So he made the right choice and saved $1,800 by going an extra 20 miles and then-but wait, I'm going too fast here.

It's just that I feel Russian history is so important to us and yet so many of us really know nothing of it.

So vast is the typical American's ignorance of Russian stuff that many who watched "Peter the Great" on NBC television this week simply did not have enough background to profit from these historical hours, magnificently photographed and graced with well-integrated commercials. Let me say the trouble is that we grow up on linear history and linear biography. In our own history the Spanish come to America and make no difference, then the English in 1607 at Jamestown, then some roots-and-berries types go to New England, then there is the Revolution and the War of 1812 and Gen. Robert E. Lee does not win the Civil War and Traveller is memorialized in a beautiful statue at Lexington, and then wars start getting numbered and things don't look so hot today.

This is linear history, one thing at a time in good order. Likewise in biography we also are used to the linear mode. Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois and played ball at Eureka College and had a productive career in Hollywood retiring eventually to the White House where he frequently awakes and experts can predict how long winter will last. That is linear biography as we know it. But we should expand our minds to see there are other kinds of biography and history, not going A, B, C, D, E (as we are used to but giving the gist of the man's soul rather than the simple chronology of his life.

It is Homer's way, in "The Iliad," in which he does not start with the birth of Achilles but instead we first see the hero in the middle of a long war, mad as hell about not getting a girl, and going on from there.

Once the great American audience gets used to the nonlinear approach to history, folk will have no further trouble with these valuable TV historical programs. And to prime the pump and get everybody started, I shall recapitulate the drama.

Peter is sad that Russia in those days was a backwater. He gets married but wants intercourse with the West and some ports for ships which he has not got. So he goes sailing and almost drowns but on his wedding night (with a bride scared of sex) he plays the perfect gentleman dividing the night between the palace kitchen and visiting a girl in a tavern.

The state coach is not very handsome and he buys a Toyota while his new wife, with whom he has lain by this time, has a baby and washes blankets so they stay very soft.

But he still is fascinated by the West, as represented by the sophisticated societies of Sweden, Austria, France and England. England is not very sophisticated but has Sir Isaac Newton who makes rainbows by running light beams through a prism and therefore writes "Principia Mathematica," while Peter reflects that in Russia they're still working on two plus two and scratching their heads.

He wants to build ships and get into the big world. He needs ports. He goes to see the king of Sweden, who is 12 years of age and pouts, but who is a pretty advanced boy all the same and won't give up the ports to the Russians, and stretches languorously in bed and talks a girl into being mean to Peter.

Meanwhile Peter's wife, the one that hesitated before novel intimacy, has developed a crush on the Patriarch of Moscow who is interested in not being taxed and in Peter's soul, which even by Russian standards of that day was not doing well. He was carrying on with a mistress.

The telephone system of Moscow works fine to this day because Peter knew the importance of making the right choice. His beautiful mistress is also in soft blankets and likes the floors to gleam. It was Peter's sister, I see from my notes, not his wife that admired the patriarch so much, and when she failed to kill Peter (because Friend Alexander intervened) she was exiled to a convent in the Arctic 40 miles north of the capital.

But Peter's progressive views were opposed by the church, by the Boy Guards, and by the Smithies who kept revolting and were hanged on the Kremlin walls. The Turks and the Swedes also opposed Peter and got killed.

This great czar was a man of the people and worked with his hands on the ships, earning a certificate in ironmongery. He had an illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth, who became Catherine the Great.

He melted the church bells to obtain iron for his shipyards. Iron bells make lousy noises - you want bell metal which is more like bronze - but the Russians of his day did not know any better and liked the iron ones. They were hurt when they were melted down, but Peter was a man of steel, not easily deflected from his duty to the state as he saw it. He saved $1,800 by going an extra 20 miles.

Meanwhile his real wife had this baby Alexis who was a congenital czaravich and was on a macro diet form birth and had stringy hair, but also had numerous gorgeous moments before the golden iconostases of the great churches. He, too, loved the patriarch.

All his life Peter had to keep shooting or hanging people. Alexis said Daddy, don't, which so enraged Peter he went to the block and chopped off numerous heads himself, of other people.

The wife was sent to a convent but not the one in the Arctic. Thus Peter was able to marry again and was very happy. Everything went to hell. He was betrayed by his son who had gone to Vienna and listened to Baroque music and was hung from a Kremlin bream and whipped good and then killed. But it saddened Peter to kill his son and he moped and flung in the towel and a great new future dawned with the accession of Catherine, who liked soldiers and stallions and was very important and didn't give a danm about the floors or the nicely washed fluffy blankets but did understand the importance of the right choice and invented the Princess telephone.

Those were bad times and Peter had to do terrible things. The Smithies who kept being obnoxious always got down on their knees to pray before attacking Peter's palace. Peter kept his cannon under tarpaulins and fired in good time. He was a man like other men only more so and he liked blankets washed fluffy, also, and he led Russia into the Modern World where we can phone anybody any time and Peter would want to keep it that way.