Too Damn Precious

Russians and Poles scare the bejeezuz out of me. Every time we go to Brighton Beach I am reminded of this, the place is exceptionally strange. I’m sure that once you get to know the people, really peer beneath that gruff exterior, they are as nice or nasty as everyone else. I have never been fortunate enough to reach this stage. All my encounters have been casual and fraught.

Occasionally we go for a meal at Tatiana’s on the beachfront and each time we order the same thing: Borscht. This happens to be the cheapest thing on the menu at only $6. The waitresses are always disgusted at us for wasting their time and bark “YOU NOT WANT DRINK!? YOU NOT WANT MORE?!” I couldn’t cope with this again today so I ordered the lunch special for $12. I didn’t want it, but I felt bad and thought today’s waitress might be nicer to us. She was far from happy and tried to coax drinks out of us too. “YOU WILL HAVE RUSSIAN BEER, YES?!” In the end the bill was $30; she plainly thought we were cheapskates, not even worthy of a derisory smile. We finished in 20 minutes; she stood in the sidelines ready to snatch our plates from under our noses the picosecond we were done, thus freeing our table for more worthy patrons.

And who are these worthy patrons? It is such a bewildering place. There are people ordering $95 servings of caviar and bottles of champagne, yet they dress like they shopped at PoundStretchers circa 1987. Walking the streets of Brighton Beach you see some outlandish sites. There are shops that sell both CD walkmans and fur coats, the only thing these two items have in common, as far as I can see, is their obsolescence. There are testosterone-addled men driving SUVs, windows wound down, blasting ballad music as if it was hip-hop. There are fifty-year-old woman with shock orange hair, faces sewn tight, sitting on park benches, polluting everyone’s airspace with boom boxes. Young Russian wide boys drag their dolly birds by the hand whilst talking shipments and quantities into their cell-phones. Pretty scary stuff.

I can walk around Chinatown at midnight and not feel the slightest bit out of place, but I feel like I am on an alien world at Brighton Beach at noon. I went for a walk whilst Heidi sat on the beach (hating the beach as I do, I always end up doing this). I went to a flea market at the Ocean View Jewish Center—if you want a pair of well-worn gold shoes, this is your place—god that stuff was junk. I went into a supermarket. I thought I’d buy a jar of Polish beets but there was no checkout. I circled the shop 3 times to no avail. There were people who obviously worked there. They were all yelling stuff at one another across the room; I was too scared to ask any of them. I can’t communicate at the volumes these people achieve; I get stage fright. I put the beets back and left the shop. I left the main strip thinking I’d check out suburban Brighton Beach. Then I found I was too scared to wait at crossroads in case someone shouted from their car for me to cross, or shouted to tell me not to cross. Every time I got to a crossroad I pretended to be walking one way or another so no one would shout at me. In the end I went back to Heidi. I couldn’t take it any more.

I think there is something about the cut of my jib that makes Slavs want to kill me. The scowls I get in Brighton Beach could shatter bone. I was once stoned in a side street in Krakow for trying to pass by two men. They yelled at me until I did an about turn and legged it, stones whizzing past my ears as I ran. Maybe I look too feeble; do I simper? Would you tell me if I simpered? This is how they make me feel. Like I am too damn precious to be out of the house, and I need some balls knocking into me.

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