Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hyper Extended Family

My new Uncle-in-law George lives in a four bedroom house in the Gibsonton-Riverview metropolitan area. His wife Svetlana lives with him.  Their choices in home décor are the only thing in the house that contrast more than the two people themselves. Svetlana is a Russian immigrant and George is a classic Florida Cracker. She looked to be in her late forties to early fifties. She had on a short black house dress and Zebra print headband that held her black curly out-of-control locks out of her face. George is in his late sixties, and has the face of a man who smokes about two packs of cigarettes a day and has spent a number of years washing down his feelings with whiskey and beer. Svetlana works as a “matchmaker” to supplement George’s pension from the United States' Postal Service. He is an all American, and she is living the American dream.

We sat on George's back porch drinking Miller High Life and eating potato chips. Svetlana sat at another table talking to her “clients” entirely in Russian. We couldn't understand what they were saying, and they couldn't care less about what we were discussing. George told us stories about the boarding house for wayward Russians they were running. He spoke of strippers with mob connected boyfriends, mail-order marriages, and an assortment of other goings on that were fascinating to an outsider yet were everyday life to him.

Our conversation was interrupted when Svetlana overheard George use the word “Jew” in a sentence. She immediately joined our conversation and asked what we were talking about. The actual discussion was in regards to Svetlana's daughter; who worked in Washington, DC for a human rights group that protects Jews around the world. Svetlana did not let George finish explaining before she looked us all in the eye and said, “That's fine, just don't say anything about Russian Jews. If you do... I'll kill you.” I did not add an exclamation point to that sentence, because her tone was a plain as if she just asked us if we would like another beer. Needless to say, Svetlana was an interesting Russian woman. Her background in “matchmaking” and her affinity for gaudy home décor aside, she was a plain speaking woman who lacked the ability to understand what was appropriate to say and what was not. I found her delightful!

George had precisely instructed her to prepare the “fixins” for the hamburgers and hot dogs. She was to break up the lettuce into small pieces, cut half an onion into slices, dice the other half, and slice up a tomato. We all understood the instructions clearly, and we though Svetlana did too. After she finished smoking her Capri cigarette, she gripped the red lipstick-stained filter, extinguished it in the ashtray, and was on her way into the kitchen to get started on the “fixins.”

Minutes later I walked into the kitchen to throw away my beer bottle and grab another one from the mini refrigerator that was strategically placed next to the TV. Before I could make it back to the beer fridge, Svetlana stopped me. She waved for me to come closer. I did, but I made sure the kitchen counter still separated us (I wasn't 100% sure I hadn't offended her before). She leaned in and covered one side of her face as if she were about to tell me a secret. My mind was racing with what she was going to utter next. Is there another taboo in this house that could result in untimely death? She finally began to speak, and she said, “I forgot what I was supposed to do.” She shrugged her shoulders while holding a head of lettuce in one hand and a red ripened tomato in the other. She could not remember the specific preparatory instructions George had laid out for her just five minutes prior. I was listening before and reiterated them for her in the kitchen. She thanked me and sent me on my way to the beer fridge and back out to the porch for some more of George's stories. I was happy to oblige. She seemed nice enough, but there was something about her that made me uneasy. I decided not to stick around to find out exactly why.

From there, the night was a bit of a blur. There were more stories of strippers, some of steak, cellulite cream in the bathroom, quail hunting, duck hunting, deer hunting, whiskey, family, and finally of sleep. We had an hour drive back to Bradenton and an important morning task to attend to the following morning. We had to be on our way. I was sad to leave, but ready to go. I would hate for my affinity to speak ill of Russian Jews to slip out, and we all knew what the penalty for that would have been.

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