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Testing, testing -- is this mike on? OK, please take your seats, people. Live taping starts in five, four, three ...

Welcome to the premier of Arbat & Main Interactive, a unique broadcast-to-newsprint feature, in which spontaneous questions from thoughtful Muscovites get scintillating, real-time answers here in our studio -- sort of like Larry King Live without Larry King gumming things up -- and then promptly appear on city doorsteps the next morning in transcript form, warts and all, as a provocative newspaper column. Ready?

Our topic tonight is the 2008 U.S. presidential election, an event whose historic conclusion looms before us like, um, like some kind of giant ... metaphor thing. It'll come to me. Anyway, let's go right to questions from Mr. and Mrs. Moscow here in the studio. Yes, you there, the older gentleman with the earflaps:

Q. Ye gods, how long has your election campaign been going on? Is it 22 months, or 22 years? Will it really stop Nov. 4? Do you promise?

A. Point taken. OK, a two-year campaign for a four-year job was not what our founding fathers had in mind, agreed, but many Americans fear that shortening the process dramatically might actually increase the chances of getting another dim bulb. Do you want another U.S. president who can't form complete sentences or pronounce the word "nuclear"? Me either. So back off, gramps. Next. OK, the kid with the Spartak scarf:

Q. What is a "maverick"? I know it's a political term, but when I Googled it I got James Garner. Is he running for president?

A. Ha-ha, no, there was a television series ... never mind. Look, a maverick is what John McCain's people call their candidate. See, he's against the Republican Party establishment, against the Republican Wall Street elite, against the Republican administration's disastrous policies, and he has a "maverick" solution: Vote Republican. The maverick candidate in your last election was Dmitry Medvedev, OK? Next?

Q. I asked my American colleague Bob if he is voting in the election and he said no, he resides in New York so "it doesn't matter." Why doesn't voting in New York matter? Maybe he is lying? Or just lazy?

A. Not exactly. See, what your friend actually meant was that New York is "uncontested" -- the Democrats will win its electoral votes regardless. It's not that Bob's vote doesn't count, it does. It just won't make any difference. What's that -- "make that a little clearer"? OK, have you ever met anyone who actually voted for Leonid Brezhnev in 1979? No? Funny, he carried Moscow with 99.99 percent. Now that's uncontested. Look, seriously, Americans love democracy, but we've limited it to 10 "contested" states to save time. What? "Two freaking years isn't exactly saving time?" All right, touche. Next? The young lady there:

Q. With all the great women in the United States, how could the Democrats almost nominate Karl Rove in a pantsuit for president, and then the Republicans actually pick some moose-gutting ninny from Nome to be a codger's heartbeat away from the nuclear launch codes?

A. As a sensitive American, I'm offended by your characterizations, which are unfair to both Mr. Rove and moose-gutters everywhere. Granted, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign turned regrettably ugly and Governor Sarah Palin's brand of "tee-hee, winky-winky" incoherence clearly bombed, and not just with the "Save Bullwinkle -- Gut Sarah!" crowd. But c'mon, we don't exactly envy you Valentina "Beehive" Matviyenko. Let's just agree we're both still looking for our own Angela Merkels, OK? All right, last question -- you, the short fellow with the thuggy bodyguards:

Q. Your last president looked into my soul without asking and I didn't sleep right for weeks. Then he became the worst president in your history. Do you think the next guy could maybe keep his X-ray vision to himself and do a little better at the job?

A. Sir, I can personally guarantee you that the next U.S. president will be an improvement over the present one. Of course, my hamster Sparky would also be an improvement, although he declined the Libertarian Rodent Party's nomination. Anyway, here's my advice for your first summit: Wear a lead vest.

OK, thanks people, that's a wrap. Pick up your complimentary Marlboro bags by the exits. Hey Chuck, whaddaya think? Emmy, Pulitzer or both?

Mark H. Teeter teaches English and Russian-American relations in Moscow.