THE FINAL REVIEW (Jan. 11 - Jan. 24):

My flight back to Moscow was, unfortunately, pretty eventful. A large part of this has to do with a certain man named Mike. I have never in my life met anyone like Mike, and I hope to never be seated on a plane next to someone like him again.

To clarify: I wasn't even directly next to him.

Here's how it starts: I'm happy that I made my flight out of Chicago, I'm investigating the cool cupholder thing built into the tray, and I'm trying to use my fancy American cell phone as much as possible in the last few minutes before takeoff. I'm seated in the middle row of one of the big international airliners (one with the 4 seats in the middle that have 2 aisle seats and no windows). I have the aisle seat on the left, which I'm pleased about because I'm starting to like aisles more than windows. As the plane fills, I note with glee that the seat to my right might remain empty. I'm already making plans for how I'll use it to stash my coat and book and anything else that I'd like to have at hand and not underfoot. In the seat adjacent to the empty one I note that there's a rather hefty man with unkempt long black hair and abrasive features, who is very pointedly attempting to make conversation with the young lady next to him.

"Whew," I think, "I'm so glad she's there to keep him occupied. I hate small talk, and I will totally fight him if he thinks he can have any of my empty chair space."

I ignore them for a while longer while I fiddle with my phone. Curiously enough, after a few minutes the young lady then says that she's feeling claustrophobic and is going to move to another seat.

"Odd," I say to myself, "I don't see how the back of the plane is any more claustrophobic than the front."

Yeah. She totally ditched me to fight off Mike myself. That !@#$*.

Then my hefty neighbor lethargically turns to me and says (in what I can only describe as a stoned voice): "Hey. I'm Mike."
I was having none of that. I put on my mean face that said "Oh, I'm sorry, were you talking to me? 'Cause I was definitely just sending the most important text of my life, which meant that there was absolutely no way that I heard you." He didn't seem to pick up on that. We then had the following conversation:

Mike: What's your name?
Me: ---
Mike: What's your name?
Me: *busy texting*...Amasdadmsafa
Mike: You American?
Me: ................................Yeah.
Mike: You got a boyfriend?
Me: Yes!
Mike: He American like you?
Me: mmmhmmm

At this point he gets up and moves into the empty seat next to me, taking over half of my seat with his bulk, and making me very angry. Remember that at this time there are now TWO empty seats in this row and he decides to sit right next to me!
Mike: You want some company? *holds out hand as if he intends for me to hold it*
Me: No.
Mike: Just a lil' bit?
Me: NO!.....could you SCOOT OVER?

He lumbers over one seat, but decides to drape his hand over the empty seat so that he can grasp my armrest. This irritates me to no end, and so I take my blanket and put it over his hand and continue to use my armrest. I do not give up armrests, ESPECIALLY if someone is reaching over an empty chair to take it from me!

Now the plane starts moving and I have to put my phone away. I then take the airline's magazine and read the letter from the president in English, French, and German. I can't read French or German, but I can certainly pretend and pretend that it's the most fascinating thing that I've ever read. All of this was done while looking severely to my left to avoid Mike's gaze. After an eternity the movies finally start, and I choose something that looks completely cheesy and try to shut out the world.

Mike, as it turns out, is an extremely lonely and needy man who has no sense of personal space or propriety. About 5 minutes in he pokes my arm. I don't deign to acknowledge it. He pokes it again and says: "Hello."........"Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello." I don't even look at him because "Going The Distance" is clearly the most magical film ever produced. Then Mike creepily waves his fingers in front of my face. Outraged, I turn to him and say "What you you want?!?!?!" which he replies "Why are you so quiet?" In extreme annoyance, I answer: "Because. I. Am. Watching. A. MOVIE!!!"

I guess some hint that I'm not into small talk finally makes it through his skull, so he heaves a sigh and decides to thrust his head through the space in the seats in front of him. Perhaps he pokes them too, because a little while later a stewardess comes by and very sternly tells him not to bother the other passengers, and then tells me and the people in front of him to let her know immediately if he does anything that makes them uncomfortable. He was not happy about this, and looked around and sighed a lot out of extreme boredom, but he didn't try to talk to me again, and I, for my part, made sure not to look to my right for 8 hours and 40 minutes.

Eventually I made it to Moscow, only to find that my bag was lost. It was lost for 4 days, which was extremely annoying, but luckily I was staying with Kendra for a week and her shirts fit me. We had a good time catching up, and stayed up way too late way too many times. I also learned that her daily commute is terrible and puts my 15 minute marshrutka ride to shame. It was also her birthday, and we got to celebrate (although a few days late) with a cake mix (and root beer) that I had smuggled back from America.

Then I had orientation, which was somewhat odd since I really hadn't thought about work for what seemed like months. It's good to meet with other people and exchange stories, but I can't say that I was at my social high point. Mostly I just really wanted to sleep. Most evenings I made the hour-long commute out to where Kendra lives to eat supper and hang out (since it will be a while before I see her again), and a couple of times I saw another friend who also happens to be in Moscow.

Now I'm back in my apartment, and it's odd. Although I've only been gone for 3 weeks, it feels like much longer. I don't have any kind of a schedule yet, and it might be a little while before I do since I think that regular classes don't start again until February. I've been hanging out almost exclusively with Americans for so long now that I think it's going to be a bit of a shock when I realize that I'm in Russia again.

Oh, also my 23rd birthday is coming up in less than a week. I have no idea how I'll celebrate, or if I will. I already had a birthday dinner with my parents, so I mostly feel like I already have celebrated. In Russia apparently the birthday person is supposed to cook a big meal for all of their guests. I can tell you now that that's definitely not happening..but perhaps I'll invite a couple of people to go out to eat and see a movie or something. I dunno, I haven't really thought it out yet.

Now, friends, you know all about what's been going on in my life!


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Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia