Today I’m honored to host journalist and crime writer BJ Wolf, author of the forthcoming Karen Yellowtail books (don’t miss it). Wolf had the good fortune to meet with Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, before he died in 2013. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to invite Wolf here to share the experience.
Despite creating what’s arguably the most iconic firearm in history, many don’t know that Kalashnikov never made a dime from the gun. Patents in the Soviet Union were property of the state, meaning Kalashnikov had to resort to other means to make ends meet. As you’ll read below, this meant licensing his name to some unusual endeavors.
I have a Kalashnikov. Every so often, I take it out of the glass-fronted cabinet where it sits and admire its beauty, its clean design lines and precise functionality. Depending on your point of view, its creator exists in fame or infamy but he was someone I was inordinately lucky to meet and someone I consider to be one of the finest human beings I ever encountered.
But you know, Lt. General Mikhail Kalashnikov didn’t just invent the AK-47, the assault rifle that entered service to the Russian Red Army in 1949 and of which some 100 million copies and derivatives have since been made. What he also invented, and which sits in my cabinet, was a little something for the Russian Navy. A vodka shot glass that never tips over. No matter how high the storm surge, the Russian Navy never has to worry about losing its drinks. With its beveled bottom, it rocks from side to side, it spins around and rolls precariously like an inflatable clown punching bag, but it stays upright and more importantly, the vodka stays put.
(Video courtesy BJ Wolf)
Kalashnikov invented many other weapons for the Russian Army (over 150 designs), notably the RPK, the PK assault rifle and most lately in the 1990s, the Saiga semi-automatic rifle. He also put his name to the AK-74 Kalashnikov automatic knife. Although he still retained a certain amount of pride in his Avtomat Kalashnikova (later, while very ill and close to death, he would express deep sorrow and angst that perhaps he was responsible for millions of deaths), very few people knew about the little vodka shot glass.
And so we met, one blustery London morning at 10, he in full Russian military dress uniform, in a pub with vague Russian undertones, a martini glass full of vodka in his hand (just for show, you understand, but you got the feeling that it would have been nothing for him to throw it down his neck and carry on) where he related his now legendary and favorite quote, that although his now notorious assault rifle had been “the mother of all necessity, a weapon of defense designed to protect my country” during WWII, he wished he’d invented the lawnmower instead.
My Kalashnikov was a humble, gentle spirit. He was kind and generous with his time, good humored and warm hearted, and even though he was sincerely and completely bewildered by the amount of attention he had received since he arrived in London to promote the vodka brand named after him (sadly now discontinued as apparently, to the British, it was just not cricket to have an alcoholic beverage named after a weapon of mass destruction, which it wasn’t, of course), he remained gregarious and spontaneous.
Later that evening, he told me, sentimentally, that when Russians open a bottle of vodka, they drink it all, for good luck and friendship. So we did. There are plenty of shot glasses on the market with the name Kalashnikov stamped on them, but they aren’t his unsinkable Russian Navy glasses. This walking, if unwitting, piece of living history, also gave me this piece of advice: “Only the sky is the limit – life will be uncertain because of storms, but you just roll back around again.”
When I feel like I need to hear that advice again, I go to the cabinet and give my Kalashnikov a spin. It never fails.
A former journalist who has worked in TV and print media in the USA, the UK and Europe, BJ Wolf has interviewed everyone from General Kalashnikov to David Bowie. Her interests include books, music, movies, Iker Casillas, Truman Capote, The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and the innate, empathetic skills of The Blacklist actor Amir Arison. Not necessarily in that order. Her website is karenyellowtail.com. Follow her on Twitter here.