Reflections on a book launch…11/11/15

As I looked out at the loving and supporting audience at my first book launch, I couldn’t help but think of an excerpt from my book relating to the days of being teased and bullied as a kid. Here is how I explain how I coped with it:

“By actually convincing myself that all my classmates were in on one big joke. That one day, I would come to school and they would all yell ‘surprise!’ and suddenly become my friends. So I kept waiting.”

Last night, the wait was over. My ‘surprise!’ moment had arrived. To think that a friendless, awkward kid wearing a Sea-Monkey necklace (filled with live Sea-Monkeys) could later be surrounded by so many all these years later… it’s just…no words can describe it.




The Sobering Method

R.J. Fox

Mockup1Following yet another vodka-soaked, Ukrainian feast, I sat at the table and stared blankly ahead at the kitchen wall in Uncle Vladimir’s farmhouse. I was grinning like the village idiot, which was fitting since we were in a village.

Katya tried to get me to drink from a glass of water, to no avail.

“Bobby, drink this!” she commanded, putting the glass of mineral water up to my lips. I refused.

“Drink it!” she said, sternly.

“I have to go to sleep,” I said.

“No sleep. Drink.”

“I already drank too much.”

“This is water!”

I finally gave in and took a sip, dribbling most of it onto my chin and down the front of my shirt.

“This is all your fault!” Katya said, angrily pointing to her uncle and father.

“It’s not our fault that he can’t drink,” Uncle Vladimir retorted.

“We’d better get him to bed,” Elena…

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The Fish are Swimming! (excerpted from “Love & Vodka”)

R.J. Fox

Mockup2-1Uncle Vladimir poured three shots—one for me, one for Sergei, and one for himself. He raised his glass for a toast: “Here’s to food. May we eat to live, not live to eat.”

After clinking our glasses, Sergei and Uncle Vladimir downed their shots, then immediately sniffed their sleeves.

“What’s that all about?” I asked, confused.

“Just a tradition,” Katya replied, “to help soften the harshness. Sometimes, people choose to eat a pickle instead.” Sure … why not?!

I took a baby sip from my shot glass. Uncle Vladimir noticed this and laughed, saying something in Russian to Sergei.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Katya replied. “Don’t worry about it. He’s an alcoholic.”

“You not finish?” Uncle Vladimir asked, pointing to my glass.

“Da! Of course!” I replied, forcing myself to finish it off in two more sips, in a feeble attempt to impress. Involuntary gagging, however, ruined…

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A Day at the Circus (excerpted from “Love & Vodka”)

R.J. Fox

Mockup2-1Refreshed from a decent night’s sleep, Katya and I headed downtown. It didn’t take me long to become reacquainted with the city, which now felt like a second home, as opposed to my first trip when it felt like another planet. For the most part, everything was pretty much how I remembered it, however I did notice a couple of new residential skyscrapers taking shape not far from Katya’s apartment building. Unlike the drab, cinderblock style of Soviet-era apartments, these new buildings were both modern and very western-world glass and metal structures.

One of my regrets from my first trip was not visiting the Dnipropetrovsk State Circus. This time, I was determined to rectify the situation. I was especially intrigued by promotional posters and billboards throughout the city, advertising “The Flying Dogs of Dnipropetrovsk.” I had to see this for myself. As on cue, a stray mutt passed by.


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Chicken Man (excerpted from “Love & Vodka”)

R.J. Fox

Mockup1Sergei turned off the main road, onto a very narrow, pothole-laden dirt road that seemed barely wide enough for a bike—let alone a car. Yet somehow Sergei managed to make the car fit, even if it meant scraping against a tree from time to time. The car rocked from side to side as we drove from one pothole to the next. I then noticed a car approaching from the opposite direction. This is going to be interesting, I thought to myself. Sergei continued to rumble down the bumpy road without slowing down. If anything, he seemed to pick up speed. As the two cars drew closer, neither driver seemed willing to pull off to the side let the other pass. Something in this game of automobile-chicken eventually has to give, right?

As the gap between both cars closed, I grabbed tightly onto Katya’s hand and braced myself. Katya didn’t seem…

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The First Supper

One more week!

R.J. Fox

Mockup1Katya and I were seated on the couch side of the table. At first glance, the couch appeared comfortable, but in reality, it was far from it. It wasn’t the couch itself, which was rather stiff, but rather, its low height and overall proximity to the table. This put an enormous strain on my back. I couldn’t help but feel like a child in desperate need of a booster seat. No matter how I shifted my position, I could never get comfortable. Not wanting to come across as a weakling, I didn’t make an issue of it. I simply chose to eat uncomfortably for the duration of my trip. When my back began to ache too much, I would sit all the way back on the couch for a few moments until I had finished chewing. I learned to take full advantage of this back-and-forth strategy by taking a big…

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Ukrainian Outhouse (excerpted from “Love & Vodka”)

R.J. Fox


Katya and I were taking an overnight bus to Yalta, located on what was still at the time, the Ukrainian province of Crimea, located on the Black Sea (before Russia decided to take it back). I was looking forward to leaving the dirty, claustrophobic confines of industrial Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine. But little did I know that I was simply trading that in for the dirty, claustrophobic confines of Yalta.

Dnipropetrovsk’s bus terminal was a depressingly dingy building with a pervasive Soviet feel to it. After waiting far too long in a line not nearly long enough to warrant the wait, we were finally able to purchase our bus tickets from a less than enthusiastic and clearly bitter ticket agent, before setting off on our journey to what many considered to be the crown jewel of Ukraine – so much so, “Mother Russia” decided to recently re-claim it as hers.

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Destination: Dnipropetrovsk (excerpted from “Love & Vodka”)

R.J. Fox

Mockup2As I headed toward my assigned gate at the Frankfurt International Airport – between my world and the new one that awaited me – I stopped for a bouquet of flowers along the way for my friend Katya. When I arrived at the gate marked “Dnipropetrovsk,” I immediately noticed that everyone in the crowded waiting area appeared sullen; no smiles, no laughter. Not a word of English was spoken. Not a word of German, either, for that matter. The atmosphere felt intimidating and I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I managed to find a seat between two middle-aged men who either apparently had never heard of deodorant, or simply ran out a long time ago. They both glared at me as though I had just announced that I had slept with their mothers.

I took the ring case out of my pocket and examined it…

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