Anyone who was at Pat’s Oakridge Grill in Eastchester on the night of Sept. 1, 1983, will recall the moment.
A Soviet SU-15 interceptor had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 en route to Seoul from Kennedy Airport the day before. The commercial passenger flight had wandered into Soviet airspace after passing over Alaska. All 269 aboard were killed.
Luke and Billy Costello, the bar’s tall, lanky and intensely patriotic bar owners, silenced the jukebox at around 9 p.m. and announced that Stolichnaya vodka would no longer be served there. To wild cheers from patrons, Luke and Billy poured bottle after bottle of top-shelf Stolichnaya down the drain. Patrons threw money on the bar to help defer the cost.
I don’t know whether Pat’s started the Stolichnaya protest — I’d like to think so — but it spread like wildfire, from gin mill to gin mill, until the word “Stoly” became dirt, at least in the area. I was a banquet bartender at the time who served thousands of drinks every weekend. The ubiquitous “Stoly and (fill in the blank)” request changed virtually overnight to “Absolut and (fill in the blank).” Ordering Stolichnaya, just like that, was considered unpatriotic.
I think about that night at Pat’s a lot these days, as Russia continues to make a mockery of the United States without serious repercussion. Whether Russia affected the 2016 presidential election outcome or not, hundreds of its operatives were assigned to subvert our democratic process, some on U.S. soil. And Russia continues to meddle. Yet tough retaliatory sanctions passed by Congress in July — the U.S. Senate passed them by a vote of 98-2, the House by 419-3 — still haven’t been activated.
Now we learn that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skirpal, found along with his daughter poisoned with a rare nerve agent in a sleepy English hamlet this week, might be connected to the private British intelligence firm that assembled the infamous “Russian dossier.” The nerve agent alone puts Russia’s fingerprints all over this. It’s Vladimir Putin’s favorite way to send a message to enemies, according to intelligence and news reports.
And, still, crickets from Washington.
Russia doesn’t make a lot of retail products; it mostly exports raw minerals, oil and natural gas — not the kinds of things we pass in the aisles of Walmart or Target. So there’s not a lot that ordinary Americans can do to voice our displeasure with its leadership. But there are a few small measures we can take as individuals.
Here are five:
1. Check the label before buying. Don’t buy Russian-made products, including Stolichnaya vodka, Baltika beer, and Russian-made software and video games.
2. Boycott Russian-owned Lukoil gas stations.
3. Don’t fly Aeroflot.
4. Make sure your investment or retirement portfolios don’t include Russian products or natural resources.
5. Tell everyone you know to do the same.
We can make ourselves felt. Russia is an economic pipsqueak. It has a GDP smaller than New York’s. It’s just got an America-hating blowhard for a president who loves to talk tough.
If our leaders aren’t going to stand up to him, it’s up to us to make ourselves heard again. It’s up to us to find our inner Billy and Luke Costello.
William F.B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.