MOSCOW, Jan. 18, 2004 – Yuri arrived early today – about mid-afternoon -- babbling incoherently. That’s nothing new. He always babbles incoherently – even to those who speak his language.
One of the advantages of not being fluent in Russian is that I don’t have to listen to his incoherent babbling.
Today, though, I caught some phrases that, when put together, pointed to the probability that Yuri had been fired because they caught him sleeping on the job.
I listened some more. Yep, that’s what happened.
Yuri doesn’t seem to have a real place to sleep. He sleeps in stairwells, as near as I can figure out. And apparently last night he got very little sleep in whatever stairwell he was trying to sleep in, and after lunch today, he couldn’t resist a little snooze. His boss caught him and fired him.
It’s a major tragedy for him. For us, it’s a minor tragedy, because it means he’ll be spending more time here, since he has no job to go to.
A few days ago Shurik came to me with his life plan:
Since I couldn’t afford more than ,000 for school for him this fall, he’d found a journalism school where he could learn TV and radio broadcasting. He’d be a TV personality.
But he’d be wasting his talents, I’ve discovered. He should be going to actor’s school instead.
Nah, I’ve got it wrong again. He should be teaching in actor’s school.
Last week I got an e-mail from my former Russian teacher and good friend, Irina Mikhaeleva, who for the past three or four years has been teaching Russian language and culture at Millersville College in Pennsylvania.
“I want to ask you for a little help,” she wrote. One of her former students and a friend of his would be arriving in Moscow on January 9, and “Maybe some students who want to practice English and make new friends could get in touch with them and help them a little bit in Moscow? Otherwise I am afraid that they will be in some trouble, because they don't know Russian very well and don't have a lot of time to adapt there.”
Of course, I said we’d be delighted to do anything we could. As it turned out, we had a little party for Dave and Steve the evening they arrived and gave them a tour of the Kremlin and Red Square the next day.
A couple of days after her first e-mail, Irina very thoughtfully wrote asking if there was anything I needed from America that she could send along.
You can’t buy rubbing alcohol here, because there were so many deaths from Russians drinking it that they took if off the shelves. And I was down to my last couple of swallows – ha, ha, I mean ounces; so I asked her to send a couple of pints of rubbing alcohol, a package of Dr. Scholl’s corn pads for a callus I’m sprouting on the bottom of my foot; and a 2004 pocket calendar – impossible to find here.
But I had immediately misplaced the alcohol and hadn’t been able to find it anywhere. So on Saturday afternoon Anton was helping me search for it. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, it could be in the wine drawer in the coffee table in Shurik’s room, since it didn’t seem to be anywhere else.
Anton and I opened the drawer. No rubbing alcohol, but there was a book tucked away in the bottom of the drawer. Anton picked it up and disappeared with it into the other room. A minute or two later, he and Yegor returned with the look of triumph in their eyes:
“You can’t get much better reason than this to get rid of him,” Yegor said, thrusting the book at me.
It was a list of goals for 2004 – some of them rather lofty: Try to be more patient; be more goal-oriented; study English; and finally:
“Milk Dane for as much money as possible!”
Holy shit! The smoking gun!
Yegor said, “you should tell him as soon as he gets home that he has to leave.”
“We have to give him a hearing,” I insisted. “It wouldn’t be fair not to give him a chance to explain himself.”
“What is there to explain?”
“I don’t know, but we have to let him present his side.”
So we agreed to first confront him with the book, let him respond, and then order him to leave – forever.
So when he got home a little after noon, we all followed him into his room. I pulled his diary out of the drawer and opened it.
“So now I know how you really feel,” I accused. “I’ve seen your soul!”
He dismissed it with a wave of the hand. “Oh, Dane, that’s just a piece of stupid shit.”
“Yes, it’s a piece of stupid shit, but you wrote it!”
Before I could stop him, he reached over and tore the page out of the book. “I wrote that back in August,” he continued. “Then, I really did feel that way. But since then I’ve grown to really love you.”
“I don’t believe you,” I replied. “This is what you really think. It’s down here in black and white. You don’t love me! You just love my money!”
“No, it’s not true. That isn’t what I really think.
Tears began rolling down his face. “Dane, please, I love you. You don’t have to give me any more money. I just want to be with you. I very, very love you. It doesn’t make any difference that you’re 70 and I’m 19. You’re like my father. You’re my best friend. I want to be with you. I really love you.”
He fell to his knees: “Please, I beg of you. Let me stay with you.”
Ever had a tall, beautiful, 19-year-old at your feet begging you to let him live with you because he loves you so much?
“I want to believe you,” I said hesitantly, “but…”
“Believe me,” he implored. “I very, very, very love you.”
He pulled me to the couch where night after night we had fallen into each other’s arms for hours of gentle, passionate love. He forced his lips into mine and kissed and held me.
Okay, even I have my limits.
“All right,” I said; “I’ll give you another chance. We’ll try it for another week.”
We kissed and held each other.
He unbuttoned his shirt and I caressed his gorgeous stomach.
“I want to make love to you,” he whispered.
He came relatively quickly.
And so his reprieve was sealed.
Ah, once more sweet bliss!
When he and I returned to the kitchen, Yegor and Anton were already there. “Okay, guys,” I announced. “I’m giving Shurik another chance. He says he wrote this in August, and that now he feels differently, that he really loves me. In the meantime, he’s going to be kind to everybody and we’ll all follow the Golden Rule.”
Shurik nodded in agreement.
I wanted to talk to Yegor to explain what had happened. “Shall we go to the store now?” I asked.
“I’ll come with you, too,” Shurik offered. I couldn’t say no.
So the three of us went to the store. Yegor and I had no chance to talk about why I had made the decision I had made.
I returned and started fixing the Brunswick stew recipe that I had clipped from the Orlando Sentinel food section 40 years ago. It’s still one of my favorites – and Anton’s and Yegor’s and Shurik’s.
Yegor called me from the kitchen into our room. “I just want to be sure that you’re going to be able to put the 0 into the bank and have my birth certificate sent by UPS.”
“Of course, honey, I…” I started to put my arms around him.
“Wait,” he objected as he began backing up. “I’m leaving.”
“I don’t want to stay in this house. You’ve made your decision, and I’ve made mine.”
“Yegor, that’s not a good decision.” He wouldn’t talk.
Soon afterward the doorbell rang. It was Dave and Steve coming to say goodby on their way to St. Peterburg for a week before their return to America.
As the three of us were drinking beer and chatting, Yegor tapped on the door. “The keys,” he announced tersely.
I got up to tell him goodby. It was useless to protest. He handed me the keys. “I’m sorry you’re leaving, I said sadly.” He left without kissing me goodby.
I returned to my guests.
(To be continued)
This day years ago:
2004-1-18: Chapt. #38 - The truth hurts – so does the boot (cont.)