View or add comments on this story
Milord Fillmorsheim from the Minsk Central Organization was coming to
visit, and when Milord Fillmorsheim comes to visit, you shave. Naturally, I
shave every morning. Shaving is how I preserve my reputation as a clean-cut
citizen. Each morning, I clean my teeth and I cut my face with a razor.
Every morning. But with Milord Fillmorsheim coming to dignify my doorsteps, I
had the obligation to clean my teeth twice as sharply and, it follows, cut myself
twice as deep.
As I began to shave, Petrov entered the small bathroom with such a
sudden clamor that I threw lather every which way. Petrov had frightened me so much
you would think I had turned suddenly gray, but it was only shaving cream.
"What are you doing, Dad?" Petrov asked.
"Cleaning shaving cream out of my hair," I told him.
"Why? Because Comrade Fillmorsheim is coming this day for a visit.
"Why? I don't know why, exactly, but if Comrade Fillmorsheim comes
for a visit, you wash shaving cream from your hair. That's why!"
"Why? Because Comrade Fillmorsheim is the head of the Central
Organization. That's why!"
"Why? Because he thought the name 'The People's Confederation for
Soviet Democracy and Entitlements' was both too long and too sloppy. That's why!"
"Why? Because he's an intellectual. That's why!"
"Why? Because when his father and Lenin marched on the University of
Petrograd, they broke open a locker containing a number of certificates,
and Comrade Fillmorsheim's father expropriated a number of blank documents for
himself. That's why!"
"Why? Because a forward thinking person can, with the aid of
dialectical assessment and the appropriate certificate, correctly see the future taking
shape without the hocus-pocus of superstition. That's why!"
"Why? Because superstition is not only detrimental to the Soviet
system but also to any clear thinking people. That's why!"
"Why? Because if you rely on superstition you cannot build factories
or homes or a decent kind of life. That's why!"
"Why? Because you become lazy and slovenly, rely on invisible things that
don't exist, end up never having enough to eat because you do not
want to work, then you go hungry and feel drained of every decent concern. You
begin having hallucinations and visitations. Quite possibly you develop a
dysfunctional social disease which will wind you up in an institution where
you will grow even more lethargic and get even less food, and refuse to shave or
otherwise be an upstanding member of the economy. That's..."
"Why? Because when you are in an institution, Comrade Fillmorsheim
will not come to your house to visit. That's why! Now don't you have something
better to do than stand there and grill me with all the questions in the world?
"Why? Because even though I have as many 'becauses' as you have
'whys', what I don't have is time to dally in these subtle analyses. That's why!"
"Why? Because Comrade Fillmorsheim is coming to visit. That's why!"
"Why? Why? Why are you asking why? I don't know why, that's why.
Why do you think my hair is turning gray even as we speak? Why? Why? Why?"
Petrov shrugged and left the room.
Freshly shaven, I sat in my favorite chair awaiting the arrival of
Comrade Fillmorsheim. Typically, I enjoyed brief moments of relaxation,
but with Comrade Fillmorsheim coming, I felt like an idler, a social parasite, and a
commodities speculator. So I paced. This seemed much more productive. I
walked back and forth across the floorboards until Comrade Fillmorsheim arrived.
His vehicle pulled up to my very doorstep, which meant, of course,
that he had parked on top of the garden Maria had planted. He stepped from his
car and, kicking snow out of his path, dirtied his boots good and well before
entering our home. Maria and Petrov gathered in the front room to see the
arrival of our distinguished guest. Marie and Petrov began sniffling in his
direction and, once Comrade Fillmorsheim began speaking in all his
distinguishability, they quietly snuck from the room.
"Did you see my government vehicle?"
"Yes," I said, "It's very nice."
"Exactly. It's a curse."
"It doesn't run well?"
"Of course it runs well. It runs excellently. It is the perfect
machine. Soviet workers at a government plant on socialist specifications
built it under a five year plan. What's not to run? It just stalls once in a
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Not to worry," Comrade Fillmorsheim said, "We'll fix it. But in the
mean time, the heater doesn't work."
"No, which does not matter since we spend so much time outside the car
pushing it through slush and snow anyway."
"Yes, but don't worry. We'll fix it. The real crime is that these
vehicles are becoming more and more popular. The more successful the
revolution is, the more people can afford these vehicles. Why, right now almost seven families in Minsk have an automobile."
"Kidding? I never kid. But do you know what so many automobiles
"No," I said, "what?"
"You are riding in a four wheeled bubble and you are cut off from
people. You're not in communication with people. You are sitting in a traveling
bubble, moving. How are you to know what's going on in the world? Where
will you get your information? Are these machines going to help us raise a
nation of idiots?"
"Perhaps this will not be such a problem when we are advanced enough
to make the automobiles run faster."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," I swallowed, "perhaps we will not feel so cut off from
communications if we can make it from our house to the bread line within
less than seven hours."
"Possibly," he said reflectively, "but in the mean time, suppose you
accidentally lose control of the steering wheel and nearly run someone
over. Suppose you drive up an embankment and cause another driver in a
different car to swerve out of your way and wreck into a silo."
"A missile silo or a grain silo?"
"For purposes of analogy, it does not matter. Suppose you almost kill
a citizen before you go galloping away. What then?"
"That would be terrible," I said.
"What we need," Comrade Fillmorsheim said as if deep in thought, "is a
universal sign for..."
"Are those allowed?" I interrupted.
"Universal signs? Of course! But perhaps we should call them
international indicators," he replied with a wink. "Okay, so as I was
saying, what we need is... an international indicator which professes recognition of our own stupidity."
"What do you mean," I asked.
"We need a sign... an indicator that one person can use to tell
another other person who is at some distance from him: 'I'm sorry. I've done
something stupid. I know I have. I apologize.' Apology is good for the
heart, you know."
"I see," I said.
"Not yet you don't," Comrade Fillmorsheim smiled, "but watch this."
Comrade Fillmorsheim pressed his fingers together and forced his two
pinkies to extend down. They whitened with the effort. He raised his
thumbs, arched them toward his chest and stretched them, with difficulty, away from
each other while straining to keep his palms together. He folded his ring
fingers into his palms with a snap. Finally, he retracted his index fingers
approximately half an inch and, as his knuckles surged, he looked at me
with the joy of a child. The contortion of his hands looked as uncomfortable as it did
"There!" he said. "How's that?"
"It's marvelous," I said, "simply marvelous. What is it?"
Comrade Fillmorsheim looked hurt, dropped his eyes for a moment, and
then looked at me to say, "Our new universal indicator."
"Looks more like Trotsky," I said. "This is why you have
come to visit me today, Comrade Fillmorsheim? To show me hand puppets of
"Trotsky! Where did you get such a ridiculous idea? And how dare you
mention that puppet's name in my presence."
"I'm sorry," I apologized, "I just wanted to... I just wanted..."
Comrade Fillmorsheim smiled. "Oh," he said, "so you want to get
directly to the point. So. We'll get directly to the point. Comrade, we want you
to give a speech."
"But, Comrade," I said, "I am not a speechified."
"No. A speechified you are not. What you are is a socialist
We were each silent while I waited for the logical connection to
overwhelm my brain with its persuasiveness. I was almost there when
Comrade Fillmorsheim broke my reverie.
"We need someone who can give a positive outlook to a few citizens in
Minsk. So we thought of you."
The government thinking of me! Now there's a scary thought. Yet I
was the perfect candidate. My tailor shop was not attracting customers. My
wife Maria has the flu. My son does not have an adequate winter coat. We are
hungry, and the heating system does not work properly. Bill collectors are
at the door on a daily basis, and peddlers and beggars dress better and look
healthier than do we. Who better to give a positive, uplifting speech?
"I'll do it!" I shouted.
Well, for the next three weeks I fretted and worried about the speech
I would give. Comrade Fillmorsheim suggested the speech be about the
revolution and, although I was too young to have been in the Bolshevik Army, I sat at
the kitchen table for three weeks allowing positive thought to ferment in my
muddy skull. I held the pencil in eager anticipation of a series of
brilliant thoughts. Occasionally I was distracted by counting the number of times I
broke the tip of the pencil through too much pressure. I thought and thought and
thought the theme through a series of subtle permutations, nuances, and
possible discourses with the result that... Well, why should I try to fool you.
So there I was on the podium. I had to wait through a series of
laudatory remarks on various Comrades and their participation in the
glorious Revolution. The speakers said so many brilliant things; I could not hope
to match the power of their rhetoric, the persuasiveness of their language, the
beauty of heir narratives. It took everything I had in me not to fall asleep. The
Revolution was This. The Revolution was That. Just to listen, you could
tell these people were speaking in capital letters.
As an honored guest, my seat was directly under the heating vent.
This would have been ideal, except for the draft bearing down my neck. As I sat
through the speakers who preceded me, my back began to ache, my neck
became stiff, my leg fell asleep, my arm grew numb, my head hurt from being
sprayed. My ears, never too good to begin with, were killing me. Now I was in the
perfect mood to deliver an uplifting speech. I thought I had the speech, too.
"Friends," I would begin, "things could be worse." They would applaud.
Then I would conclude with my most uplifting comment, "But they're not!"
Such would be my speech. Short and to the point. But perhaps, I
thought, there was a rule against satire. I better not risk it. Satire,
after all, was surely a sign... an indicator of decrepit capitalism. Capitalism was
surely degrading, declining, delicious, deciduous, decimated, decidedly
decadent, denubial, de-la-croupage, decopralated, defibrulated, decapitated... as
someone speaking before me seemed to be saying repeatedly. These words
having been taken, I decided to play it straight. I decided to stick to the
As my name was being responded to with polite applause, I stood at the
microphone and scanned the audience.
"Friends and Comrades," I said, "I am here to speak about the
Revolution." I could see the crowd was hanging on my every word. "Friends
and Comrades," I said, "I want to say the one thing I have not heard tonight.
I want to say the one most important fact that no one seems to have taken the time to work into their speech. I want to say the one thing that you should remember as
you leave here tonight, remember as you take up your daily affairs
tomorrow, and remember as you contribute to the growth of our democratic system.
Friends..." Every eye was glued to me. "Friends," I repeated. I noticed
one member of the local builders union who was not paying attention. I eyed
him until his neighbor poked him in the ribs. Now everyone was waiting for my words
of wisdom, so words of wisdom I gave them: "We won!"
I said this with such sincerity as I threw my hands over my head that
the convention applauded enthusiastically.
"We won!" I repeated with conviction, my hands still in the air. The
applause grew louder.
"We won!" I shouted. The applause was deafening.
"We won!" I clasped my hands together. My ears really hurt now. I
was overwhelmed by the response of the gathering. I wanted to clasp my hands
together in a sign of... as an indicator of solidarity. Yet inasmuch as my
hands were numb, my pinkies stretched beyond my folded ring finger and my thumb
The applause stopped suddenly and the crowd gasped its way to silence.
"Trotsky!" someone yelled.
"Of all the nerve. Trotsky!" another added.
Before long, everyone was whispering or shouting Trotsky's name.
Comrade Fillmorsheim approached me from behind and pulled me away from the podium.
As he pushed me through the curtains, he whispered harshly, "I understand.
I understand! It was a mistake. A mistake! But, Comrade, this is going to
severely damage your reputation. Severely! Not to worry, though," he said
as two KGB agents rushed me toward the vehicle waiting at the back door, "we can
fix it. We can fix anything!"
I was convinced Comrade Fillmorsheim was correct, but this did not
comfort me. Nor was I comforted by the icy silence of my escorts during
the seven hours' trip home. In the car, I bounced up and down with the understanding
of what a severely ruined reputation would mean. First, I would no longer be
invited to speak at celebrations of the Revolution. Second, I would not
have to submit myself to back strains and fatigue while alternatively freezing and
shivering up on a podium. Third, I would not be compelled to ride a
government vehicle in the middle of the night. Fourth... Well, why go on.
We arrived at my home at 6 AM and the guards said, "Farewell,
Comrade." At least they called me 'Comrade'. Perhaps things were not as bad as they seemed. Later that morning, when explaining to Maria what had happened, I
was incapable of making the offending gesture.
View or add comments on this story
Back to top
Back to list of stories