I have to walk with a cane for a couple days now. Maybe a week. I blame it on my new boots.
We got to go to Helsinki last month, and my parents let me buy some really cool black cowboy boots with straps on the back, just above the heel, that have metal studs on them. I was surprised that they let me buy them, and even more surprised that they let me buy the black vinyl pants.
It was my money, but still. They don't always let me spend it on whatever I want. It's kind of not fair; but on the other hand, they're the ones who gave me Finnish markkas at just under the official exchange rate for the worthless rubles I raked in selling jeans and stuff to Russians on the black market. So I shouldn't complain, I guess. I think they felt sorry for me because I got kind of depressed over the winter. I mean, there were a lot of days when it was fifty below zero, and only light out for a few hours, and the heat kept shutting off in our cruddy apartment. That stuff can get to you. But mostly it was just boring.
Helsinki is a capitalist paradise, in case you didn't know. And every once in a while, a train goes out of Moscow with the "diplomatic pouch" from the embassy, and some lucky American family gets to go with it. It was our turn last month.
They have this store in Helsinki called Stockmann, where you can buy just about anything. And everything is clean and shiny and new there, and doesn't look like it's about to break, or is already broken. Not like here. Also, in Helsinki, they have a restaurant called Carol's that's just like a McDonald's back home. I ate their version of the Big Mac every day that we were there. They also have good grocery stores there, with fresh fruits and vegetables. Not just wilted old cabbage, like here. We brought an empty suitcase with us and filled it with iceberg lettuce and bananas to bring back to Moscow.
So my friends and I were messing around at the Ukraina hotel the other day. It's just down the street from our apartment building, called K-14, on Kutuzovsky Prospect. The hotel is one of those big buildings that's kind of like a palace or a castle, with a spire on top and everything. On New Year's and May Day and other Soviet holidays, they shoot fireworks from all seven of those buildings and we can see them from our balcony. You have to hand it to the Russkies: they can put on a good fireworks display. They have these big artillery trucks that they shoot them off with. The Russians call the Ukraina and the other buildings "The Seven Sisters." We call them "The Seven Ugly Sisters," or "Stalin's Wedding Cakes." I don't really think they're that ugly though, compared to the rest of Moscow. Most of the other buildings, except for the old churches and the stuff in Red Square, are just big gray blocks. They look like prisons to me.
|Ukraina Hotel. Kutuzovsky Prospect is on the right.|
My friends and I sometimes go to the Ukraina or other hotels, just out of boredom. We'll run around in the lobby, or buy useless crap from the gift shop if it's open. That's one of the things about Moscow: you never know if a business is going to be open, or if it's going to have anything in it. And sometimes it seems like they have stuff that you could buy, but they just don't feel like selling it to you.
When I run around with my friends, somebody always has a lot of money, either from selling Western stuff to Russians or because they're from a country that doesn't care if they use "soft" rubles. Americans are only supposed to use rubles that they get at the official exchange rate. I guess it looks bad if we go around spending their currency like it's worthless, which it is. We never hang out with Russian kids, except maybe to play a pick-up hockey game or something, because they're not supposed to hang out with Western diplomats.
So even though we have a lot of "funny money," usually there's nothing worth buying with it. The only places that sometimes have a lot of stuff are the hotel gift shops, and it's all decorative vases and lacquer boxes and those "nesting" dolls. After your apartment is filled with that crap and you've sent souvenirs to your family back home, there's not much left to spend it on. The restaurants are terrible, if they even feel like serving you. There's a little coffee shop right next to our apartment, and it's had the same display in the window--a plate with a fried egg on it--since we moved here almost two years ago. We got some pastries there once and they tasted like cardboard. A while ago I had a bunch of rubles burning a hole in my pocket and I bought a full-length rabbit fur coat from a hotel gift shop, just for the hell of it. I don't wear it all that much, but it sure was nice on those days when the heat didn't work.
Anyway, we were doing this thing that we sometimes do at the Ukraina, which was playing in the revolving door in the lobby. There are never many people around, so no one tells us to stop. The door is probably ten feet tall, and it's made of these thick slabs of wood with glass panels in them and big steel bars over the panels. They're really heavy, and it's kind of hard to push your way through the door. But if you get two or three guys in there pushing, you can really get it going fast.
We'll have a couple guys spinning the door, and everybody else stands around in the lobby, waiting their turn to jump into the...chamber, I guess you'd call it, between the panels of the door. If you time it right, when you jump into it, the door kind of picks you off of your feet and spits you out onto the sidewalk.
So I was standing there like a sprinter, waiting to jump into the spinning door, watching it go around a couple times to make sure I went at just the right moment. I made a kind of song in my head with a beat every time a door panel passed the wall: bum-bum-bum-bum.
I let it go around three or four times. Bum-bum-bum-bum.
Then: bum-bum-bum--I jumped into the opening!
But because I was wearing my new boots, instead of my Adidas, my ankle turned just a little bit and I stumbled and had to recover. My timing was way off.
Thud! It sounded like someone had jammed the door with a big piece of lumber.
But it wasn't lumber; it was me.
The door stopped its hyperspeed counter-clockwise revolutions, and started slowly going the other direction until it hit my limp body and stopped altogether.
I couldn't move. I wasn't bawling or anything, but I have to admit I was pretty scared. I guess I was in shock or something, because I couldn't feel much of anything.
One of my friends who speaks Russian tracked down some grownups to help us as my other friends dragged me into the lobby, away from the door.
It seemed like the grownups weren't in any hurry to help me. A couple people walked by and shook their heads.
Finally, a huge middle-aged Russian lady in a white dress and hat showed up, carrying a small brown suitcase.
"Pain, yes?" She said.
"What?" I said.
"Yes," I said. "Pain."
She opened her case and pulled out a syringe that looked about the right size to tranquilize a horse, with a needle that was a good eight inches long. Then she pulled out a glass bottle of clear liquid.
As she plunged the needle into the bottle, I suddenly found myself standing up. I swear I don't remember getting to my feet, but there I was, saying, "Come on! Let's get out of here!" to my friends.
My friends half-carried, half-dragged me back to my apartment. My parents were both at work at the embassy, and eventually I was able to get in touch with my mom. She sent a driver from the embassy to pick me up and take me to the clinic.
It turns out that I'm okay after all. I just have a bruised hip, and there's nothing you can do about that really. The doctor gave me a cane to use for a while, and aspirin for the pain. It doesn't even hurt that much anymore.
Also, the cane makes a pretty cool accessory.