Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Soviet Socialist Republic of Los Angeles

My wife got a job as an accounting assitant the other day, with some company that buys mortgages, or loans, or something, from our nation's banks. It is work that a writer cannot hope to understand, and work that finds her surrounded by tens of other people, at any number of cubicles, including many, many from the former Soviet Union.

She described the scene to me: rows of desks, five long, three across, this being one section, a single honeycomb in a greater hive. In her section alone -- fifteen people -- five are from the Former Soviet Union. She has met so many Russian speakers in her first two days, she's almost afraid to find a job in a more suitable corner of the banking industry, analyzing loans or what have you.

This is, I announce, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Los Angeles. But as we're so scattered, our city so fractured and fragmented, where will the Politburo stand when we celebrate on May Day? One on the Hollywood sign, looking down on the stars below? Another in the Valley, shaking his head over the forlorn concrete channel that is the LA River? A third on the Santa Monica Promenade, waving at the crowd walking by?

Oh, how times change.

Why do I long to be in Moldova?

Read More......

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Swink's long-anticipated third issue is now out, and as expected it's filled with work from a host of great writers: Karl Iagnemma, Daniel Alarcon, and Ron Currie, to name just a few. You'll also find an essay of mine in there, one that details my experiences teaching English literature -- and being gently censored for including too many sexual stories on my reading list -- at a Ukrainian university.

To read a short excerpt of "A Literary Purge," go here.

For those looking for more, there's also Pete Jensen's Unhooking the Secret, about the author's experiences applying for work at a Victoria's Secret. A fun read.

Read More......

Friday, January 26, 2007

What did you call her?

A 29-year-old man accused or murder in Maine (the eerily named Steven Clark) is claiming he shot his friend, Robert Wagner, in self-defense after Mr. Wagner threatened him with a knife (following a night out at the strip club). What could have made Mr. Wagner so angry? According to a report Thursday by WCSH Channel 6 in Portland, Maine:

On the witness stand, Clark said Wagner went into a rage after Clark called his russian-born wife a mail-order bride. He said Wagner put a knife to his head and demanded a ride home.

Clark says he pushed Wagner to the ground, grabbed a gun off a bookshlef and made the decision to shoot at Wagner.

In Friday's report, the incident is reported somewhat differently: "Clark told jurors Wagner went into a rage after he insulted his wife, and pulled a knife on him."

You can read more about the murder trial in the Boston Globe. And more about the risks of dropping a loose "mail-order bride" in this .

Read More......

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Ukrainian Thanksgiving

Another former interview subject got in touch with me recently, saying he'd called off his engagement to a woman from Odessa after she'd asked that their wedding be in the Russian Orthodox Church -- a place she wanted to see him as well, and on a regular basis. As a devout Mormon, Mr. Utah Rising couldn't imagine doing this. "Believe me, it was tempting," he said, "but I would have been living a lie."

What I found most fascinating about our latest communication was that he confirmed a suspicion of mine, saying he was related to William Bradford, who I consider more of a founding father than even Mr. Washington.

"Every Thanksgiving I remember him too," Utah Rising said, "right before I eat a nice meal and watch a football game. :-)"

Who woulda thunk it? From Plymouth Plantation to Kharkov -- and emoticons -- in less than four-hundred years. And with just as much religious conviction, only shaken up and stirred a little bit.

Read More......

Under the new rules, I'd still be walking around like a single man

Got an email from Red October (pictured left with his wife), who readers of this blog may remember from this profile. His was the interview I conducted just hours before proposing to my wife, as it turns out, and perhaps the one that suggested the best possibility for happiness in the future -- he and his girlfriend seemed very close and intimate, in part because Red October spoke some Russian.

Turns out, their story won't be all happy, or at least not prompt. After returning to Kharkov with his daughter before the New Year, Red October set a wedding date with his girlfriend -- for tomorrow, in fact.

But today he got an email from the US Embassy in Kyiv saying their office, along withall other US Embassies, will no longer accept I-130 petitions from US Citizens -- the form that a US citizen must file in order for his foreign-national wife or relative to immigrate to the United States.

The email, included below, didn't say whether or not this includes petitions from US Citizens living permanently overseas, but if that's so, and this rule had gone into effect a year ago, I'd still be walking around like a single man, not just sputtering through a phone call with my mother-in-law, taking my "kto eto's?" and "Da-da-da's!" out of mothballs.

The alternative to what I did -- filing at the US Embassy in Moscow -- is what Red October now apparently faces: throwing his application into the mail and directing it toward a regional office -- for California, a suitably anonymous city named Laguna Niguel -- where it will join a tall and teetering pile of similar forms, and one man, as I imagine it, who has a rubber stamp, but walks around muttering all day, wondering where he left the ink.

I had a face in the window, a helpful hand showing me where to cross my t's and dot my i's. "Should we use her maiden name or new last name here?" Very nice. Red October, I fear, will get no such help, and so it seems he'll have to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.

Which is the awful thing about this. Another set of forms a US Citizen can only fill out, properly at least, and if he wants a prompt and appropriate response, if he agrees to show someone the money.

Here's the email that was forwarded to me:

Per Department of State instructions, effective immediately, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine and U.S. embassies worldwide are no longer authorized to accept or adjudicate I-130 petitions. American Citizens must file petitions for their relatives with the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office in the U.S. Petitioners can check here to find the appropriate office. Please visit this site for more general information about filing the petition.

Petitions that have already been approved at U.S. Embassy Kyiv but have not yet undergone visa adjudication must be forwarded to the USCIS office in Moscow, Russia. Embassy staff will forward all of these in the coming week.

We will post more information on this matter as soon as it becomes available to us.

As will I.

Read More......

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Matchmaker, Matchmaker - Los Angeles Edition

Last year, I spoke with two US Embassy officials who each day interview a slew of visa applicants from a certain Eastern European country. They were the first to tell me about the idea of "piggy-back immigration," through which one person, already admitted to the United States, goes back to his or her former country and brings another person over, either an immediate or close family member or a new spouse. I don't see anything wrong with the idea; on the contrary, it's a time-honored tradition to bring the Old World to the New, to have no limits placed on your life, to hold as many rights as the next man or woman in the Ten Items or Less line.

And now I'm here to play my part in this process. My wife has a friend, a beautiful young woman in the South of Russia, recently estranged from her long-term boyfriend. She's intelligent, a good cook, she cleans and sews, and she's very feminine, my wife says. What she isn't is actively looking for an American husband. But my wife believes she'd be willing to listen if the right man came calling.

Could she listen right now? Not entirely, not without some help or hesitation, maybe a good dictionary between the two of you, as her English language skills have slipped since leaving college and taking an administrative job with the gas company. "But it's not like she doesn't know it at all," my wife said. "She just forgot it. She had an 'A' in college."

And yes, before I go on too far, that is her in the picture, up there on the top left, the one that will be much larger if you click it. The photo is taken on the day of my wedding. The girl in the foreground is Anya. A friend of animals, especially cats, a petite twenty-six year-old who wants children and prizes the idea of having a family.

"I think she's the nicest person I've ever met," my wife said. "She's my nicest friend."

And that, dear reader, is why we're here today. My wife would like to see her friend in her life again, so if you're in California, preferably Southern California, and most especially Los Angeles, perhaps you'd like to make yourself known. Would others be considered? Perhaps. But if you're from Saskatchewan, you have to ask yourself: which is easier to get to from LAX? Moscow, or Saskatoon?

Interested? Then find a picture of yourself, write a few words about who you are, how you live, and if you're ready to make a lifetime commitment to borsch, and then send it all off to this email address. My wife will consider the responses, and we'll proceed appropriately from there.

A word of clarification. This isn't The Bachelor or Joe Millionaire. We won't be inviting fourteen of you to Russia, and then sending one of you home each week. Nor will we follow you around with a camera here, capturing the reactions of friends and family (to say nothing of a few awkward confessions). We're just trying to heed the call, however faint, that's been sent from a friend in Russia, a call you might have also heard in that film The Fiddler on the Roof:

Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match
Find me a find, catch me a catch
Matchmaker, matchmaker look through your book
And make me a perfect match

Or some such.

Read More......

Saturday, January 13, 2007

'I wouldn't mind a bit of that'

He's a pensioner, living in Wales, who while in the Navy took part in the British H-Bomb tests in the Christmas Islands in 1958. She's a 44-year-old in China, awaiting her final immigration clearance, who speaks little English. Together, they're man and wife, bangers and mash.

'People have said to me that she's just after a visa. To which I say: "Yes, of course she wants a visa. Of course she wants a better life. And who can blame her?" But it works both ways - I get companionship, so I think it's a fair gamble.

'It's all very well everyone taking the moral high ground but as far as I'm concerned that's their own pettiness. This is my life and after all my years, I've earned the right to do as I please.'

So how does a man who's had both hips replaced, is awaiting knee and hernia surgery, and who lives in a village that is home only to those of pensionable age, find a Chinese wife?

... a friend in the nursing home told Mr Miller he had seen an advert in a local newspaper for a dating agency which specialised in matching British lonely hearts with Chinese brides. 'He had already made an appointment so I asked if I could accompany him to see what it was all about,' Mr Miller recalls.

'When we got there, the man who ran the agency was a very ordinary man, not particularly attractive at all, I must say, and he had this lovely, attentive Chinese wife. It got me thinking. I thought: "I wouldn't mind a bit of that."

If you want to read more about this man's search for a companion, including reference to the troubles that come with using hand-held translators ("One time when I typed in 'affection' it came up with 'love for an elephant' instead.") read the even-handed Daily Mail article here. It may be the best bride-hunter profile I've come across. Certainly the most well-written.

If you don't have time for that, I'll leave you with the last line: 'I'm conscious of it possibly going wrong, of course I am,' says Mr Miller. 'But look at it the other way. I've got five, maybe ten years left on the clock. Six months ago, mine was a very vacant life. Now it's full and happy.

Read More......