My landlord, a Russian Jew, is everything one might want from a landlord. We meet once a month in the metro, when I give him the cash for my rent - an eminently reasonable sum for my apartment, given Moscow's crazy real estate prices, and one that has not gone up during the two years that I've lived there. If something goes wrong with the apartment, he comes around and fixes it. Otherwise, I never hear a peep out of him.
Sadly, this story is not meant to show that Muscovites are utterly reasonable and friendly folk, after all; merely that when someone displays normal, humane behavior - exhibits the qualities of compassion and friendliness and behaves in a reasonable manner from a position of strength rather than trying to extort every last drop out of any given situation - it becomes something surprising; something to write about.
And after all the other landlords I had in Russia, I cherish my current landlord more than anything. I remember the young couple from whom I rented a spare room when I first came to Moscow. One night, I was going to the toilet, when I noticed that the light was on in the kitchen. Through the glass door, I could see Sasha, a wiry, spotty muzhik, reading a book... and masturbating. On to a plate. In horror, I abandoned my toilet trip, rushed back into the bedroom, pissed into a bottle, and tried to get the image out of my head. In the morning, I found the book on the kitchen table. It was called "Adventures of the Russian Special Forces." I didn't eat at home ever again.
A surprise visit from the landlord
Then there's just the general lack of the concept that when you let out an apartment, it ceases to become your property to come and go as you please. There was the elderly woman who lived next door to the flat she rented out, and would come knocking now and then to inform me that while I'd been at work she'd been into the apartment "to check everything was OK" and was worried that it was too untidy. There was another Russian crone - this one in Krasnoyarsk - who accosted me one day to say that she didn't want "people who consort with Chechens" in her apartment. I'd met a friendly Chechen taxi driver and taken his phone and address down - the interfering old hag had actually let herself into the apartment, opened my notebook, found the name, and didn't like it.
But it's Sergei, a landlord who owned a stinking shithole of an apartment near Belorusskaya, who really takes the biskvit. About three years ago, when I was desperately in need of a room for a few months over the summer, I ventured into that reservoir of freakoids, expat.ru, and found a room advertised reasonably near the center, for a mere $250. I went to look at it - it was a total hellhole, and the two other rooms in the flat were inhabited by a freakoid American guy with disturbing facial hair and a freakoid American girl with a smile wide enough to induce nightmares.
But although it's pretty incredible that someone could earn $750 for renting out a flat that looked like it hadn't been renovated since Tsarist times, $250 for a room near the centre was even then a good deal, and for most of the summer the freakoids would be back home in the US of A, so for a few months, it seemed like an OK option. (At this point I didn't know about the rats.)
I paid the facial-haired freakoid for the whole summer, and called the landlord to explain who I was and that I'd be renting the room for the summer. He sounded pretty drunk when I called at 10 in the morning, but told me to call if there were any problems. The freakoid Americans went back to the States, and I was left alone in the rather unpleasant place. For a few days, I had a friend over from London, and apologising for the horrible accommodation, put him up on the sofa in my room.
One evening we were coming back from dinner, walk into the apartment, and find a man, naked save for a small towel just about covering his crown jewels, brazenly eating pelmeni in the kitchen.
"Hi, you must be Aspi," he said.
"Er, yes. Who are you?"
"I'm Sergei, and this is Lena." A revolting, peroxide-blonde heroine-skinny slut appeared at the doorway, a pack of Marlboro Reds in her hand and a similarly skimpy towel around her waist.
"Oyy!" she said, moving her hands to cover her scrawny breasts and in the process losing the towel and exposing everything else. She ran off back to the bedroom.
"Hello, Sergei," I said. "What are you doing in my apartment?"
"I'm the landlord. I knew that Dave is not in Moscow, and I had some things to take care of in Moscow, so I thought I'd stay here for the night."
With that, he went off back to Dave's bedroom. In the morning they were gone. Later that evening I got a call from him.
"Aspi, I have a serious matter to discuss with you. It's about who comes and goes from the apartment."
This better be good, I thought. What possible excuse can someone have for essentially tresspassing on the territory of an apartment they have let out for money? And not only that, but to eat pelmeni in the kitchen while airing his just-used equipment? I was ready to hear him apologize and squirm around trying to find an excuse.
"That guy you had with you yesterday - it's absolutely forbidden to bring people into this apartment without my permission. If I catch you bringing anyone else back I'm going to have to throw you out."
I was temporarily lost for words.
"Err. Sergei. Just a minute. I have paid you to live in the apartment. What I do while I am there is none of your business. If I damage something, fine, I will pay for it, but otherwise, it's none of your business. You, however, have no right to be in the apartment."
"What the fuck are you talking about? It's my apartment."
With that, I hung up on him, and started finding a new place to live. I had to ditch my fantasies of burning down his disgusting apartment, but I decided to borrow an idea from the previous landlord, and on the last day before I left forever, I found the half-full packet of pelmeni in the freezer, and cracked one off inside it. I don't think anyone would notice a bit of frozen semen coating the cheap pelmeni pastry, so I have to assume that on his next illicit pelmeni-eating, whore-shagging visit to my apartment, he would have gobbled it all up. It wasn't much of a revenge. But it still makes me happy when I think about it.