A neon hammer and sickle sign flickers in angry, vindictive red as soon as I exit the Brighton Beach subway stop in Brooklyn, New York. Except it’s not there to promote communism; it’s a flashy attempt to sell mid-grade booze. At first this strikes me as a bit odd, but then what is communism if not–like capitalism–one of the most enduring, elaborate and nastiest marketing campaigns this world has ever seen? Besides, I figure, it’s probably best not to try to make too much sense of everything I see today. After all, I am in Little Russia.
Brighton Beach is Coney Island’s eccentric, slightly bedraggled aunt who thinks it’s funny to spike your 14-year-old cousin’s drink at the dinner table but then looks at you spitefully when you ask why he’s passed out at the table. Wizened 70-somethings sport gilded “Odessa” sailors’ hats while eating smoked herring at the boardwalk bar; babushkas in floral muumuus dot the well-worn street corners with a grimace chillier than the Cold War; battered and bruised men crowd around chess boards and toss half-empty beer cans to the ground not necessarily to dispose of them but perhaps to say—and loudly—“I am here”.