Friday, July 21, 2006

It's like that sometimes…

I am a little drunk right now. I drank some vodka with some friends and I am feeling it a little. Perhaps I am a little out of it because the vodka I drank was this really nefarious Mogelevskaya vodka and not and not our regional Brestskaya. You always try to stay with the local brand when you can and though some varieties are tastier than others, in general at least you won’t die from drinking them. But the store didn’t have any at all and so we had to go with what was available. Now I know why this crap was still on the shelves.

Or maybe I am feeling this because the guys I was drinking with smoke like a thirty-year-old Datsun running on 20-year-old oil. I don’t know why people here need to smoke like they do. I don’t understand it at all. Maybe their thinking is that they can always blame Chernobyl for their cancers so there is a built-in excuse. But the smell of rank cigarette smoke is on my clothes and in my nose and I can’t stand it. And when they are babbling at you and gesturing with those red-hot fire pokers between their fingers, you need to bob and weave like a boxer just to avoid a burn.

Or maybe it is because of what we were drinking to, or why we were drinking is probably better. The reason for tippling was that there was a genuine need to administer a “lekarstva”, a cure for a friend who just took a royal butt jacking and was in need of a little libation. The person in question was that same Mark Reichelgauz from the Fiscal Realities post from a few days ago.

Before I start this tale though I should preface things by saying that I spoke to Mark only two days at which time he had told me that there were already problems with that road builder he had been working for. At that time he told me that the builder was being sticky about paying him his money and that he was thinking that he wanted to bring the tax people down on him for hiring a teenager in the first place. I advised him then not to threaten the man, but rather simply to ask for his money in a straight fashion. If at this time the guy lied to him or if he played that "I will pay you tomorrow" game, then he would have an argument.

But that Mark got was a game that none of us had anticipated. When he went to talk to the Road Tsar, he did run into a little flack at first. "Why did you leave, we really need you out there…" This sort of thing and the guy implied that it hurt him somewhat personally to have lost the relationship. Mark responded by being straight forward about and simply repeated that he felt that the hiring of more and more people diluted his pay to the point that the job was not worth it, especially as he had had to work long hours during the heat wave and all.

Mark had figured that he was owed somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 rubles, an amount that works out to something like $75 to $100. This would have been his pay for a full month of work, sometimes with extra hours worked, but certainly never less than eight or nine hours every day; 21 days of digging foundations for an asphalt road.

After a few more minutes of hemming and hawing, Mark's boss relented and agreed to pay him then and there. Mark relaxed a bit, happy that there would be no more to this than that. He then asked for a receipt along with is money so that he had some paperwork showing that he had worked and had been paid. The boss answered that none of this was necessary: He ran a clean company and his word was gold, everyone knew this. There was no need for any exchanging of paperwork.

Mark thought about this as the boss went to the petty cash for his payment. He asked his boss exactly how much his pay was to be. The boss told him that he knew exactly how much his pay would be because he had already worked out the figures: 67,500 rubles, about $32.

As Mark described it, the room sort of started twisting a little here and there, the edges of the desk started running like a Felini clock.

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, there are two sorts of workers that we have. We have normal workers and we have student workers and of course student workers are paid less."

Mark had known about this policy. But student workers were only permitted by law to work for six hours every day and for sure he had worked much more than this. Also, the boss had always told him he would be paid as a normal worker and for sure he had held his own on the road for the month that he had worked and certainly been sharper than some of the alcoholics they had out there digging.

Mark explained to his boss all that I had just said but the boss just shrugged and asked what he could do? Wasn't mark indeed only sixteen? How could he pay him for being a full worker when he was still only a student?

"But I worked full time every day. I never worked only six hours and you know this." Again the boss shrugged. Mark got really angry and asked for a receipt for how many hours he worked. The boss then showed him the register and sure enough, there it was in black and white: Mark had been listed as having worked for exactly six hours every day and had been identified as a student from the beginning.

He took the money and left.

So this is where I found him as he and Yura, another friend from the temple came by. Rabbi Altman is in Israel, R' Fhima was busy and so I was the next "let's tell someone about this" guy. And this is where the drinking came from. When I went home they were still singing Jewish songs and babbling about Cabbala and numerology and other such interesting things.

Tanya came out to us as we were back and forthing on the bench next to our garden. Anya was with us in her little pink summer outfit (no hat), eating crackers and chasing after a cat. Tanya suggested that Mark go to the court about this or at least to the police. Mark though, at least during this moment that he was amidst his 80 proof haze, said simply that he wants to put this all behind him and just go on. I offered that this is exactly what the company wants him to do and certainly simply taking it would do nothing but to allow situations like this to continue. But at the moment, Mark was more interested in singing songs in Yiddish and praying with all his might that the Messiah would come and that perhaps His first stop would be the road crew office.

All that day I had been at the dacha pulling weeds and gathering little apples which have fallen from one of our trees. I also brought home several 10 pound zucchinis and some pickles as well. After having Mark went home with Yura we juiced those apples and got our first three litres of fresh apple juice of the season from it. Breaded zucchini with new potatoes chased with fresh apple juice for supper is a delight and after eating I felt much better.

But when I woke up the electricity was already off. They had told us that there would be no electricity today or tomorrow but nobody thought they would have turned it off before six in the morning. So this combined with there not having been any hot water for the last week and that our gas tank is surely near the end really sucks.

I am writing on location right now. I promised Mark I would write about what happened to him and now I have.

It's like this here sometimes.

More soon…


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