Thursday, August 10, 2006

The "I" of the storm.

I have been accused of using the word I too often in my writing. I have been asked if perhaps I haven't worn out first person and maybe I ought to think of trying a more journalistic approach to my typing. This is actually reasonable and really I do get a bit tired of this 'all Adam all the time' gig. I could use a break.

But then again it does seem as though I end up I the middle of things quite often. My friend Uladsimir called me a shit magnet one time because of all of the trouble which seems to follow me around. And this may be true but still I hate to back away when there is something to do. I am one who does take responsibility and preach this in our house: The difference between an adult and a child is the recognition of responsibility and a man is like a restaurant and he is either busy or dirty. These sorts of things.

Yesterday evening was one of those days where the world seemed to be going on around me. I was coming back home from checking prices on nails and screws for the apple boxes we might have to put together and a rather sloppy looking fellow with a three day growth of beard nodded at me with some sense of recognition. I seemed to know his face from somewhere but I could not think of where. He came up to me and asked in Belarusian how things were with me. I don't really know all that much Belarusian and to be frank, it is pretty rare in town to hear the language spoken. I answered him that all was normal and returned the question to him and he answered that things for him were bad; his life was bad, the economy was bad and there was no hope of it opening up or getting better under Lukashenka.

At about this point, though I really didn't remember him all that well, I figured he must have been one of the guys with the Milinkevich group from the time of the elections. I had some dealings with them at that time, you can find those stories in the archives if you want to look, and I guess he saw me as a friendly face.

"I am sorry to hear that." I said, "I hope things go better for you."

"I don't think they will. We need a change and there doesn't seem to be any change coming." He was serious about this political business. I thought has kind of beating a dead horse already and thought I needed to tell him so.

"Well, to me that 83% was real. I don't think you are going to be seeing any revolutions around here. I don't think anyone wants it and what is more, Belarus is no longer alone in its thinking."

"It is still possible. There isn't enough money. People will go where there is money and this means Europe."

I looked around from where we were standing. The street was filled with cars, the girls were all well dressed. Everyone was out shopping and doing what they needed to do.

"It certainly seems as though people have enough money. I mean, it might be left money or it might be black money, but it certainly seems as though no one is suffering at the moment."

"But what about you? You don't have a car."

"I don't want one. And I didn't have one for ten years when I was in America too. I ride bikes." He thought about this for a second and then went on.

"Listen, there has to be a change…" He talked for several minutes about how the elections were rigged and how the opposition candidates were robbed. I couldn't help noticing that he really seemed to be quite unhealthy. When he finished, I put in my two cents.

"I don't know my friend," His breath smelled like he had been drinking a lot, "ask Kazulin what he thinks about the revolution. He will be sitting (in jail) until the end of the first year of Lukashenka's next term in office. Ask the Partnerstva Four; they were with the Americans and they are sitting now too. And just last week, Ukraine made it very, VERY clear that they wish to follow the old school rather than the European Union or the USA. I am sorry my friend, before we see any kind of EU issues in here, we will see the second coming of the Soviet Union with Russia and probably all of the former soviet satellites. Probably even Georgia. I am sorry my friend, I think the colored revolutions are over."

"What about Milinkevich?"

"Didn't you hear? They arrested him too."

"Oh…" This thought seemed to hurt him. I was sorry I said it.

"But let me ask you: The opposition folks probably collected between twenty and thirty million dollars for the elections. How much of that money did you get?"

In Russian this question leaves an opening as to whether I was asking about him or the whole of the opposition and possibly Milinkevich himself.

"Do you mean me or the party?"

"You personally."

"None." This answer also got him to thinking.

"Welcome to Belarus."

That seemed to do it for him and after I promised to be willing to talk to him again, for sure he is hard up for work, we parted on friendly terms.


When I got home there was some hysteria in the house. Egor was standing out in the corridor trying to make something happen with his bike lock. He was crying. When I asked him what had happened, he told me he had snapped the key to his bicycle lock in two and was asking how to put it back together. Tolic, the drunk who lives next door came stumbling up the stairs. He was of course pie eyed and had a friend with him.

"Sdrrravtfifishy" he slurred at me and offered his hand to shake. I didn't bother to take it and offered that this was really some kind of interesting and unusual news that he was drunk again. The guy who was with him gave me a look that said he was a sympathetic friend and was only helping this poor man home. I rolled my eyes. Welcome to Belarus, I thought.

But back to Egor. Sometimes I can be a bit blunt and in this case, I spared the soft soap. Our eleven-year-old has managed to lose two other locks or the keys to him and the last time I paid for a lock I made him sign a paper that this next lock would be the last lock I buy no matter what. To his benefit, he made that last one last better than a year, but today he must have been a little frustrated because when the lock didn't want to open, he tried to force it and ended up snapping the key off.

The frustration probably had come from his standing out in the sun at the market all day trying to sell our apples. I had asked Egor and grandma if they wanted to do the apple selling at the market and they both agreed, though it had taken hard term to get them to come. In fact that had been another scandal when Tanya neglected to tell Egor that he had to share the money made from the apples with anyone. Our eventual deal was that if Baba agreed to take some money, she has only her $100 pension to keep her going, we would split the profits in thirds. If however Baba refused the money, as we all knew she eventually would, I would split the remainder with Egor fifty-fifty.

However, our take at the market was all of 5,100 rubles on the first day and six thousand, five hundred the second. So after splitting with me, Egor had all of 5800 rubles to show for his work, about $2.70 for his two days of work. And when I informed him that we had made a deal that he had to replace the lock with his own money, his mind slipped and he went into hysterics.

So I was trying to be calm with him and show him that there was no need for these sorts of hysterics; we all have these sorts of problems sometimes, everybody pays fines for things they do wrong, everybody has to pay to keep things running and for the apartment and the water and gas and electricity. Tanya pointed out that at her work in the bookstore, should the cash register come up short for whatever reason, she was the one who would have to pay for this. She recounted a time when she was specifically 10,000 short. She recounted five times and could not find the money. But as she was the one who was at the register, she was the one who would have to pay, so basically, because she only receives 10,000 a day for work, she had worked all that day for nothing, and this is all.

"And did you cry when this happened?" Egor asked.

"No I didn't…"

"Yes, you did." I added in, "In fact you were worse than he is now."

"Well maybe I did, but the point is that you don't need to go on and on because it doesn't help. You have to go on and you have to do what you need to do and this is all, this is how we do it."

This moment of reasoning though had no effect on the boy and as soon as he was alone with his mom, he started in crying again, and this time he was screaming how he didn't want the bike any more and that he would never give his money for any lock and he didn't care if the bike was stolen because he hated it because the wheel made a noise and he was embarrassed that all of his friends could hear the noise when he was riding.

I was about to go back in for another logic and reason session when the doorbell rang. It was Ivan Fioderovich, the father of Tolic, and surprise, surprise, he was drunk too. He was wondering if he could use our phone to call the police on Tolic for being drunk. He needed to use our phone because of course there was no electricity or phone in Tolic's apartment because he had spent all of his money on vodka and wine and never paid his bills. When I sniffed the air I noticed that Tolic was not the only one drunk in this situation. Ivan Fioderovich told me that he had come from somebody's birthday party, and had taken maybe 100 grams. During one pass at an explanation he said it was his birthday and during another it was his girlfriends. I offered congratulations either way and told him it seemed more like 500 grams. In any case, he was on his way to his old apartment to have it out again with Tolic for being drunk.

Now Egor was still wailing in the other room and I told Ivan Fioderovich he was welcome to use the phone, but for some reason, he thought it important to re-explain to me that he son was a drunk and that he had come to do something about it. I really wanted to get over to Egor and didn't want to go over this again, so I told him to just make the call. But then he started asking me stupid questions like what exactly was my name and if we were friends or not. He wanted to shake hands five or six times. He really wanted to talk to me. I excused myself saying he had exceeded his quota on handshakes and went into the bedroom and tried to get Egor to calm down. Egor by this time was going on about how he would run away from home and would refuse to eat forever over this. According to him this whole bike issue was a big waste of money for everybody. Why do they even make things that cost so much money? He wanted no part of this any more and it was my fault for making him ride the stupid contraption. His mother of course was backing him 100% and agreeing that, as usual, it was my fault for the whole thing.

"How is it my fault?"

"He didn't want that bike. You made him take it."

"I MADE a child take a bicycle? Are you out of your minds?" There was a crash in the front corridor. Ivan Fioderovich had fallen down and taken some coats and hats from the coat rack with him. I helped him up and took him with me out to the corridor.

"Listen," I told him, "don't call the police. Today is not the day. Today you are drunk as well and therefore there is no need to either call the police or to go and beat Tolic. If you were sober, this would be a different deal, but as you are not, take my advice and simply go home." He babbled at me about how it was his house and how his son was a drunk and how he was going to clean him out. We went back and forth several times until this situation started to get on my nerves.

"Ok then, in that case, here is the deal: If you do not go home, I am going to call the police; not on Tolic, but on you."

"On me? What did I do?"

"What did you do? You have come to our house drunk many times and we have had to listen to you screaming and beating Tolic. At first nobody cared because no one liked Tolic. But now I am of a different mind. I am just not going to put up with this today. I am tired of hysteria. You may not use Tolic for your workout today. Today you are drunk and you are not being reasonable at all. So, if you do not go home…"

"This is my home."

"You have not lived here for years. Right now Tolic lives here and I am not in the mood to hear you beating him and I don't want to be any part of your scandals any more."

"Listen, I thought we were friends…"

"Ok, we're friends, but as a friend I am telling you that if you don't go home now and try to beat Tolic, I am calling the cops on you."

"But I wanted you to call the cops on Tolic."

"Tolic is not the scandal at the moment, you are. Do you understand this? He may be drunk, but he is also quiet and sitting in his house. You, on the other hand, are looking to do a lot of screaming and hitting and this is something I am very tired of. So this is the end: Go home or I am calling the cops."

He looked at me for about a second and then decided he didn't need to listen to me at all and walked past me and made a beeline for Tolic's door. I went straight to the phone.

"Tanya, what is the number? 02, right?"

"Yes and what are you going to do?"

"You wanna do this? Your Russian is a lot better than mine."

"I will not call the police. Are you crazy?"

"Alright, I'll do it." I dialed the number and there was a bored sounding voice on an answering machine telling me that I should wait and that an officer would be with me shortly. Ivan Fioderavich was at the door.

"What are you doing?"

"I am calling the police."

"Why are you calling them? I asked you to call them."

I told him to shut up. After a minute, a tired sounding cop came on the line. I gave them our address and asked them to come over and deal with the drunks who live next door to us. The cop on the other end of the line asked me what my name was and out of habit, I used Tatyana's. He asked me again for my name and I repeated it and he then asked for my first name and I said Tatyana and this stopped him. He asked me if I was really named Tatyana.

"Ok, ok I am calling from this address and my name is Goodman…Yes Goodman…Adam is my first name… there is no uchistva because I am an American so just Adam Goodman…Yes I live here… Yes, I have lived here for several years… could you just send someone over…Ok, we'll be here."

Meanwhile Egor was still at it only now, amidst his cries, Tatyana was berating me for having called the cops. She was pretty upset. Why was this wrong? This is a situation for the cops. The cops in this city have never been bad to me. It's not like this is Poland. Let them come and deal with these idiots once and for all. And while we are at it, Egor would you just shut up already?

"Listen boy, yelling and screaming and acting like a baby is not the way to get what you want in the world: Look at me; do I run around yelling and screaming all the time?"


"OK, sometimes, but am I in favor of hysteria or against it? When do I do get to yelling, is it because I am making problems or trying to solve them?"

"You get mad when other people get hysterical around you."

"Bingo! See what a smart boy you are? OK, so you understand how it is?" He nodded. "Good, then knock it off already."

He wiped his eyes and was quiet for a moment. The doorbell rang. It was our police officer. Ivan Fioderovich was glad handing him, acting his best interpretation of calm and smiling. The officer was visibly withdrawing from Ivan Fioderovich's breath. Finally he pushed the old man aside and closed our door on him.

We shook hands and I thanked him for coming. He sat down on our telephone stool and asked me a bunch of questions about myself; how long have I been here, what do I do for a living (tough question to answer in Belarus), what is the family situation. He was writing notes on what I was saying. The list of questions seemed pretty tedious and also seemed to me to be about equal to what sorts of questions they would ask you if they were arresting you. Tanya was watching from the bedroom door and nodding her head as if to tell me that she was right about calling them. In any case, after about ten minutes he asked me what the story was. I told him the guy next door was a drunk and a drug addict and his father was also a drunk and liked to come and beat his son for being like him from time to time. This night he came to use our phone and he was drunk again, and I told him to just go home and leave Tolic be. When he didn't I called and now you are here. I actually had to repeat the story a couple of times, but eventually the cop said that he got it and started to write out the report.

While he was busy writing I went to Egor who had started in again with the crying about the lock and the $2 he had lost already. With me he understands that he doesn't get anything for hyteria but with mama, he is speaking her language. When I showed up he tightened up at once. I told him that this was the end; there would be no more whining and crying, we would go to the bike store in the morning, he would pay for it with what he had gotten from the market and I would cover the rest. He would pay me back the overage when he made some more money at the market, this would be this weekend and I was sure he would do better than before. But in no way, shape or form would I agree to pay for the lock or give in to his bitching and moaning. We were going to deal with this situation like men, and that was the end. I made him drink a cup of apple juice with me to bond our agreement and from this he seemed calmer. I knew the apple juice would help and at least he knew that there would be no more sympathy for his situation.

The cop called me back to him and asked me again a couple of questions about Ivan Fioderavich and Tolic. I told him about how many times I remembered hearing their fights and the cop told me that he knew all about this and that he was there only last night. We agreed that it was a terrible situation and he went back to writing and I went and had another apple juice with Egor. Tanya was explaining taxes to him and he looked even more depressed than when his lock snapped.

Finally the cop called me over again and asked if I read Russian. I told him I did and he asked me to proof his report. I tool one look at his chicken scratch and called Tatyana over to read it. According to the cop, my complaint had to do with Ivan Fioderoivich coming to our door. The report read that Ivan Fioderovich had come a number of times to our door to use the phone and that we were tired of it and this was why we called. I asked him if he didn’t think that a few of the main points were sort of missed here. The cop answered that this was the best way to explain my involvement in this because I had no reason to care about Tolic, his alcoholism or his father's as I was not his family. This was the best he could do and asked if I would sign it. I looked at Tanya and she shrugged. The cop advised us simply not to let Ivan Fioderavich use our phone any more and to call him if we had any further problems. He then gave us a card with his name on it and said that we should call him personally should there be any further problems about the phone.

"What about the fighting?"

"Don't call about the fighting."

"But what about the narcotics and the drunks sleeping in there and in the corridor?"

"You can call about those things."

So this was the deal. We thanked him for coming and then he went to deal with the two idiots next door. And basically, this was enough for me. I went to work on the computer, Tanya and Egor watched some TV in the other room and that was it until we all went to bed. This morning, Egor and I went to the bike guy at the market where he picked out the cheapest lock there, only 8000 rubles and gave me the second key to hold. He owes me 3000 rubles more and he will pay this out if his cut from the apple selling this weekend.

So yea, I know I write a lot here in the first person. I suppose I would like to drift away from this singular reality of life I have out here for a while and write about something else. I suppose I should even do this simply for the health of it all. But every time I sit down to work out a theme, there always seems to be some kind of relevant event going on around me that seems to want to be written up. And, as the responsible one, the job always seems to fall on me to do it. Welcome to Belarus.

More soon…