by Jordan Bass
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May RUMPUS 2002
Maybe once, you lied about your age, or your weight, or your location the night your unfaithful boyfriend was stabbed to death. Maybe you lied about your criminal record when applying for a job, or your sexual history when donating blood. Little things. Everybody does it, right? What's the harm? Maybe your slight deviations from the truth even give you a little thrill, a mild buzz gained from subverting the truth and risking discovery. You're a badass, right?
Buddha say: Never met him, but this guy sounds like a real wack job.
Aleksey Garber, who has been accepted to the Yale class of '06, is not impressed. When you're a guy who tells the truth about as often, and with the same reluctance, as the average person goes to the dentist, you've got no regard for those who dabble in tall tales. You're too busy being Gatsby, constructing a fantastical faux-existence for yourself, running a little business on the side, impatiently turning away reality at the door as if it were trying to sell vacuums. Or, if you're Garber, you storm into Yale jabbering about being the second-best fighter in the world, enjoying employment by both the Mafia and the CIA, and teaching a few philosophy classes at Columbia in your spare time. You're a real badass.
This reporter was lucky enough to host Aleksey Garber during Bulldog Days, that Bacchanalian mixer of pre- and post-frosh where the best of Yale -- you know, the Purple Crayon, Sigma Nu, psych lectures -- is paraded before the chosen few. The first thing Garber said to me was some sort of vaguely racist remark about the tennis coach at Columbia, where he claimed to be enrolled as a freshman, and a member of the tennis team. An hour later, he was still talking about the same thing, and I was still really not interested in hearing about how Rajeev Emany was unfairly given a higher place on the squad. But never mind one man's lack of interest. Never mind that Garber is not listed in the Columbia directory, in the freshman facebook, or in the tennis team roster. Never mind that Bid Goswami, the Columbia tennis coach Rumpus contacted under somewhat Garberian pretenses, remarked, "He lies like a dog. I've never heard of him." Garber's got a story to tell.
And he's happy to tell it, in the form of a marathon spoken memoir that doesn't adhere to conventions like internal consistency or believability. It starts, as all good stories do, in Uzbekistan, where Garber whiled away the first four years of his thus far quotidian existence, doing whatever Uzbek infants do -- I don't know, knitting? Anyway, it's a fairly mundane period, not yet thoroughly plumbed by Garber scholars. But at age four, things got going, says Garber. Yes, our boy escaped from a life of post-Soviet drudgery to a Tibetan monastery, still in Uzbekistan, where, Garber recalls, slowly beginning to throw his sturdy frame against the constricting walls of likelihood, he was educated in the ways of Buddhism by the very same, undoubtedly quite aged, monks who taught the Dalai Lama. Maybe you were still crying because your mom was trying to drop you off at preschool while Garber was absorbing the eightfold path courtesy of a few hotshot Lamas, but why let your own sense of inferiority limit your ability to unquestionably accept things like this? Loser.
And why, if you're already a budding Buddhist being taught by the best, stop at the still conceivably possible two degrees of separation from the man himself? Why not claim that the Dalai Lama confirmed that you were a reincarnation of an older Lama, and then "returned" some prayer beads to you that you had worn in that previous life? Why not walk around wearing those very prayer beads? And, if ol' DL's such a buddy, wouldn't he have written you a letter of recommendation when you applied to colleges? Sure he would have! Maybe your letter came from an eleventh-grade chemistry teacher who described you as studious, rather than a spiritual leader willing to vouch for your previous existences, but why let your own lack of achievement interfere with your openness to that of others? Don't be a hater, you know?
But I'm digressing, right? Let's tell this story chronologically to give it some semblance of historicality. So Garber chills in the, ah, Tibetan monastery, in Uzbekistan, until he's eight, when -- wouldn't you know it? -- his father up and joins the German Mafia! Stupid parents, right? Always embarrassing us by joining Teutonic criminal rings! Jeez, Dad! In a somewhat hazy instance of causality, Garber Sr.'s new career precipitates a departure from the monastery by Garber Jr., who being the enterprising Uzbek that he is, starts a freelance tennis court construction business. The clay ones. He builds those. It's no lemonade stand, sure, but a kid's gotta make those Uzbek Soms somehow, right? As far as I could understand, things went on like this until Garber was about eleven, when the family moved to America. Dad's still running guns for Deutschland's answer to Al Capone, so he's not home a lot, which means that Garber has no choice but to make ends meet by giving tennis lessons to celebrities. Name a star, and Garber can tell you how good their backhand was. Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Harrison Ford -- they all came to the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club to take lessons from Garber. So did Russian Mafia members, who got him an apartment on 34th Street and a job forging passports (Garber has five, himself) and diplomatic identifications. So did one of hte presidents of Goldman Sachs, a shadowy figure whom Garber describes as owning something like 40% of the seats at the New York Stock Exchange, and who also found a position for Garber within the firm. And why limit your professional life to tennis lessons, investment banking, and document forging? That could get boring, right? Luckily, a solution came in the form of the CIA, which hired Garber to hack their website. He did, of course, with the help of his Russian hacker friends, and earned the right to fire off his M-22 at the CIA firing range in New York City. What did you get from your job -- a Christmas bonus? And, goddammit, why stop there? Why not seek employment as an orthopedic masseuse, with the help of some business cards designed on the Internet? (See graphic, left.)
Look! He's legit! a REAL business card ...
... that he got off of the Internet. Oh well.
You may notice that his card boasts of yet another occupation -- Martial Arts. Yes, way back in the monastery, Garber picked up a working knowledge of "Tibetan Sacred Arts," which, from his descriptions, seems to be a mix of Shaolin and Street Fighter II. If you ask him nicely, he might tell you about the secret tournament held to determine the greatest fighter in the world, held every few years in Woodstock, New York. There's a monastery there, too, you see, on a hill, and beneath that hill is a system of caves unknown to the public, and in the deepest of those caves the Lamas gather to shoot beams of chi at each other and break concrete blocks. Garber, in an uncharacteristic show of modesty, claims that he did not win the tournament but only won second place. Along the way, he treated one Lama to a compound fracture and was incongruously slapped with a lawsuit in return. But no problem! Garber teaches tennis to "the best personal injury lawyer in the nation," and managed to get off scot-free.
Eventually, Garber started taking classes at Columbia; this is a period of his life about which he is resolutely uninterested in providing a stable set of details. A typical exchange would go like this:
Rumpus: So what classes are you taking right now?
Garber: I'm majoring in Eastern philosophy and finance.
R: OK, but what classes are you taking?
G: ... I don't really follow.
R: What classes are you taking?
G: Oh. I'm taking a biology class, two biology classes, an English literature class, an eastern philosophy class, a chemistry class, a finance class, an economics class, and a religions class.
R: Wow. That's a lot of classes. So, wait, two biology classes ...
G: Yeah, and an American fiction class, a physics class, an English class, a statistics class, some others.
R: Wow. What's your English professor's name?
G: Um, Charlie.
G: Yeah, Charlie.
What can you say to that, rally? This is the man's life, as he tells it. Is any of it true? Well, what is truth? Isn't it just a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms? In short, a sum of human relations which were poetically and rhetorically heightened, transferred, and adorned, and after long use seem solid, canonical, and binding to a nation? Maybe it's just a bunch of illusions about which it has been forgotten that they are illusions, worn-out metaphors without sensory impact, coins which have lost their image and now can be used only as metal, and no longer as coins. In the end, all we can really say is that "Truth" is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements, and if you look at it that way, then it's all true. We who have encountered him should feel privileged that Aleksey Garber has deigned to include us in the epic adventure that is his life. I know I certainly do. And I'm sure the Nietzscheans and Foucaultphiles in the Admissions Office feel the same way. After all, they let in a kid that some people might describe as a pathological liar so ashamed of his numbingly regular existence that he seeks solace in the type of imaginary life a twelve-year-old might dream up. But don't we need a few more of those here at Yale?