Daniel Asa Rose
What it means:
- the ability to lean back in my chair, look around, and take in how
grand life is
- the chance to dig in - dirt on my teeth, grinning - to my project
- the opportunity to say thank you to the world in general and to my
generation in particular
From the memoir The Cossacks of Connecticut
I was living in a WASP town and going to WASP parties – not so much assimilated or acculturated, perhaps, as completely and thoroughly mingled – but at the same time I also had two righteous great uncles named Yudl and Velvl forty miles away on Manhattan's 47th Street. To these gentle souls, worldly diamond dealer brothers of my mother's father from Belgium, we were Connecticut outlaws. They didn't care how many celebrities and professionals we showcased, to them we were rabble-rousers, we were Christmas carolers, we were that most frivolous goyim thing: glitzy. Every so often these great uncles would show up at one of the parties, an anniversary party or a graduation. They didn't drive, it was out of the question, but every so often they took the New Haven Railroad and the expression on their citified faces when they emerged at the Darien station, hot and dusty, said what they thought. They thought: This is the Wild West. They thought they'd taken the stagecoach to Dodge City. The suburban split-levels and cardboard palaces of Darien and Rowayton were Red River Gulch to them. Where were the newspaper hawkers? Where was the local bakery? When they got to the house they stood stiff and somber in their gray flannel pants, fidgeting the diamond pouches in their pockets, and they'd look out at the balloons filling the bathrooms and the heiress barking on the floor and the news anchor giving me a noogie because I'd put tonic in his scotch instead of soda, and they'd think, For this we escaped Hitler's Europe?
Or we'd drive them to a barbecue at the beach – the spiritual heart of our seaside town. We'd pick them up at the station in their pin stripes and ties and they'd sit in the back, leaving the passenger seat empty, as if riding in a cab. It wasn't rudeness – they just didn't know suburban car etiquette, that you fill up the front first. We'd drive to the beach and it would be like out of Tolstoy, the urban dwellers coming by locomotive from St. Petersburg to visit country cousins in their provincial dacha, getting bundled in muffs and wraps to travel miles in a sleigh over snow-covered barrens. We'd plunk them on the sand and they'd look on in horror as we kids played touch football with the hot dog rolls and our parents stood in the water up to their knees, sipping martinis. Disdaining the schmutz beneath their soles, staking their claim to the beach blanket and not venturing off except to make an occasional foray to the snack bar, they'd tramp gingerly across the wasteland in their Old World sandals (barefoot? go naked in front of strangers?!) to order a Sanka and produce blank stares from the high school help who only knew how to process orders for Creamsicles and frozen Milky Ways. An impasse. There at the snack bar the Cossacks would stand staring at the Jews with their shirt tails tucked inside their baggy bathing suits, their black socks pulled halfway up their hairless celery-white calves, and the Jews would stare back at the Cossacks with their necks sunburned leather-red around their dirty T-shirts, and eventually the first camp might loosen up enough to chuck them a Coors, and the second camp might let their hair down enough to sip the Coors, while munching on a roasted shrimp with two fingers only, the other three fingers remaining kosher in the air, figuring that they were already transgressing by finding themselves so deeply among the goyim, a little two-finger transgression wouldn't hurt.