How I Know I’m Not in New York (Part 4)

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(Originally published March 5, 2013, in Dilema Veche, here.)

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”

I met my Romanian friend Remus for a drink the other night. When he invited me, he sounded very excited.

“There you are! Hello, Remus.”

“Hello, my friend.”

“Hey, are you ok?”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“You look awful.”

“I know.”

“You haven’t shaved in days.”

“Three. I know.”

“And you’re wearing a ratty t-shirt and an old baggy jacket.”

“Yes. I know.”

“Is there something wrong?”

“No, not at all.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“I’m going to be on TV. They asked me to comment on the news. I need to get ready. I’m very excited.”

“That’s how you get ready?”

“Of course. Everyone important goes on looking like this. It shows we don’t care.”

“Really? You don’t care?”

“Of course, I care. Don’t be silly. That’s why I look like this. They have beautiful women on those shows.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think that’s the point.”

“No? Maybe you’re right.”

“Still, you must be excited.”

“Do you think my belly’s big enough?”

“Now, Remus, don’t be mean. But you seem a bit nervous.”

“Actually, I am. A little bit nervous.”

“I understand. You’re not sure what to say. You want to sound smart. But I’m sure….”

“No, don’t be silly. That doesn’t matter.”

“Then what is it?”

“I just need to practice. I need to get ready.”

“All right. I’ll help. What is the topic?”

“I have no idea.”

“But they asked you to be there. You must know the topic.”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”


“The topic doesn’t matter.”

“But Remus, I’m sure they’ll want you to talk.”

“Of course, I’ll talk. This is my big chance. I plan to talk a lot. What does it matter what the topic is?”

“How will you know what to say?”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”


“I’ll say whatever I think. They told me it doesn’t matter what I say.”

“Well, we can probably figure it out. Which show asked you to come?”

“I don’t remember. Why does it matter?”

“Well, Remus, to begin with, how will you know where to go.”

“Oh, they said they’ll call me again. So I guess it’s either the one where we all sit around a table like we’ve just finished a big dinner and we scratch our bellies and just talk with each other the way we would after a few drinks as if we were sitting in our kitchen.”

“Yes, it might be that one.”

“Or maybe it’s the one where the host acts like a high school teacher and draws things on a board and points to things on a big TV wall like he’s lecturing a class and everyone watching prefers to stare out the window because no one wants to be there but they’re not allowed to leave.”

“Yes, I suppose it could be that…”

“Or maybe it’s the one with the ventriloquist. I like that one a lot.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You know, the one with the puppet. With that guy who looks real.”

“No, I don’t know which that is.”

“Sure, you do. It’s popular. The one where his mouth is moving but someone else speaks. It’s really amazing. You can’t even see strings.”

“Remus, you’re confused. That host is not a puppet. That host is a man.”


“Yes, he is. He’s a human.”

“Nooooooo, my friend. You mean that he’s REAL!? I thought it’s pretend. That it was someone else speaking!!”

“Yes, well, sometimes…”

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure which one invited me. I’ll find out when I get there.”

“And you really think it’s a good idea?”

“Of course, the women are beautiful!”

“Yes, I know, you already said that, but I’m not sure that…”

“And I’ll be famous and important!”

“Remus, honestly, maybe to yourself and a few others who…”

“I just need to decide.”

“Decide about what?”

“Which side I’m on.”

“Well, which side do you believe is the best?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll be for Basescu. HAI, ROMANIA!”

“Umm, Remus, that wasn’t Basescu. That was…”

“The Prime Minister’s a KITTEN!!”

“Remus, really.”

“By the way, is that good or bad? I always thought kittens were cute.”

“Seriously, Remus, I’m not sure you…”

“And that other guy. You know, that guy’s a NARCOLEPTIC!!”

“Remus, wait…”

“Do you really think it’s true? He shoplifts hard drugs?”

“Remus, stop. That’s not what it means. That’s klepto…”


“Well, actually…”

“By the way, is he PSL or USD? I can never remember.”

“Remus, that’s enough. Really. Besides, it’s PSD and…”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just be anti-Hungarian. That’s always safe.”

“Well, you might, but be careful. Don’t you know that…?”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”


“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”

“Remus, why do you keep saying that?”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”

“Yes, PLEASE tell me!

“I’m just practicing.”

“Practicing what?”

“That’s the way everyone begins.”

“Begins what?”

“Begins their answers. Because no one really knows.”

“What do you mean?”

“No one knows the topic so instead of looking stupid, the trick is to admit it. But then you have to say something so you go on from there.”

“I know it seems that way, Remus, but sometimes they get people who actually know about the subject and then the discussion goes on and…and…Remus?…did I say something funny?”

“No, no, no. Go ahead and keep talking.”

“What I was saying is that sometimes they get experts to discuss some sort of topic and then the conversation goes from one to the other and they can debate and …see…and…wait, Remus, really, is there something funny here I’m missing?”

“No, no, no. Go on.”

“But why are you smiling? I thought maybe something was funny.”

“Oh, no, sorry, nothing is funny. I’m just practicing my smile.”

“Practicing your smile? What smile is that?”

“It’s called being silently decisive.”

“Remus, do you mean derisive?”

“Yes, it’s a little smile that they do. This way I dismiss your existence without saying a word.”

“It looks more like a smirk. It’s a little bit creepy.”

“That’s why I need practice.”

“Well, be careful with that. You don’t want to look stupid just sitting there smiling.”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. That’s how it’s done.”

“Ok, as I was saying, sometimes they …YOU ARE… get intelligent people…A BASSIST!… who have experience in topics…A BASSIST!!!….to say something…THAT’S JUST NOT TRUE!!!…intelligent and insightful EXCUSE ME!!! IF I COULD PLEASE!!! Remus! Remus! Stop!!

“NOW what’s the matter?”

“Remus, what are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you shouting at me?”


“I’m trying to…OH, THAT’S JUST A LIE!!!….explain that….SIR SIR SIR!!! HA! HA! HA!…Ok, Remus, I give up. Why are you interrupting me?”

“I told you I need practice.”

“Practice what?”

“It would be better if you were a woman. We enjoy that much more.”

“Remus, I don’t think I like…”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I was saying, I don’t think I like this idea of you going on TV. You are usually so kind. So polite. So good at conversation. I remember the time when you and I were sitting in that café and you asked me what I thought about the future of Romania and we had such a good conversation and you were laughing. Remember? Remus? Remus? Excuse me, are you reading your phone?”

“I don’t know. But let me tell you.”

“Now stop that!”

“What did you ask”

“Are you reading your phone?”

“Yes, of course.”

“But I was in the middle of talking.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then why would you do that?”

“Because it’s your turn to talk.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I need to show that I’m not listening. To show everyone I don’t care.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because if I can show I don’t care, that means I won.”

“Won what?”

“The argument, of course. Whatever it was.”

“But if you do that, isn’t that…?”

(RING beep RING beep RING beep)

“Is that your phone ringing?”


“Did you just call yourself?”

“Of course.”

“Why would you do that?”

“It makes me important.”

“Remus, no! It’s just rude!”

“No, my friend, you don’t understand.”

“I do understand. You were invited by the station to comment on the news. And you’re going to go there and be rude and act stupid!”

“Oh, you’re so old-fashioned. What do I know about the news? Did you notice how beautiful the women are?”

“Remus, I’m confused. I really thought that…NOW WAIT A SECOND SIR!….you were going to….HAHAHAHA, THAT’S NOT WHAT PONTA….go on TV and talk….OH YOU HAVE NO IDEA!!!”

“Remus, stop …I DON’T KNOW…that please. It’s very ….BUT LET ME TELL YOU!!….annoying.”

“Remus!! STOP!!”

“But I need to practice.”

“But no, please stop. That’s truly annoying!”


“Yes, Remus, yes. You don’t know what you’re talking about! And you’re just being annoying!”

“Really? Perfect! In that case, I’m sure they’ll ask me back!”

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