Happy New Year

The Russian Embassy

After I spent a few months in England at University (as they say), a friend from Tennessee came to visit. School was near Manchester but we all wanted to meet in London. Most people do. By “we,” I mean my Tennessee friend, my girlfriend, and some flatmates. The Crew.

We would make sure Tennessee found the train from Gatwick and meet him at the station. Our accommodation, which was modest, sat right on Manchester Square (London) not far from Bond Street, the fancy shopping area. Once you entered the Remington Arms or King’s Jostling Member or whatever it was called, you walked up five flights of stairs past the only bathroom for two floors, angled perilously on a corner. 

One wrong step out of the bathroom door and you went back down at least one flight of stairs. The girls were sure happy about the sharing of the bathroom with complete strangers. The room was an odd shape and would have been the perfect size for a Hobbit – not three Americans. 

We had the obligatory nightcap after check-in.  

After exploring some museums the following morning*, The Crew headed over to SoHo and found an Irish pub on the edge of Chinatown. Tennessee helped me bring the first round to the table and we filtered into seats around a snug booth just a couple feet from a couple at the next. 

Only moments went by when Tennessee pointed out that the woman at the next table sounded exactly like Natasha Fatale from Rocky & Bullwinkle (an old cartoon). She sure as hell did, so – being immature, we threw “moose and squirrel” into the conversation wherever we could. The rest of our party was oblivious and enjoying a discussion of their own. 

A minute or two later, a giant of an Irishman stood up next to me and asked what we were drinking. Peter Murphy, he was called – nothing new there – what struck me was the sheer size of him. I helped Peter return with a round and we all got to talking. And talking. And talking. It was a helluva time. 

We’d found out Peter was in Oil & Gas and that the Russian woman was Svetlana Plotnikova who claimed to have a Top 10 song in Latvia at the time. Why wouldn’t we believe her, who would claim that? Even more interesting, I thought, she played a Russian soldier in “Spies Like Us,” an 80s film starring Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd. 

With no Internet, we couldn’t prove it, so why not?**

After more than enough Guinness in our systems, it had been decided. Svetlana would be performing at a New Year’s Eve party at the Russian Embassy. Would we like to stop by? New Year’s was two nights away and we only had loose plans, we agreed instantly. One stipulation, we had to come after 1 a.m. because Russians (evidently) celebrate in a very special way. 

The Crew did the normal things you do in London; Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, the Doc Marten store, a bowl of noodles, pub after pub after pub. Then New Year’s Eve came. The ladies were dressed to the nines, they looked elegant-yet-racy, we looked like bums by comparison. NONE of us were dressed for the biting cold of the Hyde Park area. 

We collectively picked a bar about two blocks from the Russian Embassy to ring in the new year. It was a shitshow. I was being an ass, my girlfriend wasn’t the happiest person in the room, The Crew didn’t like the bar, the bar sucked, but it was New Year’s Eve! We made the best of it until about 1am when we walked to the embassy. 

In we walked, stopped by a 17-year-old at a podium, grinning ear-to-ear. Tennessee gave him a bottle of Wild Turkey he’d been hauling around, intended for Svetlana. The young Russian said he’d “take care of it.” We were sure he would. He turned and entered a ballroom, motioning for us to follow him. He stopped inside the doorway and yelled, “THE AMERICANS ARE HERE!”

Svetlana, commanding the karaoke mic, stopped singing a rousing Russian song and, as if rehearsed, started the tape for and started singing, “Black Magic Woman.” One of, as we would later learn, two American songs she knew. 

The beautiful Russian, model-looking women beamed and the (way more) men frowned. We awkwardly made our way to the refreshments table; a 20-foot spread filled with now-empty platters of crackers and cheese and, just behind all three remaining crackers and one slice of cheese, 45 bottles of vodka. “Vodka it is!” we agreed. 

The Crew danced and mingled and – within mere minutes, our ladies were in the next room at the empty bar while our inexperienced asses danced with what we were sure were models. Sveltana treated us to some Russian standards, and, of course, both American songs she knew. “Black Magic Woman” and “My Way” many, many times. 

Losing our eyesight from the vodka, not really caring where our dates were, we looked attentively at Svetlana when she abruptly shut the music off and spoke into the microphone. Three shadowy figures filled the doorway we entered hours before. All in leather Serpico jackets, one held a firearm. 

“Hello! My American friends! The Chechens are here. They will kill you. You must leave now.” 

Just as matter-of-factly as telling someone their headlights were left on. 

We assessed the situation. Seemed plausible. Grabbed our dates from the adjacent bar and scrambled for the main entrance, being followed at an unsettling pace by the men in question. 

They stopped following us at the main gate as we walked our dates to the Tube station, several blocks away – in the bitter cold of a brand new year. A year that promised a good story but some really quiet moments with the women we once loved and would inevitably lose to much smarter, more attentive men. 

*One museum was the British National, where we saw Seth Green and made the “shhhh” Dr. Evil noise while following him from about 30-feet, watching him look for the source.

**It was her. It was true.