I used to hang out with Russians.
Growing up, I had an impression of Russians gleaned entirely from the news strips shown in Social Studies during the 70s, wherein squat women in unattractive coats and scarves stood in mile-long lines hoping for shoes.
The kind of shoe, the size of the shoe? Unimportant. Once they had the shoe they’d worry about what to do with it.
Soviet Russia’s shortages were no joke. But my belief that all Russians were squat people in scarves certainly was.
Now, personally, I consider myself reasonably attractive. I’m not heavy, but not skinny; I fix my hair, even if “fixing” it just means brushing it; and I never leave the house without my lipstick.
Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing a little lipstick won’t cure.
Headcold? You’ll look better with a little lip.
Heartache? Maybe a little lip color will make you feel better.
Just running to the store to pick up cigarettes? Hey – maybe a little lipstick, huh? You never know who you’ll run into…
The Russians in my life at that time were all met through the people I hired several jobs back to clean an office building, and to a man were physically fit, attractive, and elegant.
And that’s the other thing a little lipstick can do for you – convince beautiful immigrants that they should include you in the festivities.
And so it came to pass that I was invited to join in a celebration. A party of 16 people met at a local Russian restaurant for a couples’ 10th wedding anniversary. I was the only native-born American at the table.
Have you partied with the Russians? They leave their worries at the door. The men wear suits, the women wear dresses, and everything is pleasantries and vodka. The table is laden with the pickles, potato salad, marinated and smoked herring, hardboiled eggs, cold cuts and brown bread consumed between shots.
There will be dinner much later.
The first toast is to the women at the table.
The second is to the men.
The third one is open.
We have just finished the third toast when I am tapped on the shoulder.
I turn to see a handsome man in a suit.
He hold his hand out, says something in Russian which I am willing to bet translates as Would you care to dance?
I push my chair away from the table and smilingly hold my hand out, and he guides me on to the dance floor.
The band, consisting of drums, accordion, saxophone, and violin, plays music I don’t recognize; but he is a good dancer, and arm around my waist, we move among the other couples.
He is talking. I imagine that he is talking about the band, about the restaurant, about the beautiful evening. There are no questions, just him talking; and abuzz with vodka and the ease of being paired with a good dancer, I smile.
At the end of the song, he guides me back to my seat, and for the first time, asks me a question.
“I’m sorry,” I say, sitting down. “I don’t speak Russian.”
His mouth drops open, and then he recovers and closes it. He smiles, lifts my hand, and kisses it.
And I rejoin my table.
Was there a point to this post? Not really. I just wanted to relive that night.
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