Nancy

Nancy was this woman. From America. A woman general. And not just a general, but an advisor to the president. Rumor even had it she could do the same amount of push-ups as any other American general and advisor to the president. And here she was coming all the way to the great Russian North to pay us a visit. Back then our country was in the throes of perestroika, and she was visiting us just to see whether we were doing as bad a job of it as the rest of the world was inclined to think.

Right before she was due to arrive, all of our sputtering warships--so as not to suffer the ultimate disgrace of being found out--were sent to sea. Those that couldn't move on their own accord remained at the pier, carefully masked behind green netted screens. In the local town, everyone did their best to create some semblance of order--painting, washing, sweeping--while on the base a special fence was erected to partition off a blight of particular merit: the world's only barrack-inspired bakery producing the world's only yellow bread. Throughout the base everybody buttoned up their collars and began to wait.

And that's when it occurred to someone that Nancy was a woman (not that this hadn't been clear all along--it's just that the idiosyncrasies of the female urinary tract weren't exactly the first thing to come to mind at the mention of the word "general") and what if she had to take a leak during her visit? And what if it happened on the pier? After all, we didn't have any toilets there--just the "powder room" at the far end. And the powder room at the far end of the pier wasn't really a toilet in the strictest sense--just a "place" in the open sea where submariners of all ranks, battle-hardened and unassuming, simply urinated into the water.

And if Nancy did have to take a leak, well, we couldn't exactly suggest that she go to the end of the pier where the rest of us guys drained ourselves!

So the decision was made to immediately construct a head for her on one of the piers. In fact it was finished in record time. Ahead of schedule even. Then it occurred to someone that this head would have to be equipped with a bidet.

"A what?!" asked Admiral Vasya, a shitty diplomat at best.

"A bidet."

"What the hell is that?"

"That, Admiral, is a vessel like a sink that women use to wash their private parts."

"Their private parts . . . ?!" And here Admiral Vasya, in the most undiplomatic of terms, proceeded to describe in gripping detail how he felt about this particular act of washing and about the item that was to be washed, and Nancy, the proud owner of this item, and about Nancy's mother, and her more distant relatives, and some guys from Moscow who, like Nancy herself, were presumed experts in this area.

Without delay, a senior lieutenant was dispatched to fetch a bidet. Dutifully, he combed the entire Kola Peninsula until at last he found the area's one and only specimen in the Hotel Arctica . . . where he removed it and brought it back to the base. The bidet was installed that same night.

But soon it became evident that there was one small problem with this new wonder of toiletry: specifically, the stream of water shooting up from it was supposed to be warm, and not--as it was now--icy cold. The proposal to heat the water to the necessary temperature using steam was quickly rejected because all of us knew that at the most critical of moments someone would screw it up and send the steam directly into the bidet, causing Nancy the Woman General to be boiled like an egg.

And so they decided to do it like this: they decided to attach a long hose to the bidet and at the other end of the hose to put a sailor with a pitcher of warm water, and just when Nancy went into the head, the sailor would pour the water from the pitcher into a funnel attached to the hose, and the water would flow, flow, flow along the length of the hose until it had reached its "destination"--thereby washing the general. And since it was a well-known fact that all of our guys were slow learners, to make sure the water actually went into the hose without missing--otherwise it would be a long way to run with the pitcher--one of the warrant officers was put in charge of the whole operation. A special drill was even organized to practice the general-washing exercise: one warrant officer pretending to be Nancy would enter the head, another would give the slow learner with the pitcher a sign, the slow learner would pour, and the warrant officer in the head would shout out, "It's warm!"

And so Nancy finally came. The whole base held its breath, waiting for the long-awaited washing to commence. A crowd tagged along behind her, their eyes shining with anticipation--and it seemed that in this shine there was a sort of fraternal bond uniting everybody. But Nancy wasn't interested in the head constructed in her honor. Let alone the bidet. She was concerned with our ships. She hadn't been allowed to take pictures, but with her were two military sketch artists who in the blink of an eye drew the base, the entrance to it, the heights, the islands, the cliffs, the pier, and--when the wind blew the screens up high enough--our stranded submarines.

Another thing Nancy wanted was to be shown one of our captains who for sixty dollars a month after taxes--or maybe sixty dollars a month before taxes!--was expected to withstand their captain who gets twelve thousand a year tax-free. This request went unanswered. Still, they gave her food and drink and even our Admiral Vasya, shitty diplomat at best, made a toast for the occasion.

In all, Nancy spent nine hours at the base. And not once did she ask to use the bathroom.