The hidden pack for the drop bunched beneath my long johns. The Aeroflot flight had been freezing, the pack’s stainless steel hardware sucked body heat, and the threadbare cotton blankets emblazoned with Vladimir Lenin’s image given out by the polyester’ed flight crew were useless.
As we landed, I switched out a New Order mixtape in my Walkman FM-1 for one that Camilla had given me the night before in Helsinki. Putting the New Order tape back into my zippered vinyl 10-cassette carrying case, I pulled out Queen’s The Game to make room for the New Order tape.
McGuiggan, sitting next to me aisle seat 7B, had given me the Queen record when we reached cruising altitude. I turned to him as we made our descent into Pulkova Airport and held the cassette over the armrest for him to take back. But he said “Nah, keep it,” and his already alabaster complexion was somehow paling a few shades whiter as I looked at him.
“You feel all right?” I asked, worried he might be airsick. The worst is landing in a foreign county next to a pucker.
“You think they’re going to search us good?” he asked through a shaking voice. This answer eased me a bit. No vomit potential. McGuiggan was merely deathfraid of Russian customs from all of Fr. G’s lessons leading up to the trip. “Fr. G said a lot of ‘western’ music was still considered contraband. I’m shedding anything that may be a threat to have me detained,” he continued. “Here take these, too.” Continue reading →
Part of me was still in Helsinki (or “CamillaLand” as I called it now), and even the rickety Aeroflot flight to Leningrad and my Russian Customs scare didn’t cloud my floating. We arrived at our foreigners-only hotel, The Pribaltiskaya, a fashion-forward troupe of Patagonia and North Face jackets, a bit before 4pm Russian Standard Time.
“All IDs are checked in the lobby, at the dining tables and on every floor,” Mrs. X had forewarned me in Training Session #2. “But not for age or name; just for nationality. Remain dopey like they expect a sex-starved American karate kid to be.”
Zubes & I dropped our bags in Room 534 and as he flopped onto the windowside bed, he swiped my carry-on from the floor between the beds and began to rifle through it. Everything for my drop was secured to my body, but this unnerved me a bit. Before I could intercede Zubes unzipped my bag’s outside pocket and grabbed my Walkman FM-1. He unplugged my headphones and jacked his own into it.
“I want to hear Camilla’s mix tape, Loverboy,” he needled.
“Go for it,” I said as he hit play.
He clipped my little tape deck to his belt, rose from the bed and began to unpack. I told him I needed to find a Coke. He didn’t hear me through his critical listening, but made no protests as he watched me head to the door. His working-for-the-weekend mind was on Annika. The door auto-closed behind me.
I slipped through the lobby and walked a couple round-trip blocks from the hotel to get my immediate bearings in the Leningrad twilight. My friends were gathered in the lobby when I got back and we rousted in the hotel bar for a while. Later that night, I lied awake in my room.