Wrath of the Nouveau Riche

Yesterday, walking back from taking out the trash I noticed that the two front tires of my Niva were completely deflated. All sorts of thoughts came to mind about who did it – the delivery men working for the fast food restaurant just below me, one of the neighbors who can’t park in my space, or some of the kids in the neighborhood who have no other way of keeping themselves entertained.

I called some people inquiring about a pump or an air compressor. I had purchased a combination compressor/battery starter several years ago, but it wasn’t working when I plugged it in yesterday, even after charging the battery for several hours. My landlord said that one of the neighbors had a pump and he would put me I touch with him as soon as he was freed up – apparently he was going to the hospital for some kind of treatment. Needless to say, I never met the neighbor, so one day was shot.

My landlord called this morning to tell me that he remembered that his own pump, which worked with a pedal, had to be in the apartment somewhere, most likely in his storage room. But before he would look for it, he would have to fix the leak in the bathroom that we had told him about a couple of months ago. It wasn’t until past 4:30 when the job was done and he was able to scrounge around in the piles of disassembled furniture, books and other stuff. He even looked in cabinets that he hadn’t opened in years located on the rear closed-in balcony. Then he called another friend who lives halfway down the block to get his bicycle pump. I noticed right away that the clamp was missing on the hose, where you affix it to the valve of the tire. So we jury-rigged it using the clamp we cut of from the dead compressor’s hose and wrapped some black electrician’s tape around it to make the connection airtight. Then we went downstairs to the car and I started pumping right away – by that time it was nearly 5:30 and it was getting dark very quickly. It seemed as though I was making some headway, but it was hard to see with the diminishing light. I could feel my triceps starting to burn after a few minutes and I wondered how I would be able to fill both tires before nightfall. Then the neighbor in our building from the fourth floor who had just returned from somewhere in his black Nissan hatchback approached us. I knew right away that he was about to start something. Below are some fragments of the conversation that followed.

“Hi everyone, hello Sergey how are you? he asked.

“Hi, great I’m fine, and you?” Sergey, my landlord, replied.

“Good, I was hoping to talk with your friend here, if that’s ok.”

“Yeah, Chris…”

“Hi, what’s going on?” I asked.

“Dude, I noticed that you weren’t around for a few weeks, is that right? Your car was parked here.”

“Yeah, I was out of town. Why?”

“Well you parked your car in such a way that four cars can’t park here. This area is meant to hold four cars.”

“Right, well, during that time my car was parked on the end so that the cars would all fit here.”

“Well, with the way you’re parked now we can’t fit four cars, you see.”

“I try to park it so that four will fit, but it’s not always possible.”

“No, you don’t. And now you’re car…”

“Alright, so, I will be more careful next time.”

“Because the way you park, it’s not helpful to others who want put their cars here.”

“Well, okay, I will take care of it.”

“Sergey, he’s parking in a way that others can’t park, you know? He has to understand that it’s not possible. You shouldn’t park this way.”

“You know, I’m in the middle of doing something here. Can’t you see that?”

“What are you getting so huffy about?”

“I am trying to inflate my tires so I can get my car out, you get it? Don’t you see what I’m doing?”

“I’m just telling you how to park your car, dude. You shouldn’t park your car that way. What’s your problem, anyway?”

“In the middle of doing something you have to read me a lecture. Four cars should park here, I got it.”

“Don’t talk to me with your attitude, you kid.” This guy’s about my age.

“Now I have to put up with your griping on top of it. Who are you, anyway?”

“Don’t give me attitude.” At that point he looked like he was about to hit me. Sergey was holding him back and eventually took him aside to calm down. Some kids from across the street that the neighbor knows came by, snickering, trying to find out from him what was going on. I asked them what they were laughing about, then I stopped there. At that point, I took the pump and went upstairs, realizing I could not continue.

In Armenia, there are basically two kinds of arguments that you hear on a daily basis. More often than not, it’s the standard dispute where two people are yelling at each other at the top of their lungs, usually about nothing. Then there is the provocation and reaction argument, which is sort of like a game. The goal is to turn the exchange of words into a heated quarrel in the shortest amount of time.  Either the provoker or the one who is being provoked is at one point taken aside by a third party, who is essentially the peace broker. He will confer with both sides to get them to stop fighting, whether a solution to the problem has been found or not. That part usually takes longer than the actual full-blown arguement because flare-ups can preclude the truce. Then when there’s nothing left to say or see, everyone goes about their own business. Sometimes the feuding sides start drinking afterwards as a way to kiss and make up.

After a few hours had passed, my wife (actually she started guessing immediately) and I started to understand what really transpired. Even Sergey told me afterwards he was surprised with how he wouldn’t let up and move on. It wasn’t just about the parking. It is very rare when four cars are able to park in that area -- he knows that very well, because everyone parks in such a way that they can maneuver in and out easily and open their doors wide. Some people like to wipe down every inch of their cars and they like a lot of stretching room to do so. So I don’t think it’s an issue with me per se. It’s more about protecting what he has.

During the last two years two of the neighbors in my building -- including the one I mentioned -- bought brand new cars (one bought two simultaneously) and started doing extensive home remodeling quite suddenly. It was obvious – they were making it so -- that they had come into some money and were spending it frivolously. This is a new trend that you see. People are becoming well off virtually overnight, then complexes of self-importance and entitlement develop in response to the sudden rise in status very quickly. You see people who were struggling only ten years ago or even less now doing well for themselves, and along with that success comes arrogant, standoffish behavior. My wife first thought that our neighbor is having personal issues – perhaps his sex life is bad or something else is going on in his life. But most likely, as she understood possessing the psychologist’s mind, it is fear that he is experiencing. Along with that success comes stress that you will lose whatever you gained in such a short time and go back to the way you were living before, without the car, fancy clothes and the little luxuries that you now take for granted. You don’t ever want to do without again, and the anxiety associated with that thought causes fits of panic or rage. I have noticed an increasing number of random, pointless conflicts in the last few years that have coincided in tandem with the rise of Yerevan’s nouveau riche. It can’t be a coincidence. And today, unluckily for me, I was sucked into one of those absurd conflicts.

On days like these, I wonder why I ever moved to Armenia in the first place. Just hearing these squabbles in the courtyard is stressful, never mind being caught up in one. As I was sitting frustrated and distraught, when my wife consoled me by giving me a bear hug and telling me she loves me, I remembered. 


Anonymous said…
Totally understand your frustration. Some guys in Yerevan just like to swagger and get "all in your face" over nothing.

The other day I went to the Surmalou market next to Petak and was buying some rice at a market stall. Some dude dressed up in army khakis told me to move; I was "in the way". I turned around and told him I was buying some stuff and where should I stand. The aisle was so narrow, I'd have to stand on the merchandise. The owner tried to calm me down and all. Is Yerevan full of a-holes or what? Anything to show a bit of dominance over others. No wonder the ex-mayor thought he could bitch slap some dude from the presidential protocol staff.

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