Thursday, November 30, 2006

And not so subtleties…

The spot where I got to meet a small group of anti-"yudites"
In my last blog I wrote bout some subtle sorts of Anti-Semitism that I get in my time here n Pinsk. And ironically enough, about 6 ½ hours after I published that thought, I ran into some anti-Semitism of an unsubtle nature.

I like ironies as much as the next guy but sometimes they come a bit too soon for my taste. I finished the last blog entry at about 1 am on Wednesday morning. Later, at seven o’clock that morning I found that I had received the first flat in the 3 ½ year history if my Belarusian wheel set. Not an enormous shock, picking up that wood screw, but that it had been so long since I needed to think about my rubber, I was no longer prepared on the spot to fix it. So my ride was put off until I could get to the market for a new tire. I suppose there was still tread left on the old one, but t was about time anyway and I took the flat to be a sign that it was in fact time to go ahead and make the change.

This is not what his story is about.

So anyway, because I didn’t get to make my ride I turned my attentions to having breakfast with Tanya and Egor. A look in the fridge told me that we needed some milk and sour crème, so I went across the street to the store to get some. The store opens at 8 am and as it was a few minutes before, the doors were still closed. It would be less than 5 minutes, so I decided to wait. It was cold but not too cold; it was a bit drizzly- not a nice morning.

In this moment came walking three young men, perhaps in their early twenties, perhaps late teens. They were talking loudly, I thought they seemed to have been drinking a bit, and when they saw me they got excited and came over. I didn’t actually know who they were but they seemed to know me. I offered a light hand shake in greeting, and he first two took my hand but he third refused. “Do you remember me?” He asked.

At this point I remembered meeting this guy and two different friends about a month and a half ago. I don’t remember whether or not I wrote about this or not. At the time I was with two boys from the yeshiva and we were out buying some goods for a party. At the time, these three boys came to us and started in asking rather stupid questions about the boy’s tassels and yarmulkes and eventually asked us for some money, which I would not agree to. The three of us tried to deal with he questions respectfully, but this one guy, the one who was asking if I remembered him now, would not shake hands with us under any circumstances. His reasoning was that he had no love for Jews, this was something that had been learned though his father, and he had no intentions of beginning now. His body language did read that he would be willing to mix it up with us, but he didn’t pursue that angle probably because both of the boys I was with were easily twice his size. I myself am no pipsqueak either.

So here he was again and was still not in a hand shaking mood.

“Give me 2 rubles.” He said. This means 2000 rubles, a dollar and about the cost of a bottle of wine.

“No.” I said. “I won’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I? You won’t shake my hand. We’re not friends. I am not your brother, I am not your father and we don’t work together. Why should I give you anything?”

“Are you an American?” The second of them asked. He had a bit more muscle than the first fellow. The third was very thin. Yes, they were all a bit drunk.

“He’s an American and a Jew.” The first one answered. He pronounced the word Jew as “Yuden”, the German word rather than “Yevrei”, the Russian word.

“What are you doing here?” The second asked.

“I have been here four years already.” I answered. “I have a family here. It’s not an issue.”

“Give us two rubles!” Yelled the first.

“No, I am not going to give you a kopek.” For a moment, I thought that this might be the end because the second two had probably decided that I was a dead end and wanted to go on. But the first decided that this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Do you want to know why I won’t shake your hand?” he asked me with a broad smile?

“I actually don’t care…”

“Because my father told me all about the dirty Jews and how we all wanted them wiped out. They tried to kill all of them but they didn’t finish he job. And they were right about doing it. You are a Jew, yea?”

“Yes, and I am proud of this.”

“Well, this is what I think of the Yuden.” He said and then spit on the ground and said some unkind things about my mother.

“Why don’t you get on down the road?" I said flatly. "You're not getting anything from me and I have no interest in someone as unlucky as you. This conversation is stupid and not worthy of respect." I don’t think that these were exactly my words, I sort of said things in Russian that wouldn’t make sense in this contest if I translated them directly. It’s a different culture, but this is basically what I was inferring.

“Why? Why don’t you give us some money?”

“What are you dong here?” repeated the second, “You are American. What do you want from us?”

“I am not giving you anything. Not a single kopek. Never. Simply walk away.” The first was getting red in the face.

“Maybe we will make you give us money.” He said.

“You are a fool.” I said. “We are in broad daylight and in the middle of the street. I will win. I guarantee you this and that you all most assuredly will be in jail. This is a fact. 100%.”

“And what are you going to do?” He asked.

“Excuse me.” I said and walked about two meters to my right, took off my glasses, put them on the ledge behind a drain pipe and returned to exactly he same spot in which I had been standing. My eyes are pretty bad and I had a hard time focusing on details, but I was prepared in any case. Once on the place, I simple stood silently and waited for their next move.

I suppose that they were not expecting this from me because they basically just stood there stunned. After a moment, when nothing had happened, I shook my head and put back on my glasses back on and returned again to the same spot I had been standing on since all of this grief started.

“Look," I said, "this is not useful at all. Get down the road and leave me in peace.” They really didn’t know what to make of any of this, but after a moment they actually started to leave. But after a few steps, the anti-Semite must have had a thought, and turned and screamed at me.

“What do you think would have happened?” He started for me agressivly, but the number two guy with the muscle grabbed him. I think he thought that leaving might actually have been a good idea after all.

“Get out of here.” I said.

"You stinking Yuden! I hate you, you filthy Yuden!” He was spitting and stamping his feet on the ground. He was makiong like he wanted to get at me but was letting his friend sort of hold him back. Maybe he was really trying or maybe he was play acting but in any case the muscle guy was pushing him, spitting and yelling the whole time, back down the street. The folks in the store were watching all of this through the windows.

The third one had not spoken until now. The other two seemed to be ready to go but he decided he wanted to stay behind.

“Look,” he said, “I don’t have this problem like my friend. I don’t agree with this. None of this is right.” Right, I thought. Ok, I'll bite. And I stuck out my hand. He looked at the hand and then over to his friend and, after several seconds of obviously painful thought, he shook it. Seeing this, the Nazi flipped and started spitting and stamping and trying harder to get past his friend.

"Ok, we shook." I said to the third one. "Now get going with your friends. They are waiting for you. Go." The Nazi was really hot for more now. The number two guy was still trying to hold him back. This must have been a terrible situation for this nazi punk in general. First he didn't get his 2 rubles, and then he couldn't scare even a single Jew even with two friends with him and now one of his crew wanted to become a Yuden himself. What a day, huh?

"Look, your friends are waiting for you. I get it, I get it; you are a normal guy. Good. Now go."

"I don't want to. I don't want to go with them." What do these people want with me? What, was I supposed to take him home? Would we put him in Egor's room or ours? Did he think I needed a brainless thug to help me with my page building and blogging?

"Get out of here! Leave me in peace!" He looked like I was insulting him. But in any case, the Nazi had finally built himself up to the point that he was ready to stand up to me. Well, he was acting like this was the case but he was still kind of letting the number 2 guy hold him back. But for me, I had had enough. "Ok look, I am going to call the cops. You can explain yourselves to them."

This one got them thinking. I don't know why everything I said or did came as such a surprise to them. Either alcohol or Nazism must really slow people down. They just stood there and let me walk away. But then, before they had a chance to regroup for the what, the fourth time(?), two cops came around the corner and I shouted for them to come over. I pointed out these three stooges who were now slowly and calmly (nonchalantly) walking away.

Come on back you Nazi bitches!" I yelled after them. "Let's go again. You are really very big men and we are all very afraid of you. Come on you sons of Nazi bitches, don't run away; come back!"

The cop was rather amused at my yelling after the three punks and asked what the story was. I started to tell him as we watched the three idiots try and blend into the woodwork. When they believed they were out of sight, the broke into a run. I talked to the cop for a few minutes and told them what they had said and done. He asked me if I knew where they lived. Interesting question, really. No, I didn't know. Yes, I had met them once before on the street when I with some students from the Jewish school, but in general I didn't know who these idiots were. No, they were not a friends, just drunken thugs and that is all.

The cop took it all under advisement and this pretty much ended the moment. I walked back across the street. The store was still not open. There was an old guy there who had seen the confrontation and seemed a bit shaken by it and wouldn't look me in the eye. After a minute they opened the store and I bought my milk and sour crème. The woman who was at the register was the one I wrote about in the last blog. She asked me what had happened.

"It was you're fault." I told her. "You were the one who got all weird about my being Jewish. You started it." She nodded and gave me a look that, if I am not reading too much into these things, suggested that all what I had said was true, but things being the way that they are, if I actually intended to hang out with Jews, I really ought to expect that I should have this sort of thing happen from time to time. I mean, this is the way it is, right? What did I expect?

Fare enough. And I guess she was right. I mean, it is not like this was the first time this sort of thing has happened here.

But how did I feel? Well, I had confidence that I could have handled the situation. I mean, I did handle it, but I am talking about if we mixed it up. I have experience, I am in ok shape and I am not drunk. But there were three of them and they were younger and so the odds were pretty good that even if I could pull out a win, I might not get it without getting touched myself. But then again, I had been touched in any case, hadn't I? No, it did hurt. It still does. And of course now, unfortunately, I have my eye out for the next round. I mean, it is not like I had been walking around with my eyes closed. But until yesterday, I wasn't expecting that anybody needed to get hurt just because…

You know, I really couldn't think of the right words to finish that last sentence. You try.

More soon…