MOSCOW, Sept. 29, 2003 -- After a year and a month of living with him, I’ve struck paydirt!
Anton really does have a streak of empathy, of compassion.
About the time I graduated from Orlando High School in the early ’50s, I heard people saying things like, “Well, now that you’ve reached maturity….”
I decided I should find out more about what this “maturity” was that I was being accused of, so I bought a book by some dude named Harry Overstreet called The Mature Mind.
The only thing he said that I can remember is that a person that maturity belonged to was somebody who could empathize. Not just sympathize – feel sorry for people because their feet hurt; but empathize – walk in somebody else’s shoes, feel their corns, smart from their blisters, cry from their pain.
So ever since, I’ve tried to use my “empathizer” to help weed out the unworthy. Do you have empathy? Well, come right in. What, no empathy? Well, try to find some. In the meantime, we’ll keep your application on file….
Without going into embarrassing detail, my empathizer has not been an unqualified success. Especially with boyfriends. I’ve discovered that passion and compassion usually come in quite different boxes and often are unaware of each other.
I’ve always known Anton was not a bad person. He wouldn’t lie; he wouldn’t steal; he wouldn’t be cruel – at least very. And he would give you a hand if it wasn’t too much trouble. But he was often brash and thoughtless, and my “Mother Theresa of the Caucuses” would be more likely to laugh at your plight than to empathize with it.
I have sensed a mellowing, though. A few nights ago I realized that he was offering
Yegor the diamond and gold earring I had bought him for his birthday last February. He even offered to pierce Yegor’s ear for him. Since Anton and I were no longer a matched set, he quite correctly reasoned it would be more appropriate if Yegor wore it. On Yegor it looks elegant.
Although I call Anton and Yegor “the twins” – they’re both early 20s, dark, handsome, gay, and both love Mariah Carey and Madonna – they are quite opposite personalities. Yegor feels deeply, is generous and giving to a fault, and is understanding, helpful and kind to everybody. Although he has only been 22 a month, he has adopted 19-year-old Shurik, who showed up out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, like a little brother. Yegor and I are committed lovers, but he is careful to include Shurik in everything, and when I asked Yegor if he minded if Shurik and I had sex, he replied: “Of course not. I’m not jealous of your love. It makes me happy to see you joyful.”
Am I dreaming or what?
Moscow is full of young, ambitious, beautiful boys and young men like Misha, Shurik, Yegor, Anton: exiles from the provinces and former Soviet republics seeking an escape from their dead-end empty lives in the illusory promises of Russia’s brutal capital. They all seek work; but the Catch-22 laws here assure that few find it. Some manage to land menial or part-time jobs; a few die or are killed or become killers who prey on others; many gays become prostitutes or find people like me who take them in, love them devotedly, and help them create a future.
Creating a future means first of all getting them legal. In America, if you have no money and want to move to another city, you stick out your thumb and go. When you get there, nobody cares how you got there, where you came from, or where you live. In Russia, you must register a local address in your new city within three days. Police stop you randomly on the street to demand your registration, and if you don’t have it you go to jail or pay a bribe – the universally corrupt police prefer the latter.
While Anton, from the Caucuses city of Vladikafkaz in Northern Ossetia, had a Russian passport, he wasn’t registered as a legal resident in an apartment in Moscow. Though he has an aunt and uncle here, they refused to register him, because once you register someone, it’s almost impossible to kick them out. And even relatives often don’t want to take the chance.
It’s hard to imagine that such byzantine and viciously punitive laws could stand, even in Russia. As a matter of fact, the Russian Supreme Court several years ago declared the Moscow registration law unconstitutional. And what was the response of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, whose popularity arises partially from the fact that he tries to keep the “riff-raff” out of Moscow: Moscow for Muscovites.
“How big an Army does the Supreme Court have? How are they going to enforce it?” And so the unconstitutional law is still rigidly enforced.
The alternative to constant harassment, jail, fines, or bribes – or all of the above -- is to pay an outrageous fee for a phony registration. You can’t get a job without a phony registration, but you can’t get the money for a phony registration without a job – unless you have a “sponsor.”
So while Anton and I were still lovers, I paid 0 for some New Russian scum to register him in a house in the town of Sergeev Passad in the Moscow region in which over 100 other people were already registered and are legally “residing.”
"Bez bumashki ti kakashkA; a s bumashkoi chelovek," goes an old Russian saying -- Without papers you’re a piece of shit; with them you’re a human being. So now, Anton has evolved from a piece of shit into a bone fide human being, and as such has landed his first real job as a merchandiser for a mobile phone accessory company.
Yegor on the other hand is legally registered in Russia, though not in Moscow, so can’t get a job on two counts: He doesn’t have a Russian passport and he’s not registered in Moscow. He will remedy the first deficiency by marrying a girl from a town 10 hours from Moscow for 0, after which he will get the equivalent of a green card so he can legally work and eventually get Russian citizenship.
Then we again will have to pay the New Russian scum another 0-0 to get a phony Moscow registration in a house that is already populated by several hundred families. After three years he will become a Russian citizen. In the meantime, he will begin his higher education next fall in a Moscow university, for which we will pay a premium as a “foreigner.”
It’s not too hard to imagine that if authorities really wanted to remedy the registration scam, it would be an easy matter to set up a computer system to identify houses with several hundred people “living” in them. So like many of the other laws in Russia, it’s a cynical, cruel, illusory game that nobody wants to change because too many people are getting rich off of it – like the drug laws in America.
Yegor, Anton, Shurik and I consider ourselves a family. So we find ourselves living in a bizarre 21st century gay Dickensian novel peopled with an old American queen, a young North Ossetian, a Tajikistani, a kid from the Caucuses and a whole cast of Russians, not knowing how we’re going to get written to the next chapter, much less how the book is going to end – and fervently hoping it won’t!
Anton, Yegor, and Shurik – and Misha and Vanya -- are the lucky ones. They have made a connection. The unlucky ones are the ones like Yura.
I don’t know Yura very well – don’t want to. He’s a loser. He was an acquaintance of Misha’s when Misha and I met four years ago. As near as I can figure, he’s one of those who survive on the streets. He’s 33 going on 60. He’s not bad. He’s simply a creep. When he walks into the room, you want to leave.
I’m lucky -- I don’t understand a word he says, though he tells me jokes and laughs heartily at them. The rest understand, but can’t follow his labyrinthine logic or are so disgusted by it they either ignore it or come down with migraines.
The personal possessive in Russian is formed by tacking an “-in” on the end of a name. Son-of-a-bitch, for instance, is rendered by sukin sin, “bitch’s son.” I get a snide juvenile pleasure in announcing, when somebody says “whose is this,” that “it is Urin.” Unfortunately, no one but me appreciates my cleverness.
But Yura has no place to live. So he comes here every day with some groceries, fixes himself dinners, takes showers, thoroughly annoys everyone, then sits and drinks tea and watches TV (one or another of us has occasionally opened the door to catch him jerking off to heterosexual porn). His saving grace is that he doesn’t touch tobacco or alcohol When it’s time for “the family” to start getting ready for bed, I announce that it’s time for him to go.
The next day the routine repeats itself. None of us has the heart to tell him he can’t come here anymore. For him it’s survival. For us it’s empathy.
Last night, I was pounding on my computer when “the twins” waltzed in. “We need to talk to you,” Yegor said. “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this, but Yura lost his job today and he’s sleeping in a stairwell.”
“This could happen to anyone,” Anton chimed in.
“We’d like to tell him he can stay here – just for a week.”
“He’s an idiot, but he’s still a human being,” added Anton.
I could only sit and stare. This coming from the brash, narcissistic, self-centered, thoughtless Anton. Frankly, as a bleeding heart, I’ve considered it myself, but didn’t want to offend “the family.” Now Anton and Yegor are asking me if it would be okay if they offered this creepy homeless bum a place to stay for a week.
“Well, okay,” I said. “Just be sure he understands this isn’t open-ended.”
I kissed them both and held them very tightly.
“Moscow is a cruel city,” Anton said solemnly. “It could happen to any of us.”