Book Review: The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

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If you’re anything like me, you haven’t touched any Russian literature. If you’re also anything like me, you have only a faint knowledge of Russian history. To those of you who are like me, I recommend The Master and Margarita. The story revolves around the exploits of Satan in Soviet era Moscow and involves witchcraft, religion, and literature, all in the most satisfying way. The way in which it interweaves aspects of Soviet life into its occult imagery are illuminating to an understanding of a political philosophy many may not be familiar with. Though footnotes are helpful to an understanding of the story, its position as a historical artifact is only one of its merits. Like the story’s heroine who is swept away on a magic broom, the best part of the book is the way Bulgakov is able to sweep his readers into a fun-house mirror world of Moscow. The book reminds me of a dark cousin to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with its rich, absurd descriptions that only support the idea that it is through fantastical metaphors that we can better understand life within a period of history.

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Retail is screwing up my brain and I hate it

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I graduated from college just a couple of weeks ago with not a lot of hope in my eyes. I was excited to go to the music festival that I had planned as a vacation with my partner, but the prospect of graduating left me with a deep, existential fear.

I still have that existential fear, it turns out. To help with that, I’ve been writing (not here, obviously) more frequently, trying to read more, and generally trying to find things that make me happy. I’ve been seeing a therapist about my problems with anxiety and depression, which has also been helpful.

I’m not in bad place after graduation by any means, mind you. I have my adult life mostly figured out (I naively believe) and I have a full-time job now, where I once only worked part-time. I work at an organic grocery store here, where I help customer’s find things.

Today something embarrassing happened to me. I was raised in a small town, where the food was mostly ordinary, if that makes sense. A customer came up to me and asked me where the pâté was. I apologized to her and said that I wasn’t familiar with that product, and asked if she describe it. After she explained and I realized, while she was talking, that I knew exactly what pâté  is, she then told me that I should learn more about the “kinds of foods the eat in Boulder”.

It just made me so furious at this customer. It made me feel like I was still a hayseed, even though I went through four years of college to make sure that that wouldn’t happen again. It made me furious about the fucking elitism in the town, but that’s mostly just a fact of life. It made me feel worse than this grown-ass lady going grocery shopping at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.

Eurotrashcation: Part Three

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Click here Part One and Part Two.

We woke up when the sun hardly a flesh wound, only slightly bleeding over the horizon. If there was such a thing as a sun in the U.K., that is. We headed over to the nearest convenience shop and slightly bled our bank accounts for cash, as though they were inflamed (they were decidedly not).

We made our way to the train station, catching it minutes before it choo-chooed out of the station. Three changes later, noticing old women wearing old clothes and worn shoes, bejeweled wrinkled fingers entwined in a husband’s and we were at Newcastle.

One of our cards, the one that actually had money on it for things like food and transportation (you know, conveniences) and we were stuck making calls to people across the pond where they were fast asleep. After the fifth call, the card was unfrozen.

We got on the bus we needed, in time for it but almost late for the next transportation. I asked the driver when the bus would move, and he said “soon”, which immediately made me feel like an ass. An Idiot American, and that wouldn’t be the first time. It drove us to the harbor, and we boarded.

This was my first time on sea, that is, if you neglect the ancient, primordial sea that is the Eastern Plains of Colorado. Our room on the ferry reminded of a brig. I lay on the bed very still and remembered stories from Maryland about kids using scopolamine patches to trip out and wished I had but one. Then the boat actually started rocking, and my stomach joined. I felt it sloshing inside my abdomen. I laid there until I grew accustomed to it, like I was having a bad trip by myself, trying to help myself with a repeated mantra. We went to the on board restaurant for lunch, walking with bow-legged steps. I ate the salmon, because I figured it would be fresh. I don’t actually know anything about the life of a seaman, so I shouldn’t say anything.

We puffed on cigarettes on the deck and watched the smoke signals disintegrate behind us. Some heady motherfuckers walked by, laughing in the Dutch language. Despite my landlocked origin, it was actually Hoss that was got a little sea sick. We spent a good hour in our holding cell, with me rubbing his tummy, trying to coax him back to life.

We went up to the ferry’s bar, rolling our eyes as we passed a Tina Turner cover band. I ordered a margarita, the first I had in months, and he ordered a club soda. The bartender, seeing our age, was rude and curt. Or maybe that’s just how it was. We watched a Dutchman get really drunk, holding his phone up and banging it down. I ordered another and asked Hoss to tip the man really well.

We went back to the holding cell and told each other secrets, secrets too private to be written here.

For lack of better entertainment, we went to the movie theater, and watched that James Bond movie where he clearly has a tentacle fetish. We laughed, we rolled our eyes, we made Archer jokes, we slept. The ferry passed through the sea.

Eurotrashcation: Part Two

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Click here for Part One.

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In the morning we threw ourselves out of bed, threw our shit into our bags, and threw our feet out the door.

The next stop was the city of Norwich, where I was studying for the semester. I was not terribly excited for this stop, if I’m being completely honest. I had spent four months there already, stumbling from pub to pub in search of margaritas and rowdy people to party with. The city was sleepy, and I wasn’t ready to go to bed again. Hoss wanted to see what I had been up to, so we went.

It was Easter when we rode in that coach to Norwich. Couples were returning to town, holding hands and complaining about in-laws. A kid’s head rolled against the seat as she slept.

We checked out the campus, first. The design is rooted in the ’60’s, but the colossal cement glacier has slid through the decades. Walk paths crossed over ground floors, cut underneath with flights of stairs, like the campus was folded up on itself. In conjunction with the grey sky, the ambiance was something desolate. The sun flirted with exposing herself, but the foul air she used as perfume made her unappealing.

Then we headed into town. The town was closed for the remembrance of its Lord and Savior’s resurrection. The Norman castle loomed on the hill, its white stone burning to assert its authority. We stopped going into the churches after we accidentally interrupted a second Easter gathering. Cobbles of the road clunked beneath our steps. Men laughed at drunk passed out in some trash in an alley.

We ate some Indian food. It was simultaneously the most vegetables and most flavor I had eaten in one sitting for four months. We were short on cash, and had to give a shitty tip.

Norwich was the vacation from our vacation.

 

My Punkest Friend

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One of my greatest friends will not admit that he is a punk.

When he rolled his own cigarettes, he made them out of old receipts, using post it notes as filters.

He painted the lights in the hallways of his apartment building with farm animals.

He allowed a homeless guy to sleep on his couch and print his extremist manifestos because if he was a homeless queer person, he would have wanted someone to give him a roof.

When he had a party at his place, he brought a toaster and bread and butter to the room where a stoned girl was suffering from cravings and made her that damn toast.

He is always good for bumming cigarettes.

He tries to exchange ice cream for weed.

He lets friends borrow clothes for job interviews.

He wore a beanie he found on a bus in Portland and gave it to me.

When he shop-lifted, he gave the things he stole to people who needed them/wanted them.

When he went backpacking in New Zealand and he needed money, he spent a month picking apples.

He gives away art projects that he has made as home-warming gifts.

He embroiders lascivious things on his underwear.

He punches assholes in the face who call him a queer.

He inspires me.

 

Eurotrashcation: Part One

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During the spring, I traveled through Europe. This is a recitation of the events which happened.

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Early in the morning, I went to Heathrow.

I bought some coffee, and bid my time. The croissant was tasty. I bought a ten pack of camels, which was ridiculously expensive. As usual. Someone was being a dick to the Sikh salesclerk. As usual.

The plane took forever to land. I tapped my feet and waited around the flight board. Families and couples reunited around me at the international arrivals. Like that goddamn Hugh Grant movie. An eastern European woman sobbed. An old Middle Eastern man sobbed. Children screamed as they waited for their parents to come home.

The plane landed, but took another hour to get its shit together. I was getting nervous that I had gone to the wrong airport. The luggage claim of for the plane went through, and another hour passed.

Then he was coming through the door. We hugged and kissed, and, yeah, it was like that Hugh Grant movie, okay? Except an Arabic man scoffed at us. Not every moment is perfect, though. Hoss remarked that I looked like a little leather daddy.

We struggled to find the underground towards our hotel. A woman joked with her husband that “Cockfosters” were two of her favorite things. There was an accordion player on the tube. Several people panhandled in the car.

The hotel was very nice and very gay. The table was a sort of pink glass, which matched the pink highlights of the room. There was a pink lotus blooming in a painting. I cannot stress enough how pink this room was, but it matched the dreary London sky.

We relaxed after Hoss’s eight hour flight. When we emerged from the room some four hours later, the sun was down. We decided to go out anyways. We caught the underground to Piccadilly Circus, which Hoss was not as impressed with as I was when I saw it the first time. I like the lights and the noise and the energy of the place. It buzzes.

I showed him Big Ben. I showed him Trafalgar Sqaure and the National Gallery. The streets were dark and quiet, but spooky is more our speed. We saw Westminster Abbey. We saw things we didn’t know the significance of. We recognized names but not the sights. We walked down the Thames and held hands. With shoes echoing against the pavement, we walked to the Tower of London and saw Tower Bridge, which I maintain is campy as fuck. We pointed at the umbrellas shoved into the trash bins.

We got lost and had to ask a tourist where we were to get home. She pointed us out on the underground system map, and it was clear we were lost in a machine we didn’t comprehend.

When we made it home later after grabbing a bag of KFC, a drunk, homeless, Irish man told us some jokes.

“What do you call dairy from Israel?”

“What?”

“Cheesus of Nazareth. What’s the difference between an envelope and the Queen’s vagina?”

“What?”

“I wouldn’t want to lick one.”

We both gave him a couple pounds. He deserved it.

 

Tea in England

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I have been on the hunt for grass for months now. Too long have I gotten inappropriately drunk at the British pubs. Too long have I sadly looked up the stoner tag on Tumblr.

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My interest is that of the connoisseur. I wanted to compare what the Brits were smoking to that of highly superior Colorado weed. I was wrong. My tolerance had dropped drastically, rendering any sense of superiority I had born meaningless.

I hounded after my few acquaintances in England. One girl, an American I know, lives in a flat with British types that rage, as far I can surmise. They have a history of throwing lemons and melons out of the window, on the kitchen floor, it sounds like a good time. They go into their bathroom and turn the shower on and light up a j, to diffuse the smoke in the steam. They practice some strange rite of passage known as a “windmill”, where they take a long drag, hold it, and spin in circles till they’re deliriously dizzy. This also sounds like fun.

I asked my flatmates. They knew nothing.

I finally got an invite to a flat party in my complex. They were pre-drinking before going to the club, which I was not into. I shared the remnants of a bottle of Jack with a friend, and hung out on the balcony. A Brit poked fun at my less than admirable roll-up cig, and then offered to roll me one. In seconds he transformed the paper, the filter, and the tobacco into a splinter-sized stick. All around me I could smell the earthy scent of cannabis. A woman gave her joint to the man that I was talking to and went inside. I asked for some puffs, which he obliged me. It was at that party that I met my last hook-up, a man with long curly ginger hair. We chatted about Burroughs and dabs.

Several weeks later, I invited him out for a couple of drinks. We went out to a couple of pubs, drinking an unsteady line of double gin and tonics. We discussed Burroughs and Ginsberg and Stephen King and Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. We talked about the legalization in Colorado. Eventually we landed at a place called the Mischief. And then he invited me to come back to his place to … (wait for it) SMOKE.

We got to the flat. In his room he had stacks upon stacks of books. He showed me that he was currently reading The Doors of Perception and I knew he was a homie. Other indicators included the Fear and Loathing and the Dark Side of the Moon posters. He had the first pipe with resin in it that I had seen in months. He had run out of tobacco, so I had popped back into my flat to retrieve my own. He had said he was bad at rolling, but the spliff he produced was long and magnificent. Because I had seen the coppers with their silly hats walking around, I kept lighting cigarettes to hid the scent, but he seemed unfazed. Before long, I was very high. The kind where your thoughts are speeding through your skull too fast to register, where your head disconnects from your body and your legs start buzzing. It was after I had said “Poetry should be ephemeral” and before he had gotten the wine that I started feeling sick. I ran to the women’s toilet and cleaned up after myself. The toilet was broken, which gave me painful paranoia. I went back into the kitchen and we sat at the table, both of our heads in our hands. I said that I thought I should call it a night. It was as I was saying good night that vomit again filled my throat and I  ran to the men’s bathroom and again emptied my stomach. I embarrassingly wished him a good night again.

At home I lay on the bed and tried to keep the room from spinning, with a shitty sitcom from Netflix playing to an unwatching audience.