If there's anything we have a surplus of in the United States, it's people named James, and mascots. But it's really the abundance of James that sets me up for a seamless segue. So, in spite of how unsettling I find grown people dressed in fuzzy, wacky costumes with disproportionately large heads getting away with crap that most of us would stone a mime for, I'd prefer we keep our focus on the James situation.
With so much James around us these days, it's only natural that other names will suffer. One of the hardest hit victims of this widespread imbalance, is Boris. The likelihood of stumbling across a Boris in this country -- according to a leading study conducted on my front porch -- is slightly lower than accidentally pooping on a beehive. It should be noted that the odds of either event occurring dramatically rise if I forget to wear pants. Still, against all odds and fully-clothed, I managed to find a Boris at a recent Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
As I saw it, when a person considered this nation's James-to-Boris ratio, my potential association with a Boris presented an excellent way to appear special. Sadly, unless people knew I was hanging out with a guy named Boris, I may as well be with a James. To truly capitalize, I would need a plan. No doubt there would be some minor exploitation of the Boris, but nothing that would reach beyond what most foreigners would deem "typical American behavior".
The first ideas that came to mind were basically harmless. For instance, I could select crowded restaurants when dining out with my new friend and give his name to the host, who would turn a sea of envious heads when calling out, "Boris! Party of two." We could obviously have T-shirts made. Mine would read "I'm with Boris." While his could simply state, "I'm Boris." Or I could take Boris to bars with me, where I would inevitably drink too much and unleash a boob-squeezing, insult-shouting storm of impropriety. Then, just as the mob was getting set to kill me, Boris would jump behind the bar and start mowing down the angry crowd with his fully-automatic, Kalashnikov AK-47.
That last instance assumes that all Russians are trained in the use of, and required to constantly carry, a badass assault rifle. I don't see it as much of a leap, though I'd be sure to confirm my theory prior to any squeezing or insulting.
Alas, I wasn't able to endanger any lives, or even order a pizza with my Boris. Our friendship simply wasn't meant to be. In retrospect, I should admire his character and strength of will. But I'm far too childish to wield such perspective.
I met Boris at an AA meeting I'd never been to before. Not being very active in the AA scene and still freshly sober, I had one regular weekly meeting and no plans to add any more. However, with what can only be described as a total disregard for my plans, there came a night when a rather intrusive and reasonable part of my psyche insisted that I could use some extra help. Eventually I caved, jumped on the internet and found a nearby meeting.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are all different. They follow the same guidelines, share the same principles and a common goal, but each group has its own personality. My regular meeting was quite laidback. I was able to keep to myself, drink free coffee, guess at who I thought would be relapsing soon. It was a comfortable fit. Finding my meeting, regrettably, came only after trying on at least a dozen unpleasant, unflattering, sometimes unbelievable groups. Through this experience, I became acquainted with a few customs and rites-of-passage that, to put it mildly, didn't seem very well thought out.
Upon entering this new meeting, I was greeted with one of those ill-conceived customs. Some poor schmuck in his early twenties, sporting the physique of a fifty year old gravy tester began waddling toward me with his arms out, looking for a hug. Knowing this oily sack of lumps had been assigned this task by the older members, I was almost moved to comply. Almost. I was about to commit an AA felony by denying the hug when a fight broke out next to the free coffee table. The two men were just yelling at that point, something about, "That's why you don't sponsor someone you want to bone!" Thankfully it was distracting enough to break the zombie-like trance of that poor, alcoholic molesting cog, and likely saved my shirt from being greased to transparency.
It's not uncommon to see a couple of recovering alcoholics at each other's throats. We're an understandably hostile bunch. Many of us have destroyed our lives, we're in varying stages of physical, emotional and psychological disrepair, and the one thing we know would ease our nerves is completely off-limits. What you don't expect to see, however, are alcoholics putting the free coffee in jeopardy.
By some severe lapse in judgment, the dueling handlebar moustaches had yet to move their dispute a safe distance from those steaming carafes of black gold. My instinct to say something popular kicked in. I calmly but firmly, and from behind two rows of folding chairs, offered, "Gentlemen, could I perhaps trouble you to consider moving your discussion to an alternative location; one which might better serve you by providing you the space necessary to truly explore every possible solution to this vexing ethical quandary?" Or something to that effect.
Just as I expected, the crowd of bleeding livers quickly backed my suggestion as a winner. The two Hulkamaniacs yielded to the mob and headed toward the front door, cracking their knuckles in a display of commitment to resolving the issue.
With the promise of violence just outside the door, the promise of fellowship and salvation lost considerable steam. Normally I would've been outside with the rest of them, encouraging maximum bloodshed. On that night though, watching a fight had as little appeal as hugging contagious-looking strangers.
Speaking of contamination; in view of my lazy response to such a broad range of stimuli, I was beginning to worry that I'd caught a bad case of apathy from those damn teenagers I serve at the gas station. Then I spotted a development that thrilled me. The recent migration had left the coffee table wide-open.
I was pouring myself a Dixie's worth when I noticed a shiny sickle and hammer belt buckle on the other side of the table. The buckle belonged to Boris. Easily fascinated by propaganda, it wasn't until Boris asked me to pass him the sugar that I realized how intently it must have appeared I was staring at his crotch. I immediately shifted my gaze and passed him the sugar.
As an American, I'm blessed with the seldom appreciated yet highly useful ability to find the perfect pop-culture doppelganger for anyone. Such a gift might not solve the energy crisis, but when someone does solve it, I'll be the first to point out which celebrity they resemble.
Boris was Sean Connery in a cheap sweater. Taunting diabetes with his fifth spoonful of sugar, he thanked me and introduced himself. People at AA meetings are always introducing themselves, it's part of the shtick.
"Hi. My name is blah-blah, and I'm an alcoholic."
But Boris actually seemed to be listening when I gave him my name. Of course I remembered his name because it was so awesome, and delivered in an equally awesome accent. That's when I began to contemplate how I might benefit from his unique traits.
"So, I've never been to this meeting before. Do you know how long it runs?
Boris knew. Like a gracious ambassador, he offered me all of the pertinent news. Being a regular, Boris was able to enlighten me further concerning the "skirmish", as he put it. Apparently Craig (the blonde handlebar moustache) was the resident "thirteenth stepper", a clever euphemism for "whore". The term is derived from the popular "twelve step" model followed in Alcoholics Anonymous. The thirteenth step, which was wisely not included among the original steps, is achieved when you have sex with another member of AA. So presumably, Alex (the brown handlebar moustache) had found issue with one of Craig's recent sexual conquests. Juicy gossip indeed.
Things were moving along well between Boris and I. We had only briefly touched on the obligatory addiction chatter: How long have you been sober? What made you decide to stop? Do you have a good recipe for coleslaw? Or whatever inane questions seem earnest at the time. Then we got into the good stuff.
Addiction specialists warn against what they call "romancing". Essentially, if an addict is constantly and favorably recounting intoxicated episodes from his drinking or drugging days, he is romancing. Luckily, Boris and I were both angry, miserable drunks. As such, we had embodied a repellent mixture of aggression and stupidity, thereby exempting our drinking days from being even remotely romantic. Agreeing to our absolution, we quickly set out to disgrace ourselves.
Many of our stories shared amazing similarities, but he had the advantage of filtering his ridiculous fuck-ups through his distinguished accent. It just didn't seem fair that we could both fall off a ladder and shit our pants while hanging Christmas lights, and somehow his experience seemed less distasteful.
It wasn't hard to see that Boris had at least twenty years on me, but judging by the way he spoke, I was guessing I'd been in the states longer. I was sort of afraid to ask him what prompted his move, not being well versed in proper defection etiquette, but I caught an unexpected break when I began to describe a bad night I'd had, compliments of a strong, homemade peach brandy.
As it turned out, Boris came to the United States in 1986, largely due to alcohol reform in Soviet Russia. He seriously disliked Gorbachev. Because of the cuts made under Gorbachev's rule, Boris had been reduced to drinking "samogon." Basically, samogon is the Russian equivalent to moonshine here in the states. It's potent, nasty and cheap. Boris enjoyed those aspects of the bootleg booze. What ruined his taste for samogon was a batch made with shoe polish. Not being regulated by the government or any other entity, things like shoe polish, window cleaner, urinal cakes and other items were sometimes used to speed up the fermenting process. Some unfortunate side effects of this short cut were insanity and death.
But a committed drunk doesn't get discouraged by something as permanent as brain damage or dying. Not tickled with the direction communism was taking, Boris simply dropped everything and moved thousands of miles away.
As a skilled accountant, he was soon making three times as much money as he had been making in mother Russia. For the lack of a better idea, Boris used his expendable income on "clean, American spirits." Interestingly, getting blackout drunk in Russia, according to Boris, was actually safer than doing the same in America. "People aren't interested by a drunk man in Russia." he told me. "We see this every day." He acknowledge that you might lose your wallet or freeze to death, but generally you were left alone after passing out. It was his position that, "In America, everybody becomes a scientist." Meaning, when Americans see a drunk guy who's passed out in public, we can't stop ourselves from conducting all manner of needless experiments. We poke at the drunk with sticks, draw on their face with markers, piss on them, beat them up and "behave like retarded apes" until our curiosity is satisfied. I couldn't argue.
At times I felt like I was listening to a bad Yakov Smirnoff routine. Though I don't imagine Yakov ever got drunk at an accountants convention and ended up hospitalizing a timid bookkeeper from Iowa named Glen. Boris remembered Glen's name because he had attempted to make amends with him while working on step nine. It didn't take, but he was glad he'd tried. It was that type of sincerity that led to not only my admiration for Boris, but the revelation that would ruin my plan to use him as well.
When a person first begins to attend AA meetings, they're encouraged to get a sponsor. This sponsor is a person who has maintained their sobriety for a while and has a solid grasp of the twelve steps. I had never intended to get a sponsor. It reeked of forced friendship to me, like joining a fraternity in college. But I rarely got along with anyone as easily as I was with Boris. It all came quite naturally. He was smart, funny, a good listener and, most central to his candidacy for friendship, his name was Boris. Really, I'd be a fool if I didn't ask. The meeting was nearly over, so I decided to ask him as soon as there was a break in the conversation. A break presented itself.
"So, Boris, if you're not already too booked, would you consider sponsoring me?"
The question brought an immediate smile to his face. That seemed positive. Right? So why did the smile suddenly turn creepy. What the hell was he thinking? Why was he staring at my shoes? How long does it take this commie to answer a simple question? Honestly. What the hell?
"I'm afraid not."
Okay. I finally got an answer. Unfortunately, what the hell? was still the foremost question on my mind. Had he been placating me? Was I wrong to think he had been enjoying our conversation? Did I not allow him several chances to pretend to have better things to do? Just who the hell did he think he was? I needed to know.
"If you don't mind me asking; why not?"
There was that creepy smile again. This guy was plainly in love with dramatic pauses. How had I not noticed that? Was he going to stare at my shoes again for ten minutes? Apparently not.
"Well, I've learned not to sponsor someone I might want to bone."
I was troubled to find that my natural response to those words is "Oh shit!" Sophisticated, I know. But I believe I recovered well.
"Seriously? You totally don't seem gay. Well, I'm gonna go piss now."
Those brilliant words marked the end of my plans to use Boris. Thankfully I had approached the situation with profoundly selfish intentions. Otherwise, I'm guessing things might've been a bit awkward. To be safe though, I began looking for a sponsor named James.