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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

lost in the supermarket (the lazy anarchist)

Auchan. For years I had no idea it was a French company, impossible to imagine this mashup of Costco and Walmart that dots the outskirts of Moscow is a foreign project. Some Auchan stores are so big the workers wear rollerskates to get price checks.  

Saturday afternoon is the only window of opportunity for us and we are two of the ants swarming around the handfuls of shopping carts as they ferry in, dripping wet from the parking lot. I wait my turn, watching some new chain get unlocked as each person pulls one from the fresh line that has arrived. I am next. The chain will not swing open. I yank harder and N stops me. I need a ten ruble coin to slide inside it. I go into an immediate fury, as I just used up my ten ruble coins in the last store and would have saved them. She digs into her purse. The line behind us bristles with grumbling, urgent faces. She finds one and shows me how to put it in the cart handle. 
"And how do we get it back?" I ask her.
"When you leave the checkout." She explains.
"So then we have to carry the bags all of the way to the car." I say in a loud voice.
"You can keep them in the cart and not get the money back." She tells me. "Or, we can roll them to the car and then you can bring the empty cart all of the way back here and get it."
I could care less about the ten rubles, although it reminds me of paying two rubles to use a bathroom. It is more the principle of inconvenience, the petty gesture, the scrambling for pennies that disturbs me, the assumption that everyone wants to steal one of these wobbly, lopsided carts.

N disappears with her list, filling the cart with detergent and soap, with glass cleaner and steel wool. I wander into the store, the glazed faces swarming around me. The air is always desperate here. Fresh corn cannot be placed in bags. It is shoved instead, arms thwacking against each other while people fight as if everything is about to run out and they will get the last succulent piece. There are couples, one pushing dutifully, the second doing all of the decision making. There are single women, with mousy hair and faces lowered, with just a basket swinging from their elbow. They are shopping for small bargains. There is a smell of spoiled fish wafting down the narrow aisles as I make my way towards the wine shelves. People stand in front of the bargain bottles, reading the fine print on labels with mock-serious faces. There are boxes of rosé. There are rows of Russian champagne, which is truly some sort of sugary malt liquor with artificial fruit flavors in it. Champale, like we used to buy in high school for three dollars. Knowing the place is owned by the French now, the irony digs in as faces whip past me. I stare at the middle-priced bottles, wondering if they are all fake. They come from vineyards that could easily be made up, from grape juice and rubbing alcohol and few would be the wiser. I decide to risk it on a tempranillo and wander the aisles trying to find N. There is no cel phone service here, so I cannot call her.

I pass a shelf of pickled herring and see an abandoned soda cup from McDonalds. A laugh jumps out of my mouth. I imagine the irate person who left it there, the super-market anarchist. Or, they are just profoundly lazy.


Elizabeth said…
Aldi's in the US is the same way with the carts. A quarter to free it from the rest. They do it to cut down on paying people to collect the carts from the parking lot.

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