Invitations from the past

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

It was lunchtime. I was browsing the Chicago Craigslist, drooling over the large beautiful apartments that could be had for much less than what the Ukrainian and I are paying for our 1 BR in San Franciso’s Noe Valley. The day before, I had calculated that Chicago has a 26% lower cost of living than the Bay Area, but only a 11% lower average salary rate. It is also significantly closer to my family in Iowa and only a 2 hour flight to friends in New York or family in Washington, D.C.

These are the thoughts that cross my mind when the Ukrainian and I talk about having a baby in such dismal economic times. A baby is something I really want, but I worry about how we will manage it all on our combined income — while not impoverished in the slightest, is very definitely middle class — when housing and childcare are both not only so expensive here, but also extremely difficult to find.

While browsing Craigslist, I was also listening to Alice 97.3 on ITunes Radio. The Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Tonight, Tonight” came on. I listened to the lyrics, waiting for the lines: and the embers never fade in your city by the lake the place where you were born. The city by the lake is Chicago. The place where I was born — well, really, it’s the suburbs of Chicago. But still…everytime I heard this song, it takes me back to the life I had before I first moved to California. Could it be a sign, I wondered, to hear this song while browsing the Chicago Craigslist? I dismissed the thought. Signs had not done much for me in the past.

I checked my email to get away from all thoughts of returning to the Windy City. I have a good job here and the Ukrainian is establishing his life here. It would be asinine to shake things up. And there, in my email, was a little mini-shake-up.

“We’ve received an invitation from E to his Halloween party on Saturday,” I IM the Ukrainian.

“Who’s E? Your ex-boyfriend?”

“Yeah…” E and I met in the midst of the breakup with the Bulgarian. We dated in the months I spent preparing to move to the Netherlands. We broke up while I was there. Got back together in a much more tentative way after I returned to San Francisco and then broke up once again in the spring of 2007. It was the demise — or rather never-success — of this relationship that made me post the ad on Craigslist to which the Ukrainian responded. While E and I never call each other up to say “How’re you doing?” we do end up on each other’s party invite list. I’m never sure why.

“So what do you think?” I asked the Ukrainian. I never mind a good house party (they’re much preferable to clubs these days, now that I’m in my 30s and married), but was there the need to keep putting my husband in the awkward spot of being paraded around in front of my exes? Besides, I have now learned from E’s last party — the first held since we were married — that the more interesting male guests no longer pay attention to me. It’s the ring on my 4th finger. It’s the husband whose eyes my eyes meet from across the room every 30 seconds or so. If the men are single, they have little to gain from much conversation with me. And if they’re not, it will only be moments before their significant other will find away to interrupt the conversation. It is moments like these I despise the more puritanical twists of American culture. Europe always seemed more relaxed. Indeed, at the dinner parties I attended there, significant others were always seated apart to shake things up a little. It was a chance to talk to someone besides the one person you talk to everyday.

I.E. in a bikini

I.E. in a bikini

“Well, I have to meet up with I.E. this weekend. She is in town for the weekend. But I have to be at a conference all day Saturday and I have a midterm due Tuesday.” Oh right. I.E. His childhood friend from his hometown in eastern Ukraine who now lives in Chicago. My inner puritan woke up started flashing:  red light! red light!! Where had I heard this story before? Oh right, the Bulgarian whose ex-girlfriend from Bulgaria so innocently reinserted herself into his life, apartment, and then bed. I needed more information about this I.E.

“Do you have a picture of her?” I IMed the Ukrainian.

“Check your email,” he responded after a moment’s pause.

And there it was. Right there in my email:  a picture of a beautiful, blond Russian woman in a bikini. She was the sort of Slavic beauty that so many American men fantasize about when they visit sites like russianwomen.com.

“Mr. Ukrainian, she’s hot!” I ferociously panicked-IM the Ukrainian. My mind raced back over the few slightly-heated discussions we’d had over the past few days about a few key issues regarding the future. Now was not the time for him to be finding solace in his childhood chum who happened to look like a swimsuit model. And who was she anyway to be sending my husband pictures of herself in a bikini?! Damn these East European women! They are so clever. These were not the sort of social skills we learned back in rural Iowa. My mind recalled the model-like build of the Bulgarian ex-girlfriend. Not again! I thought.

“Check your email again.” The Ukrainian wrote over IM.

I went back to my Google mail. And there is was. A snapshot of a nice-enough looking woman standing on a bridge in the night wearing a formal (bridesmaid?) gown. She was attractive enough, but so very much not the Ukrainian’s type. I relaxed with relief. And then I started laughing. My, did the Ukrainian know how to rile me up. He knew exactly what he was doing when he sent that swimsuit picture.

“Assehole!” I IMed back. He knew I was joking too.

Now that the threat was gone. I became more truly curious about this woman who came from where my husband comes from and now lives where I came from. Maybe, just maybe, I thought. She could be a key to get us back to where I though I might want to really be.

“So what does she do?” I asked.

“She’s a commercial financial analyst.”

My eyebrows raised. I didn’t need to write anything on the IM. The Ukrainian could hear my thoughts.

“Don’t worry,” he continued. “After I graduate and get more experience at my company, I will apply to hers too.”

Maybe there are signs. Maybe we will be in SF forever. Maybe a year from now, we will find ourselves in Chicago. Maybe life will take us yet elsewhere. But suddenly, all the crushing weight I was feeling about how to manage having a baby in SF lifted just a little. There just might be other options. The world and our future didn’t seem so locked in.

Green Card Timeline

As I mentioned yesterday, the Ukrainian received his Green Card. Yay! It only took 5 months and 18 days from the submision of our application and the receipt the of the Green Card. Entire time line of the Ukrainian’s progress to becoming an American is below!

16-Apr-2007     The Ukrainian arrives in San Francisco from Kiev.

??-May-2007      The Ukrainian responds to my Craigslist W4M ad.

08-Jun-2007     The Ukrainian and I meet in person at Tlaloc in San Francisco’s Financial District.

01-Sep-2007    The Ukrainian moves into my apartment in San Francisco’s Noe Valley.

16-Feb-2008    The Ukrainian proposed to me on Pacific Beach in San Diego with a ring from Tiffany’s.

19-Mar-2008    The Ukrainian and I are married in San Francisco’s city hall with 4 friends as witnesses.

09-May-2008    The Ukrainian and I submit our application to the USCIS (INS) for his green card.

June-2008         USCIS tells us that it does not have a copy of the Ukrainian’s birth certificate. We resubmit.

28-Jul-2008      The Ukrainian’s travel parole and work authorization permit arrive in the mail.

Aug-2008          We receive our letter inviting us to our green card interview for 19-SEP-2008

Aug-2008          We receive a letter canceling our 19-SEP-2008 green card interview with no explanation.

Aug-2008.         The Ukrainian visits the USCIS. Discovers it has our address recorded as Brooklyn. Fixes it.

Sep-2008           We receive a new letter inviting us to a new green card interview for 16-OCT-2008.

16-Oct-2008     Green Card interview.

23-Oct-2008     Receive a “Welcome to the United States of America” letter from Dept. of Homeland Security.

27-Oct-2008     Receive the greencard. Yay! 🙂

Oct-2010           Must renew Green Card.

Oct-2011           The Ukrainian is eligible for U.S. Citizenship.

As you can see from the timeline above, it only took us 5 1/2 months from the submission of our application for the green card to actually receiving it. It was only 2 1/2 months from the submission of our application until the Ukrainian received his work permit and travel parole. This is much, much better than many other countries. I’ve had friends and relatives who’ve gone through the same process and had to wait 1 1/2 years to be able to work. And *then* they have to take an integration course for a year.

Uncle Sam is not so bad for most people.

I think it helped that the Ukrainian has a PhD from his home country and is pursuing an MBA. Plus, honestly, I think the U.S. would like to see Ukraine be more Western/European leaning rather than Russian-leaning. Anything to make the U.S. look better to Ukrainians has to be a factor in our quick success.

Green Card Arrived!!!

Last week, the Ukraian received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security stating “Welcome to the United States of America — your greencard will arrive shortly.”

Yesterday, the Greencard arrived! 🙂 Yay!

I kept thinking that once the card itself arrived, I would kick it into high gear and organize a big green card party complete with a DJ and everything green. But now we are almost to the U.S. holiday season. We have Halloween celebrations to attend this weekend. On the next weekend, Russian/German friends of ours are hosting a post-election party, and then we we are going to the Midwest to see my sister’s new baby and my brother’s family. And then it’s Thanksgiving and then can we really throw a green card party in the midst of the Christmas and Hannukah festivities?

And, also in December, the Ukrainian will graduate with his MBA in Finance. It will be another something wonderful to celebrate — perhaps making the green card celebration feel sooooo last month.

I know I promised some of you that I’d write up the greencard interview itself. I’m sorry I haven’t, although I’ve made a start. To be truthful, it was not the most pleasant experience and it really hurts my head to relive it.

But I will say this:  from our experience (and that of a few others we know) it seems that the U.S. Government is really tough when you are trying to gain entrance to the country, but once you’re in, the government is actually super nice — it’s been a much more positive experience for the Ukrainian than I had living in the Netherlands.

*Disclaimer. I know that the guantanamo and other situations do not reflect so well on the U.S. government. Hence the use of the words “in general”.

Playing with the blog

I had a lot of evil work to do tonight for my job, so of course I spent a lot of time procrastinating. Hence, the new layout. I don’t like it quite as well as the old one, but the old one didn’t have so many widgets to play with. Now you can see I added my twitter account and my old flickr account (couldn’t figure out how to hook in Picasa). I will do my greatest effort to start putting new photos on Flickr so you can see them here. For now, all the photos stop at mid-winter. Anyone who knows me in person has seen them all before.

I know, I know. There have been questions about what the actual green card interview was like. I will post that when I’m not busy procrastinating in other ways. One of my colleagues is being sponsored by her husband to change from H-1B to a greencard. I think I scared her with my description. Sorry colleague.  😦 But really, it’s better to be prepared. I’ve heard of yet another friend of a friend who’s had to go through the whole “separate room” ordeal.

Testing feeds

This is just a test for some various feeds. Ignore this.

Role Reversal: The morning of the Green Card Interview

On Thursday morning, I met the Ukrainian downtown at his office on Montgomery St., lugging my 200 photos and cheap white photo album from Walgreens in my luxe black leather Coach tote that the Ukrainian had given me the previous March in honor of International Women’s Day. I had on my knee high black patent leather boots — also from Coach, the ones that made unknown women stop me on the street exclaiming, “Where did you get those boots?!” and men look me up and down with a whistle. For the main piece, I wore the same Tory Burch long sleeve shift dress that Britney Spears wore on probably the only classy trial day she ever had. Economy be damned. If ever there was day to be a label-whore, this day was it. I didn’t want to show up at the INS looking like some slovenly student that the Ukrainian had to pay to get her to marry him.

For his part, the Ukrainian played the role of the successful young businessman very well. He wore his Hugo Boss suit with a navy-blue striped Hugo Boss tie. His shoes were Calvin Klein. His black leather satchel:  Kenneth Cole. Sadly, neither of his Hugo Boss shirts were clean so he had to settle for Zara. But it was fine, what he lacked in labels, he made up for in fit and class. The Zara shirt was made for his tall, lean body and had French Cuffs! This touch of sophisticated flair was certain to impress any INS bureaucrat, I was sure.

So I met the Ukrainian at his office where I could deposit my iPhone, camera, and 2nd cellphone (long story why I carry around 2 phones — it’s a temporary situation). While he finished up a few last minute business-related calls, I went to work on organizing our 200+ photos into the cheap white album I had purchased the night before.

“You’re crazy,” the Ukrainian told me again and again between each phone call as I tried to sort the photos into chronological order while stuffing them into the cheap plastic album slots.

“Get me some paper clips. They’re not all in order. We’ll clip the ones that aren’t in order to the pages they should be in.” My engineer’s mind couldn’t function without everything in life being absolutely sequential and “in order”. But I also knew that looking well put together — not just in clothes — but in the “evidence” we brought with us to our interview would be important to impressing our interviewer, and hopefully save us the troubles that so many other couples have endured.

Soon, it was 10 minutes until our interview. There was no more time for business phone calls. No more time to organize our photos to best show our story. It was time to walk to the INS offices.

And that’s when I realized:  I hadn’t eaten. Not that morning. Not more than 2 nibbles of lettuce the night before. And I was hungry. Whatever nerves I had vanished. My stomach rumbled. The Ukrainian laughed. “I feel sorry for whoever interviews us. He better be nice to you because he won’t be able to kick you out of the country for being mean!” The bitchiness that I exude when hungry is famous. All I have to do is say the word “hungry” and the Ukrainian is on his feet offering to fetch me whatever food I desire. He’d rather exercise this small moment of servitude than suffer the wrath of my mood on an empty stomach. But on this day, he was having none of it.

“There is no time to eat. Or to stop for a candy or fruit. Here, just for you, I have a piece of gum.” I reluctantly took the gum from the Ukrainian while looking across the street at a deli. I could just run in…get something…anything…just one thing that would save me if we’re taken into separate rooms and questioned for hours on end with out so much as a cup of water or a bite to eat. Clearly, I’d been watching too communist-themed espionage and subversion films. But I could tell that this was one moment the Ukrainian did not want to be challenged. The moment was simply too important.

And so in my fancy clothes, I dragged my hungry belly, bundle of nerves, and cheap white wedding photo album into the non-descript government building on Sacramento St. and through security. Though I would not have even been there if it wasn’t for the Ukrainian, I was especially glad to have him there. The nerves and lack of food made me light-headed and a bit faint. I no longer knew where we were supposed to be going or what we were supposed to do once we got there. I took the Ukrainian’s arm for support and let him guide me through the halls he had negotiated so many times before since arriving in the States.

Suddenly, in my own native country, I felt myself to be the foreigner.

Our brown dog: Bigga than Ben

I had heard about the dark comedy Bigga than Ben taking the UK’s film festivals by a storm and playing at a few cinemas in Moscow. So, this morning, I got online to check it out. The Ukrainian was in the kitchen preparing his breakfast. I call him over to watch the trailer.

Yes, it’s about 2 common low-life Russian thieves in living in London illegally. The Ukrainian was not impressed — he prefers the world of more glamorous thieves as depicted in the likes of Eastern Promises.

But…he should have paid more attention to the thieves’ tactics. For when he returned to the kitchen to eat his breakfast, he found half of it missing.
“Anna! You thief! You asshole!!” He yelled at the brown dog.
“Michelle! Look at what the brown dog did!” He brought the evidence of the 1/2 missing breakfast out to the living room. I shrugged my shoulders. What could I do? He was the one who left a very prized plate of chicken, vegetables, pasta and apple pie out unguarded.
“Come here, Annochka,” I called the brown dog over using the Russian diminutive of her name. “Who’s my good Russian doggie?”
“You know,” I then responded to the Ukrainian with a wink and a sly grin, “When you live with Russians, you become like Russians.”