Or the Strange Trek Back From Russia…
During our last week in Russia, we played tourist in Moscow. I still didn’t get to see the things I wanted to see but I did have more fun. The hotel we stayed in was larger but further from Red Square. It was also more solidly built. I was told that dignitaries and government officials stayed there on their visits and security was excellent. Because of the security, I would get my own room to myself!
I was too busy checking out the view from the hallway window to notice that everyone was choosing their rooms. By the time I noticed, all of them were taken except the corner room. The bastards figured it would be the smallest so no one wanted it. However, karma was on my side this time. The room was huge! Suddenly everyone wanted it and I told them all to back the hell off or I’d cut someone.
For some strange and unknown reason, D felt that he needed to explore my room rather than his and he seem into the bathroom. “There are two toilets,” he said, looking confused. I told him that there wouldn’t be two toilets, obviously one was a bidet. He wasn’t familiar with bidets- how, I don’t know- and insisted on testing mine out, despite my protests. He came out of the bathroom with an odd expression on his face. “I didn’t like that,” he said, “It shoots water up your ass!” I asked him what he had expected it to do and he shrugged.
We spent a few days checking out the city. We went to this crazy big outdoor flea market that stretched out for miles and shopped and got our portraits done. (Mine are still in the attic somewhere.) I learned quickly that Americans got ripped off and pretended to not be American. Whenever I would try to speak to Rita or someone in our native tongue, it would slowly morph into French. I don’t know why. I became pretty fluent in French that summer and Rita, who didn’t speak a word of French, understood me. She, in turn, would speak Russian to me and I would understand her even though I only knew a smattering of Russian. It confused everyone but we made it work.
Then it was time to go and it was hard to say goodbye. My family had been so warm and welcoming. The made my trip a delight. I was going to miss them a lot. There were a lot of tears. Which were cut off quickly when they seated us in the smoking section of the plane. This is back in the day when you could smoke on international flights. But I was supposed to be in nonsmoking, along with D. My father and aunt were smokers so they were fine in that haze of smoke.
I quickly found a stewardess and explained that I was allergic to cigarette smoke and needed to move. I even pulled out my inhaler for good measure. I told D, who was seated near me but not next to me, to do the same but he was too shy about speaking up and stuck it out the whole flight. I got moved to the nonsmoking section, next to an old man and a man lost in the 70s. I like old people so I was totally fine with be seated next to the older gentleman. I was actually quite happy about it. The other guy looked kind of sleazy with some weird perm in his hair, unbuttoned shirt, and large medallion on a chain around his neck. I got the window seat.
Sleazy guy spoke English and the old man didn’t. We made introductions and some small talk and then I grabbed a magazine to read. The old man started reading over my shoulder. I offered him my magazine and he shook his head. Sleazy said, “He can’t read English.” I made a noncommittal noise of some sort and turned back to my magazine….and so did the old man. He was literally reading over my shoulder. Fully leaning on me. I pulled away. He moved with me. I closed the magazine and looked at him and he smiled back at me.
That’s when I noticed Creepy Mr. Rogers in the row behind me. He was talking to two Russian teens, I gleaned from their conversation, who were going to visit family in America for a few weeks. I called him Creepy Mr. Rogers because he spoke just like Mr. Rogers. “We’re going to land in Neeeewww Yoooorrrrk. Do you know where New York is?” He had a weird pedophile mustache. That sounds awful of me, doesn’t it? What can I say other than that I was a bitchy 16 year old making these observations. He was creepy though.
So I wound up feigning sleep for most of the flight and listening to Mr. Rogers talk to the kids about Russia and America. The old man got up frequently. Only he would grab the seats in front of him as he did and pull hair as he stood. About three quarters of the way through the flight, one of the ladies finally had it. Her friend, who spoke Russian, stood up and turned to me and chided me, in Russian. I sighed and told her, “Look, lady, it’s not me. I haven’t even gotten up once. It’s this old man here pulling your friend’s hair. Nice Russian, by the way.” I must have shaken her composure, she looked startled when she said,”You speak English!” Which is when I replied, “Yeah, I am from Jersey. Duh.” She quickly sat down. The old man got up again and pulled the lady’s hair. I laughed. The lady and her friend had to negotiate with Sleazy and the old man.
I crunched myself back against the window and read my magazine, occasionally listening to the weirdos around me. I always managed to get myself into weird situations with strange people. At least the flight was almost over and I would be home. After we landed, we were prevented from leaving the plane for a bit. My mom, who was there to pick us up, had told me that Yoko Ono was on the plane and had to be let off first. I didn’t get to see her but, hey, I’m two degrees separated from John Lennon now, right?