Putatively in honor of the release of Borat on DVD on Tuesday, though more so because I don’t feel like discussing the Steelers releasing J Peezy or having the league investigate one of their physicians, I feel like regaling our readers with my immaterial, rambling tale of briefly living with a perverted Kazak. It’s a Friday during the off-season. Leave me be.
It was the spring of 2003. While Caveman was otherwise occupied risking his ass fighting in a war, I was engaged in that time-honored rite of passage for spoiled college students: the semester abroad. Mine was spent in Siena, a small town in Tuscany. Spare me the Under the Tuscan Sun jokes. The movie came out two months after I got back to the states and no, I didn’t live in a villa and yes, I’d hit Diane Lane. Ever see Unfaithful?
I chose UMass-Amherst’s program there mainly because it was taught in Italian and it was in a small town. I figured I’d get a more authentic experience than if I picked Florence or Rome, where I’d inevitably fall into the trap of hanging out with dozens of other spoiled, insular American college kids. Somehow I discounted that UMass’ program would be filled with Massholes, who also never deviated from each other and always spoke English, even to the natives.
So I opted to live in an apartment with non-Americans who were still enrolled in the University of Siena for Foreigners – it was actually called that. There were three other guys: a friendly fat 40-ish Canadian guy who was trying to start a bike tour business in Tuscany, a Japanese guy who spoke no English but banged every Asian girl in town and Serik, the Kazak.
For people who assume that Sasha Baron Cohen has created a grossly inaccurate caricature of these people can have their fears allayed. It’s uncanny, the likeness. Serik even sounded like Borat. I’d say the only true difference was the dearth of Anti-Semitism, but that’s probably only because I didn’t broach the subject of the Jews.
10 seconds into our introduction, he presses his forearm to his mouth and blows a fine approximation of flatus. I stand there stunned and he says to me “What is word for this sound?”
Me: “Uh, a fart?”
Me: “Close, but with an A. Fuh. Art. Fort means something different.”
Satisfied with the acquisition of this nugget of knowledge, he races into his bedroom and returns to present me with a ripped segment of notebook paper. It’s a little cheat sheet of Kazak cuss words, which I’ve held onto because it’s ineffably bizarre. It reads:
sheshen sigin – mother fucker
amshelek – pussy basket
kotak sor – suck my…
huy – penis
am – pussy
Almost four years later and I’m still not sure how to define a pussy basket. During the course of our living together, Serik spends a healthy chunk of time explaining his contempt of Russians, who, he says, during Soviet rule did everything they could to denigrate and suppress Kazak traditions and culture. I feign interest poorly, but eventually show him respect because he drinks me under the table at every opportunity. My Irish blood is no match for his seemingly limitless ability to inhale vodka.
Despite his constant declarations of hatred for the Russkies, he ends up hitting on or getting with a Russian devotchka every time we go out. He explains this away by noting that they, like him, speak Russian and he’d be handicapped otherwise. A principled stand, indeed.
Eventually, we have a falling out. We get into a fistfight because keeps moving the communal TV into his room. However, one of the last memories I have of the guy took place when he was sitting in the town square with a Japanese guy he had begun hanging out with (not the one we lived with. This one looked at least in his mid-40s).
They’re sitting there admiring the various Italian women sunning themselves and discussing best modes of engagement with the opposite sex. I join them and listen to them for a few minutes. There’s a pregnant pause, then Serik’s friend turns to me. “You must strike,” he says, dramatically cutting the air with a flattened hand. “…like ninja.” I issue a long, uproarious laugh, which they meet with cold stares. Apparently there was no sarcasm intended in this statement. I hang around uneasily for a few minutes then make my leave.
That summer, I discover Da Ali G Show and though I find Borat funny, there’s an awkward connection. Now, I just want to meet Cohen to know if he used the same guy to research the character. There’s no other way.
Captain Caveman update: Prompted by a reader to do a Google Image Search of “pussy basket,” I can assure you all that the result is a wide-ranging cornucopia of photos. For the record, here’s the first image in the search: