The only place I’ve seen in New York that commands its locals to “keep off grass” is Brighton Beach. Said grass is manicured and juicy green, and is juxtaposed to the ungroomed beach reminiscent of my 5th grade vacation in Odessa.
The beach is just one of the many relics the ‘hood has hoarded: there are babushkas tugging at saggy swimsuits on their saggy butts as they yell at grandkids to get out of the water; handsome women, tackily clad, synthetic fabrics clinging to their bodies in various unflattering ways; ruggedly unhandsome men lined up along the shore with their fishing gear. It’s here that men in the street stop throwing adjectives at women and start appearing unimpressed, even surfeited. In other words, it feels like home — but is a little off in that there are drinking fountains and free public restrooms.
We walk into a boardwalk restaurant, whose beat-up marquee says “Tatiana” and the menu on display, home-printed and laminated, is 50% dumplings.
“Вы заказывали с… cherry? Вишней?” asks the waitress. She’s dressed and made up like someone I’d see in a beach joint in Arcadia circa 1998, but her mild American accent and the fact that “cherry” pops up in her head before “вишня” suggest she’s never been anywhere near the Black Sea.
I wonder how she fits into the crowd when she gets out to New York City proper, or whether she ever really gets out. Is she confined in this purgatory, where souls seeking to enter the American heaven (complete with lawns and mortgages) got stuck for an undetermined period of time and now have nothing to do but amble aimlessly on the boardwalk? A transplant that can’t take root and can’t go back either, because the “back” has moved on and she never knew it to begin with? What does she even say when asked “where are you from”?
Despite thinking about it on multiple subway rides, I still don’t know where the line is between respecting your roots and dragging along a chunk of your ground that refuses to blend into the new soil. Nor do I know how hard it must be to chop yourself off of everything you are and try to be something else, and if maybe I would fail at that too. What I do know is, if I moved to a country where lawns aren’t just for show I would take the opportunity to walk on the fucking grass.