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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'progress'




Hello, mom?" asked Pete. What did he expect her to say: No, I am not your mother, I just happen to be answering the phone at your parents' home and sound just like her?


"Petie! Where are you calling from? Are you still in Florida? When are you coming back?" she replied.


"I'm not, I mean, I am not coming back yet. Uhm, I got this great magazine assignment, which will keep me here for a while." Great was definitely an exaggeration, but Pete had indeed found something that could, in a pinch, be seen as a job, or at least a step toward one. He'd started methodically poking his head in at every English-language publication in town, and about the 12th place he went had offered him this thing.


Progress was an old and venerable Russian magazine, which had, in better times, published in 40 different languages. Now it had a gray, poorly printed weekly Russian edition and a monthly English version that somehow managed to limp along. So Pete had called to ask whether they might need help with the English-language edition.


It was a beautiful small building in the center of town, even older than the 1880s buildings in Boston. The lobby was all marble and mirrors, and it seemed so much bigger than it really was that Pete walked head-first into a glass door. A nice and big security guard explained to Lena that they actually needed the side entrance. Down the stairs to a basement door that was apparently the side entrance, up a side stairway that was apparently there behind the cloud of cigarette smoke, they arrived at a side office that had to belong to the editor-in-chief: It was the biggest, if filthiest, office that Pete had ever seen. A man with salt-and-pepper hair was looking at some papers on his desk.


"This is the executive pause," Lena whispered. "Five minutes exactly."


Exactly five minutes later, the man raised his eyes to the visitors and smiled. "Well, hello, you must be the American. I like Americans. I was a correspondent in New York for seven years. You know, this whole building is ours. We are just renting some space to this Korean electronics firm temporarily." Pete and Lena assumed it was all right to sit down at the table that was the plank to the editor-in-chief's T-bar. "You see, we are the only remaining independent publication in this town. We are not owned by any bank. We cannot be forced to say anything we don't want to say."


They also couldn't pay journalists a living wage, it turned out, and they subsisted on a series of grants given by foreign foundations for such purposes as "fighting fascism" or "enfranchising the regions." Pete and Lena would be hired under the latter grant, which meant that as long as they agreed to spend one week at the office, Lena translating and Pete editing stories for the English-language edition of Progress, they could spend the rest of their time traveling, courtesy of the magazine. Pete figured he'd be able to sell many out-in-the-Russian-wilderness-type stories that way, though Lena insisted no one was any longer interested in the out-in-the-Russian-wilderness type stories. And now he could tell his mother about the job.


"I'm going to travel, mom. I am going to ride my bicycle along Interstate 80, all the way through the South until I get to the West Coast." A trip like this would take weeks, possibly months, and his mother would never guess this lie was inspired by the Trans-Siberian Railroad.


"What about your girlfriend -- what was her name?" Pete's mother asked.


"My girlfriend? Oh, Lena," he replied.


"Isn't she there with you now?"


"Yes. Yes, and she is coming with me."


"What about her school, Pete? Pete? Is there something you are not telling me?"


"What, mom?"


"Is she pregnant?"


"Who?"


"Lena."


"I don't know. I mean, why should she be pregnant?"


"Pete Singer, what do you mean, you don't know? How can you be so reckless? In the age of AIDS?" This was his mother. The woman who treated him like a 5-year-old, didn't want him to live in New York and expected him to come running home when he lost his job, but when the conversation turned to sex, as it apparently had, her training as a feminist couples counselor kicked in. She'd treated him the same way when he was five, forcing him to read hippie children's sex books, which he found perfectly disgusting.


"Mother, I have not been at all reckless. I have been perfectly responsible. Lena is taking a semester off because that's the responsible thing to do, because we love each other."


His mother gasped. Her son had never spoken to her like this. Drawing on her training, Nancy Singer thought this was painful but good: her son was becoming man enough to be open and honest with his mother.