Vladimir, the confused New York-raised Russian Jew, and Morgan, the Cleveland-born All-American girl, are facing each other on a friggin’ cold Prague night, back when the city hosted hordes of American hipsters in search of greater meaning after the sordid Reagan/Bush years.
I’ll let the author, Gary Shteyngart, pick up from here (passage is from “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook“):
“See, here’s the thing about you, Vladimir,” she said. “I like you because you’re nothing like my boyfriends back home and you’re nothing like Tomas either… You’re worthwhile and interesting, but at the same time you’re… You’re partly American, too. Yeah, that’s it! You’re needy in a kind of foreign way, but you’ve also got these…American qualities. So we have these overlaps. You can’t imagine some of the problems I had with Tomas…He was just…”
Too much of a good thing, Vladimir thought. Well then, here was the scorecard: Vladimir was fifty percent functional American, and fifty percent cultured Eastern European in need of a haircut and a bath. He was the best of the best worlds. Historically, a little dangerous, but, for the most part, nicely tamed by Coca-Cola, blue-light specials, and the prospect of a quick pee during commercial breaks.
“And we can go back to the States when all this is over,” Morgan said, grabbing his hand and starting to pull him back to her panelak with its promise of stale Hungarian salami and a glowing space heater. “We can go home!” she said.
Cut to a theater in Cambridge, Mass. five minutes walk from Harvard Square, the throbbing corner of the East Coast where intelligentsia meets tourism. I am sitting on a bar stool watching Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls drilling mercilessly into her piano, her grin rouge red and her feet encased in stockings. By her side, Brian Viglione buries the sticks into his drums and the waves of sounds wash over the audience, drowning the Onion Cellar, that special place where there is no barrier between your personal fears and the audience. The Dolls are the house band of this dreamy performance club where you pour your heart out, and rejuvenated by this confessional experience, you emerge new (the idea comes from Gunther Grass’ Tin Drum).
I sit there and think of what a perfect metaphor the Onion Cellar is for this age of gentle voyeuristic self-revelation. I think of much I want to shout that out, of how important I believe this story of people’s need to confess and hear the confessions of others to be in the modern context (Ira does, too). I think of how much the Onion Cellar ideas says about who we are, about why we’ll blog about the show (how meta…) and about what answers we’re looking for in the stories (and songs) of others.
For a split second I briefly think of Vladimir’s riotously disjointed self and for another one, fancy myself just as confused about my place and my own story. That’s when a flier lands in my hands. The Dolls are subjecting the audience to the same torment they’re taking the characters through.
Share and be re-born!
I look at my question. Of course, I mumble to myself. It’s the question I’ve been asking myself a lot as I ponder a potential return to what I still call “home.” The question reads: “If you could change your job, what would you do instead?” I grin, I stop for a second and then I reach for a pen. For Vladimir, for Manea, for myself, for whomever cares, I write:
“The same thing–except that I want to do it for MYSELF.”
I hand that to the staff and sigh. Was that enough?
I don’t know. My reply wasn’t a protest or a cry for help. I don’t want Morgan to pull me home. I want to pull myself home, wherever that is. And once there, I want to tell the story of the Onion Cellar, and all the other stories that make up the world we live in today. I want, as Amanda Palmer cries in the closing song of the show to…. “just sing.”
There is thing keeping everyone’s lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it’s seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now let’s just pretend we’re all gonna get bombed