All Animals Are Equal

“Have you ever read Animal Farm?” I asked the former Soviet, now an American, who was sitting in my living room.

“I don’t need to read it.” I looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.

I lived it,” he said, and turned his chair away from me, inhaling deeply on an e-cigarette.

Small Business is a Revolutionary Act?

In a discussion I had recently with someone who grew up in the former Soviet Union, we discussed the idea of “small business”.

The Soviets didn’t encourage small business. In fact, it was illegal to have a business “on the side” and definitely not OK to try to earn your own money, in a non-government-sanctioned enterprise..

Everyone was guaranteed a job — can you imagine? An entire country based on civil service. Every worker — a government worker.

No wonder that system failed.

Small business or self-employed people were frowned upon. In fact, if you were grouped with the spekulanti, you were not a good person. Usually a “spekulant” was something said with a sneer.

Some definitions of spekulant equate it with a profiteer. Profiteers are those guys who were trying to sell black market toilet paper in the United States during the 2020 pandemic. I’d say maybe there’s some correlation between the two, but in a fake market in a controlled system, the people will demand access to more than what the government will offer.

This happened in the USSR. Eventually people wanted to be able to buy high quality Italian shoes without having to buy it in secret. No one wants to support a profiteer.

It’s hard to imagine such an attitude in my part of the world. Here, I see small business and personal enterprise as a good thing. They fill the market need that the big corporations can’t. A small business owner will know theuir good customers by name, and provide personal service. It’s been the American way for some time. Perhaps it won’t last, however. The modern era has challenged the American small business to the nth degree. Many have had to “pivot” their business models. Staying open in a shuttered economy is risky, and in some regions, illegal or unpermitted.

Perhaps some day, not too far off now, we’ll see small business as the Soviets did. As a revolutionary act. Highly illegal. Highly frowned upon. A person with her own business is a person the government can’t control.

Small business is a revolutionary act.

Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
--Tracy Chapman

Culture Lessons

The word for hose in Russian is “schlang”. When the short, stout Irina Leikina was addressing us in her mad bursts of Muscovite Russian, she demonstrated with her flying hands.

“And my son,” she bellowed. “He was pouring water out of the schlanga–” She gesticulated towards her groin, as if she were her tall, half Slavic half Jewish son, pouring water from a hose, at waist height.

The room erupted in laughter. She stopped abruptly, her dark eyebrows waggling, looking at each of us in turn. Black Navy uniforms, green for Army, light blue Air Force. Nearly everyone in the room was male, except for me and an Army Specialist sitting kitty-corner to me at the tables placed around the room.

“Vat is so funny?” She asked us in her sparse, heavily accented English. 

Don, whose last name I can’t remember, the highest ranking person in the room, a Warrant Officer, also the oldest, with a wife and kids already, spoke to her gently.

“The word schlong in English,” he said, face composed and only slightly pinking up, unlike that of the two blondish army guys giggling on either side of him, “the word schlong, is a slang word for penis in America–and you were gesturing at your, you know–” Don looked pointedly at Gospozha Leikina’s groin.

Her round face immediately bloomed into a deep red.

“It is German word.” She breathed heavily. “It is, word for–”  She looked at Don again. 

“Yes, yes it is, “ he said.  “It just sounds funny to us Americans.”

“Ah, I see.” Gospozha Leikina paused for a moment and wiped the sweat off her brow, turned to the chalkboard and began to write words with force and motion. She wrote the cursive heavily looped word SHLANG across the green board in white, then wrote an example of how to use the word properly, in any of the 8 cases that typically baffled native English speakers.

“Genitive case,” she said. VODA IZ SHLANGA. Water comes from hose. How do you say?” 

“Water from a hose.” Don nodded. “That’s how you say it.”

Gospozha Leikina nodded.

We turned back to our rapid note-taking, as she barrelled on, filling the board with words and phrases we had no idea we’d ever use.

Gratitude 2020 – Day 8

Blame it on the rain. My gratitude for today was for the cool, windy, rainy weather. And the opportunity I had to go walking in it.

I got my spouse to come out in it with me, and we both had out coat collars pulled up as we trudged up and over the I-5 freeway in Sacramento.

The sky was grey, punctuated by bursts of orange. Fall has landed here in Northern California.

As we walked, we were both reminded of days we lived in Russia during our courtship, where raininess like this was a summer event. Today’s rain brought back some serious laughter from a stay in Karelia, a region not too far from Finland.

We were young and silly. There was some fishing involved. And I think I missed the dock, so I landed in the lake. All was well. Wet, but well.

Rain in California these days is a good thing. It signals that perhaps fire season is over. It signals that the hills will turn bright green, the grasses will grow lush.

It’s winter in the valley.

I’m thankful it got here, finally. Grateful for the fresh weather, fresh air. And the reminder of happy times.


The Russians have a saying I’ve always found amusing. Я не в своей тарелке (Ya ne v svoej tarelke) — I’m not on (in) my plate. When you’re not on your plate, you’re perhaps a little grumpy. Perhaps you’re not your usual self. Sometimes, on a good day, I like to say I’m ON my plate. Or mess around and say the plate’s broken so I can’t be on it or off it. It just is.

I’ve been off my plate frequently these last few months–mainly because the plate has changed. It’s not a shallow dinner soup plate any more. It’s a cracked, distorted plate with some shiny bits and some other parts that light shines through. This plate wobbles. It’s non-standard. It’s awkward. It’s not a plate I’d be on at all if it didn’t seem like I needed to be on a plate in the first place. So I generally have to adjust if I want to be on the plate. I can’t help but notice, however, that the longer I’m on the plate, the more comfortable it gets. Pretty soon it will become a standard plate.

Until they hand me a new one.

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