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  • It was Christmas night, and I was out with my Dad at one of the neighborhood parties. The house was big and wealthy and used to belong to some kind of mobster. But then the mobster went to prison and some other people bought the house. Several years later, they got a knock at the door and it was the mobster, asking if he could go down into the basement for a little while, and they said that yes, that would be okay, so the mobster went down into the basement, stayed there for a little while, and then came back up again, thanked the family kindly, and left without saying what he had done in the basement.

    At the party, there were about 100 people and five or six fireplaces, but only one of them was real so that’s the one that I was standing by.

    “You’re blocking all the heat,” said a pretty blonde woman, coming up to me.

    “I suppose that I am,” I said.

    “My daughter has been tearing around,” said the woman.

    “I wonder what it’s like for her. I mean, what does she think of a party like this? With all those legs. Is it like running through a forest of trees?”

    “You know, I’ve never asked her that. I will have to ask her. On the way home tonight in the car, that’s what I will ask her.”

    A man in black came up to us. “You found the fire,” he said to the woman.

    “I found the fire,” she said to the man. “This is my husband,” she said to me, pointing to the man, and then going off to find their daughter, who was climbing on a chair.

    “You local?” he asked me.

    “I’m visiting my Dad,” I answered. “I live in California but soon I’m moving to New York.”

    “I used to live in New York. Spent three years in the Chelsea Hotel.”

    “I’ve only spent one night in the Chelsea Hotel, and it was with a lesbian porn star. Separate beds, though,” I said.

    “When I first moved into my room there I found some really freaky porn in the dresser drawer. Really intense stuff. S&M stuff. Super kinky. But I got rid of that.”

    “Not surprising at the Chelsea,” I said. “Hey, I’ve always wondered something. When you live there, do they let you change around the rooms? Like, can you decorate and put things on the walls?”

    “Oh yeah sure, you can do whatever you want. But I never did much of that. I was always too busy playing music. I had the house spot at this country western place in midtown. I was their steel guitar guy. Those were good days. I played with Dylan’s band. The Rolling Thunder Review. And with Scarlett Rivera. You know Scarlett Rivera?”

    “Yeah, the violinist. You still into music now?”

    “Not so much anymore. These days I’m more into Russian military history. Well, specifically, old Russian military uniforms.”

    “Really. How unusual.”

    “Yes, I have an incredible collection. I mean, you probably don’t know Russian military history, but I have the equivalent of the president, his cabinet, and all of the joint chiefs of staff for Stalin’s administration. I have all of their uniforms. The actual ones they wore.”

    “Wow, Stalin’s too?”

    “Yes, Stalin’s too. It’s the best collection outside of Russia. I’ve written books about it. I’m trying to get Ralph Lauren interested. He has two of my books. I’d say it’s probably worth in the eight or nine figures. I’m trying to get this Russian billionaire to buy it, stick it in the Kremlin. I mean, that’s really where it belongs. Not in my closet here in Chester county Pennsylvania.”

    “Impressive. How’d you get into that?”

    “The Russian uniforms from Stalin’s time are incredible. I think they’re the most incredible uniforms of any military in history. I mean, the 19th century British uniforms were pretty great, and so were the French ones from around the same time, but these Russian ones, I think they’re the best of all.”

    “What makes them so great?”

    “Well, first of all, you can see the evolution of Stalin’s confidence in the design of the uniforms. I mean, the early ones were all gray and drab. And then, once he got more power, he started using brighter colors and greater detailing, as if to say, ‘we have arrived.’ I mean, you wouldn’t believe some of these colors.”

    He looked around the room and found a woman in a red sweater sitting in a chair. “Like that,” he said. “That kind of red. Almost that kind of red. Not quite that red, but almost that red.”

    “That’s quite red,” I said.

    “Oh yes, very red,” he said.

    “So, where do you keep them? In some kind of vault?”

    “No, they are just in my office.”

    “In a cedar closet or something like that?”

    “No, cedar is a myth. It loses its oils after twenty years or so. I just keep them in a dehumidified space. Nice and dry in there.”

    “Do you ever wash them?”

    “No, I don’t wash them. And let me tell you, when you open that closet door — I mean, I’m not going to say they smell bad, but there is definitely a smell. There is definitely something there.”

    There was only one question I could think about asking.

    “Do you ever put them on?” I said.

    “No one ever asks me that,” he said.

    “Just curious.”

    “Well, yes. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I put them on.”

    “And what do you do in them?”

    “I just kind of stand around. Sit at my desk. Walk around my office. Look out the window. See how they make me feel.”

    “And how do they make you feel?”

    “I guess I’d say they make me feel larger. Stronger. More powerful. I think big thoughts.”

    “How long do you wear them for?”

    “Oh, not that long. But I also have some American ones. I have the uniform that Eisenhower wore. And that one I treat a bit different. That one, sometimes I sleep in that one.”

    “You mean, you wear it to bed?”

    “Yeah, sometimes I wear it to bed and sleep with it on.”

    “What's that like?”

    “Oh, I had crazy dreams that night. Wild dreams. Expansive dreams of power and influence. Leading a great many men. It was weird. Weird stuff.”

    “Do you ever sleep in the Russian ones?”

    “No, I would never do that. I don’t think that would be good. I never wear the Russian ones for too long.”

    “Are you scared of something?”

    “I don’t know if I’d put it that way, but there were definitely some crazy things that people did in those uniforms.”

    “Yeah, I saw this Michael Nyman performance once called The Commissar Vanishes, which was about how Stalin systematically executed his advisors, and each time he had one killed, he would have that person’s face removed from all the photographs using an acid bath.”

    “Yes, I know. And the guy who did that, I have his uniform.”

    “Wow. Yeah, and I once wrote a paper in college about the torture techniques of Stalin’s red army. There were two I remember in particular. One was where they took a wooden barrel and drove all these nails into it, and then stuck a guy inside the barrel, closed the lid, and rolled it down a hill.”

    “Nice,” he said.

    “And the other one was even weirder. They would take this piece of steel pipe, and attach it to the guy’s stomach. Then they’d restrain the guy and stick a rat in the pipe. They’d put a lit candle at the other end of the pipe and the temperature in the pipe would slowly get hotter and hotter until the rat would get so crazy from the heat that it would try to eat its way out through the guy’s stomach. I couldn’t believe it.”

    “Yeah, they did some crazy stuff.”

    “Totally crazy. But then, you know, at the same time, there is something oddly fascinating about it. Like, that these are just humans, but somehow they’re capable of imagining this kind of stuff. And in some way, deep down, maybe we all have that potential.”

    “Yeah, I don’t know about that.”

    “Yeah, maybe not.”

    “Yeah, so I don’t like to wear the Russian ones at night.”
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