Interesting people I have met here and there Part One

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I just bookmarked some books by Zinsser who tells people like me how to write.  I need the advice.

J, my husband, is privy to many, many little stories.  And either his memory or his listening are just poor enough that he seems to not mind when I repeat a story.

He gets to hear about many of characters I have met.  And I have met many, mostly while traveling.  Like the plotnik (Russian for carpenter) who knocked on my door at 6 AM wobbling drunk.  He said something to me which was totally unintelligible to my freshly arrived ears.  And then he kissed me.  He was about 50.  I pried him off and slammed my door.  “Welcome to Russia!”  he was probably trying to say.

And for my readers who know Russia, this was not a large town, but a very small town in a small republic where the main language wasn’t even Russian, it was Chuvash.

This trend repeated itself there, in Chuvashia.  People, mostly men, were very, very friendly.  I also received attempts at kisses, men quite randomly throwing themselves at me from the gym teacher, and the minister of education.  I was told it was because I smiled.  Mental note, smiling brings unwanted attempted kissers.  The gym teacher was actually kind of cute, though, more scary than anything.

One of my favorite people, who I never actually spoke to, was a guy who lived next door to me in some apartments near Portland State University.  I lived with DaLynn, a sort of distant relation by marriage and we shared this little 2 bedroom apt.  It backed up to a green slope, there was no place to walk on the ground outside the windows of my bedroom, and the other windows next door backed up to this green slope covered with all variety of ferns, trees, weeds, blackberries as well.

I had a neighbor who liked to give himself pep talks.  In the shower.  At 7 AM or thereabouts.  Only his pep talks were pretty harsh.  He would berate himself daily.  In the shower.  Audibly.

I got used to waking up to this guy telling himself what a failure he was, how he was incompetent, ill-equipped to deal with things and how people didn’t like him.  I felt kind of bad for him.  But I also didn’t like waking up to a tirade of insults, which it took me quite awhile to figure out from whence they came.  Poor guy, I saw him on campus.  It appeared that one of his legs was longer than the other as he limped.  This was back in the days in school when I had to pay rent in 25 dollar installments sometimes, I had troubles of my own.

J told me I was the only person he knew with stories like that.  Sorry, I only remember it because it’s funny to me now.

Another interesting person I recollect was actually a lot less bizarre and only seemed odd because of circumstances.  She was my counterpart in Russia.  She was older, in her 60’s.  She was very Soviet, strong and kind of like a brick wall.  She would gather English teachers to introduce me, and remind them of all the great things she had done for them.  Grant monies, training, etc.  And then she would say “And now I bring you, AN AMERICAN!”  And there I was.  This scene replayed itself so often I got used to feeling like a little prize poodle trotted out and marched around.  And I played into it.  What else could I do?  This was the job that I had been given by Peace Corps.

So I taught.  I learned to teach about things they already knew, because my English was enough of a hurdle for many of them.  I mentioned stories taken out of their textbooks, referenced Americans that they were familiar with and waxed eloquent about Helen Keller, whose heart wrenching story was familiar to them.

I had gyms full of kids who would ask me questions like “Do you like to go to the circus with your brother?”  And I learned to answer “Yes!! I do!”  I learned not to tell them that I liked tacos, because they had no idea what that was.  Even starting off to explain with “tortilla” was too much.  I learned to stick with Pizza, which gained wide recognition as something foreign, but available in Russia as an exotic item.

Oh I went on about Ernest Hemingway, drew maps of the US which made them think I was smart (this is very important in Russia) and read books into tape recorders.  I agreed when they asked if I like serials like “Santa Barbara”, I had to learn to tell them that I did (even though I never saw it).  And I tried not to betray myself when they commented that I spoke English pretty well.

I cannot recollect right now more of the characters I have met, but I will post more when they come to me.  I can remember lots of crazy eyes, strange mantras and times when the crazy has been told to me as if it were plain fact.  It’s all good.

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