When I was 11, I saw the movie Jaws at one of the very first illegal video-salons. When video equipment became available to the fortunate few, they started organizing clandestine showings of American movies in their own apartments. The movies were translated and dubbed by translators who were terrified of being caught by the police. So they’d put clips on their noses to make their voices impossible to recognize. Every Soviet child of my age remembers the nasal voices of these translators that first introduced us to words like “sex”, “condom” and “democracy.”
For those of you who are much younger and unaware of Jaws, it’s a very silly and poorly made movie about a shark that keeps eating people in very gruesome ways. At the age of 11, though, I was very impressed. When I came home, I decided to put my sister to sleep by retelling to her the movie.
“And so the huge white shark reached the guy, snapped its jaws, and bit off his entire leg! And there was all this blood and pieces of human meat floating around!” I narrated excitedly.
Suddenly, I noticed that my sister was in the throes of an approaching crying jag. I was very familiar with those and knew that if she started bawling, my parents would awaken and kill me for upsetting the child with stories about sharks. And then they would kill me once again for visiting an illegal video-salon. As my sister was soundlessly shaking with an approaching bout of crying, I switched track in mid-breath.
“So then the squirrels. . .” I announced, hoping to distract my sister with her favorite story.
She was still at the point where she could burst out crying at any point but she was listening attentively.
“. . . invited the sharks to live with them in the tree-trunk. And the sharks became good and kind, and they all lived happily ever after.”
“And the feeeeerrets?” my sister sobbed.
“The ferrets lived with them and were also very happy.”
“And the man whose leg the shark bit off?”
“It wasn’t really his leg. It just seemed like it was. But he was perfectly fine.”
“And did he live in the tree-trunk with them?”
“Of course, he did.”
From then on, I had to narrate this story with the squirrels, the ferrets, the sharks, and the man who almost lost his leg, all living in the same tree-trunk and being very happy all the time.