One always leaves New York City in winter, wearing a fur-trimmed Canada Goose jacket. My exit music is the screams of young protesters, some wearing Brooklyn Industries, some dressed as cats or muskrats or something. “Fur is Dead, man!” But the protesters dare not approach. I am in protective custody.
I came to the City, like so many thousands of others do, in my mid-20s, full of hope that I would achieve greatness. I had a junior role in the Russian Federation’s delegation to the United Nations. This job saved my family. You cannot have a wife and child living on a government salary in Moscow, and I had almost no oligarchs on my LinkedIn network. I had very few prospects.
They let us choose between New York and D.C. but Washington would have seemed like such a letdown after Muscovite living. We were not ready, like some bumblebee-kicking Chekhov characters from Sorin’s farm, for lives in the country.
The effects of living in the city were at first miraculous and transformative. Free from Moscow’s pollution, my eyes and throat stopped burning and the UN mission bought us all Citi Bike accounts. Since there’s no winter here, I could ride year-round and I think this, along with assimilating to New York culture’s near-abstention from alcohol is how I lost 30 pounds. The streets were so safe that by 2014 I had forgotten what it was like to have a bag put over my head and be thrown into the trunk of a Lexus, to be ransomed for shares in my father’s nickel-production concern. I casually strolled my son in public, as if he might not be snatched away while I added skim milk to my Starbucks venti iced coffee.
I started as an assistant, running daily from Turtle Bay to Brighton Beach, fetching local artisanal foods for my boss. He would only accept pelmeni from the kitchen of a specific storefront bodega tucked behind the boardwalk and then I had to go to an entirely separate bodega to buy the accompanying smetana, and then only at certain times of day and when I would get the food back to him, the pelmeni would be cold. The boss never even ate it (nothing I’ve read on Yelp suggests he should have). He left it out for the cleaning staff at night.
Of course any job, no matter how good, is going to wind up with you being asked to do something morally compromising. Were that not the case, they wouldn’t call it work. My responsibilities expanded to entertaining dignitaries from other U.N. missions. I was particularly good at taking married diplomats to the Scores dancing club and snapping their pictures as they were escorted to the private rooms. Cost of a first lap dance at Scores? $30. A table in the main area? $250 plus bottle service. Charging blackmail expenses to an American Express Black Card? Guiltless.
I consoled myself that these men were all politically connected, powerful people who should have known better and that many of them supported harsh, anti-democratic regimes not unlike the Soviet Union that I vaguely remember from Nick at Nite sitcoms from my early childhood. They had it coming.
We were happy. Little Mishka had been accepted into a West Village preschool that focused on play, art, and the works of Apple Paltrow. My wife Anna met other New York moms and had taken to having brunch three times a week and declaring herself CEO and mompreneur of an eBay sales business. She sold fake designer children’s clothing sourced from Chinatown. Gucci might not make a fuchsia pussy-bow blouse for 3 year olds, but you can get one on Anna’s site if you are the high bidder.
When the boss told me to hire some hackers to steal emails from the Democrats, for use against Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, I took it as a routine assignment. But when he said we were going to turn over whatever we found to Julian Assange at WikiLeaks, I developed reservations. I will run dubious errands without question, I will procure drugs and compromise diplomats, and I will launder money that needs laundering, but Julian Assange is a creep.
But work is work, so I did my part for country and family. I didn’t think anything would come of it. None of our New York friends, not one of them, was voting for Trump and the paper said he had like a 10% chance. Phil, who was class parent for Mishka’s first grade class had just written an article about the “Permanent Democratic Presidency,” that everybody had shared on Facebook.
After the election, I imagined, I could request some different assignment in a smaller city where the demands would be less, the living better and where we could have a yard or even a dog, like on The Americans. But Trump won the election, our plot was exposed and President Obama ordered us to get out before he does.
Goodbye, New York. You’ll always be part of us. I like to think, based on the work we’ve done, we’ll always be part of you, too. When snarled in traffic near Trump Tower, think of us, your one-time friends and neighbors. I am preparing again, for life in Moscow. I ask our Uber driver if I can ride in the trunk and he kindly agrees. Five stars will be my parting gesture.