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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Lethal Booze Lifts Blues At Defenders' Day Do




On Tuesday, all the men in at work trekked upstairs to the newsroom of the Vladivostok - the daily that publishes my on-line newspaper - for the annual Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland celebration.


The table was laid out with vodka, Sovietskoye champagne, pickled mushrooms, kimchi and slices of sausage that looked like cross sections of a clogged artery. But before we could set into the treats, a door burst open and the women swarmed in, wearing floppy hats.


"Here are our journalists/ Knights of the pen," they sang. "They write as if they/ were shooting from a machine gun./ The only trouble is,/ they earned their money/ but there is nothing in the cash box."


Our general director, who has let the staff go as long as three months without pay, proffered a bland smile that said: Hey, I can take a joke. But we are recording the names of those who laugh.


It has always struck me as curious that Russian employees can celebrate in conditions that would have forced Western bosses to call out the riot police. But workers here have an amazing ability to forget their problems on holidays.


At the Vladivostok, the holiday parties began early, in each department. By 1 p.m. the women had bought us candy and champagne, and one of the computer programmers next door contrived to open a bottle so as to douse the newspaper's electronic central nervous system with the sticky beverage. The geeks then produced a Madeira bottle filled with pure alcohol. This drink is known as an "awl," doubtless because it behaves in a manner similar to the tool utilized in 19th-century lobotomy. Everyone agreed that the sole remaining American on staff should sample an awl.


"Er, no, thanks," I said.


"Just try a little," pleaded Lev, editor of the electronic edition.


"Really, I have to finish a story."


"Ah, it is because of his last name: Ooorking."


We all laughed. Then I returned to ooork.


Everyone was cheerful by the time we got upstairs. We applauded when the women sang, "It doesn't matter what/ century you live in./ Life without cash/ is very sour."


After that, the crowd moved on to some serious drinking. Our feckless trade union - which uttered not a peep when unpaid workers were quitting in droves - had purchased 10 bottles of vodka to honor the fatherland's defenders. The women passed out the union's presents: a tiny bottle of vodka for every man.


The union bosses may not lead us to the barricades when wages fall behind. They may not vandalize the printing press or throw paving stones at cops. But they know what kind of awl it takes to scratch away a worker's bitterness.