"The one thing you should have learned in all this," the detective told me in Russian, "is never trust a man from Kutaisi. They're the worst sorts. All of them are criminals, thieves and liars. You can't trust them." Georgians are full of considerations about other races, though they hate when people repeat the stereotypes. I've heard bad things about Armenians, Megrelians, Svans, Turks - you name it. However, a stereotype against a specific set of Kartlians, I hadn't heard until now. This was the first I heard about Kutaiselebi, and of course, it wasn't the lesson I learned in all of this. I was sitting with the man in the main room at Restaurant Chakrulo. A dozen police officers were in the other room, and the swindler and his mother were leaving. I was sipping on a coffee the detective got for me, listening to him go on about how people from Kutaisi really are the worst sort of people.
"Hey," I said, being nice. Almost home.
"Want to go get a drink?" he asked.
"Why not?" I said. "I have some friends at Cafe Gallery." I hate Cafe Gallery. It's usually filled to the brim with either gay men or men who are only looking for sex or a fight. The music is routinely bad, usually just the "locally popular" minimalist techno music. Lonely Planet says it's locally popular music, but I'm not so sure of that accuracy. But, anyway, at least I had some other friends there, since the guy clearly only knew Georgian and it wasn't going to take long before things got weird and uncomfortable when we ran out of conversation. I put up my accordion and we headed over.
After spending most of my time with my friends, and after Gio, the Georgian guy, got lost in the crowd, I decided to retire. I was tired and nothing at the club was doing it for me. I left. As I was leaving, Gio found me and invited me for some khinkali.
"You want to grab some khinkali?" he asked.
In Georgia, an invitation is an invitation to pay also, though I wasn't thinking to stick Gio with the bill. And anyway, a khinkali outing usually just costs a few bucks. As we walked down the street in the crisp night air, he met more of his friends. Now there were six of them to the one of me. Anyways, accepting invitations from random Georgians has never really gone wrong, though not always in the strictest of senses, since there usually ends up something having to do with prostitutes - note, that's just about always when I leave the scene.
But really, what I was thinking, was that this would be a time where I could bond with my neighbor and meet some new friends. And the thing was, I explained to the detective, this is certainly not a thing I would ever do in the US. Living there for most of my life, I've always had the knowledge to never really trust anyone. But also in the US, at the end of the day, everyone's responsible for their own bill.
We sat down at Chakrulo. I shrugged. It's a bit expensive of a restaurant, but if we were just having khinkali, it still wouldn't be so much. However, instead of paying attention to things, I stopped really caring about what was going on around me and instead decided to text my girlfriend and pester her for a bit. Throughout the pestering, I noticed just how much food was accumulating on the table. Three pizzas, two xatchapuris, two lobianis, one hundred khinkali, several bottles of vodka, beers, and so on. It was a full on Thanksgiving feast of Georgian food. I shrugged. I guessed this guy's mom must have been rich or something. "I hope these guys don't stick me with the bill," I joked on the text message.
Then, after a bit more pestering the girlfriend, I came to my senses. "Better call the police," I texted. Nobody was left at the table and the check was sitting in front of me, it was equivalent to how many Spartans it takes to hold off a Persian army for a couple of days. I was able to catch Gio before he escaped out the door. I caught him. "Woah, what is this?"
|Georgian police storming Chakrulo|
Moments later, the police came streaming in. It was as if somebody were robbing a bank or there was a terrorist situation. There were over twenty cops in the restaurant, looking around, taking in clues and circumstances. One guy spotted me. He spoke English. He requested my documents. I gave him a copy of my passport (lesson learned in Ukraine - only give out copies, otherwise you'll have to bribe yourself back a passport, not so much true in Georgia, but still better than the hassle of dealing with the US government).
I explained what happened. "This guy invited me here, brought his friends, and now they've all left and left me with the bill."
If I were a cooler man, I would have just shrugged it off. I wouldn't have got the police involved. I would have just said, "Well, shit, Merry Christmas." But instead I had the police called, and became one stubborn monkey. "I'll pay my portion, but I'm not paying for this guy," I told them.
"Somebody has to pay the restaurant," the officer said. The cops all looked at me. Most of them actually didn't seem particularly interested in the affair, and they were smoking and joking. But the ones paying attention all looked at me.
"I agree, someone does," I looked at Gio.
"You invited us," he said.
"I invited you and your five friends? I didn't even order any of the food. How is that possible that I would invite all of you? And if I had, why would you order 300 lari of food, man?"
His answer? "You invited us!"
It seemed like a better answer to just stare at him. This was turning into something less as I imagined it and more like a Jerry Springer episode of idiocy. I turned to the officer. "So what now? He needs to be responsible for something. And this is out-right criminal. And you know, for a country depending on tourism, you can't allow guys like this to run around pulling things like this. He's got to pay."
"I understand. We could start an investigation," the officer said.
"And what is in that process?"
"There is so much work involved," the officer said. "It would have to be a real investigation. We would have to talk to people. And then we would have to find out who is responsible for what."
"Right," I said. "Do that."
"Well, okay," he said.
Some time passed. The officer took some notes, perhaps writing some poetry to his loved one - God knows what. It was clear he wasn't really conducting an investigation, unless it meant communicating with people through telepathy. The other guy just stood there.
"Shouldn't he show you his documents or something?" I asked. It was a far cry from the Soviet days of "no document, no person."
"Oh, yes," the officer replied. "Do you have your documents?"
"No," Gio said.
"Okay," the officer said. He took down a few more notes.
"So what is happening?" I asked the officer, after a few more minutes.
"We are conducting an investigation," he said.
"Ah," I said. "And, um, what is that process?"
"We have to investigate. Write things down. Ask people questions."
"Right," I said. "So, shouldn't you get his documents?"
Another police officer stepped in and asked for Gio's phone. He took it and called Gio's mother, telling her to bring his documents.
"There," the officer said. "His mother will bring them."
If at one moment Gio didn't really care that the police were called, he grew furious about his mother being brought into the situation. A 23-year-old man having to have his mother sort out a situation at the restaurant - I hope that was a humiliating experience. But it was probably something quite normal in a country where most men still depend on their mothers to make up their bed.
His mother came and vouched for her boy. "We'll pay half."
"Half? He should be paying all of it," I said. "I'll pay my portion and that's it."
It was a text from my girlfriend that finally convinced me. "Don't make it a criminal thing, just go. Please!" That and the thought of a real investigation going under way. If they actually did ask Gio's five friends, then it would be their five words against mine. And in Georgia, there's a 98 percent rate of successful prosecutions. And broomstick bathroom torture in the prisons.
"What would you advise?" I asked the officer.
"I cannot advise anything, but if you pay everything, it's only maybe a 3 percent chance you'll see that money."
So I agreed with the mother. "Fine, I'll pay half."
"Only," the mother continued, "we don't have half. I can pay you back later. If you'd only pay the whole thing."
I could see where this was going. But I consented to paying the whole thing. The chief detective, who up until this time had been mostly chain smoking cigarettes, pulled me over to the next room and offered me coffee, starting his lesson on what I should have learned that night, "Never trust a man from Kutaisi!"