Lingua Frank

This blog goes fishing in my memory hole for stories that I hope will provide at least marginal amusement for all.


This blog is really about memories from my life...retold for the pleasure or yawns of friends and strangers alike. Bon appetit.

четверг, июля 28, 2005


Sorry it's been so long since my last post, but maybe this will help a bit... Here is the recording of the 911 call that goes along with the insane story of my baby's birth (below). Bon appetit!

среда, июля 13, 2005

Alexandra's Wild Ride

My dear friend Beck just this weekend gave birth to her second child, which was a huge relief for her considering that she had been carrying little Robin in such a way that it looked like she had a bowling ball bag attached to her unmentionable region...even a casual glance let passersby know to give her wide berth (yes, my friends, that is a delicious double entendre). Horrendous discomfort mixed with pregnant fury can vaporize the unwary in a sliver of a second.
I wanted to extend my congratulations as well as reminisce a bit about the whole wonder of the dawning of new life, or, as the less tactful might be wont to say, pooing out babies.
Oh, don't be so horrified by the indelicate phrasing, that is precisely what the physical process looks like...I somehow never saw the "Miracle of Birth" or any of its hideous minions until I (foolishly) agreed to take a birthing class with my wife before Victoria's grand entrance into the world. About halfway through the class, we were subjected to twenty minutes of videos of, well, slimy aliens being heaved out of we all know what. The primal lack of glamour and constant staring at parts that just plain aren't for looking did anything but get me excited to "participate" in the birth of my own little extraterrestrial. With eyes and forehead veins clenched to fight back the dry heaves, I whispered to my dear wife that if it was all the same with her, I would like to remain up with her head than down with her woo-woo while trained medical professionals ushered our child into the world...if for no other reason than to pretend that it didn't really look like that. Even cutting the umbilical cord was too much for me: our birth plan declared that I would forego that privelege because "Sean is participating in the birth of his daughter, not opening a strip mall". With the exceptions of my wife using the nurse's boob as a handle and greeting our baby with a scream of "f***!", all went beautifully...unmedicated and all.
It had gone so well, in fact, that when our second child was fixing to spring forth from our loins, I thought I already had the script down. I knew my entrance cues, my lines "you're doing amazingly, sweetheart", and even a few rudimentary massage techniques. Shawna, too, had her part down pat, and she wasn't showing even the slightest jitters as her water broke at one in the morning and she prepared to perform. (You know the old actor's good luck wish...break a membrane).
Unfortunately, our cast had a prima donna who just couldn't wait for the proper cue to debut. Little diva shot the whole production down the (birthing) tube. (All right...I'm done now).
Suddenly, after only forty minutes of infrequent contractions that Shawna says paled in comparison to even the most benign heartburn, the gaping maw of HELL opened up and released its unmitigated fury on Shawna's uterus. We gave up on packing for the hospital and hustled into our Montero Sport, with Shawna in panic and myself on autopilot. The g-forces snuggled me into the door as I whipped through the roundabout around the Chatham County courthouse at 80 miles and hour and then I shot at ludicrous speeds through the North Carolina countryside. "We're OK," I kept thinking, "we've only got 18 miles to the hospital. We'll make it." My friends, the power of positive thinking amounts to monkey doo when it comes to warding off a very determined baby from entering the world fifteen minutes too early.
Shawna: "Sean, pull over."
Sean: (determined) "We're fine, we'll make it"
Shawna (turns with a look of disbelief at Sean's pathetic ignorance): No we won't...because
Sean: (Pretends not to foul his jeans)
Fumbling in the darkness, I grab Shawna's cellphone and for the first time in my life I dial the combination of desperation- 9...1...1. The line rings once and clicks over, and I start to describe our situation and our vehicle as I pull off beside the sign for Durham-Eubanks road.
I try to balance the little pink cellphone on my shoulder, run around to the other side of the car, and be remotely coherent with the emergency dispatcher all at the same time. Ms. 911 asks if I can get Shawna to the backseat...a proposition so laughably insane by this point that I don't even grace it with an answer, because I can see a ooze-coated human emerging from my wife. We try to gently coax our daughter from getting out before the parametics arrive by, well, pushing the top of her head back to where it came...but she is really damn insistent that she is through waiting in the wings. A car approaches from behind, and I gesticulate wildly to flag it down in case I need some kind of assistance. I glance at the gaggle of young drunk gangstas who are staring in horror at the scene. Sasha's head had popped out (literally...there was a *pop* when she entered the world up to her chin). There was an audible gasp behind me...apparently no number of repeated viewings of Aliens could have prepared my audience of miscreants for the terror of a gooey baby head sprouting out of my wife's nether regions.
I am quickly whisked from this thought back to the task at hand. As I kink my neck to keep hold of the phone, I see by the barely perceptible glow of the car's dome light that Sasha has the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Working in tandem with my amazing Shawna, we deftly fix our fingers between the baby and the cord, and quickly slip it off of her head. Sasha surges forward a bit. It is clear that this is it, and so I stupidly hand the phone to Shawna so as to afford myself the full use of my hands. She promptly throws it back at me, and cuts the connection to 911 in the process. Frantically redialing, I reach the dispatcher again just in time to deliver my child. Of course, she came so fast that "deliver" here should be read "catch and try not to drop". I am at once terrified and exhilirated, until I realize that she isn't breathing. The 911 operator guides me through infant resuscitation. Each time I seal my mouth around the afterbirth coated mouth and nose of my baby, I pray for the inspiration to manage not to screw up...I am at once determined and desperate. With my heart buzzing and my hands trembling, I breathe into her tiny body time and time again for the longest five minutes that I hope I will ever have to endure. Just as she begins to finally wheeze out regular breaths, I hear the scream of sirens and welcome them with rapturous relief. Within minutes, the paramedics completely clear her airways, cut her cord, and restore her to a proper baby-pink from the sickly bluish-white that she had worn for the first minutes of her life.
Driving behind the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I clutch the wheel with my afterbirth-soaked arms, glance at the gallons of goo soaking the passenger seat and floor, and laugh a manically shaky, joyous laugh. The miracle of birth is right.

понедельник, июля 04, 2005

Nevsky Prospekt

My little brother is packing up to come back to the States after two years of bum-freezing fun in Siberia. As my readers know (both of you), I, too, spent a small chunk of my life in that Slavic wonderland, though I was fortunate enough to spend most of that time in St. Petersburg. Anyway, I thought I would post an essay I wrote in college about leaving Russia, in honor of the occasion. Enjoy!

Nevsky Prospekt

February lay heavy and cold upon Saint Petersburg. The ice on Palace square seemed twice frozen by the arctic frost: the first layer was solidified water; the second, I was convinced, was solidified air…it caused my boots to stick more than slide. My first day in Russia and my last both began with this: a walk through Palace Square, then on to four bristling, rushing, wildly changing miles of city street called Nevsky Prospyekt.

Palace square, at least on this morning, was empty of post-cold-war tourists…twenty-five below was probably a bit much for a stroll to buy some cheap Lenin pins. This lonely morning could have been 1815, the victory column celebrating the dispatch of Napoleon rising into the gray, still sky, and a very relieved Tsar Aleksandr sipping tea in the gargantuan Winter Palace. On the capstone of the column, a marble angel bore a cross, reaching upward, seeking hope in winter. This is a typically melancholy image of Russian victory…an angel free, yet bearing the weight of all the earth, heading to his own Golgotha.

I lowered my gaze, inhaled a gulp of stinging, crisp air, and turned onto Nevsky Prospyekt. This, too, was a victory column—a flat concrete epitaph of the tsars and Lenin. Nevsky’s confused irony—liberty and burden—was not unlike that of the woeful seraph. Here, though, there could be no Napoleonic time-travel fancy. Here, the years of architectural experimentation, of social and political firestorms, of the thundering mortars of world wars and processions of the emperors were all awkwardly juxtaposed into one totally unique moment in time: nineteen-ninety eight.

The light signaled my safe passage, but even after two years I could not help but feel uneasy as the growling motors of automobiles and icy glares of their drivers warned me that if they should so decide, then my next step would certainly be my last. Nevsky Prospekt crawled with an armada of BMW’s. The vessels were chromed, jet-black, impossibly dark-windowed testaments to the arts of smuggling and extortion. At the helms of this fleet were not politicians or CEO’s or lawyers: in the roller-coaster economy of post-communist Russia, those could still scarce afford a lousy ’95 Moskvich. These helmsmen were thugs in silk shirts and bad suits, whose glove compartments were less likely to hold gloves than a SIG .45. They were men who, for the most part, received their training in terror from the former world champions of intimidation: the KGB.

I hurried to Café Minutka, which had formerly been a joint venture with Subway Sandwiches. The American partners, I was told, were convinced to sell their half at discount…it seemed a good deal at the wrong end of a snub-nosed revolver. There the good deals ended: a foot-long meatball with the works would set me back sixty-five thousand rubles, a little over ten dollars. Hogi in hand, I left the exclusive clientele of Americans and the Mafia to continue my final tour of Nevsky.

The street grew fuller with people and traffic, and I descended into the underpass to cross over to the glitzy shopping center of Gostiny Dvor. I could hear the muffled howling and sighing of an accordion through the maze of pedestrians. Making my way through to the source, I saw Sasha, the most accomplished four-year-old accordionist to play the subway tunnel circuit. Street musicians and beggars of all types had multiplied in the two years since my first walk down Nevsky…children most notably so. I tossed a five thousand-ruble bill into his bucket, and smiled. True to form, Sasha didn’t flinch, but stared straight ahead with his glassy eyes, pumping out a forlorn rendition of Katyusha.

Emerging on the other side of the street, I surveyed the newly reconstructed, bright yellow façade of Gostiny Dvor. Much of downtown Nevsky had been spruced up—made more palatable for tourists. Two blocks on either side, to Ulitsa Italyanskaya or Malaya Sadovaya, one would find a crumbling, tired city of soot-dulled pastel buildings, vodka, and cynical despair. But Gostiny Dvor gave no hint of that other city; it was rife with business in furs and arcades and Gucci handbags…completely beyond the reach of the meager subsistence of the tenants of the building next door. When I first visited Gostiny Dvor, there was a small bread shop, a few stands for hats or camera equipment, and vast empty retail space. Under communism, that would have been considered abundant: then were only bare cupboards. Gucci, unfortunately, feeds the masses no better than did Stalin, but at least the stuffy concierge with his fake French accent wasn’t about to send tens of millions of them to their deaths in frozen slave camps.

I walked to the curb and hailed a taxi—a process that would be called hitchhiking in America. A passing motorist, seizing the opportunity that capitalism had afforded him, pulled his formerly blue ’83 Lada beside me and rolled down the window. After a moment of heated bartering, the driver agrees: 20,000 rubles to Moskovsky Station. The BMW’s didn’t stop because I must not have met their passenger dress code: no high heels and micro mini, no cement shoes.

I unwrapped my now lukewarm sandwich, and we were off. We crossed over Moika canal, then Fontanka canal. Tires and cans were frozen, half submerged in the translucent ice of the pride of Petersburg; the Venice of the north. In summertime, I had seen children and old men fishing in those canals…a risky proposition at best, considering the dizzying array of chemical concoctions that had been liberally poured into them by the Soviet war machine.

Like a darting insect, we wove in and out of the anarchy of speeding metal that is Russian traffic, and arrived safely at Moskovsky station, having narrowly averted death at every turn. I paid my bill, and tipped with the other half of my tepid sub. The driver grinned and accepted both, then sped off to search for more Americans whose pockets stretched at the seams with fat wallets.

Four minutes until my train. Other passengers crowded and pushed by around me, lingering for a moment to buy a snickers bar or pornography—the west’s most prolific imports. I strained for a moment through the morning rush to take my last glance at Nevsky Prospekt. I thought again of the angel on the victory column. Breathing out the words, I bid farewell: “May your cross be light, and your resurrection swift”. I turned, and boarded the 11:35 for Aerodrom.