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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

this must go


Every week, the city transforms. An old bus stop with thick cracked glass and a tiny metal garbage can that was always on fire is suddenly gone. A gleaming, modern structure is there now. A route map, laser cut brushed steel, a bench that is not lopsided. The old supermarkets are torn down, and shiny new ones replace them in less than a month. In the metro there are new cars that do not rattle, no torn vinyl seats giving up their ancient stuffing.

It is all sheen. A facade.

The chicken sold on styrofoam trays is still old, past its sell-date, sitting in those cases. The same milk, made from powder that claims it is fresh. The parmesan (spelled carefully that way) is palm oil and wood pulp. The bus stop is new, but the trolley bus is ancient  - two great limbs connecting it to the wires that run above everything here. The driver has to get out and reconnect them when they jump away, in the snow, in the rain, in the dark while everyone waits inside.

Shacks and one-car garages that slumped against walls and trees somehow standing for decades are disappearing. Every week, a bare spot of dirt where one stood. They were no danger, and no one complained about them. They were just old. But the city is in the middle of a campaign of bulldozers and papers that say "this must go".


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