Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake

As I’ve commented before, we journalists have a tendency to swoop in when there’s a crisis/controversy, and then forget about it once the heat dies down. And that is something I’ve personally been trying to avoid, even when I don’t get paid for it.

Kenosha has been on my radar long before the shooting of Jacob Blake. I visited it several times – the first time back in college, in one of my “how far can the [then $5] Metra weekend pass get me” day trips. I wanted to see the only midwestern town within communing distance that had some form of tramway (a heritage-style streetcar loop that, as I quickly realized, was little more than a tourist attraction for the HarborPark development in downtown Kenosha). I visited it a few times since, because it’s the only way to go to another state on a Metra weekend pass, and while I don’t have as much inexplicable fondness for it as I do for Michigan City, it has its charms. I even visited Kenosha twice during the pandemic – once in May (when, by a strange coincidence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order) and once in June.

So, when the shooting happened, I already had some context. I already knew that it was a manufacturing town those existence once revolved around several major auto plants (the aforementioned HarborPark development was built on the site of large American Motors Corporation lakefront plant). I knew that the city was home to more African-Americans than many people might assume, with some living there since the days of the Underground Railroad. When protesters marched on Kenosha County Courthouse, and when riots swept through downtown and Uptown areas, I had a pretty good idea where several of those streets were.

I originally planned to try to get to Kenosha on August 24, what ended up being the second day of riots (and the day before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters and wounded another), but I missed the mid-day train. Because Union Pacific North Metra Line is running on a limited schedule in these pandemic times, it meant that there was no point catching the following train, since I would basically only have time to walk around for a few minutes before I had to catch the last train back to Chicago. Paying work kept me from making another attempt until Friday, August 28. By that point, the protests continued, but they were mostly peaceful, and National Guard was brought in

Continue reading “Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake”

My First Job In The USA

In the posts that described my everyday life in 1995/96, I tried to convey that it was pretty much unstructured.

I could repeat a million times that I supported my family all by myself, and that I conducted some scientific researches, and that I took kids to many cultural activities, and that I was such a superwoman. I could, but the truth is that I still had a lot of leisure time. 

In some sense, it was a good thing. Vlad and Anna didn’t spend eleven hours a day in the daycare; I could always stay home when somebody was sick. I could do chores on weekdays, and weekends were for all sorts of cultural activities. We would go to see a play every Sunday and to some museum every Saturday. Somehow, my personal life would also fit in the schedule. We did quite a bit of stuff with Boris without the kids. 

It was all good, but that meant that I never worked more than four hours a day.

I took pride in being able to complete the eight-hour workload in four hours or less. But that only meant that the expectations were pretty low. 

Now imagine how I felt when I started my first US job at VIN.net International. I had to be at work every day, and I had to spend nine hours there, no matter what, for the simple reason that I could not leave work on my own. 

Our workday was technically speaking from eight to five with a one-hour lunch break, but most people arrived earlier than eight. For the first several weeks, we lived in Des Planes, and I took a commuter train from Deer Road to Barrington, so I was abiding by the train schedule both ways. Most people didn’t go out for lunch but had lunch at their desks, and I did the same. The last time I had to be at work by a specific time was in 1988 when I worked at the Construction Bureau for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Even then, there were shifts. 

Now, imagine me coming to work by 7-30 AM, having lunch at my desk, leaving at 5 PM, coming home – and that’s it! On weekends, somebody would take me to the grocery store – and that was it!  

Remember, that was the time before the internet, so you could not surf the web at home, let alone work. And you could not sit at your desk reading a book, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union. No random trips to the city center. No theaters or museums. No window shopping or “looking what is out there.” Home-work-home. 

One of my school friends who by that time was lived in the US for a while wrote to me in her letter: it’s tough to get adjusted, but soon you will feel much better than at home – you have so much freedom here! Freedom?! Are you kidding me?! That felt more like a prison! 

Later, Boris told me that if back in Russia, I would ever spend nine hours each day, five days a week for several months, I could also increase my skills level dramatically. Maybe he is right:). However, I feel that the most critical factor at that time was the fact that I had to work a lot, that there was a lot to do, and that I had nobody to follow. For years, I knew that if I do not know something, if I do not know how complete a certain task, and simply if I do not have my own opinion on some technical topic, I could ask Boris. And he always knew everything.

On the one hand, I liked it. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether I could do anything on my own. Sometimes I felt that people would offer me a job or suggest a gig for the only reason that I was bringing Boris’s expertise with me.

I did not work with Sybase before, and I had to figure out everything by myself. And not just to figure out, but to support a production database. Again, no internet and almost no documentation. It was extremely rewarding after I figured out how things worked. I still remember the chills of seeing a SQL statement being executed, being needed, being meaningful. And at the same time, I remember the gloom of seeing the same twelve people for weeks and wondering whether it will be the same for two years. I knew that I was not seeing America and was not living in America yet. 

We didn’t know anything about Halloween, and although other explained the idea to me, I decided that we will do it next year. Elections passed, and people barely mentioned it. 

However, some events were about to happen and change my life dramatically. I didn’t know back then that the changes will be positive in the end. 

To be continued:)

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.

Our First Day In The USA

Yesterday, there was a 24th anniversary of the day when Vlad, Anna, and I came to the US. In the past several months, I wrote so many posts about our last weeks in Russia and the first weeks and months in the US that I have almost nothing to add. But today, I was thinking about these first days again, and suddenly I recalled some of my feelings. 

After Val picked us up at O’Hare, he drove us to Des Plaines, where I would sign the lease for my first ever apartment. I was tired; I barely understood what was going on. In addition to Val, one more VIN.net employee was waiting for me in the leasing office. His name was Art; he was a sales rep, and he was supposed to help me understand what I was signing; apparently, Pam didn’t trust Val to explain it to me :). 

Reading the lease agreement was too much for me, even with Art’s help. I signed, and then, there were lots of motions. I had no money on me, and Pam wanted Val to pay my security deposit and one week of October rent, which was left; I was expected to pay it back later. But the leasing office could not accept cash, and there was an argument, and at the end, Art paid with his credit card, and Vlad gave him cash. 

Things were finally resolved, and we were moved to this empty apartment with two old coaches, which my other future co-workers gave away. And I remember that weird feeling, which I had going to bed that night: it was that easy?! 

I never, ever-never, had my place. I am not talking about an apartment; I never had a room, which would be mine and only mine, never in my life. The fact that I couldn’t have a place of my own in Russia was a major deciding factor in my move to the US. I was planning to work hard for two years and earn enough money to buy an apartment in Saint Petersburg. Cash buying was the only option: neither mortgages nor rental market existed in Russia at that time. 

And here I was, going to bed in a two-bedroom apartment in Des Planes, and that magic happened immediately upon arrival. It happened just because nobody here could imagine that less than a two-bedroom apartment would suffice. The problem which seemed utterly unresolvable in Russia resolved itself instantly… 

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.

Matter Does Not Disappear!

At the beginning of April, when all the world was in the lockdown, and I thought that Boris and I would never see each other again, I mailed him a parcel. I put in it several small items that he purchased on Amazon for the upcoming biking season and which he was planning to pick up during his March trip, which did not happen. Also, I put some cookies that I baked for Easter and some vitamins, which I meant to give him to take home. And I mailed it, expecting it to travel slowly.
Well, it was sitting hear in Chicago for a while, it moved from one facility to another, and finally, it left O’Hare on May 5. And then I lost a trace of it.

I asked Boris to contact the Finnish postal service, but he didn’t feel like doing it :). He re-ordered some of the things which got lost, and I brought them with me at the end of July. And then, a week after I left, he received a notice from the Finnish customs. It turned out that somebody swapped the street number and the apartment number (I wrote it correctly on the envelope, so it might get messed up in the system). They actually wanted Boris to pick it put at the customs, but since they were trying to contact somebody else all that time, the parcel was marked as not claimed, and the day Boris got the note, the parcel was sent back to me.

I got it today. As expected, the cookies were gone bad, and I guess all the bike parts are still good :).
I am glad that “matter does not disappear,” it would be worse if the package would never be found, but still…

How is My Mom

Many people are asking me how my mom is doing. She is doing great, taking into account her age and other circumstances.

However, because she firmly believes that she can’t understand English, mom does not watch TV, and she does not read anything in English on the internet. At the times when things started to be bad here, and I started to realize what is coming ahead, she was clueless – in Russia, the virus “did not exist” at that time. And she was asking me why I worry so much. I was trying to explain to her that the situation is bad and getting worse, but since she didn’t receive any proof from Russia, she didn’t take it in. I remember that when I came to visit her two days later, after we had that first conversation, she started to ask me, “whether I feel better that day.”

On the one hand, I didn’t want to make her worry; on the other hand, I needed her to understand the severity of the situation and to be cautious. And then, all of a sudden, it was officially announced in Russia that the virus exists. And then she finally started to worry. Just in time, when things began to be more stable here, not better, but we’ve adjusted to the situation.

Then she started to tell me what she read about the virus on the Russian internet. Most of the time, I listen quietly to what she has read on the Russian internet and not comment, but in the situation when she can make bad choices based on what she read on the Russian internet, I had to interfere. She was very upset and told me that I think that everything is better in America :). I decided to be smarter next time, and try to let her talk as much as she needs. Then I tell her that while she lives in Illinois, she has to follow the orders of our governor, and that’s all that should matter for her.
She was still keeping telling me what she read in Russian. It was funny that she mentioned that “people create the panic,” and I told her – Mom, don’t worry, there is plenty of food in the stores, she replied: yes, Putin told that there is plenty of food! I didn’t comment on it.

Then, when Russia went into quarantine, her Russian friends started to ask her in emails: so, you are going out for the walks? Is it allowed? Won’t you be punished if you go outside? The also anxiously asked her whether there is food in the stores. As a result, about a week ago she told me: it looks like in Russia they sometimes publish wrong things about America! Same as here about Russia! I decided it was good enough 🙂

She is complaining that she has nobody to socialize with and that previously she was going out with me, and visiting my friends and so on. I am keeping telling her that she has to wait.
Yesterday, I filed her short-form tax returns for her so that she could receive a stimulus payment. She didn’t think she is eligible, but I told her she is. I think it will be great when she receives it!

A Picture of Our First Christmas

I finally found one picture from our first Christmas Eve in the US, which I described here. I’ve already added the picture to the original post, but for since in was published a week ago I thought it’s worth to show this picture separately.

I do not know where are the rest of the pictures, I only have this one – Val posing with Anna and Vlad.

You can see our tree with paper ornaments, and a star, and a string of lights, and a garland. The holiday outfits were given to us by my co-workers with older children, and the hat was made of plastic (came from some game set), but Vlad loved it:)

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.

About My First Christmas

Knowing that I was born in January 1963, you might think that my first Christmas was on December 25, 1963. But in fact, my first Christmas happened only in 1996, keep reading to find out why – this is going to be the longest post you ever read in my journal.

Before the October revolution of 1917, Orthodox Christianity was an official religion of the Russian Empire. The Julian Calendar which is two weeks behind the Gregorian Calendar, was used both in Church and in civic life. 

After the revolution, the Church was separated from the state. Several months later, by a decree of the Revolutionary government, the country was switched to the Gregorian calendar. Christmas was denounced, along with all religious holidays, and Christmas trees were forbidden. That situation lasted until early 1930 were when the government decided to allow some of the fun to come back. Granted, there should not be any mention of Jesus. All the festivities were reassigned to the New Year celebrations. There was no more Christmas tree; it became a New Year Tree. The Bethlehem star on top became the Red Star. The Grandfather Frost remained more or less the same:). 

Continue reading “About My First Christmas”

Greetings from the Knox College

I always thought that Anna has chosen a great school to attend, and the greetings I’ve received today is another proof.

The email from the college president said:

At Homecoming this year, we asked members of the Knox family to share a moment of cheer with you this holiday season. Watch the video (and turn up your sound)!

Very best wishes to you for a joyous 2020

Here is the video –

The reason I received this email (which means that I am on alumni list) is that I am a monthly donor. And the college has a beautiful way to say thank you – sending personalized video messages from the students who benefit from the college fund.

Politics – in Anna’s Words

Last week, there was a 23rd anniversary of my coming to the US. Since I already told the story of my coming here, I am not going to repeat it. However, it reminded me that I almost stopped writing my historical posts, which I consider the most important part of this blog. So I promised myself to post three of them in the next couple of days, all related to three different periods of my life.
Meanwhile, I was going over my youtube videos in search of one very old interview of my kids were talking about their Mother:). I didn’t find it, but I found three recordings of Anna talking about politics. That was the time when she was working in the GQR consulting during the second Obama campaign. Most of my friends didn’t have any idea what her work entailed but was ready to stamp all politics as ‘a dirty business.” In this interview, Anna talks about what political consultants do, and I think it is very relevant nowadays!

BTW – I think that the bast thing I did for this country is that I brought Anna here 🙂

What Does Volunteering Mean?

Last week, I had several conversations, which made me first upset, then angry, and then angry at myself that I got angry:). And now, I am trying my best to abstract from particular conversations and to say what exactly was so upsetting. 

What does volunteering mean? It means that you want to do something with no pay. And this includes – possibly no thanks. You want to do something because you believe that this something is important. That somebody’s lives: people’s, animals’, plants’ – will become better if you will be doing this – whatever “this” is. 

You say: I want to volunteer. Great. By the way, nobody “has” to volunteer. I will never criticize anybody for not wanting to volunteer. A person can only decide by themselves, whether this is indeed what they want. 

But want I do not understand, and what makes me mad – when somebody expects to be rewarded for their volunteer work. When they get upset that they do not receive enough thanks. When they wonder why others do not want to listen to them or utilize their expertise. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I had heard this: I want to volunteer, I offered my services, why “they” are so picky and do not want me? Why am I not receiving thanks for helping out?

For me, it means that this person does not want to volunteer. They simply want a payment of a different kind. Because when you volunteer, you just give. You give and never ask for something in return. Sure, it feels good when you hear “thank you for all your do!” but that is not a reason why you volunteer.

Also, when you do volunteer, you do the whole thing. There is no “dirty work.” If you want to support this cause, you will do whatever is required in the current situation. In many cases volunteering activities are scary. Or at least uncomfortable. That is a part of the package.