A Tribute to Gogol
Semyon son of Semyon stumbled to the end of the street yelling –
— My feet, they’re weary! My hands, they ache!
The following morning, Semyon awoke in a bed not very much unlike his own. He turned to his left and then to his right noting the minute differences in fabric and feel.
— Well this side feels much better than the other whereas on my bed, it’s the other way around.
In his musings, Semyon failed to notice a woman, tall and rather pale, standing at the foot of the bed.¹
She raps the wooden bench and clicks her tongue twice — Semyon bolts upright, his nightcap all but wrenched off.
— You are to appear in front of the consulate general immediately.
— Which consulate general ma’am?
— That is all.
She bows, takes a large, roundabout step, and makes her way out.
Semyon readjusts his nightcap and exits the bed stage left.
Semyon brushed his teeth with someone else’s brush.
— Who cares whose brush it is so long as someone is using it properly.²
After every oral cavity was cleaned, he spat, losing a tooth or two in his spittle — Semyon was born with an extra set so the loss of his teeth was a common occurrence. He therefore declared the outcome adequate and delicately placed the brush back in its holder before shuffling out.
Back in the bedroom, Semyon yawned and stretched having slept rather fitfully. He scratched his arm under his under arm and yelled –
— Where am I to go to-day before I am gone tomorrow?
to no avail. He shrugged, expecting nothing in return, and began the lengthy process of getting dressed — one heavyweight garment after the other less heavy garment.
Having completed the ritual, Semyon donned his almost-technicolor coat, and exited the building.
He crossed the street to a nameless cafe inhabiting a nameless building on 56th Avenue. As this cafe still exists, we can utilize the present tense to establish the setting.³
An overwhelming number of native flora provide a serene fragrance from a series of dangling pots. Chairs and benches litter the floor while people litter themselves across the cushions. All is quiet for a time until a new customer enters –
“Hello!” or “Howdy do!”
A friendly barista greets the customer — both options customary for the providence. The customer is then immediately presented with a pastry and must just as immediately decline for such is the practice of the neighborhood.
“No thank you.”
The waitstaff scurries off and thus begins the customer’s visit to this cafe.
Semyon had practiced these interactions in the past but failed spectacularly to decline the pastry in time. The fault his own, he took the pastry and stuffed it in his pocket to avoid further embarrassment.
At the ordering counter he ordered; his pocket now leaking the baked good’s butter. It seeped into his clothing, soaking all the way to his underwear before leaking further down his leg and into his mismatched pair of over-tight shoes.
Semyon did not seem to mind but instead took his coffee, mug and all, outside nearly bumping into his not-quite-friend-but-acquaintance Shufen; a Chinese immigrant who once bested proud Semyon in a tennis match — a sport that neither were particularly adept at.
— Good day to you, Shufen!
— And to you Semyon.
— Fine weather isn’t it?
— Fine weather it is.
— Might you be heading to the Consulate General’s office?
— Which Consulate General?
— I asked the very same question myself.
— I’m sorry Semyon, not today.
— Ah, well good day then!
— And to you Semyon.
The church bells rang as the hour struck noon. After confirming the bell count, Semyon dashed in the direction opposite Shufen, cup neatly balanced on his head.
He struck not one but three persons on his way each with a little something different to say:
“Damn you Semyon! Watch where you’re going you buffoon!”
“Why excuse you my good sir! You could surely do a better job paying attention to the width of your person!”
“Good tidings and a schnapps to you.”
To the last, and arguably most polite, Semyon tipped his hat.
Semyon soon found himself on 5th avenue — the opposite side of town and decided to explore.⁴ Quickly the realization came; this side of town was precipitously similar to that in which his old residence resided and he was due for a visit.
After knocking on a few doors, he found his old apartment, decrepit and unwelcoming. The poor building had lived through a lot and continued to show its age greying at the edges and wrinkled in all the wrong places. Semyon sighed and broke in through one of the few windows left.
Upon entering, Semyon discovered that nought was amiss.
— Strange, I thought this place would have been destroyed by Masha.⁵
He furthermore entered the kitchen and found his old tea kettle. Putting the kettle on the stove, he took off his underclothing, and shoved them in to steep. He removed the cup of coffee and drank deeply, suddenly motivated by thirst yet keenly unaware of its dehydrating properties.
Naked below the waist and fully caffeinated; Semyon placed a call to the landlord requesting information on his whereabouts.
— This is Semyon… Semyonovich.
— Whereabout have…
— I’m sorry, you cut out.
— Whereabout have what?
— Have I been?
— Yes, you have.
— Well I don’t know. How long has it been since I was a renter?
— You’re still a renter.
— I am?
— Well I’ll be.
— You’ll be what?
— Nothing… an idiom.
— I’ve been at the Consulate General’s.
Semyon grew excited. The landlord was perhaps his only hope.
— Wait! Which one?
— The one on second street. Is there another?
— Why yes there’s plenty, there’s one on first, two on third, and even one on — !
— Yes yes I understand. Why do you ask?
— I’ve been hailed!
— That’s dreadfully unfortunate.
— No, no, not like that!
With that, the line dropped.
Semyon stared at the phone until the kettle boiled. He withdrew his clothes and bore them on his arm long enough to cool down. In the meantime and with his free hand, he grabbed the butter water and threw it over long-dead flowers — those being a personal favorite.
Semyon exited his apartment and made his way to second street. This task was not an easy one as, on this side of town, the streets are numbered incorrectly. Second street is actually fourth while fourth place is actually 33rd and so on. So while Semyon thought he was on 10th circle, he was really on 21st. In his confusion and by way of many crosswalks, Semyon found himself once more on 16th lane which is, in reality, 5th avenue.
Semyon traisped over his arm and into his trousers, frustrated and chilly. He floundered about and finally managed to squirm both legs into the holes appropriate to the task. He then breathed a breath of fresh air and stretched to mark the occasion only then noticing the water trail left behind by his still-wet garments.
— Funny, someone could have easily followed me.
And they did. Semyon was at once pounced upon by two child-like rascals, each with a strong vendetta for behaviors unspecified. Their attack amaranthine, they flailed incessantly causing poor Semyon to cower in terror until he was able to admit his unwillingness to tolerate such behavior. This caused the scoundrels to scamper leaving Semyon to brush it all off.
— You’re a nuisance to society!⁶
Fortunately, the encounter did much for drying Semyon off and he immediately felt rejuvenated. If he could have thanked the rascals he would have but there was little time left — the sun appeared to be setting and Semyon was likely close… or so he thought.
Semyon set-off in the direction of his destination.
Through the gap in his front teeth,⁷ Semyon whistled his favorite tune. A few diehard fans were the first to his side but his influence rapidly expanded, blossoming the minor third crowd to a major fifth. Near the city center, he accrued a security detail and soon the whole town bore upon him to listen.
Semyon whistled and whistled until he could whistle no longer. With a wistful smile, he fell to his knees and enjoyed a lengthy break.
The town departed, satisfied, and Semyon was left alone. He had tricked them all — his masterpiece had played from a tape recorder and the tape recorded from a vinyl he had made long ago. He removed the tape recorder and smashed it leaving nothing for the trial –
— Now none shall know of my deceit.
Proud Semyon entered the wrong consulate general and was immediately turned away.
We end our journey with Semyon here. Semyon, son of Semyon, found another consulate general (the correct one) and alleviated the issue. As did Ivan, son of Ivan before him as well as Nikita, my babushka from whom I first heard the story of Semyon Semyonovich.