Marty Leipzig, Back Yet Again

Hello, campers!

Yep. Your humble scribe and itinerant lucre-chasing, land raping, small mammal tormenting, booze hunting, beer swilling, cigar chomping, long ranging, global oilman has for you yet another installment of "Tales of the Indigent Rich", a.k.a., "As the Rotary Table Turns".

This missive is being drafted while currently winging my way west, aboard Roy, Al & Dutch's finest stretch 747-400. Of course, it's packed to the rafters with others of similar ilk (all headed back to the supposed "civilized world" of Houston, Dallas and OK City after some 28-day long adventures in that upholstered toilet known as Western Siberia); so it's raucous as hell and nearly as aromatic ("Why, yes, thank you. I would like another gin and bitter lemon".).

Anyways.

This hitch overseas was much like any other: colder'nhell, far too much work and not nearly enough time off. Actually, the latter is quite welcome; as in your 'copious' free time, there's exactly nothing to do but sleep, go for a subzero excursion (even in May), have a drink or two (or three or four...), watch the sun not go down (courtesy of White Nights), or sit and watch yet another movie you've seen only a dozen or so times.

So it goes...

I've probably read every Tom Clancy novel twice in my 6 months over here and am still plodding my way through James Joyce's "Ulysses" once again to try and unravel this literary Gordian knot. But, you can only read just so much before the eyes, after a day of reading Russian and scrutinizing Cyrillic, complain and threaten to detonate.

All in all, your usual stint in the Belly of the Great Beast of the East. I was, naturally enough, relatively sick of this whole adventure in it's 28+ day interval, when buddy Bob (the jarhead lawyer) calls and tells me that he has a whole batch of frequent flyer miles that he must use up before the end of the present fiscal quarter. "How about I meet you in Moscow and we can spend a few days painting the town red"?, asks Bob, not really knowing of the awful pun he created. "Sure. Why not? I presumed that I could tolerate another few days of caviar and vodka.", I reply.

In fact, Moscow is like London compared to Novyy Urengoy (my Siberian hovel away from home: "Squalor East"), out in eastern West Siberia. London of the late 1800's, but cosmopolitan, nonetheless.

So, I wrap up this hitch and bid a dry-eyed farewell, albeit temporarily, to my home for half the year and look forward to another in a series of quiet, comfortable and on-time flights aboard Russia's national airlines.. Unfortunately, this is not to be the case; as it's a usual flight on Aeroflot, replete with it's Torquemada-designed seats, herds of great unwashed and the faint, though lingering, aroma of kerosene and cucumbers. Alas, in only 4.5 hours, this joyful, noiseful trip ends and I am deposited, rather unceremoniously, at Domodedevo airport. Not terribly unlike Milliway's at the end of the Universe, but vying for a close second in the overall funky catagory.

With a few days to kill before departing to Schiphol, a few million rubles to dispose of and a near death-dealing hangover, I hail one of Moscow's 3.75 million or so freelance, gypsy taxicabs. After finding one where the driver spoke something that may have at one time shared roots with English, but over the span of geolinguistic time had strayed away from main branch like tillers and rhizomes from crabgrass in June, we settle on a mutually acceptable extortion, ah...err...cab fare, and embark upon a leisurely 150 kph careen through Moscow; which can be particularly beautiful in the spring, though rather vague, when seen through the smeared windscreen of a manic cab.

Those predisposed to belief in the supernatural and other such make-believe might suggest that angels and ministers of grace preserved us. I prefer to think that fate simply couldn't keep up and, since I had left no forwarding address, had simply shrugged it's empyrean shoulders and had given up until a later date.

Much later, hopefully.

I de-cabbed at the Mezhdunarodnoe ("The Mez", for those in the know) and proceeded to check in, scattering megarubles around like leaves before a sudden autumn zephyr; to the grateful bellhops, concierges, and porters much in the manner of the Ugly American which was I. A liberal greasing of palms and thinning of bulky wallet later found me in a rather cozy, yet whimsically dilapidated, albeit modestly comfortable in a sort of pre-war sort of anti-opulence, room replete with an absolutely ancient monitor-top refrigerator, a bichromatic color TV (boasting both black AND white), a "Fail Safe" model table phone and a small, what can only be described as, for it's inclusion of itchy woolen blankets and corduroy pillows ("They're making headlines everywhere!"), bed where insectoid evolution was taking punctuated equilibrium places where Steven J. had not yet imagined.

After a brief rest and a bit of freshening up, I decided to cruise the Arbat, sip a few at the Irish Pub and see just what was going on in this part of town (some mere kilometers from Red Square). Since Bob wouldn't arrive for another day or so, I had some well deserved free time with no particular place to go and no one to look after. Figuring that one cannot be lost if they don't care where the hell they are, I boarded the local Metro train headed for, what I thought read (in my strangled Cyrillic), as "Downtown".

Wrong again.

It only took me an hour and a half, riding past the silver maples, birch forests, and dachas of outer Moscow to realize that I really took a wrong turn and should probably be heading in a more southerly direction (the fact that we passed Domodedevo airport again was a great clue that I was indeed going the wrong way). Detraining, and going over to the other landing, I learned that there was only one train back to Moscow, a local, and the trip should only take about 3 or 4 hours. Thank the precession of the equinoxes that this far north is visited this time of year by White Nights (see above), for I had failed to bring with a flashlight.

After a dozen or so stops in tank towns (with equally tanked residents), I had the feeling, a la Dorothy, that, yes, Toto, we weren't in Kansas any more. In fact, we were approaching the outskirts of Moscow. By this time, with the aid of a half-liter of Starka, I had struck up a conversation with another denizen of the train, one whose English was near as good as my Russian.

Ahem...

That aside, we were still able to communicate well enough for me to ascertain that his name was Yuri (Timely travel tip: If you're ever traveling in any of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries and meet any male whose name you don't know, address him as "Yuri", "Sergei" or "Vladimir". 95 times out of 100, you'll be correct. Just another service provided free with your subscription to HolySmoke: The only conference certified as an Equal Opportunity Religious-Bashing echo: "'We're not prejudiced, we despise all religions equally'"), who just so happened to be carefully reading his Cyrillic Bible (ah, yes, folks. The plot begins to thicken...).

Here was a hitherto unknown type of fundy, affable in a daffy sort of oblivious way. He was delighting in telling me of the great revival that was being held no more than a mere 10 clicks away from our current locale (which happened to be a rail siding, watching a speeding Russian freight train slalom along at 90 kph not 50 centimeters outside our window), and the famous Western preacher who was orchestrating the whole event.

With Bob still somewhere safely schnozzled over the North Atlantic, I thought "What a better way of killing a few hours?". A simply extraordinary opportunity to see the nauseatingly sentimental in action again and perhaps hone a few skills which had languished in the absence of HolySmoke.

"Lead on, McDuff!", I stated to the understandably puzzled Yuri, "Time is of the essence, we must make haste. Pieccelah! ("Let's go!")... Say, is there a vodka kiosk on the way there by any chance?".

Off on another adventure we go. I was a bit concerned about this trip as Sali was busy with family and University at this time, I was really getting bored with overlanding it to Ararat. I've got more than enough Turkish delights in the form of trinkets, baubles and pieces of the "One, True Ark", and I am going on a white-water rafting trip in Eastern Siberia in June, so I was worried that I'd not have anything to report upon my return.

Providence, once again, provides the plot of this peril-filled peccadillo.

(Aargh...I always abhor alliteration...Anyways...)

Yuri and I detrain some 10 km hence, at a wholly unpronounceable station (something very much like "Arglebargleworglemush", or the phonetic equivalent), and delight in both the passing Bible-toting throngs and the ready availability of highish-proof distilled products. I had the high sense of great adventure, and hopefully, not just a few laughs.

Interesting climatic note: I was wondering why it seemed to be getting dark at the very unusual, at least for May at this latitude, time of 18:00. As we approached the tent site, the sky, which was as blue as a baby's veins and unbroken as a fake genealogy, unexpectedly began to fill with clouds which simulated the epidermis of a very abused and very old banana. Yuri confided to me, "Not to worry, tovarisch. It rains sometimes, but not today. God would not allow!".

I was not reassured.

In fact, it did seem that someone had indeed pushed the "pause" button on the great VCR in the sky. In other words, it didn't clear up, but it didn't get any more ominous.

We came to a clearing in the birch and silver maple forest, and there it was. A garish, motley, red-and-white striped, all-together too appropriate, circus tent. There were coarse-hewn wooden benches for the true believers to sit upon and contemplate if Hell could be any worse than the arseful of slivers they were now receiving. There was some sort of musical ensemble (actually, "resemble" would be a more descriptive term, as they tunelessly tuned-up) center "stage" ("center-tent" sounds just a bit too weird...). Busily, various minions and ilk were scurrying around through the underbrush like a bunch of squirrels caught short before an unexpected autumn blizzard. One was talking to some locals (I noticed his not-too-terribly well hidden tape recorder), another was barking at some understrappers about the lights ("Hey pal!", I shouted. "Get a grip!" Evidently, movie humor was beyond this crowd.), and yet more were bustling-in the slavering throngs up to where the altar stood, replete with a 2 meter tall photo-garish of tonight's main attraction.

Odd.

For all the shiny-haired fundies schmoozing for dough on all the miscellaneous and oddball cable channels (of which I see entirely too many, thanks to jet lag), I couldn't place this yahoo. He was sort of a cross between Jimmy Swaggart (tall), Jim Bakker (smudgy), Pat Robertson (idiotic) and a capybara or perhaps a tree sloth; you know the type: something of the shiny/sloppy/sleazy genre.

The main event was slated for 19:30, after a few rounds of hat- passing, and more musical mystification orchestrated by the people currently on stage who appeared not so much to be playing, but rather strangling, their instruments. There were those already preparing to swoon in the trampled-grass aisles; there were affirmations and acclamations, interjections and exaltations, ululations and mastications (due to the nearby blini stand...). Counting me, there was at least one exasperation.

Just amazed at this display of collective lunacy I was now witnessing, and desiring to locate an escape route before the boxes of bushmasters and Dixie cups of strychnine showed up; I chose what I thought to be a selective out-of-the-way venue, pulled up a comfortable rock and proceeded to fire up one of my, by now standard-issue, Turkmenistanian hand-rolled double maduro stogies. I hadn't even flicked the first ash when I heard a disembodied voice: "What's that you're smoking?".

"A cigar.", I replied to the evidently reality-impaired individual. "Surely, there's no law against smoking a cigar outdoors; now, is there?"

"No, not at all.", replied the voice, whose owner stepped into the clearing, "It's just that it smelled so good after all these nasty Russian cigarettes."

The voice's owner was none other than the aforementioned terrestrial TV-rainforest chimera described earlier. Talk about being able to be knocked over with a hand-grenade! The glare off his suit was only matched by that of his tall, slickly simonized hair. He not so much as walked, as oozed, over towards where I was standing; hand extended in a genuine gesture of amity or larceny (it's so hard to tell them apart in these types..) I was grateful for the once again thickening cloud cover.

"You're not Russian", he declared.

"You have a keen grasp of the obvious.", I replied. "What was the first clue? The Brooks Brothers field jacket? The Gucci field boots (with the new Dead Scree Soles)?"

"Ah, ha! No...no...no...let's just say that (now remember this one gang:) I'M A GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER. I could use your help."

I may have been serenely smiling one the outside, but I was ROFL'ing up a storm on the inside.

<snirk> "With what?" <snirk>, I inquired.

"Well, some of our Russian friends get a bit, well, caught up in the moment with all the music and prayer and the (Here's another for the quotes file, Fred:) joyful noise unto the Lord."

"And?", I continued.

"Well, you're a Westerner, and not exactly a small one. Just keep puffing on that cigar, and if any of 'em get out of hand, you can show them the door."

I was about to tell him about how tents like the basic roof model he was using had a real paucity of doors, but instead I said "So, basically, you want to hire me out as a torpedo for your little entourage?"

"Torpedo?" "Heaven's no. You'd just be doing the Lord's work...". "Why can't the omnipowerful and omniscient Lord pull his own weight?", I mused. "...and protect his faithful from, well, er...injuring themselves in religious ecstasy."

Given the proximity and brisk business of the nearby liquor kiosks, "religious" ecstasy was not precisely the term that I would have used.

"And in return for my services?", I avariciously inquired.

"Why. Ummm...50 dollars cash money. That's quite a sum for these people.", he chortled, bubbling with glee.

"But not for this person.", I explained, "Sorry, mate. I'm (a.) on vacation, (b.) not for hire, and (c.) you couldn't afford me if I was. Further, I'm just here for the show. I really have no interest..."

I was cut short by some subaltern thrashing through the pucklebrush, calling for Herr Shinyhair to hie his backside back to the tent. The main show was about to begin.

"OK. Your call.", percolated the preacher. "See you at the revival.", he chortled as he was lead smarming his way back to the faithful.

"Goat damn, Leipzig.", I mused, "What have you got yourself into THIS time?"

Before my subconscious could formulate a witty retort, I noticed that it was again getting somewhat darker and a tad bit windier. You know, "winds light and variable, 10 to 70 miles per hour...", that sort of thing. Deciding that it might be prudent to be under cover, however peculiar, I headed back to the area where they already were literally rolling in the aisles. Glossolalia could not be far behind.

I sidled up to the clearing where there was this most eclectic assortment of Cossacks, Tartars, Belarussians, and ethnic Russians; with an occasional Turk, Armenian and Kalmykian thrown in for good measure. Any convention burg gets a pretty mixed bag, and this place was no exception. The music, if one could call this seemingly random assortment of badly play notes "music"; was getting louder and more frenetic. The backup singers were assisting the musicians in their brass, string and woodwind assault on the sound waves, each in their own particular chord and dialect, of course; aided and abetted by a drummer seemingly fresh from a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic, speed-freak division. It was amusing to see him go through a rondo and slash and thrash at a drum no longer present, but that had been there just the minute before, or so it seemed. It did look as if, and sound as if, he was chasing spiders with his drum sticks and was intent on stabbing the poor, phantasmal creatures to death. I wish I had a can of Raid to throw to him.

The only thing this spectacle lacked to make it a true three-ring circus was not an aerialist act, cabaret or animals (those were ushered in slightly later for the full visual and olfactory effect), but it did lack a circus' orderliness (I was going to say something disparaging about clowns, but even I won't stoop so low to deprecate their profession with a comparison to the characters running this show). What it also lacked was tent walls, as I noticed it getting increasingly blustery and turbulent; on the exterior as well as the interior.

At this time, there was a real laying on of hands going on over to the east (it appeared the younger lasses were more prone to this type of treatment, the old babushkas had to content themselves with a mere swat upside the head with the Good Book). To the west they were babbling about in more tongues than are to be found in a beef packing plant. To the north (facing front to center stage, ah...er...altar), the oleaginous evangelist (if that's not too redundant) was throttling his microphone and whirling a dervish that would have done any berzerker proud; while he croaked out a passionate entreaty to "Repent!" and an even more impassioned supplication to "Tithe! (No rubles, please.)". To the south (toward the exit form this reviviscence), the local weather was planning its own version of a production; a total audio and visual experience that appeared at any moment to overshadow the mere terrestrial cacophony currently scaring the indigenous woodland creatures.

Thinking that, "Yes, now WOULD probably be a good time to leave.", the owner of the tall hair onstage who had evidently recovered what passes for his composure, and his breath; noted that the frenzied pace of the program was starting to ever-so- slightly wane, he determined that it would be just the thing and just the time to announce an "Altar Call"; beginning with that largish, hirsute flannel-clad character whose been hanging around the back of the tent smoking that huge cigar...

"YOU!......YES, YOU!...(I, remembering Pink Floyd's "The Wall", began nervously scanning the skies for black helicopters).

"This...is...not...happening...", I invoked.

"YOU!......YES, YOU!...Come forward! Praise the Lord!"

"This..can't..be..happening.", I mused.

"YOU!......YES, YOU!...COME FORWARD! PRAISE DE LAAAWWD!".

"Oh, shit. This IS happening." This was the conclusion my mind finally arrived upon when I noticed the three shiny-jacketed goons approaching me from the ordinal points of the compass.

"DO YOU ACCEPT THE LAAWRD JEESUS CHRIST AS YOUR PERSONAL SAVIOR?".

Chew on cigar. Expectorate a large quid.

"Nope."

Momentary look of consternation on the evangelist's part. "Son, you can't hear me back there. Come forward and profess your faith!".

"Well", I thought, "He _had_ asked for it...".

At this time, the three stooges (altogether TOO appropriate) were getting closer, obviously intent on physically dragging me (a REAL neat trick) up to the altar for my asseverations. "What the hell?", I thought, "In for a dollar in for a dime".

Like a freighter navigating through the flotsam and jetsam of human beliefs, I parted the "Red" Sea (sorry about that...) and headed towards the front and the dangerous microphone that Sr. Reverendo Evangelistimo would soon come to rue the day he bought the accursed thing.

"Here he comes! Praise the Lord! PRAISE DE LAWWWD!".

"'Duck and cover' would be more appropriate.", I reflected. I'm going to cause more commotion than an unemployed PacNorWest Logger at an Earth First! meeting.

"So tell us all son", <smarm, ooze> "When did you come to the Lord?".

"I haven't.".

Look of alarm.

"No, son.", <crawfish and ass grab> "You must not understand. When did you give yourself to Christ?", he asked, mistakenly aiming the microphone in my direction and within reach.

Refusing to yield him the microphone, and said in a loud, steady voice: "To answer your question; I have NOT given myself to Christ. Nor Allah. Nor Buddha. Nor Odin. Nor Zeus. Although Bacchus might just have an outside chance."

Look of horror.

"Nope. I haven't given up reality and bequested my life to any supernatural superfriends."

Look of death.

"Remember.", I reminded him. "You asked for it."

He was struggling to get down off the stage and remove the microphone from my grasp, but before he could regain his composure (and toupee, as it turns out) and before the three stooges could infiltrate through the crowd to get to me, there was the most spectacular aerial display of natural electrical discharge, closely followed by a very high decibel demonstration of superheated air smashing into itself.

And then...

All the lights went out.

Bedlam...Pandemonium...Chaos...and other words of immediate anarchy.

The thunder thundered, the lightning launched it's electrical way Earthward, and the rain was doing it's level best to best level everything in sight. Adding to all the fun, at this time we were also being assaulted by hailstones the size of 000 buck shot, attacking us like a Creator-conveyed plague of high velocity dog yummies.

Bedlam^2...Pandemonium^2...Chaos^2...

The massed throng under the rapidly deflating tent was near panic ("Oh, great.", I thought, "Won't this look good screaming across a 8 point headline column behind the 'Toys 'R' Us' advertisement: "200 Russians and one annoyed American killed during electrical storm in Moscow.""). The time for action was now.

I decided to leave.

But, then, self-restraint got the better of me.

Apparently, the microphone these characters were using was a sort of Russian version of "Mr. Microphone", and was either possessed of Satan or battery powered; although I do think it was the latter. A quick scan around the lightning illuminated remains of the tent located Yuri and I immediately did my impression of a Border Collie in the Outback and swam against the rising tide of panicking proletariat.

CRRRACK! BOOOM!

"YURI! Over here!", I hollered in my faltering Russian.

Fully 1/3 of the men in the crowd turned and started advancing towards me.

"Shit...", I though, rolling my eyes skyward.

CRRRACK! BOOOM!

Just then, a hand clamped down on my shoulder. After returning to Earth, I spun around to see Yuri, closely followed by the rather badly shaken and probably a bit stirred by this time, evangelist. He was screaming at me to do something.

"DO SOMETHING!", he screamed.

"Yes, indeed.", I replied rather sardonically, "WE must do something."

With that, I handed him the microphone.

CRRRACK! BOOOM!

"I don't know any Russian.", he sniveled.

"Oh, that's OK. I know a little Russian.", I said, pointing to the 1.35 meter tall Yuri.

The joke was completely lost on him. Humorless SOB.

As quickly as I could, I explained to Yuri that we've got to calm these people down before someone gets trampled like so many Who concert-goers in Cincinnati. It was also imperative to isolate the evangelist from these people, as folks might get hit by shrapnel as rapidly as he was coming apart.

"Tell them to calmly walk, not run (later Yuri pointed out just how unnecessary that latter admonition was), to the train station." It was only half to 3/4ths click distant, cavernous and probably unoccupied. It also had the benefit of being a wooden structure, complete with walls and a roof.

Yuri barked a very official sounding order into the microphone. Later he confided to me that he served the Motherland in the Great Patriotic War (WWII to you and me) as a master sergeant. The crowd, to a person, immediately stopped rustling and bustling and paid rapt attention.

Yuri, now beginning to enjoy his new-found authority, used his best Master Sergeant's voice and ordered, nay commanded, the crowd to move to the train station. "NOW!"

All this time, the evangelist was wandering around, trying to get someone to listen to him. He was terribly and tearfully concerned about the equipment on stage that might be ravaged by the storm. It certainly appeared that he had his priorities straight.

Seeing that most all the Russians were quite calmly marching off to the station; Yuri, myself and the even more frayed evangelist piled most everything in the center of the stage and located a tarp to toss over this miscellany. I had entertained the thought of leaving the musical instruments out in the rain, but feared that they might warp, rust, or be otherwise damaged, and sound even worse than they did earlier. Onto the pile they went.

One curious thing, the three stooges and the rest of the evangelist's entourage had suddenly, as if by majick, just disappeared. I asked the evangelist where his troops were.

"Hey, Chuckles. Yeah. You with the hair", I intoned, "Where's your troupe?"

"I don't know. They were here a minute ago."

CRRRACK! BOOOOM!

I was not about to let an opportunity like this one pass unscathed.

"THEY'VE BEEN TAKEN UP! PRAISE THE LORD!

RAPTURE! RAPTURE!

LOOK FOR THE HOLY SANDAL. NO! NO! FOLLOW THE GOURD!"

The evangelist dropped what he was doing, slowly turned around and literally goggled in my direction, thinking that I was apparently out of mine.

"I take it you've never seen 'Life of Brian'?"

I'm not sure if he heard me, as he was busy trying to imagine what color was the sky on my planet.

"Sure a bunch of fair-weather fundies you've got there.", I noted.

Luckily there's an admonition in the Big Book of fundy fairy-tales against murder, or I'd have probably gone home in a bucket at that point.

"They were just scared by the weather, that's all.", he apologized.

"Hmph. So much for your own personal savior and protector.", I added.

As if to punctuate my point, there was at that precise moment another in a series of far-too-close-for-comfort fulgurations and thunderous thundering; not rather unlike being assaulted by the collected works of St. Simeon Stylites.

"Everything's more or less secure here. I suggest that we continue this discussion at the train station.", I shouted as the now increasingly tattered tent was flailing in the gale.

I turned to talk to Yuri, and discovered that in the interim, he had also disappeared wondered aloud where he was.

"Hmmm...Yuri.", I wondered, "Where the bloody hell did you go?"

The west side of the tent decided to take flight at this time, as did we. Wandering out into the full fury of the squall, I could see practically nothing, save for the horizontal rain, eye-glazing flashes of lightning and the cranial assault from the cosmic ice- cubes ("Cap'n...we're being hailed...").

"Wherever Yuri went," I thought, "I hope the little schmo is all right."

With the ever dampening evangelist in tow, we slipped, skidded and slithered the half a click to the train station. One thoroughly soaked evangelist was muttering "See? Even your companion beat it when the storm got worse."

I was about to make a number of witty, sarcastic and altogether cogent comments regarding his familial lineage and his predilections for certain bestial sexual proclivities, but immediately up ahead though the rain, emerged the welcome sight of the well-lighted train station (seems they're generator equipped, for just such emergencies).

"Hail Satan!", I proclaimed. "We made it."

"Yes.", sneered the evangelist, "Praise GOD that we made it safely."

"Well. You claimed that everything comes from God, so this little sprinkle is the handiwork of your Almighty.", I replied, "Seems only too appropriate that if your God sent the storm, we can only thank His flip-side for seeing us to safety."

The creaking door of the train station obscured his reply.

We enter into the cavern or the station, occupied by approximately 200 or so rain-drenched Russians and a couple of awash Americans. Strangely, in all the hubbub and din of the station, I clearly hear someone calling my name.

"Yuri!", I exclaimed. "Where the hell did you nip off to?"

"You were so nice in sharing your Starka earlier, and the next train isn't for some hours; I stopped at a kiosk and got..." Yuri proudly displayed the 2 liters of vodka he purchased during the full force of the now somewhat abating storm.

"Son of a bitch, Yuri. You knucklehead."

Two glasses were produced and soon we were toasting each other, the storm, mud, Thursdays, cabbages; the usual subjects.

By this time, the evangelist had rounded up the remainder of his troupe and was intent on picking up where he was forced to leave off. "People! People!", he shouted. "Remember why we came here tonight?"

Evidently, they had indeed forgotten, for soon the crowd immediately surrounding us started to produce sausages, boiled potatoes, more vodka, some cucumbers; an impromptu party had broken out.

Soon, there was the comradeship that accompanies any sort of Russian get-together. Jokes (anecdotes) were told, cigarettes we're lit and at least a dozen different conversations were going. Not the least of which was about the crazy American with the microphone.

After screaming at the top of his lungs for 15 or so minutes, vainly trying to get someone's attention, the evangelist finally got the message that this evening was for him, in every sense of the word, a wash.

"That's it!", he barked. "This is the last time I ever come to Russia!"

The applause and laughter I received after my "Can we get that in writing?" retort was translated was even more warming than the 100 grams of Moscowskaya I was currently sipping.

Oh, yes. Bob got lost going to the Mez from Shermeteyvo; although I found him 5 hours later.

But, THAT is another story...



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