Sunday, October 16, 2011

Husband #2 (this is mostly funny story :)

There I was: 21 years old and just arrived in US. I had a visitor Visa (good for 3 months), 2 bags, $300 cash in my pocket.. And some friends who were willing to give me a place to stay in their home for a while. That's it.
Oh, to be young and fearless-you think you're bulletproof :). These days I can't even imagine pulling a stunt like that. Rather,I research  things in advance, have various "safety nets" in place and plans A,B and C (often D and E as well :).
My friends (an older couple that I've met while translating for them when they were visiting Russia) met me at the airport in New York. It was hot and balmy August day. For a long time I've had unpleasant memories of New York,as my arrival coincided with garbage workers strike: bags of stinky rubbish,some half-spilled were strewn all over the city. Not the nicest of welcomes,that's for sure.
After a day of sight-seeing (and inhaling putrid stench along the way), we drove to Richmond,VA, where my friends lived.
I was never the one to sit around and wait for the opportunities to knock on the door, so started on the job search straight away.
I got lucky-almost immediately was able to secure a job as a prep cook in one of Richmond's restaurants. It was a bistro type of place, not too posh, but definitely not fast food. They specialised in fresh bagels made on the premises daily and offered various sandwiches/salads/basic mains fare.
As minimum wage in VA was $2.13 back then, I was quite fortunate to get $18/hour.
I've never worked in the kitchen before and had absolutely no idea of what to expect and what was expected of me... Oh,yeah-good times..LOL..
The job wasn't a rocket science,though. In the morning, at the beginning of my shift, I was to take a "Master" prep list and with it in hand, do the inventory of the chiller and freezer. "Pars"(how much of everything was needed for the shift) were written on the Master list, so all I had to do was count what's on hand and create my "work list"-what's needed to be prepped and how much. I then was to show the numbers to the Head Chef for approval and off I went-slicing and dicing.
That's pretty much what the job was: slicing ham and other meats,weighting and portioning those, slicing veges,cleaning and "leafing" (separating the leaves) the lettuce,peeling potatoes,etc.
The fun part was baking the cakes. I had to pull out a giant "Master Recipe" folder (it really was quite big and heavy) and then just dump all the ingredients listed in the huge commercial mixer,then pour the mix into the forms and place them in the oven. Oven had a timer, so I didn't have to worry about checking on the cakes much.
When years later I've told one of my ex-girlfriends (who happens to be a 5-star, award-winning Chef herself) about those methods and practices, she laughed so hard, she almost peed her pants! She vowed then and there to NEVER let me in her kitchen for cooking/prepping purposes (we worked together: me as Front of the House lead and her as Executive Chef).
Making cakes (especially cheesecakes) was my favorite task,as when you take them out of the form, some of the cake sticks to the sides and I loved scooping it up with my finger and eat it (looking back, maybe that was one of the reasons my second husband liked me-I think I was inadvertently putting on quite a show-what's with licking my fingers and smacking my lips and closing my eyes in near-ecstasy...LOL..)
Job had it's dangers,as well. One of them was commercial slicer-that thing was lethal and I always was weary when using it. I remember one time when one of the girls was in a hurry and sliced big part of her finger (about 2 sm from the fingertip) clean off. She was scared out of her wits before she even felt the pain,as blood was gushing everywhere,so she started screaming. Everyone rushed to her aid. As there were no shortage of rescuers, I thought I'd be practical about it and went on a search of the sliced-off fingertip. Good thinking, apparently,as it was put in an iced bag and later re-attached in the hospital. I was told that timing was crucial and it helped that I found it so quickly.
I did quite enjoy slicing cucumbers on that machine, though :)
Working in that kitchen wasn't exactly fun. Back then 80% of population of Richmond was African American. That statistic was pretty accurately reflected in the kitchen where I worked.
Black girls and guys didn't not take kindly to foreigners,especially white foreigners. For some reason, they perceived me as a threat, someone who was "after their jobs".
There was one woman in particular. I still remember her name-Brenda (and I am notoriously bad with names). She was very big woman (and I mean, VERY big). Brenda used to try and make me look incompetent in front of the Head Chef: her prep table was right next to mine, so she would prep the items from MY list and then tell the Chef  that she had to do it, because I was falling behind (I wasn't). She used to talk to me really fast, using a lot of slang words (I only understood about 25% of what she was saying-they taught us "British English" at the Uni in Russia and I've only just moved to US, where spoken English is really different,anyway,even without slang) and then complain to the Chef that I don't understand English. She would loudly talk to her friends in the kitchen about me (when I was standing right there) in that "slang English" and make fun of me..
That is probably why to this day I have a distaste for the kitchen-I never want to work in the BOH (Back Of The House), although I have a great respect for my many talented,amazing Chef friends who perform miracles on a daily basis.
My husband #2-to-be (although neither him nor I knew it at the time) was working next to me almost every day. His nick-name was Howie. He was not much to look at-just some tall,lanky guy.
Unlike me, Howie had gone to CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and had a real passion for cooking. This was a first step in his professional ladder and he had great aspirations.

Getting a job was only a part of what I needed to do-a bigger problem was getting a Green Card (American Permanent Residency). I've met some people in Richmond and through active networking found out that there was a private gymnastics school there and they hired a famous Russian Olympic coach, but the guy didn't speak a lick of English-none, and,of course, neither the owners nor the students spoke any Russian.
Clearly, they had a problem. And I had a solution! After some negotiating, they've agreed to sign the paperwork necessary for my "employment visa" in exchange for providing translation services. It was quite involved process: the ads had to be put in the local paper's employment section to determine that there were no suitable US applicants, forms and affidavits had to be filled and signed... I'm glad I've done it all by myself, as tedious as it was,instead of hiring a lawyer (not that I could afford one,either), as I've come to have a very good understanding of the process and all the "ins" and "outs" of it.
Everything was going quite smoothly and I was awaiting my visa, which I was told is "imminent".
Then one day I received a letter from Immigration. In short, it explained that they physically moved offices and due to that all their files were back-logged for at least 3 months. Suddenly, I was in a state of panic-I only had 3 more weeks until my visitor visa was due to expire! I didn't have another 3 months!
Next day I was at work, deep in thought. My mind was going 100 miles an hour,as I was trying to figure out what to do.
Howie asked me what was wrong. He noticed I was unusually quite and "not myself". I told him about my dilemma. He asked what could be done.
Half-jokingly, I said "Well, you could marry me and then I'll get to stay". He said he'd think about it. I assumed it was just a"small talk".
Imagine my surprise when just 15 min later he said "OK,let's do it!".
"Do what?" I asked.
"Let's get married, so you can stay in the country"
Apparently, he was quite willing to help me. He didn't ask for any money or stipulate any sexual favors (although we ended up having sex once in the next few months, but only because we happenned to be in the same place at the same time and it seemed like a thing to do).
So we set out to organise our "wedding".
As I was well-versed in Immigration procedures by then, I knew what needed to be done.
I've rented a dress and we did a "mock wedding", so we could take photos (immigration likes to see a lot of photos). We got married at the City Hall and I started the paperwork.
The big part of obtaining the Green Card through marriage is a personal interview conducted by Immigration Officer with a newlywed couple.
For that, Howie and I had to drive to Norfolk (capital of Virginia). It was a three-hour drive and I had this old Chevrolet which I bought for $500. The car could no longer reverse, so I had to make sure that I always park in places where I can drive out going forward..LOL..
Immigration interview was quite extensive: the lady was asking us all kind of "tricky" questions. For example: did our parents approve of our union? What did they say,exactly? What were our plans for the future (she wanted very specific job/living situation/kids analysis)? How did we meet? Did we have many mutual friends? Could we point those out in the wedding photos? Etc,etc,etc.
Apparently, we passed with  flying colours,as towards the end, the interviewer was talking to us about all those "fake" couples that come through and try to "pull wool over her eyes". She also was making fun of a movie "The Green Card" (it just came out not long before) and how ridiculous and unrealistic the plot was..
So that was that-I was in!
I had to stay married to Howie for 2 years, until my  Residency Status was changed from "Temporary" to "Permanent".
During that time I moved to California and Howie remained in VA.
The paperwork for change of status was not extensive and they've accepted whatever "proof of ongoing relationship" I supplied.
Divorce was quite easy as well-in US you can just file in court if both parties agree on the terms of settlement and you are single within 30 days or less.
I haven't stayed in touch with Howie and have no idea what he is up to now and whether or not he succeeded in achieving his dream of being a Top Chef and a Restaurant owner (hmmm, will probably search him on FB after I finish writing this).
I am very grateful to him, as he remains one of a very few men in my life who volunteered his help freely and unconditionally and never took advantage of the situation (and he certainly had numerous opportunities).

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