“Are you a Polish person?” she finally asks point blank, breaking the ice after his judgmental stare at her borscht in the midst of talking to his Asian presumably girlfriend (white men are never just mere “friends” with Asian women, after all, even despite the rumors that Indian women are supposed to be the latest fetish). He laughs and says, “Yes. Been in this neighborhood for twenty-seven years.” She fails to be impressed as he looks as though he might have just turned twenty-seven yesterday. So she nods and smiles, “Oh? I’m sure it was quite different ‘back in the day.'”
“Are you kidding me? You couldn’t even walk from Greenpoint into Williamsburg. It was too dangerous.”
She slurped obnoxiously on her soup in the hope of getting him to return to his Polish conversation with the presumable girlfriend who probably didn’t care what language he was speaking so long as he paid for this cheap meal and fucked her pussy later. She probably pretended to know what he was saying all this time in their relationship because she wanted to pocket the money for the language lessons he was paying for her to take. She, knowing full well that all men expect Asian women to be silent and submissive, saw an opportunity for savings and perhaps an eventual escape. There was nothing pertinent (e.g. “tak, proszę pana”) she couldn’t learn from Duolingo anyway–the same app that a self-important white man uses to make himself believe he’s at least attempting to be multicultural and assimilative in whatever latest country he’s infiltrating.
The latest that Aleksander was infiltrating happened to be this microcosm of a restaurant, filled with all the remaining “old world” types of the Polak persuasion intermixed with sticking out like sore thumbs “millennials” (this serving as the all-encompassing euphemism for hipster) who had heard about it in the latest proverbial Teen Beat magazine (online edition). Publications constantly searching for the next “it” thing that had already happened five years ago, but these “discoveries” happen in cycles with white powers that be, serving only to reinvigorate interest that was already there in the first place. For Mathilde (who was not French, but born into a family that wanted so badly to be more sophisticated than it was), her interest in Kluska had been long-standing. Considering her revolving door nature, she had left and returned to the neighborhood many times in her New York life, always coming back to this very spot at the bar to be served in a more expedient fashion without being scrutinized for taking a table all to herself.
The bartender, Jakub, was a third generation Pole, but he still somehow had an accent–a very pronounced kind that made Mathilde wonder if perhaps he was doing it for the tips. Millennials love a gimmick, even an auditory one that isn’t quite so easy to convey on Instagram. He was in the midst of making his specialty, “hot beer,” as Aleksander continued to wax on about the changing landscape of a neighborhood that had already changed irrevocably long before he was born. It’s not like he got to live during Patricia Mae Andrzejewski’s (that’s Pat Benatar to you) era. So it’s unclear why he had adopted this air of superiority over Mathilde, admitting to her that, yes, he had been discussing what she ordered–its novice implications. The borscht she accepted without any meat in it because she didn’t give a shit and it was cold outside and borscht–not chicken fucking noodle soup–is the only thing that can warm what’s left of the soul in these types of conditions.
She became more cautious about funneling the life-giving elixir into her mouth. Felt all at once like a criminal in her own paid for prison. Granted, this was no Wronki–the environs far more intimate and contained than that. Though she wouldn’t put it past Aleksander to shiv her for her culinary predilections. He was that intense, brooding. In this way, she could perhaps believe that he was no phony second generation sort trying to lay claim to a heritage that wasn’t fully his, so much as his ancestors’–now dead and gone like everything else once good and pure. Hence, the bastardization of this borscht. Had Aleksander’s grandparents been here to witness such an atrocious interpretation of even the simplest dish, they would’ve done far worse to Mathilde than just verbally assault her with not even a vain attempt at concealment. No, they might have grabbed her by the back of the head and slammed her fucking ignorant face into it multiple times until she finally drowned in her faulty decision.
While she was somewhat contrite and ashamed thinking about her blithe acceptance of aborted culture, she was equally as enraged by the gall Aleksander possessed in branding her the unrefined swine. Wasn’t boorishness what Poland was built on? Didn’t one have to be a bit crude and rough-hewn to survive there? Or was that another stereotype? Like the one about New York being difficult to make it in when in fact it was no trouble at all when you had money.
The Asian girlfriend, meanwhile, had seemed to shrink further into the barstool, either possibly sympathizing with Mathilde in being verbally accosted or relishing the fact that, for once, it wasn’t she who had to be subjected to this pedantic fuckery. Jakub, having finished his hot beer concoction with a bit of froth and cinnamon to top it off, slid it over to Mathilde so that she could sample it. This, evidently, was too much for Aleksander to bear as he hemmed, hawed and chortled before finally bursting out with, “You aren’t going to drink that and finish the borscht, are you?”
To his increased confirmation of being a self-righteous prick, Mathilde decided to oblige him in his assumptions about his knowledgeability of Polish cuisine (specifically what tasted bad and what didn’t, what was authentic and what wasn’t) and abruptly began coughing before spitting out the soup into the bowl with the bombast of one of the Three Stooges. She felt like a stooge anyway most of the time, so why not? And, in this capacity, she was able to land a direct hit into his eyeball, sending him screaming and squirming away from her at long last.
As the Asian girlfriend followed him into the bathroom to lick his wounds both physical and emotional, Mathilde grinned and raised her glass at Jakub.