The Russian Store

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.

7 thoughts on “The Russian Store

  1. Were they religious? Basia sounds like a Jewish name, and I thought most FSU Jews had Russian sounding names.

    The talk was in Russian, right?


    1. I grew up among Firas, Basias, Ziamas, Mulias, Bens, etc, so these names sound normal to me. My mother, however, says that her entire village was stumped when her future husband’s family arrived for the wedding because the names were too weird. 🙂

      These are old Soviet people, why would they be religious? I don’t know, I never saw any sign of any religion. They don’t wear kippahs or anything. There was some Yiddish involved but at the level I’m used to.


  2. This is an amazing story! I will include it in the next issue of the ‘Remote Sky’ magazine if you don’t object. I am sure Sholem Aleichem and Isaak Babel would agree with me.

    Well done! Congratulations! You are not just a great car driver and a literary critic. You are also a very good writer.



    1. I can observe reality and write about it but I have no fantasy and can’t devise a plot. So I’ve been thinking that if I were to go on a road trip across the country, I could totally write a book.

      Thank you for the compliments! They are appreciated especially as coming from a real writer.


      1. I recall that you are writing a secret narrative that is likely a literary masterpiece, which you decline to have anyone else read. I shall believe that you are the next generation Tollkien or Martin as long as I have never read it. And very possibly after I read it.


    1. Oh, the cake, the cake! It’s called “Kievskiy” (after Kiev) and it has cream flowers on top and crunchy stuff and cream and nuts inside.

      The store is called “Rizzo’s Seafood”, even though it isn’t Italian or seafood. 🙂 It’s on Old Olive Road. If you go, ask them for cakes they keep in the back because the ones in the fridge are old and stale. Pretty much everything that’s good and fresh is hidden in the back room, which is an old Soviet custom.


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