My bedroom was nearly empty; all the traces of my habitation, the posters and little bits of crap from my travels, my mother had stowed away in carefully labeled boxes in the closets. I reveled in the smallness, the coziness of an upstairs bedroom in a traditional American Cape Cod house, the half-floor that forces you to duck, to feel small and naive again, ready for anything, dying for love, your body a chimney filled with odd, black smoke. These square, squat, awkward rooms are like a fifty-square foot paean to teenage-hood, to ripeness, to the first and last taste of youth. I cannot begin to tell you how much the purchase of this house, of each tiny bedroom, had meant to my family and to me. I still remember the signing at the real-estate lawyer's office, the three of us beaming at one another, mentally forgiving one another a decade and a half worth of sins, the youthful beatings administered by my father, my mother's anxieties and manias, my own teenage sullenness, because the janitor and his wife had done something right at last! And it would be all okay now. There was no turning back from this, from the glorious fortune we had been granted in the middle of Long Island, from the carefully clipped bushes by the mailbox (our bushes, ABRAMOV bushes) to the oft-mentioned Californian possibility of an above-ground swimming pool in the back, a possibility that never came true, because of our poor finances, but which could never be decisively put to bed either. And this, my room, whose privacy my parents had never respected, but where I would still find a summer's hot sanctuary on my glorified army cot, my little teenaged arms doing the only nonmasturbatory thing they were capable of, hoisting aloft a big red volume of Conrad, my soft lips moving along with the dense words, the warped wood-paneled walls absorbing the occasional clicks of my tongue.
Out in the hallway, I caught sight of another framed memento. An essay my father had written in English for the newsletter of the Long Island scientific laboratory where he worked (it had made it onto the paper's front page, to our family's pride), and which I, as an undergraduate NYU English major, had helped to proofread and refine.
THEY JOYS OF PLAYING BASKETBALL
BY BORIS ABRAMOV
Sometimes life is difficult and one wishes to relieve oneself of the pressures and the worries of life. Some people see a shrink, others jump in a cold lake or travel around the world. But I find nothing more joyful than playing basketball. At the Laboratory we have many men (and women!) who like to play basketball. They come from all over the world, from Europe, Latin America, and everywhere else. I cannot say I am the best player, I am not so young anymore, my knees hurt, and I am also pretty short and this is a handicap. But I take the game very seriously and when a big problem comes up in my life and I feel like I do not want to live, I sometimes like to picture myself on the court, trying to throw a ball from a great distance into the hoop or maneuvering against an agile opponent. I try to play in a smart way. As a result, I find that I am often victorious even against a much taller or faster player, from Africa or Brazil, let's say. But win or lose, what's important is the spirit of this beautiful game. So if you have time on Tuesday or Thursday at lunchtime (12:30), please join me and your colleagues for a good, healthy time in the physical education center. You'll feel better about yourself and the worries of life will "melt away"! Boris Abramov is a custodian in the Buildings and Grounds division.
- Gary Shteyngart
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