Friday, May 12, 2006

Utah Rising


I met an American at the front counter of the Internet Club tonight. He was pointing to an address on a piece of paper and speaking to the young woman behind the counter in a calm, controlled voice that somehow didn’t mask his frustration. “Can you tell me where Freedom Square is?” he asked. “I'm looking for Freedom Square,” he said.

And with that, I nominated him my Mail-Order Bride Seeker of the Week, for if every American man looking for love in ten days or less isn’t actually in search of freedom – freedom from courtship, freedom from worry, freedom from rejection – what does he want?

I stuffed my print-out into my shoulder bag and turned to offer my counsel. “Svobody Square?” I said. “That’s right outside the door.”

He turned to me like an orphan, his eyes full of both awe – he speaks English! – and the sort of hope that says, "Adopt me!" He was looking for an office in this building, a marriage agency it seems. I told him to come with me.

I had gathered from the Russian spoken by the girl behind the counter that the office was just next door, so in we went and quickly found ourselves at the base of the stairs -- the trailhead, I figured. We stood there a moment exchanging who are you's and why are you here's, and though his purpose was obvious, mine was more muddled. I told him I’d come for the glory of the written word – “a creative writing fellowship,” I said.

He presumed this meant intensive study at the local academy. I told him otherwise, while allowing that I had taught at the nearby university the previous semester. So they must advise you on your writing, he said. But again, I proved uncooperative. “Actually, the grant affords me complete independence.”

He was stumped. He couldn’t fathom why it was required that I be here. So I at last acknowledged my subject matter. “I’m writing about marriages.”

And thus dawn rose with her five rosy fingers, and the man from Utah invited me to follow him upstairs. I thought you'd never ask.

I stopped on one, only to have Mr. Utah remind me that Ukrainians didn’t count the ground floor – two would be on three, he said. That was right, I remembered. So he obviously wasn’t some rube just pushed off the radish truck. He’d lived in Italy before, it turns out, spoke a little Polish. And so yes, up to three we went, where we found a frosted door on one side that was embellished with no identifying features, then the entrance to a local TV studio on the other. Nothing else but a man smoking outside the entrance to the TV station. I told this man the name of the agency we were looking for and then its number.

“253?” he said. “You want the sixth floor.”

My friend from Utah didn’t believe him, but I insisted we give it a try, if only for the exercise. So we went up, and as we did he told me he’d just arrived in Kharkov, having landed in Kyiv on Wednesday and been driven from Borispol International to this city that same night by a man hired out by another area marriage agency.

But he wasn't just here chasing after a hot, young body. This divorced 47-year-old, a five-time father formerly of the police and military, had used Chinese and western astrology to look for likely matches.

"I don't believe in all that stuff," he was quick to say, and I nodded along, "but I think there's something to the month you were born in."

By the time we got to six, he was looking around for evidence of this agency, his confidence nearly gone. "They really should have a sign outside in English." But I wouldn't let his flagging spirits dampen my efforts. I led him into a darkened hallway like a modern-day Livingstone in search of the source of the Nile.

“Two-sixty seven,” I read from the first door. “It must be here somewhere.”

“Well I’ll be,” he answered.

And then there it was, CASUAL ENCOUNTERS -- or no, CONFIDENTIAL CONNECTIONS -- the words now clear on the sign as we approached it and the door at the far end of the hall over which it was hung.

The office was the size of a studio apartment’s living room. Six computers were assembled there, three facing each side. A young blonde woman sat working at the far one. My friend from Utah introduced himself as a client.

“I’d like you to arrange a meeting with Tanya,” he said. “From Sumy.”

Confidential Connections arranged meetings with girls in Kharkov, and they offered interpretive services, $50 for a half-hour on the phone. But no, the office manager said, they didn’t arrange meetings with girls from Sumy. “You would have to go there,” she said.

Utah Rising wasn’t about to go to Sumy. He asked for them to arrange to have Tanya call him, and if possible, meet him here on Sunday. “I’ll reimburse her travel expenses,” he said, after saying he thought Sunday best, in case she has to work.

The office manager said she would do this and asked for Tanya’s ID number. Mr. Utah opened a blue folder he'd been carrying and produced and a computer print-out of Tanya's profile, the data arranged to one side of a smiling photo. Age: 24. Height: 5’5”. Weight: 110 pounds. Religion: Christian.

Before leaving, Utah Rising asked for the office manager’s name and telephone number. “Elena,” she said, repeating this – “Yelena” – when she saw his confusion, and then accepting the offered pen and writing it down.

To remove the black bar from the woman's face, you must become a member of the Confidential Connections website. This is not an endorsement. Utah Rising will be continued Sunday or Monday. To see more ladies with black bars across their eyes, visit this photo gallery for action shots of them in the park, at the bar, on Freedom Square, etcetera.

4 Comments:

Sean said...

I'm almost too embarassed to admit that I come from the same country as this man.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Oh, I have had so many sick encounters with love-seeking and seemingly lost men from the West ever since the early 1990's that I could probably write a book about the phenomenon. Ridicule might perhaps be a way of dealing with some of the excesses in the revolting phantasies driving these people to go to Kislovodsk or wherever.

By the way, what do you mean by your last comment? I can't see why the black bar should be removed, but perhaps that would be a way to avoid total objectification.

WittyName32 said...

Vilhelm,

First off -- nice blog. I visited the other day and will be adding it to the sidebar shortly. As for the black bar, I just found it funny for at least two reasons. 1) It reminded me of these scientific studies you can find in old books. The patient of some embarassing condition standing nude before the camera, his or her eyes hidden behind a black bar to mask his or her identity. Then too, these people are, presumably, seeking introductions, so they're not the ones requesting this anonymity - they want to be seen. It's the business which profits from these black bars. A strip show of sorts. Step inside fellas! We've got a wonderful show for you tonight! It's the classic sidewalk barker routine.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Thanks for the nice words about my blog.

Re the black bar: I get it now... Ambiguity and irony is hard to master for writer and reader alike.

It's interesting to read your blog by the way. Not too many write about these issues although most that deal with "Eastern Europe" has a rather good notion about how it all goes about.