I wake up at 4:30 am, stumble around the room looking for my phone, realize it’s 4:30 am, and curl up into a tiny ball under the covers so that the bed looks like it’s housing a strange yet sizeable lump, and not a human being with irregular sleep patterns.

I wake up again at 8:45 and this time I need to get up fo’ realsies. But it’s impossible. My eyes hurt when I open them. I’m sheltered by a cocoon of warmth. At the exact moment I realize and appreciate my comfort level, Gemma the Weiner Dog bursts through the door, bouncing up and down like a fucking jackhammer. She jumps on me, slides under the covers, and licks me incessantly. Her stupid dog breathe provokes me to seek escape by jumping out of bed. By this time, I’m miserable and might as well get ready.

“I’m an asshole but I know you love me so I can get away with shit”

I spend some time looking for clothes to wear, which is a laugh and waste of time because I always wear the same thing: jeans, button-down, vest, and NATO–issued bomber jacket. I also look for underwear. Gemma the Weiner Dog is an asshole and sometimes hides my stock of undergarments, occasionally around the apartment. It’s a problem.

Then I gather my things  – WAIT!! There’s a pigeon outside my window and I have to stare at it until I’m running late.

Next I’m off to the kitchen. Larisa, my host mom, makes breakfast for me. There are a few variations, but what can most often be found on my plate is a barley-like thing called kasha. I eat it with tvorog, sour cream, a hot dog, and salt. Writing this down, it doesn’t sound tasty at all. It sounds barf-inducing. But it happens to be delicious and I always look forward to it.

This is when Larisa hassles me for opting out of tea. “But Larisa” I say, “I was staring at a pigeon outside my window and I simply haven’t time!!” What normally happens is that she makes it anyway – black tea with milk – and I take it to my room. And then I forget about it. The tea thing upsets me because I love tea. And I hate wasting her tea and her milk. This is a problem that I need to resolve soon, lest any person in 19th century Britain gasp flamboyantly at the egregious waste of tea that is going on here.

I turn to the clock and curse at myself for handling time inefficiently, again. I quickly gather my things together, frown at the new holes in my mismatched socks that appear daily, pull on my boots in a clumsy and haphazard fashion, and then wish Larisa a good day.

The second I leave my apartment building, the headphones go in and I’m essentially a Russian for the next thirty minutes. This is because I physically blend in and I look mean while walking – it’s not kosher to smile to yourself at a funny sight or thought as Russians will condemn you to idiocy. I also know the buses and the streets, I know the traffic patterns and which bus conductors are nice and which are not so nice. All this should amount to a smooth commute but it seldom does.

The buses are always jam-packed at this hour, so it’s a good day when my expectation of having an armpit shoved in my face isn’t met. But it usually is. And many Russian men have no concept of deodorant. And so my place on the bus is determined by BO radii. Then I hand the conductor 23 rubles and I wait patiently for my stop. On a good day, without traffic, the ride is twelve minutes. But everyone in Petersburg knows that there’s no such thing as no traffic.

I exit the bus and the Offspring are playing so loudly on my crappy headphones everyone can hear my jams. Russian women give me dirty looks. I give them dirty looks back. Now it’s only a ten minute walk to Smolny.

The place is beautiful, minus the hoards of Asian tourists that descend in the early morning. They occasionally ask to take pictures with me. When I tell them I’m not Russian but American, they say: “even better!” The cathedral is also home to intriguing events, like funerals for high-powered individuals who were whacked by the mob.


I get to class unprepared, sit through class, pipe up every so often, check the time, then leave class.

Now I’m free and it’s time to go ‘splorin. I usually go to a point of interest or restaurant or bar, for example the secret police museum or any bar. On Tuesdays I teach English in exchange for black rubles, on Wednesdays I teach English for nothing at all. A woman and her little daughter wanted a conversation partner, so I head over to their place on Vasilievsky Island where we drink tea, talk, and watch How I Met Your Mother in Russian. Writing this, I fear they may not be learning much English.

By then, if I have no other plans, I make my way home. I’m excited to get back because my bed is warm and comfortable, like a snuggy sans the embarrassment of a snuggy. This is the time I honor any Skype commitments, resolve to write and read a little, and start to think about thinking about cleaning my room. When none of those things are done, it’s time to fall into a deep slumber.

But wait! It’s dinner time, the best time of all! Larisa cooks Russian food for me. Coming from a person who has traveled in her day and has had the opportunity to try all different types of cuisines, Russian food is simply not the best. It would actually be closer to the bottom of the list, perhaps right above fermented shark in Scandinavia. But every place has its good and bad, and the food is similar to what I’m used to: vegetable soups, rye bread, potatoes, pelmeni, hot dogs, kielbasa, chicken, or some kind of mystery fish. Then I pile on a healthy dose of sour cream. On a luxurious day I get chocolates for dessert. Most other days there are only apples. Larisa and her husband have nine apple trees at their dacha, so now we have 300 kilos of apples in the apartment. I never see them eating any, but they always force them on me. Sometimes I think they’re only hosting me so they have someone to consume their damn apples.

And then it’s back to the cocoon. I think about the work I should do, decide not to do it, then peruse news sites and youtube. I then attempt to go to sleep.

But not before Gemma the Weiner Dog bursts through the door, bouncing up and down like a fucking jackhammer. She jumps on me, slides under the covers, and licks me incessantly. Her stupid dog breath provokes me to wash my face. By the time I return she usually succumbs to a normal energy level and crawls in the space between my arm and my body. And then we fall asleep.