Russell Working


Russell Working is een Amerikaans schrijver en journalist. Hij werkte voor onder andere The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism ReviewThe Boston GlobeLos Angeles Times, the South China Morning Post en The Japan Times. Working woonde zes jaar lang in Rusland en Cyprus, en maakte reportages in de voormalige Sovjet-Unie, China, Japan, Zuid-Korea, Mongolië, de  Filipijnen, Turkije, Griekenland en het Midden-Oosten. Hij doceerde creatief schrijven aan het Vermont College of Fine Arts. Zijn kort verhalen werden in verschillende prestigieuze tijdschriften gepubliceerd.

In 1978 verscheen zijn verhalenbundel Resurrectionists, waarvoor hij de Iowa Short Fiction Award en de Pushart Prize ontving. The Irish Martyr werd gepubliceerd in 2006, hiervoor ontving hij opnieuw de Pushart Prize. Thema’s als mensenhandel, terrorisme, misbruik van gevangenen en andere gruwelijkheden komen aan bod. De verhalen spelen zich af in alle uithoeken van de wereld.

Het journalistiek werk van Russel Working heeft vaak zijn fictie beïnvloed. Zo schreef hij in The Irish Martyr (2006), na een opdracht in de Sinai, over een Egyptisch meisje dat geobsedeerd is door een Ierse sluipschutter die meestrijdt met de Palestijnen. Na een reportage over mensenhandel in Korea schreef hij Dear Leader, over een vluchteling uit Noord-Korea die aan een Chinees wordt verkocht.

Tijdens zijn residentie werkt hij aan een memoire over zijn jarenlange verblijf in Rusland als correspondent voor The New York Times.




Boom! The train halted in a rail yard, waking Marc, then lurched forward a few dozen yards before stopping altogether. Soon after they had pulled away from the platform in Amsterdam, supposedly heading for Brussels, he had plunged into the rat hole of jetlagged sleep with a suddenness that reminded him of the old song, "Boom-boom! Out go the lights!" It had been the dusty velvet theater curtain kind of sleep that descends when you are sitting there drowsily daydreaming about, oh, say that girl you'd swum across the lake with in church camp twenty-odd years ago. If only we'd realized how fleeting it was, youth and freedom and permission to touch breasts, and where was she nowadays, sexy miss what's-her-name? Tennille? Something with a T. And then abruptly you're awakening from the fog of unconsciousness, having dreamed not about the girl and the lake, as thick as leek soup, but about a man who kept swearing in Polish while replacing an air conditioning unit, and you couldn't get him to leave your home, even though you were hours late for a speaking engagement. 

Marc had no idea where he was, could not say whether this was a forlorn stretch of Utrecht or Antwerp or Brussels or someplace else. Or for all he knew, he had boarded a train going the wrong way and had ended up in Berlin or Warsaw. He could have asked the young man who had the window seat beside him, a college student, by the look of it, with jet hair, black eyes, frightful scar, and a meek smile that seemed to say, Yes, it looks scary but it's not what you think. But Marc disliked talking to strangers when he traveled. It annoyed him to shake hands and exchange business cards with someone you will never see again, vexed him when people spilled out their life stories, or admitted to suffering from headaches or bowel conditions or to discovering rashes when they unbuttoned their pants in the stalls of railway men's rooms. It was even worse when they tried to get him to name a few athletes he worked with, most of whom wished to remain anonymous: Floyd and David and Alex and Wladimir and Peyton, who, truth be told, was a mess this year, confidence-wise.
Outside his window, tracks interwove and parted in a landscape overhung with a rickety network of electrical lines like a child's crib netting, all of which was walled in by Brutalist buildings that may or may not have had something to do with the business of railways. The spire of a Gothic church cleaved a gap between two old warehouses whose glass-brick windows were covered with graffiti. Or at least it looked Gothic. Why ask him, he wasn't an architect. His gig was acupuncture and herbs and healing aromas in the treatment of chronic sports injuries, and he boasted among his clientele many household names in Europe and the States, not up-and-comers but veterans who were playing through pain, clinging to their careers and seething about the ingratitude of newspaper columnists and sports bloggers and those barrel-necked TV blabbermouths who were demanding that certain teams trade or cut Marc's wounded heroes for the up-and-comers gunning for their positions.
"We'll get you feeling better," Marc told his guys. "Confidence has nothing to do with it. This is science, Eastern science, sure, but it works whether or not you believe in it."
Relief and gratitude flooded their eyes. They believed him--needed to believe in him--and were helped.
Anyway, it pleased him now to see this rail yard full of urban ugliness in wherever this was, Holland or Belgium or, worst case scenario, Krakow. It was ridiculous, but all those quaint medieval and baroque centre villes, these Grote Markts and Galleries de la Reine and canaled low country burgs, aroused nothing other than hatred and envy in Marc. He became cranky when exhausted, he knew this, but in historic urban plazas he found himself thinking, You call this a city? I'll city your ass. This is Disneyland, people. Cinderella's castle. Check out Chicago, Englewood, my friend, then we'll talk city. He knew that, first, this was foolish, and second, a fifteen-minute walk in any direction from any attraction in Europe would take him into normal neighborhoods without all those gaping tourists clutching smart-phone cameras and maps they couldn't figure out how to fold up again, among them a middle-aged Chinese in a red windbreaker and cap who stood in front of Brussels' Stadhuis and for no reason at all sang "The Internationale" in falsetto to the rest of his identically dressed tour group the morning Marc had walked over there from his hotel. That was just yesterday. Or had it been the day before? Marc had studied in Beijing, capital of a communist nation, and nobody sang "The Internationale" in Tiananmen Square. Across the yard, trains were parked, and the tribal scarifications of their graffiti also sparked a ridiculous surge of jingoism that embarrassed Marc even as it constricted his innards. (You call that graffiti? I'll graffiti you, pal.) Which was absurd because, at least on one car, the graffiti really was remarkable, what looked like a detail from Hieronymus Bosch, of a parakeet-headed beast swallowing a naked man from whose buttocks exploded a flock of black swallows. Marc was jetlagged and (speaking of swallows) constipated and hungover from drinking himself to sleep on the flight from New York and on both nights that followed. He seldom consumed alcohol and discouraged his patients from imbibing, so his tolerance was low and all it took was one tiny bottle of hotel gin to knock him out. And in this fog of irritability, it mollified him to nurse a sense of pique, as if all of post-medieval European civilization had arisen for the sole purpose of affronting him, Marc Colfax of Chicago, PhD in Classical Chinese Medicine and CEO of Mystic Warrior Sports Medicine, Llc. The train lurched and boomed one more time.
Great. Now old Pat Travers the song was stuck in his head.
No kiddin'
I'm ready to fight;
I've been lookin' for my baby all night.
If I get her in my sight:
Boom-boom! Out go the lights!
Funny that he'd be remembering the girl in the lake as he left Amsterdam. Hadn't thought of her for years. Teonnie! That was it. She was pretty but not gorgeous, nor, to be honest, was she particularly brilliant, but, man, that body, that skin, the color and salty taste of a grilled steak, that openness--he didn't know any other way to express it--that delight he read in her eyes and the splashing war she initiated on the far side of Leek Soup Lake, until he tackled her like a linebacker, simply as an excuse to hold her, but she came up coughing, so he apologized and felt like a would-be rapist until she made clear he was forgiven by taking off her top and exposing, shall we say, her assets, which he attended to with clumsy teenage smooches. But that was as far as they got. He regretted this. Should've done it right there across the lake from the canoe rental. Now, in his boredom, he imagined a different path in life, not divorced and childless and approaching forty himself, but having been happily married for twenty years to Teonnie, because maybe she'd gotten pregnant in the mulch-bottomed lake, giving him eight not-especially-bright and not-so-bad-looking kids, the oldest of whom would be graduating from trade school this year. Dad, they would call Marc. Pops. "You and Mom coming out to Spokane for graduation, Pops?" "Son, you know your mother's been dead for two years and I've living with a girl younger than your sister ever since I saved her life on a train, killed a meek-looking fella with a scar on his face who suddenly tried to choke her to death. Beat his head in against the luggage rack. Remember? But yes, we'll be there for your big day, Claudette and me. She's pregnant, you know--did I tell you?" Stop it. Weird where your thoughts took you.
The scarred young passenger muttered as he looked out the window. Three cops--not exactly up-armored, in their short-sleeved shirts and cloth caps--trotted past toward the back of the train, followed by another officer, then two more.
An announcement was made over the loudspeaker. Marc did not recognize the language, or possibly languages, plural. Marc spoke English and so-so Mandarin. He could do nothing other than stare out the window and silently nurse his ire.
The scarred young stranger took pity on Marc. "They said there will be a fifteen-minute delay."
"They say why?"
"There is an angry man on the train."
"Man, that pisses me off."
"Never mind."
Minutes later the police led a man in handcuffs back along the tracks in the direction from which they had come. Another announcement was made.
"He had a knife," young Mr. Scarface said.
"Jesus. Stab anybody?"
"I think he just brandished."
Marc chuckled at the paltriness of this threat to civil order. "Once I saw a woman shot at a train station in Chicago. Right in the noggin. Up on the platform of the el--the elevated train. Guy pulled a gun and, boom-boom! Out go the lights."
"Did she die, this lady?" the stranger asked.
"Don't know. They took her away on a stretcher. Hole in her head. Blood everywhere. Her left foot was still jerking."
"And the gunman: they caught him?"
"Got away as far as I know. Jumped off the platform, light-footed across the rails, and disappeared over the edge."
"God!" Mr. Scarface said, only Marc at first mistook the word for goad.
"Angry man," Marc scoffed. "Just you be glad you people don't know angry."
But then he read in the stranger's eyes, no longer meek, a rebuttal, and Marc's gaze rediscovered the scar, and the words he had spoken seemed a pitiful boast. He looked away. The stranger sighed and opened a newspaper printed in an unknown alphabet. Marc and the man with a scar did not speak to each other again.



Villa Hellebosch
17.03.14 > 14.04.14

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