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Lonely Place America

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Part I. Problems with Electricity

How It All Started

The idea of a marriage agency originally came to mind after my lady friend’s request to use my post office box for her sister Galya’s personal letters. Galya, a divorced lady of thirty seven with a sixteen year old son, lived together with her parents. Many people in Russia live with their parents because low wages do not allow them to rent apartments, let alone to buy them.

Living with her parents did not bother Galya much. On the contrary, she found it quite convenient. Her mother was more her son’s mother than she was herself. Her mother also cleaned the apartment, cooked and washed, so Galya was occupied only with her job but her evenings were free — and boring.

Galya liked to visit theatres and other cultural events. She liked company for these outings, so she placed an advertisement in the local personals paper. She wrote that she wished to find a man for «disinterested friendship, visiting museums, theatres and beautiful St. Petersburg suburbs in summer». It was really all she wished. She was incautious enough to write her telephone number in her ad. The telephone started to ring days and nights. The greatest quantity of callings occurred just at night and night fantasies of men calling were rather far from attending theatres and museums.

Galya’s parents were indignant. They demanded to switch off the telephone overnights. The uninterrupted ringing continued for two weeks. However, none of the people calling corresponded to her image of an inquisitive gentleman wishing to raise his cultural level by visiting places of interest.

Galya herself was rather cold and selfish. She had an unfortunate first marriage, and she did not want to repeat her mistake. She did not want to get anybody else to take care of; her life generally quite satisfied her and the last things she needed were marriage and sex.

She removed her telephone number from her second advertisement and asked men to write to my post office box as she did not have her own. I got letters out of the box, and Galya occasionally visited me and took them. As a reward I was also allowed to read all the letters.

Now I can share some peculiarities of Russian mens’ letters. First, many of them were very short, sometimes only a telephone number, a man’s name and the request to call. They were often very poorly decorated, very often written on random scraps of paper torn I had no idea out of what. Letters were sometimes written even on telegram forms picked up I suppose at the Post Office where the idea to write maybe came suddenly to someone’s mind and was immediately embodied.

Some of letters were also long, trying to describe the personality and all the life of the man writing. But true feelings and loneliness were usually hidden under such a deep coating of irony that it sounded more like an attempt to laugh at life in general and especially at the man writing the letter himself.

Again, none of the men who sent letters matched the part of a gentleman escorting Galya to theatres. What all men wished was rotating around all the same, which was absolutely declined by Galya. One person even offered to repair Galya’s country house stove if she had any, if their liaison would be successful. Galya snorted, she had no stove, but I had one that just needed improvement. There was a moment when I seriously thought how to manage to use that man’s offer for free. Then I sighed, understanding that a free repair would hardly work out in this case.

In one letter a man asked Galya sarcastically what she really meant writing about «disinterested friendship». Hinting at something, he asked with irony what particular kind of men Galya meant? Galya understood and appreciated the idea. It was just what she needed. Her third advertisement was a straight appeal for response from just that special kind of men. And the circle of candidates immediately changed: all the men she called that time were really interested just in theatres and museums. Galya was happy: she visited almost all St. Petersburg theatres and concert halls with them in turn. Her life became fulfilling and joyful. At last only one person of all the candidates remained, with whom it was especially interesting to talk about art. He escorted Galya everywhere she wished, they became great friends. One evening, while playing chess together in his apartment, he told Galya his story.

He told Galya about the woman who was too cruel to him when he was just a novice. That lady told everyone she knew about his first unlucky attempt, after which the young man could not try to make another. He became nervous and tense every time, understanding that someone was waiting for what he could not offer. But telling all this, the man felt that it was all quite different with Galya who awaited nothing of the kind. Galya was, in fact, thinking more about her next chess move. He sat closer to her, his voice sounded with affection and Galya did not even have time to move her pawn when found herself in his arms. That attempt was quite lucky. Galya, being a little bit puzzled, did not however forget how many theatres they visited together. Her friend was so happy that he immediately proposed. They married very soon. They said that after the marriage someone saw Galya in the kitchen cooking something. In a year they already had a wonderful baby boy. Galya somehow became his caring Mom maybe because her husband became the most loving Dad in the world.

All that happened from just a letter dropped into my post office box. And it was the first thing I thought about when I needed to start an additional business when our basic one went through bad times.


When Anna was twenty, she had a Swedish boyfriend, a student working on the construction of a new St. Petersburg hotel in summer. That young man was in love with her and asked her to marry him and leave for Sweden — but Anna also studied at the medical Academy at that time and promised to come to him in a year after her graduation. But an awful misfortune happened to her family that summer. Her sister’s two month old son fell sick in the country where her parents usually spent summers in their small cottage. Anna’s parents and sister drove to the city to buy medicine and be back soon, they left the baby with Anna. The accident happened on their way. Their car collided with a truck, and everybody was killed at once. Anna lost both parents and her sister, the baby lost his mother, Anna’s brother-in-law lost his wife. He remained alone with a baby in his arms and Anna could not leave a desperate man without any help.

They settled in his apartment together looking after the baby in turn. That year was very hard for both of them. All the hardships made them closer, and when Anna graduated her brother-in-law asked her to marry him.

Anna loved her Swedish fiancee who continued to write her regular letters full of love and melancholy. But she also had become very attached to her little nephew and felt sorry to leave him. Her brother-in-law insisted, and her Swedish fiancee had to leave for work to America. Anna had to decide something, but the Swedish man could not come and take her and the child who already started to call her Mom. Besides, when he cried at nights, he smiled when she held him. She gave up and married his father.

Having married, she immediately understood what a mistake she had made. She could not make herself love her husband. She thought that habit would substitute for love but it did not happen. Her husband was a successful journalist with a legal communist newspaper. He worked much, often went on business trips, and seldom was at home. He spent a lot of time in the society of party functionaries, attending their parties, often returning home drunken. He usually was occupied by his own affairs, did not pay much attention to Anna’s mood, and wondered why she was so tired and irritated coming from work.

She was a dentist. Her husband did not know that her patients considered her dentist chair to be «magical»; nobody it seems felt either pain or stress there as Anna was not the kind of doctor asking only «to open/shut your mouth». She always listened to people, cheered them, trying to take upon herself all their pains and fears. She started to carry out a scientific program, but two events did not allow her to get her scientific degree: perestroyka and her own son’s birth.

Perestroyka also ruined the political career of her husband. He could not believe that party values would be destroyed so fast. He gambled wrong, and when he tried to change his political orientation it was already too late. His habit of drinking increased, and very soon he found himself without good work, without money, always drunken.

Anna had to provide for the two boys and non working husband. She was lucky to have a profession by which she could earn something for living even in the new hard times. But she had to work too much. Her elder boy was independent and industrious, helped her a lot looking after his little brother till she came from work. He did not know Anna was not his real mother, despised his always drunken father and when Anna divorced her husband he stayed with her.

Anna was already thirty five when she came to my agency. She was too tired of twelve hours work every day and of living with her ex-husband since they all still had to live in the same apartment: Anna and the children in one room, the ex-husband in the other. She was tired of his drunkenness, awful scandals with broken windows and the visits of police.

Filling in her application form, she indicated only one son, laughing that in five or ten years when I maybe at last manage to give her in marriage her elder fifteen year old boy will be already an adult. «And I do have only one own son!» she smiled, leaving.

But she was lucky much sooner. A respectable Finnish gentleman had great interest in her, visiting St. Petersburg several times to meet with her and at last inviting her to visit his house in Finland.

Anna could leave her work only for a short time, but it was enough for the gentleman to understand she was just the right woman. Anna happily accepted his proposal, but there was one more problem — to explain to her fiancee that she had been flippant to indicate only one boy in her application form and that though her elder son was really her nephew she could not leave Russia without him. The gentleman became very upset. He told Anna that he himself sometimes felt overcrowded in his fifteen room house, that it was quite impossible to accommodate there even two boys, especially since the second boy was not really Anna’s son but had his own father in Russia. The gentleman reproached Anna that she should not be so frivolous: if she mentioned two children from the very beginning this would surely have alienated him at once and would not have brought so many sufferings and troubles.

Anna asked to think but already knew her decision. She returned to St. Petersburg and when her smiling elder son asked her at the station: «So do we go to Finland?» she replied: «No». And she stayed in Russia. Life is a little bit easier for her now since her former husband died from vodka and she does not need to call to the police every day as she did before. She still works constantly, and her application form is still kept in my marriage agency. But not only her elder boy is indicated there now but also their dog and cat — pets without which, as Anna said, she would not go anywhere.

«Let them take me with all my children and animals!» Anna says laughing. «I don’t care if they don’t want to, I will survive myself!» and she cheerfully leans to me, sitting in her «magical’ dentist chair in which patients never feel either fear or pain.

Brave Russian Policeman

Hey, brave Russian militia-man, policeman, where are you, what do you do this moment? Do you enter an ominous apartment where four terrible dead bodies lie for already a week or more? Or do you steal along a dirty cellar investigating the reason of the recent explosion? Or do you hide from shots of a horrible assassin which made all the city to tremble and whom you have traced at last? Or are you having the strongest coffee in a rare minute of relaxation as you have not been sleeping for already…. do you yourself remember?

And do you know where your ex-wife is? She is sitting beside me on the couch at my marriage agency office and is showing me the picture of herself. In the picture she is kneeling on the carpet of the bedroom in bright red underclothes and red stockings and smiles a tense unnatural smile which has to display how shapely and attractive she is.

«My ex-husband was a very good person,» she says looking firstly at me, then somewhere through the window into the dark avenue where lights are not burned this evening. «We spent together ten years, he was a policeman, a very skilled professional. He earned comparatively good money before 1991, but it is possible to buy only potatoes and bread and maybe note books for our son for what he gets now!»

Yes, brave Russian policeman, everyone knows of course there is no money in our state either for the police, or for any other government employees! Mafia people drive Mercedes 600, the police drive ancient funny jeeps chasing the criminals and however managing to catch them sometimes. It is some way possible as many other incredible things are somehow possible in Russia!

«When his wage became too little for normal life I asked him to leave his work as he spent there twenty eight from twenty four hours for that miserable wage,» the policeman’s ex-wife continues her story. «Yes, it’s not a joke, especially when terrorists from Chechnya appeared in the city, when all these explosions in the metro began. He came back from work (if not stayed there till the next day) late at night, ate as much as he could because he had no opportunity even to have a bite there for all day long. He was not even capable of talking with me let alone any sex, fell asleep as the dead till six in the morning and all over again. No days off, no holidays. Such was our life. Was it possible to continue so?»

No, brave Russian policeman, it was impossible of course. You should know your wife loved «good sex» as it was written in her application-form. You could not offer her such after your terrible work and it was also a reason it could not continue.

«And when you asked him to leave this work, what did he reply?» I ask.

«He replied that he could not do anything else except catch criminals. He replied he was just a high level detective. Where else might he find a suitable job? Only to join the mafia! Yes, they would certainly enjoy having a professional like him, but he said he appreciated his police honour!»

«Would you really prefer him to join the mafia?» I ask.

«I don’t know!» she exclaims. «I would prefer to have a normal family life! I would prefer I could buy my child any treat he asks in the street! I would prefer to have enough of different food in the fridge and not only potatoes! I could put up with misery when everyone was miserable but when some children do not look at strawberries in the winter and I cannot buy even an apple for my son! When I see that other people travel and see the world and I cannot go to the street in a windy weather as my only boots leak! Then I understand that there are also other men besides my husband and let him appreciate his police honour as much as he wishes! But I start to look for my fortune myself!»

«But he probably hoped for something?»

«He did,» she says nodding. «He asked me to wait a little more, he hoped this absurdity could not last forever, that some day everything would become normal again and his work would be good paid and honoured.»

«And I replied,» she sighs, «that in twenty years or more when it maybe happens, I would become an old woman (if still alive) and already need nothing…»

And she gives me the picture of herself in her red underwear and red stockings and I cautiously ask if she thinks the picture is really suitable.

«Why not?» she wonders. «I sent the same to Germany and had some proposals. But I did not accept as I would like to marry only a good man.»

Good man like you, brave Russian policeman! I think. Good man plus quiet comfortable life and enough money. Who will blame her? I will not. You, it seems, do not either as according to her words you have already agreed to give her the necessary permission for your son to leave the country too.

«I would not like to leave for Finland as the climate there is also wet and rotten. I would like to go to Germany or to America where climate is dry,» she says and her eyes look somewhere through me, sparkling, as if trying to see her unknown future and certainly good fortune.

And she leaves and her picture in bright red stockings lays on my couch.

Sigh, brave Russian policeman… Have you still been doing your hard job just for a song however keeping your honour? What else may you hope to keep in this life? Do you really think anybody will reward you sometime? Maybe indeed you should not care and join the mafia and become rich or leave this unhappy country for any other place in the world?

Sorry, brave Russian policeman. I would prefer you did not hear my words. Cheers. And don’t give up.

The Telephone Call from Sweden

Some of our customers often order to do a personal search for them. I do it usually through our local newspaper publishing their advertisements, receiving letters from girls and forwarding them to the customers. I forward only letters with pictures but some girls send letters without pictures though the picture is always asked for in all ads. Customers usually ask me not to forward them such letters except when they are extremely interesting. I usually put all the others into a special box, keep them for maybe some special case. Once I have received such a letter without any picture.

«If you are really the person you give out to be you are probably waiting for the letter of a European girl. Maybe you will be surprised or quite the contrary saddened that you hold an Asian girl’s letter in your hands. My name is Ainura, I am twenty five, have arrived to St. Petersburg from Kazakhstan in a hope to arrange for my life in Russia. But according to many, many reasons I am experiencing great difficulties this moment living in this unpredicted country. No, you are mistaken thinking that I offer some sort of liaison in exchange of your sponsorship. No, I am Christian and my Christian morals do not allow me this, but I am so tired of this grey boring life, I wish to have something more: a real home, coziness, warmth, love and family. And I want to leave this country.

Let’s return to myself. I am not pretty, alas, my pictures are much better than I really am, so I do not send them not wishing to adorn myself and to deceive you from the very beginning. I graduated from the construction college, but there is no work on my profession and to be honest I do not like my profession either. I like movies, theatre, like to study languages, but I don’t speak any language except Russian. I like sports, traveling, I do not like to live at the same place for a long time. I have to lead a very modest lifestyle now. My clothes are also very modest. My appearance may be nice sometimes but more often it makes me feel upset. I do not send my picture to you but I think if we met maybe you could still see something in me, something that could make me a real beauty if at least one man in the world would see it at least only once.

One small offer more if you have not passed my letter to the bin yet. I know, there is not much probability for me to become your mate, then I might become the homemaid in your house, in your country, only to get away from here.

Happy New Year to you! Ainura»

Such a letter. It was also diligently decorated with a fir tree branch and New Year toys on it. Alas, men wish to get acquainted only with pretty girls so I did not send it but put it into my box.

And some days later there was a telephone call from Sweden to my office. «Irina?» some confident lady’s voice asked in Russian. «I knew your phone-number through Internet. I am married, live in Sweden, I need an au-pair for the spring and summer. Maybe you have somebody among your acquaintances who would be interested in this offer?»

«Sorry,» I replied, «I seem have nobody among my acquaintances who would be interested.»

«But maybe one of your customers?» she asked. «I may tell you about all the conditions.»

«I am not sure I will be able to help you, my customers look for husbands, not for a job like that.» I interrupted.

«For husbands?» asked Russian lady from Sweden. «Do you really find them husbands?»

«Sometimes,» I replied.

«So you are sure nobody would like…» she concluded. And then I remembered. I asked her to wait a little bit, found Ainura’s letter in the box, found the telephone number, gave it to this lady and asked to try to call.

After that I called to Ainura myself. Her voice was low and shy, just what I expected to hear. I explained that the person to whom she wrote had already found his special lady and though I should not decide for her, I still thought she might be interested, that’s why I gave her telephone number to that Russian lady from Sweden.

Ainura thanked me more than my offer deserved.

When I called her after a while to know what happened some man’s voice told me that Ainura has not been living there any more and that he himself had no more information about her.

Children and Parents

Members of families take an active part arranging their close people’s good fortune. They often come to my marriage agency or send letters.

Once I have received a letter from a mother of a seventeen year old school-girl. «Dear Madam,» was written in the letter. «My daughter graduates from school this year. She is a very good girl and has only good marks for all ten years of her studying. I tried my best raising her, put a lot into her education, and now I think it’s time to find her a husband abroad. I have a favour to ask you. I would prefer to view all the candidates myself and to have the possibility to decide to what extent this or that one is suitable for my daughter.» A picture of her daughter was enclosed, and there was also an amplification that men should send their letters firstly to the mother for her preliminary decision. Nobody took the risk of such a way of acquaintance. The girl did not receive any letters and the mother called me afterwards and blamed my bad work.

Another mother rushed into my office and looking at her watch told very fast that she had to visit two more agencies that day. She added that her daughter herself was in Italy that time but the man she visited was boring and greedy, worked much, did not entertain the girl enough and did not buy her enough presents and that’s why her daughter did not wish to accept his proposal. «What for?» the mother agreed, «We ourselves have a grey life here, what for to change for the same?» When I asked if she really thought that men in the West could care only of entertainments and presents the mother said that there was no reason then to leave for abroad, it was too boring for girls to live there without even presents as a compensation.

The third mother came to me and told a sad story about her thirty year old, very shy and lonely daughter to whom she could not even hint at such a place as a marriage agency. The girl would be astonished and would certainly refuse and her mother came in secret promising to settle it somehow if there was somebody interested. She brought a picture of her daughter in a national Caucasian suit taken ten years ago where only a third of the girl’s face was seen out of an extremely high cap. When I asked to bring another picture the mother promised to take it somehow secretly also as if for another purpose. She thanked me, wished my agency good luck and never came back.

Once a little girl with a school bag appeared from behind my door. I asked her if she confused my office with something else but she shaked her head negatively and said she knew where she had come. The girl came in, sat at the couch as an adult and told that her Mom had cut my advert from a newspaper, that Mom would dream to get acquainted with somebody but was shy to come herself, that she was always such, I should know. The girl took a picture out of her bag and showed to me saying: «This is all our family.» A lot of people were presented at a group photograph. Three looking-very-similar ladies, as the girl explained, her Mom, Granny and Great grandmother, the girl herself, and two wonderful baby twins being held each by Granny and Great grandmother. The girl’s Mom was in the very center looking into the camera as the group leader. «Our family is very amicable,» said the girl confidently. «We need only Dad. And please write there that we can go abroad only all together.» I nodded, wrote everything she wished and the girl left very satisfied finally asking me just to delay a little displaying of the picture as she had to finish the school term before their departure.

I remember also two ladies in large fur-coats, the mother and the aunt, furiously blaming their daughter’s and niece’s ex-husband, enumerating his crimes from which I understood only unsuccessful selling of a good apartment somewhere in the North. And an old man looking for a ready-made husband for his pregnant great granddaughter just to her childbirth.

They were all very different but similar in their sincere wish to arrange their close people’s happiness. And leaving me after filling in the forms they all seemed quite sure that indeed only a few steps separated their relatives that moment from their happy future.


She was a shy gentle Russian girl, she dreamed just about a quiet family life in a cozy home, about nice beautiful children, strong confident husband who would take care of all of them. She did not hope to find all that in her large Russian city where dark windy streets were full of sad worried people, where one could guess only for the next day, where life was full of uncertainty and fear, where young men preferred to remain alone than to have someone else to take care of.

He was a skilled programmer, a young Russian immigrant living in California. He had a good job in the US, his life style was not comparable with what he could afford having stayed in Russia, but it was not the only reason he loved America. He loved America for its energy, for its respect for business and order, he loved it for its hospitality, he felt tears in his eyes when he saw American flag and when he heard the American national anthem because he was so grateful to that generous country thanks to which so many people’s desires could be fulfilled. Most of all he wished maybe even not him himself but at least his future children to become a pure part of America and though he did not expect to marry an American girl he decided that the Russian girl he would like to marry should also love America the same way as he did and should try her best together with him to approach as close as possible to original American image.

They both met through a marriage agency. He arranged a business visa for her and invited her to visit California. He found her nice but too shy and reserved, too «Russian’ as he thought, and he would prefer her to look more American and aggressive. He bought some how-to books for her, explaining her that while living in a new country she had also to accept its main traits.

The girl was intelligent, she understood what he wished. She liked him himself, his cozy home and sunny California with smiling people in the streets. She studied the books and tried to do all they advised. She tried to smile and shake people’s hands energetically, to look always happy with herself but as she really remained shy and close it looked rather tense in spite of all her effort. She learnt to drive but being too much afraid of traffic once collided his car with the pavement barrier. She looked for job to start her own career but as her English was not good enough employers did not want to accept her.

She was too upset with all her failures, her boyfriend was also becoming more and more disappointed and once they talked and decided that she would better return back home to Russia. But she already could not forget the wonderful country she visited. It was like a dream that did not come true which she still would like to embody. She thought she had time yet to change to a real American style. She entered some marriage agencies more and spent all her evenings writing personal letters.

And there was an American businessman, living in a large noisy American city, too tired of his permanent rush for success and money, tired of friendly handshakes and victorious smiles of independent American ladies who were too strong to need anybody. Sitting in front of his computer he looked through the personals web-sites, guessing if all these men and women might be really serious. But once he saw that unbrave girl’s face on one of the pages and thought that maybe there really existed someone in Russia who could really need his care, who could in turn sympathize him when he was tired and unlucky, with whom he might not pretend to look always happy and successful, with whom he could be either strong or weak and not to worry.

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