Thursday, February 09, 2006

Barbed Wire Fences Make Good Neighbors

The thing about being in fantastic locales is that somebody's always got a better story than you. The locals all have crazy tales and the foreigners tend to be the more adventurous sort, and while this can throw off your barometer for a good yarn, you simply have to admire when somebody can begin a story by saying, "Well, it's kind of a complicated and dodgy tale as to how I got there, but okay, suffice to say that for a number of reasons I happened to find myself in a small polyclinic in the outer regions of Afghanistan..."

I can never compete. There was the time when I stupidly complained about DC Police to a Turkmen girl, for example. And whenever I complain about not having hot water, a Peace Corps volunteer is always on-hand to give me tips on the finer points of ice-bathing for two months. Just today, I was whining to my Georgian teacher about the noisy neighbor kids, and she sledgehammered my complaint by pulling the Stalin card.

I guess when you live in the same apartment building as the grandson of a genocidal despot, you win the annoying-neighbor contest. She hadn't known he lived there, until she was waiting for the elevator one day and she saw Stalin walking towards her. He looks exactly like Stalin, she told me. He is a second Stalin. For effect, surely, he was for some reason wearing knee-high military boots and dress uniform. She turned pale and started shaking as he neared her. He put out his hands in a calming gesture and said: "Don't worry! I'm just his grandson."

This was years ago, and he no longer lives in the same building. Which is all well and good because Inga was just appointed head of their building association, and I don't envy whoever has to make second Stalin cough up the condo fees.


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