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Thursday, September 07, 2006

King of the Hallway

Severobaikalsk - train to Irkutsk

It's a postcard scenery. The sky is grey like memory loss. Snow falls to the ground like dandruff off a bus driver. We are trapped in a snow globe far from home.

Rashit's wife has come to our apartment to cook us a three course breakfast for the last time while Nik stares at the window excitedly. He has never seen snow. I think to an outsider who is travelling through town in the Russian autumn snow is a beautiful thing. If you're indoors, rugged up and with a screamingly hot cup of cocoa. It looks the same as when a high school drama production has a snow scene- billions of bits of little paper falling gently to the ground- except in real life the snow melts and doesn't have to be swept up by stage hands.

A few hours later the doorbell rings. It is Leo the neighbourhood thug. With him are two cohorts. One of the little miscreants looks like he is fourteen. But a tough fourteen year old. The kind that carries flick knives and hurts pets. They offer me some warm beer but I decline.

We try to talk. Something something something. Oh, Leo wants me to show the kids some coin tricks. I flick a 5 rouble piece back and forth on the flat of my fist. I make the coin disappear. The kids go- How the f-ck...? Then Leo speaks some Russian to me. Something something something. He wants to exchange....dollars for dollars? What the...? Leo says more things that don't make sense to me. 'You want to swap dollars with me?'
'Da. Yes.' He pulls out a Singaporean $10.
'You little rat bastard! That was from my wallet.'
He grins.
'You want to swap an American $10 for a Singaporean $10 that was mine to begin with in the first place?'
'Da.'

I couldn't be bothered arguing with him anymore so I do so. Then he has the gall to ask me for a 100 roubles. 'You join for piva (beer) yes?'
'Go away.'

I spend the rest of the day walking around Severobaikalsk. Apart from almost walking into a brothel that I presumed was a restaurant the day is fairly uneventful. Which gives me time to think about the whole 'kids in the hallway' situation. The girls were fairly nice. They were probably too young to be interested in guys but maybe in a few years they'd hook up with one of the thugs and have little monsters of their own one day. Lack of choice. It happens. And I don't think the little boys would turn out like Leo but who knows what will happen in the future. I hope for the best. But for now there seems that there's not much to do in apartment blocks in Siberia except swigging home brew vodka and hassling foreigners for loose change.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Datsun Tran said...

How the fuck did he get it out of your wallet?! And if he had your wallet, why wouldn't he take more cash? And isn't US dollars worth more?

Confused about Leo's semi hard assedness.

Datsun

9:12 am  
Blogger Fatman said...

1. He got it out of the wallet the night before when I gave him a US$5 for a bottle of vodka. At that stage he wasn't being a prick so I let him have it.

2. Yes, US dollar is worth more. But not by that much. It's easier to change a US$10 in Russia (especially Severobaikalsk) than a Singaporean one.

3. Look, he's 18 and wants to act tough in front of his mates. I don't actually think he's an absolute bastard. Just young. It's not really that much money anyway so let 'em think they've got one up on the dumb tourists.

6:28 pm  
Blogger Yawn said...

Snow falls to the ground like dandruff off a bus driver. That's genius.

18 year old Russians. After the Soviet Union fell apart and they all moved to mansions in Mexico, they sent their kids to study in my burg. I didn't find it fun or amusing to drink with the sons of KGB-turned-central American-arms dealers, especially when they got violent, which was pretty much any waking hour. And their women were butt ugly.

7:19 am  
Blogger Fatman said...

Yawn- You know I actually hate writing descriptive passages normally but when I looked out the window I immediately thought: 'Dandruff'. As I was walking in the Siberian cold with the snow all around me I couldn't help but think that some Omnipotent Being had an itchy scalp and a bad case of dandruffidness (Ed- That may not actually be a word. What would I know? I failed fifth grade). And who hasn't had a bus driver named Ted who would coat you with a cloud of dead skin every time he shook his head?

11:13 pm  
Blogger Yawn said...

Just an FYI- I quit my position. Be on the lookout for a blog by a scorpion rancher (antivenin's big business these days, but I lack the sac of your crocodile hunting colleague- otherwise I'd cultivate and tittilate stingrays until their erections produced a nectar of daredevil slavation) or a Mexican mango farmer. When you leave a secret agency, it's generally wise to leave the country as well. Replacement secret agency administrators detest consultants with credibility and respect. They like to get data with variables they can control, not the boiled down straight dope that nobody can control.

3:08 pm  
Blogger Fatman said...

What generally happens when you quit a shady semi-government secret agency? Do you wake up one day on a remote island where everyone is assigned a number instead of a name?

7:39 am  
Blogger Yawn said...

They did away with that island s#it back in the 70's when the agency's accounting practices changed, and as a direct result, the management. At one time governments were trying to isolate people with such inside operations knowledge, but my agency isn't on the government tit anymore, so we don't have to answer to that power. All part of the privatization of a bunch of $hit during the 80's, but I can't talk about the details at this time. But I tell you this: getting locked up on an island sounds like a better permanent vacation than the one I'm about to embark upon.

But in answer to your question: there's no "general" about quitting a secret agency. The old "Do unto others..." routine is about the long and short of it, and you have usually known your replacement for many years. I have drank heavily with both of the (logical) candidates in line for my position in the agency, and I can't see them making my life a hell or reprogramming me. After all, they will need an untampered consultant in certain situations and decison-making processes, just as I have used predecessors as consultants, and my predecassors used their predecessors. No tenderloin fresh administrator would be dumb enough to remap anyone who knows where to find the billing receipts from 1994, or the vacation/sick leave year end departmental summaries.

A general rule of thumb is that if someone signed off on anything important in the previous 3 fiscal years plus 5, they are to be treated with the same respect they would be treated if they were still in the position. You don't want to piss off anybody that will back you up in case of a snag. You want a living person to be able to testify "Yes, I signed that 5 years ago, and here's why."

3:52 pm  

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