The next few days were a flurry of activity. I unearthed my bag from the bowels of the Moscow airport, cooked a sloppy dinner for friends, made business cards, etc.
On the subject of business cards: Do you know how cheap business cards are in Moscow? So cheap. Once you navigate through the medieval-looking wooden door, are checked by security, dodge rain puddles in the courtyard, and survive the door-over-steep-steps hazard you can find a thoroughly professional and congenial establishment called A-Tsifra that will print 200 beautiful business cards for the equivalent of five dollars.
(Timeout for moral crisis: do I now buy my Tucson business cards here all the time? I regularly spend about $50 for 250 cards…AT THE UNION PRINTSHOP. Do I forsake my brothers and sisters in the labor movement for cheap, off-shore paper products?)
On Tuesday I met with a lawyer friend of a friend. We’re considering partnering up on the law firm idea. I met him at his office in the Eastern part of Moscow. It seemed incredibly ironic to me that here I was trying to start a business deal while passing through metro stations named “Marxist” and “Proletarian.” I was super-excited, though, when I got our of the metro and saw the Mikoyan meat processing plant. Anastas Mikoyan was one of the “Old Bolsheviks”—founders of the Soviet Union that had colossally idealistic notions about socialism. He was nearly purged by Stalin but survived. The reason I’m interested in him is that he was the People’s Commissar for Food. He was responsible for the “Joy of Cooking” of the Soviet Union: “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food.” He also developed the mass production of ice cream. What’s not to love about this guy?
Anyhow, returning to the dry topic of lawyering, the Russian attorney and I ate a light lunch and plotted how to bring US immigration law to Muscovites. While we were talking it occurred to me that I know nothing about Russian business culture. I could be stomping all over this guy’s feet and not even know it. So I decided to take the bull by the horns…if “by the horns” means admitting that you are likely to be gored and asking the bull’s forgiveness for provoking it in advance. I just said outright: “I don’t know your business customs here so please let me know if I do something improper.” I have no idea if this smoothed anything over but it made me more at ease, which is a pretty major feat. I’m basically never at ease. The meeting ended with both of us excited at the idea of working together.
Friday was my busiest day that week and it presented some unexpectedly difficult challenges. In the morning I was meeting my lawyer friend-of-a-friend again. This time we were going to really nail down what a partnership might look like. But I realized I had left all my legal pads at home! I guess this is where I admit that I’m a Luddite who still uses paper. Anyway, while running late, I stopped off at a bookstore/stationery store and clawed through their entire selection of notebooks. Actually, “clawed” is an unintended and terrible pun. All of the notebooks had pictures of fluffy kittens on them. Oh, wait. I’m sorry, not all of them had pictures of kittens. Some of them had photos of grown cats rolling around with balls of yarn.
I desperately explained my situation to the saleslady “I’m going to a business meeting, I need paper, and I don’t want to look weird.” She was very kind and sympathetic but the only solution she was able to offer was a clipboard paired with a ream of printer paper. I decided to give up and re-arrange my mindset: nothing is classier than a MacBook Air. There’s no need to even try to win at this paper game.
It’s true, I did carry my MacBook Air in a plastic shopping bag. I admit this. But I still believe that the power of the Apple brand is enough to dazzle people so completely that they forget everything that happened in the preceding 10 minutes.
Up I went into the very Soviet-looking Biznes-Tsentr Rossiya.