On Saturday I was having girlfriends over for dinner as a “Women’s Day Eve” celebration. International Women’s Day is on March 8 and it’s celebrated everywhere!! Except the United States. Ahem. Starting on Thursday people were already celebrating: I saw women walking with flowers and long lines in groceries. On Friday it was in full swing: nearly every single woman I saw on the street was carrying a bouquet. By Saturday my grocery stores were almost completely decimated: I had to go to three stores looking for potatoes. What Russian store runs out of potatoes?
On my way home, I passed a man that I has seen on my way to the grocery. I had worked hard to get out of his way; he was swerving and swaying, clearly celebrating early. On the way home he was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands. Seeing scenes like this breaks my heart. I see much, much less of it now than I did in the early 90s, for several reasons. One, things are more stable now so people have more hope. Two, Putin has put some alcohol-curbing measures into force. You can no longer just run down to a kiosk and buy vodka at any time of the day or night. Vodka is only sold in stores and it’s not sold after a certain time of night (it is sold in restaurants until all hours). Also, this incident was connected with a clear reason for drinking: a holiday. Very different from before when I would walk past several drunks lying on the sidewalk on any random weekday.
My cooking failed somewhat due to stickiness issues, but my friends were kind and pretended it didn’t matter. We ate and “washed bones,” (meaning we gossiped and hashed over events in our personal and professional lives). Then my friend’s boyfriend called and he and another male friend came over. The second male was a flight engineer for Aeroflot and insisted on giving us all complimentary moist toilettes. We’ll call him Aeroflot Man from here on out. The guys were already quite into the holiday so we sat them down and tried to get them to eat as best we could. Then we got involved in a long and circuitous discussion of where to go….finally, we decided to go to a place called My Bar.
When we got there we were given candies in honor of women’s day. I saw the men looking for a table and I headed to the bar to buck the custom of men paying for all the drinks. It still just doesn’t sit right with me. I kind of liked this place: I liked the music, the dance floor wasn’t too big, people were dressed in jeans, etc. And then….things took a turn for the douche, as Garfunkel and Oates would say. The music got terrible—think of the worst pop-sleaze you can and then turn it up to 11. I shrank into a booth with the group while two of them braved the dance floor. It seemed to me that everyone dancing was around 22—I just felt impossibly old and impossibly irritated. I didn’t want to be there.
Luckily, no one else did, either, so we soon moved on to a beer bar called Kamchatka. Right as we were walking in I cheered up because they were playing a raucous song from the group Leningrad that had the whole bar, and me, singing along. The inside was all exposed brick and I saw some bearded Russian hipsters analyzing the beers in a corner. Perfect. More good music and more good drinks. And then a man threw some water on me. It was incredibly strange and I was mostly just shocked. Aeroflot Man told me to sit down and he went and got me a napkin and gave the young man who did it a talking to. I wiped myself off but then, as time went on, I started fuming. What was this man doing throwing water on me and why was this other man in charge of telling him to knock it off? What was I? A mere bystander in this whole drama? I think the drinking had gotten to me and I just lost it—I started yelling at the guy who threw the water on me, telling him he should go to hell and maybe even I said some stuff in English and I believe there were some impolite hand gestures. In short, I caused a scene. I should re-explain that there was no reason for this scene: the matter had already been handled in a culturally appropriate way. But apparently the alcohol and something about Russian male-female culture got me all worked up and I lost it. So….we had to go. It’s not that we got kicked out, it’s just that Rachel made a big fuss that made everyone uncomfortable.
We walked out in the street and started dancing in a circle and, I swear, thirty seconds later we were joined by about ten more people in the circle. In less than five minutes there were probably twenty people in the circle. I can’t imagine that happening outside a bar in the United States. Russians just really love joining in celebrations with others.
Aeroflot Man has been begging all night to go to karaoke. No one else wanted to, but I said I would go (I felt I owed him after I undid all his efforts at maintaining calm during the water incident). In the end, everyone wound up going. I loved the bar because it was small, intimate, and not overly loud. The folks already there were singing incredibly dorky songs, which I found charming but made everyone else in my group roll their eyes. Then I got the brilliant idea: I’M GOING TO SING KARAOKE IN RUSSIAN! I’d never done this before and it felt like the ultimate triumph of lo these many years of careful study and practice. So I went and made my request and just as I did, the karaoke machine broke. The other folks just started singing without music (maybe they picked something by the Beatles?) and we sang along, too. Eventually, the karaoke machine was up and running and I made my big debut on the Russian karaoke scene with the 1997 hit from Splean, “Russian-English Dictionary.” I was consistently about two beats behind. And probably about at least ½ step off in pitch, varying from too flat to too sharp. I’m telling you, it was masterful.
We left karaoke and headed home. Two of our group separated and went to their apartment and I planned on getting myself home on the metro, but I was yanked into a taxi right after I bought a delicious street treat. It was a samsa, a kind of meat pie. Mmmmm. Right then I wanted to be the meat pie. In the taxi was me, one of my female friends, and Aeroflot Man. We got out at my apartment and, in confusion, I realized we were all at my apartment. I certainly didn’t want this, but it was too late. I could see the writing on the wall and told my girlfriend: you have to promise me to make Aeroflot Man go home. He is not sleeping here. Turns out Aeroflot Man had purchased two bottles of sickeningly sweet champagne while I got my street treat and he insisted on consuming them both in their entirety. I pushed food on everyone, and tea, hoping vainly for sobriety, and then Aeroflot Man went to the bathroom. He came back out about fifteen minutes later, freshly showered (!) and wearing a towel. I screamed. And suggested that he put his clothes on. He said, “But they’re sweaty!” However, there was no discussion on this point: a towel was not acceptable. Then he sat down and started complaining about being sleepy: with good reason, it was around 7:30am. He began talking about lying down. Luckily the hour and the alcohol meant I was way past all niceties. “No!” I said, “You need to go with my friend.” He started whining about being tired and then got very silent. My girlfriend quietly said, “Rachel, do you want him?” Loaded and blunt, I shook my head and said, “NYET.” My friend said, “Ok, so it’s clear, Aeroflot Man, there will be no sex.” He lifted his head and frowned. “No sex?” “NO SEX,” my friend and I said at the same time. Aeroflot Man put his head down on the table again. Then a brilliant idea apparently came to him: “But what if we all three have sex together?” “OUT, “ I said, “NOW.”
When I finally put my head on the pillow, blissfully alone, it was about 8:30am on International Women’s Day.