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Yurchik and Stalin [humor; short] (1 Viewer)

CyberWar

Senior Member
Everyone knows construction workers are a rough bunch - hard-working, hard-drinking and tough-talking. That's probably true in every nation around the world. Russian construction workers, however, are a special breed on their own. Owing to the peculiarities of Russian language, these men are able to converse at length about pretty much any subject using only profanities and their derivatives and still make sense. These are guys who are proficient in 35 different card games, generally drink a bottle of vodka just to warm up for the evening, and in the absence of a snack to wash down the booze will readily settle for a whiff from their own sweaty armpit.

My first up-close encounter with Russian construction workers took place back in high school. I was looking for a summer job and found one in a paving crew along with a few other lads from my school. We were paid what amounted to roughly 20 dollars per day, which at the time was a fairly decent salary for menial labourers of no special skills. I can't say I liked the job by any stretch, but it was work and it paid money.

Back in the days before the Recession, now colloquially known as the Seven Fat Years in these parts, everybody wanted to work in construction. The economy was booming, and with a country-ful of gullible and inexperienced consumers still unfamiliar with the workings of capitalism, banks were literally throwing loans at people in hopes of getting them hooked on debt. Lots of folks went to work abroad, where it was possible to make a fortune by local standards in menial jobs, and then used that new money to buy fancy houses and cars - most often on loan. The minority of smarter ones invested into business. All in all, it was a feast, and everybody needed something built, so work in the construction industry was the big thing for those who didn't want to go abroad. At the time, it was a common sight to see a menial worker with nine classes of education drive around in a BMW X5 and habitually order fancy meals in the 100-dollar range. Most of the goodies were bought for the bank's money, and nobody ever really thought there might come a day when they'd have to pay it back and be unable to. In a way it was glorious.

It was in this time that I decided to try my hand in construction work, which brought together all sorts of men including many with a questionable work ethic. Bosses were demanding exorbitant sums for their services while cutting corners, workers were cutting some more corners to make their jobs easier, and when everything went to shit, the customers didn't generally mind it much because they had the money to hire someone else to fix the mess. That often involved more cutting of corners and more shoddy craftsmanship, but someone would get it right eventually, so it wasn't a big deal.

The guy I worked for wasn't the worst kind of swindler there were, but he certainly was one. His two favourite phrases regarding work were "Fuck it!" and "Now we're fucked!", which usually followed each other in that exact order. The first one usually came whenever an employee asked about whether to do something properly or just make it look roughly right. The second one tended to follow a few days or weeks later when the fuck-up became obvious and the client started to complain. Whenever that happened, his workers would do twelve-hour shifts without holidays to fix the mess while the boss walked around the site, nervously chain-smoking and berating everyone who looked like slacking off. All in all, he at least didn't try to screw over his crew like many other bosses at the time would and usually (emphasis on usually) paid the agreed salaries on time. Mind that back in the day, barely anyone in the construction industry was paying taxes - most workers were hired for minimal wage and paid the difference on hand, so if a boss decided to screw his employees over, they usually had no legal recourse to extract what was owed.

During my stay with this company, we were paving the yard of a mansion that belonged to a guy who went by the handle Globe. Globe was a millionaire businessman of shady reputation, one of a certain breed of businessmen that built their fortunes in the tumultuous 90's, when buy-outs at gunpoint and breaking knees of competitors were just as fair methods of conducting business as any other. Eventually this sort of guys who managed to survive the 90's and stay out of prison smartened up and went fully-legit, so at my day, Globe's businesses were completely lawful as far as anyone knew. Whatever shady dealings Globe might have had took place out of sight, the local cops and politicians got their cut, and Globe's reputation as the town's local oligarch kept any potential competitors and troublemakers out and in line. In short, everyone was happy.

Now, as a man of status, Globe made a point of displaying it in the gaudiest way possible. A huge luxury mansion with polished copper roofs, huge gymnasium, a swimming pool with a built in aquarium for sharks, a large pond with sturgeon, and a two-story-high fresco of himself on the wall overlooking the main entrance was his idea of a suitable residence. Of course, none of us minded working on this atrocity against good taste as long as we got paid, and as far as paying goes, Globe was a pretty decent customer who made sure we had everything we needed to get our job done.

Our work crew was a colourful bunch, consisting of a small core of professionals who laid pavement season-around for a living, a bunch of kids like myself trying to make some money during the summer who would handle the menial jobs, and a few older booze-hounds and ex-cons who were doing this work until something more to their liking came around, or they relapsed back into their old habits. These old-timers were masters at slacking off. They had noticed that our boss was a chain-smoker, so for him, having a smoke was a sacred ritual that was not to be interrupted. The more skillful ones could spend half of the day smoking and pretending to talk about work with dead seriousness, only doing something to avoid becoming too obvious, or when the deadlines were urgent. The younger lads who smoked quickly caught on as well. One of the new guys earned himself a nickname Coolio, since he managed to spend whole four hours standing and smoking with his arms crossed simply because the boss had forgotten to assign him a job. The rest of us decided that this was the posture Coolio was using to level up his cool points, and it became a running gag to attempt performing various tasks with crossed arms from there on for "bonus cool points". Non-smokers didn't have it easy because they stood out, more than five minutes of idling prompting a stern word from the boss.

During my time with this company, I developed a whole list of popular songs that I absolutely loathed for years afterwards. We had a radio set in the yard that constantly played European Hit Radio, a channel which basically repeated the same top hits of the month ten to twelve times a day. Furthermore, the guy who owned the radio set happened to be the biggest and burliest dude in the whole crew and an avowed fan of European hit songs. He had made it abundantly clear that switching the channel will result in murder of the offender, so nobody dared to put that statement to the test.

Besides us, there were several other work crews on the site, the most notable being an all-Russian crew of bricklayers. These were all older guys whose vocabulary could make a sailor's ears wilt. Without much exaggeration, during my work alongside them, I learned a number of colourful expletives that I didn't even knew existed before - and having grown up in a rowdy Russian-majority industrial town I can safely say I knew quite a few.

The two most notable characters within this motley crew of bricklayers were their foreman, whom we baptized Stalin for his uncanny resemblance to the notorious dictator, and a guy named Yurchik.

Yuri, also known as Yurchik, was a stocky short man of indeterminate age that we guessed to be between 40 and 50. Possessed with a coarse, bristly red hair and a swollen, narrow-eyed face, Yurchik uncannily resembled a pig. The semblance was further enhanced by his formidable body odor, the product of a mix of poor personal hygiene and a constant haze of cheap alcohol fumes. He was the definition of what we would later call a "mutant", although at the time this term hadn't yet entered the local parlance.

Yurchik was quite literally a slave, working for little more than a bottle of vodka a day. We kids who worked for the summer were getting paid a modest equivalent of 20 dollars a day. Yurchik was getting paid 10 if he came to work sober (which he almost never did), and 5 if he came drunk. Still, that didn't keep him from somehow finding money to finance his drinking habit even at work. There was a farmhouse nearby, where a "joint" dealing in contraband booze and cigarettes was known to operate. On lunch breaks, Yurchik could be seen trotting there with an empty bottle in hand, later returning with a full one and a delighted expression on his face.

One particular incident serves to demonstrate his daily drinking amounts. One morning, me and another guy were loading cobblestones in wheelbarrows. Yurchik was nearby, mixing mortar. After filling up his wheelbarrow, he pushed it (or should I rather say, was dragged by it) off to where the rest of his crew was working. Incidentally, I happened to take a peek behind a cobblestone crate next to where Yurchik had been working. What I found there was a pair of 700 ml vodka bottles, one already empty and one half-way through. We started work on 8 in the morning, and it wasn't even 11 yet.

Needless to say, Yurchik's drinking habit constantly led him into trouble with his foreman Stalin. Their interactions were truly something to behold. They usually began with a hysterical shriek "Yuri, you motherfucker!" followed by a lengthy elaboration of why exactly Yurchik was a motherfucker this time, along with Stalin detailing his opinions about his appearance, smell, eating habits, mental faculties, the chastity of his female relatives, his religious conviction and sexual orientation. While Stalin was busy swearing at the poor old drunk with words that the roughest boatswain would loathe to utter, Yurchik would usually just stand there looking like a whipped dog and mumbling something incoherently. To tell the truth, I never got why Stalin kept him around in the first place. Apparently he must have had his uses.

I quickly figured this wasn't my kind of work or company to keep, and would never again take construction work of any kind after that one summer. But many years later, the memories of Yurchik and Stalin still bring a grin to my face.
 
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