“Are you American?”. A large black man beside me is glued to the TV screen and his laptop with live poll results simultaneously, so the answer is obvious.
“Yes. Are you American?”.
“Russian. So, we are a democracy in name only, but this is entertaining as well”.
“Russia?”. He seems interested.
“Oh, it’s supposed to be beautiful! I have always wanted to visit – I have some friends in Moscow. But they told me I shouldn’t go”.
“You are not white”, I state the obvious, “so, yeah, that’s not exactly working in your favour. I don’t know if you are straight…”. I trail off, because he shakes his head “no”.
We both laugh that really sad laugh – the one you share with a sibling, discussing grandma’s dementia. It’s really not funny at all, but if you weren’t laughing, surely you’d be crying instead, and laughing just seems like a less painful option.
My parents made a very conscious choice to get the hell out of Russia years ago. Vladimir Putin has been running quite a show there since. And as a Russian-Canadian, I find being on the Russian soil terrifying… All bets are off, and if you get yourself in trouble, your good buddy Canada won’t be able to help you.
I recap: “So… um, yeah. A gay black man… I don’t really think you should go either”.
“I have travelled to over 20 countries”, I continue. “Many of them alone. I spent six months in India, as a single white woman. I don’t think I’d travel Russia by myself. AND I speak the language”.
That monologue seems to make an impression on my new friend. “How come?”, he wonders. “What would you be most worried about?”.
“Safety”, I shrug. “Violence. Robbery. Bureaucracy. You know… the usual”.
He ponders my words.
“Let me ask you this”, I say after a pregnant pause. “Your friends – the ones who told you not to go to Russia – are they Russian?”.
“Do take their words with the grain of salt, will ya? Take MY words with the grain of salt. We are jaded. Angry. And very aware of real consequences. Your best bet would be to find some Westerners who visited Russia and loved it. They are out there. You need someone less disillusioned. From where I stand… if you never make it to Russia, but remain safe and sound, I can live with that”.
As I head out, I give my new friend my card, and ask to drop me a message if he ever decides to visit Russia after all, so I can put him in touch with friends.
I have not imagined that I’d end up watching the US elections at a Four Seasons bar, with a black gay man, who told me he grew up in a conservative, religious military household. But here we were. As we watched the map of the United States grow redder by the hour, he reported feeling terrified and nauseous.
Actually, “nauseous” is the word many used today. That real, physical “sick to my stomach” feeling.
I am mostly just confused. And nervous.
Remember this quote? “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.
It has been misattributed to Gandhi by many, including Trump who used in a speech in February of this year.
Today, we are definitely not laughing.
Erratic people with no impulse control can vary from annoying to dangerous. They are honest, all right, but mostly because… no impulse control. They make inappropriate comments at parties, and grab their waitress’ butt.
May I present Donald Trump. Leader of the free world.