Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gifts from friends…

I received a little while ago a small gift from a friend intended to upgrade the chair I sit on while working at the computer. I had mentioned that I have a bad back and that this winter has brought on an extreme version of my normal spinal nightmares, the likes of which I have not felt for at least ten years, not since the Budapest backache of 1997. At that time the agony was such that I needed to make the acquaintance of two of my best friends, Diclophenak and Parasetomol with codeine, just so I could walk around without screaming.

I have never forgot those days of outrageous pain and have been living my life in such a way as to avoid things that would bring this agony back on. It hasn't been easy, but up until this last year, I had managed to avoid having my time belong to other's so much that I could do what I needed to keep things right. This past year though, I have had to have been in the chair so much trying to keep up with things on the computer that this winter has brought on a revival of the Budapest Abomination. After mentioning this to my friend, he sent along some money for the purchase of nice chair to sit in while I worked at my desk- this he said, needs to be a first priority.

The problem with all of this though was with Tatyana who, through her born-and-raised-in-Pinsk-Belarus eyes, did not understand why the relief of my own personal health problems should be of any greater priority to the relief of her own namely: Why should we buy an office chair when she wants the kitchen re-done? We had this out several times and even my friend tossed in his two cents about how this related to work and how being able to sit comfortably was essential to righteous page building. After a couple of days, Tanya agreed to listen to the argument and go along with a shopping trip for a new execu-chair for me.

However, when we actually went shopping for chairs we ran into the problem of quality vs price otherwise known as the old bait-and-switch ploy. We knew there was a fine leather captain's chair at a local shop which could be had for only $100 about the limit of our spending power. But when we got there, right next to it was another chair, just a little finer for only $150- this one it turned out had real leather, the one we had been looking at also had leather, the seller assured me, but it just was not "real leather". But before I could even think of arguing about this and after sitting in the second chair, I noticed that there was no place to rest my head- the back was too short. Already you can see that the moment we start allowing for "choice", we were all screwed." Anyway, for only 185 there was one with a higher back so you could rest your head if you wanted to and we thought that was the one until we went to another store and found the Big Cahuna, real leather, back supports wooden arm and legs on steel wheels- $250… Now we couldn't even look at the $100 chair anymore.

So we didn't buy anything, rented a movie and went home.

We tried to go shopping again yesterday- this time thinking desks rather than chairs. As you may know, I have been working on a table I acquired from Tolic the drunk (May he rest in peace) for $2 during an exceptionally needy moment for wine. The table though is rather small and I have a lot of papers and things so the work space is always a mess, and so the thought of a well put together workspace also would seem to make work a tad easier. And so off we went. In the first place we looked we found the perfect desk, a corner unit with some under-the-table book space, and also enough other niceties for the house like a coffee steeper and a set of matching cups that you would think everyone would be happy. Or you would have thought. But then, just as we were ready to say "this is what we wanted, this is what we are going to get", Tanya lost concentration on her lie (she had been lying from the beginning you see) and, as long as we were in the stores, began shopping for the apartment.

Now forever, as is normal for all couples I am sure, we have been thinking of what we would do for this old two room kvartera of ours forever if we should ever be so fortunate as to actually have any money. We are not thinking high European or anything, just some new furniture for the kitchen, to clean up the bath and maybe a new bed for Anya. Oh, and a couple of hundred bucks gives us a dish…

This was the original basis for Tanya cursing the chair by the way. As I told you we had been prioritizing forever but have never really even had the chance to even go shopping because, of course, there is never anything to go shopping with. So we never did except for spur-of-the-moment drop-ins on Saturday strolls through town. On these occasions we might allow for a corner of the eye glimpse of what was possible filtered through the cost sticker but we would never, ever buy anything except for the occasional stray coffee cup, or clothes for the children.

But again and again, you have to remember that THIS IS BELARUS! For fifteen years there not only has not been a pot to piss in, the pots they do have now have holes in them. It is not like in the states where one can count on this big check coming in, or even a reasonable one coming in that has some extra in it and some room for "SHOPPING", a word that has interestingly enough crept into the Russian lexicon intact. I mean, you can go shopping, but the item you would buy needs to be the soul and total concentrated focus of your existence because it is going to take such a high percentage of your money away from you, savings and current that this thing takes on the quality of being sacred.

So even during these lightweight sojourns, the effect on the day was not to increase the pleasure of the walk but has been more like coming home from a tour of the nuclear power plants and finding that your finger nails are glowing and your eyebrows have fallen out. It was as if we had been touched by evil; tortured by the sad faces of the sellers who knew that their shops ran at a deficit and that their manager's jobs also depended on sales that simply were not there. It could not be done so why bother? But then, what else is there to do in the life of the family? It is not like in the summer when we can play in the garden- a good something to do. How many games of dominoes can a couple play?

So now with the desk and chair business right in her face, and all around her new divans, sets of drawers and kitchen cabinet combinations; the storm clouds began to boil and the curse started to come on full force. Rather than allow that the dream, that the investment in my aching back was what we were talking about to become reality, yesterday's trip out into the cold rain turned into yet another ride on the merry-go-round of financial torture. And there was poor Tanya desperately trying to rekindle the dying embers on her taste and style muscles while thinking about what might go well where and how the house might be if we could ever do something about it. When it hits, it hits hard and as the anger and frustration built, I started to need to sit down in the stores because I simply couldn't even stand. The more she strayed from the desks and into our corridor and kitchen, the more she cursed the desk and chair and the more my hip and back started to ache. The more things she saw that she could not have, the more she hated me for thinking that there was something that I could have, for breaking our pact about what would actually come first should there have been money. By the time we finally agreed to call it a day nothing at all had been bought except for a five-pack of diclophenak ampules and a couple of syringes to shoot it straight into the hip just so I might be able get off the couch and crawl back to the computer for another work session.

Powerful is the cold of a Belarusian winter.

So at this point, we have tried to find an alternative solution. We have decided to simply put a new pad on a nice old chair we have with a high back and leave the money sit for a while. Executive chairs and corner computer tables with enough space for the books and papers are for people who can afford them- And at the moment, we are not them.

Or in other words, thanks for the money, but we are going to have to wait on it.

"Yes," said the nice woman to her friend over coffee, "mommy and daddy lived through the depression and so they were not the sort of people to be frivolous with money. Poppa could squeeze a nickel until Washington's wooden teeth popped out. But it was not like they aren't nice people- they just learned to do without because there was no other way. They had the same old furniture until I went to college. I always had clothes though- that was funny that there was always money for new clothes for me. But poppa, bless his twisted and bent-over old soul, wouldn't even ever replace that old, broken chair he sat in, even though he would curse it every time he sat in it…"

More soon…