Monday, December 5, 2011

Laurie Hertzel & 3 Banana's in Siberia

So I might as well let the cat out of the bag.

Klecko is in training.

Now many of you know that I have been hitting the gym with frequency, and I've been spending that time lifting heavy objects......

But that's not what I'm talking about.

I am going to attempt the impossible in 2012.

Sometimes when memories of the past flash in my head, I confess, I 1/2 way chuckle, since I can't always ascertain if they were moments from my life, or out takes from a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

As a young man I liked to set goals every year, but most of these were either focused on strength or intelligence......

This year is going to be different.

This year I am going to face the dragon.

This year I am going to spend time alone.

In silence.

To you this might sound stupid, but truth be told........

I would rather face a cobra than solitude.

But for the last couple of months it has occurred to me, that if I "Race Towards the Roar" and drop off the grid for a bit, maybe something spiritual or life changing will happen.......

And then again maybe not.

The thought of this has made me kind of nervous, so recently I have been doing dry runs.

The first thing I did was go out and get a big chair, the kind of chair that an important old person would sit in during a British show replayed on PBS.

I placed this chair in the corner of my living room, and sometimes if I beat Sue McGleno home....I camp out in the chair and sit in silence.

No TV - No Cell Phones and No Radio........

Just quiet.

At first Sue McGleno thought this was just another Klecko fad, but recently she has began to realize this isn't a whim....but a mission.

If you gotta know the truth, I think she doesn't like this life style change, and secretly is hoping that her lout will resurface.

But I really think if I can conqueror silence, I will be able to accomplish anything....everything.

But with all great visions, a plan must be instilled.

I think the first month will be the hardest.

I am committing to sitting in silence for a minimum of an hour a day, and double that on weekends.

As I have been experimenting with this, it has actually been kinda cool. Sure....sometimes I feel like tapping out, but other times I sit.....sit.....sit.....and then something will make me smile.

Last week I did a practice run and my mind flashed back to an evening at the University Club.

Laurie Hertzel did a reading of her award winning book entitled "The Accidental Journalist."

Usually I hate prose, or essays at poetry readings, but Hertzel is cool. I have often said that she is one of the few people on this planet that I would rather listen to than myself.

So she was up at the podium talking about her home in Duluth Minnesota. She lived in a big gray house with red steps and fought about 91 siblings each day for attention, and remnants of Kool-Aid I imagine.

I had exchanged Facebook messages with Laurie before this, but we had never met.

So there's Klecko sitting in the back row, hanging out with the deviants and as she finished her reading......I thought "How wonderful is this woman?"

In addition to being 1 of only 4 columnists in the nation that covers books full time, she also is pathetically committed to dogs and baseball.

I gotta tell, right there girlio had me, but then when the reading was over, she walked over towards my section and the 2 of us got in a conversation.

And then she got onto this deal where she started telling me about a book she wrote where she traveled with some Finnish Woman across Soviet Russia in search of the Fin's father.

But then as the conversation became more informal, she kinda went "Klecko" and started digressing and mentioning incidents that had no incremental order.

The highlight was a story of an old babushka woman yelling at my favorite book girl as she tried to befriend old ladies pet dog.

When Laurie adds humor, you have to laugh because she delivers it in a dry way where you are not 100% sure if she is, or isn't mocking you as well.

She is even worse than me...........

So I sat alone, and I sat in silence, and I remembered this moment that took place over 1/2 year ago and I smiled.

P-Nut, Gracie, Romeo and Deedle-Deedle just sat at my feet and looked befuddled.

So I'm thinking that starting January 1st I am going to get her book...what was it? "They Took My Father?" Or whatever, and I will start off my New Year with Hertzel.

I believe this will increase my luck in slaying dragons of silence.

But then as I was thinking about this, I kinda felt bad because then I really wished hard that Hertzel was sitting in my living room so I could tell her about.......


In 2006 Klecko was 43 and had never left America.

So there I am, in Rochester MN teaching bread courses to the Upper Midwest Bakers Alliance and some cat approaches me all cloak & dagger like and asks me if I had desire to travel around the world.

Dude creeped me out so I said "No...not really."

And creepy guy seemed dejected.

By chance Sue McGleno was standing right next to me, and she laughed and said that of all the people in the room, I would be the least likely candidate to desire going abroad.......

But creepy guy must of took this as a personal challenge or something because he drew closer and rephrased his offer.....

"C'mon, surely there is one city in particu".

I interrupted him and replied......

"Warsaw or Moscow."

Then the second I said this, creepy dude scribbled something into a 79 cent notepad and sidled off of the convention floor.

The following day....I got the call.

"Mr. McGleno, we have secured a scope for you in Siberia Russia, you will be working in a French Cafe in the Asiatic Arctic...will you accept?"

It all happened so quick.

Within a couple of weeks I headed out.

On Sunday around 3 p.m. I got dumped at the airport, caught a plane to Atlanta, sat for 4 hours, boarded plane #2 and crossed the ocean and landed in Moscow. A car with a non English speaking driver picked me up, brought me to a Russian Government building where I was processed, and then I was given a hotel room and 6 hours to sleep.

When that time elapsed I hopped onto a Russian Jet and crossed 7 or 8 more time zones and eventually touched down in Novosibirsk. This is in the middle of Russia.

Once again, I was picked up by some Russian guy holding a "Land "O" Lakes sigh that read......"Comrade McGleno" and I was once again taken to another hotel room.

A hotel that had elevators the size of munchkin caskets, and phones that rang non stop with invitations from lonely women that desired American dollars.

I tried to sleep, but my body clock was so tweaked, and my bed was made to accommodate humans with frames shorter than 5 1/2 feet.

So after 90 minutes of fading in and out.....I was tossed onto a puddle jumping plane and off to Polarny.

When that plane landed, I won't lie.....I was scared. I was in the middle of a place that was barren and bleak.

But then a big flat bed truck with naked Asian women painted on the cab pulled up and and a guy around 5' 4"'s tall hopped out.

His name was Sasha, and he didn't speak any English, he motioned for me to hop up into the cab.

We must us drove 4 hours north before finally making it to our final destination.

Klecko had now reached Aikhal....the diamond city.

Aikhal had natural boundries and even resident Russians needed proper paper work to come here.

Where there is gems, there will always be security.

So Sasha grabs my suitcase and put it into a portable shack that rested directly across from a pig sty.

When he motioned that we were going to leave, I ran into my room to grab my back pack to give gifts to my hosts.

I was taken to a small French cafe named Versaille.

The only thing that impresses Russians more than Americans is the French. My wealthy and socially fluent comrades have been imitating French culture for years.

In the previous century, most of the Russian nobles chose to speak French to seperate themselves from peasants and commoners.

So I walk into the cafe, extend America's hand of friendship, and then I placed it back into my backpack and pulled out bottles of Jack Daniels and cartons of Marlboro Reds.

This was a good move and made me popular.

I think I pretty much had-had 4 hours of sleep in the last 72 hours, and now I was preparing to drink with Siberian's.

This may not have been one of my best laid out plans.

As time passed I stepped outside with my hosts who were preparing to smoke, and Klecko just stared at huge plumbing pipes that rested on metal stilts because they couldn't be buried under the frost line.

At this point I was told it was midnight, and that pushed me over the edge. The sun was high in the sky. I felt like I was in Flagstaff during lunch hour.

It's a little thing called "White Nights"...ya might have heard of that huh?

Now the locals pulled out a jug of "Sum-E-Ghone" which is basically like America's Everclear.

The only problem though is these peeps make it in their bathtubs and industrial wash basins so you never are quite sure what mysterious funk is attached to it.

None the less....when in Rome.

Shot glass tilted......and BOOM - the Holy Spirit enters.

My body was on fire.

I was growing to like this part of the world.

My hosts eventually let me sleep for a few hours, and I mean a few.

Sasha pushed open the rooms door (which was not equipped with a lock) and proceeded to rifle through my contents.

He had a smile on his face, and when he saw that I had waken. My Russian friend began using sign launguge to communicate that he wanted more Jack Daniels.

When I mentioned (w/o a translater) that I needed to start my scope...Sasha said "Moscow" and made a thumbs down. Then he said "Aikhal" and flexed his muscle.

Sasha was wearing a wife beater T-Shirt, and when I stood behind him I could see the tattoo on his left shoulder was a wolf in front of the Kremlin, but this scene was in a rifle scopes cross hares.

On his right shoulder was the same Kremlin backdrop, but instead of the wolf...there was a Russian Czar with the Snipers target placed flush on the pontiffs chest.

Later on, I would be told that like many men in Siberia, Sasha had done a 12 year stint in the gulag.

Up there they refer to this as "Vacation by Default".

So I hand him the bottle, and we jump in the naked Asian women flatbed cab and head over to the cafe.

There is a staff of 8 or 9 waiting for me.

They are all women.

Most of them don't look like Russians I have seen in the Hollywood movies. Their bodies are smaller, their hair was black....gypsy black. And their teeth had work bling than a NBA point guard.

These women had traveled thousands of miles from the Black Sea region...or the Moscow Rivera as they call it.

So now my interpreter Mosha is there and it is reported to me that these woman are nervous.

The cafe's numbers are down.

The restaurant is fighting to remain viable.

If the doors shut wonders what options these ladies will have to draw income.

"Ve need an A-mer-i-cone secret recipe...yes ziss is goot!"

It sounds cooler in Russian, but I could see in their eyes that these ladies were in fear.

So the first thing I did was stroll around their space and looked for what ingredients they had available.

In America you have seen the movies on how the Russians often times have had to wait for certain items to get to them. Things like cars or modern novelties like citrus products LOL.

Try going into Siberia.

65% of these people live on poverty wages.

They live in a land where gas-food and electrity comes at a premium.

Klecko strolls though the pantry.........

Flour -

Sugar -

Cinnamon -

Salad Oil -

Yeast -

B-Soda -

Salt -

And basically......that was it.

I gathered these items, and brought them to a table and mentioned that we could make some standard fare, but they simply weren't providing me with materials to create a miracle.

The translator repeated my words.....and their eyes doubled with dread.

My head was still ringing from last evenings Russian hooch, and I was starting to feel the pressure.

These ladies were depending on me to save their positions at the cafe.

My mind flashed back to.......

Rumpelstiltskin came to mind, how would the last American Baker save the day? How would he spin straw into gold?

After deep intensive prayer....all the Saints of Warsaw came to me in a visitation and in the most angelic of voices blurted out.........

"Banana Bread."

And so it came to pass, but.......Mosha, how do you say in Russian "Do you have bananas in Siberia?"

It took some doing for me to convey this question.

Finding a banana is Aikhal might be akin to finding a snow cone stand in the Serengeti desert.

Sasha was called upon, and he, I, Mosha and 2 of the kitchen staff set out on a quest that may have rivaled some of the more popular Hobbit journies.

We drove from one backwoods concepts to the next, asking people if they knew where we could obtain such a magical fruit.

But if we stopped and asked somebody with who had no info, I was inclined to converse, and have photo's with them. For many (or most)Klecko will be the only American they will ever meet.

Can you imagine that? Getting your interpitation on what Americans are like by using me as a guide line?

Another thing that must be noted, is people there can't afford essential things, let alone luxerious items. So as I travered this barren world, each person asked if I would honor them by taking a photo of them with my "American" camera, and then take their "Poloroid" and show it to my fellow country men......

We checked at bars, restaurants, a church, wealthy peoples homes.....

Everywhere-Everywhere-Everywhere just to find 3 banana's.

At this point I was tired, crabby and feeling like a complete loser.

"Oh Father.....why hast thou forsaken me?"

I began to question why I was even sent on this journey, and then I felt totally stupid and realized that maybe it was just my own vanity that decided to become this seasons most chic ambassador.

Alas......down the alley, in that tiny general store with the 1994 Laika calender sat 4 bananas sitting by themselves on a wooden table.

So we bought them, turned tail and then I am here to tell you, the next 2 hours made up the greatest baking experience I have ever been involved in.

Me and the cafe staff made up a small batch, the same size batch of banana bread that you would make at home.

American Quickbread, and boy-oh-boy was it glorius.

I swear to Polish Christ these women never enjoyed a simple recipe so much.

I learned a lot that day. I learned that I should never take things for granted.

I learned that the simplest items in my world, might be the salvation to another part of the globe, and if not.....

At least they might be the nexus to a memory that our group would collectively remember throughout the remainder of our days.

A memory like I have had, of Laurie Hertzel reading at the University Club.


  1. i am trying to imagine how one pantomimes "banana" in Russia.

  2. Exactly....a secret that has eluded the Western world for ages!