When I was young, I used to love writing. If I wasn’t reading, I was always scribbling something or other. I don’t really remember that I wanted to to become an author; really it was just something to do in my free time.
Sometime in middle school or early high school, I lost that spark to write. I must say that there was a brief renaissance with one teacher — Mr. Hansbarger, my English teacher for 11th grade and a senior year independent study (if my hazy memory serves me right). I was inspired by his willingness to work with a weird girl who had finished all of her English classes early somehow. Sadly, this didn’t last for all that long either. College came, Russian took over my brain, and I didn’t even take one writing class in college.
But here I am. I write a blog which, while not exactly the pinnacle of greatness, does obviously prove that I enjoy writing. I’ve also been doing some freelance writing which is not particularly inspiring, but has gotten me in the habit of writing again. Along with the paid work, I’ve been writing for myself again.
One of the things I’ve been working on for myself is a random collection of my experiences here in Russia. I have no particular plans for any of this aside from my own personal satisfaction, so I thought I’d toss it up on here. Might as well be seen by more than one person — if any of you have made it beyond this outrageously long introduction. (Below the jump!)
As I took down another frozen casualty of the vicious winter wind on my balcony, I lamented yet again about my lack of a dryer.
I’ve lived in Russia for three years, moved to four different apartments in and around Moscow, and not one had a dryer. Nor have the apartments of my friends or my students. We’ve all had washing machines: terrible, groaning machines that sound like they might just drop through the floor to land in an identical soviet-style apartment. Beastly washing machines, but never dryers.
In the fall and winter your clothes freeze unless you’ve got enough room in your tiny room to artfully drape your clothes on every surface. In the spring they stay wet for weeks, never seeing sunlight. In the summer, the dust and pollen immediately renders them dirty again. That is to say, Moscow is not a city where clothes dry gracefully. There is no light, fresh breeze to caress your shirts. The water turns crisp white button-downs into grays after one wash. Pants and sweaters flap sadly in the polluted air and smell of sewers and cigarette smoke once they’re dry.
Moscow is the perfect place to have a dryer. So why doesn’t anyone have one?
My subject, I decided, would be with the mother or father of my private student. Wealthy and well-traveled, it stood to reason that these people – out of everyone I knew in Russia – would have a dryer. My dubious logic went like this: they had a personal driver who carried a handgun. Within minutes of my first ride with him, he whipped the gun out of the glove compartment with a flourish; apparently, this was supposed to be some testament to his trustworthiness. If this family’s unimaginable wealth and status required an armed driver, surely they they were enlightened enough to purchase a dryer.
Semi-content in this logic, I made small talk with the straight-out-of-Hollywood driver as we headed to the luxury apartment. I dared not ask him about the dryer dilemma, afraid of the gun nestled amid maps of Moscow. Who knows what the mention of a dryer might provoke this hulking man into doing?
When I had finally made it inside, I was dismayed to find that neither mother nor father were home due to an impromptu trip to Italy. However the student’s babushka was there to greet me with a mistrustful stare.
“Do you speak English?” She stared at me, either not understanding or choosing to ignore me. I tried again. “Govorite…?”
“Da, da. English.” She waved her hand impatiently, clearly having none of my accented Russia.
Excellent! Most of the over-seventy set prided themselves on never learning English. Most of them remain absolutely distrustful of foreigners, particularly young American girls who speak passable Russian and have Russian boyfriends. Most are convinced I’m a spy, weaseling state secrets out of my low-level IT manager boyfriend through a series of depraved Western sex acts. I wish my life were so interesting; instead, I’m hell-bent on a personal mission to uncover the secrets of a machine that dries clothing.
“OK, do you have a dryer?”
“What?” Her aged face wrinkled further.
“Sushilny aparat yest?”
The mistrust deepened. “No, no. Bad!”
“But why not?” I asked, shocking even myself with the plaintive note in my voice. My mother was right, I thought. I never should have moved abroad. This is what living in the former USSR drives you to – having psychological meltdowns over dryers.
The grandmother watched me emotionlessly, apparently unmoved by plight. After a moment, she sighed and rolled her eyes, answering in half-Russian, half-English. “Be logical, American! We Russians don’t have such things because, how you say – ?” The 70-year-old shakily mimes cutting her throat. “Ubivat tebya!”
I light up, understanding this phrase. “Oh right! It’ll, it’ll…” I paused, processing what she’s just said. “It’ll kill you,” I finished flatly. “Right. Of course.”
The greatest indignity of all this didn’t come until sometime a few months ago.
Having tossed my laundry into the washing machine, I settled in with a cup of coffee. About fifteen minutes in, I heard a sound that I’d never heard it make before. Racing to the possessed beast, I turned it off, letting it wind itself down. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t seen sparks in the interior of the washing machine.
Afraid to let it continue with those awful sounds, I took out the wet clothes to wash by hand. Noticing something odd, I removed two of my shirts from the pile. There were huge, scorched holes burned across both. This Russian washing machine had lit my wet clothes on fire.
Well shit. The Russians were probably right all along.