Yes, this story is every bit as unusual as the title suggests. And every bit as true.
A few weeks ago, we’re finishing a low-key dinner with my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law when we hear a knock at the door. I was upstairs at the time, and just heard David greet someone and walk outside. Nothing strange there — our neighbors are friendly and our mailman is awful about getting letters to the correct recipients, so I figure it’s something like that. When I come back downstairs, however, the brother-in-law says:
“Um, a Romanian butcher guy just knocked on the door selling frozen meat and David’s talking to him outside.”
And so I go outside to meet Misha, who happens to be Russian, not Romanian. And he is indeed selling wholesale, frozen meat out of the back of his truck, with the chest freezer precariously weighing the truck bed to one side. My sister and her fiance stay inside — I’m pretty sure they were watching in case the “Russian butcher” pulled out an automatic and told us we’d offended the Big Man or something. Instead, Misha introduces himself in English with just enough of an accent to intrigue us , and whips out a card table to display his wares. “You like seafood? How about bacon? I’ve got some great bacon. Beef? You look like a meat and potatoes guy.” And we just stand there smiling and making conversation, wondering if we were really going to buy meat out of the back of a guy’s truck.
Misha, however, keeps up a lively conversation and cracks jokes about being Gorbechav’s brother, and that’s why he goes by Misha instead of Mikhail. “Except I don’t have that spot on my head, ugh.” He talks about being an engineer in Russia, and now running a supply service for restaurants in the area. He sells the leftovers to anybody who’s interested, just knocking on doors sometimes to see if he can find a new customer. I wave to our neighbors and try to signal them to join us, but they just look at us like we’ve gone mad and back away into their house. Meanwhile, we have to stop Misha from pulling absolutely everything out of the freezer. Eventually decide that a box of vacuum-sealed salmon is a pretty good deal, and we can always use more bacon. Right? Uh… we hope so.
By this time, the sister and brother-in-law have concluded that Misha is not a mobster, and they trot out. Misha quickly discovers that they’re getting married in August, and announces, “Really? Do you have a photographer? Because I actually do wedding photography on the side, I have some sample albums in the cab!” And once again, Misha whips out the unexpected, displaying beautiful albums of natural light photography at Sunday Park and other local wedding hotspots. He brandishes a business card with his email and asks his if he can email my sister even more samples, and she — a little shell-shocked I think — signs away. He tells us that he used to do weddings as a hobby all the time in Russia, and once photographed an event where Chuck Norris was the guest of honor. “Very, very nice guy, he was, no kicking or anything! I had someone else take a picture of me and Chuck Norris together, and he even put his arm around me for the photo. Very nice guy, Chuck Norris.”
And Misha just keeps talking with us. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but it’s getting dark and I guess he’s done with his stops for the day. David eventually offers to hold the flashlight while Misha packs away all the meat we didn’t buy, all the while continuing with the tale of how gas prices have affected his business and other stories. My sister, brother-in-law and I return indoors while David and Misha load up in the twilight. And then they shoot the breeze for a while longer. It was totally dark by the time he drove home, the chest freezer’s lid strapped down and the generator chugging along with the truck engine.
A few weeks later, we finally break into the salmon that Misha promised was restaurant quality and we have to agree with him. The bacon tasted great too, as he only carried the thick-slice variety as the best out there. And no, we didn’t get food poisoning or anything else weird.
And that’s the story of how we came to know Misha, the Russian butcher. He says he’ll come by again in a few weeks to see how we liked the salmon. I hope he does.