Putin in Stillwater
Geoff Peck

 

Tanner’s in the kitchen pretending to bend a frying pan like Putin, his hairless torso strained gaunt and sinewy in faux-exertion. His audience is nicely faded, each in nothing but drying swim trunks, and their laughter cuts through the smoky haze and lingering smell of burnt hash like a full round of Black Cats. The evidence freckles the countertops in every direction, the dregs of knife hits off the stove, while a week’s worth of garbage produced by five college males and their transient friends slump in plastic bags against the backdoor.

Memorial Day in Stillwater: the slow end to a long weekend where amidst the swarm of burgers and brats, thirty-racks of light beer, sunscreen and Aviators, and the fuck-all hedonism of another semester of college forever gone, none of the residents have left the house since Friday afternoon, and the reality of summer jobs beginning in a little over twelve hours looms in the back of their minds. With the girls and their bikinis departed and the heat and humidity reaching new levels of torture, Isaac had herded the guys to the kitchen where the hardwood floor feels cool against his bare feet and the residue of weed hanging in the air locks him in the moment like a snow globe.

In these reveries Isaac feels like the house, bought and paid for by his oil dog dad and enabling mom, can be turned upside-down for the briefest moment to send the flecks of cannabis cascading around them, the young men locked in laughter at Tanner’s frying pan routine. His Okie Globe: a closed system exercise in thermodynamics where hard-drinking young republicans bathe in the laughter and comfort of knowing the politically incorrect have found a haven from the liberal professors and brainwashed students dominating the campus culture wars.

At the center of the system is Tanner, his mimic of Putin’s expression nearly perfect, though Isaac’s fairly certain the other three housemates don’t even know what he’s aiming for – they get their news from ESPN – and it reminds Isaac of Tanner’s saying about how in the land of the blind the open mind is king. And with the Okie Globe still swirling around the muted and palsied, the half-naked and suntanned, Isaac cycles back to the night they all drove up to Tulsa for the Kenny Chesney concert, the talk of all the fine slizz that surely would be at their fingertips, and how as the night stumbled into early morning and closer to closing time, as one bar led to another, they found themselves at a dive on the north side of town. With the ESPN crew locked into a conversation with two women, Tanner cuffed Isaac around the neck and guided him to the bar.

Oklahoma Question 711, he drawled, and Isaac thought he was blackout, trying to ask for an Icee, until Tanner asked him if he saw the vote that day. Seventy-six percent of this state sees marriage in a singular way, he told Isaac, then broke out into song to the tune of Kenny Chesney: Seven-ty-six to-OOOO twenty-fo-o-o-o-o-ur. He took a drink from his bottle and when he set it down Isaac saw the lucidness in his eyes, the sharp cynicism.

He asked Isaac if he had heard the theory of ten-ten-eighty, and the various numbers began whirring through Isaac’s blazed mind. Ten-Ten-Eighty, Tanner repeated, void of all cynicism and song. Ten percent of the world is straight. Ten percent is gay. And the rest, you know, some six-point-four billion people or so, could go either way. Any way the wind blows. But since we’re all a product of our environment, well, he said, and leaned in and kissed Isaac lightly on the lips. It was over before Isaac could react. Then Tanner directed his beer bottle at Isaac, told him he wanted Isaac to think on that, and was up and country-line dancing his way through the crowd to his tune of seventy-six to twenty-four.

*

As the Okie Globe comes back to rest and the hard, oblivious laughter begins to subside, Tanner finally relents and holds up the skillet to reveal a dent in the curve of the pan. This sets his chorus off again in exaggerated outbursts and Isaac’s surrounded by the phrase he suddenly finds so aggravating – no fucken way, bro – and under normal circumstances everyone would probably acknowledge that the dent had always been there, some flaw in the design, but the moment is too good to pass up another round of laughter.

And in a thick Russian accent Tanner does his Ivan Drago I must break you to the frying pan, which ramps his chorus up even more with Dude!s and Rocky!s and I knew that was from somewhere!s, and as they argue over where exactly it is in Rocky IV that Drago bends the frying pan, Tanner waves them off like he’s about to tell them all to watch the actual news once in awhile, to imagine a world bigger than their own. “Guys,” he begins, savoring his own laughter, “it’s right after the training montage.”

Yes! the first one sounds and the rest hit Isaac like a ricochet as each housemate has to be the one who agrees most with Tanner, and Isaac catches the glance Tanner cuts him, but his mind is whirling again with numbers and percentages as he thinks about the power of culture and mythology, the will to believe, and all the roads that led the five of them here, to this room, on this day, and how it’s so easy to assume everything in your life comes through the power of self. And then Tanner is at it again, painting the picture for his audience with craftsman detail, as he outlines a scene that doesn’t exist and yet everyone knows so well.

 

Geoff Peck received his MFA at the University of Pittsburgh and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of North Dakota. His fiction and poetry have appeared in over a dozen journals and in 2013 he was nominated for Best New American Poets after winning the Academy of American Poets Thomas McGrath Award.