Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the great Ukrainian bride hunt part 2

By Kristoffer A. Garin

By the time of our orientation, my decision to come had started to feel like pure recklessness. Not only was I nearly ten years younger than the next youngest man on the trip; just three months earlier I had married the love of my life, and I couldn't shake the sensation that my happiness and good fortune must be obvious somehow, dripping off me like exploding ink from a bank robber's sack of cash.11. In order to move among these men without incurring suspicion, I had concocted an elaborate cover story that involved my having booked the trip in the aftermath of a bad breakup; between when I had paid for the nonrefundable trip and when the group was to rendezvous at JFK, my ex and I had decided to get back together. Since I was stuck with the trip, but didn't want to ruin my chances of making things work, I would treat it like any other group tour and stay away from the women. The guys thought I was pretty absurd, but they accepted the story. If anything, I became a sort of mascot/fool for the group. Wanting to fit into the group as I'd imagined it, I had altered much of my grooming routine in the weeks before leaving. My beard was so untrimmed as to make me feel itchy and dirty; what little hair I have had grown longish, curled in unruly wings on the side of my head and the back of my neck.

Dan the Man smiled from the front of the room. He knew we were skeptical, a little scared, a little embarrassed to be here, and reasonably so. After all, what did our presence say about us? What could we possibly have in common, other than failure?

Tomorrow would be the first of our three “socials”: four-hour events with free champagne, where the ratio of women to men promised to be five to one or better. But today, we were reminded, was for relaxing, for settling in and getting comfortable with our companions. “Look around,” enjoined Dan the Man. “A lot of people come here thinking this is going to be some kind of loser patrol—but it's exactly the opposite. These are professional, successful guys. These are great guys.” He suggested we each introduce ourselves, and we did.

“I'm a doctor, but I'm not a doctor anymore. Now I'm in the world of finance.”

“I raise avocados.”

“I'm a former soldier, a former professor, and now I'm a lawyer.”

“I'm a plumbing contractor.”

“I deal in finance.”

“I raise llamas, but I'm really a physician, and I have two beautiful boys and I think there's nothing better you can do than raising kids.”

“I live in Texas but now I'm a welder in Iraq.”

“I own a construction company.”

“I'm a credit-card processor; I own two corporations.”

“I'm a farmer.”

“I work with real estate investments.”

“I write for a living—I'm a lawyer.”

I did not share the fact that I was a journalist, nor did I mention the wedding band concealed on a chain around my neck. Instead I stood and said: “My name is Kris, and I'm in advertising in New York City. I'm just here to see what happens, you know?”

Dan the Man nodded contentedly. “You see? I'm telling you, the camaraderie always ends up being a big part of this—I've had guys make half-million-dollar business deals on these trips,” he said. “Now, take everything you know about dating and throw it away. After a few days, you guys are going to become like American women! A woman you would have killed to have lunch with back in the U.S., she'll be wanting to go out with you, but you'll start noticing little faults—her ankles are too big, you don't like the shape of her earlobes. And you will throw her back, because you have so many choices.”

Shyly, slyly, hopefully, the men around the table smiled; these damaged guys, so desperate to believe.