Last week Moscow hospitals announced that 202 people had been admitted over the weekend for "ice-related injuries." I was delighted. That meant it wasn't just me.
For months now ice has been my major preoccupation. Creeping down the sidewalks of Moscow, all I see is the ice, which I scan as carefully as Twain's river pilots scanned the Mississippi. Snow is nothing, snow is easier than rain. But just as nits make lice, snow makes ice. And ice will kill you.
My first fall came in the winter of 93-94. Russia had come apart, right down to street level. There was nobody clearing the sidewalks, so a winter's worth of snow had been compacted by the feet of ten million Muscovites into a five-inch-thick layer of clear ice as hard and smooth as obsidian. Moscow hospitals were reporting 1,200 people a day coming in with snapped limbs after falling on ice.
The winter was fairly warm, so the surface of the ice would melt every day. Walking those sidewalks was like walking glass topped with motor oil. Since my main pastime on that first visit was walking up and down Tverskaya looking at the incredibly beautiful women of Moscow, I lost concentration on the ice pretty often and had some very close calls.
But I didn't fall -- not even when a gang of gypsy kids tried to kick me down onto the ice. It happened on one of my voyeur tours of Tverskaya, near Pushkinskaya. I was minding my own business, staring at the Russian girls, when the evil pygmies swarmed me demanding money. I ignored them till one grabbed for my pocket. I slapped her hand away. That was it; that meant war. The brats flew at me like grimy miniature Bruce Lees. I found the print of a small, muddy boot high on the back of my jacket after escaping.
But they didn't get me down. Their only accomplishment was to make me permanently unsympathetic to newspaper stories about poor persecuted gypsies. I scrambled into the perekhod bruised and scared, but they never got me down. I felt like Jake laMotta: "Ya nevuh gomme down, Ray, nevuh gomme down."
Naturally, I fell right after that boast. I was just on my way to the bakery when I was distracted and failed to notice a small ramp of black ice. My foot slipped-I must've performed a slapstick goosestep, a Ray Guy punt -- and I landed on the back of my head, hard enough to knock myself out.
That was the first KO of my life. As Holden Caulfield says, "It's pretty hard to knock a guy out, except in the goddamn movies." Holden was right: getting knocked out is not like they show it in the movies at all. For one thing, it's a lot scarier than they make it seem. You don't come out of it quickly or easily. Your brain, the organ you live in, has been damaged. You have no "you." It's terrifying. You know for certain, once you've been knocked out, that there is no soul, no mind -- there's just this poor vulnerable organ, this brain.
The first thing I remember is hands pulling me up. As I stood up...this is the embarrassing part, but it's true: as I tried to stand, I let out this huge fart. Very embarrassing. I've read about how bladder and bowel go lax when you die; well, I was only half-killed, so a fart was probably the appropriate punctuation mark -- a semi-colon instead of a period.
Boris Nemtsov on the set of the new hardcore gay porno film "Toga Boys."
But the men who'd lifted me up didn't take it too well. One of them yelled angrily -- the fart must've seemed like gross ingratitude -- and I was on my own, wobblingly. Whoever had helped me was gone, and the crowds were pushing past as usual, pouring out of the nine-story tenements on Aminovskoye Shosse to shove their way into a bus.