"European Russia 2006" story # 4

Staryy Oskol, Russia           June 29, 2006

Shortly after I wrote last time, my clever friend Nadezda introduced me to her friend Olga. Blond, soft-haired Olga has a strawberry-pink dress, eyes so blue they could eat you, black thin-lined eyebrows, and a fuzzy gargling voice and fresh found face that nod positively. When she kissed me, her tongue was like a fat friendly whale, flopping around clumsily, moving across my lips way too fast. It was great.
     The romantic moments between me and the other girls, Nadezda and dark-haired Elina, have all but disappeared. We're very different from each other. Nowadays, we mostly argue.
     Elina thinks I'm a "durak" (fool) and a "rebenok" (baby), because I think sex is bad. I think she's a "durak" and "rebenok", because she's always lived with her mom. The girls say I'm selfish. I say they're selfish. They think I should spend a lot of money on them. (Of course, I never do - ha ha!)
     Our stressful friendship has taught us a lot about each other's cultures. And I've become a decent Russian-language arguer and insultor.
     I've learned that some Russian girls really love money. They love to go out with guys who'll spend money on them, though this often entitles the guys to a certain power over them.
     Most girls dress very sexily. They almost always wear high heels. They often wear white or light colors (especially in the hot summer), and the fabric is see-through so their underwear is visible. The young have long hair.
     One "veselaya" (fun and jolly) thirty-something English teacher, Elena Viktorovna, told me many young girls thin if they marry a European or American it will solve all their problems. This view of money seems naive and lazy to me. I also think the worship of money is detrimental to one's ability to freely dream.
     Russians claim they talk about money so often because they're poor. Maybe. But, I hear the middle-to-upper class of this town complaining the most. (They're often engineers or managers, earning $300 to $500 a month in factories or the world's largest metallurgical plant.) The poor, who earn $150 a month, talk about happier things.
     And I don't know what class of people I fit into. My job at the language institute fell through; few students wanted to take a course during summer. Since then, I and Elena Viktorovna and Ruslan (the fifteen-year-old boy I live with and watch the World Cup with) have been slowly translating some of my stories into Russian so I can "sell, sell, sell!" them. Not many interesting things have happened.
     But, the other day, I made friends with some Russian guys.
     The guys of Staryy Oskol town are, comparatively speaking, scary. Most of them have short, buzzed hair-cuts. They walk around the gray-and-brown, hot, dusty town. Their shirts are also drab-colored.
     They like drinking beer out of two-litre plastic bottles, and they like fighting. Nadezda has befriended several guys while I was with her, and they both showed me their knife-wounds. One young man recognized me as American and said excitedly he wanted to ask about my country. What did he want to talk about? Going to nightclubs and getting into fights. He was twenty-two-year-old Devid, a nice guy missing three upper teeth.
     A common complaint amongst young guys is that the "militsia" (police) arrest them too often when they're drunk.
     Even their cars are scary. They're compact and drab-colored with a 1940's mobster look, with square sharp edges, and with tinted windows. Male drivers like to idle beside pedestrian girls at night, persistently trying to convince the girls to go for a ride. The Russian automobile manufacturer is, "Lada".
     Many people tell me I shouldn't walk at night. "Est mnogie ploxie lyudi v etom gorode," said one boy whom Nadezda befriended. (There are a lot of bad people in this town.)
     "Kak to znaesh?" I said. (How do you know that?)
     "Potomu chto ya odin." (Because I'm one of them.) This calm, solid, bear-voiced boy gave a friendly smile.
     But, the other day, I met Vitali. Like many members of the middle (or upper) class, his hair is fuller than a buzz-cut. He's married, to a "veselaya" fair-skinned Belorussian named Katya, and they have a lively six-year-old daughter. He's short, but he loves street-basketball.
     We played that night at eight p.m., after the sun had fallen behind one of the many tall apartment buildings that surrounded the court, and after the hot day had cooled. Twenty-six-year-old Vitali is one member of the middle class who isn't trying to run away from the common people.
     He used to be a strong competitor of judo. He knows most of the boys who live near him, and he plays basketball often. There aren't any fights where they play, because he and his friends are tough, and they don't accept fighting. Even so, Vitali has been beaten up in the past.
     The court competition was good. The best player was a tall, strong boy with a buzz-cut, who could launch himself at the basket or shoot three-pointers.
     After the game, as the court grew dark, Vitali and the best player and another guy and I spoke and laughed. We spoke about Russian and American movies, books, music, and culture. The best player kept mentioning famous NBA players and American movies about basketball. His gorilla-sized laugh was the happiest when I said my "babushka" (grandma) is a die-hard, yelling Detroit Pistons fan.
     Ha ha ... these Russian guys aren't so bad.

- peace and strength,
Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Zhenia, Lyubov, & Liza for the place to visit!

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