It was 1982, Breshnev was in power in the Soviet Union, and we were worried about nuclear attacks because of a war in Afghanistan.
I was at University studying Commerce and going out with a Jewish Marxist whose father sold luxury items to rich women. My boyfriend had seen an ad saying that Russian Communists were coming to Winnipeg to give a presentation at the town hall and he wanted me to come along. I was nervous about this because my parents warned me that the RCMP would be there to take photographs but I went along anyway because I was curious how the Soviets could possibly sell communism to us when their own country was so dysfunctional.
It was one of those cold miserable winter days where there was brown sand on the sidewalks and salt on the roads and the snow was muddy and wet. Nevertheless we trudged through it and attended the talk. Apparently they were trying to increase the membership of the Canadian Communist Party.
I left quite unconvinced by their sales job, but not sure how my boyfriend felt about it. We were just starting to discuss it when this tramp asked us what we thought of the meeting. I was wary. Looking him over I noticed how black his boots were. They had been polished to a bright shine. Meanwhile the rest of his clothes were shabby, dirty and torn. I listened nervously as my boyfriend started giving him his appraisal of the meeting. I interrupted rudely and asked the "tramp" if he was so interested, why didn't HE go to this meeting? After all, it was a free event and it was in a nice warm building.
He said he had been there and then he left in the middle of it, or some such unlikely thing. My boyfriend said some negative things, such as why were they trying to run the Canadian Communist Party from Russia anyway when really the locals should do it, and the tramp quickly disappeared.
So who could this guy have been? Not a tramp, that's for sure. That leaves RCMP or a Russian. If it was a Canadian, he'd have no trouble getting a tramp outfit together- he'd just grab some old clothes and an old pair of runners from home. But if this guy came from Russia, well, maybe he only brought his nice boots with him. Finding a set of ugly clothes wouldn't be hard at an op shop but finding shoes his size might have been. Also, maybe in Russia everyone actually cared about the appearance of their shoes.
So if he was Russian, why was he talking to us? Well, maybe he was looking for recruits of some sort. People not known to be members of the Communist Party. That's what I like to think, anyway. The other possibility is he was doing marketing research to see how well the presentation was and thinking about how to improve it for next time, but hey- we ARE talking about a communist country here, right? I don't think it would even have occurred to them to care!
So, next time you go to a sus meeting held by a sus country, and someone sidles up to talk to you about it, check their shoes!