Boris Kazinsky Discovers America

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto

   Smalkovitch, a recruiter for Leon Trotsky’s worldwide struggle against his formidable enemy, Stalin, had contacted the Russian underground in an attempt to smuggle out his nephew Boris. He planned to bring him to his tiny flat in Brownsville, a section of Brooklyn, a hotbed of Trotskyite activity, and to involve him in the plots to overthrow the Soviet dictator. It would be another credit to Smalkovitch’s standing in the underground cell consisting of six members of which he was Education Director, the fourth lowest position in the organization. Lean and bony, he had darting, suspicious eyes, a mass of black hair, wore thick glasses, and worked as a printer’s assistant.

   Although he hadn’t seen Boris for a dozen years, he remembered him as a cherubic boy with light hair, a stubby nose, and a love for animals. Hidden in a truck among a load of live chickens Boris escaped across the Polish border and arrived in New York after an aggravating journey on a freighter where he contracted food poisoning. To his uncle’s surprise Boris’ former chubbiness was totally gone. He was, in fact, malnutritioned, even emaciated, a rattling bag of bones on the verge of collapse.

   “How did they ever let you into the country?” Smalkovitch exclaimed.

   “I told them my job was the circus skeleton man,” Boris replied, sullenly. He was virtually unable to digest anything and detested the tinned food his uncle provided from Gregorsky’s, the neighborhood grocer. “Russian grass was better than this,” he muttered as Smalkovitch tried to get him to eat. Shchav, a Russian soup, was about all he could manage.

   In the crowded two-room apartment jammed with old newspaper cuttings, books, and assorted junk Smalkovitch collected for sale, he made room for Boris on a folding cot. Using Boris’ smattering of English as a base he started him on lessons at once, along with a daily political lecture in an effort to prepare Boris for admission to the cell. In his talks with Boris, whose blank stare his uncle took to be concentration, Smalkovitch tried to smooth his nephew’s path into his new life by praising America while predicting its future as a socialist paradise.

   Rejecting food and growing weaker, Boris reclined on his cot listening to Smalkovitch’s perorations. “They already had two revolutions here and soon will be ready for the final solution to capitalism,” he assured his nephew. “but everybody who comes here finds something they can’t resist. With one of my girl friends it was brassieres. There was nothing in the world to compare to American brassieres. To my friend Ivan it was his automobile. He carries more insurance on his automobile than he does on his family. For me, you can laugh, it was fountain pens that don’t leak. They are very inventive, very clever. They invented the electric light, the airplane, chewing gum, sunglasses, and they kick the president out every four years. They also made the stock market but we’ll take care of that. Suddenly one day you too will discover something in America, something will strike you, and everything I am telling you will become instantly clear.”

   An event like that actually happened but in a manner totally unforeseen by Smalkovitch when a few weeks later he decided to take Boris on an outing to help bring him around. They took the subway to what his uncle described as the entertainment mecca for the American peasants, the popular beach, boardwalk, and playground called Coney Island. There, the salty ocean breezes, the merry-go-rounds, the trinket shops, the daring roller coasters, the air saturated by buttered popcorn, and the sideshows failed to produce any sparks of response from the anorexic prone Boris. His sad eyes and sulky demeanor only deepened as he dragged after his uncle, who finally declared in a last effort to appease Boris’ soul with a tasty morsel, “Come, we’ll eat a dog.”

   “Dog? I don’t eat dog. I love dog,” Boris muttered.

   “This is a hot dog,” Smalkovitch informed him, dragging him along.

   “Hot, cold, I don’t eat dog! I love dog,” Boris insisted.

   Smalkovitch led him towards a crowd of people three deep and half a block long surging up to a counter of similar length facing the sidewalk where mouthwatering odors of food wafted out. A colorful sign above the counter read, “Nathan’s.” People emerged carrying long frankfurter-laden rolls plentifully slopped with golden mustard and topped by a mound of steaming sauerkraut. They were an involuntary cult of New Yorkers known as Fressers, devouring the repast hungrily, as though the consumer couldn’t get it down fast enough in order to have a second. This was followed by cardboard containers of one or another brands of burp-producing drinks such as coca cola, root beer, and ginger ale. Crisp, oily french fries, heavily salted in wax paper bags were eaten as an accompaniment. Smalkovitch, leaving Boris on the edge of the mass, plunged in soon to return with a pair of the rolls amply topped by the condiments.

   “Another American invention,” he informed him, “famous all over America.”

   “What? A sausage?” Boris said, wearily.

   “This,” his uncle announced imperiously, “is a Nathan’s hot dog.”

   “It not look like dog,” Boris said, bleakly, although the odor had already tickled his palate. Almost reluctantly, he bit into it. He chewed slowly. His expression changed as though he couldn’t believe his mouth. He bit into it again, chewing faster and faster and shoved the remaining half of it down his throat, demanding in jammed together words, “Gmenotherone!”

   Boris consumed five additional loaded hot dogs one after the other without pause, aided by a container of root beer. Speaking in Russian on the train ride home he told his uncle, “Everything pales in comparison to it. Brassieres, chewing gum, the airplane, nothing is like that hot dog.”

   Smalkovitch laughed, pleased. “But how can you say that, Boris?”

   “I can say it with my mouth. I who have experienced hunger my entire life. On that I am an expert,” he declared, pale, dressed in donated clothing, the pants too long, the shirt too short, the shoes worn, his haircut by his uncle. The next day he went back there for lunch and consumed seven, savoring them slowly.

   “You’ll get sick if you keep this up,” his uncle warned him.

   “I don’t care if I die,” he replied. In a week he began to gain noticeable weight for the first time. When Smalkovitch refused to give him money, Boris pinched it from him. Day after day he returned to fill himself up on hot dogs. While there he saw a way to be near his need. He found a job running a small Wheel of Fortune stand two blocks from Nathan’s. All he had to do was spin the wheel and collect the money, giving a stuffed animal as a prize to the occasional winner.

   “I have no interest in politics,” he told Smalkovitch. “I would never change a system that makes such hot dogs.” He found a small room near his work and virtually lived off the frankfurters day and night for the next six months.

   Predictably, Boris suffered a serious case of gastro-enteritis. Smalkovitch’s doctor frightened him enough for Boris to reduce his consumption radically and add nutritious foods to his diet. A period of shaking and crying followed after which he regained control of himself and was down to one hot dog a day. That was at the end of May. In the middle of June he heard the announcement on the radio. The Coney Island merchants in order to kick off the summer season invited all Fressers to a hot dog eating contest. First prize was an unimaginable five hundred dollars. The press picked it up and contestants from Kentucky, Colorado, and Texas announced their intention to participate. The Honolulu community raised money to send two Hawaiians.

   “You’re crazy,” Smalkovitch cried.

   “I’ll be rich overnight!” Boris declared.

   “And you’ll be dead in the morning,” his uncle warned. “Besides, five hundred dollars is not rich.”

   “Anybody you know has five hundred dollars?” Boris demanded. Smalkovitch had to admit that he didn’t. With the savings from his job Boris would have almost a thousand.

   When Boris won he was immediately rushed to the doctor and given a high colonic. Smalkovitch’s remedy of tins of sardines in olive oil topped by thick helpings of sliced raw onions to deaden the desire for the hot dogs worked. While recovering in his uncle’s apartment Boris took a telephone call from Gregorsky, the barrel-chested owner of the grocery store around the corner with two underpaid immigrant employees, Smalkovitch’s friend.

   “I see your picture in local paper!” he boomed. “I put up sign, Meet Hot Dog Champion Boris here five o’clock. Can you come five o’clock? I give you five dollars.”

   “Well-” Boris hesitated. “I don’t know-”

   “Maybe you like be my partner in grocery? I need cash bad. You got thousand dollars? You be my partner.”

   Boris ran around the corner to settle the deal. He had about eight hundred counting his savings.

   “I brought you here from Russia to be a member of my cell, and this is how you repay me?” Smalkovitch berated him.

   “I be member, I be member,” Boris placated him.

   “How can you be member now?” Smalkovitch cried. “You are a boss, an exploiter of labor, a profiteer! How can you be a revolutionary?” But he simmered down and maintained a relationship with Boris despite the latter’s disinterest in politics. Boris and Gregorsky went on to open a supermarket in which Boris, the junior partner, labored a ten hour day. Smalkovitch never entirely forgave him.

   “You deserted the working class,” he complained, bitterly.

   “Me? I deserted?” Boris laughed ironically. And with his latest command of English shouted, “I am working my ass off.”

 

-Al Geto




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Copyright August 3, 2000-

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