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Yuri Druzhnikov

Automated Response

A Short Story

     My head is being squeezed between two icebergs. They move towards each other. My skull crunches. Fingering it, I've found a crack. Something is trickling out of it. So it has turned out to be sand in there instead of brains. Folk-remedies haven't been any help. The bottle of beer has trickled further and further down, but hasn't done anything for my head. It was just a drop that my neighbor and I were having last night, after all. Doing some tasting, you could say.
     There is a difference in principle between plain Swedish Absolut and blackcurrant-flavored Absolut. French Gray Goose and Dutch Kettle One are both purified pretty well, too, but the difference smoothed itself out. Even though our battle with Finlandia was crowned with victory, our ranks were depleted by my neighbor's bugging out. But then he returned to the fray. We killed off a Smirnoff, since the Swedes, French, Dutch, and White Finns were done for. We re-formed on a bottle of Gorbachev – the process went on, only sluggishly. A bottle of Stolichnaya was putting up a capital resistance, and that enraged us. We terminated it with prejudice, as a class enemy. A Boldino Autumn introduced romance: in smashing the bottle, I cut myself on the cheek, and my neighbor's elbow. On reconnoitering the refrigerator, we found half a bottle of tequila together with the worm. In brotherly fashion we split the worm between us.
     My neighbor crawled off home, limping on his wounded left arm. Now I can hear the half-worm in my stomach calling out to the other half. Something is pulsating in the back of my skull. My eyes are shot with blood. Maybe sprayed – I can't see to tell. I hit my head off the television trying to kiss Hilary Clinton, and the graze on my forehead is burning. A cigarette has burnt a hole in my pocket: I can smell the burnt cloth. I feel awful. I need to stretch over to the telephone, or else I'm going to freeze forever in my clutch around the toilet bowl. The numbers are jumping around, skidding out from under my fingertips. I'm losing consciousn… Long rings. Glory be, Lord, it's not busy.
     Hello. To hear this in English, press one. In Spanish, two. In Chinese, three. In Vietnamese, four.
     I press one.
     Your call is very important to us. To monitor the quality of the service, this conversation may be recorded. If your phone number is 530-477-1433, press one. If not, two. If the last four digits of your social security number are 8692, press one. If not, two. If you are Yuri, press one. If you are not Yuri, two. If Druzhnikov, one. If not Druzhnikov, two.
     I press one with all the strength left to me.
     Okay, Mr. Druzhnikov. We will now offer you a whole range of conveniences. Listen carefully for what to choose.
     How can I listen carefully when the icebergs are converging, and my poor little head between them? And the sand trickling, trickling out…
     If you want to purchase something, press one. If you want to sell something, two. If you have a medical problem, three.
     You have pressed three. If you have a chronic illness, press 1. If something new, two. If visible symptoms of illness are present, one. If it is simple indisposition, two. If there is a high temperature, one. If normal, two.
     Who the hell knows what my temperature is?
     Possibly you do not have a thermometer. Would you like to order one for $12, including home delivery in the course of six weeks? Press three. If you suppose that you have a cold, one. If the flu, two. If neither a cold nor the flu, three. If there is a rash on your body, four. If you have some other problem, five. You have pressed five. If you have had intimate sexual relations in the preceding 48 hours, one. If previously, two. Would you care to listen to some music while you wait for an answer? Press one. Do you like classical music? Press two. If you want Mozart, one. Not Mozart, two.
     God damn it, get with the Mozart, just hurry up and answer me!
     Thank you for choosing Emergency Medical Services. At the present time the duty physician is engaged in treatment and cannot answer any questions regarding your health. Stay on the line and we will be glad to help you in other matters of vital importance to you.
     Help me any way you can!
     If you are single, press one. If you are married and want a divorce, two. If you are a man, one. If a woman, two. If you want to enter into a relationship with a woman, one. If with a man, two. If with neither a man nor a woman, three. If you are a pedophile, one. If not, two. If you have not yet decided the question of your sexual orientation, three. If you want to change your sex, four. If your sexual orientation no longer disturbs you, five. Other problems? Stay on the line; you will be picked up by the first available secondary-level automated response program. Wait for an answer. Average duration of waiting period, ten minutes.
     I wait for some fifteen minutes. What else can I do? My head is so hot that the toilet bowl has warmed under it.
     Listen to this vitally important information: To order groceries, one. Manufactured goods, two. To change your oil and filter, three. To paint your automobile, four. To install a satellite dish so that you can watch 900 television programs, five. For 600 programs, six. For 300 programs, seven. If your lawn needs mowing, eight. To get a haircut, nine. If neither your hair nor your lawn needs cutting, zero.
     Maybe I'd feel better if I cut my hair.
     Pressing nine, you have made the correct choice. Your appointment at the barbershop is for this coming Friday at 4:15. Address: Lu Yuen Street, Market Square, Hong Kong.
     But I'm in San Francisco.
     In order to insure you head prior to your haircut, press one. To insure your life, two. If you wish to die without any insurance, three.
     I can't take it any more. I'm pressing three. Pressing 33333333333333333333…
     Once again you have made the correct choice. If you have not yet insured your home against earthquakes, do it right now by pressing zero. If your house is insured against earthquakes, you can insure it against flooding by pressing zero. If all your insurance is in place, please listen to important information from a third-level automated response program.
     Are you certain you have made all your selections accurately? Press 1. If you have any doubts, press two, to return to the primary-level automated response. Now, if you desire to purchase something, press one. If you want to sell something, two. If you still have any medical problems, three. If you are dissatisfied with government policies, four.
     Of course I'm not satisfied!
     To do this, press button number one. If you are dissatisfied with the governments of other countries, press two. The time available for detailing your claims against any government is unlimited. In accordance with the First Amendment to the American Constitution this will not be recorded. When you have finished, press the star button. If you're dissatisfied in general with everything in the world, press zero.
     If you have previously had any psychiatric problems, press one. If not, two.
     You have pressed two. Please wait for consultation with a specialist. Please wait for consultation with a specialist. Wait… While waiting for an answer, please listen to a CD: non-musical, one. Jazz, two. Classical, three. You have selected classical. Beethoven, one. Gershwin, two. Stravinsky, three. In addition we can now offer you a new service of ours: not listening to any music whatsoever. To use this service, press four or just wait for connection with the third-level automated response program. A beep signal will inform you of this.
     At the present time all of the psychotherapists in our office are in consultation with one another and cannot answer your call. You can call us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Our goal is to give you the best possible service. Would you like to leave a comment about the quality of our service If you are satisfied, press one. Thank you for your attention. If you are not very satisfied, two. Thank you for your attention. If you are very dissatisfied, three. Thank you for your attention. Would you like to supplement the Dictionary of New Non-normative Expressions, which is now being compiled by Prof. Brandmeister? Press four.
     As you have ascertained, the operation of our automated response machine is irreproachable: this conversation has cost you only $3.99 per minute. Press one to dictate your credit-card number, or two, to hear the address in Mexico to which to send a check for $107.73 for your twenty-seven minutes of connection. We hope that you will become a constant client of ours, and therefore we are not charging you for fifteen seconds.
     Special note! We have a surprise for you. For a mere $900, you can purchase our entire range of automated response programs. When they call you, all of your friends and acquaintances will be able to pay $3.99 per minute to your account. To pay for the automated response programs, press one. If you are confused about purchasing them or not, stay on the line: our automated response programs will be pleased to come to your assistance.
     After pressing zero, you can listen again to the information from the very beginning. Have a nice weekend! Goodbye.
     My headache is gone now. I touch it; it doesn’t crunch. Sand isn't seeping out. The icebergs have floated off. The blood has cleared from my eyes. The worm-half has shut up, digested. The graze on my forehead has faded until our next tasting session.

     Translated by Thomas Moore.