A Date with the Russian

7:30 p.m. ---- Saturday night

I haven't had a date in months. Tonight I'm finally going out with the buff Russian with bad teeth, Ivan. He spotted me at the gym this morning. In the middle of his sweaty, mad run on the treadmill he suddenly 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," I answered hesitantly.

"Well, why don't you be sure and come out with me...okay?" he asked.

"Well...yeah," I replied after a long silence.

"Good. I pick you up at nine. You be there, right?"


"You sure? You won't forget?" he asked as he took a corner of his towel and wiped a drop of sweat off from my forehead.

At nine I heard a loud honk on the horn outside my door. When I didn't respond the phone rang.

"Sweetheart, I'm here outside," he said.

He opened the car door for me and introduced me to his friend Dmitri. A good Jewish-Italian friend 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?" he asked squeezing my knee. "Beautiful you are. Ah, the cuisine of Russia. Yes, sound good to you, baby doll? This night... for the experience. Don't look at prices. I take you to fancier place next time. What I tell you Dmitri...perfect she is, no?"

We pulled into an older strip mall on Santa Monica Blvd. "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 tiny disco ball. A bleached blonde Russian woman in a silver lamé 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 florid, jolly birthday girl. 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.

Ivan 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 and how there is no money in LA.

For four 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. Ivan and Dmitri spoke in Russian then in English. They took turns smoking outside, we danced, talked and danced some more.

"Tell me. What philosophy you live by?" he asked.

"I like things to be simple," I answered.

"...ah...no, no. Me, I want luxury. Not to live well, but to live really well. You know what I mean?"

"What is it that you actually do?" I asked.

"Everything. I do everything."

I liked Dmitri 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 and white carnations for me.

"Come here...I want picture," Ivan said putting his badly tattooed arm around me and handing his tiny dispensable camera to Dmitri.

"For millennium, what you doing?" he asked.

"I am 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 asked as he lead me outside.

I pulled on his 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 time...you know, of the month for me."

"What, you start it when? When you end it? "he asked as he flicked the rest of his cigarette into the air.

"I think Thursday," I said feeling my face turn red.

"Then Thursday I see you next, "he said as he waved to Dmitri to come on out. He said something to him under his breath in Russian and then the three of us piled into the car.

Hannah Sward