MOSCOW, August 28, 2005 -- I’m, like, totally unprepared for this! It’s awesome! My extended family is now extending in a global direction. Of course, my extended family was already global, because Americans constitute half of it as it is; but they are people I’ve lived and worked and drunk and gone to bed with!
My new extensions are through my “Red Queen” family, people I’ve never met. But I’m now starting to get responses from readers who feel enough empathy and kinship to offer advice and make conversation with someone they’ve never even seen.
Dan S., for example, after reading about my “hands off” policy with Zhorik (Chapt. 160), advised me to tell Zhorik that “he is being selfish, considering everything you do for him and the very little he does for you. I would tell him that if (sex) makes him uncomfortable to find another, ‘more comfortable’ place to live. He is really using you.”
Dan is the owner of GLINN Media Corp. (www.glinn.com) in Key West, FL. Their news distribution service at www.gaydata.com was the one I used to send out my Red Queen news release. It was very successful, and we’ve become long-distance pals. He’s obviously a thoughtful and caring guy.
And yesterday after reading about my fizzled “Kindness Revolution,” (Chapt. 155), Sebastian, who describes himself as a young writer in the Philadelphia/NYC area, wrote to say that he likes the parallel with Isherwood’s Berlin diaries. “I do not subscribe to blogs as a rule – most are rather akin to watching someone masturbate – but yours is truly worth subscribing to.”
John G., who says he speaks Russian (and German and Spanish and French), would like to move to Moscow some day “and would just love to talk to some people who live there.”
So I’m going to put him in touch with roommates Yegor and Anton, and maybe with Slava, who also speaks Spanish in addition to Russian -- though of course that’s not their real names. I warned John not to mention Dane or the Red Queen, because my roommates wouldn’t know who Dane Lowell is, and they don’t know Red Queen even exists.
So now I’m in two closets – the gay one and the one in my private life, where only three of my friends among my Russian roommates, lovers and acquaintances know that I’m chronicling their daily lives.
If they knew it, I think they might be pissed off – and at least inhibited and not themselves, which would render this whole reality blog phony.
But I am walking on a tight rope.
Just yesterday evening Ivan, one of the three, took me severely to task because I had been using his real first name and last initial (I have just changed it in the cast of characters) because I didn’t think anyone would ever put two and two together. But Slava, a friend of his and one of the other three, has. So Ivan, whose gay life has been completely closeted up to now, has been outed inadvertently to Slava – by me.
Blin! (Russian for damn).
In the 1960s there was a TV serial about an American double agent who had written a book, “I Led Three Lives,” which was made into a popular TV serial.
So I can empathize with him, with my own three lives: My closeted Moscow existence as a teacher of English as a Second Language; my open gay real life, which you are reading about; and my life as a former journalist and energy writer, in which I was amused a few days ago to discover that I have become a “legend” (Chapt. 160).
Maybe some day they’ll make them into a TV serial? Naah!
In any case, it’s a delight to find my life as well as my pages being enriched by my new Red Queen friends and family. In America, we’d say “it’s cool.”
The Russians say, “eto kruta.”
Occasionally good things happen, even in Russia! A month ago, the Russian Cabinet earmarked $ 6 billion in 2006 as the start of a five-year program to assist the disabled and to improve wheelchair access to “means of transportation, public places, elevators, and living spaces.”
There are no elevators in the metros, no kneeling buses, few wheel chair ramps even in public buildings like court houses and the Bolshoi Theater. The disabled here lead a very confined and frustrating existence. Are things really going to change or will most of this 6 billion bucksi be systematically siphoned off into bureaucrats’ and ministers’ pockets to buy dachas, Mercedes, and foreign vacations? I’d lay ten to one on the latter.
Still, the thought is there.
Another surprise! The Supreme Court has declared that lower courts acted illegally when they ordered the National Bolshevik Party to disband. The Supremes acknowledged that the NBP, the most popular anti-Putin party in Russia and one to which youth have been increasingly turning to, was railroaded and framed by the prosecutor’s office.
The prosecutor’s office will – guess what! -- appeal.
In the meantime, the trial of 39 of these bold, irreverent, innovative, and nonviolent NBP kids still continues. Their crime, for which they could be sentenced to eight years in prison: briefly occupying a Presidential Administration office last December. They injured no one and damaged no property.
Their real crime: Demanding Putin’s resignation.
More nice news: The draconian demands by the Interior, Justice, and Health and Social Develop ministries for testing for leprosy and five other diseases before an ex-pat can be employed in Russia (Chapt. 150) have been watered down.
Ex-pats can now have the tests at any clinic, and there’s optimism that the requirements will be still further eased after the strong protest by the American Chamber of Commerce here.
Something else good: A Russian journalist who was sentenced to five years for “defamation” after he accused three local officials of masterminding the murder of a radio station editor has been released after serving less than three months.
And finally, a bill is set to pass the duma when it resumes in September that would require doctors to prescribe generic rather than brand-specific drugs, making medication cheaper for consumers; although skeptics say it just shifts the kickbacks from the doctors to the pharmacists.
Still, it’s an attempt at consumerism and goes into the emaciated “plus” column of Russian legislative initiatives.
Concerns in the U.S. over heating costs are mounting, I’m told. My friend Sam Love in Pennsylvania writes: “I read a prediction in the NY Times this morning of home heating oil at $ 2.45 a gal. by February. OUCH. That's a about a dollar more per gal. than we paid in MD two years ago.”
Another NYT article says prices have doubled in the last two years, and that U.S. consumers will spend nearly $ 300 billion more on energy than they did in 2003, forcing them to cut spending in other areas and make some severe sacrifices:
For instance, a Chicago woman reports having to cut back on her cable TV subscription. Because of the high price of gasoline, another couple haven’t taken their 18-foot fishing boat out a single time this summer!
Can you imagine how the heart of the Russian whose average income is maybe as much as $ 300 a month bleeds to hear of the sacrifices the beleaguered American consumer is having to make in the face of rising energy costs?
There are of course some real hardships in America, and there will be lots more: Poor people especially will suffer. Many won’t be able to afford to drive to their underpaid jobs, and will lose them. Others will face a choice of paying the rent for a freezing apartment or buying fuel for an apartment they will soon be kicked out of for non-payment of rent. Millions will lose their mortgaged homes because the rising fuel costs will demolish budgets.
The handwriting is on the wall for everyone to see: Peak oil is here. Hard times are coming to America. As one contributor to the EnergyResources web site observed: “The first consequence of a permanent imbalance of supply and demand (another way of saying there will never again be enough oil) is steadily rising prices with no prospects of a reversal - exactly what is happening now.”
Welcome to the future!
In Russia it is a non-event. First of all, as an oil exporter, Russia has no crisis of supply – hence of price, although the oligarchs who own the oil taps are keeping the price roughly consistent with world competition. Gasoline here is about $ 2.50 a gallon – cheaper than in America, but more expensive than a year ago.
But the real difference is that the overwhelming majority of Russians live in apartments with central heating for which their total monthy utility bill is about $ 50 – maybe $ 35-40 of which is for heating. The crisis is for those whose $ 100 a month pensions are cut in half by that utility bill.
But their crisis arises from the niggardly Russian government – which isn’t using any of its projected $ 100 billion oil-begotten surplus for easing the welfare crisis -- not with the rising price of heating oil.
Even my student Anton, an upper-middle-class Russian who lives in a Western-style brick home in the countryside that is heated with natural gas, only pays $ 350 - $ 400 a year for heating – about $ 30 a month.
Tarp Honniker says the crisis will come to Russia about ten years later than in America. I think he’s probably right. So I have at least another ten years to cruise the underbelly of Moscow and add to my Red Queen family before energy realities start hemming me in.
That is, if the junkyard dogs and wildly fluctuating blood pressure don’t get in the way.
I was saddened a year or so ago when I went for my periodic haircut at the barbershop at Novoslobodskaya Metro Station to find that my barber and friend, a handsome young North Ossetian guy named David, was not there. The explanations I got along with the averted eye contact were vague: Sick…don’t know…probably won’t be back…,
Finally one of his fellow tonsorial artists spilled it: David had become addicted to drugs. He had missed a lot of work, was often “sick,” had been in the hospital, and the barbershop had finally canned him.
There are widespread reports of rampantly increasing drug addiction in Russia, but to my knowledge, David was the only one among my circle of friends and acquaintances to fall victim. He is also only the second person I’ve met in Russia with the name David, so ubiquitous in America. The other was an Afghani. Russians don’t name their children David. It’s too Jewish, very un-Russian.
David’s and my friendship went back a long time: He first cut my hair back in the summer of 1999 just before my musician friend Marco and his boyfriend Jesse came to visit, and I had invited the good-looking 25-year-old to the party I threw in their honor.
“Will there be any women there?” Yes, I said. I had invited several EE teachers. But the night of the party, none of the women had been able to come, and only guys had showed up – half of them gay and half of them straight or bi-, and no one had a score card.
Despite the sit-com setting, it turned out to be a fun and historic party that all of us still remember. After that, my haircuts would be laced with questions about Marco and Jesse and my boyfriends Max and Vanya, and David would tell me about his latest girlfriend.
So losing him to drugs was a rather personal thing for me, because he was intelligent, kind, compassionate, thoughtful and – I kept wistfully hoping – maybe a little bit gay. I did think I felt a hard-on against my elbow through his apron one day. But that might have just been fantasy taking flesh and dwelling among us.
Anyway, as I passed the barbershop Friday enroute to pick up a free Moscow Times at the Koffee Haus next door, I heard someone call my name. It was David. He’s back at his old job and saw me pass by the window. He looks a little sallow and shaky, but he is still handsome and sweet. We hugged each other exuberantly.
Anton has been cutting my hair at home with the clippers I bought a year ago, but now I will go back to David’s barber chair to catch up on his past.
And grope for more imagined erections.