Refried Flashback Friday: A foreign affair to remember, originally published October 9, 2008.
It's Flashback Friday, and you know what that means: another story from Russia. I have so many of these that we might need to move on to another theme for a while lest we all get Russia'd out.
Then again, today's story is a bit of a break after all because it happened to Jeremy, not me. First, some necessary background information: in the mid-90s, Jeremy served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Siberia, specifically in the cities of Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Mormon missionaries generally serve in pairs, and each member of the pair is called a "companion" to the other. Throughout their two years of service, as often as every couple of months, missionaries are transferred to serve with different companions.
Jeremy had been in Novosibirsk for five months when he was transferred to a new companionship, to serve with a missionary named Elder Atwood. To accommodate the transfer, Jeremy moved in to the apartment Atwood was already living in.
In the bedroom of the apartment, there were two beds. One was a large, comfortable bed. The other was what Jeremy describes as a "coffin bed" because it had sides on it. Once you lay down in the narrow coffin bed, you couldn't roll over or otherwise move to get comfortable because the sides didn't allow it. A difficult decision with an unavoidably unfair outcome lay before the missionaries, and Elder Atwood, trying to give the new guy a break, offered to take one for the team and sleep in the coffin bed. Jeremy wasn't about to argue - it was his lucky day! He'd get the normal bed while Elder Atwood suffered for his generosity.
Meanwhile, missionary work in the city went on as usual. But before long, Jeremy and his companion started having problems with the lock on their front door. They returned to the apartment once in the middle of the day and tried to get in, to no avail. The lock seemed to be stuck, or the key wasn't working. On that day, they simply gave up and went back out in the city to continue working. Later, when they returned, they had no problems getting in the door. It was strange and annoying, but not suspicious - locks are finicky sometimes, and they had no reason to suspect anyone of anything.
Jeremy and I in front of one of his Novosibirsk mission apartments (but not the one) on a visit there in 2002.
The next time the lock gave them trouble, though, they didn't give up so easily. Instead, Elder Atwood went to the apartment above theirs, climbed out on the neighbor's balcony, and lowered himself onto their own balcony to let himself in. They still couldn't quite figure out what the problem was with the lock.
Eventually, there came a last straw: once again, they tried to get into their apartment, and once again, the lock didn't seem to work. So they called in the big guns, in the form of a fellow missionary named Elder C, who was large in stature. Basically, Elder C tried to kick the door down. He kicked and banged and pounded but succeeded only in knocking loose a few splinters of wood and shaking down some paint flakes.
As Jeremy and his companion stood locked outside their own apartment that night, defeated and wondering what to do next, they heard a strange sound. It was a click, and it was strange because it was the sound of their door opening, from the inside.
The door opened to reveal their landlord, a very small and skinny (and at that moment, sheepish) man, dressed in a bright yellow 1970s-style shirt with a wide butterfly collar left open to reveal a hairy chest and a gold medallion on a chain.
Amidst the shock of discovering his landlord - dressed in such a manner - inside his home, Jeremy stepped into the apartment and glanced down the hallway. There he saw an extremely large, almost obese woman who was in the middle of hastily dressing herself. Unfortunately for Jeremy, she wasn't quite finished yet.
Obviously, the landlord had been less than up-front with his Mormon missionary tenants. He was renting the apartment to them while also using it to carry on an illicit affair with a woman who was not his wife. Immediately, the reason why the missionaries sometimes couldn't get into their own apartment became terrifyingly, revoltingly clear.
I'm sure it was a big "ewww" moment for Elder Atwood, too, but I think it had to have been worse for Jeremy. Remember those two beds in the bedroom? The big, comfortable one, and the narrow, coffin-like one? I'll leave it to you to decide which one the landlord preferred for his, um, recreational activities.
So you see that in the end, Elder Atwood was blessed for his generosity. Even if it was at Jeremy's very great and shudder-worthy expense.