Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Drunks...

Those were the days my friend, I thought they'd never end, I thought we'd dance forever and a day...
I have always wondered if during the time of the former Soviet Union drunks were thought of more highly than non-drinkers. I say this because there is still so much of the culture that revolves around this that one gets the feeling that alcoholism must have been encouraged at one point in this area’s history. Certainly the movies seem to agree with this theory and there are such wonderful drinking rituals to be found here that it is hard to imagine alcohol not being thought of as anything less than a gift directly from G-d. If anything, being a drunk in the old days was probably thought of as being a sign of over-sociability, if there was such a word. Dinking was accepted as a normal thing that adults do, everybody did it and therefore took with grains of salt the side effects of doing a little bit too much of it.

In fact, I actually remember describing to people after I got back from that first trip that the drunks of the Belarus seemed to have more on the ball socially than almost any millionaire I have ever met from the west. People who would have been immediately discarded and marked as dismissible in the west were in general sharper and wittier and carried an air about them of social belonging and acceptance that is unheard of in the states; they were absolutely a part of things. To me, this was one of the essential winning points of the culture actually. I mean, if the losers could be this cool, then there was certainly something to be said for the rest of them. And if I can’t very well describe how they were, I can certainly describe how they weren’t. Specifically, I really do not remember too many space cadets or hospital cases and I really do not remember too many whacked out homeless folks roaming around.

My thinking has always been that the reason for this is that during this time the drunks were allowed to be as they were and weren’t too badly ostracized for their problems. In the old system, respecting drunks was no different from respecting anybody else; they were people, just like anybody and therefore deserved the same sort of respect and attention that anybody else does. Of course respecting one another was and is one of the primary foundations of living together well, of socialism, and therefore this was the principle that was important and so people did it. They were accepting each other’s faults, understanding that nobody was perfect; they kept things calm and taught these principles to their children. This was all a part of building a “great society” of course, which was the thinking behind almost all inter-social actions. And so because people specifically demanded that nobody be forgotten and left out, regardless of social, intellectual or economic status (I know the last one was redundant, but I left it in for emphasis), people did not in general “become” forgotten and lost, because they weren’t allowed to “fall out of society”. They couldn’t no matter how hard they tried because nobody would let them. And I am not speaking of one or two saintly friend; everybody understood this, everybody participated in it. And so consequently a man who would be living under a box in the states, here stayed relatively sane and alive because he was never let go and never left to deal the torture of loneliness, isolation and want.

I remember back during an early visit to Belarus way back in 1997 that I had an episode where this issue was made clear to me. I had found an attractive young lady who spoke some English and I was following her around like a dog hoping for a little intimacy. We found ourselves at a train station and I had the idea to go with her to the station café where we would be a bit more comfortable, could have a cup of tea and work on said intimacy a little. However, in the way was the issue of having to leave our bags behind and this worried the girl. So, by means of a solution to the problem, I employed a drunk to keep his eyes open for us, gave him a buck for his trouble, and went to enjoy my new friend’s company.

So some time passed and we had our tea and nuzzled a bit and I was enjoying myself and she seemed to be enjoying herself as well and then our drunk came to tell us that it was time for us to go.

My first reaction was to tell the guy where to go. And this was very natural for me, I am an American, we know all about street bums. “Listen fella, you got your buck now go find your bottle with it and don’t bother me any more.” I don’t know that I actually said these words, but this was the subtext. But before I had chance to go any further, it was the girl who scolded me for having spoken badly to the man.

“No. You mustn’t speak to him like that. You must listen to him.”

“What do you mean, I must listen to him? He’s a drunk…”

“No, no, no! Do not say such things. It isn’t right. We must listen.” So I am stunned in this moment. I mean, there is nothing anywhere in my consciousness that says that I am supposed to be beholden to a bum. And just look at the man, the disheveled clothes, the exploded nasal corpuscles; he is a drunk, ‘nuff said?

But then again, there’s sex. So I listened.

“Your train is here now.” He said to me through the girl. “I have moved your bags out to the platform. And here…” He handed me a ticket, “take mine please. You were supposed to be in car three. Your friend is in car seven. If you want to stay together, you will need the different ticket. Mine is for the correct car.”

How did he know? If you want to stay with your friend, is how he put it. I think we call that eloquence. And when I looked into the man’s eyes, an apology for rudeness welling up in my heart, I saw in his tired eyes a thrill at having bested me socially. How many times have we run into people on the street that seem to want to do nothing more than to prove how crazy they are, to make some pain in your life for having forgotten them. And how quickly we of course run from this. But can you imagine what it is like to confront another world where such things are foreign or against social mores. Can you imagine what it must feel like to have a world that not only does not deny you intimacy and social connection, but demands its existence as a point of law?

But all of this has nothing to do with how much I hate the drunks who live next door to us at the moment. I know that I have been going on and on in my utopian manner, but the truth is that no one in local current-think wants to have a bunch of drunks and drug addicts and traffickers hanging around and unfortunately we do. Just fifteen minutes ago some really skulky looking character came up the stairs. Bald head, a “hoody” under a blue and white Yankees coat and baggy athletic sweats: a picture right out the Bronx neighborhood I lived in but for the color of his skin.

And you know for a long time people around here had their heads in the sand about drugs and narcotics. But I remember when I lived in the states. I remember the abuse, I remember high school, I remember the neighborhoods and all of that crap. I remember how everything after a while seemed to be about drugs for all of the people around me. And Belarusians have no idea how lucky they were to be free from so much of this. But it is coming.

Let me tell you about the apartment next door and what was up with them yesterday.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in a comfortable chair doing a little reading, there was some nice music coming from the computer, Joe Pass I think it was, and I was enjoying what I was reading and the quiet moment I was having, and then in this moment I heard screaming coming from the corridor. “Help me! Help me! People! They are bandits, they have stolen everything! Help me.” So, I opened the door to see Ivan Fioderavich, our previous neighbor standing in the hall shaking from rage, his face red and eyes bulging, screaming at what his son Tolik had done.

“He has sold everything. He has sold everything in the house just for drink. Look, look at what he has done. Come with me, come with me look. In here, in the kitchen. Look, look! He has sold the gas tanks for the stove. There was a little one too. An extra one for when we run out. He has sold that too and he has also sold the regular tank. And all for drink!”

I decided not to mention to him that the desk I am writing on at this moment was one such acquisition. As was also the chair which sits next to the desk where visitors can sit comfortably and annoy me while I am working. I think the pair had cost me all of $5 for the two plus a little vodka or old wine.

“This is the end!” He went on, “they are animals. They must be thrown out. I am going to the police. I am going to tell them all about what is going on here. This is not right. The windows are broken. Everything is gone or has been stolen. This is a disgrace. I am going to the police!”

“Yes, do it!” I said. “I hate them living here. They are drunks and drug addicts and I don’t want them around my kids. I would buy your house right now. Privatize it, I will help you and I will find a way to buy it from you. Do you understand? I will find a way to buy your house just so they are not here any more! Go!, Please go to the police. Please do this because I also want to say what they have done and what it is like living with these people.” Ivan Fioderovich was shaking but he was quiet. I suppose he was not expecting this.

“Yes, I am going. Right now I am going to the police. They are animals. I am going.” He said.

“Good, go. I am with you 100%. I will tell the police everything I have seen.” And a bit quieter, though still shaking, he walked away supposedly to go and see the cops.

I went back into the apartment and tried to get back into the book, but the moment was lost. So I sat at my $2 desk and shuffled some papers for a while. Then Anya woke up and so I fed her and changed her diapers. And then we played on the floor for a while and then we both got bored of each other and she went to tear apart her toy basket and I went back to the book. And then Tatyana came home and I told her what had happened. She wasn’t all that impressed. “Ivan Fioderavich has always been a drunk. You know that they say he killed his wife. He will probably kill his son Tolik himself. You watch. The man is sick. He has always been sick. He will never go to the police. He won’t do anything.”

I went back to reading and it was perhaps an hour later when I heard Ivan Fioderavitch’s voice in the hallway. He didn’t come to my door so I let him pass. I could hear him go in to the apartment next door. I didn’t hear any other voices so I went out into the hall. The door was closed but that apartment long ago had its doorknob busted away by the police. They have never replaced the doorknob so the door is always open unless padlocked from the outside. The lock was off so I stuck my head in. Ivan Fioderovitch was talking to his son in the kitchen. He was very quiet and then suddenly the chairs shifted and I hear a hard, slapping sound and some screaming. Somebody else who was in there started screaming “Stop, stop, you don’t need this. Stop.” I decided that the rest of this was not my business, and as there were no police, I ducked back out and went back to our apartment.

“He didn’t go to the police, did he?” Asked Tanya.

“No, I guess not.”

“Of course no. He killed his wife. He will never go to the police.”

Late yesterday afternoon I took Anya for a stroll. As I was leaving, I passed Ivan Fioderovich and Tolic who were heading back into the house from the direction of the police department. I am not saying that they were coming from there, I don’t know where they were coming from, but they were coming from that way. Ivan Fioderavich was leading the way and following a few steps behind was Tolik who had a huge purple welt under his left eye as well as several abrasions on his face and head. His left arm was also hanging a little crooked and he was limping. He also looked as though he had been crying. I guess his father had spoken to him but had not gone to the police. Like I said, I don’t know. And also as I mentioned, times seem to have changed around as far as things like this go.

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1 Comments:

Blogger John said...

شيشةاع شنلاشق

Saturday, November 12, 2005  

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