MiR 070 – My Life in Russia – Episode 2

You’re listening to the Mark in Russia broadcast Episode # 070 and I’m Mark

Welcome back to my series of stories about my life in Russia. It’s a new series and I would greatly appreciate it if you left a comment on my website. The website is at: www.markinrussia.com

I ask for comments because I have no idea without these, how my listeners like the series.

If you listened to episode #1, you’d know that I arrived in Russia 11 years ago, and as an American, things at first seemed very different to me. In this series I’ll try to explore what some of those differences were.

Last episode I spoke about the Russian Podyest, or “entryway” which is common in most Russian apartment buildings and today I’m going to build a bit on top of the last episode. But you say, “hey Mark, maybe that’s enough about the Russian podyest already?” To which I say, “no way Jose, this subject is full and ripe for ridicule. For my Russia listeners, don’t worry, this series will not be to just mock things here; not at all, but if a Russian person can think of something good to say about the podyest in its defense, then please do so in the comments, but please don’t tell me something like, “without an entryway, you wouldn’t be able to get to your apartment.” To this I could say that a ladder would work, so would a large balloon or for that matter being shot out of a cannon, but instead we have the Podyest, and no redeeming features about it.

I mentioned in episode 1 that we had a smaller apartment in a five-story building about 4 years ago. Five story buildings don’t have elevators. I quite clearly remember the 1st time that we came to look at our present apartment. Our apartment is in a 9-story building, and like all 9-story buildings, it has an elevator.

I’m going to take you on a bit of an audio tour of the podyest, let you get the feel of things.

OK, most of the entry doors are steel, with sort of an electronic key that is used to get in. There is also an intercom of sorts where you can press a button and the person who lives there can then buzz you in. OK, sounds similar to what we have in apartments in the West, now let me describe a few twists. In the Russian version of this security system each resident must pay an initial fee of about $20 for the installation of a phone type thing that is in your apartment and connected to the door. Additionally, you pay about $1 a month as part of your association fee for this service. There are some people who decide that they don’t want to pay this money, and therefore don’t have this phone installed. In my opinion, sometimes perhaps the person has little money and can’t pay this, but I think in most cases this is due to the fact that they are just plain cheap, and there are a whole bucket load of folks here who fall into that category. The twist to this is that when these cheapskates are expecting someone for a visit, either they just leave something jammed into the door to prevent it from closing (bad for the door and even worse for security), the other option, and a very annoying one is that the person who comes to visit a cheapskate, will just proceed to randomly press buttons until someone lets them in. This forces most people to unplug their intercom system and only plug it in when they know that someone is coming.

Hell, I’m not even through the door yet and the podcast minutes are burning up, I’ll speed it up a bit.

As I pass through the door, the first thing I notice is that I’m blind. I mean, at least during the daytime when you enter, the entryway is quite poorly lit and it is hard to see anything. You are now in a short corridor about 20 feet (6 meters) long. This corridor is rough as all hell, with low hanging pipes overhead with the feel of a dangerous underground chase scene in an action movie. In the colder months, here you might find a group of young hoodlums drinking, smoking and spitting on the floor. Well, we made it past the hoodlums, now we start up a couple of landings to get to the elevator. Along the way we can see the mailboxes. When I first came to this podyest, several of them had the metal covers partially ripped off and others were stained with soot stains from where someone tried to burn them. Probably the hoodlums, but maybe just a crazy neighbor, of which there are plenty to choose from.

Now we come to the elevator. These elevators are really small and very rickety, although they do the trick. They can fit maybe two adults and two children squeezed in and if you aren’t quick enough, others will also try to squeeze in. The first thing you notice, probably because your face is almost pressed to the wall, is the condition of the buttons. There is nothing fancy here and almost without fail, no numbers appear next to the buttons, so you just count the buttons starting at the bottom. Something else that catches your eye is that a couple of the buttons have actually been burned nearly off. These will never be replaced, so if you live on that floor, just get used to slipping your finger into the hole where the button was and hoping that you don’t hit a live wire. Now the elevator shutters upward with a jerk. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a very large monkey up top with a really big crank and a rope. Regardless, the elevator, despite its scary appearance, seems to work. Of course there are times when the elevator isn’t working and you need to just use the stairs. You never know what you might find on your way up. It might be a couple of kids sitting on the stairs chewing sunflower seeds and spitting out the hulls, wherever they might land and of course just leaving them there. In some later episode I’ll talk more about the sunflower seed habit here.

It might be someone in their bathrobe and slippers chain smoking cigarettes, because their mate doesn’t allow smoking in the apartment. By the way, the cigarette butts will usually just be ground out and left on the floor of the podyest when they are finished.

Occasionally, you hit the jackpot; a drunk man passed out on the floor and you have to step over him. Yeah, it’s a real hoot, explain that one to your kids.

To add to the elegance and mood of the podyest, passing from the ground floor all the way to the top floor is a large diameter (about 18” or 40 cm) pipe standing on end. This is the garbage chute. Every other floor landing has a hatch which opens into this chute. The odor, while typically not overpowering, is still present. As an added holiday bonus, during the winter holiday, the people who usually empty this chute are drinking and celebrating. This means that after about 4 days you share your entryway with a 9-story large diameter pipe full of fermenting garbage. During this time it doesn’t smell, it absolutely reeks like a landfill.

I’m happy that we live on the 4th floor of our building, which is high enough to be separated from the street noises, but also allows us to not have the other 5 stories of podyest to find surprises in.

OK, let’s take a short joke break and I’ll meet you on the other side.

Just a quick comment regarding jokes; remember, I’m broadcasting from the great bear, Russia and political correctness has not yet caught on here yet. I think that a joke can be told which pokes fun at some national stereotype without offending anyone. Besides, typically the people offended are offended by everything. I love humor and hate political correctness.

OK, now let’s get to it:

Two Canadian guys, Mike and Rob were on the roof, laying tile, when a sudden gust of wind came and knocked down their ladder.

“I have an idea,” said Mike. “We’ll throw you down, and then you can pick up the ladder.”

“What, do you think I’m stupid? I have an idea. I’ll shine my flashlight, and you can climb down on the beam of light.”

“What, do you think I’m stupid? You’ll just turn off the flashlight when I’m halfway there.”

Father Murphy goes into a local bar in Dublin and approaches the first man he sees. “Do you want to go to Heaven?” he asks and the man says, “Indeed I do, Father.” “Then for God’s sake,” commands the priest, “leave this pub right now.”

He then goes to the next man, “Do you want to go to Heaven, my son?” And the man answers, “Yes Father, indeed I want to do that very thing.” “Then ye must get out of this pub right now!” orders the priest.

Father Murphy continues this throughout the pub until he comes to the last man. “Do you want to go to Heaven, man?!” exhorts the priest. The man looks at his half-full beer, turns, looks at Father Murphy and says, “No, I don’t,Father.” “You mean to tell me, young man, that when you die, you don’t want to go to Heaven?” asks the priest incredulously. “Oh, well, when I die, yes Father, I certainly do. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!”

Welcome back.

I’m going to wind down my Russian Podyest story at this time. There may be more I could tell, but now it’s like beating a dead horse.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode and I hope that you’ll wait for my next one. Remember the check out my website; www.markinrussia.com where you can listen to all of my episodes, or you can just subscribe to the podcast using any of the 4 methods at the top of each page and have the new episodes delivered directly to you.

OK, I hope to see you soon, but until that time, GoodBye!

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