“Write a letter to the bright-eyed job seeker interested in following in your footsteps. Illuminate. Opine. Advise. But do not exceed 800 words.”
The Village Idiot
Dear Boris Baryshnikov,
You have a splendidly low IQ, very suitable for the job. I myself scored seventy-five as young pup, but with my memory, I dare not boast. Working sixty-two years with same broom, I am grateful to wake in Zubi smiling like man in love—knowing he is finest village idiot within twenty-five kilometers of Poti.
Young Boris, I will tell you my secret. When Vladislav calls me uglier names than ‘idiot,’ I smile inside. I have no wife, no children, and little savings. But here, at the bottom of lowest rung, I have treasure worth more rubles than Mayor Plotinov spends in one night at tavern. My biggest worry is the color of straw next to the old horse where I sleep. Villagers never say, ‘Oy that Ivan Portnoy, he could have been such a fine crossing guard.’ Understand Boris, I am happy because nobody expects village idiot to be anything, but who I am.
Think of Plotinov having to decide which carpenter will hammer, or which will saw? My mind gets dizzy. Is it no wonder our mayor spends every evening in only town tavern? Who am I to judge, maybe Plotinov should not have slept with Vladislav’s wife? On the other hand, did Plotinov’s wife have to throw chair at Mister Mayor while he played revered village anthem on his saxophone? The poor instrument will never sound the same. How was it possible chair leg knocked the reed straight down Plotinov’s throat, like a mama bird feeding her baby? For two days, every word Plotinov spoke sounded like he was duck hunting.
A word of warning young Boris. Not everyone in village will treat you kindly. You must learn to always smile, even if you lose a few teeth. When I first began job, the teenage boys threw rocks at me while they sang, “Ivan, the pull broom idiot. Ivan the pull broom idiot.” This went on for many years until Olga, the only village prostitute, had an accident that turned into a baby son. When Olga’s son grew into a child, everyone called him retarded, but his name was Alexander. Why would they be so cruel?
From the very day young Alex started school, the next generation of good-for-nothing teenagers began their name-calling and rock throwing. Naturally I stopped them because Alexander found the good in everyone, even those horrible boys. A rock meant for him struck me so hard I fell to sleep. It was dark when I woke. Alex waited how many hours shivering in snow? “Thank you for protecting me,” he said.
With the help of my broom I got to my feet and Alexander changed my life. “Mister Ivan, that broom is push broom, not pull broom.” That night I learned how to use broom. The teenagers stopped singing and young Alexander became my trusted assistant. He would have made excellent village idiot, but something incredible happened. I will tell you, but must not forget to include Vladislav, the fat old goat trader.
Vladislav! That drinking son of a bitch, tossing five rubles around like a king. May he choke on his Borscht! No disrespect, but everyone knows even his goats don’t like him. His wife’s favorite goat sleeps on Vladislav’s side of bed. Years ago I heard him yelling, “Wife! Either the goat goes, or I go.” You know what wife said? “You go!” And he went to Olga and made Alexander. It was Vladislav who threw that baby down the stairs hitting his head so hard he almost died.
Life is funny, Boris. As five year old, Alex turned to music. He taught himself on tavern piano. Perhaps part of his head where music comes was never dismantled. He could play hundred beautiful melodies while his fingers had such movement as I have never witnessed. It was if God filled Alexander with Beethoven.
Dear Boris, the rest can only be miracle when the great Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov got stranded in our village. His cart broke a wheel and needed repair. Rather unpleasantly, Korsakov went to tavern for a drink or three. The great man pulled a handful of his own hair cursing our humble village, but in tavern—he hears young Alexander play.
In nutshell, that very day, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov swept Alexander away. He paid Olga enough rubles to change her business forever. That son of a bitch Vladisov has nowhere to go but his goats, and our Alexander became famous piano player.
If not for maestro Korsakov, there would be no job for village idiot. I will retire in Poti. I have always liked the sea. As for you young Boris, before I forget. The position waits for you.
Ivan Portnoy. Village Idiot.
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