Tag Archives: Russia

A Story of Early Voting in LA

This is from an email that my father-in-law, Vladimir Paperny wrote about taking his elderly mother to the early voting center in L.A.

I took my mother, who is 90 and walks with a walker, to the only early voting place in LA county, Norwalk. I heard there were lines but did not expect the line to be about a mile long. To get to the tent, where you are assigned a number, you have to stand in a line that goes around a block. That takes about 2 hours. From the entrance to the tent to the voting booth it takes about 3 more hours (see photo). The crowd is about 60% black, 25% other minorities, 15% white. Because of my mother’s walker, they took us directly to the registration place, so the whole procedure took us less than an hour. Lera was very impressed a) with people’s willingness to spend 5 hours to cast their votes (it’s reasonable to assume that many voted for the first time); b) with the crowd’s relaxed and friendly behavior (no drunk fights she had expected); and c) with the efficiency of the registration process — the Registrar’s office workers (with about the same ethnic distribution as in the line), despite their slow and lazy movements, were, nevertheless, efficient and eager to help. The place was supposed to close at 4 but the only thing they did at 4 was to put security guards at the end of the line to stop latecomers. I don’t think they would go home any time before 9.

Two days earlier, my mother was involved in another political action. There was a discussion at her table at the Adult Health Center she goes to. Some of the people she used to be very friendly with started saying things like “he is an Arab”, “he is a Muslim”, “we don’t want an African president”, etc. At this point, my shy, quiet and mild-mannered mother (a straight A student at the Institute for History, Philosophy and Literature, class of 1941, former head of Literary Criticism department at Novyi Mir magazine) slammed her fist at the table a shouted: “I am ashamed of you! This is racism!” Everybody shut up, and the discussion ended. Viva Lera!

At Least We Have Paris (and New York)

I am so behind on my interviews it’s not even funny.  My mom, her best friend Ginny and my brother Curt visited me in NYC for a week.   It was non-stop eating, drinking, plays, shopping and parties.  It’s so fun to have visitors, but life kind of stopped while they were visiting, which is both good and bad.  Now that they are gone, it’s very sad and I wish I had more of them hanging out at my house like a dorm room…
While they were here, though, I felt a little bit removed from normal life.  It just so happened that I took a copywriting job right before they got here and started a Russian class, uh and I have my blog to write…so it felt weird to spend so much time just hanging out.
Virgina and my mom Starr have been friends since they were ten years old. They grew up in Indiana together and share memories of having sleepovers at each others houses when they were kids.  They are the cutest best friends I think I’ve ever seen.  My mom’s middle name should be “everything is so hard” – while Virgina is very chill and easy going. “Ginny” as we call her spent her first four days in NYC going to Aikido – she’s studying for her 3rd degree black belt.  She’s in amazing shape.
My mom on the other hand missed the “Jane Fonda” movement in the eighties. After having two kids back-to-back, she gained weight and never really lost it.
When I was growing up, I used to look at old pictures of my mom when she was young and think she was a model.  She was the most beautiful young woman I’ve ever seen.  Being the daughter of Dale Messick, who created Brenda Starr Reporter, she must have had a lot to live up to.
Even though she’s curbed her eating habits, working out is not her thing; even walking these days is cumbersome.  She has bad knees.  So the two of them together, Ginny and my mom are a little like a comedy show.

Who:“Ginny” my mom’s best friend
Where: NYC
Occupation:  Tourist and Aikido Master (studying for her 3rd Black Belt).
“Ginny” lived in NYC for twenty years during the seventies and eighties while she worked as an executive at IBM.  She sold her apartment on 93rd and Lex at a really bad time @1989.   She just heard her apartment is on the market again for 1.2 MM, so Ginny was set on telling me that she has “bad timing when it comes to real estate.” I told her to “stop that,” and then I saw the apartment in question.  Wow, I can’t believe she gave up a two bedroom, two bathroom in NYC.  No wonder she has regrets.
In 1989, while I was still in high school, Ginny was once again off for an adventure.  She fell in love with her Paris born and raised Aikido instructor and impetuously ran off to Paris and married him.  Her story reminds me of Carrie Bradshaw kissing New York goodbye for a shot at Paris; except unlike TV, Ginny really did sell her NYC apartment and she hasn’t been able to move back to her favorite city.
Since Michele (the French guy) didn’t want to learn English, she had to adopt her entire life around his; she learned to speak French and became a Parisian as best she could; which is not exactly an easy task. She suffered from loneliness and had trouble making friends because her French never got better than functional.  Therefore, talking about deep feelings became impossible, and well, the French are sort of, uh, French and her husband was no different – he was “uh” French – proud and impossible.
When I moved to Paris for a working internship in 1994, I remember thinking it was odd that Ginny technically knew French better than I did; but she stumbled when speaking, when I soared. While I spoke quickly sans accent, just like the French, Ginny’s words were tentative, like a little bird. I wanted to speak so I found a way I guess. Ginny doesn’t need to talk a lot; she is the quiet observer and a  great listener.   No wonder why men like her so much!  It’s nice, I suppose, for awhile anyway, to not speak and not to be heard.
Ginny had enough of “quiet times” and divorced the “French guy” and moved back to the states (to Florida) in 2002, but she hasn’t been able to afford to live in NYC again, which I think makes her a little sad.  See, for all of us who want to leave, we should remember that we might not get to come back — ever.  This is our time, right now.  I love Paris, and always thought I’d live there again, but in fact, I’ve been back only a few times since living there in 1994.
At least Ginny and I will always have memories of walking near the Seine in Paris; and for as long as I live here, and she likes to visit, we have New York.

Are All Americans Alike?

Wednesday it rained a lot.  Audrey and I went to the café and were not too chatty.  It was an off day for us.  She was grumbling about selling her van in California and I was just noticing that my “creative life” needs to be supplemented with some sort of income.  I hate reality.

The rain made the day kind of brisk, and by dusk I just wanted to curl up and watch TV.
One crazy thing did happen on Wednesday.

I had responded to an ad on Craigslist titled: “Private Russian Lessons.”  This can only lead to bad things, right?

I responded to the email saying that I’d like to get private lessons for two hours a week and I could pay $25 an hour.
I speak a little Russian already. Russians always think that I am Russian, until I speak for more than five minutes…
So, a very accented Russian man calls me.
“You called about the Russian lessons?”
“Yes.”
“Let me tell you a little about me,” he says.  (The Russian accent is very thick).
“Okay.”
“My name is Serge and I teach Russian.  I meet with you and can teach you grammar and we can speak.  I can also teach you other things.”
I’m already thinking he’s weird.
“I teach for large companies like New York Times.”
“Okay,” I say tentatively.  “Can you email me your resume and some references?”
“Oh,” he says.  “I guess you don’t want to learn Russian.  All you want to do is check up on me.”
“Excuse me?”  I said.
“All you Americans are alike.”
With that he hung up on me.