SIXTEEN WEEKS RUSSIAN by Darren Nuzzo

“Who can tell me the three branches of American Government?”

No one raised their hand. It probably had more to do with the stigma attached to participating on the first day of college than a collective cluelessness.

“Ok then, who can not tell me the three branches of American Government?”

A lonely hand raised four rows ahead of me. I’m sure this was followed by immediate regret. The spotlight shined down on his ignorance. I felt bad—and in a moment of uncharacteristic bravery, I raised my hand. I knew the answer. But I felt like I’d take some of the attention off of this guy and hope the teacher would tell us the answer, move on, and—you know—teach.

Instead, he singles us both out. Such is life at community college.

“How in the world do you not know the branches of your own government!?”

My quick plan was to just use whatever excuse the other student uses, because it’s too late to confess that I actually know the answer: executive, judicial, legislative. He speaks up. I listen so I can mimic his response, making us equally embarrassed. His voice stutters out of the gate, and then, in a fresh off the boat Russian accent he says, “I am sorry professor, you see I live in Russia my whole life. I moved here because I really badly want to learn the American way of life and government.”

Fuck.

The professor then turns his attention toward me after giving his Russian protégé a smile of approval. I want to say, just kidding, that I was just being a nice guy. But I’m in too deep. And in a moment of rare, verbal brilliance I utter, in a somehow perfect Russian accent, “Yes, we are brothers, brothers from Russia. We really want to learn these American branches of government of USA.”

The teacher starts a slow clap and soon the entire lecture hall is welcoming us to the country. My Russian brother is looking at me funny. I wink at him and he still has no idea what the fuck is going on. And for the next sixteen weeks, every other day from 11:00am to 12:15pm, I was Russian.