Friday, June 18, 2004

Come, We Drink
I’ve become quite the weekend-warrior these days. It’s sad I know. Back when I worked in fantasy land I used to hate those workaday slobs, raging against the dieing of their life’s light, taking all the parking spots and making all the bars too crowded to enjoy. I am now one of them, those that I once held in such disdain.

There’s something about the stress of teaching, the early mornings, the hour long subway rides, the little Styrofoam cups of toxic Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee, the yelling, the pleading, the frustration of having 100-odd young people a day not listen to me. It creates in me a strong need to spend my weekends, painfully short as they are, faded, fucked up, and faded some more.

So this past Friday a good friend and I were in Brooklyn sipping on some cheap Canadian whisky, when some drunk girls begin calling incessantly, insisting he come out to Sheepshead Bay, where, apparently, the party was live. My friend has a car and no girlfriend, and we didn’t have shit else to do, so we headed out that way, cheefing off the one-hitter as we cruised the surreally Sci-Fi Beltway deep around Brooklyn, under the neon Vegas set of the Verazano Bridge, past Coney Island and its vast Soviet-style block-housing, and into Sheepshead Bay.

We met the ladies at the spot, a very local looking establishment called ( I shit you not) the Townie Lounge. This place reminded me of some country bars back in Texas, with a crowd of silver foxes drinking heavily and dancing with their spouses. Only these folks were straight out of some kind of Cyrillic Goodfellas. The women - all of whom were pushing 50 - had platinum hair, fake tits and slutty cocktail dresses on. The men, silver-haired gentlemen mostly, wore silk and lots of gold, shiny shirts unbuttoned half-way down their barrel chests, pinky rings flashing as they lit cigars and sipped on big glasses of vodka.

You know how sometimes when you’re watching a mob movie you think to yourself that this shit has to be an exaggeration, that no-one actually dresses like that, no-one actually behaves so crassly and obviously like a gangster? You’re wrong. They do. Organized crime is real and thriving and just as tacky as in the movies, at least among the Russians of Sheepshead Bay it is.

The girls we met were wasted, obnoxious, sarcastic, and ugly, a mixture of dorky Teaching-Fellows and bitter grad-school types; together we soon left, my friend and I wondering aloud why they had neglected to warn us that we would be wandering onto the real-life set of Das Casino.

The next bar was a different scene altogether, yet equally foreign to my experience, and somehow inter-connected with the Townie Lounge. It was a much more pleasant place, with lots of wood and soft-lighting, and a much younger crowd. The Russian girls were smoking hot, irresistible in their simultaneous ability to be exotic and white. They were all with big, young Russian guys in tight rubber shirts, and they were all yelling incessantly at each other in Russian. A cheesy young guy with an acoustic guitar was breezing through Eagles and Beatles tunes (including a version of "Hey Jude" sung as "Hey Jew," which I wasn't sure whether to take as a threat or not) while his leggy percussionist slapped her tambourine and appeared more and more erotically aroused with every note-plucked and blackbird flown.

Just to see if it was possible, I tried to warm-up the bitchiest of the unattractive ice-queens (the one who greeted everything anyone said with a snort and an “ok” hand-sign) we were with by pushing past her bitchy façade and asking about her job. She seemed to warm up for a minute, before quickly freezing back over in a massive eye-roll, snort, “ok,” fit of misdirected sarcasm.

I was outside by myself smoking a cigarette and watching souped-up Nissan Maxima after souped-up Nissan Maxima roll past, when an elderly, drunk Russian man with big, thick, Junior Soprano glasses, approached me.

“I am tdrrunk. I will tdrrive,” he informed me with a sway and a sly grin.

I engaged him in polite conversation, asking if he had far to go, or if he lived in the neighborhood.

“No. I live far, long way,” he told me. “I live there,” he continued, pointing at the building on the corner.

I didn’t press him on his inconsistency. He was old, and very drunk, and his English was pretty halting.

“’Ss OK. I am cop,” he then told me. “No tdrrouble. I am cop.”

He then pulled out a very real looking badge with his picture on it.

“I am cop.” He repeated and chuckled.

This guy was way to old, and spoke way too little English to be a cop, I thought, but what did I know. Maybe out there in Sheeepshead Bay the cops have to speak Russian.

“Are you a cop around here, in the neighborhood?” I asked, hoping to get some stories out of him, but he only grunted in response, appearing not to understand my question.

“How long have you been a cop?” I tried again.

“Long time. Long time.” He assured me. “I am constdrruction,” he added, changing his story. “Cop is hobby. Just hobby,“ he explained. “I am constdrruction. I get in tdrrouble... no tdrrouble. I am cop. Constdrruction.”

I was slightly bugged out by all this, but I was more fascinated than anything, and I continued to smile at my teetering, elderly, possibly very dangerous, new acquaintance.

“Come, come we tdrrink. You are friend, we tdrrink,” he offered, grabbing my arm and leading me back inside the bar.

Once inside he led me to the back, stumbling frequently and grabbing onto me for support. At the end of the bar he found two of his friends, a muscular young Russian guy in a tight black rubber club-shirt and the skuzziest looking Russo-trash dude in the whole place, week’s stubble, greasy black ponytail, eyebrow ring, and a soccer jersey.

My new friend introduced me to these fellows, who weren’t nearly as friendly as he, though they did oblige him and give up their barstools for us. My friend then made the younger guy buy me a drink.

“Wodka, cognac, vhat you vant? You are friend, you are guest. Anything you vant.”

The royal treatment. I chose vodka. This was great. I had apparently met the right guy. I was wondering where the fuck my friend was, as I was pretty much surrounded, trapped there at the end of the bar if something were to go wrong. No big deal, though, and we continued to chat.

“I work in the Bronx. It’s much different than here,” I offered by way of conversation, and I received an appropriately ridiculous reply having something to do with a “meeting tomorrow in Bronx,” with “big developer. Italian. Mafia. I am constdrruction, Bronx. Constdrruction,” and on like that.

My new friend and I were both into our second vodka when he turned to me, laid his hand heavily on my shoulder and said a very surprising thing.

“You are man? You are gay?”

I looked up at this drunk old fake-cop, at his techno linebacker friend, and at his KGB junkie hitman friend, and I was very afraid. I was also good and drunk.

“What? No! What kind of question is that?” I stammered, and he mumbled something incoherent in response, before then whispering something to his tight-shirted friend. No-one said anything. I looked at my drink suspiciously, convinced now that it had been spiked with something, and that I would soon pass out only to awaken under the Brighton Beach boardwalk soaked in urine, burned by cigarettes, mouth stuffed with pickled whitefish, having been buggered forcibly and beaten mercilessly by these psycho Russian gangster perverts.

“Is ok,” he assured me a minute later. “We are Russian. We like fuck women. We like fuck men. We like fuck anything that moves.”

With that I was vanquished, never again to return to Sheepshead bay.

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