Nikolai Zlobin calls himself "a simple worker."
As in: "How is it that I, a simple worker, am in the Supreme Soviet?"
Zlobin -- a triple threat as a labor leader, a deputy in the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and a Moscow bricklayer -- solved this and other conundrums over breakfast yesterday with a group of Washington trade unionists. (It turns out the Supreme Soviet boasts lots of simple workers.) Then he was off to tour a couple of downtown construction sites.
"We want disarmament," Zlobin said through an interpreter as he was ferried between appointments in an aging Cadillac limo. "If you speak of the accident at Chernobyl, you can't have an insurance that this won't happen again. And not only with nuclear power, but with nuclear weapons. Who can guarantee? Who says that there might not be some weirdos or fools around? They could push the button and then we'll all fly."
He was here, wrapping up a 17-day visit to the United States, as a guest of the Washington, D.C./Moscow Capital Citizens' Exchange, a group launched last year in the spirit of Geneva. A short, compact man of 54 in a well-tailored pin-stripe suit, he's given to exclamations of "Da-da-da!" and judicious punctuations of "Nyet." His hair is red, his eyes a frosty blue. They don't miss much.
"The quality," Zlobin observed, peering out of the limo at the buildings going by. "The quality of the workmanship is very good. You can see it even from far away."
At breakfast in the Gramercy Hotel, the two-dozen tile layers, sprinkler fitters, terrazzo craftsmen and other workers seemed delighted with "Brother Zlobin," as Josh Williams, president of the Metro Washington AFL-CIO, called him. Williams went so far as to praise the Soviet trade union system.
"Every piece of work performed in Russia is performed by organized labor," he told the gathering. "We cannot say that in the United States."
*"Let me tell you something about myself," Zlobin said as Grant Pendill, a tall American in a string tie, provided simultaneous translation. "Of course, I'm married . . . My wife works as an engineer, a labor salary engineer, and my son is an electronics engineer. My daughter is just out of high school . . .
"I have a four-room apartment, a television set, soft chairs. We got closets and everything. My neighbors, too . . . We have a telephone, an electric stove -- all this for 27 rubles a month. I got a car. And I got a dacha outside Moscow, where we got a little garden and we have nice berries and cucumbers."
Zlobin, as he did frequently yesterday, chuckled.
"The American people are very practical," he said. "When I was in Madison, Wisconsin, they checked my hands. They wanted to know, 'You got calluses?' "
He chuckled again.
"Well, do you?" asked Bernard Demczuk of the American Federation of Government Employees. Zlobin offered his hands for inspection. "They're small," he said, "but they're still there."
After much talk of pension programs, paid vacations and five-year plans, it was time for a look-see at some construction American style.
First stop, the Grand Hyatt Regency site. Project manager Royall Turpin passed out hard hats before leading Zlobin into the bowels of the hotel. He showed him how wallboard l is installed, Zlobin donning glasses for a closer look. He showed him a scissors truck, a laser level and a 200-foot crane.
"You've got to be a lot like a jeweler to put this together -- very exact," Zlobin ventured.
"You've got to be tough!" said Turpin, making a fist. "You've got to have guts or be dumb."
Zlobin began passing out little red pins. He gave a pin commemorating the Soyuz spacecraft to electrician John McDermott and another to electrician John Johnson.
"I guess he's all right," McDermott said.
"He seems friendly enough," said Johnson.
Zlobin gave a pin commemorating the heroes of Volgograd to Fred Mathis, who was chipping away at excess concrete with a Kango gun. Zlobin tried his hand at this example of western technology.
"Work like hell, play like hell," Turpin said.
Next stop, the Willard Hotel, where project manager Michael Darby and other hotel officials ushered Zlobin through the renovated rooms. On learning that the Willard plans to charge up to $2,000 a night, he rolled his eyes and made a puckering noise.
"Who can afford it?" he demanded.
The hotel's general manager, J.T. Kuhlman, gave him a waspish little smile. "In our country, quite a few people," he said.
On to the honeymoon suite. Darby tried the door. Kulhman tried the door. It was locked.
"Maybe someone is there having a honeymoon already?" Zlobin suggested.
In the presidential suite, Darby pointed out the specially reinforced floors, carbon monoxide sensors and bulletproof walls. "We hope Mr. Gorbachev will stay here when he comes for the summit," Kuhlman said as the group entered an oval sitting room. "As you know, Mr. Zlobin, the oval is a very famous shape in Washington."
Zlobin grinned, eyes glazing.
"You can get lost in these rooms," he marveled. "You couldn't even find your own wife." There was laughter at this, and Zlobin seemed encouraged. "I might like that," he went on. "I might find another wife."
John O'Connor, secretary-treasurer of the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council, registered his approval.
"He's a true construction worker," O'Connor said