It was because of that event that I first met David. Then he was a 20-year-old writer, and already a graduate student at Columbia. He was a real genius. He wrote for a local paper, and lived near us in Brighton Beach.
He was also a Russian Jew, but like many of the Russian Jews in Brighton Beach, his family had been here since the turn of the last century.
He dogged Mother for weeks after the shooting trying to get an interview for an article he was doing on the Russian Mafia in Brighton Beach.
Of course Mother didn’t talk to him, for obvious reasons. For one, she was now one of the most notorious people in Brighton Beach, and not because she was a “cultural treasure,”
Talk about up and downs, Father. Just as soon as she had put her little theatre on the map, and established herself as an artistic force, all at once, overnight, she transformed into a gangster’s moll!
How unfair, Father! Can you imagine, this middle aged, 57-year-old single mom, with a half black Russian teenage son, a gangster’s moll? I mean, Father, please!
Mother wouldn’t talk to David, so he turned to me, and tried to pump me for information. He was a persistent bastard, to be sure. He wasn’t fat as he became. But I would walk out of my house, and there he was.
Also, I know now that David wanted more from me than just a good story. Even as young and inexperience as he was as a reporter, surely he must have known that I knew little about The Gangster’s life style other than he liked banging my mother.
I know now that what David really wanted was nothing more than to get down on his knees and give me a blowjob.
“P,” he said later, after we had settled into real friendship, without the sex, based partly on our both growing up in Brighton Beach and being Russian, “when I first laid eyes on you, this tall, handsome, well-built, brown-skinned “Russian” with blue eyes no less, I knew I was gay! I said, ‘that’s it, no more women for me.’”
I laughed hardily, freely, at his kind words. David always loved putting a not so subtle emphasis on the word “Russian” as if I was some kind of bogus Russian. But I was more Russian than he will ever be, and he knew it!
Gina was with us that day, as we sat in one of our favorite clubs in Manhattan. She also laughed a quick, nervous laugh. Gina often looked confused at the close relationship, and open affection the two of us shared, with David always flirting with me. Sometimes I thought she really suspected that we were really getting it on.
“Get the fuck out of here, David. I made you gay? Is that what you’re saying! I made you gay?” My voice was filled with playful, mock indignation. All three of us laughed loudly.
I didn’t know he was gay back then. He just seemed like a nice guy, and although he was older than I was, I liked him immediately. In many ways, he became the older brother I never had.
Mother, however, never took so well to David. First, because he was a nosy reporter. “Don’t you talk to him, Alex,” she warned me more than once, narrowing her small eyes at me.
She didn’t have to warn me so many times. I was the one who had seen The Gangster gunned down. You, Father, are perhaps the first person I am sharing this with. I never told Mother. I never told David. I never told the police what I saw that night out of my window.
Mother told the police that she had already entered the building when the shooting took place, and didn’t see anything. She didn’t tell them, which I had witness a part of, that when the two hit men approached both of them, her boyfriend instantly knew what was about to go down.
After a brief, but loud conversation, which I had overheard, Mother saw one of the men pull out a gun.
“Run Sasha!” The Gangster shouted.
Mother ran into the building as he started running across the street, drawing the men away from her, and allowing her to get safely away. He saved her life, for in all probability, if he hadn’t run in the direction he did, they both would have been gunned down. It was clear he was thinking of her safety as he ran, sealing his death. He knew they wanted him, not her.
Thank God, Father, Mother didn’t see The Gangster gunned down; she was too busy running up the long flight of stairs.
She had never seen the two men who shot her boyfriend before. Again, word on the street was busily buzzing away. Some said that they were imported from California. Other’s said they came from Israel. Still other’s said they came directly from Moscow. The police never caught them, which cause much fear in both Mother and myself. We both knew that she had fully seen their faces when they confronted The Gangster and her of the street.
What was unspoken in the back of both of our minds was would they now come after her because she could identify them? The Russian didn’t play. We both knew that. Everyone in Brighton Beach knew that! Dead bodies popped up everywhere, including old people, women, and even children, when someone was pissed-off.
When all is said and done, Brighton Beach is like a small town. And like in any small town, if you knew something that could put a hurting on the powers-that-be, you kept your mouth shut if you wanted to stay alive.
Talking to someone like David would have been beyond foolish, Father. Both Mother and I walked the streets of Brighton Beach for months looking over our shoulders. I even had a nightmare that some strange guy, with crazed, blazing eyes suddenly burst through the large crowd of shoppers and strollers on the big Avenue and pointed a large gun at Mother.
“Run, Shasa! Run, Shasa!” someone yelled.
I forced myself to wake up before the madman had a chance to kill Mother. She was right. The last thing we needed was to have our name and pictures in the papers talking about the Russian Mafia!
Mother soon closed the Pushkin Playhouse.
I asked her why. She avoided my eyes.
“Alex, theatre doesn’t make money. How am I supposed to pay the rent? You got money?”
I wish I did have money, Father. I felt so sorry for her, because I knew how much being on stage meant to her. She couldn’t do American theatre because of her heavy accent, and her still limited ability to read English. I also knew that although money was a problem, especially now that her deep-pocketed boyfriend was dead—it had always been a problem, but that didn’t stop her in the past.
I knew she was now filled with a deep fear, and a great lost. That she just didn’t have the heart anymore, and did not want to be out late.
She even started transferring that fear to me. After that shooting, she started getting on my case whenever I was late coming home. She started clinging to me, Father, which bothered the holy hell out of me.
One of the things I loved growing up with an actress, an artist—as you probably loved because you were also an artist—was her sense of independence and purpose in life. Everyday living with such a person had meaning. They were not just going through life sleeping, working, consuming and following orders.
Mother was a great role model. She gave a kid like me a freer range than most kids.
But this insane killing was taking away this freedom, Father. Now it was: Alex this! And Alex that! And Alex don’t do this! Alex, don’t go over there! Alex, Alex, Alex!
No wonder I joined the Army as soon as I left college.
The Gangster’s death, and her own close brush with death, clearly shook her, Father.
TO BE CONTINUED