MY NAME IS ROMAN PADOLSKIY
Roman always knew he would grow up to drive a Mercedes. Every morning, as he groggily swallowed cream of farina, cheese blintzes and juice made for him by his grandmother, he would gaze wistfully out the living room window. If he craned his chubby, ten year old neck, he could see the top of his father’s gleaming black pride and joy sitting in their makeshift backyard (a square piece of concrete with some sorry-looking bushes sectioned off by bricks). The car had prowess. It was sexy, assertive. Everything Roman hoped to be in about eight years, as soon as the baby fat transformed into glistening muscle, and his pockets jangled with cash to buy rap CDs and drinks for girls in Chanel with blonde hair and round asses. Ten years later, it turns out there was nothing baby about the fat that now sits defiantly under Roman’s chin and on his lower abdomen, eliciting varied responses; from his mother: “Eat less sugar!”; from his friends: “Bro, you got five chins, you’re slacking.”; from his grandmother: “Romachka, mamochka, you lost weight! Sit, I make you kotletki.”
Roman currently works at Duane Reade, the one on the corner of Nostrand and Ave. U. He’s been stocking inventory for three years now, occasionally filling in as cashier when Maria’s kids are sick or Eugene eats too many brownies and is baked for two days straight, never leaving the couch and periodically slapping his forehead with his hand to make sure his eyebrows are still there. He’s been praying to be made head cashier for a long time, which would provide a raise up to $9/hour and enable him to buy the Prada sneakers he’s been drooling over ever since Boris Edelman showed up in class sporting a pair.
“Yo, check these out, son. Fresh, right? Mad bills. I been saving up for three months, been spending only the money my grandma gives me, all the shit I make at Dessert Palace I save.”
“Word. How much you make there again?”
“$8…but I used to make $7.45, and it’s straight cash so it’s not that bad, you feel me?”
“Damn, bro, how long it take you to save up on $8 an hour?”
“Yo, shut the fuck up, bro, what you sporting, like, Nike Air or some shit? My grandpa goes jogging in those!”
“Chill out, you know I’m saving up for a car. And I blow it on stoges and Georgi, you know how I do, bro.”
Even though the car was what Roman had wanted for years, he still eyes the Pradas jealously as Boris goes strutting up to Mike Sverdlov to elicit a conversation similar to the one he had just had with Roman. There are days when Roman wonders just how deep and sincere his friendships with these assholes really were.
On Mondays, Roman is always late to his first class at Kingsborough College, Intro to Finance. The usual “go out get twisted” night is typically Thursday, but for Roman this is a no-go since Thursdays he assumes the role of designated driver for his grandparents to and from his aunt Marina’s apartment on Brighton 16th. He never stays long, just long enough to escort babushka Olya and dedushka Mischa up the old, rattling elevator and into apartment 4B, whose interior is swathed in purple gauze, leopard scarves, and dirty underwear. It’s almost always the same schpiel:
Enter Marina, stage left; starkly blonde hair oily and disheveled. Black roots very apparent. Silk, zebra-print bathrobe haphazardly thrown over wrinkled pink slip. Green Chinese slippers, the kind with heels.
Marina: Oh, hello, Olya. Hi, Mischa. Tea?
Roman: Ok, bye dedushka, bye, babushka, I’ll be back at 10.
Marina: Roman. You really should lose some weight. You want some piroshki? So everyone wants tea?
Roman: No, Marina, I gotta go. Papa needs the car back.
Marina: Sit at least 10 minutes! Bozhe moi, what is the matter with this young generation? Never even a spare minute for their family! Oy, I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore. Today I heard on the radio that Obama is giving all the young kids free cigarettes! This isn’t the country we thought it would be. We came here from Russia expecting gold-paved streets! All those days we went hungry in Italy and slaved for pennies, all for nothing! And young people used to be polite! Now they smoke cigarettes and are always on the phone!
Roman: Bye, babushka.
Marina: Roma, leave the door unlocked. Vadim is coming later. He left his wallet here.
In the car, Roman bumps either Jay-Z or Biggie, Tupac if in a really bad mood. Rihanna in extreme conditions. The base is always jammed up as far as it can go, the windows pulsating with bitches, money, fame, and weed. At a red light, his left elbow balancing on the wheel, Roman lights a Parliament and makes a diamond with his chubby fingers, Hova’s sign, pushing his hands up towards the top of the dashboard as if in rhythmic prayer.
Roman’s father, Arkadiy Padolskiy, is generally considered a DILF amongst Roman’s female friends, especially by Yana Rozenberg and Victoria Dekhtar.
“Oh my god, check out your dad’s muscles! I would so bang him like right here, right now, you know? Like, why is he so hot?”
“Victoria, there is like fluid streaming out of your body right now. Shut up! He’s my dad, what the fuck!”
“But he’s hot what do you want me to say?”
What Roman wanted her to say was: “Romachka, you’re so sexy. I don’t care if you’re chubby or you don’t have a fancy car. I would love it if you would let me blow you, and maybe we could go out for ice cream or something after and we could talk about your mom and how we both have the same or at least similar dimple on the right sides of our completely non-identical mouths.”
At 15 Sheepshead Bay Rd., apartment 10B, Roman quietly shuts the front door. His dog, Lala, a baby Doberman that he finds adorable and the rest of the world finds revolting, comes prancing down from inside his room down the narrow white hallway, where her awkward body had been warming her special brown and yellow blanket for most of the day.
“Come wash the dishes, I’ve been on my feet all day.”
Roman’s mother, Lena Tsosarskaya, is slightly taller than her husband, a fact Arkadiy always attributes to his own bad posture at family gatherings: “I’m actually 1.5 inches taller, but I spent so much time working and slaving and, yes, occasionally running from people who wanted to break my skull that now I think I deserve to relax and hunch over like the old man that I am.” He then emits his parched, guttural laugh that used to send baby Roman flying for protection behind the couch. Lena stands in the corner and smirks into her red wine, which her glass seems to be full of anytime Roman looks at her.
Lena wears her dark brown dyed fuchsia hair in a pixie cut, accented by her heavily lined light green eyes and light pink lipstick. She never wears her wedding band because she hates how fat it is, and the pinkish copper tone of the Russian gold it’s made out of irritates her. Instead, she always wears a large, oval-shaped silver ring on the middle finger of her right hand. Her nails are always painted either clear or dark mahogany. To work, Lena wears turtlenecks with gaudy brooches pinned over her heart, slacks and moccasins from Naturalizer. She carries a brown snakeskin handbag with silver accents. She never slouches. Sometimes, when Roman sits in the kitchen as Lena makes dinner, he absentmindedly glances at the photographs on the bookshelf of him as a baby, hobbling pudgily over to a younger, less severe-looking Lena, her hair long and frizzy, barefoot and wearing a sleeveless green dress belted at the waist.
Ever since Lena moved from one medical office to another, things are different. Her duties hadn’t changed at the new position; in fact, they may have become easier. She is paid almost 1.5 times as much as she had been at her previous job. She even made some new friends, fellow middle-aged medical billers with whom she gossips and drinks wine out of Styrofoam cups during Friday lunch hours. In Russia, Lena had studied piano at a fairly prestigious musical conservatory. She knows Arkadiy is right; there is no room for a piano in their apartment, plus with Lala around they can’t be sure she won’t scratch or damage it. And keyboards just aren’t the same. Sometimes on weekends when there’s nothing else to clean, Lena digs out her dusty sheet music from underneath her bedside table and drinks her red wine as she stares at the sea of black dots. Rachmaninov had always been her favorite composer; she remembers how she felt playing his Elegie at her senior recital. Lena loves her son, but the older he gets the less energy she invests in trying to understand him. Her husband has irritated her since Roman was 5 years old.
“Hi, papa, how was work? Did you-”
“Why does my car have a dent on it?”
“It does? Pa, I don’t know, I just came home from driving grandma and-”
“Do you know how much I paid for that car? Do you remember? Must I do absolutely everything in this house? You have the simplest responsibility in the world, just drive them and pick them up, once a week!”
“Pa, where’s there a dent? I drive really carefully you know that! Just because I failed the driving test once you always hold that against me, remember I got a perfect score the second time! The lady was just a bitch she didn’t like that I made one sharp turn, one! Brighton’s a mess it’s ridiculous driving there!”
“You’re going to pay for it. I don’t even know if it can be fixed! That’s it, you’re not driving it anymore, I’ll have Uncle Sasha drive them.”
“Pa! What the hell! I need to go out tomorrow night! That’s messed up!”
“Shut up and get out of my face. You can’t even drive a car without damaging it. You’re in a community college, you get shit marks, you’re a slob and you hang out with trash. Look at those whores you’re always with! Go, I don’t want to look at you, I come home tired from working all day I don’t need this shit.”
Arkadiy pours himself a glass of scotch and bangs his large ass onto the black leather couch. Being the owner of an electrical appliance store allows him to make his own hours, so he rarely gets to work before 10 AM. Still, it’s already 8:30 PM; he’s still fucking tired. Roman should really grow up, he thinks; doesn’t he have any desire to be like his father? Arkadiy notices the way those plastic blonde sluts eye him when they come to his house to sit in Roman’s room and pretend to listen to his bullshit. If Roman would only bust his precious, jiggling ass a bit more, maybe go to the gym twice a week, maybe quit his pointless job as a pharmacy slave and find a real internship in a law firm or bank, then maybe he would begin to understand what real life is like. Maybe then he would understand the real value of a Mercedes.
Roman slumps to his room and shuts the door quietly. He collapses on his bed, Lala throwing him a dirty look as she bounces up on the pillow from the force of his weight. He fingers his iPod, plays Angry Birds for a while, then opens his laptop and watches some interracial porn on mute. No one calls. He scrolls through his Blackberry and stops at Victoria’s number, moving his fingers lightly over the keys as if typing her a text. Around 3 AM when he hears his father go to bed, he goes outside and lights a joint. It’s May, but he shivers from lack of sleep.
“Yo, Brooklyn! What up, bro!”
Oh, fuck, Roman thinks. What’s this motherfucker doing up at 3 AM on a Thursday night?
“Hey ma man, what you up to? Smokin’ bud, niiiice. Can you hit this nigga up with an ace?”
Senya Pinkhasov is Roman’s skinny dipshit neighbor from two houses down. He dropped out of Hunter to sell weed, then moved on to pills, then moved on to snorting coke and taking pills instead of selling. Now he spends his days jerking off and smoking bowls in his parents’ basement.
“Wow, you da man, bro, this is some sick shit.”
“Dude, do you ever shower? There’s mad oil in your hair and shit.”
“Nah, son, forgot today. I don’t really fucking care anyway.”
Roman inches away as Senya sidles up to him, his leather jacket about five sizes too big and his pants hanging closer to his knees than to his waist.
“So what’s happening, bro? You still in school and shit?”
“Yeah, still at Kingsborough.”
“Yo, that place is whack. Why don’t you just drop out and work at Duane Reade full-time?”
“I dunno, man, why don’t you shove a finger up your ass?”
“Oh shit, this nigga’s getting riled up. I don’t mean nothing, bro, just asking.”
“I’m going to bed, Senya. Peace, see you around.”
“Yo, wait, wait, wait! Wait up!”
“Come back I gotta ask you something.”
“So, you got like $100?”
“Bro, get the fuck out of here I’m not giving you $100 so you can spend it on porn and coke.”
“Well, um, you got like connections and shit? You know, people who wanna buy and stuff?”
“Yeah, Senya, I got a shit ton of addict friends. I’ll tell them to hit you up.”
“Yo, no doubt, bro! Yeah, you know I got the ill shit! Only be cool, man, don’t tell ‘em where I live or nothin’ like that, my moms is gonna freak. Yo, peace out, homie! Thanks for the ganja!”
Roman walks back upstairs to his apartment, goes to his room, takes out his wallet, goes to the living room and lays down a $100 bill on the kitchen table with a post-it saying, “For Papa, sorry.” He goes back to his room, does his Management homework, showers, and goes to bed.
The next morning, Roman texts Victoria to see if she wants a ride to work. He waits for 15 minutes for an answer, then drives his mother to work instead. He goes to the gym around 12 PM, and stays 3 hours. Then he heads to work. He has to cover a double shift since Eugene fell off his porch the night before after 10 shots of tequila and a blunt. When he leaves around 10 pm, he forgets his paycheck. Around 11:30 PM, Boris texts, asking if Roman wants to come out to Miami Lounge in half an hour. Roman shows up in an hour, has a beer, smokes ten cigarettes and leaves.
Saturday, Roman gets up at 1 PM, gets dressed, drinks a Red Bull, goes out and buys a goldfish. He calls her Stella. He gets a beer from the refrigerator and stands near his bedroom window, watching the fishbowl. He soon gets bored and goes on Facebook. He sees that Yana uploaded pictures from Miami Lounge the night before. In all the pictures Roman is tagged in the flash is too strong, making him look like a chubby ghost with a blinding diamond in each ear. In one picture Victoria is kissing him on the cheek. He looks at the picture more closely and sees Boris standing in back of Victoria, making a blowjob face with his tongue jammed into his left cheek. Roman looks over at the fishbowl again. It occurs to him that he doesn’t even own a digital camera, but if he did he would probably use it to try and take a picture of the inappropriately large goldfish as seen through the distorted glass.