I was on vacation all this week while my wife Jessica's dad was visiting us from Syracuse, NY. We had many different fun activities planned for the week, and some other unplanned activities that were not quite as fun. This was a day dedicated entirely to the former.
I started off the day with a four mile bike ride along the Manatee river. My goal was to do some exploring and find a 10 mile route to prepare for an upcoming Wellness event at my work. That goal was not achieved. There are no bike lanes in the areas surrounding downtown Bradenton except for the Riverwalk trail through Rossi Park and across the Green Bridge to Palmetto. If I wanted find a 10 mile route, I would have to do three laps. That is not preferable.
After working up a minor sweat and a major feeling of disappointment; I moved on with my day. I had to prepare dinner for the next evening and get ready for a trip to Riverview for our golf outing. Dinner was easy. I drove to the local Butcher to buy three pounds of brisket, and expertly mixed up the dry rub so it could settle into the meat for the next 24 hours. Getting ready for the golf trip was also easy, it was the outing itself that turned out to be tough. We played a nice course that was selected by my new Uncle-in-law (if that is an actual classification of a relative). It was called Summerfield Crossings. The entire outing lasted just over four hours. Most of it was spent waiting for the unskilled foursome in front of us to hack their way through 6,900 yards of rough, sand, and occasionally fairways and greens. It was that which followed that truly is worth writing home about.
My new Uncle-in-law George lives in a four bedroom house in the Gibsonton-Riverview metropolitan area. His wife Svetlana lives with him and their choices for 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.