MOSCOW, June 25, 2005 -- I finally hooked up with Alex, Hong Kong Harry’s hyper blond legacy that I had slept with but never had sex with (that he knows about - Chapt. 196). He called Monday wanting to meet, so we linked up around 8:30 that evening and took a stroll to the park behind Mendeleev Univ. We spotted a bench and got there just as a young couple made the same decision.
“I have a question,” Alex said, as soon as we had settled. “It’s an improper question, but I’ll ask it anyway.”
“Who all is living in your apartment? I don’t have anything to do till 7:00 tomorrow morning, and maybe we could go to your place and maybe have a little sex and I could sleep there.”
Blin! (Russian damn!)
“I’ve got a problem,” I replied. “I’ve got three people living there: Yegor whom you met once; Igor, Zhorik’s friend; and Yuri. The biggest problem is Igor. He doesn’t know I’m gay, and I don’t want him to know. And he and I sleep together.”
“You’ve got a screwed up living situation,” he laughed.
“That’s why I suggested we meet in the daytime when there’s nobody there.”
When our benchmates heard us speaking English, the guy, who was sitting on the other side of his wife, got up, came around her and sat down beside Alex. “Do you think the English have a chance to win the world soccer cup?”
“I’m not English,” I smiled.
Well, that’s certainly no reason to abort an intellectually stimulating conversation!
“Do you think the U.S. has a chance?”
“No,” I replied, “although I don’t follow soccer much.”
Then ensued a typical discussion between two young male Russians who have opinions and theories about everything. I could hear enough to know they were getting into politics and hunkered down for whatever was coming.
He asked me some convoluted question about a country trying to act on its own, without friends, blah blah blah.
He could only be describing Bush’s Iran adventure.
“George Bush is an idiot,” I replied.
Having made my unassailable contribution to wherever the conversation was going, I sat back resignedly while they continued their analysis of international affairs.
Finally Alex, too, had had enough and we resumed our stroll.
We agreed that Alex would call me Wed. morning and then come to my apartment for lunch and sex.
He’s a weird guy. He truly marches to the beat of his own drum. He talks incessantly, is always late, sometimes doesn’t come at all, is very vain and self-centered, but is nevertheless sweet, kind, and honest. Despite his gorgeous body, he’s also bit too effeminate for my taste, but not too effeminate for me to suck his big unfeminine cock in the privacy of my apartment.
I made a potentially major blooper Monday. Harry had SMS’ed me that he was unable to send me e-mails. I cleaned out my inbox and finally received his e-mail expressing concern over my TIA and giving me a well deserved lecture about taking better care of myself.
In the meantime, I had completed last week’s chapter (205) and was trying to send it, with photos, to Basil, the administrator. But it didn’t go through, and I wrote Basil an e-mail explaining this and attaching just the column – sans photos.
A moment later I looked at my screen again: Omigawd, I had hit the wrong button and had sent it and the chapter to Harry. Of course, Harry is a pseudonym, but it can’t be hard for him to figure out I’m talking about him.
So I began waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s an insatiable gossip, and would devour it immediately. How would I explain it? I couldn’t tell him I’m writing a weekly blog; he’d demand to read them all, including the not always benevolent comments about him. I could tell him I’m writing a fictionalized account of my life in Moscow, and he’s a part of it, and that’s the pseudonym I’ve given him.
It would have to do; it’s all I could think of. In the meantime, I immediately sent a follow-up. “Please delete. Not for you.”
But other topics suddenly took center stage in the meantime. On Tuesday I went back to the clinic to have the blood flow to the brain through my carotid arteries checked.
I took the results back to Galina Mikhailovna, who gasped, “You must have an operation. 50% of your left carotid is blocked, and 60% of your right. If you don’t have an operation to scrape the plaque off your arteries, you could have a fatal stroke.”
Now, this was not good news. I haven’t programmed any major strokes – certainly not fatal ones – into my current life plan. I immediately went into panic mode and started e-mailing all my friends and relatives for comment and advice. HK Harry was one of the first and the most knowledgable – he’s already had a heart bypass.
First to reply was my nephew Dennis, who said it’s a routine operation and I should have it here. Harry said, routine or not, it’s major and he wouldn’t trust Russian surgeons. Come to the States for a second opinion and have the operation done there, he insisted. I later found that between the Veterans Administration and Medicare, most of my expenses would be paid. So it would be feasible. Still, travel would be expensive.
I did more research on the Internet and began to question the need for an operation at all. In trial studies of over 1500 patients in America and Europe, it was concluded that an endarterectomy, as the procedure is called, is beneficial only for patients experiencing active stroke symptoms and with arterial blockage of 70-99%.
For most of the rest it is not advised -- including those, like me, who are asymptomatic with 50-69% blockage. Proper medical management is just as effective.
In the to-do over my carotids, Harry – if he ever intended to – never got around to asking me what Chapt. 205 was all about. Maybe – though given his innate nosiness, is it possible? – he didn’t read it!
Wednesday night I had a lesson with Masha, the fashionable young lawyer, accompanied for the first time by her sister Katya, an extremely attractive and personable newly graduated coed who speaks quite good English. I had already decided to go to Budenko Inst., the center where Yeltsin had his quadruple bypass done, for a consult the following morning. Yegor would be flying and I had nobody to translate.
“What will you do now that you have graduated?” I asked Katya.
“For the month of July I’ll be working as a secretary, and then I’ll try to find a job as translator.”
Translator! Light bulb!
“What are you doing tomorrow morning?”
So she agreed to be my interpreter. We would meet at Novoslobodskaya Station at 10 a.m. and walk to the nearby Budenko Inst.
When I went to the clinic for my daily shot early the next morning, it occurred to me to pop into Galina Mikhailovna’s office and ask her what they were recommending that I do next. Surely they couldn’t just leave me hanging.
I was right. I was to go to the Institute Sklifosovskiy, one of Moscow’s most renowned medical centers. She gave me the address.
Quick change of plans. I met Katya and instead of to Budenko Inst., we set out for Sukhorevskaya Station on the orange line. Quickly found the right address, Bldg. No. 9. Whoops! Too easy. It’s undergoing restoration. Go back to where we came from and around the corner, first alley to the right. Okay found it. No, said the guards. It’s in that building over there. You’ll have to go back to the street and go further.
Back to the street. Went further. Next alley. Aha! An entrance. Whoops! Not an entrance. An exit! Some lemon-pussed old babushka informed us that we couldn’t get there from here. Back out the door to the next entrance. Whoops! No next entrance. Back to Baba Lemon. Stupid! You have to follow the alley around and out to the street and down a block. That’s the next entrance. Anybody should know that! Thank you very much for your kindness, you insufferable Soviet bitch.
Eventually found the right door. When we entered it was like a deserted warehouse at 10:50 a.m., almost an hour after we had left Novoslobodskaya just three metro stops away.
Baba Robot at Information pointed to the end of the corridor and to the right, first door on the left.
Nobody there. Back to Baba Robot. They’re due at 11.
At 11:20 some officious woman unlocked the consultant’s office. No, she’s not the consultant. She’s just the secretary/nurse who makes appointments to see the consultant. Next available appointment is on the 24th of July – over a month away.
“I take it this is not an emergency?” I queried.
“Oh, no! Emergencies are over 80% occluded.”
If they perform their surgery like their administration, I don’t want any. Most important, Galina Mikhailovna to the contrary, it’s not an emergency. I can take a couple of months to plan my options, and an operation in this rat hole is not one of them. Get me the hell out of here!
Katya said she had also done Internet research in anticipation of playing medical interpreter and had found information about something called a stent placement, which involves making only a small incision in the artery and implanting a balloon device to expand the artery walls.
So along with medical management, diet and exercise, that’s also a possibility. But surgery is not.
This was further confirmed by Harry’s Chinese friend Geoffrey, a Hong Kong physician. Geoffrey agreed that the TIA “was and is serious, but not life threatening.” Losing weight, adopting more healthful eating habits, eliminating booze, and adopting an exercise regimen should control the situation – along with medical management, including a medically supervised anti-coagulant – aspirin or warfarin – blood pressure medication, etc.
Bottom line: “Almost certainly you will NOT need an operation.”
Next week I will make an appointment with the American Medical Center here for a consultation. Basil has been treated there and will show me the way. Since their specialties are limited, they will probably refer me to a cardiovascular center, and I’ll go from there. If I don’t like what I find, then maybe I’ll go to America or, as Harry suggested, Helsinki.
But I won’t have an operation and I sure as hell wouldn’t have it here! I’ve already seen too much of their incompetence and unprofessionalism. Katya said she has an 18-year-old friend who had a stroke and was first sent to this clinic. The doctor there was about to give her a shot which could have been fatal, Fortunately, her mother knew enough about medicine to call her doctor who told her not to – under any circumstances – let the doctor give her the injection. Instead, they went to Budenko
And this is one of Moscow’s most renowned medical centers?
A new lease on life is an overused cliché, but for the first time I understand its full meaning. The last few days I’ve felt handcuffed to the Grim Reaper as we marched to the execution chamber. Today I really don’t care what the Grim Reaper is up to. I have other plans.
The sex tag with Igor continues. Tues. night, he went to bed first, with the TV on. A few minutes later, I turned off the TV and crawled in beside him.
After a decent interval, I put my arm around. “I want to hug you, okay?”
Silence, but no protest. If he wasn’t asleep, he was pretending.
Soon I put my hand under his T-shirt and on his naked stomach and chest. No negative reaction. A little while later I realized my right arm was going to sleep, so I rolled onto my back and let me right hand fall on the inner thigh of his left leg. No reaction. Still couldn’t tell if he was asleep or pretending.
About 5 a.m. I awoke with my left hand again on his naked stomach. Again rolled onto my back, again let my right hand fall – this time on the crotch of his trousers, which he insists on wearing to bed – his chastity belt? (If so, it doesn’t work, but does he know that?). His breathing was not that of someone in deep sleep. Maybe awake? I let my fingers exert ever so slight a pressure. After a few minutes I felt his piska erect underneath them. I pressed again. It erected again. This went on for maybe a minute or two. I’m convinced he was not asleep. I think he’s getting ripe for very circumspect seduction.
The alarm rang and we both got up. I was at the computer when it came time for him to go. He came into the room: “I’m going.”
I followed him out and we hugged and kissed goodby.
Other events kept interfering with Alex’s and my meeting, but finally on Thursday he called. “Two things: I’ll be there about 2:30 and second, is it alright if I bring a colleague from work with me. He’s also gay and we can all three meet together.”
“Of course,” I said. “That will be fun.”
As usual, he was a half hour late, but given the bonus, he was forgiven. His colleague, Alexander, was a 21-year-old, shy kid who seemed a little uncertain, as if he was experiencing something new, and probably was – three way sex with an older American in the older American’s apartment.
He was about 5 ft. 9 and very ordinary looking, but even ordinary 21-year-olds are still 21-year-olds with thin and mostly hairless bodies. It took us a while to get down to the business at hand – Alex had to get my video player hooked up so we could look at the old Bon Ami porn I brought from America. But then they stripped to their shorts and I began massaging.
Alex and Alexander clearly had feelings for each other, so their prolonged kissy-facing left to me the more important tasks: I was able to deep throat both of them (not at the same time :smile and they both came deep in my esophagus. After I had polished them off, it took me about a minute to come all over myself.
By this time it was 4:00. Alexander had to leave. Alex would stay a while longer. I washed the cum off in a quick shower and had just gotten dressed and gathered in the entry way for Alexander’s departure when somebody banged on the door.
Oh shit! Igor?
Yes, Igor. I introduced him to Alexander and Alex. If he ever suspected what he had missed by 10 short minutes, he never let on. Alex stayed, had a couple more beers, passed out in the kitchen, and wound up spending the night in our bed.
Igor very accommodatingly asked if he could sleep in the other room because he wanted to spend the night loading more music onto his mobile phone. So Alex and I slept in our bed, but he was out for the whole night. No more sex.
Both Alex and Alexander seemed to enjoy the interlude, and I suspect it’s not the last one.
Basil, one of my dearest friends and the Red Queen administrator, dropped by Thursday evening to talk about my medical situation, our web records, and the surprise offer by one of our readers to try to syndicate the red queen in gay newspapers and magazines.
Basil, who is married and straight, suggested that the three of us – he, I, and his wife – spend a week in St. Petersburg later in the summer, and he and I would spend a lot of time doing and seeing things together.
“Wouldn’t your wife object?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
This is a very exciting prospect. I used to have an enormous crush on Basil, and if he’d been gay, and we’d become lovers, my Moscow life might have been spared a lot of the bad turns of the past three years – the twins, Zhorik, and others. While I’m over the fantasy, he remains one of my dearest, most devoted and intellectually-stimulating friends, and the prospect of spending a week together exploring and talking is a real upper.
Endemic Russian corruption up to the highest levels is repeatedly cited as a major reason for Russia’s inability to reach Western business, government, and social standards. But now, judging from the headlines, Putin is turning an iron hand and will to the problem.
In his State-of-the-Union address last month, Putin recognized corruption as “one of the greatest obstacles facing our development.” Since then, according to the Moscow Times, “more than two dozen high-profile officials have been fired or implicated in corruption cases,” as far up as the Federation Council, often compared to the Senate; the Federal Customs Service; and half a dozen federal ministries or cabinet level departments.
And the newly appointed prosecutor general, former Justice Minister Yuri Chaika, one of the few white hats at the cabinet level, has promised to target corruption as one of his main focuses.
So is Russia finally on the road to a normal government?
No, say Russia’s skeptics. It’s just another popularity ploy to earn more support before the 2007 and 2008 elections.
Fighting terrorism, reigning in the oligarchs, and corruption are consistently three of the public’s top concerns. Fighting terrorism is simply too difficult to put another major effort into, say the pundits; and bringing down more oligarchs a la Khodorkovsky could exact too high a price economically; so Putin has turned his efforts to a high-profile anti-corruption drive that involves few risks and is guaranteed to gain public approval.
And it seems to be working. At least partially as a result of the arrests and firings, “Public trust and hope in the president shot up after several months of stagnation,” reported the Times, although that also might be related to his calls for more babies and his promise to spend more on education and other social problems.
However, a May survey conducted by a polling organization called Levada showed that – while most Russians approve of the anti-corruption drive -- only one-third of them believe it is the beginning of a serious effort, and 29% see it as nothing more than the pre-election propaganda stunt that it probably is.
In the same survey, 65% said that jailing was the only way to curb corruption; firing wouldn’t do. So jailing of high public officials would have to take place for the public to really believe Putin is serious.
But that won’t happen, says Stanislav Belkovsky, an analyst with the Institute for National Strategy.
Despite – or maybe because of -- the fact that corruption reaches to the very top of the government, “The arrests will not go far up,” he predicted. “No top officials will get in trouble.”
They all simply know too much about each other. There was once lots of whispering and finger pointing, for instance, about Putin’s handling of foreign trade affairs and the disappearance of millions of dollars during his tenure as a trade specialist in St. Pete a decade ago. It hasn’t been mentioned since he became president.
No official would go down without implicating all the others. It wouldn’t take long for the entire government to grind to a half.
Which really wouldn’t be a bad idea. The average Russian would be infinitely better off without its bumbling and corrupt government.
But so would the average American!
In an art shop the other day, I saw a cup that I would have bought except for the price: 750 rubles – nearly $ 30. It featured a very striking portrait of a man, a la Modigliani, but there was no face, no self.
I was immediately struck with the symbolism: Today’s Russian. Very modish, very cool, very avant garde; but who is he? What is he?
He is not a communist; and though money has become his god, he is not a capitalist; he is not driven by the tenets of religious faith, as are Muslims and some others; he is a person without ideology. And Putin is trying very hard to fill that void – with patriotism.
The government is conducting a not always terribly subtle campaign – through movies, public speeches, education -- to fill the average Russian with jingoistic pride after some 15 years of being demoted from superpower to a nation accepting handouts based on “the kindness of strangers.”
It reminds me a little of the inferiority complex which the typical West Virginian suffered 50 years ago after being colonized and belittled by the rapacious coal and steel corporations of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York for decades. I can recall the fierce and quite unnecessary defiance with which my college roommate would announce that he was George C., “from West-by-God Virginia.”
For a decade and a half Russia has been – often justifiably -- made fun of, belittled, and pitied by the West for its backwardness and weakness and for its inability to compete in some of the simplest arenas. Russians smirk at their own cars and import everybody else’s. Their shoes are made in Italy; their mustard in Germany; their furniture in Scandinavia. Their president imports American doctors for heart surgery, and their residents avoid Russian medicine like the plague.
The Putin government is trying to change that. Oil and gas have suddenly relaunched Russia as one of the major world powers regardless of what other credentials it lacks. And he and his government have been busy instilling pride in simply being a Russian.
Whatever you do is okay, because you’re Russian. You can get shit-faced on vodka and pass out on the metro or keep your neighbors awake
singing in the courtyard till 3:00 in the morning on patriotic holidays; you can cheat on your school examinations; you can lie and steal to improve your condition in life. It is, after all, Russian tradition. So it’s okay. It’s enough just to be Russian.
Masha Gessen, a gay and insightful writer for the Moscow Times, vented her rage over this phenomenon in a recent MT column. She had seen the Russian movie, “I’m not sick,” a take-off, apparently, on the tried-and-true theme of the American film “Love Story” where boy meets girl, girl has killer disease, she disappears to spare him, he finds her and is true to her until her death.
So what’s new?
“It is the plot details and secondary characters that are telling,” Gessen protests. “There are six recurrent sympathetic characters in the film, and five of them are drinking themselves to death. Only one of the six is a hard worker who is actually good at what she does and who does not drink, and in the end she leaves Russia, thereby betraying her friends, who are useless and broke without her.
“This, we learn, is an unpatriotic act, while some examples of patriotic acts are spending all of your and your friends’ money on a useless plot of land in the remote Russian countryside, going to war in Chechnya, getting falling-down drunk and singing war songs.”
And this is not even one of the avowedly patriotic movies – of which there is an increasing number -- she notes. “This is a melodrama.”
But the real tragedy, she goes on to say, is that this does not represent the attitude of just this director and this film, but of the entire Russian film industry – if not the country.
For instance, when Austrian film director Michael Haneke recently resigned as chairman of the jury of the Moscow International Film Festival to work on his own project – a move certainly not unprecedented in the film festival biz, Gessen writes -- the organizers of the festival excoriated him for his “dishonorable” act.
“You have insulted not only the Moscow film festival but have shown disrespect for our country,” they fumed self-righteously.
“A letter like that could come only from people who have a deeply ingrained inferiority complex and really do not believe the stature of their festival commands the respect of international figures,” Gessen wrote.
“It fits right in with the view that everything that is made or done in Russia is of poor quality but patriotism requires us to love it and be faithful to it anyway.”
This is not a new attitude. I can remember a decade ago when Andrei Tioufline, the Russian teenager who relieved me of my Moscow apartment, was visiting my home in Seattle. He bragged in the kitchen one day that Russian onions made you cry more than American onions. Therefore, he declared, “Russia is stronger than America.”
Putin’s boys are simply trying to reinject and perpetuate that juvenile notion. And not without success.
Igor, is, after all, intent on going into the army “because I am a patriot. I love my country” (Chapt. 200). As an old Vietnam War protester and Iraqi War dissident, I find this mindlessness a little hard to swallow.
But the Bushwhacker must be wringing his hands. If only his propaganda efforts were half as successful ….