• Happy New Year!

    Odessa, Ukraine. 1973

    When I was growing up©, I used to calculate how old I will be in the year 2000. This was my Mayan Calendar of sorts – the year 2000 was so far away and the double-digit age of 31 seemed so unbelievably huge that I didn’t bother to look beyond the year with too many zeroes. Now, ten years on the other side of that imaginary horizon I still can’t believe I made it so far without any outstanding achievements. No lives saved, no cure for cancer discovered, no small town square named after me, no major scientific problems solved, no bestselling books written and no spread in the Blind Playgirl Magazine. The only thing I can show for the previous 40 years of my life is a steady weight gain and a child who is extracting the most aggravating noises out of the Nintendo WII as I type this.
    This year started with me trying to decide if that’s what an alcohol poisoning feels like and will end at the same place in another attempt to achieve it. As always I hurt some people, made some people laugh, got fatter but not any wiser. In other words, a pretty average year, just another one in now a long line separating me from that naive age when I couldn’t imagine the life past 31.

    Odessa, Ukraine. 1976

    I would like to thank many readers of this blog, people who thought enough of my writing to stop by and leave a comment, and many others who know me on Twitter, Facebook and in real life (there are about 4 or 5 of the lucky ones). I hope you all have a great year, stay healthy, employed and sexually active happy.

    This is an old (1956) Soviet song – “5 minutes til the New Year”:

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  • Republican National Convention of 1976 in Kansas City, MO

    I interrupt slow vacation coverage and other musings to report on my recent archaeological trip to the Missouri Valley Special Collections to waste a day off photograph some artifacts from the Republican National Convention, hosted in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena in 1976.

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  • Checked Off My Bucket List: Argentina

    For the longest time a trip to Argentina has occupied the top spot on my imaginary bucket list, patiently waiting for its time. Talking about my dream to visit Argentina became such a part of my life that after finally getting it done, I might be at a loss of subjects to discuss in a polite conversation. In any case, the trip and the country of Argentina turned out to be everything I imagined it to be and much more, and became the longest, the most expensive and the best trip of my adult life.

    Streets of Buenos Aires
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  • Behind the Iron Curtain: Portyanki

    Memory is a strange thing. One minute I am reading a story about outpatient surgery in prison and the next minute it takes me back about 20 years when I was sitting in a small army hospital room and another soldier, who was supposed to be a nurse, was poking a scalpel at the infected cyst on my own foot. But this is not about some gruesome sadistic surgery forced on a newly drafted Soviet Soldier, although I still have a scar to show for it. This is a post about portyanki – a foot wrap worn in the Russian and later in the Soviet army instead of socks until just a year or two ago.

    After a long and tumultuous day of saying good-byes to civilian life and traveling by train and then inside a truck in the dark, lining up, multiple counts, marching with a group of half-scared schmucks and finally arriving at a place where most of us will spend the next two years, our group of fresh draftees finally settled down for an uneasy night of exhausted sleep. In the morning we were to shed whatever else connected us to our previous lives and become bona fide soldiers in the Soviet Army. After watching in horror other soldiers jump off their bunk-beds and stampede to their morning exercise routine we proceeded to the warehouse to receive our uniforms. The Soviet military uniform changed very little since WWII and there were always rumors of giant stashes of old uniforms sitting around waiting for the time “when enemy strikes”. The boots were the heavy non-laced kind from some fake leather material called kirza (sometimes translated as canvas, I am not exactly sure), uncomplicated by lining or any other comfort features. There were no socks, instead we received two pieces of cloth about the size, shape and thickness of a tea towel (13.6 by 35 inches) and some vague instructions about how to put them on. Given the quality of boots and the fact that this was the only kind of footwear for all occasions except for the rare weekend off, portyanki were not such a bad choice. What we didn’t realize was that putting them on correctly was an art, mastering which for most people required persistence, patience and a lot of foot damage. Another useful but unavailable at that time piece of information was that although the boot may have felt tight at first, getting a larger size was a big mistake. After some trial, error and confusion I ended up with a new uniform, two portyanki and a set of boots one or two sizes too large. Everything seemed to be OK until my first 10K run in full gear. During my whole life before that day my cumulative running distance equaled to about 10 or 20 kilometers. Needless to say that I crawled back half-dead with my portyanki bunched up inside my boots and a big bloody blister on one of my feet, which then got infected, blossomed into a big cyst and brought me to the scalpel wielding failed medical student from the beginning of this post. For the next two weeks one could tell inexperienced portyanki wearer by his distinct limp and walking around in slippers instead of boots. I almost had to wear slippers to my swearing-in ceremony but after the infamous surgery I recovered enough to fit in the boots again.

    I could go on and on about portyanki, about the summer and winter kinds, about the smell when everyone aired theirs at night (laundry was once a week), or about how I eventually mastered the art of putting them on and wore them until I was discharged even when I was allowed to wear normal socks. They were comfortable in the end, easier and faster to put on, warmer in winter and cooler during the summer. When I see American soldiers running around in sneakers I smile to myself: what a bunch of pussies! (I am kidding, do not write me threatening comments). For those of you who don’t believe me here is a short instructional video. And that’s, my American friends, how we won the cold war!

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  • Old Newspapers: Hyatt Regency Disaster

    Everyone in this town knows about this, even people like me, who came here years after it happened.

    The Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse was a collapse of a walkway that occurred on July 17, 1981, in Kansas City, Missouri, United States, killing 114 people and injuring 216 others during a tea dance. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history.

    Just a few pages from the Kansas City Times and Kansas City Star issues in the days after the accident (should be mostly readable if clicked).

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