Recent Work By Oksana Marafioti

When I was twenty-eight I saw Jesus Christ give a speech from the back of a pickup truck.

Immediately I called my husband and told him to get his ass over there so that, like me, he might also bask in the glory of Christ. Plus, I needed a witness. Someone my family trusted.

 

We were in the parking lot of LA Panavision, a motion picture equipment company I was working for at the time. A sizable crowd had gathered, and I made sure to stay at the very front so as not to miss the action.

I watched the robed figure in awe, amazed that I should be a few yards away from greatness. But even more so, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I could call my mother and tell her about this encounter, and she would finally be delirious with pride. Everyone would know, because she’d tell them.

And that was the most important thing.

Back then my relatives belonged to a group of immigrant families with a long history of unhealthy competition. Most had known each other from the old country. But even after they had moved to America and their lives had transformed into something decidedly non-Eastern European, the collective desire to show off remained just as fierce.

Accomplishments were a yardstick by which they measured a family’s worth. And since most of the older generations could not properly maneuver the Demolistic (democratic-capitalistic) utopia of the U.S., they used us kids as their race horses.

And the race was always on.

Back on that parking lot I knew my chance had arrived. It was my time to shine. During lunch break I called my mother.

“Mom, you’ll never guess what just happened,” I said.

“You won the lottery.”

“Better. I just saw James Caviezel.”

“Who?”

“You know. The guy from Frequency. He’s gonna play Jesus in that new Mel Gibson movie. They were shooting a scene from it today at work.”

“I have no idea who that is, but did you say Mel was there?”

I should’ve known. James didn’t score high points because he wasn’t famous enough, but Mel would put me in the lead for sure.

When my mother was convinced that yes, in fact, Mel Gibson had also been present, and that yes, we had exchanged words, she promptly ordered me off the phone so she could commence bragging.

I was the most popular person for the entire six months I worked at Panavision. In the eyes of my relatives, their friends, and their enemies, I had made it. Any news was big news. Like the time I almost ran over Tom Cruise with my car, or when I met the cast of That 70’s Show and discovered that one of the main characters spoke fluent Russian, or when Cameron Diaz hugged me for no apparent reason. My mother weaved these bits into lush, fancy tapestries of my ascent into stardom. She told me how jealous everyone was, and that made her feel so proud.

I did meet several fascinating and wonderful people. I loved shaking hands with them, eating lunch with them, joking with them like they were human. At first, it all went to my head.

But I had a husband and a two year-old son at home, and I hardly saw them. Every time I found myself in the company of Hollywood celebrities, my mind drifted to our tiny apartment where my own two stars were probably building Lego castles without me.

And ever so slowly the star struck feeling dissipated.

I felt quite unaccomplished and confused. Wasn’t this the dream job so many people would kill for? Was I unappreciative of the opportunities presented to me? Was my family’s idea of an accomplishment fundamentally different from my own?

After a while I started to hate my job. No matter how much I pretended to enjoy the business, I felt nothing for it. The glitter didn’t blind me, the whirlwind didn’t whirl. I was putting my kid and husband and myself through hell just to impress family, and once I admitted that to myself I knew what had to be done.

I quit. Walked out of the place that hundreds of people would sell their firstborn to get into.

The relatives still ask me why I did it. When I tell them, they give me knowing looks, always suspecting more controversial reasons.

But the truth is simple: I had accomplished so much more by walking away

My father turned on the speakerphone, then dialed the number. His long, recently dyed hair shone black against the sunlight streaming through our Los Angeles apartment windows.

I glanced at my stepmother, Natali. She winked, a pair of golden teeth gleaming at me. She loved meddling, gossiping, trouble of any kind. So did her teeth.

Lyda–a retired hair dresser from across the hall–stood behind my father, arms crossed at the elbows, lips moving in worried waves.

I couldn’t believe they were actually doing this. But they would not listen to reason, so I hoped nobody was home. And then it came, the answer on the other end of the line. “Hello?”

Natali jumped in her seat. Lyda looked like a ripe tomato at a food festival, happy and terrified at the same time.

“Bless me, Boris,” my father said, motioning for us to stay quiet.


A pause. Then, “Who the hell is this?” Boris sounded like an unhinged cemetery gate.

“I am a man in love, Boris.”

Another pause. This one longer, testosteronier. “And I don’t give a damn, asshole.”

Well, this Boris was not an overly polite fella’, but I still felt sorry for him. He had no idea what was coming. He should never have answered that phone.

You might wonder to yourself why, why would a sixty year old man (dad), crank call an eighty five year old man (Boris)? Well, as I enlighten you, keep in mind that love, as is obvious from many Hollywood blockbusters, knows no common sense.

It all started with Lyda the hairdresser, who at seventy, had discovered a renewed zeal for coquetry. The first time Lyda saw Boris, she knew he was the man for her. They flirted shamelessly for the next three months, and soon their friendship grew into something which the American Idol contestants try to sing about every week at eight sharp.

Lyda and Boris became inseparable. But no matter how Lyda tried, she failed to move the relationship to the next level-marriage. Boris, the rascal that he was, preferred long matches of backgammon with his many friends, to the doldrums of matrimonial existence.

The couple began to quarrel until one day Boris packed up and left.

Lyda shared the sad news with my father and stepmother who quickly devised a plan to teach Boris a lesson.

So here we are. The phone call.

“Who is this?” Boris demanded.

“I need your help,” dad said. “My woman won’t marry me without your blessing.”

“Oh, really? Who’s this crazy broad?”

“Her name is Lyda and she’s my sunshine.”

This pause was indignant with a forecast of outrage in the near future.

My father gave Lyda an all knowing smile along with a nod of a man who was winning. “Please brother. Bless me. I love her and I want to make her mine–”

“You son of a bitch. Lyda’s my woman, mine, and I won’t let some Casanova schmuck like you, take her away from me.”

Lyda blushed. One wrinkled hand flew to her chest. Her eyes watered.

“Boris, all I want is a blessing,” dad said, motioning for my stepmother to cease her giggling.

“Well, you’re not getting it so shove off,” Boris shouted. “My Lyda is a flower that only I can pick, you got me? You touch her and I’ll feed your entrails to my dog.”

I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. A flower? Really? I gave Lyda a once over. Standing there in her half rolled up stockings, a floral Mumu, and lipstick red enough to stop traffic, she reminded me of my grandmother minus the stage makeup. I began to doubt Boris’ sanity and his eyesight.

But as the man fought for his flower with ardency of a Shakespearean Romeo, I forgot about his age and hers. My amusement slipped behind something that surprised me very much. Wonderment, and a tiny drop of envy. Despite the crusty exterior, Boris turned out to be a helpless romantic, a knight defending his princess, Rhett battling for his Scarlett. I was nineteen and absurdly sentimental. To me true love was a religion. But I had never expected to see it demonstrated so feverishly between two people who, I had thought to my greatest shame, were too old to feel passion of any kind. So I stopped assuming, I listened, and I learned.

The conversation ended with Boris hanging up. My father was unperturbed by the other man’s hostility. In fact, he welcomed it as a good sign. “Don’t worry,” he said to Lyda. “It turned out better than I had expected.”

Are you sure?” Her face lit up around the edges.

“Like the sun in the sky.”

The next day Boris came back, a bouquet of daises in one hand and a ring in the other.They were married inside a week, and they are still together.

Bless me Boris!

We board the train to Kazakhstan in the middle of the night; thirty of us stuffed canned-food-style into the last three cars. Once the ticket agent at the Moscow central station found out she was dealing with performers and Gypsies, all the good tickets mysteriously sold out. We were stuck riding the back where everything swerved and rattled and swayed from side to side, like a shark’s tail.