Samuel Rafael Barber

Riding a Bike

After energizing the hearts and minds of his fellow Russians en route to becoming his nation's first democratically-elected president, the question remains, is there anything Boris can't do? Ride a bike is one such thing. Remember to shave the little hairs behind the ear in the sideburn region of the face is yet another. Taking inspiration from Bill Clinton's 2004 autobiography, which revealed the future President of the United States did not learn how to ride a bike until he was 22 years of age, Boris has begun to learn, with the help of a set of instructional videos ordered by a member of his cabinet familiar with the style of learning favored by the President. His grandfather was a minister in the department of education, a devout member of the party. Boris read his doctoral thesis as an adolescent, during that age when becoming an educator seemed appealing to one whose ambition had yet to fester, and has appropriated some of his grandfather's core tenets for use in other contexts, as he works with his most senior advisers in crafting a new proposal for higher tariffs on agricultural products as a means of stabilizing skyrocketing food prices in the wake of an unusually arid winter. He struggles to balance himself upon the seat, uncomfortable with the idea that the thin surface area of the wheel can support his weight, his frame. It is a question of belief. When asked if he has heard the recently freed Nelson Mandela's adage, "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall," he turns away. Boris takes a minute to compose himself, mumbling something about the gravel-induced cuts visible on his knees, or perhaps about his father.



Described by his Daughters

Tatyana: "Above all else he is an ambitious man. He supported Gorbachev until it was time to oppose him. Similarly, he is a skilled craftsman of miniature furniture. He carves beds, tables, chairs—you name it—from wood and enters them in competitions. Not many people know this. If he does not win the competition, he will burn the failed piece. He could sell his work for quite a bit of money, should he so desire. But he does not. Now that he is president of Russia he must invent obstacles to be overcome. Obstacles he is confident he can overcome, for there are many . . . that are a struggle, in his capacity as president. And so he carves miniature household accessories out of wood. He carves late into the night."
     Elena: "Once while he was campaigning, I lied in bed sick, lying in bed, lying about being sick. It was my birthday, you see, and I feared he had forgotten. I was horribly depressed, as you can imagine. I must have been nine or ten. I remember staring at the wallpaper and wondering why it is we glue a repeating pattern—often of some odiously tacky floral print—to the wall, when it would be so much simpler and aesthetically pleasing to merely paint the wall a neutral color. It seemed strange, at that moment, that wallpaper should exist, when suddenly my bedroom door opened and there he was, holding not one pony in his hand but two ponies in not two hands, but the same hand. He was standing there, holding the ponies in a single hand, weeping. Above all else, he is a very sensitive man, my father."



Brushing his Teeth

His strokes are firm and quick. Some would say violent. He does not brush for as long as recommended by the dental industry, and yet his teeth are a brilliant white. He smiles often and widely.



Watching Ants (from a neighbor)

"He spends his nights after work out on the back porch, staring everywhere and nowhere, drinking slowly but with purpose. He's never joined by a friend—I'm frankly not sure he has any—nor does a companion ever share his company. An acquaintance he would enjoy becoming familiar with. I apologize for ending the prior sentence on a preposition, despite thinking that is a silly rule of thumb. I think Boris chooses to be this way. I don't believe he cares much for people. So, he notices an ant pile nearby and says he will eliminate the pests but forgets for a few weeks. Then it rains. There are huge water puddles and he observes the ants holding on to one another, connecting to form a makeshift bridge over which other ants climb to collect food. He has read that ants do this, but never seen with his own eyes. Verified with sensory data, he's impressed. I overhear: 'Here is the sort of ingenuity we need in a time like this, when rebuilding our nation's economy can do wonders for stabilizing the political climate and setting this country on course to a prosperous and comfortable future into the 21st century.' He says it with feeling. Next the ants begin moving dirt around and establishing new hills in which their progeny may spread and grow. 'Colonization at work,' he says approvingly. 'Just look at the fruits of the free economy.' The sun begins to set as the ants all move harmoniously, as a single entity, towards him. They begin to rearrange themselves in such a way as to spell a message. Boris bends over, excitedly."



In the Bathroom

At a lavish party, he wanders from group to group, shaking hands and kissing babies. There are many babies to be kissed at the party. There are many attractive women at the party, and yet, his gaze never wanders from his beloved Naina as he makes his way through the room. He is holding a glass of vodka in his hand, though he is not seen drinking from it. After kissing the final baby, he visits the bathroom. Upon exiting, his glass is seen to be empty.



Democratic Transition by Means of Oligarchy

"I have been quoted as saying communism was an idea no different than a pie in the sky. This simplifies a rather more complex idea I may have failed to adequately express the first time around, so I'd like to elaborate as to my meaning, here. Pie is delicious. On that, I hope we can agree. Let us deconstruct the pie, into its core components. The best element of cake: the batter that somehow transcends its very definition as bread. The beautiful symmetry that results from use of a circular pan, the resulting product divided and enjoyed in an equitable manner befitting a modern day Russia. Since too much cake for any one person means an expanding waistline and an expanding waistline means never fitting into the slacks and sport coat you keep in the closet as a reminder of your potential, were you to overcome the statistical improbability of losing significant weight at such an advanced age, or overcome the lack of free market institutions when your economy is undergoing shock therapy leading to a crisis of stagflation."
     A pause.
     "Now, imbue that batter with your preferred flavoring, perhaps of fruit. I am a strawberry fellow myself, though berries of all kinds please my palate. In short, pie is amazing. So is communism. But the sky represents the external bounds of nature which limit man's ability to accomplish everything he may wish to achieve. It is all the way up there, and, while birds may enjoy the fresh air of the troposphere, they lack the capacity to recognize the rare treat that it is to be up in the sky, being animals. This returns us to my original point, in seeking to add nuance to my original formulation. Communism is pie in the sky, but democracy is more like a cloud in the sky. Clouds cannot be explored by man first-hand, so that appearances may fool us for believing what we are told without proof. The farmer and the construction foreman and the meteorologist are all dependent on the cloud, and yet are denied access to it. We trust that there are clouds in the sky because we are told that there are clouds in the sky, and because it appears as if clouds are in the sky, when we look at them with our eyes. But your American eyes deceive you. My Russian ones do not. It is convenient to think that there are clouds in the sky, despite our lack of personal experience verifying that this is so. The exception being a sky diver, I suppose. Few of us even understand how clouds are made. To transition to yet another metaphor, you have little desire to watch how your sausage is made, just as you are reluctant to cast an honest glance at your legislative processes, investigate how your democracy is made or how your clouds are made, who is behind them really, who is funding your democracy, your clouds. Now, I could connect butchers, the cultural elite within a democracy, and sky divers, to keep my metaphor internally consistent, were you to be kind enough to pour me a little more wine." 



On Friendship

"There is nothing more enriching about a friendship than to share one's company with a beloved. To take in a film. To bake a casserole. To sit on a park bench and speculate as to the nature of the daily troubles which so consume the strangers walking to and fro based on their body language, a science rapidly gaining traction in respected quarters of the research establishment. Failing that, however, allocating formerly nationalized industries isn't all that bad either."



Combing his Hair

From habit, he reaches for his comb and brushes at his scalp, only remembering his hair has gone after the teeth scrape against his skull, imparting a more or less pleasurable sensation were Boris not vain and thus injured at the recollection that he is now bald. His iconic images all contain the signature thick and wavy whiteness parted on the right and swept to the left at a shocking angle, described thusly for it is said some find themselves at a loss for words when watching a televised speech, or gazing upon his headshot as presented in the paper, or facing his back in a cafe. Before he ventures into public, Boris must locate one of the twenty or so identical wigs he keeps hidden around the home in spots he is confident others will not discover, so as to keep his baldness a secret. His talent for concealment has only grown as he has ascended the fractious political hierarchy of the Soviet and Russian states, so much so that quite often he fails to come across any of the wigs over the course of his search throughout the day, meaning he must cancel any state business involving his presence. He is seen as unreliable by some, pityingly unsuited for the office he once won with such conviction, now that polls list his approval ratings as low as 2 percent. His ties to the "Yeltsinian oligarchs" who will fund his re-election campaign years from now are of much concern to the Russian people, though he will defeat his opponent from the communist party under allegations of widespread conspiracy and electoral fraud. To say nothing of the International Monetary Fund granting a ten billion dollar loan for purposes of public support at the behest of the American apparatus. To say nothing of the oligarchs repaying the favor which binds. In combing a head devoid of hair, Boris is usually greeted by memories of his childhood dog, Dmitri. The dog loved to go outside despite the brutal weather of Sverdlovsk, and Boris would only reluctantly agree to take him out, when recognizing how such a small gesture on his part could provide Dmitri with an almost limitless joy easily evident in his immediate change of demeanor, as the pair would sit on their stoop and watch the automobiles drive by. When Dmitri died, he was replaced by a new dog, another Dmitri—the first of the so-called False Dmitris—and they too would sit on the stoop, out in the cold, watching the automobiles drive by.



Boris Yeltsin Hosts a Tea Party

As the guests arrive, Boris retreats to his study, an enclosed room found in the western corner of his personal library. I knock and, through the locked study door, ask about his legacy. How he wishes to be remembered. Straining to receive his response, I hear nothing but the knocking of the guests on the locked library door.






If the Cold War was to end without the eradication of the species, it would inevitably coincide with the collapse of a superpower. If the Soviet state was to crumble without descending into a Hobbesian state of nature, it would inevitably coincide with the ascendance of a figure capable of wielding charm in fostering a cult of personality. If Russia was to adopt the tenets of so-called Democracy while preserving existing power structures, not unlike the protocol followed by this country's founding fathers, it would inevitably coincide with the transparent creation of an oligarchic class. Without Boris Yeltsin, there is no Roman Abramovich or Chelsea Football Club, there is no Mikhail Prokhorov or Brooklyn Nets. Without Boris Yeltsin, there is no Vladimir Putin. The man: [link].