In her no-nonsense clogs, Nina Ruskin clomp-clomped with a light foot, as she weighed a scant 100 pounds. With purpose she clomped, with her bar tray of drinks held firmly in front of her: 3 Dos Equiss (“Double-X suds”), 3 shots of Jameson’s straight up, a tall screwdriver, and a bottle of coca cola (for dad, Mickey).
Drinks delivered to her dad and a table full of raucous older artists, with the younger-generation (by 15 years, maybe) artist, Nathan Josephson, regaling them all with jokes that kicked up the hilarity a notch, Nina’s mouth tightened as she turned heel. Back at the bar, she paused and stretched up on tippytoes to survey the scene, her perhaps 20-60 eyes squinting.
A thin, sallow girl who looked remarkably like dad, Mickey, young Nina Ruskin took her job very seriously. She kept a baleful eye out for misbehavior in general and rarely seemed to have fun. In days of yore, she’d have been deigned of bilious temperament. At One U -- an outpost of outlaws and reprobates, druggies and dealers, poets and painters -- Nina felt that she needed to keep things steady, on an even keel. I, too, thought of how this was important, but I never envied her being the one to remind people of rules.
I mean, One U was a notably lawless place. Many of its artist patrons ate and drank on tabs that owner Mickey Ruskin bestowed in exchange for pieces of their art. Many fine pieces hung on the crisp white walls. Working at One U was kind of like working a constant downtown gallery opening -- with a kitchen, a great jukebox, and a bar that was open ‘till late o’ clock.
Drinks in those days were as fancy as a screwdriver or a margarita; a tequila sunrise, maybe some kirs (white wine with cassis) and kir royales (champagne with cassis) were served. Martinis weren’t very popular. Of course, mimosas were consumed along with bloody marys in the morning, but who got up early enough for such things? Maybe the people who slept all day and got up at dark, the cocaine vampires. . . I for one could not understand how anybody could function at all, let alone for lengthy periods of time, high on anything, esp. coke (cocaine).
I started working there in December of 1982, and by February of ’83 I knew what was going on in the back office, roughly. . . they weren’t exactly hawkin’ vichyssoise in bulk, or anything remotely calorific. . . but very, very hush hush. . . dangerous. Did Nina or Victoria, her little sister, know what was being cooked up in the back? I really doubt it on one hand, but on the other hand I wonder how they couldn’t have known. . .
Even if not exactly likable, I thought Nina was so brave and strong and I admired her ability to keep her head in that zoo that her dad built. She knew that few people liked her, but stuck to her guns and worked really hard -- probably with blinders on.