Love, Russian Style


Saturday night – 7:30 p.m.

I haven’t had a date in months. Tonight I’m finally going out with Dimitri, the buff Russian with bad teeth. He spotted me at the gym this morning. In the middle of his sweaty, mad run on the treadmill he came to an abrupt stop and approached me.
“What are you doing tonight?” he asked, cornering me up against the leg machine.
“I’m not sure.”

“Why don’t you be sure and come out with me, okay?”
I smiled.
“Good. I pick you up at nine. You be there, right?”
“You sure?” he asked as he took a corner of his towel and wiped a drop of sweat off from my forehead. “You won’t forget?”

* * *

Saturday night – 1:30 a.m.

At nine I heard a long honk on the horn outside my door. When I didn’t respond the phone rang.
“Sweetheart, I’m here outside,” Dimitri said.
He opened the car door for me and introduced me to Ivan, a good Jewish-Italian friend of his from his days back in Moscow.
“His English, not so good. But he understands some. It’s okay, yes, if he joins us? So, what would you like to do? To where should we go?” Dimitri asked, squeezing my knee.
“Beautiful you are. Ah, the cuisine of Russia. Sound good to you, baby doll? This night for the experience. Don’t look at price. I take you to fancier place next time. What I tell you Ivan, perfect she is, no?”

Dimitri pulled into an older strip mall on Santa Monica Boulevard. Classica: a Russian-Jewish restaurant. In-between Trader Joe’s and several kosher bakeries. The feeling at once was warm and familiar. A birthday party was going on. A large European family restaurant. Long burgundy tables with twelve matching chairs squashed in next to each other. Gold balloons, gold streamers, red velvet wallpaper. A small sunflower yellow-colored bar equipped with rows of vodka and red wine. A cherry red stage with a cantaloupe sized disco ball spinning above the performers heads. A bleached blonde Russian woman in a silver lame dress and a heavy-set dark-haired man in a baby blue tux sang songs and played on the keyboard the entire evening.

Older couples with big stomachs and rosy cheeks danced as little kids ran between their legs with water pistols. Waiters came out with one cake after another singing to the twenty-one-year old birthday girl. Eyes shadowed glittery blue, lips painted red, she was beaming.
People streamed in and out through the open door to roll their cigarettes, smoke, and drink black espresso in dainty cups outside next to the kosher bakery. If one looked across the street one could see the Santa Monica weekend male hustlers working their corners.

Dimitri was not like the man who I went out with a year ago. At least for the evening he wasn’t. He no longer complained of headaches, of being tired, or of how there was no money in L.A.
For several hours we drank sweet red wine, ate salmon with salted Roma tomatoes, challah, goat, Brie and blue cheese, cold red beet soup topped with sour cream, a huge assortment of
meats that I couldn’t label, coffee accompanied with a large selection of chocolate and raspberry pastries and finally a platter of kiwi, strawberries, pomegranates, lychee, and honeydew.
Dimitri and Ivan spoke in Russian then in English. They took turns smoking outside. We danced, talked and danced some more.
“Tell me,” Dimitri said. “What philosophy you live by?”
“I like things to be simple,” I answered.
“No, no. Me, I want luxury. Not to live well, but too live really well. You know what I mean?”
“What is it you actually do?” I asked.
“Everything. I do everything.”
I liked Ivan being there. Somehow a third party made the evening more casual and comfortable. Besides, he was very nice to me. He paid me compliments and at midnight went to Ralph’s on La Brea and came back with a large bouquet of white carnations for me.
“I want picture. Come here,” Dimitri, said putting his badly tattooed arm around me and handing his tiny dispensable camera to Ivan. “For the New Years, you make plans?”
“I’m spending it with my family,” I answered as I sucked on a lychee.
“Yes, family. I like that you are close. Good, good. How about we go for walk?” he said, rising from the table.
Out front, against the wall, I pulled on Dimitri’s belt buckle, bringing him closer to me.
“We go to the car,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“Oh, do we?” I replied, lightly pushing him away.
“Baby, we could move the world. In Moscow, twenty minute in the car people do this sort of thing.”
I studied his big brown, blood-shot eyes.
“Your idea, it’s not a bad one. But you see, this isn’t really the right, you know, time of the month for me.”
“What. When you start it?” he asked as he flicked the rest of his cigarette into the air. “When you end it?”
“I think Thursday,” I said feeling my face turn red.
“Then Thursday I see you next,” he said, as he waved for Ivan to come on out.
Dimitri said something to him under his breath in Russian and then the three of us piled into the car.