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no gold (things will have to wait)

There is an old Russian expression for the inevitable moment when your neighbors begin renovating. "Searching for gold in the walls." They say, to describe the epic sounds of drills in ancient concrete. You might appreciate this odd humor, this dark joke, this survival tactic. I am not so graceful a man to wrap my thoughts around it. Those drills and grinders, they shake the very walls of our apartment. Early on Sunday mornings and often long into the evenings they go.

This has been going on for the last four months, maybe more. I stopped counting.

I cannot imagine there are any walls left, that there is an entire open floor below us, the wind whipping through the naked beams and nothing else. That is the only explanation. Or that they break down walls, build new ones, find a flaw, some grand mistake and then break all of the walls down again. Not swiftly with sledgehammers, but with one crappy old drill with a dull bit, mashing away, so that children hundreds of miles away…

old school


Even here, the sad undertow of modernization takes its toll. There are a fleet of shiny blue busses on our route now. They replaced a series of random ones, covered in mud, lurching and shaking, held together with duct tape and lumpy welds, floors slick with spilled soda and beer. The old drivers were like the seven dwarves, one always laughing and smiling, one fiercely angry, one tired with red bags under his eyes, one fat, one skinny. And then, one day they were replaced. The new busses were driven by faceless men behind a glass, taking no money making no jokes just a yellow box to swipe your transit card against and recorded announcements for each stop. 

On the return trip home, we stand in a messy parking lot where different busses slam their brakes letting people off, drivers grabbing cigarettes and plastic cups of hot tea, gunning their engines and roaring off towards the river or the forest or the White House. Many of their routes pass close enough to us, so we have a habit of taking the one that is ready to leave instead of waiting for the shiny blue ones. We need to call out our stop to them in a loud voice or they will just keep driving. 

394 is ours today. The bus is an old Soviet design  - all giant bubble windows, seats on strange pedestals but plenty of room. The ceiling does not hover inches above our heads, but feels more like a miniature cathedral. No one squeezes past me as they make their way down the aisle on this ride. The drivers are all short, hairy little men that must own a single, dull razor they use randomly every few weeks. His hands are filthy as I hand the exact change to him.

The bus is half-full and he turns the ignition. A spark emerges, then a strange sound and the lights go off. A man who drives another one of the same busses leaps from the sidewalk, yanking the folding door open and pushing the bus. The driver throws the transmission into gear by force, and the bus rolls slowly, quietly. The man pushing us is wheezing, singing some strange song, repeating some curious poem. I nudge E's elbow and we smile at each other. We have a front row seat at the circus, for 30 rubles a piece. 

People are running down the sidewalk, shoving past the man that is still pushing us, getting onto the bus while it is in motion, not apologizing or saying thank you, just trampling him. The motor does not start and we are rolling slowly into traffic. The driver yanks the emergency brake on. He climbs back towards us, and pulls a floorboard up. I see what I think is the battery there, mid-way back in the giant machine, exposed to the road, no cover. How many times did we sit there, with our feet resting on it? He shakes some clips, and there is a little spark. We smell ozone now.

He nods at the passenger sitting next to the driver's seat and tells him to turn the ignition. The man leans out and does this without hesitating. The lights flick on. People are still shoving their way onto the bus. One steps on the driver's hands. He says nothing, swinging back to his seat and the engine does turn over now, all lusty diesel and smoke. We roll off towards the river as he makes change for the people standing in the aisle. 













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