Location Midwood (Brooklyn)
Rent $900 (sublet)
Square feet 700
Occupant Elena Rakova (computer project manager, artist)
Hello. I live in a really boring neighborhood.
Say it isn’t so! You’re right near Adelman’s, with the red water glasses and red bread baskets, where everyone in Midwood goes at 5:30 at night for the meat loaf entrée special, only $8.95! Or the brisket, depending. And you can sit underneath photos of Sandy Koufax, the handsomest baseball player in the entire world, ever, and Jewish, who refused to play on Yom Kippur even though it was the World Series and—I hate to name-drop—but he dated my cousin Cookie, but I don’t know how many times, because he later was married to Richard Widmark’s daughter for a year. And then what about King’s Bakery Kiev with the gold wedding cakes, or Domino, where all the smoked fish are lying on their sides and staring at the customers?
I’d say the excitement here is mostly gastronomical. I work in Manhattan, see friends there. The whole nightlife thing is not happening in Midwood. There are no bookstores. I’d even settle for a Barnes & Noble. We have Russian bookstores, but it’s not the same thing.
There’s the old Vitagraph Studios, where they made Gertie the Dinosaur. What are you eating from that jar?
Soup croutons. I’m so lazy. I should cook at my age. People in Russia explore the fascinating world of cooking at 15. I came with my parents from the Ukraine in 1990. We had refugee status. I was 17. My father opened a gallery in Soho with friends. He’s quite unique. He has 10 occupations, and he’s amazing at all of them. My parents live five blocks away. I see them on weekends. I call first and find out what’s on the menu.
Your vanilla and cream apartment is so big, and you are so small. It’s as if you’re a child in your mother’s shoes.
I’ve been renting this co-op from my friends for four years. I’m sure it would cost more for someone else to rent. The studio next door is $650. I pay $900 for two bedrooms. The other day I went to see an apartment in the city—compared to this, so expensive. Everything has its price. Living in Brooklyn, I don’t worry about money, about splurging on an extra pair of jeans. In the city, people have to be careful. You know, because this neighborhood is boring, you can’t rely on any outside activities. You become more creative in a boring neighborhood. And I travel—I just went to the Dominican Republic for three days because I was cold. In Russia we weren’t allowed to travel. We lived in Odessa, beautiful beaches, the Black Sea.
Is it really black? I always thought it would look like ink.
In a storm, it does. That’s because there’s no animal life, no oxygen below 200 feet. Another reason it’s OK to be stuck in Brooklyn is because I can go to the beach in summer so I don’t suffocate—Brighton Beach. I sit near where you can get sunflower seeds. Lots of people from Odessa like sunflower seeds. When you were in school and you were poor and you had only 20 cents, that was what you could afford. People are sentimental about what gives them comfort. I’m not sentimental about the brown dresses I had to wear in Russia. Sometimes I sketch at the beach. I bring my books, computer magazines, The New Yorker. I’ve subscribed for 10 years. I’ve never thrown one out. I think it is the closest portrait of the kind of lifestyle I enjoy. Of course, I will say the neighborhood here has changed in the past two years. Now, when my father goes to synagogue, he says, There used to be just older people, now there are tons of young people with children. New buildings, prices skyrocketing. Avenue U is Chinatown. J is Orthodox. H is Indian or Pakistani. L to S is largely Russian. It’s purely alphabetical.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 27, 2001