Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moscow '79: Pets from the Past

This was supposed to be a "Flashback Friday" entry, but I couldn't get it together in time.  You will probably notice that I have taken a break from writing about the epic romance that brought about Butterbean and Cobra.  I will continue at some point.

Moscow, 1979

Kutusovsky Prospect is nine lanes wide in front of our apartment complex.  There are four lanes going in either direction, and one right down the middle.  We call the middle lane the "Zil lane" because that's the brand name of the limousines that blast down the street in 100-mile-per-hour motorcades with a siren wailing on the one out front, carrying high-ranking officials to and from the Kremlin.

Duke only made it halfway to the Zil lane before he got clipped by a yellow Zhiguli.  I don't remember how he got back to the sidewalk, but he's in my arms and my red ski coat is soaked black with his blood.  I think I ran out into the street and scooped him up.  It's nighttime but the traffic is still steady.  Moscow drivers don't turn their headlights on in the city; they just rely on the streetlamps.  The driver is long gone.  The ground under my feet is the color of diesel smoke and red Sno-Cone.

The elevator is working for once, and it squeaks and grinds up to the ninth floor.  Duke is panting even though it's cold, and I keep saying it's okay boy, don't worry, it's gonna be okay.  I manage to get my coat off and wrap it around him.  Blood has soaked through onto my flannel shirt.

I kick the door to our apartment and it rattles in its frame.  My friend from across the hall opens it, first annoyed and then freaked out when she realizes what has happened.  She's been hanging out with me at our apartment, listening to records.  Her parents are at the same party as mine.  My sisters both go to boarding school in London because there's no high school for English speakers in Moscow.  My friend and I are in seventh grade so we go to the Anglo-American School.  She's kind of my girlfriend.

Mom and Dad are at a party at Spasso House, where the American Ambassador lives.  They have to go to parties and functions practically every night.  That's a big part of what diplomats do.  Sometimes we have parties at our house too, to show diplomats from other countries what America is like.  Sometimes we'll have people over for American holidays, or we'll show cowboy movies.  They don't show any good movies in the Russian theaters, but all of us Americans have projectors in our apartments, and we can check out movies from the embassy whenever we want.  I saw "Saturday Night Fever" even though it's an "R."  When we had people over for Thanksgiving, Mom made two turkeys, but Duke dragged one of them off of the counter and ate it on the kitchen floor.  Everyone was standing around watching; but if anybody got too close, Duke would growl and snap at them.  He ate pretty much the whole turkey.

My friend calls the Spasso House to try to get in touch with my parents.  There's a lot of talking but I don't really hear much.  Duke's eyes are kind of rolling back, and his tongue is hanging out.  My friend tells me that they're going to send a car from the embassy and take us to some vet that the receptionist from Spasso House knows.  It looks like the injury is just on Duke's front leg, but he's bleeding so much that I'm afraid he'll die.  I wrap the arm of my ski coat around his leg really tight.  The embassy is pretty close to our apartment, so we have to leave before my parents have time to get home.  There are only a few American families in our building, and all the parents are at Spasso House.  All the other families in the building are from India or Pakistan or Afghanistan and we don't know them very well.

I put Duke down by the elevator, all bundled up in my coat, and put on my felt-lined boots and my Russian fur hat and one of my sisters' ski jackets; and my friend and I go out to the street to wait for the driver.  Duke is still breathing fast, and he doesn't seem like he knows what's going on.  He doesn't respond to me when I talk to him.

We got Duke at the "Ptichka Rinok."  That means "Bird Market" in Russian.  We always call it the Pet Rinok, because they sell all kinds of animals there, not just birds.  There are dogs and cats, but also weird stuff like these rats that they use to make fur hats.  It's outside in a big kind of park.  Some of the vendors have big cages where they keep the animals; but guys who sell smaller animals just fill the pockets of their overcoats with whatever critters they've got.  The Pet Rinok is one of the only places where Soviet citizens can legally sell stuff for a profit, because all the regular stores are run by the government.  There's also a farmer's market--we just call that The Rinok--where people come from other republics like Georgia, with suitcases full of fruits and vegetables, and sell them for such high prices that they can pay for their transportation and still make a few rubles.  Aside from what you can get at The Rinok, pretty much the only produce you can buy is cabbage and potatoes and beets.  Diplomats can go to special grocery stores where we pay in dollars, and there's pretty good meat and packaged food; but still there are no good vegetables or fruits.  Every couple months, one American family gets to go to Helsinki.  When it's your turn, everyone expects you to bring back a suitcase full of iceberg lettuce and bananas to share with your neighbors.

Anyway, we got Duke last spring.  I think my parents must have felt bad for me after my first winter in Moscow, and that's why they finally let me get a dog, which I had been begging for since I first started talking, or so they tell me.  We picked Duke because he was cute and white and fluffy, with a curly tail.  My dad asked what kind of dog he was, and the lady said he was a Komondor.  We didn't have any idea what that meant until we looked it up in a book about dog breeds after we had already brought Duke home.  It turns out that Komondors grow up to be more than a hundred pounds, and their coats get all matted into cords like Bob Marley's hair except that it's white and reaches all the way to the ground.  My parents almost had a cow when they realized how big and crazy looking he was going to be, but I thought it was really cool.  It turns out that lady gypped us though, because Duke is almost full grown and only weighs about 30 pounds.

After we wait at the curb for maybe five minutes, Alexei the driver pulls up in a black Volga, right at the spot where the school bus usually stops to pick us up.  Alexei is really nice.  I can tell that he's worried about getting dog blood on the seats, but he doesn't say anything

Duke is really cute and fun to play with, but we can never get him to behave.  No matter what we do, he always craps in the house and chews stuff up.  We tried to lock him in my sister's room since she's away at school, because we thought he wouldn't crap in his own little space; but he shit in the room and tore the door apart to get out.  The best we can do is block off the hallway and let him sleep in there.  I have to clean up the shit every morning.  We have a maid that comes in almost every day, but she doesn't clean up dogshit.  She calls Duke "stupid Russian dog."  We get to have a maid, and I get private guitar and painting lessons all practically for free courtesy of the Soviet government.  That's because they like to have people in our apartment snooping around and reporting on what we're up to.  Duke also has a habit of rolling in anything he can find that stinks.  And there's plenty of stinky stuff along the streets here.  He especially likes dead fish, but anything dead and rotting will do.  He gets really dirty in the winter because the snow turns all slushy and black.  I have to give him a lot of baths. 

Alexei drives really fast for about 15 minutes to a part of town I don't recognize, and pulls down an alley of old wooden buildings lined with garbage and some cars that look like they haven't run for years, and have mostly been stripped down to their frames.  He parks and we get out. He bangs on a metal door.  A fat lady dressed like a nurse lets us in.

There's hardly any light in the little clinic, just a red glow coming from somewhere.  She yells at me in Russian and I understand some of what she's saying.  She motions for me to put the dog on a wooden table and hold him down.  Duke's not really struggling because he's in shock I guess.  While I'm holding him, the lady shaves all the fur off of his leg with clippers like you would see in a barber shop.  You can see that the gash goes from just above his paw to just below his shoulder.  It's not bleeding as much anymore.  Then she gets a can from a metal cabinet and dumps a bunch of white powder in the wound.  It seems like it takes about three minutes for her to sew up his leg and then make a splint out of a piece of cardboard and some bandage wrap.  And that's it.  She sends us back out into the alley, and Alexei drives us home.  Duke is calmer, but still staring at nothing.

My parents are home when we get back, and we try to get Duke cleaned up as much as possible.  I think I'll have to get a new ski coat, but my mom says she can save it.  I make a bed for myself on the floor next to Duke and go to sleep.

Duke and me at a WWII memorial outside of Moscow.  The truck is a Katyusha rocket launcher

My family outside our prestigious diplomatic residence at Kutusovsky 14.  I'm the shortest one.

Bathing Duke in our luxurious bathroom


  1. Was he ok? This was so good I couldn't stop reading it!

  2. Thanks, Kathy! Yeah, he was okay. But we had to leave him in Moscow when we came back to the States. He was just too crazy.

  3. Great stuff Andy! Nice picture too. :)

  4. Holy crap, I loved this. My favorite post I've read in a while.

  5. Aw, Steamy. I'm humbled. By that I mean I am pausing at every reflective surface I encounter to say, "Hello, Genius!"

  6. Haha I hate to add to your humility but I loved it too. Reminds me of books I used to read in middle and high school when I still read for fun. Like those great short story anthologies, you know.

    And, I think Stella is the reincarnation of Duke.

  7. Thanks, Anisa!

    I hadn't thought about the reincarnation of Duke thing. It's funny--all the dogs I've had have had completely different personalities, and their own distinct set of problems. I used to think that dogs reflected their owners, but that doesn't really make sense, unless the owner changes personalities every decade or so. Hmm...

    I hope you will be able to read for fun again one day!

  8. Too sappy.

    -The Donald

  9. The Donald--

    I can see how you might think that. If your heart is a frozen douchebag. I even cut the three pages describing my tears. You probably hated "Annie" too.

  10. The way she took advantage of that trusting, bald rich man--now that chokes me up a little bit.

    -The Donald

  11. Hey Beta Dad, Thanks for commenting on my blog today. I would like to introduce you another Stay-at-Home Daddy blogger friend of mine--David who writes http://googoodadda.com/

    I am going to tell him to come check you out too. Happy blogging!

  12. Thanks, Jomama--

    I'll check that blog out!

  13. I bet I'd have been left in Moscow too. I'm often called crazy.

  14. I have enjoyed your post a lot, it brought back memories of days when I was little and getting a ride in a car was as cool as going camping I guess. I still remember the smell of those old Volga's, my grandpa had a government issued Volga when I was a tot. The only thing is that Ptichka is a nickname and Ptichii Rinok would be the actual name.



Don't hold back.


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