Here at the eXile we well remember the days when our fathers sat us down and told us: This is a tough world, and we all have to grow up sometime. You've got to work hard to make something of yourself. "Nobody gets a free ride," he growled, and we gushed as he implored us: Don't ever forget it! Well, Dad, we remember what you told us. We remember, because it turns out you were wrong. Need proof? Here's a catalogue of our prank-filled pre-April-Fool's-issue work week, a chilling record of gainful employment forged in a vacuum of maturity and socialization: four April Fool stunts, executed by eight salary-collecting April Fools. That's two fools for every stunt.
The letter, sent on swanky letterhead we made for a fictional organization called the "Fund for the Defense of Nizhni Novgorod," asked VTsIOM to estimate the cost of a poll gauging the level of public support for a putative sale of the territory of Kaliningrad-formerly East Prussian Koningsberg-to Germany. To add spice to the comedic soup we asked the firm to discover the exact amount of compensation ordinary Russians would expect in return for the city.
Specifically, we wrote, compensation should measured in billions of dollars, or billions of dollars in conjunction with German-made cars, food products, or "Fokker Dirigibles"-blimps.
The VTsIOM commission was only one piece of a bigger mess we hoped eventually to leak to the press- namely, that Nemtsov was planning, as one of his first acts as a major player in Moscow, to float the idea of selling Kaliningrad in exchange for money, Mercedes cars, and blimps. Except for the blimps, we thought the story was believable and publishable, but to get it rolling, we needed rumors planted in the right places. Our first target was the German embassy.
All week, we bombarded the embassy with inquiries about rumors coming out of Nizhni that Nemtsov was negotiating the sale of Kaliningrad. We started with calls from the Russian "press"-first from a "Maria Zaporozhetsa" of "Nizhegorodsky Rabochy," who elicited mainly amazement and incredulity from the German press office. However, by the next day, when "Yuliya" of "Nizhegorod- skaya Pravda" called, the Germans were ready-and they were angry.
eXile: Hello, I'm calling from Nizhegorodskaya Prav-
As always with Germans, these press office types seemed game for an escalation of hostilities. We complied by calling the next day in the guise of a "respectable" Western reporter. A new, top-level, English-speaking press officer was put on the line:
eXile: Hello, my name is Vijay Maheshwari. I'm a free-lancer, an American. I write for the Dehli Wanker.
We liked this officer better when he was laughing. When he calmed down, he started to scare us with his creepy insider political knowledge:
FRG: No, it doesn't make sense. This is not Nemtsov's kind of move- politically or geographically, it's not his kind of thing. He'd do something else.
Meanwhile, VTsIOM took us seriously, with an "Alexander Grazhdankin" responding with a cost proposal that included some free political advice-namely, that the inclusion of blimps and cars in the survey might detract respondents from the seriousness of our intentions, and that we should instead include debt credits as compensation. We were now ready to take aim at our main target-the Western press.
To our amazement, we found that their fantasies were more forgone than ours. Since we had to find an agency with a healthy disdain for facts, we decided unanimously to call a TV bureau. We called WTN, pretending to be a disgruntled VTsIOM employee who had decided to disclose the content of a "sensational" survey. We were blown away by the response:
WTN: But we know all about this. It's a done deal.
Similar responses in other bureaus forced us to temporarily shift our focus to other matters. eXile "humor machine" staffers- by now all equipped, unnecessarily, with pagers-composed a letter from Donald Trump to his good buddy Alexander Lebed, with whom he'd actually (in the real world) met last fall. In the letter, Trump sought the General's advice on a public relations idea he'd had to go along with his actual plans to purchase the Hotel "Rossiya." The Donald, the letter declared, was prepared to purchase the troublesome Tsereteli statue, thereby relocating it from a place where it was condemned to a place where it might be appreciated-Trump's Taj Majal complex in Atlantic city:
We shopped this story around to various Russian newspapers, pretending to be the Russian translator hired by Trump's underlings to write the Russian version. It was poor fishing for a while, but then, finally, we got a bite at, of all places, Pravda. A correspondent there with the attractively Gogolian name of Igor Igorovich Semyedvornikov went ape over the story:
Semyedvornikov: Don't talk about this on the phone. They'll steal the story!
We sent Igor the letter, but he explained to us that staff at Pravda had been cut, meaning he had to do the translation himself, word for word, with a dictionary. In fact, for all we know, he might be the only person left working there. At press time, he was still actively working on the story-and unless an eXile reader tips him off, he might still run it. So Ne Boltai!
A third joke came through in the midst of preparations for the eXile's self-aggrandizing coming-out party on Thursday, March 27. The new mentality of corporate wacky-ness had taken hold: staffers could be heard screaming into phones, demanding prompt deliveries of whiskey, vodka, and propeller hats. Meanwhile, another letter was in the works.
This one was from "Jerry Steinblatz," a sports agent working for the Santa Monica-based "International Sports Manage-ment," to the CSKA Red Army basketball team. Steinblatz explained that he represented Wilt Chamberlain, and that Chamberlain wanted, "amazingly, and against my recommendations," to make a comeback in Russia.
We had the letter sent from California, then called CSKA a few days later in the guise of a reporter checking the story. Again, we were surprised to find the joke shot down from an unexpected direction- Chamberlain's lack of basketball qualifications.
eXile: Hello, my name is Mahi Vijayshwari. I write for the Moscow Times.
We complied by composing an article from the "Santa Monica Daily Bugle" which quoted Steinblatz and friends Elgin Baylor and "World B. Free" ("Wilt's serious about the religion thing. I went to his house and he spent an hour showing me the icons."). Of course, we wouldn't expect an ordinary Russian to know who Wilt Chamberlain is. But the director of one of Europe's best basketball teams not knowing him was something on the level of a New York ballet company director not knowing Rudolph Nureyev. We were stunned. Anyway, we tipped off the Russian daily Sport Express to the story. At press time, they hadn't run it-maybe they hadn't heard of him either.
Friday, after the party, was a tough day. In keeping with our new commitment to professionalism, however, we came to work, pagers loaded, bright and early. We had one more joke to pursue, a classic which we decided later to name "Paul Richardson, Your Investment Is In Good Hands."
Paul Richardson is the publisher of a fledgling English-language magazine called "Russian Life," which came to our attention by the extremely notorious route of one of its employees calling us for a job. Flipping through the glossy, aspiring-to-be-serious magazine, we took immediate note of the letter from the editor, Mikhail Ivanov. Next to Ivanov's striking tie-and-grimace portrait was the headline to his obligatory cliche "whither Russia" editorial, which limped sadly across the page to read: "Don't Pooh-Pooh This Bear." Within minutes we had a letter composed to Ivanov in which we represented ourselves as overpublicized liberal-establishment Russia guru (and Lenin's Tomb author) David Remnick, looking for work. If Ivanov's own staff was sinking so low as to call us for work, it would be interesting, we thought, to see how high he himself thought his magazine's standards were.
In what in retrospect was obviously an expression of contempt for the low-tech nature of Ivanov's approach, we didn't even bother to create new "Remnick" letterhead, simply placing the writer's name against the utterly incongruous skyscraper background we'd designed for our Trump letter. In the letter we had Remnick propose a series of "compare n' contrast" editorial
After we sent the letter we had Remnick's "secretary" call, explaining that "Dave" was away on business in Volgograd but wanted to know Ivanov's answer. Ivanov's answer was that he was "interested," but that he "didn't want" Goldman-he thought the other writer should be Russian!
That was too much for us. We had "Dave" come back from Volgograd ahead of schedule and, despite a fictional yet terrible case of diharrea, call Ivanov personally to go to bat for his unexpectedly-downtrodden buddy Marshall. The transcript of the incredible telephone conversation which followed should serve as a warning to Goldman-judging by the lengths we had to go to sell him to Ivanov, his career must be in serious trouble.
Here Ivanov tried to steer us into an intellectual discussion, but we weren't having any of it:
Ivanov: By the way, did you see Solzhenitsyn on Itogi Sunday?
At press time, we hadn't arranged the meeting. Somehow we don't think it will happen. So Mikhail, Igor Igorovich, Mr. Grazhdankin, Mr. Zemlyakov, Mr. [name of German press attache deleted on insistence of attorney], we're sorry if we can't make our meetings this week. We'll do it some other time. And maybe next time, you'll take us for a ride. Until then-April Fool!