An old Jew sits in the corner of the Russian store in St. Louis.
In emigration, “Russian” always means Jewish. If you want to say that somebody is an actual Russian, you say “He’s Russian Russian,” to which the reply is always, “Like, Russian Russian?” And you have to answer, “Yes, Russian Russian.”
The old Jew at the store is the owner’s father.
“Young lady, look at your husband,” he tells me. “He is wandering round the store, he looks sad. I know what he needs. I will tell you what he needs because you are a young lady and you don’t understand these things. He looks like he needs a cake. See? He is nodding. Let’s go get him a cake. Wait, why are you taking that old thing? Put it down, put it down, I have a fresh one hidden right here behind all this old, stale stuff. Here it is. And you see? It’s cheaper! Ah, what did I say? I know what you need!”
The old Jew’s daughter-in-law emerges from the back room.
“Father, do you want tea? Sofa is making tea. Do you want tea?”
“No, I do not want tea,” the old Jew replies.
“Father, think, just think about it. Do you want tea? I think you want tea.”
“Ah, leave me alone, I don’t want tea.”
“What am I going to do with this man?” the daughter-in-law exclaims. “Sofa, Sofa, did you hear this? Father says he doesn’t want any tea. Sofa, where have you gone and hidden yourself? Come here, you need to hear what father is saying.”
Sofa comes out of the back room.
“What did you say, what? You want tea?” she addresses the old man.
“No, leave me alone, I said I don’t want tea, I don’t, what have you come out here for?”
“Have you thought about it?” Sofa asks. “I think you need to think about it. Basia, have you told him to think about it?” she turns to her sister-in-law.
“Yes, I told him to think about it,” Basia responds.
“And what did he say?” asks Sofa.
In the midst of this exchange I push the overwhelmed “Russian Russian” out of the Russian store to spare him a culture shock that would be too heavy.