tommy CD and claimed, the last time I saw him (six weeks ago) devouring my Big Mac at McD's, that he has a line of people waiting to borrow that disk, starting from the door of his parent's apartment in Yaroslavl', but since then he has once again vanished, and I do wonder sometimes whether the army got him after all.

The problem with that club is that it has many associations. I went there the first time with Slava after I unsuccessfully confessed my love to Aram and Slava unsuccessfully fixed his computer. I went there with Shota my first love and Bruno, the French poet who can never make it home and always gets a taxi for the wrong sum because his coordinate system of time and space has shifted along the way from Paris to Moscow. So it was a mistake for me to ask Lena for a job where I knew no one would pay me, and so it was ironic when she replied that there were no funds, as it was a mistake to wrestle with the inability to pinpoint every detail of this particular world, confine it to memory like a collection of glass beads, pick over them through fragments of seconds; they are losing spontaneously their chronological character, when all of space, though not yet time, has been jumbled, because all that, at least, the nuances of a talkative and detailed canvas, amounted themselves within the implications of Tanya's glance.


False King Andronicus made sweet the days with lies,

could gossip like a teenager with us

and gave us wine, and promised love until he pierced the skies

where we'll abide and drink and go to clubs.

That dreary fall in '29 the market crashed

the wrong one he seduced came back demanding gold

that he had lost

to desperate hands who came and smashed

that which he falsely sold.

The dollar never cost

so many rubles, packaged in his desk

all lost to gambling with art.


This evening I fitfully turned my onion head to face it, and was startled and frightened by the extent of its blueness. I regretted setting the easel so that it could reflect what was in the window; because as it was it reflected the last azurish snow of March at five in the evening, covered cars and silent sidewalks, the buildings covered with that snow which I remember starting sometime in November when I called Aram, staring at the clumps on the other side of the double-paned window, that day when Slava was kicked out of his apartment along with Sasha Batchaev, the old general director, because the old granny who took 200 rubles a month for a filthy room in a Stalinist house thought they were drug-dealers. Looking at that snow I explained to Aram in detail why for three months I had neither eaten nor slept. But I knew it made no difference because he was too much and not enough like me to allow things to change.


His kingdom crumbled slowly through the air

In 3D-Max he had displayed a sphere

That bore the name Andronicus the Fair

It sunk in shit to realms where one may never hear

His irony's lament, his stolen cash, his decadence.


The canvas reflected far too many things so that to look at it is a burden and relatives don't dare hang it over the couch or television. Like my good friend Vera says of her retro apartment: "There is too much information here- I sit in these walls, which drip like grease with old sorrow, old suffering, love and confusion- they have accumulated all that has happened between them in the sixty years of their existence." So it is here- the painting was all brown like some corners of his eyes when Aram sat behind my desk, tilted his head and eyes back as he finished the wine, and said that Mathilde was a Negro. It was gray when I lay upside down in stupor and listened to him sing, and it was still gray when Marina arrived in a drunken desperate fury, standing in front of my mirror with one hand on her hip and the other helping her down in one gulp the contents of a can suspiciously labeled "lemon vodka" after hearing the word Michael, or sitting cautiously in my rocking chair after finding out that the man she loved, who is standing by the column of a jazz club in March (when the painting was blue) and smoking a cinnamon scented cigar, loves me, and between us there flashed an uncanny and tragic understanding that does not end to this day, though on Tuesday I should be going to Prague. And when I returned from that tragic and desperate city, the canvas was still blue with unfinished Tatyana.


In debt and broken, under threat,

Poor King Andronicus once called

not wept, half drunk: his minister allotted him his doom, then met

him empty handed.

The king this grim black pearl would not forget, forgive, or let forsake

or break

a bond that formed on strings for some

for some on eastern wine, for some on money, and for me,

on glass.

Now Vanished King Andronicus is running from the Russian mob

He wanders in the internet, he disconnects the phone, in women's beds he sobs

He wanders in my dreams sometimes

He tells me things that I regret had sounded once so fair and picturesque.