Everything You Need, Multiplied by 156 -- Oh, and also the Kitchen Sink

June 30, 1991|By KATHY LALLY

While other canny investors are waist-deep in soybeans or up to here in pork bellies, we have sunk everything into toilet-paper futures and detergent options, gone aggressively after ketchups and balanced the weak spots in our portfolio with a smattering of peanut butter and shampoo.

Last week we left for the Soviet Union for three years, where my husband, Will Englund, and I will share a job as The Sun's Moscow correspondent, and where our daughters, 5 and almost-9, will live most un-Americanally without those small conveniences of life in the United States -- like toothpaste.

Or a kitchen. Packing for three years, we took everything we would need to sustain us, including the kitchen sink -- and faucet and cabinets and drawer handles and screws and screwdriver and hammer and nails. We didn't have to take a refrigerator, though. Our predecessor, Scott Shane, took that three years ago when he and his family took up the post.

Along with the kitchen sink, we bought and packed birthday presents for our daughters' still unmet friends. We took candles and party hats for two sets of birthdays per year for three years. We amassed an enviable collection of Barbies and Kens and other glittery touchstones of Western capitalistic decadence.

We bought shoes and boots and underwear and party dresses and sweat pants and socks and warm coats and hats and mittens (extras to replace the inevitable losses) -- all in six sizes, one size per daughter per year. We packed Christmas decorations and Easter-egg dye, school notebooks and

windshield wipers, anti-freeze and windshield scrapers, smoke alarms and Halloween candy.

And, just when we thought we had everything, Scott Shane told us that the latest shortage is windshields. You park your car on the street and when you return, like as not, your windshield will be gone. That's the last straw, Will and I told each other. We are not going to take a spare windshield to Moscow. We'll just have to do as the Soviets do -- plaster our windshield with fake cracks, so no one will want to steal it.

This is life in Moscow. While our parents and friends worry that this caper is ill-advised, that we won't have enough to eat, that the KGB or World War III will overtake us, we reassure them. If you have dollars or credit cards, you can get food in Moscow. The problem is all those other things. They can be found, but you have to make a choice: either spend all day following tips on which store is selling soap that day or spend all day following tips on what Gorbachev plans to do with the country's arsenal of nuclear weapons. Our choice is clear.

With our American dollars and credit cards, we also have the luxury of being able to order almost anything from a Finnish store with an outlet in Moscow. But this, Scott tells us, is incredibly expensive. Everything is three and four times what it is here.

So, we did what generations of Sun foreign correspondents have done before us. We called Hampden. Hampden Moving and Storage, that cavernous warehouse mushrooming out of an old house at 36th Street and Falls Road, comes by with paper and pen and next thing you know your favorite armchair and beer glasses, along with your kitchen cabinets and new sofa, are steaming their way across the Atlantic to Bremen, where Hampden's German agent takes over and trucks them into the heart of the Russian Socialist Republic, right to your apartment on Sadovaya Samotechnaya, where every motion is occurring in reverse for Scott, minus the toilet paper.

It's so easy, Hampden tells us, that we can call the Giant at the Rotunda a few blocks from our house, put our feet up and before we can flick our cigar ashes on the floor, we can have our 200 rolls of toilet paper delivered right from the Giant truck to Hampden's door.

Being compulsive cheapskates, we didn't do that. Instead, we spent three months carrying off armloads of toilet paper or laundry soap or dishwashing detergent whenever it was on sale. Being a complete American, I love to consume. I love to shop. But after a while, even I got slightly nauseous pushing yet another cart spilling over with tennis shoes and blank video tapes (''I never saw anyone buy that many!'' one clerk exclaimed) and stain remover and batteries and battery rechargers and half-price patterns for Halloween costumes to the check-out counter, especially as I thought of how we live with royal carelessness compared to much of the rest of the world.

We weren't extravagant. Though a few rolls of toilet paper would add little to the cost when our belongings were going into a big ship's container anyway, we tried to calculate carefully. Will figured out how much toilet paper or Kleenex or dish detergent or laundry soap we used in a week and multiplied it by 156, throwing in a little extra for the occasional guest.

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