Timeless wisdom by the late, great philosopher. I don’t think his list of what constitutes ‘hard times’ was, by any means, meant to be exhaustive— and the self-proclaimed ‘son of a plumber’ was surely well acquainted with the endless farrago of plumbing issues that would epitomize (or perhaps lead to) hard times.
Throughout the time spent in St. Petersburg, I could feel Dusty’s promo faintly looping somewhere in the lower-third of my brain (oddly, the same region responsible for my love/hate relationship with Raisinets). Admittedly, my grime-receptors were at peak sensitivity, as the dials for 'self fulfilling prophecy' and 'just came from lovely Scandinavia' were cranked up to 10. There was plenty of evidence of hard times, some easier to put a finger on than others, but none with more ‘staying power’ than the following.
[Warning: If you are prone to contracting pinkeye, discontinue reading.]
Within hours of arrival to Russia, we noted a bathroom sign (fortunately graced with an English translation) imploring users to flush toilet paper [indeed] down the toilet. Solid advice, though it struck me at the time, as a bit of a paradox (see fig 1 below).
Not your typical Venn diagram— as the population circles do not overlap and are in fact, externally tangent. Hate to spoil the ending, but it turns out I’m quite wrong.
The following day, we noticed a second bathroom sign (in a relatively nice restaurant):
Next to the toilet, there was a ~20 gallon wastebasket, sans lid, and nothing inside. Stubbornly, I rationalized the message as having been misinterpreted— I had assumed they meant “don’t flush paper towels [down the toilet]”— a sign that we’ve all seen at some time or another.
It wasn’t until the 3rd day when culmination would rear its ugly visage. Just prior to eating lunch (my vanilla milkshake and borscht just arrived), I decided that I’d first better wash my hands. At the кафе Зингер (singercafe.ru), it’s a long walk through the top floor of a bookstore to reach the bathrooms, and I figured that I might as well muster a pee and then wash up as intended. Waiting for me in the stall, blindingly refulgent in the way that only it can be...was a 20 gallon wastebasket full of --you got it-- shitty toilet paper.
Those who know me well would be aghast and disappointed that I did not snap a picture of the scene— but I was fully preoccupied with the tracheal/glottal gymnastics of simultaneously holding my breath and mitigating my gag reflex. I don’t know if it’s physiologically possible, but I was prepared to inhale my own vomit if the necessary ‘valve’ gave in to the pressure, akin to a young athlete burning out on the iron cross.
So no picture, and I’m not regretful of it, either. No need to smear more feces upon this page than there already is.
Hard times is when your building’s plumbing is in such shambles that you have to collect used toilet paper in a large, lidless receptacle adjacent to the bowl. To their credit, it was on the right side of the toilet if you were sitting down, ostensibly catering to the ’90% of the population is right-handed’ postulation.
Hard times is being left-handed in Russia.