from January 21, 2009
According to this week’s New York Daily News, Brighton Beach is being overrun by rats. “They’re even in the cars. My husband has to check under the hood every morning. They’re eating the wiring.” This is a surprise? Has the Daily News ever been to Brighton Beach? Brighton Beach is bordered, more or less, by Coney Island on one side, Sheepshead Bay on the other side, and the B train on top. It has many landmarks, like the place where Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes used to be, as well as the guy who fixed my Dad’s Toyota back in the 1980’s. Nowadays, Brighton Beach is best known for being the USA home of the Russian Mafia and is second only to Chinatown as The Home Of The Amazing Huge Pile Of Garbage That Has Not Been Picked Up Since The Last Time You Were There, When The Pile Was Already Two Stories High.A long time ago, maybe 10 years or so (OK, so in the grand scheme of things 10 years isn’t that long. Just ask the forces that shaped the glaciers and moved them over most of Greenland. On the other hand, it is the life span of about 10,000,000 cicadas, so go figure.) I went to Brighton Beach to see a free concert in the park. It starred “Gladys Knight and her Pips.” (Would you like to go through life as someone’s Pip? Unless you’re a character in a Dickens novel, probably not.) I didn’t stay for her. I think I left just before The Midnight Train to Georgia pulled out of Newark. I was there for the MC.
Remember Welcome Back Kotter? It was a popular PBS documentary about the life of the students and faculty in a typical Brooklyn high school. Filmed over the course of a semester, Ken Burns Sr. followed an average group of students, called “Sweathogs,” and their average teacher, Gabe Kaplan, playing himself.
Gabe Kaplan was the MC of this concert. He took to the stage to no applause whatsoever. In the three decades since the show aired, Kaplan had shaved his moustache and trimmed his curly hair so that he looked more like the man who was about to introduce Gabe Kaplan than actually looking like Gabe Kaplan. His first joke was about how he didn’t look like Gabe Kaplan. Clearly, the decades had not been kind to his stand up routine but they were great for his bank account- he had become a very successful professional Las Vegas poker player.
Anyway, Kaplan, or Gabe, as his friends call him, didn’t do much standup, though he did make an oblique Sweathog reference and quickly introduced Gladys Knight, who introduced the Pips herself.
What does all this have to do with rats?
I drove to Brighton Beach for the concert, which was a mistake. At the best of times (and there are no best of times) the parking situation can best be described as, shall we say, poor, mainly because I don’t want to curse in this blog. Under the train, Brighton Beach has about 108 stores on every block, and still manages to cram about 108 apartments on every block. These 108 stores and 108 apartments each have, about, 108 cars. Factor in the approximately 108 bus stops along the street and you begin to see the problem- there are only 14 parking spots, and 12 of them are reserved for the Russian Mafia. (Check the signs- “No Parking Except for Sergei.”)
During the summer the parking situation is actually even worse
So here I come, driving down the block and lo and behold I saw someone pull out of a spot. I was stuck at a red light and prayed and prayed to my Lord that no one would come and grab it. “Please Superman, if you can hear me, please let me get that spot!” He must have heard me because the light changed and I got the spot. I sat there and basked. I had beaten the odds. I had gotten a spot in Brighton Beach. Should I play the lottery? Would this be a good time to invest in the stock market? Should I call Christine Fajen, who I totally had a thing for back then, and brag about the spot?
Well, as I was debating, a beat up sedan backed alongside of me, the window went down, and the driver started motioning with his hand in a way that seemed like a cross between American Sign Language and Crips signals.
I rolled down the window and he started yelling at me in a combination of Russian and English that I could almost, but not quite, almost barely not understand. Don’t worry, I’ll translate.
HIM: Didn’t you see me? I was waiting for the spot.
ME: You were just sitting there for five minutes. What were you waiting for?
HIM: I wanted the spot.
ME: You were four cars away, you weren’t even near the spot.
However, I was going to pull out and let him have the spot. Not so much that he was right, because he wasn’t, but because I was sure that as soon as I walked away he’d come back and slash my tires. But before I could pull out…
HIM: You think you are better than me?
HIM: Because you are American you think you are better than me?
Well yes, but that was beside the point. I was ready to pull out but now I wasn’t giving him the satisfaction. I shut the engine, leaned the seat back and twirled my keys. I sat there with a serene smile until he got mad and drove off, but not before giving me a final hand gesture. It wasn’t a wave goodbye.
I saw him drive down the block, turn the corner, and then I started my engine and pulled out. I’m not stupid. The last thing I needed was to come back and find a pile of pierogies where my car used to be. As soon as I pulled out four cars started jockeying for the spot until a fifth car came along and the driver pointed to the sign and pulled in. It must have been Sergei.
Again, what does this have to do with rats?
The parking spot was next to the tallest and longest pile of trash I have ever seen. It was as long as five cars and taller than me. Honestly, it was a good thing I didn’t stay because if it fell over my car would have been buried forever, like the auto industry in Detroit is today.
No wonder they have rats in Brighton Beach. I just can’t believe anyone is surprised.