It seems that my part of the blogosphere is dying out. Half the people I know have shut down their blogs and moved on to paying gigs (which IMO is excellent). And the other half are barely updating. What should I do?? Are blogs, like, so last week?
I finally realized that it’s easier to write in your native language (who woulda thought, huh?) and started a LiveJournal blog in Russian. Enjoy if you can. LJ is so cool, all my friends are there and it has this awesome feature where all new posts from your friends are displayed on a single page. Saves a lot of time and energy. (Although Bloglines probably does the same thing, I need to check.)
As I was listening to ChinchillaBoy’s mix in my car this morning, I had this thought. What’s with those edited CDs? I bought one by accident and I just do not get it. So many people in the past have told me that I should be buying those for my children, rather than the unedited ones. I just don’t get it at all. Why is “go BLEEP yourself” somehow more child-friendly than the real deal? The kid knows what it means anyway, unless he has an extraordinarily creative mind and thinks that it really says “go educate yourself” or “go feed yourself” or some such. In essence, the BLEEP does nothing to make the song less offensive, yet it takes away from my music-enjoying experience. I see a song as an entity in itself and therefore think that it should be played as it is or not played at all. If you disagree with me here, you can go feed yourself. It’s lunchtime.
ChinchillaBoy has established that he wants a Sheltie. Can anybody tell me if a Sheltie will eat a chinchilla if they are both together in the same house?
My son LilProgrammer has struck again. On Friday, his teacher called me saying that she had him in her office and that all four of his Trojan war essays had been deemed unacceptable. She then continued with, “I tried to talk to him about that, but he turned it into a discussion about the meaning of life, and I don’t have time for that right now”.
Naturally, I got curious and asked LilProgrammer about the discussion when he got home, He said, “It was like this.
The teacher asked me when I was going to be productive, and I said “never”. She asked why, and I said “because of the law of the conservation of energy”.
She asked, “how is that”, and I said, “because I can only produce as much energy as I conserve, therefore, I cannot produce any new energy, therefore, I cannot be productive”. And then she picked up the phone and called you.”
My other son ChinchillaBoy and his friend (also ten years old) believe that they have the two dirtiest minds in history. They told me, “you give us any word, and we will find sexual meaning in it”.
I laughed at it, and then I forgot.
A week later, I am in the pet store with ChinchillaBoy, and he says to me, “Let’s buy LilProgrammer a hamster for his birthday gift.” I think about it for a minute, and I’m like, no. LilProgrammer does not know how to take care of living creatures. He’ll forget to feed the hamster, he’ll accidentally sit on it or drop it on its head. This just isn’t a good idea.
With that in mind, I reply to ChinchillaBoy: “No, I don’t trust your brother with a hamster”.
The instant the words were out of my mouth, I realized what I had just said, and to whom. But it was too late.
So, LilProgrammer finished rewriting his essays and emailed them to me. Why, do you ask. Because he told me he's going to delete them from his hard drive, so I said I wanted to have a copy just in case. He sent me the first two essays yesterday and the other two today. So, when he came to me ten minutes ago and said he was done, I went to check if I got his two emails. Here's what was sitting in my inbox:
February 25 From: LilProgrammer Subject: Free porn!!! (after rebates)
February 26 From: LilProgrammer Subject: DO YOU WANT TO NOT HAVE A SMALL PENIS?!?! ORDER NOW, DUMBASS!!!
I'm still cracking up over the "after rebates" part.
By the way, he turned 13 today, so I guess I'm supposed to write a large and sentimental post about how he's the best kid in the universe, but you guys know that already, and my brain is fried from three days of reading his "Trojan War" book, so I'll just cut it short and say: HAPPY 13TH BIRTHDAY, LILPROGRAMMER!!!
Is it just me or do these two essays sound like they were written by the same person? They got the same grade, too!
Ulysses was initially a peddler who recovered Achilles from a house and told him about the war. Ulysses arrived on a land disguised as a peddler and approached the palace. The palace’s gaurds liked to punish peddlers, but Ulysses was strong so they feared him. Ulysses entered the palace and showed his wares to the women. One of them took a sword he had and swung it in the air. Ulysses took off her disguise and it was Achilles, who strangled Ulysses. Ulysses explained that he was Ulysses and not a peddler. Ulysses was the voice of the Greek council in the battle. He tried to pursuade Agamemnon not to have the Greek army run away but failed and had to stop the army.
The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.
As you have probably already guessed, the first masterpiece was written by my son, LilProgrammer. The teacher called me at work about this essay. And, as you probably know, the second essay ends with:
DEAR MR. SPENCER. That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can’t seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, HOLDEN CAULFIELD.
Over the wekeend, I am supposed to help LilProgrammer rewrite this essay and three others, so he won't get an F. Lord help me.
Fantasy & SciFi Magazine Review – March 2006 Issue
It’s that time of month, folks… time to review the new Fantasy & SciFi issue, just like I did last month, and you said I should continue (and by “you”, I mean El Sid)! But first, let me show you what I bought last night:
That’s right… noise-canceling headphones! *sticks tongue out at yakky guy in next cube* Yak away, my friend, I can’t hear you!
I'm expecting to get them next week. I'll let you know if they work.
Anyway, back to the review. Just as a reminder, here’s the scale I’m using:
5 = This is a masterpiece. I want to bind it, put it on my nightstand, and re-read it every night before I go to sleep, instead of my Bible. 4 = Very good quality work. If this guy has a book out, I want to read it. 3 = Not bad, pretty decent in fact. 2 = I died inside a little from reading this stuff. 1 = Wow what a putrid piece of crap! You don’t want to read this, unless you’re masochistic. 0 = Ewww! I need to have my stomach pumped.
The March, 2006 issue contains these outstanding works of the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre:
“Shambhala”, by Alex Irwine – 3.5 Good quality writing, but I wouldn’t stay up all night to read this. The main idea is the one my son LilProgrammer had been toying with at one point – he wanted to invent what he called a “virtual brain”, that would give its user a complete impression that they are in a virtual world. This is a great idea, assuming that nothing will ever go wrong with the hardware and software… and that some mad scientist won’t try using your body while you’re out in your virtual realm. These and a few others are the questions raised in “Shambhala”. On second thought, I recommend it – especially to the potential virtual brain inventors amongst you.
“The True History of the Picky Princess”, by John Morressy – 3.5 Cute, very well written, but predictable if you have read more short stories by this author. “The True History…” is essentially “Sleeping Beauty” with a twist, and who hasn’t tried to put a twist on “Sleeping Beauty”? (Think Shrek.)
“The Revivalist”, by Albert E. Cowdrey – 4.5 I really enjoyed this one. Edward, the main character, born in the late 1890’s, is plagued with a mysterious disorder that disrupts his education and career, and causes his father to disown him and kick him out of the family home. Edward is devastated until he realizes that he is, in fact, the world’s first and only Hibernating Man. He comes up with a plan to use his unusual skill to his advantage… but the plan backfires. Having narrowly escaped death, Edward arrives in our times, where he proceeds to review his life strategy. The story is thought-provoking and action-packed at the same time – just the way I like ‘em!
“From the Mouths of Babes”, by Trent Hergenrader – 2.0 A toddler with a chip in his brain, his horrified Dad, and the evil Russians come together in this short story. It embarrasses me to say that I didn’t get it.
“The Capacity to Appear Mindless”, by Mike Shultz – 4.0 The story is set in a school for goblins, that also has a few human students attending. Both the students and the teachers have to learn how to work side by side with a species that is very different from them, to practice tolerance and open-mindedness. I initially gave this story a 3.5, but, after re-reading the part about the staff meeting, changed to 4.0. Check this out:
“Let us begin,” Thunderballs (the principal. – G.) called. “You know what High Goblin Command Ordinance Eleven is. Say it for me.” “No Goblin Left With a Mind,” they said in unison. “Yes. Our government wants mindless goblins capable only of regurgitating memorized information. On the surface, that’s what we must seem to produce. But we still value some real teaching here, don’t we?” “Absolutely!” someone called. “Right. We must help our students think independently while giving them the capacity to appear mindless. You can’t survive in today’s world without the ability to turn off your brain…”
Wow, it must be really difficult for the poor mindless goblins. Luckily, our educational system is not like that. No, not at all! Read this story if you can. It is good. It is also based upon the author’s own experiences as a high school teacher.
“Czesko”, by Ef Deal – 1.0 What is worse than an uneducated guy talking street? A middle-class educated woman trying to sound like an uneducated guy talking street.* This sad excuse of a short story gets a 1.0 from me, which would be an all-time record this far.
“Intolerance”, by Robert Reed – 3.5 How far would a mother go to protect her wayward teenage child and save his ass from jail? This mother went way, way farther than I ever would even in my scariest nightmare.
In addition, I have read a few book reviews in the last two issues, and checked out a few of the books.
Neil Gaiman, “Anansi Boys” was the one I read first, and was highly impressed. This is a witty fantasy story with references to African folk tales that keeps you glued to the book until you’ve turned the last page. Now I need to read more by this author, ‘cause I’m hooked! If there’s anything in particular you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment or shoot me an email.
Another pair of books that had great reviews were “Tithe” and “Valiant”, both by Holly Black. The reviewer referred to them as cutting-edge. Sadly, I had less luck with these two than with Neil Gaiman. The books may be great, they’re just not my cup of tea. As I read through “Tithe”, I realized that I am not into faeries. “Valiant” confirmed it for me. I haven’t been able to finish either book – they are just too girly for me. It is hard to explain, because the main characters are these really tough, tomboy girls that have really tough lives, all the way up to living in the New York subway… and the books still manage to come across as girly, to me, anyway. And what is it with a token gay character in each of the books? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these characters just pop into the story line for no good reason and loudly declare their orientation before anybody even asks. And there’s always one per book – no more, no less. It’s like the author has this checklist where, somewhere towards the end, it says: “35. Add gay dude to story” – check, the book is now complete!
I hope this helped. I hereby remain, your loyal Fantasy&SciFi guinea pig, Goldie
* Mamacita, this does not apply to you… when you talk street on your blog, that’s pure art!
The school was out yesterday, so I took a day off. It was beautiful. We all got so much done. Of course, the downside of a long weekend is that, when it’s over, you have to come back to work, and, after a long weekend, the office pisses you off infinitely more than after a normal, two-day one.
Like, right now, the guy in the cube next to mine is talking non-stop, in this incredibly sexy, I’m-God’s-gift-to-women kind of voice…. he doesn’t stop for a minute. The man is clearly admiring the sound of his own voice. Unfortunately, I’m not. I am aggravated enough to be in the office in the first place, without having to listen in to my coworkers’ endless conversations. Plus, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. First, LilProgrammer decided to have a loud conversation with himself at midnight. Then, ChinchillaBoy had nightmares at two, three, and four in the morning. Of course, he had to wake me up every single time. What I’m saying here is that, right now, I would really appreciate the sound of silence. For the love of all that is good, man, just… shut… up. I beg of you.
Wait a minute, he stopped. It worked.
Oh crap, no he didn’t. He just had a five-minute break and now he’s at it again.
Now go ahead and dooce my ass. My head hurts, my eyes feel like they are full of sand, and I pretty much don’t care at the moment.
***** ***** *****
LilProgrammer somehow managed to get an award in school last week. It’s called an AVIS award, which stands for, “Attitude Visible In School”. This came as a surprise for me. I mean, I’ve known for a long time that LilProgrammer has an attitude, and I figured that, sooner or later, it would become visible in school. But getting an award for that? What is this world coming to. Naturally, I put the award up on the fridge, the proud mother that I am.
***** ***** *****
My same son, LilProgrammer, took a really long Language Arts test in school. The last question says, and I am not making this up:
“It seems like I ran out of questions to ask. How does it make you feel? Please explain in detail.”
This seemed to be a very tricky question for an Aspie. LilProgrammer wrote:
“It makes me not trust you because you just asked me a question.”
He didn’t get any credit for his answer. Gee, I wonder why.
***** ***** *****
ChinchillaBoy had a very eventful weekend. His best friend came over Sunday night. I got pizza for everybody, they went outside and shot hoops for a while, and then ChinchillaBoy went over to the friend’s house to sleep over. We’ll have to work extra hard to hide all this from my parents, who watch ChinchillaBoy after school on weekdays. You see, the thing is, ChinchillaBoy’s fragile health is very high on my parents’ list of priorities. Heaven forbid he does something that may make him catch a cold. They call me several times a day to check if ChinchillaBoy is wearing his sweater and fur-lined slippers. I hid the pizza boxes in my car trunk and otherwise destroyed the evidence of ChinchillaBoy having had fun during the weekend. I thought I had done a good job and my parents wouldn’t suspect a thing. Then I saw this:
See the tracks all over our backyard? There will be a lot of questions for me to answer tonight, unless this snow melts before 3 PM.
A day or two after that, Mr. Goldie had an appointment with his caseworker at the settlement office. This is actually pretty cool. When we came into the country, we immediately got an appointment with JFSA, which stands for Jewish Family something-or-other. They work with new immigrants to make sure they learn the ways of the new country, and also help these new immigrants get a job. Of course, most of the jobs they offer are extremely crappy, low-paying, manual jobs, the reason, I’m guessing, being that they need to produce results. The caseworker is there to ensure that the immigrant assigned to them finds a job, fast. Most men are told to go work at a factory.
So, on that day, our caseworker was all over Mr. Goldie, trying to convince him to go take a job at a factory. In a desperate effort to avoid it, Mr. Goldie told her:
“Well how about my wife? Remember when you first met us, you said that my wife would find a job before I do.”
Normally, this would result in me being hooked up with a factory job, and pissed at Mr. Goldie for years to come. On that day, however, a miracle happened.
“Oh yes, yes, I remember!” exclaimed the caseworker. “Somebody called me. Their company is looking for programmers! Tell your wife to come see me as soon as she can. You can go. Buh-bye.”
I was in the caseworker’s office the next day. She was very excited, prepping me for the job interview.
“Wear a jacket and a nice, long skirt. Make sure your hair looks nice. What else? Hmmm… let me see your hands.” She turned my hands back and forth. “Looks good. The fingernails are clean.”
“Did they say what kind of work they’re interviewing for?”
“Why, a programmer.”
“What programming language?”
“Something that you know. That’s all I can tell you.” That wasn’t very helpful, as I knew four or five languages, but was rather rusty on all five at the moment, having spent the last four years as a stay-at-home mom with a couple of part-time jobs in between.
I couldn’t wait to tell my parents I had a job interview the next morning.
To my amazement, instead of getting all happy on me, they flipped out.
“How can you? How can you take a low-paying job? Haven’t we all agreed that you are going back to school to get a degree?”
“Mom, yes, we have, but think about it. What is the end goal of me going to school? Getting a programming job, right? Well here’s a programming job being offered to me right now. I just bypass the school and go straight to the end result. What’s so bad about it?”
My parents were unconvinced, but agreed to watch the kids while I was at the interview.
It took me two hours on the bus to get to the place where it now takes me fifteen minutes by car. My fingernails were spotless. I wore a black and white checkered jacket, a gray striped skirt that was three sizes too big, and a blue blouse. My hair was pulled back into a bun.
Later on, my boss would tell me, “I took one look at your clothes and I knew right away that you were struggling to make ends meet”.
I was escorted to an office, where a Slavic-looking guy about my age handed me the application form and the test questions. That was my first meeting with Mr. Crush.
The test was in Pascal, that I hadn’t used since 1991. I managed to get four questions out of seven. The manager talked to me for about half an hour, and hired me on the spot, saying, “I’m an immigrant myself. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is”. That was my first interaction with Mr. Big.
On the weekend, my Dad drove me to a thrift store and I bought a whole thirty dollars worth of office clothes. They filled a whole 32-gallon lawn bag. I was now officially ready for my first job in America.
And here the story of our “settling in” ends, and a new story begins – full of drama, comedy, sweat and tears, but still completely different. At least, now we knew the direction we were heading. We knew that, somehow, things were going to work out in the end. We no longer had to puzzle and wonder how on earth we would get our foot in the door. Most importantly, we no longer had to take unsolicited advice from our fellow immigrants on how to “settle in”.
It took me less than three months. Mr. Goldie was hired another eight months later, by a woman whose office was down the hallway from ours, and with whom I’d had brief meetings and conversations in the ladies’ room. Mr. Big told me that she needed people, so I marched straight to her office and asked is she didn’t, by any chance, need programmers, because my husband was a very good programmer, and, as luck would have it, he was currently looking. We got lucky. For a lot of people, it takes years to find a job in a field that they enjoy, and want to remain in.
My parents, still, were inconsolable. They kept telling me I’d sold myself short. I think they were afraid of Accounting Dude, and what he would say. For the next three years, they kept bringing up the fact that I hadn’t gone back to school like I should have. They finally let go of the subject after our family income (Mr. Goldie’s and mine combined) exceeded the Accounting Dudes’ (if you remember, he was the breadwinner in the family). Only then did they tell me that, “okay, we admit, you were probably right”.
Two weeks after I started working, I got a call from Cleveland State. They were worried because they had received my application, but didn’t have my GRE results. That’s why they had been so strangely quiet about my awesome test score. They managed to lose the results for the test that I had taken on their own campus. You can only wonder what it would have been like to actually go to school there. I told them that my plans had changed.
This concludes what I wanted to tell you about. It was a unique and interesting time, and I’m glad I had this experience. I am also glad that it is over.
As you can see, we decided to stick with the plan for me to go back to school. I was hoping to ace the tests, apply for teaching assistantship, and so make some money for the family. Tuition fees did not bother me – you wouldn’t believe how many grants you qualify for when your family’s income is zero.
In case you wonder how we supported ourselves, we were, technically, living off a loan we got from HIAS, but, in reality, were spending whatever cash we had brought from Russia. My parents took out the loan before we arrived; we paid it back as soon as we came into the country, to avoid paying interest; and HIAS was now giving the money back to us in small portions. They paid our rent and sent us a check for about $400 each month to buy food and other basic supplies. We also got foodstamps and Medicaid. The Medicaid came in very handy, because we had to have some major dental work done. LilProgrammer had to get crowns on his five teeth (an impressive achievement for a four-year-old), and I had all my wisdom teeth pulled under local anesthesia (general anesthesia is for wussies). The doctor screwed up when pulling my teeth and I could not eat anything for a couple of weeks. That helped me lose the weight I’d gained in the first few weeks in America, when we went on an eating spree.
The HIAS loan was only good for four months. We had been in the country for two months so far, and had no idea what to do when the HIAS money would stop. Nor did we have any plans in place for Mr. Goldie. He couldn’t speak any English when he came into the country, so he was in ESL classes 40 hours a week, trying to get a jump start on his English.
I applied to Cleveland State, scheduled my GRE and TOEFL, and started cramming for the GRE. I didn’t feel the need to study separately for the TOEFL. My parents watched the kids while I studied for six to eight hours every day. That was the first time I learned about the method of elimination. In Russia, most of our exams were oral, and we never had multiple-choice tests. Instead of choosing an answer from a list, you had to memorize the material and then recite it back to the professor.
Because of this experience, many Russian and East European immigrants do not trust multiple choice tests. They argue that for these tests, you do not have to study and you don’t have to know the material. You can just guess everything. In defense of multiple choice tests, I can tell you that, for the majority of my oral tests, I didn’t study, either. You copy your answer to a sheet of paper, and then read it back to whoever’s examining you. The trick is to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
I took the GRE, and actually found it kind of fun. Compared to watching small children, a lot of things can be entertaining, such as having your wisdom teeth pulled, or taking tests. The results came in soon, and I was quite impressed. I got a 2120 out of 2400 – not bad for someone who had just moved here. I waited for Cleveland State to call me and offer me all sorts of perks, because of my huge score – an accelerated program, a part-time job, tuition-free study. That was what had happened to Accounting Dude when he scored high on his GMAT. But no calls came.
Instead, we got a letter from the Welfare office, telling us to arrive immediately. Mr. Goldie was in an ESL class, so my Dad and I drove downtown together. After waiting some time, we were greeted by a buxom Welfare Lady.
“In another month”, Welfare Lady informed us, “you will be eligible for cash benefits. In exchange for that, you will have to do fifty hours a week of community service. Any questions?”
“I have small children”, I said. “I won’t be able to work.”
“Not a problem, we have free daycare for the time you’re working,” WL offered helpfully.
“Also, I’m going back to school”, I added.
WL stared at me like I had just said that I could not do community service because I had to stay home and watch soaps all day.
Today, when I hear of families being on Welfare all their lives, where both parents haven’t worked for years, the first thing that pops into my mind is not “Poor souls”, or “How despicable”. The first thing that comes into my mind is “how the heck are they able to pull it off for years, when we couldn’t do it for more than three months?” Really. Why aren’t these families doing community service? Also, the kids. I hear it all the time that people have more kids in order to remain on Welfare longer. Why doesn’t anyone tell them: “we have free daycare”?
I must be missing something. Somebody please explain.
I received this in an email from a friend today, and, since rambunctious kids in restaurants seem to be a big issue for the blogosphere, I thought I'd share. This should solve the problem once and for all.
I will return to my (never-ending) series tomorrow.
I have to briefly interrupt the posting of my series for this very special Valentine's Day post. (The temptation was too strong to resist.)
Over the last week or two, I haven't been around the blogosphere much, and for that, I apologize. I am slowly starting to ramp back up and catching up on all of y'all's awesome posts that I have missed.
I'm such a slacker, I disgust myself.
ChinchillaBoy and I went to Petland once again, to play with more dogs, and almost got eaten by a 12-week-old Newfoundland puppy. She chewed on my church pants; she tried to attack my purse; and she ripped ChinchillaBoy's jacket. That's the first time I have ever seen my son ChinchillaBoy afraid of a dog. I am impressed.
ChinchillaBoy is now rethinking his lifetime dream to get a puppy. That is good. The bad part, of course, is that he still wants more pets. He's been thinking of breeding chinchillas. I'd pick a dog over that anytime.
Anyway, on to my post.
I just could not resist posting this story today… The temptation was too strong. You will soon find out what I mean.
This happened in May of 1996, when ChinchillaBoy was still nursing. On a chilly day, I ran outside in my T-shirt and, right away, I came down with mastitis. It wasn’t diagnosed soon enough, so two days later, I ended up in the hospital, with a 103 degree fever and an IV in my arm. I left the kids at home with Mr. Goldie. He was not happy and that was totally understandable. How are you to stay at home with a baby if he doesn’t eat or drink anything other than his Mom’s milk, and you are not his Mom – you are, in fact, a guy? It didn’t make things easier that none of our friends were available to help Mr. Goldie with the kids – it was a national holiday and everybody was out of town visiting their families for the long weekend. Our families couldn’t help, either - mine was halfway across the world, and his, about a thousand miles away. Mr. Goldie was terrified and sleep-deprived, and therefore did and said a few things that you don’t normally say and do to your sick wife. I was upset, but said nothing, as I had bigger problems at the moment.
The doctor wanted to keep me in the hospital for two weeks (yay for free medical care!), but I had to check out as soon as I felt well enough to stand up and walk around, because I had to go home and take care of the kids. I signed a form saying that I wouldn’t hold the hospital responsible if I dropped dead on my way home, and was told to come in and get shots twice a day for two weeks.
Getting shots was easy. I would drop LilProgrammer off at daycare and go straight to the hospital with ChinchillaBoy. I’d stand in the middle of the doctor's office, holding him in my arms, and the doctor would give me a shot. Then we’d come back in the afternoon. Worked great for everyone.
On my fourth day, I came in for my morning shot and all of a sudden found the staff all staring at me and whispering to each other. Finally, after a few uncomfortable minutes, the doctor came and called me into her office. But, instead of giving me the shot, she told me to sit down.
“Your test results just came in from when you checked into the hospital four days ago. I have to say, I was surprised. I really hadn’t expected to see that!”
“You hadn’t expected to see what?”
“Goldie, you have gonorrhea.”
“Oh, this can’t be. This is all a mistake. Let me take the test again and we’ll clear this all up.”
“Nuh-uh, you cannot take the test again. It will come back negative now, because you’ve been on antibiotics for four days. But, when you checked in, that’s when you had the infection.”
“I couldn’t have. Where would I get it from? I’m happily married and I have two kids – a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. I honestly don’t have the time to run around catching STDs.”
The doctor looked at me with pity, and sent me down to the ER. There, I had to talk to a short, scrawny, older guy that, for who knows how many years, had been working in the ER as a venerologist. Over the years, the man’s profession seemed to have given him a somewhat disillusioned outlook on life.
I sat down and told him the same thing that I had said to the doctor – that it was a mistake, there was no way I could have gonorrhea, and that, between two kids, I just didn’t have that kind of time. The venerable venerologist sighed.
“Therein lies your problem. When was the last time you had sex with your husband?”
“Um, I dunno, a week, two weeks?”
“See? That’s how it all happened. You cannot even remember when you had sex with the man! No wonder he’s been looking for it somewhere else.”
“Wait a minute, no he hasn’t,” – I objected. True, I was mad at Mr. Goldie, but not that mad. “My husband happens to be faithful to me. He is a believer, and goes to church. He couldn’t have done it.”
The look on the venerologist’s face was just too much. He gave me this tired, tired look that said, “yeah, that’s what you all think” and “if I had a nickel for each time I heard this”, and a lot of other things likewise unpleasant to me.
“Here’s the name of the doctor you need to see. And, when I say you, I mean you both. Make sure your husband goes to see her right now. Trust me, you don’t want the militia* coming to your house and leading your church-going believer out in handcuffs. Do you agree?”
Breaking the news to Mr. Goldie was, to be honest, a bit of a treat.
“Hey, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Mr. Goldie actually stopped and paid attention. I must have sounded convincing.
“I just got back from the doctor, and they say I have clap, and that I got it from you. They said for both you and me to go see this other doctor as soon as we can, or else the militia will come and get us. You go first.”
He left as soon as I was done talking, and came back an hour ago, looking troubled and puzzled.
The new doctor had told him, in a very strict voice, to list every one of his sexual contacts. She said she wouldn’t allow him to leave her office until he gave her the list. Poor Mr. Goldie didn’t have a list. His sexual contacts were limited to one person, and that person was me. The new doctor would have none of it. She needed the list. Mr. Goldie told me that a thought had even crossed his mind to make a few names up, but then he thought better of it.
The new doctor did let him go home, but said to come back in another hour with the list.
By the time Mr. Goldie left again, I was feeling sorry for him, and worried. Although, I confess, I was also, deep inside, afraid that the doctors might be right. What if my husband had, indeed, been cheating on me? Even so, I clutched ChinchillaBoy to my chest and prayed as hard as I could for Mr. Goldie. Very soon he came back from the doctor’s, but this time he was happy.
Apparently, the doctor had had a change of heart. Her office was right next to where we lived, and she told Mr. Goldie that she saw us almost every day from her window, going places with the kids. So, she concluded, after giving it some thought, she had decided that there has, indeed, been a mistake, and she woudn’t pressure Mr. Goldie for a list of contacts, as he very obviously had none. But, she added, we both needed to complete a course of clap-curing antibiotics, “to keep the authorities off our back”.
So we did. We each got a very painful shot, and a blood test. And that was the happy ending of our VD story. A few days later, our friends came back from out of town, and we were a big hit with a tale of our unbelievable adventures. We had to repeat it again and again and again. I thought that our whole experience with the doctors had been quite amusing, but Mr. Goldie had had a few scary moments.
Moral of the story, be nice to your wife, especially when she has a 103 degree fever. You just never know when that instant karma is going to hit you.
It is an old Russian tradition that preschool-age children attend daycare. It is rumored to help their social skills. Granted, our mothers didn’t have a choice, because they all worked full-time; but in reality, it never entered their heads to keep their children home, even if they could. It just wasn’t done. With that in mind, and considering the fact that Mr. Goldie was in full-time ESL classes and I was going back to school, we started looking around for daycare for our children.
When I first heard how much an average daycare charged, I honestly thought it was a joke. (Same thing happened when I heard that children are not allowed to be at home or outside unsupervised until they are twelve. That was so unreal, I was sure the person was pulling my leg.)
Allow me to sidetrack here and tell you about the one thing that scares us immigrant parents the most in this country. It is not the crime, it is not the drugs, and it is not the child molesters. Can you guess? It is the well-meaning neighbors that are always ready to pick up the phone and call 911, CPS, DHS, et cetera on the poor, unsuspecting immigrant parents that are only doing things the way they had always done them in their home country.
Where I come from, people do not rat.
This is the one thing I will never get used to. Though I will definitely comply with every rule and keep a low profile, because I would much rather have my children living with me than in a foster family, thank you very much.
But enough being serious, back to my story.
There was no way we could afford a regular daycare. We started looking into ones that were more in our price range (as in, free).
Our first choice was Head Start. We stopped by for a visit. We qualified; and we actually liked the place. (That should tell you how easy to please we were.) Don’t remember why we didn’t go through with it; I think the hours didn’t agree with us.
When the Head Start called me at home, I had a revelation. I realized that, contrary to what I’d been thinking all these years, my children’s names could not be Americanized. I just didn’t get it. In school, they taught us that Elijah and Cyril were perfectly legit English names. When the Head Start called me about “your daughter Eliza”, I realized that my information was a tad outdated. And, of course, calling my son “Cereal” was out of the question.
From that day on, in all my children’s records, I’ve been using the names LilProgrammer and ChinchillaBoy. Haha, just kidding. But, really, my children ended up having very rare, ethnic names, which is why I am not using them on my blog.
A few weeks after we tried Head Start, someone told my parents about the Hebrew Academy. It was an Orthodox Jewish institution, from preschool all the way to 12th grade; and, for low-income families like us, it was free. I didn’t really think it was such a good idea, us being Christian and all, but my Dad insisted that we at least stop by for a visit.
We made an appointment with the principal. It was an elderly woman who actually spoke good Russian. My Dad and I were present at the interview.
The principal began by inquiring about my Dad’s family, all the way to his grandparents. She seemed satisfied with his answers, my Dad’s heritage being Jewish through and through.
“What about your mother,” she asked me.
“My mother is half Jewish”, I explained. “She had a Jewish mother and a Polish father.”
“I would very much like to meet her parents”, said the principal in a voice that meant business.
That startled me, as I’d never met my Mom’s parents myself. Her Dad died in 1946 and her Mom, in 1960. Besides, weren’t we there to enroll my son? So, it was the applicant’s great-grandparents that the principal wanted to meet. That struck me as incredibly odd.
“Um, I don’t think that’s possible. They’re dead.”
“They are? What a pity” – and she resumed the conversation.
“Now, tell me about the children’s father. Is he Jewish?”
“I’m sorry, no he isn’t. My husband is Russian. Sorry.”
“Are you sure? What is his last name again? See, it sounds kind of Jewish. Maybe he is Jewish and does not know it. Maybe his parents never told him that he was Jewish, because they were afraid of discrimination.”
I pictured my, very Russian, in-laws and tried my best to keep a straight face.
“Well, thank you for coming”, concluded the principal. “We will make a few inquiries, and then, sometime around Passover, we’ll call you.”
Dad and I walked out into the street. The spring day seemed especially bright and sunny after the dark confines of Hebrew Academy.
“Suddenly I don’t think it’s a good idea”, Dad confessed. “Let’s forget it.”
And so we did.
The Hebrew Academy, by the way, never called us back. I guess they did make their inquiries.
My parents had found an apartment for us in Cleveland. When I walked into the apartment, I was blown away by the sheer enormity of it. It was a two-bedroom apartment that also had a large living room, a kitchen and a breakfast area. It was on the second floor, right above the lobby, so the kids could run around all they wanted and nobody would complain, because there were no neighbors downstairs.
The apartment we had in Russia was tiny. There was one room, ten feet by twenty feet, filled to the brim with furniture – wardrobe, bed, crib, chairs, a desk, an old TV set that we had bought from someone that didn’t need it anymore. We were able to save some space by hanging the bookshelves on the walls. We also had a very small foyer, a bathroom, a kitchen 8x8 feet in size. Ever since LilProgrammer was born, Mr. Goldie had been sleeping on the floor in the kitchen. He said that the sound of babies fussing and crying was constantly waking him up and he couldn’t concentrate on his work the next day, so to the kitchen he went. Now we had two bedrooms, so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the kitchen anymore. I could cook anytime I wanted. I was beside myself with joy.
In my excitement, I overlooked the fact that the apartment was facing a major street. I would notice it later. Almost every night, a fire truck would come roaring past our windows, followed by a blaring ambulance, waking the whole family. We learned our lesson. Now we live in a house that faces a cemetery. Except for Memorial Day, it is very peaceful and quiet.
In the evening, an energetic, Russian-speaking woman came to see us.
“Hello, I’m your apartment manager. Welcome to America. You will eat a lot of shit in your first years here, but that’s normal. Everybody goes through that.”
We never did. I used to tell people that we’d probably already met our shit-eating quota when we lived in Russia. Any adversity we had to deal with in America, was very minor compared to what we had already been through.
I woke up at 4 AM to find both kids playing happily in the living room. That was my first experience with jet lag.
Next morning, I got my first job offer in America. The bearer of the good news was the apartment manager.
“Hi, I have a great opportunity for you. You don’t know it yet, but your neighbor next door has one-year-old twins and she needs a babysitter. She will pay you three dollars an hour. Should I tell her that you agree?”
“Um, who’s going to watch my children while I watch her children?”
“Just watch all four of them together, it’s easy,” helpfully offered the apartment manager, who herself had one child.
I thought about it for a minute. I had already heard that Americans liked to sue. What if something happened to this neighbor’s kids on my watch? And it definitely would, if I tried to keep an eye on four small kids at once. She’d sue us for everything we had, and probably a lot more, since we didn’t really have anything. Besides, I was still planning on going back to school. How would I study while watching four kids?
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. I plan to go back to school, you know.”
“It’s your call. I wouldn’t turn it down if I were you. It is a great offer.”
I felt slightly guilty for turning down an awesome, three-bucks-per-hour job, but there was just no way I could pull that off.
From The Ground Up
I think we refugees are lucky compared to born Americans or other groups of immigrants (but not for the reasons they think we are!) I think that we are lucky in that we get exposed to a wide variety of social groups in this country; not everyone who was born here, or came here to work as a professional, has this opportunity. When we come here, we start from the bottom. We live in bad neighborhoods, because we cannot afford to live anywhere else. We shop at the cheapest grocery stores; we buy our clothes at Goodwill, and our household items at Dollar Tree. We use public transportation, because we don’t have cars and we don’t know how to drive. And each of us gets to visit the Welfare office at least once. I know for myself that this past experience helps me appreciate what I have now; it also helps me better understand people who still are in this situation, and help them to the extent that I can.
Unfortunately, during this time, we also encounter a lot of people that live at the bottom, are content with it, and make no effort to be anywhere else. Ironically, this is same kind of people that are afraid of immigrants, will look down on you like you’re the scum of the earth, and will treat you like you’re mentally retarded, just because you speak English with an accent. I speak from experience. When you’re stuck in these circles for too long, it’s easy to assume that all Americans are like that. Tales of ignorant, fat, hamburger-chewing and soda-chugging Americans are all too common among new immigrants.
In truth, I didn’t even notice that we lived at poverty level during our first year in the country. We had our own apartment with separate rooms. We could buy all the food we wanted at Marc’s, and on occasion, we’d even go all the way out and shop at Tops (in those days known as Finast). We had a color TV. Heck, we were rich. I was happy.
On a cold January morning, our family arrived at the Sheremetyevo airport. One person came to see us off. He deserves a post in his honor.
This guy, that I will call Nick, was a college friend of Mr. Goldie’s. Before Mr. Goldie and I even met, Nick had a brief crush on me. He followed me around the campus for days till I told him to get lost. Ironically, I ended up marrying his close friend; even more ironically, Nick’s family relocated to a small town a few hours away from us. Nick came to visit about once a month, and usually stayed overnight.
Each month, Nick arrived all excited about a new idea, or political affiliation. One thing about Nick was, he couldn’t stay in the center. His political affections were always extreme. One month he was a Communist; next time, he was a Monarchist. One time he came to visit, he was a Russian nationalist, and launched into a long speech about how the Jews are the root of all evil. I listened for a while, then stood up and walked out of the room. Mr. Goldie clued Nick in about my ethnicity, and asked him to refrain from this topic in the future. That didn’t faze Nick. He didn’t remain Russian nationalist for long, anyway. I think he had adult ADD or something.
Eventually, Nick got married, and on one of his visits, he brought his wife along. The wife was a nice girl, about seven months pregnant. After Nick had one too many drinks with his dinner, he launched into a long story about how he ran into an old female classmate of his on the subway in Moscow, but couldn’t even say hi to her as he was going up on the escalator, and she was going down. Nick told us he should have turned around, run after the classmate, and caught up with her so they could chat about the old times. He couldn’t forgive himself for not saying hi to her, so he kept repeating the story, until this came out of his mouth:
“I should’ve done it. I should’ve talked to her. We would have probably ended up going to my apartment, I would’ve screwed her…”
Nick’s wife jumped up and sprinted out of the room. I had never seen a very pregnant woman run so fast. They made up an hour later.
Nick was obnoxious. Nick was loud. Nick was not so bright. Nick was eerily reminiscent of Kelso from That 70s Show. Nick spouted ideas that made my hair stand up on end. At the same time, Nick was the kindest soul, always ready to help. He was in some sort of business that was going well. He was loaded; we were barely meeting ends meet. Each time Nick came to our house, he brought so much food he could barely carry it. Nick played with the kids, for which I was eternally grateful, as I desperately needed a break.
And Nick was the only person that came to see us off at the airport. Thank you, Nick.
Our belongings were so pathetic that we passed the customs with no problems. Once a customs employee became interested when I admitted we were carrying icons, but quickly lost interest when she saw the icons in question. We boarded the plane, and, ten hours later, landed in New York.
The Goldies in New York
Apparently, our plane to Cleveland did not leave until the next day. Not only that, but it left from a different airport. So, we were taken to a motel where we had to spend the night. HIAS provided the bus there and to the Cleveland flight the next morning. There were some fifteen to twenty families on the bus, all of us from the same plane.
The walk through the airport to the bus was a nightmare. ChinchillaBoy hadn’t slept a minute on the plane, and I was exhausted. He, on the other hand, was upbeat and enjoying the sights. His favorite turned out to be the drug-sniffing dog. LilProgrammer, too, was excited to be in a new airport, and kept wandering off and getting lost.
We had to go down an escalator. I was dragging my feet along, trying to figure out how to get a baby in a stroller down the escalator, when we heard a collective gasp of horror. I looked down the escalator, and sure enough, my son LilProgrammer was lying down on the stairs. He had gone on it all by himself, and had tripped and fallen down. While we all watched, frozen with fear, LilProgrammer calmly got up, got off the escalator, and went on his merry way.
Finally we got to the hotel. While I unpacked, both children disappeared. We found them in the bathroom. There were a few miles of TP on the floor, and both kids were happily washing their hands in the toilet. They had never seen a toilet before that had so much water in it. Russian toilets are designed differently.
I carried the kids back into the room, and walked back to the lobby. All fourteen families from the bus were standing there. When they saw me, their eyes lit up.
“Ask them when we’re going to eat,” they said to me.
I was surprised. Why me? Okay, I asked. The guy at the front desk said, in an hour. So I still had time to make a phone call to my parents in Cleveland. They picked up right away.
“Hi Dad! We’re in New York! We’re in a hotel. We’re fine.”
“We’ll be in Cleveland tomorrow afternoon.”
“Will you meet us?”
“How’re you doing?”
I hung up the phone, thinking, Wow, Dad sure is Americanized now. Listen to him saying “okay”! It just rolls off his tongue. I was very impressed, and intimidated. Will I ever fit into American life as well as my Dad did?
In the morning, we turned on the TV. We switched the channels until we got to PBS. Barney was on. All four of us watched in awe.
“So this is what American television is like“, I thought. “Way cool.”
One month before we were scheduled to leave, my in-laws came from out of town, to help us pack, and also to take some of our things home with them.
Our children’s clothes were pathetic. We had been struggling the whole time since our kids were born, and it showed. Every single item of clothing the kids owned was a hand-me-down. Some of them were in good shape; those were my kids’ “good” clothes, the kind they would wear to a party or to visit the relatives, or to a doctor’s office. We gave those to the in-laws for future use, since none of my BILs had any kids yet. Out of what was left, about one-third was falling apart, so I discarded those. The rest were my kids’ everyday clothes; they were in good shape, so I took them to my church, where they were collecting the items for the needy. Two weeks later, I ran into a woman from church and she told me that they’d thrown away almost everything I’d given them, because the clothes were “in such bad shape”. Not sure what she was talking about; they were good enough for my kids.
At least half of my boys’ clothes was pink. Back in the 90’s Russia, no one cared about that stuff. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Our next job was to sell some of the books and all of the furniture. My lucky 10-volume collection of Pushkin went first. I had bought it four years before from a family that was leaving for America. Now it was our turn to sell it and leave. I wonder if the guy that bought it from me, has ended up in America too. He looked like he was willing.
With the furniture, I had a great marketing plan. This should give you an idea of our marketing skills, and tell you why we should never open our own business. Thing about our furniture was, half of it was brand-new – okay, four years old. We bought it in the year after we got married, at crazy prices. Another half was hand-me-downs from our relatives on all sides - old, beat-up chairs, tables, and even a small fridge that I got from my Mom’s aunt. What I decided to do was post a list of things we wanted to sell, and, right next to it, a list of things we would give away for free. My line of reasoning was, people would stop by for free handouts, see a new piece of furniture, and desperately want to buy it. I put the ads up on Saturday; my in-laws arrived Sunday morning. The parade of freeloaders started on Sunday afternoon.
My MIL watched in horror as our doorbell rang every five minutes, and a new visitor announced: “We’re here for free furniture”. The most memorable pair were a woman in her forties with a daughter in her late teens or early twenties. Apparently the daughter had just had a baby. They took a ton of stuff - chairs, tables, childrens’ furniture, the stroller, and the little fridge. They didn’t offer to buy a friggin thing. As Mom was scurrying around the room picking out possessions, the daughter turned to us and asked, in an extremely disappointed voice,
“Why is the refrigerator so small?”
My poor MIL just about fainted.
Three days had gone by and we hadn’t sold a thing, except for the crib that a guy from my old job bought off me. When we first met, I was 22, he was 19, and had a massive crush on me. We were a source of endless entertainment for the entire IT department. The poor guy kept inventing new ways to win my love, whereas in fact, all he needed to do was brush his teeth every day. Although, that wouldn’t have helped, either, as I had already promised Mr. Goldie I’d marry him. Now I had two children, the guy was married, and they were expecting a baby. And he was buying a crib from me. Life works in mysterious ways.
The story has a happy ending. Although we didn’t tell our neighbors of our plans, afraid that they would freak out, our neighbor next door somehow found out that we were leaving. Turned out, her son had just gotten married and was looking to move out. She bought all our furniture, and paid good money.
Finally, it was our time to leave. We made arrangements with a guy from our apartment building to drive us to the airport in the morning. The kids and I slept over at my friend’s place, and Mr. Goldie stayed in the empty apartment, guarding the cash. To avoid being robbed, we had spread rumors all over our small town that we’d deposited all the money we’d made from selling our stuff, straight into a bank account in America. But in reality, we had no clue how to do that, and wouldn’t probably have done that even if we could, since the account would have been in someone else’s name.
At their ESL classes, my parents met a couple from Moscow, in their late twenties. The husband was an accountant and the wife had studied foreign languages before coming to America. They had one son who was LilProgrammer’s age. My parents were elated that they had found someone we could become friends with.
During one of our weekly calls, my Dad told me that he had figured out, with the help of their friend the young accountant, how to jump-start my career in America. (It had been generally agreed that my career would take off first, since I was the one that actually knew the language.) (Then again, my parents weren’t big fans of Mr. Goldie, so I guess they didn’t care much as far as he was concerned.)
“You will need to study at a university for two years. You will study to become a Master.”
A Master. Was that like a guru or something?
The plan sounded exciting until I ran it by a couple of people. Mr. Goldie could not understand why I had to study for two years to be a programmer, when I already was one, with several years experience. I told him that, evidently, Russian diplomas and Russian experience did not count in America. (Later on, I met programmers who came here from Russia on work visas, and, from their experience, all of that does very much count.)
Another skeptical soul was my old boss. I ran into him on the street. My boss was a short, scrawny guy with a killer sense of humor. I had worked for him for about four years, until I had LilProgrammer.
“So, do you know what you’re going to do in America?” “My Dad says I’ve got to go back to school for two years.” “For what?” “To study.” “To study to be what?” “A programmer.” “And what are you now?” asked my incredulous boss.
Since Mr. Goldie and I were completely confused at that point, we emailed the Accounting Dude, stating that we were, in fact, already programmers and could not understand why we had to spend two more years learning to do what we had already been doing for a while. Did it have to be the whole two years? Could it be done in a shorter time, say, six months?
Accounting Dude replied on the same day, with a letter I will never forget.
It started with:
“Guys, I am seriously disappointed with your attitude.”
The letter then continued to explain, in great detail, why grad school was, for us, the only way to go. It listed as alternatives a quick course at a community college and a minimal wage job, and then went on to prove that those were not sufficient to provide us with a successful career in America. AD then went on to say:
“… you don’t want to turn into that sort of Russian immigrant that see every American as their personal enemy, and fight n***ers for a piece of the Welfare pie. With the attitude you guys now have, that’s exactly what you’re going to become. That has to change.”
At that point, Mr. Goldie and I did not know anything about America, living in America, or being an IT professional in America.
But we knew enough to rip up this little piece of shit letter and throw it in the garbage, where it belonged.
Now allow me to analyze the letter. Here’s where our friend the Accounting Dude was wrong, and this, may I point out, is the common mistake a lot of Russian and post-Soviet immigrants make.
AD’s mistake was that, just because he’d figured out how to have a career in finance in America, he assumed that he had it all set for any individual of any profession. Because AD had been in America for a whopping eight months, he felt he was qualified to give unsolicited advice to people that didn’t need it, and considered himself an expert on the subject that he, in fact, did not have a clue about, namely, working in Informational Technologies, where hands-on experience goes a much longer way than a fresh college degree with no experience at all.
Another thing AD missed was that, although he did, in fact, need to go back to school, due to the financial system in America being very different from the Soviet finance and economy, the IT is practically international. Rules of business may vary, but hardware, software, and the users, are the same everywhere you go.
What made his advice especially harmful was the incredibly bad timing. It was the beginning of the IT boom, a perfect time to get one’s foot in the door, get hired, and move on to a job that matched your skillset. That wonderful window of opportunity pretty much closed in late 2000 – early 2001. Had Mr. Goldie and I stuck to AD’s plan, we would have wasted that priceless time (and money, may I add) getting a Master’s degree in Computer Science that none of us needed in order to be productive.
In retrospect, we should have saved the letter. When I told my parents about it, they didn’t believe me. It was inconceivable to them that a nice guy like AD could write something that venomous, so they just assumed I’d read something wrong. My parents were quite upset over the fact that we didn’t want to be friends with the AD’s. The AD’s, however, turned out to be kinda snobbish and kinda elitist, and weren’t really falling over themselves to be friends with us, so everything worked out to everyone’s mutual benefit.
AD did go back to school and got his Master’s. He did so well on his GMAT that the university (a pricey, prestigious one) put him on an 11-month, accelerated program that was completely tuition-free. He got a job right out of school, moved up the ladder at breakneck speed, and is now, if memory serves me, a VP at a big-name, worldwide bank whose name escapes me at the moment. His wife got a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, and, last I heard, hadn’t worked a day in her life, due to her husband’s career demands. So I guess it all balances out in the end.
My apologies to everybody for the delay in posting this. I was out at the Dr's all day yesterday with ChinchillaBoy.
In other news, I have received a lot of feedback regarding Dave, and it turns out we cannot take him home, because, being a hunting dog, he will hunt down our chinchilla and... you can figure out the rest. Sorry, Dave!
On to my story...
Over the past nine years, a lot of people have asked me: “So how does it feel, coming to a new country?” In case you’re wondering the same thing, I have put together a short story describing our experiences during our last few months in Russia and our first few months here. Correction, I planned it to be short, but it got out of control, so it will be broken down and posted as a number of separate installments. I tried to keep it funny and entertaining (which, given the amount of unbelievable things that we always manage to get ourselves into, was not hard) as well as, at least to some extent, informative. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
All I can tell you that it was an interesting time – the joy of discovering a new country, at, at the same time, the confusion because our future was a complete blur. I’m glad that I was able to relive these times while writing this. Hope that you enjoy it.
There is a question that a newcomer to this country gets a lot from fellow immigrants. I cannot do it justice, but the rough translation is something like: “So, have you settled in yet?” By “settling in”, the inquirer means whether the person being inquired has done several things, in a particular order: did he get a car, a job, a credit card, a house. At least, that’s what the immigrant community expects of you in my town.
The Russian immigration is very diverse, complete with a caste system and members of different castes not speaking to each other. You have your professionals that came into the country on a working visa; you have your students; you have a small population of illegal immigrants who came here in the late 80’s – early 90’s; you have the mail-order brides; and you have the refugees, who came here due to ethnical or religious discrimination. The way I understand it from talking to people on the ‘Net, we the refugees are the lowest of the low. The reasoning behind this is that all other groups have earned their right to live in America, whereas we just came here by merit of our ethnicity. Whatever.
Where I live, the Russian community consists almost exclusively of refugees that came in through HIAS. We are basically a large group of people where almost everybody comes from the same three cities in the former Soviet Union, and everybody is in some way related to each other. The latter is due to the fact that, in order to apply for refugee status, you had to receive an invitation from a close relative already living in America, so what happened here was, one family member got into the country and gradually brought in everybody that was in any way, shape or form related to him.
We are an interesting group. I do not much interact with the local Russian community, and they don’t interact much with me, because the Russian community in our city is, actually, Jewish, and they don’t like it that we are all baptized and attend church. But these are our roots, and in a way, I guess, they’re dear to me. When you first come into the country, these are the first people you meet, and these are the first people that teach you how to get by in this country and how to “settle in”. This is how it happened with us nine years ago.
In summer of ’96, our papers finally went through; we passed the interview at the American Embassy, passed our medical exam, and began getting ready to leave. My parents had left early that year, and were now successfully “settling in”. They called every week to monitor our progress and plan a list of things for us to do when we would arrive.
Out of all my friends in our town, only one girl had a phone that could take international calls. Once every week, I left ChinchillaBoy with his Dad, took LilProgrammer with me, and we walked over to her place to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. I brought a pen and paper along, as Grandma and Grandpa usually gave a lot of advice.
“They don’t have curtains in America. I mean, they do, but they’re very expensive. Our friends have just bought a set for their apartment for $100”.
Wow. At that time, Mr. Goldie worked two full-time programming jobs and was making $100 a month at each. No, I didn’t want to work all month for a set of curtains, so the next day, I went out and bought some. They are still sitting in our closet, as we never had any use for them. If you are interested in nine-year-old Russian curtains, drop me a line.
“Bring all of your kitchenware. If you don’t bring a spoon or a fork, you will have to go to a store and buy one, and pay three dollars, maybe even five, for just one spoon.”
So we brought ‘em all, and we are still using them. I figure that one day, they will be a collector’s item. Spoons From The Old Country. We’ll sell them all and retire. The only kitchen item we left behind was a small pot that the three-year-old LilProgrammer had taken a dump into. I guess he was so aggravated by the packing, his baby brother bothering him, and the fact that none of the adults had any time for him, that he snuck into the kitchen, took a massive shit in the pot, put a lid on it, and slid it into the very far corner on one of the shelves. Naturally, of all people, it was discovered by my mother-in-law, who had come over for a few weeks to help us pack. She was actually relieved, as she’d been thinking there was a dead rat in our kitchen causing the smell.
“Bring the fur coat. In winter, it doubles as a blanket.”
The fur coat is in my closet, if anyone’s interested. It’s 35 years old, and lately, it has been falling apart at the seams, so we’re afraid to touch it now. We did use it as a blanket during the first years; then it started to shed profusely.
“Americans don’t have good tea. Make sure you bring lots of tea”.
That was where we drew the line. In fact, at this point I realized that I probably shouldn’t have bought many of the things my parents had been telling me to bring over to America. But it was too late.
After we arrived, my Mom told me that, when they had come to America one year before us, they had brought with them six pounds of soap and a washboard. They had been advised to pack those valuable items by the well-meaning relatives.