In those days, we had dinner with the salt still on us. At Lundy’s, in Sheepshead Bay. We were the only colored family there. Salty and sleepy and unmindful of our difference in a world defined by Russianness. Outside, we could smell the air; it was thick, and smelled of sea, suntan lotion, and some other indefinable (to my child self) odor from under the boardwalk where older people, teenagers mostly, went. We could still feel the sun in our lungs as we ordered shrimp, and other “delicacies,” our father at the head of the table, in his element in a restaurant that housed our difference. It was the only world he cared to know–a world not like his own. He loved to eat German food in Yorktown, and Chinese food in Chinatown, and at Lundy’s, food from the sea served by Russian waiters whose thick tongue was difficult to understand, and whose skepticism about our curly hair, and brown-red backs (baked by the sun) disappeared once our usually taciturn father, pulled out his emotional Thesarus and found many synonyms for his brand of charm. His hands were large. We could order what we wanted, which our Mother would never allow, but we saw him, at most, twice a week, while she was our everyday love and, as such, intimate and remarkable. For us–my little brother, and myself–our father was cruel and far away in his remarkableness. We found solace in one another, I’m sure, my little brother and I, as we tried not to gag on the too rich food, and the bonhomie our father shared with the wait staff, but denied us, his own flesh and blood. Looking around, I saw another world–of beautiful Russian men who looked like my uncle, somehow, even as my father looked like Trevor Howard. The Russian men eyed us with their suspicious eyes, and turned back to their meal of–was it soup? Red, with a splotch of something white on top? They had big hands, too, and different eyes: round and full of mirth and sadness, all at once. Years passed, and I fell for a number of Russian men, never associating them with food I wanted to eat or, rather, with the faces that helped me get that rich food down until I saw, just this afternoon, the Ukranian-born beauty, Eugene Hutz, in the 2005 film, “Everything is Illuminated.” In that film, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel of the same name (directed by Liev Shrieber) Hutz is a Russian-speaking English translator, a guide who sports those elements of black sartorial style he loves and makes his own: a fuzzy kangol, a running suit. With his his gold tooth alternately flashing hope or contempt, or sometimes looking dull as he’s forced to consider another bit of ridiculous Americanism from his charge (played by Elijah Wood), Hutz has a scene where he must explain that his American friend doesn’t eat meat. “Not even a sausage?” Sharing a potato with Wood, Hutz’s mouth stared at my mouth as he munched away, my imagination throwing bits of myself into his mouth as he did so.
Posted in: Art & Culture– June 19, 2011