INTRODUCTION NO. 1
June 17, near five in the afternoon, Dogg Pavlov tries to enter the subway. He walks up to the revolving door, goes straight up to the woman in uniform, and pulls a veteran’s card out of his pocket. The woman in uniform looks at the card and reads “Pavlova, Vira Naumivna.” “So?” she asks.
“My grandmother,” says Dogg Pavlov.
“Where is your grandmother?”
“This,” says Dogg pointing at the card, “is my grandmother.”
“What of it?”
“She’s a veteran.”
“And you, what do you want?”
“She burned in a tank.”
The woman looks at the card again. Who knows, she thinks, maybe she did burn—you can’t tell from a photograph.
“Well, okay,” she says. “And what can I do for you?’”
“A pass,” says Dogg.
“You burned in a tank too?”
“Listen,” Dogg begins to bargain. “Maybe I’m bringing her something to eat.”
“What do you mean, to eat?”
“You know, to eat.” Dogg tries to remember what his grandmother eats when she is given food. “Dairy products—cheese, for example.”
“You’re a cheese yourself,” says the lady in uniform without animosity.
Dogg understands how all this looks from the side: he’s beating his head against an enormous endless wall that separates him from life, beating his head without any hope of success, and all life’s pleasures, including a ride on the subway, are just not in the cards right now, that’s the way it looks. He gathers all his willpower into his fist and says something like: Listen, lady—of course, he doesn’t say it in those words, but the content is approximately the same. So listen to me carefully— he says—okay? Listen, listen, I want to say something else, listen. Well, in spite of—let’s see, how can I say it— you, I don’t know, you can take this in your own way, I agree, maybe it means nothing to you but still you have to agree: my grandmother cannot be allowed to die of hunger just because I, her beloved grandson, if you allow me, was denied entry to the subway by some lousy rear guarder. You have to agree, no? (Well, at this point they just lay into one another verbally, but we’ll ignore that.) He concentrates all his willpower and suddenly dives under the woman’s arms, waving the veteran’s card in the air, and disappears into the subway’s cool intestines.
“What does he mean, lousy rear guarder who never saw the front lines?” thinks the woman. “I wasn’t born ’til 1949.”
At the stadium stop, Dogg gets off onto an empty platform; in about an hour Metalist is playing its last home game, everyone is getting together, you know how it is, the end of the season, the rainy summer above, the clouded sky and the dilapidated stadium that stands somewhere just above Dogg; in the last few years it’s started to come apart, grass springing up between the concrete slabs, especially after a rain, the stands covered in pigeon shit, there’s shit on the field too, especially when our team’s playing, the country’s in ruins, the phys ed movement is in ruins, the big chiefs have fucking wasted the main thing—in my opinion, whatever you say—because under the Sovs there were two things that you could be proud of, the soccer championship and nuclear weapons, and the guys who took these pleasures away from the people will hardly live to a peaceful and carefree old age, for surely nothing undermines karma as much as screwed-up national politics. Dogg stands on the platform a bit longer, his friends are supposed to come from the other direction, so he just has to wait for them. Dogg is tired and worn out, he’s been drinking for three days, and the weather’s bad too, obviously the weather is affecting him, the pressure or whatever it’s called—what do you call the condition when you drink for three days and suddenly stop recognizing your friends and family? It’s the pressure, obviously.
He can’t even remember what happened—the summer had begun so well, the rains came, Dogg was successfully pissing away the best years of his life, when suddenly his advertising friends dragged the reliably unemployed Dogg into the bowels of the advertising industry: to put it more simply, they hired him as a courier in their newspaper’s advertising department. Dogg suffered badly, but he held up and kept going to work. He wasn’t much benefit to them, but at least someplace considered him human, although personally he has never been very concerned about this—well, what are friends for, if not to straighten out your social status through direct intervention. I said from the first that he wouldn’t last long but they weren’t listening, they said don’t worry, on the whole he’s a decent guy, a bit fucked up, but okay, okay, and I agreed, okay.
Dogg lasts ten days, after that he goes on a binge and doesn’t come to work anymore, and so as not to be found he drinks at the homes of acquaintances; at 19 he knows half the city, one night he even sleeps at the railway station— there he meets some mushroom-picking friends who are taking the early-morning commuter train to somewhere in the Donbas for raw material and spends the night with them under the columns on the street, where he is rousted three times by the patrols; he sticks it out until morning, listening to tales about mushrooms and other thermonuclear stuff, then he breaks down and takes off for home. Here he encounters a ringing telephone. Under different circumstances Dogg would never have picked it up, but cold silver trout are already swimming inside him after a three-day alcoholic binge and their tails are beating against his kidneys and liver so painfully that his world is getting hazy and so he automatically picks up the receiver. “Dogg?” they shout into the telephone. “Don’t you dare put down the phone!” His friends the advertisers Vova and Volodia, who fixed him up with the job in the advertising business to their own detriment, are sitting somewhere in their Komsomol office tearing the receiver from each other’s hands trying to convince Dogg to speak to them, occasionally drifting off into profanities. “Dogg!” they say, “the main thing—don’t you dare put down the phone. Hey asshole!” they say, reassured that he is listening. “If you put down the phone now, you’re dead. We’ll bury you, you hear?” “Hello,” says Dogg in reply. “What do you mean ‘hello’?” say Vova and Volodia losing their cool. “What do you mean ‘hello’? Can you hear us?” “Yes,” says the frightened Dogg. “Good,” Vova and Volodia answer, encouraged. “Okay, listen, it’s now ten in the morning.” “What?” Dogg is now finally terrified and lets the receiver drop. The telephone immediately crackles again. He picks up the receiver indecisively. “You!!!” roars the voice. “Asshole!!! Don’t you dare put down the phone!!!” Dogg swallows with difficulty. “Do you hear?” “Okay,” says Dogg uncertainly. “So it’s like this,” explode the advertisers. “It is now ten in the morning—don’t you dare put down the phone!!! You hear??? Don’t you dare put down the phone!!! It’s now ten. At half past five we’ll be waiting for you by the stadium. If you don’t come, we’ll rip your balls off. If you come, we’ll rip your balls off anyway. But it will be better for you if you come. Understand?” “Yes,” says Dogg. “Do you understand!?” the advertisers cannot calm down. “I understand,” says Dogg Pavlov, feeling the trout swimming cheerfully somewhere under his throat. “What’s with you?” the advertisers finally ask. “Are you feeling bad?” “Yes.” “Do you need anything?” “Some vodka.” “Asshole,” say Vova and Volodia and put down the receiver. Dogg takes a breath. Ten o’clock. He needs to change or have a drink, better a drink, of course. His granny comes out of the next room. This granny, he loves her and all that, even goes around with her veteran’s card, you could even say that he’s proud of her, not entirely, of course, but up to a certain point, he tells people that she burned in a tank, I have trouble imagining the little old lady in a tank wearing a helmet, although anything’s possible. “How are you Vitalik?” she says. “Work, granny, work,” says Dogg. “What kind of work is it?” worries the little old lady. “Yesterday, they telephoned all day, asking, ‘Where is that asshole?’ And I should know?”