There were two brothers by the name of Mechtov. They were twins, and were as identical as any two people can possibly be. Growing up in Soviet Russia in the 1960s, their family did not have very much, especially since they lived in a tiny village of just over a thousand people. They spent their childhood interested in everything—there was seemingly no end to their curiosity. They would spend hours collecting everything of value around—rocks, leaves, twigs, hunks of old bread—and would examine and explore them. Everyone that knew them said from the day they were born that they would make excellent scientists.
I knew them well. I was their best friend and neighbor, and I was the one they came to with everything interesting that they found. We spent almost all our time together, and I came to know them very well, better than even myself. Our peaceful, inquisitive lives continued for some time, and the Mechtov twins continued to be exactly alike. I could never tell them apart, and they never let me. Many a joke were played at my expense, but I didn’t mind. I loved watching them act, and I too could tell they were destined for great things.
Thus I did not hesitate when they finally needed something from me. My dimwit of a father had been a general in the Second World War, and he became an esteemed member of the party. The only thing he loved more than killing was me, and he was always ready to do as I asked. It was I who originally demanded to be moved to the village, tired of the tedious hustle of the capital. But that’s not very important, for this is their story and not mine.
The important day came around the time they turned sixteen. In one of its now-infamous maneuvers, the Party decided that the Mechtov’s parents were capitalist spies, and had them summarily executed. It was all over in a flash; one moment they were happy in the study of their plants, the next their parents were gone. It was then that I decided they couldn’t continue to live in this repressive society, and it was then that I did not hesitate to help them. I called my father, and it did not take me long to convince him to help me in this matter.
I had them allowed to go to America, where I hoped they would find a suitable environment for their intellectual talents. Before they went I gave them a number of materials to read about the country, so that they could better integrate themselves into its culture. It was then, for the first time ever, that I saw their interests diverge. For while they were both intrigued by a recently deceased cultural icon of America, one was interested in the rock singer Jim Morrison, while the other in the president John Kennedy. We were so able to arrive at their names—Jim and John Stork. The last name was chosen by me, who thought it would be a clever way to reveal that they had been carried, by air no less, to a new home, where their rebirth would hopefully lead to bigger and better things.
They begged and begged, but I refused to go with them. My home was here, I insisted, and with my father’s protection I was safe. Promised that if the communist government ever fell I would join them, but that for now they would be on their own, with only each other to rely on. Later I would make good on my promise, and would find out all that had happened to them, which, I also realized, would make an interesting story.
When they arrived in the country that was to be their redemption, they were still full of the ideas they had read about. In hindsight I should not have given them the texts, for that act alone led to the greatest personal tragedy I have ever beheld. For now though, there were hopes and dreams, wishes and desires. Jim continued to be obsessed with his namesake and John was no different. They had a bit of money that my father had given them, and they immediately spent it to find out more about Morrison and Kennedy. Jim bought all of Morrison’s albums and John bought biographies and conspiracy theory books (he bought some of theories as well) at a local Russian bookshop. That’s how they came to be broke.
My father had also set them up in a decent apartment in Brooklyn, where they could stay for free while they looked for work. But these two prodigies were not content with a meager existence bagging groceries or delivering pizza—they had always wanted more. Most people thought that they would turn into budding young Newtons, Einsteins, and Darwins, and their early behavior seemed to support that. However, America changed everything. Having read about Morrison and Kennedy they now believed in the power of the word, be it spoken or played, and they believed in is power with such intensity as to vanquish any other belief. They now dreamed of being able to affect the masses in the ways which their namesakes could, and they finally decided to follow in their respective footsteps.
There were, unfortunately, a number of obstacles at that time which prevented them from taking the most direct path. John was a foreign national, under the age of thirty-five, spoke no English, and had no money. He was therefore one of the least likely of people to become president come next election. Jim was spoke no English, knew no one in his new country, and couldn’t play an instrument. His odds at becoming the next rock star weren’t very high either.
Yet they had one advantage. They were able to convert the curiosity of their youth into determination. Whereas before they spent every free moment investigating and learning, and whereas before they had aced all aspects of their science classes in school, they now abandoned all of that. Instead they worked hard—harder than I had thought possible. If only they had taken this hard work and combined it with their existing talents for science—but I digress, and I am verifiably biased, being a biologist myself. Such it was that they didn’t, and the world will have to accept the loss.
They began work on alleviating these aforementioned problems. First they worked together on their common problem of not knowing more than three words of English (incidentally these were “please” “yes” and “spoon”). They signed up to free classes for immigrants, they took out books from the library, and they used their new-found determination to succeed quickly. It wasn’t more than a month and they had mastered English to the point of having read Hamlet, Ulysses, and Moby Dick with ease, and the continued several more months simply engrossed in literature. Every book that struck their fancy was theirs, first the classics, then anything that interested them, and finally simply anything they could get their hands on, including practically the entire collection of their local library. In their first year they had read each twelve hundred books.
As they understood that they had solved this problem, their interest in reading began to wane, until they were down to only several a week. With their extra free time they began to focus on their next-most-immediate problem—their combined lack of money. Whereas before they had worked together on learning English and they continued their strong bond (despite it being damaged by their differing heroes), they now found jobs in totally different areas. Jim got work as a sales clerk in a music shop, his reading having inundated him with all sorts of music knowledge. John, in a similar way following his own calling found work with a local political campaign, mailing letters and making phone calls.
The only thing similar about them is that they both succeeded masterfully. Jim’s presence in the store boosted sales tremendously; customers were enthralled with his cool demeanor, his incalculable knowledge, and his debonair looks that they came back again and again. The store expanded quickly. A month after he was hired he was promoted assistant manager, two months after he was manager. Until he had come the store had been part of a small, struggling chain, with only three locations. The general manager quickly saw Jim’s potential, however, and he made him his executive assistant after only a year on the job. It seemed as if Jim’s presence alone inspired the employees to work harder and the people to buy more. Within three years they had expanded to two hundred locations across the entire eastern seaboard, and there was no sign that things would abate.
John, on the same hand, took his candidate from someone running simply because he had nothing better to do against an incumbent with every advantage and millions more dollars in campaign contributions to a viable challenger. Then, he took him farther. He rose more money in his first two months on the job than that candidate had ever raised in his whole political career. He saw John’s potential, and took him off of raising money to be his campaign manager, firing the old one in the process. Under John’s direction their standing in the polls rose quickly. Come election day they won by a wide margin, much to everyone’s surprise save John’s. He was quickly recommended to run other campaigns, and within his first few years he proved that he was incapable of losing.
All of this success made the Stork brothers very rich. After appraising their situation at the end of those three years they learned that they had made a small fortune, and that it was definitely enough to move on to the next phase. They did not discuss this together, of course, for long before they had moved apart, and at the time they maintained only cursory, impersonal contact, simply talking of their latest achievements. Yet they still shared that kind of bond unique to twins, and it allowed them to revel in each others progression towards their dreams, such that their individual success was amplified and pushed them to work harder and harder.
They had both realized that in their current careers, though they had earned money, they were not really getting closer to their dreams. A music shop or campaign manager is wholly different from a rock star or a president. This had to be corrected.
oJim began to learn to play. He hadn’t thought of what instrument it would be, though he supposed that the guitar would fit the rock star cliche best, but he decided to cover all eventualities. He learned to play what can only be described as a plethora of instruments, including the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, flute, mandolin, and trumpet. Despite this large number, he managed to practice heavily with all of them, learning them well. Within a few years he could have been considered a ‘master’ on any of them. He then began to compose, writing music after music and lyrics after lyrics. His repertoire of songs entered the hundreds, but he was not yet happy, for he had to have his magnum opus—a body of work so powerful it would define that generation of music. He kept at it.
John began to support an amendment to the constitution allowing nationalized citizens to run for president—what would later be known as the Stork Amendment. Through his ties in Washington he was able to find senators and representatives to sponsor the amendment, many of whom were only too happy to help the man that had helped them get elected. Naturally there was much opposition to it—at first. But John worked hard to win the support of a majority of Congress, going so far as to threaten to run candidates against those opposing the amendment. It wasn’t long before this strategy worked, and the amendment passed. Then of course John had to convince thirty-eight states to ratify it, which was a whole different matter requiring skills of mass communication—just what John wanted to practice. He succeeded, of course, and multiple TV appearances and speeches insured that the people would unite behind him. Within a year after Congress passed the amendment, it was ratified and became law.
Thus in one fell swoop the Stork brothers had obliterated everything standing between them and their dreams of success. All that remained was the simple matter of actually achieving them. Jim began work on his chef d’oeuvre, an album that would be so amazingly powerful that it would engulf all of American culture, neatly summarizing it in a seventy minute arrangement. Likewise John started assembling his presidential campaign team. He decided that he did not need the support of either major party, and would run—and win—as an independent. Both quickly ran into problems of obligation, for John did not have enough money to personally fund his whole campaign and Jim did not have enough to personally fund his album’s recording and production. They were forced to compromise, as John took on a notably pro-corporate vice presidential candidate and Jim signed contracts with record companies. They were not entirely pleased, but decided that anything was worth the achievement of their dream.
The following year was spent by both just as the last—entangled in work, though this time it was particularly arduous. Jim worked day and night on his music, writing song after song and lyric after lyric until he had finally had enough material to choose only the best from. John used his hoard of money and political ties to run a fantastic campaign, rising in the polls. On the day before Election Day, on which John and Jim’s fates would be decided (for Jim had determined to release his work on the same day), they finally had nothing to do. They sat at home, resting, which was something that they hadn’t done in years. I would guess that it did something to them; the lack of work somehow killed off a part of them as they realized that they were on the verge of having nothing left to accomplish. So they went to sleep, and waited for the results the next day.
They were at the very least unremarkable. John won the election in a landslide; Jim’s album went platinum in under a week, topping the charts in sales. They both had succeeded, and masterfully well. The papers ran story after story about their rags-to-riches lives, heralding the Stork family as a new power in the country. Some of these papers made their way to me, and I never understood what they could mean by family when neither of the brothers had ever had a romantic engagement, let alone was married. I seemed to be the only person who realized this, however. And yet I felt that this success could not go on for much longer. I knew that their original calling had been science, not music or politics, and that their veering away from it cannot possibly end in good. Still, I began to plan for a trip to the States to visit my friends.
Yet my suspicions were soon confirmed. I t wasn’t more than a week after I had read the stories in the paper that disaster struck. Appearing together during a press conference to answer questions and alleviate worries about their now-heralded ‘total control’ of the American country, a reporter asked them, “Now that you have achieved so much, what are you going to do now?” They both opened their mouths as if to respond, but no words came out. Instead, both of them collapsed. They were rushed to the hospital, but it was too late—they were already dead. The autopsies revealed that they had died of simultaneous heart attacks.
I arrived, as I had promised I would, just in time to be at their funeral. I was the only one there, though everyone in the country was invited. No one had any time for such impersonalities. In all their time following their dreams, in all their time working as hard as a dozen men, they had never thought to make any friends or to find any love. As it turned out, I was their only friend, for back when they were curious they yearned for discussion and were interested in every new person they met. With their coming to America, and with the fixed state their dreams turned into they no longer were interested in anything else. Everyone they met was purely for business reasons—their personal lives ceased to exist. I thought about this as I placed flowers on their grave, and I think about it as I return to that site on every one of their birthdays.
The true tragedy of all of it is that they should have known that they would suffer this fate. After all, they had chosen as heroes men that had died untimely deaths, and though they had achieved great things in the manger of their namesakes, they had fulfilled their destiny to the end. It was as if they had sold their souls of that unique devil known as the American Dream, and he would not give them back, not for the world.