Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What is a true personal story that people have a hard time believing? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
The year was 1983 and yours truly, who worked at the UN Secretariat in New York, was on the last day of his summer leave at home in Moscow. The whole leave was spent in the rustic countryside village far from the spoils of civilization.
Since we had a rare luck of getting the Bolshoi tickets for this last evening, I thought I would better call one good old friend of mine whom I did not manage to see during this vacation and tell him that we would meet the first thing next summer. When I called, there was sort of a startled and awkward silence for a moment at the other end and then he asked me: ”Where are you calling from?”
“From home, here in Moscow, why are you asking?” I said.
“Well, just according to my info you should be calling from other places…”
I did not understand what kind of joke he meant and said bye-bye.
Then, the moment before we stepped out of the door, a lady who also worked in New York called and my wife picked up. “Oh, I am so sorry,” – started the caller but my wife interrupted: “Oh, it’s me who is sorry – cannot talk, late for the theater, will get in touch later,” chirped she and hung up.
Next day we boarded Aeroflot flight to New York in good humor. The only slightly disturbing moment was that there was another couple aboard, whom I recognized by sight as another Soviets working in New York, who were giving me weird glances and whispering between themselves. But, what can you do, the world is full of weirdos.
When we landed at JFK and got our luggage, we went out to look for the Soviet bus that was always coming to meet the Moscow flights. As a courtesy, the UN Soviets were allowed also to use it free of charge but they were sort of looked down on, as a second class sort of diplomats. Not this time, though. The bus driver basically wrestled suitcases from my hands and hauled them to the bus (which was unheard of) and the junior secretary-on-duty who came with the bus shook my hand warmly and inquired extra-warmly about my health and then delighted in hearing that it was OK. “Looks, like weirdos are coming out in droves today,” I thought.
When we came to our “Skyview” apartment house in Riverdale, Bronx, me and our daughters started unpacking and my wife went to buy some food since our fridge was totally empty (which was unusual because normally friends would buy bread, milk, etc a day before your arrival). Downstairs, she ran into a lady neighbor whom she played tennis with and the lady started: “Oh, I am so sorry about your husband…” My wife thought she meant a fender-bender car accident of couple of months ago and surprised that she knew and remembered it, replied: “Oh, it’s nothing. Worse things happen.” Lady gave her another weird look of the day.
At that time I was calling one of my Russian buddies in the next apartment building to find out what’s up. He picked up and immediately asked: “Where are you calling from?” A bit annoyed now by these sort of queries I asked him why the question. Will explain in a flash, he said and indeed in a moment he was in my apartment in a company of a bottle of vodka and told me.
That about two weeks ago a lady came back from leave in Moscow with the bad news that I was hit by a car and died instantly. My good friends wanted to pack my things and stuff but the Soviet Mission told them to hold it because they did not have any confirmation of my demise from Moscow. But something was certainly not right because people called my Moscow apartment and my parents and in-laws and nobody answered (since they were all with me in the village with no phone connection)
Nevertheless, as custom dictates, on the ninth day of my ruination, they had a wake in my friend’s apartment and said some good words about me with the warmth ratcheted up by good old “Stoli.”
Which we had at hand also and immediately proceeded to consume in celebration of my arrival from the dark side. A few other friends soon joined to observe my resurrection. My wife came from the supermarket and was a bit surprised to discover a party in full swing but I explained to her that vodka was being consumed for a very good and valid reason.
The whole puzzle got explained in a day or two. It occurred that there was another Soviet chap in New York with the Trade Mission who had twin daughters as I did and was about my age. And the poor lad indeed was killed by a car. But since the lady who brought the rumor to New York never heard of him, she got immediately convinced that it was me and brought this tragic news to New York and gave them the widest possible circulation.
Couple of days at work followed when people were a bit surprised to see me.
What was the bottom line?
First, apparently people believe that you can give them a call from the other side, because at least two of them asked where I was calling from.
Second, they do believe, that one doesn’t come at full strength after resurrection because I was repeatedly asked about my health and got generous help with my luggage.
Third, my wife had to live for a couple of days with the reputation of cold-hearted bitch because she dismissed offhandedly all the condolences that people tried to offer.
Finally, the Russian wisdom says that those who were rumored to be dead and for whom a wake was had before their death should live superduperextralong lives.
The jury is still out on this one.