How Russia and Mike Had a Falling Out
Late-summer New Orleans birdsong is a beautiful thing, unless I’m not in the mood for their cheeping. At the time of this recording, I wished to destroy all birds.
Birdsong in the Bywater
I awake, tired and worm-like. Today is different because my exceptionally tiny house is full of extra humans, imported from Russia. In my last week in New Orleans, I thought I would go ahead and share the hell out of the city with whomever contacted me via couchsurfing.com. Like every normal couch-surfing host, I normally ignore all the requests that come my way unless they somehow benefit me directly. Also like most people, I try to avoid hosting men, either individually, or that come roaming through the city in packs. This is because generally, I find that men have a tendency to be loathsome creatures: they are louder, emit numerous stink-rays, and are more vocally concerned with achieving high-levels of drunkenness. They are not ideal guests.
Russia Calls, Mike Answers
A young woman from Russia contacted me requesting that she and her two travel companions stay with me for 3 days. My house is approximately the size of a Buick, or maybe two. I explained to them that, yes, they could stay, but they should have experience living in a coffin before they come by. I let them know of the arrangement: two of them could share the bed, one could sleep on an air mattress and I would sleep curled up and shivering on a bathmat in the corner next to a garbage can. They accepted my offer.
They arrived and seemed harmless to me with no indicators that they might be Russian spies. I saw no wires, nor did I detect any suspiciously false mustaches or wigs. My friend works for the NSA and had recently sent me an official NSA coffee mug. I assume it had a GPS, microphone, and camera in case they tried anything funny. I like to think I’m a pretty masterful judge of character, and they seemed innocuous enough. Still, I could not afford to let down my guard entirely. They were three in number, but I will protect their identities for political reasons. I do not wish to be caught up in an international conflict. I have assembled profiles for them. (Names changed for my own protection, of course.)
- Resides in: Hawaii, temporarily, but living in Moscow (highly suspicious)
- English: Fluent
- Drives: Drunk, if she feels like it
- Other: Kind of the ring-leader. Younger and with a demeanor that was a strange, Soviet-brand of bubbly.
- Resides in: Moscow
- English: Moderate
- Drives: Helicopters, for a living, apparently.
- Other: Taller, much more reserved.
- Resides in: Moscow
- English: Not at all (Lying, of course)
- Drives: Not at all
- Other: Much shorter, very quiet, had a Totoro phone case.
So Natalie was the one who contacted me, and the only one who really spoke much. The three of them sat about for probably 15 minutes feeling generally uncomfortable around my terribly awkward American-dad-jokester jestering. They left to go explore the city, or at least the French Quarter. I didn’t really see them much on their first two days, because I was kinda busy, and also they were likely not keen on inviting me as they set about the task of tapping every phone in America, or whatever.
The thing about Russians is, I really don’t know much about them that hasn’t come from playing Street Fighter Two. When we had some time to get breakfast, I did not hesitate into launching into a series of cultural and political questions. Natalie responded.
Mike Puts the Screws to the Russians
Q: Are we enemies?
A: No! In ze villages, many people do not like ze US, but I sink it iz okay. (They all really did seem kind of lukewarm on the good old USA)
Q: Do you like Putin?
A: I do not like him, because he only wants to help people zat are on his team, but he is very strong.
Q: Do you like Trump?
A: I sink we get only some information about Trump, but he is a good businessman, yes I like him.
After my investigation was complete and we both concluded we were not sworn enemies, and I lowered my guard somewhat. Over breakfast, Natalie asked me if I could help her with a speeding ticket she got in California. She showed it to me. It was for doing 100 in a 70 MPH zone. Impressive stuff.
Before they headed off to visit the swamp, I suggested a bunch of good places to eat in New Orleans, but every time they came back from an adventure and I asked where they ate they said:
“Whole Foods!” chirpily. They were nuts about Whole Foods. As near as I could tell, they subsisted on whole chickens and chocolate.
Generally, hosting three humans in my tiny house was more than I bargained for. The first night, they came stumbling back from the French Quarter (maybe 3:00 AM) and I was asleep on the rug I had folded in half as a mattress. I briefly stirred, heard some vigorous Russian dialogue and went back to bed, stiff and sore.
When I woke up at 5:00 AM, I saw that two of them were asleep on the air mattress, and the bed was empty. Peggy was AWOL, and although it seemed strange, I assumed she must have gone back out to the Quarter to drink more terrible drinks and consort with more drunken fools. When she still wasn’t back at 6:30 I was a bit worried, but I shuffled off to the cafe to do some writing. When I came back, all three of them were getting dressed, and clearly the bed had not been slept in. When I asked, they explained that Peggy had slept in the car. Was this a Russian custom? I tried to find out what they were talking about, but they were evasive. Oh Russia. Either they got into a Russian-sized fight last night or THEY WEREN’T TELLING ME SOMETHING BECAUSE AMERICA.
Mike Shows Local Flavor To Disinterested Russians
On their last night, I told them I’d take them out to a local bar. I chose a neighborhood bar called Markey’s, and on a Wednesday night, it was about as dead as it could be. There were just three guys to my left at the bar, and their conversation was just swapping quotes from the monorail episode of the Simpsons. Not good for our image, guys. Limit your quotes to “The Lemon of Troy” episode, please.
The Russians arrived, and Natalie was pretty intoxicated and began to praise New Orleans. She said the loved it, and she wanted to stay. Her friends seemed kinda tired, and much less drunk. They all seemed underwhelmed with the local dive, and two of them wanted to go to bed, while the Natalie the Conquerer insisted we all go back to the French Quarter. Her friends seemed resigned to letting her do whatever the hell she wanted, and on the grounds that it could be fun to go the Quarter one last time before I moved away from town, (and with a bunch of weird Russians, no less) I agreed.
I had probably been on Frenchmen street for 2 minutes when I realized I had reached my limit. Natalie zoomed from bar-to-bar and place like a spinning top: quickly, without detectable pattern or reason, and unable to sit still. Peggy and Valerie finally announced bravely to Natalie that they were hungry, and I suggested a bar right across the street. The Wild Russian agreed, but when it was discovered that the food would take TWENTY MINUTES to arrive, she laughed at the ridiculous notion of sitting still for that long. Seeing that I had a great opportunity to sit still and alone for twenty minutes, I insisted that they should all go dance or whatever. I would wait for the food and alert them when it came. Natalie immediately rose and headed for the door, and the other two seemed aware that this situation was strange. They looked at me, inquiringly.
“Trust me, it’s completely fine.” I said, waving them off. “I’ll text you when the food shows up.”
Hesitantly, they left.
I sat quietly. I watched the wall.
The waitress came by and filled me water. I offered a brief summary of what my life had turned into.
“Yeah, one of them seems like maybe she’s a Russian Princess, huh?” She said.
The Return of Russia
Peggy and Valerie returned with no Natalie, which did not surprise me. I imagined she was dancing atop a police horse or something.
They explained that their companion had gone to Bourbon Street. The dark heart of New Orleans had captured her.
“She’s a really good girl.” They insisted. “But sometimes she must go go go.” They seemed weary, but we all had a good laugh at how nutty she was, and we ate our tater tots quietly together. Russia and America, bonding finally. Over tots.
We concluded that we were going to go home and Party Demon could come or not. I texted the dancing one, and she had already made her way nearly to Canal Street, ground zero for mind-death. I told her of our plan to head home and she texted this:
So we loaded into their rental car, and arrived at the hotel. Her counterparts were eager to hit the streets and find their friend, but fortunately, she came wheeling around a corner, so a search party was never require. Nor a jazz funeral. She fell into the car, telling tales of how she was talking to some man and his girlfriend got mad. She seemed pleased. We found home, found bed, and found sleep, however brief.
After 4 hours, I woke to the sunrise and unsurprisingly, my small room felt like heavy breathing and perfumes and drinks. The Russians rose like sleeping lions, seemingly unaffected and without need for a recharge and began packing to head off to Austin. Austin City Limits was their goal, they said. But before they left, I had one request.
I had some Polish guests a few weeks ago, and as I’m a person who enjoys a amusing sound or soundbite, I thought it would be fun to record them saying a meaningless phrase in Polish. I settled on “The King was old and sick so he died.”, and my polish guests cackled and laughed as they tried to say this phrase for some weird American to record. I thought the Russians would also enjoy this inane activity.
With no further thought I wrote down a COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS phrase that I wanted to have them say in Russian. It was:
“The King was a small goat, and the people did not respect him.”
As it turns out, this was a really bad idea. I discovered that these Russians were not super keen on saying weird phrases about an unrespected king into a nice microphone in America. They complied, but instead of it being a fun, goofy thing to laugh over, they gave me a lot of skeptical looks and launched into a series of questions as to why I wanted them to say this. It probably appeared to them that I was an American propagandist making fun of them, and they were not happy.
Again, the snippet:
“The King was a small goat and the people did not respect him.”
She is saying the sentence: “The King was a small goat, and the people did not respect him.”
It was not a good fit.
“We have not a king in Russia.” Said Valerie.
In my tired, sleep-deprived state, I could not quickly think of another phrase. ANYTHING would have been better.
“A Pizza sat thinking about the moon.”, for example, would have been great.
They continued to ask me questions about why I wanted them to say this, until eventually I just gave up, backtracking and apologizing after the audio cuts out. Maybe it is my imagination, but upon re-listening, it sounds like she suggests an alternative meaning with just a hint of Siberian arm-twisting: (at 1:10)
“Maybe it is about England, hmm?”
The energy was weird and tense after that, and as they packed, they didn’t really say much to me. However, I think eventually they realized that there was no way the United States government would ever employ me to do anything, and they reached a more lukewarm feeling about me. I hugged them and said they were welcome any time. They responded in kind.
Ironically, that’s where we left things. They, suspecting that I might have been politically taking jabs at them, and me, 100% certain that I had just hosted three CLASSIC Russian spies, trying to get a hold of my sweet NSA mug. I’ll never let them take you.