Boris’ part in this Smolny project was installing the software Dr. Conrad was trying to sell. And my part was, as usual, writing the user’s manual. In this case, it was more like a persuasive essay. I had to present a use case and show how this software will make the life of the City clerks easier.
I remember how I was inventing the names and ages of people and their addresses. But the most memorable were the letters I was scanning. Scanning was a very new thing then, at least in Russia, even the copying machines were rare. And I was given a whole bunch of real people’s paper letters to Smolny. And I read them while scanning. I can’t recall any particular case or any particular problem from these letters, but the overall impression was desperate. You could hear people crying, searching for words that would be convincing enough, pleading for help, from necessary surgery to pensions being delayed, to broken heating pipes. I could not help but think how the City clerks can read such letters and put them aside. I knew that all these letters were not processed yet, and some of them were dated two-three months before the day I was reading them.
The other part of my information gathering was interviewing the heads of different departments to identify their document flow needs. I was going then to incorporate these findings into my persuasive essay. Half of the time, I spoke not to the department heads, but somebody else, they would ask to talk to me. I was that slim girl in the white blouse and black slacks, looking way younger than my thirty-two, and most of the officials were very friendly with me and tried their best to help. The lady from the Department of information, responsible for the project, would call ahead to all of the departments, and she would also give me heads up about the people I will be talking to.
Putin was the head of one of the departments. I do not even remember what the official name of that Department was, but she said: well, that is a former Organizational Bureau. She was referring to one of the structures of the City Committee of the Communist Party. And I remember how she said: Oh, Putin is something. Putin is a “dark horse.”
It sounded very strange to me because back then, we knew the names of most of the City leaders, people in charge of the City finances and industry, and research, and education. They were very visible; they were on television, and when I was in Smolny, I could always recognize them when they were passing by or getting in and out of the cars. However, I never heard the name “Putin.”
So, I went to that “former Orgbureau,” and although they were notified ahead that I am coming, they would not let me in. Putin’s secretary (I still vividly remember how she looked) got off her desk and quickly approached me so that I won’t come any further. She started to yell at me, why I am walking around and asking questions, and it’s none of my business to know what they are doing, and they are not going to talk to anybody.
Once again, the name Putin meant nothing to me back then, and the only reason I remember both the name and the episode is that nobody else reacted in that manner. I was crushed (because I could not complete my assignment), and puzzled, and didn’t know what to make out of it.
At the end, I completed my work, and Dr. Conrad asked me to give a presentation to the representatives of different departments to demonstrate all the advantages of the new system. I do not remember how the story ended. He might have succeeded in selling his system, and then it would remain unused. Or he might not. I remember that he was trying once again to delay his payments to me, and I was furious, and after I called him several times, we met for lunch. One more time (the last time :)), we had this “cinematographic” Italian quarrel. Honestly, before I met Dr. Conrad and some of his business partners, I was sure that such yelling happens only in Italian movies. He yelled. I yelled. We both gestures dramatically. I got my money, and he said he would never hire me again, and I said – good! Indeed, that was the last time, and I do not know what happened to him after that.
My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.