"I'll tell you what those Poles need," barked the disheveled Muscovite, appropriate bursts of winter steam flaring from his nostrils. "They need to buckle down and work."
"Real, physical work," he shouted in postscript, thrusting out soiled and callused hands like courtroom evidence.
"We [Russians] are feeding the Poles."
A streetside and shop-counter sample of how Moscow thinks of Warsaw elicited several such gusts of anger; an insight into the (rewritten) history of Poland according to soviet Russia; some imaginative regurgitation of Pravda's and Izvestia's more recent pronouncements on the subject; as well as a good deal of hedging.
The interviewer was left with the (woefully unscientific) feeling that, whatever world reaction might be to an eventual Soviet intervention in Poland, the Muscovites who scurry from meat counters to sidewalk kiosks to the produce market wouldn't be shedding many tears.
Three were also, of course, the wide eyes of passers-by that seemed to ask: What does this nosy, very possibly subversive, Amerikanskii korrespondentm think he's up to?
Finally i turned to a woman with white hair and a cane:
"Excuse me. I am an american correspondent. I would like to know what you think of the situation in Poland."
Her mouth tightened. She poked her cane at the dry air (a welcome change from slushy weeks of not-quite-winter) and said sternly: "I've been watching you.
"You should be careful asking about such things. You could get yourself in trouble.
"Besides, what do you expect to learn from an old woman?"
"Be careful," she said again, smiling warmly.
Indeed, the only anger I encountered was aimed at Poland.
Sitting behind his mound of apples at a downtown produce market, a man with a thick stubble of beard was at first reluctant to comment.
"How am I supposed to answer?" he asked quietly, with an apologetic smile. "What do you want me to say?"
But then, suddenly, he burst: "Listen. Think of all the blood we have spilled for Poland. I served in the [second world] war. We saved them from the Germans.
"It's high time the Poles stopped making trouble."
"Isn't that right, Volodya," the peddler hailed to a friend who had drifted near. The man nodded assent.
On a chilly streetcorner a few blocks away, a pleasant, red-faced youth rubbed his hands together. It looked to him as if the Poles could still sort out their problems alone. But when asked if the situation in Poland was serious , he rebounded with a snippet of Polish history, Soviet style.
"Of course, it's serious. . . . Poland has always been a socialist country."
Yet perhaps the most telling replies were those meant to tell nothing.
One young woman, standing beside an older companion, announced: "I am taking care of grandmother. I don't have time for such questions as Poland."
A rotund woman sat inside a nearby newspaper kiosk, the day's issue of Pravda and other officially sanctioned journals spread before her. What, she was asked , did she feel about the latest news from Warsaw?
"I don't know," she shot back. "And I won't tell you."
At a second kiosk, the salesman simply, silently, solemnly opened Pravda to a story splashed across five columns on Page 4. He read the headline aloud: "Plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the PUWP," the Polish Communist Party.
"There," he said. "Read that article. That is what is happ ening in Poland."