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Russian brides — more than you imagined

Natasha is my name. I like cook and sew. I marry you, yes?

Some of the women from Rollban's fifth Moscow trip
  • Some of the women from Rollban's fifth Moscow trip

It's a peculiar setup. Strangers write strangers, attempting a mating dance despite cultural barriers so fierce that very little is communicated beyond the desire to communicate. Take Ed Burden (name pseudonymous by request), airline pilot, 40-ish, small tire around the middle. Between bites at Ed's favorite spot, a Kearny Mesa restaurant known for its gigantic portions, he pores over photos and earnest letters from young Russian women contacted through Scanna International, a foreign "pen pal” clearinghouse.

Roon Rollban: “If a guy finds a wife through me, there are three things I guarantee him. She’s going to be younger, she's going to be prettier, and she's going to be far better educated than her Western counterpart."

Roon Rollban: “If a guy finds a wife through me, there are three things I guarantee him. She’s going to be younger, she's going to be prettier, and she's going to be far better educated than her Western counterpart."

“I write each gal that she oughta send me more photos. That it’s hard to tell what they look like in the books Scanna sends me," monotones Ed, as he offers snapshots of would-be immigrants doing their best to look alluring. He reads aloud from a letter, painstakingly handwritten in English:

Page from Scanna International booklet of Russian women

Page from Scanna International booklet of Russian women

  • Very pleasantly capturing your lines of thoughtfulness. Sensitive of your soul. My marriage not happen to be happy. Not experience mutual happiness and manifestation of tenderness for me. My husband is money only but he forgot about senses. I don't want it to be resemble bird in golden coop to feast one's eyes from far away. I want to have mutual understanding, intercourse, love from my husband. Many women see in Russian husband only tightly shut purse.

Svetlana

Svetlana

“I wrote her back and said I wanted to have intercourse with her,” jokes Burden.

Ed Burden became interested in courting Eastern European women after seeing the mail-order bride concept on a segment of The Sally Jesse Raphael Show. Dating services on both continents began in earnest at the start of the decade, when glasnost pierced escape holes in the Iron Curtain. Soviet entrepreneurs dangled as their carrot a one-way ticket out of perestroika hell and into the Promised Land, where supermarkets overflow with gristle-free comestibles and the men aren't stinking drunk on potato vodka from morning until existential day's end.

Nakhoda (translation: “Godsend") is one such Moscow-based agency that sends photos and vital statistics of aspiring Amerikanskis to stateside businesses like Scanna, which supplies North American men with spiral-bound booklets displaying the exotic merchandise.

Eteri

Eteri

Page after Xeroxed page. Kohl-smudged nubiles stare uncertainly and even grimly at hope of a “better life." The pathos is more overwhelming than a trip to the pound. A number, placed below each woman’s photo, identifies her pitch on the facing page.

Nina

Nina

  • #28-85. Irina M. 27 yrs, 5' 7“, 132 lbs, gray-blue eyes, from Lugansk, NM. Is sociable, intel. kind, elegant, romantic. Partial to keeping house, needlework, books, travel. Seeks humorous, affectionate. finan. secure, intel, manly WM. 30-35. Writes Russian. English.
  • 108F5. Irina B. 21 yrs. 5' 11’, 153 lbs, brown eyes, student, from Sverdlosk, never married. "I am not a bore. I easily get on with people. I like order, neatness. I am fond of cycling, travels. I am beautiful and have a good figure.’ Seeks WM. well educated, family oriented, fond of children, over 28. Writes English. Russian.

Maria: "I'm an international economist and part-time model."

Maria: "I'm an international economist and part-time model."

Scanna lures its assortment of eligible bachelors in the classified ads of popular magazines. Unlike the other come-ons that read, “Meet beautiful Asian women" and “Dream girl introductions," Scanna promotes its wares with a bit more understatement: “Scandinavia — Russia — Great Britain, etc.: Sincere individuals worldwide seek correspondence for friendship, ~ romance, marriage. Scanna International (since 1980), P.0. Box 4, Pittsford, NY 14534. (800) 677-3170."

Though Danish emigre Marie Helbog began Scanna in 1980 by arranging Scandinavian-American matches, its most fecund female resources are Russia and Eastern Europe. In little over a year, nearly 10,000 Russian matrimonial hopefuls have been ogled and judged by an estimated field of 2500 men. According to Scanna employee Chris Ensor, the American subscribers evince demographic peculiarities. The highest demand for Russian women seems to come from Alaska (“The Siberian women are used to the cold"), Dallas (“Members complain about the plastic people down there, that they can’t find a down-home kind of girl"), and Southern California (“I suppose it’s easy to get lonely driving the freeways").

For a while, the deluge of Warsaw Pact applicants forced weekly production of a booklet containing 200 women. It’s now slowed to one edition every other week. Though the 40-page pamphlets sell for $4, Scanna makes its money by selling addresses at $10 each or for the volume rate of $8 apiece if 10 or more are bought at one time. Scanna vice president Mike Hansen says that men tend to “play the numbers game and get a lot of addresses at once." A “Circulation Service," which costs members $40, places a photograph and profile of the men into the hands of Russian women so that women can write to them first. “It gets a great response rate. The down side is you don’t know who’s writing to you," Hansen says.

“The Russian women thing makes sense to me," claims Air Captain Burden. “I can fly over there for free. Soon I’m going to spend a month over there [in Moscow]. Have all these gals come out at one time or another from where they’re at. Vladivostok, wherever. I don’t know who I’m going to like, if any of ’em. You have to meet 'em.”

Do you type out every letter you send?

“Are you kidding? The word processor’s the only way. There’s no goddamn way you can write individual letters to ’em. I don’t know how I got through college without one. There’s no misspelled words; there’s no misspelled punctuation; there’s a thesaurus. You can be a whiz-kid and not even use your brain."

What do you write the girls?

"Oh, you know. Bullshit stuff. Lot of the letters I compose while I’m flying across the country describe the Grand Canyon, thank her for her letter, ask her for more photographs. If I really like them, I’ll ask them to write once a week. Because the letters take so long. Some of these letters take a month. So, she sent you a letter, it takes a month; you answer that letter, it takes a month; you’re talking about one letter every three months. The ones I really want to hear from, I told them write a letter every couple a weeks. Even though you haven’t heard from me, write a letter. So you’re not always waiting for a letter every couple o’ months."

Another young girl, 23 maybe, divorced, with a child of four, writes, “I like to look films, read books, knitting, outing, and make merry with my friends. Well, now about my country. My country incadense political passion. Hardly don’t happen...." Ed interrupts, “She's talking about the coup," then resumes reading. “But all for the present fine. Out will neutralize with supreme effort. Shed a blood and this afraided of myself. I close my letter with dictionary."

Does the fact she has a child faze you?

“Yeah. I mean, that doesn't bother me. As a matter of fact, that would probably be a safer bet than having a single gal come over here that has no kids, you know."

Safer? In what way?

“With no kids, she might be inclined to wander. It’s possible. I wrote to the Russian gals just to see what they were thinking. I wrote them that a lot of women in the United States will marry a guy because he’s got money, and [they won’t] necessarily be real sincere about devotion and love. And what do you think about this? You know, I mean, hey, I don’t want to be hoodwinked by one of these gals when all she wants to do is get the hell out of her country. And I wanted to get some sort of response back from them what they thought about the reasons American guys are reluctant to get married. Because of the fact women, a lot of times, especially if you’re making pretty good bucks, their interest is getting married and, uh, you know, they’re going to get a lot healthier, financially, when they get divorced in the deal."

Do you have girlfriends over here?

“There’s a couple I go out with, but I basically told them what I’m doing.”

What do they say about it?

“They’ll say, ‘What’s the matter with American girls?’ They’ll take a real defensive posture." Ed proffers a birthday card greeting from Russia. “A real pretty gal sent that one."

How many do you correspond with?

“I’m writing to six or seven right now."

Do you address the matter of sex in your correspondence?

“No. I’m not worried about that because I’ve talked to guys who’ve been over there, and they said don’t just take a couple of condoms, take a fucking box. They’ll be fucking your brains out."

There’s the distinct smell of lubricated condom as David Greenspan (also pseudonymous) opens the door to his Orange County townhouse. He excuses himself as he finishes buttoning up his pants.

Sorry if I interrupted....

“No problem,” says the birdlike, middle-aged Jewish lawyer from Philadelphia, who now labors for a Korean law firm in Garden Grove. He motions to a sofa by a large built-in bookshelf where many of the books remain shrinkwrapped. Screams and shrieks of terror echo from an upstairs television. “Russian lady upstairs," grins Greenspan.

What makes you interested in Russian women?

“See, we spoil them in this country. They all are looking for their superman, so to speak. They see TV, they see Kevin Costner, they see the heroes there. They’re quite demanding, and there’s so many people, it’s easy come, easy go. If you are one of the few who have very wonderful endowments, you’re okay. It’s difficult in a sense that I’m past my prime. It gets harder and harder to compete, and you have to put up with so much stuff. The thing about this country, even if they’re Gravel Gerties, they’ll make demands."

But what piqued your interest in Russian women?

"Scanna. Which concentrated originally on Scandinavia. I had a penchant, a predilection for that type. I found that Scanna — I hate to talk this way about human beings, but you have to — the real good stuff that was Scandinavian wasn’t going through Scanna. I saw some of the Eastern Europeans, and that caught my eye. So they sent out the booklets, and I found that of all the countries they were promoting, the one I saw the best source from was Russia. As I said, the other countries weren’t getting the prime material; whoever was applying would be no better than what you might get over here in some of the [singles’] magazines."

Had you been through the singles’ scene here?

“I hadn’t met anybody that I had a relationship with. At most it might have been a second date. And there was just so much baggage with all that stuff. Aside from the fact that nine out of ten of them you don’t recognize in person from the photographs. It was such an ordeal. You lose a better part of an evening if you meet somebody after work.

“But Scanna, I was flabbergasted. There was just no place I know where you see the kind of quality. But there are dangers. Motivation is obvious. People there are under the crunch. Although I will say this, the correspondents I’ve had have all been high quality. They write very intelligently. They seem to be serious minded. It's none of this like in America, where a woman tells you what she likes. She wants to travel all over the world. She wants to go out in a sailboat. She wants to know what kind of car you have. She wants to know if you like fine dining. You don’t get any kind of that stuff [from the Russian women]."

What do you tell the women in your letters?

"I tell them out front. I’m an older guy, I'm not going to kid you. And you’re much younger. And so I say I'm going to be honest with you. I say I’ve got something to trade. If she’s a young, beautiful lady, I say I have something that might be of interest to you. Where I can provide, make your life comfortable. I’m still pretty active; I belong to the tennis club, I ski. I offer these things, I offer myself, and while I realize that this is not the storybook situation I’m presenting, I’m presenting something that might be of interest to you.

“I don’t claim to be in my prime or my peak of movement, but I’m still active. I’m going strong, and it’s up to you. The ones who responded said that’s fine, I want to meet you. The lady upstairs...of all the ladies I sent invitations to, she was the only one who got a visa. Every now and then one gets through. It’s hard to say why."

Is she going to stay or go back?

“She’s going back. [Sotto voce]

At this point I haven’t met any of the others, so...."

Do you like her?

“I like her, but, you know, when you have a choice, you want to know what you’re choosing from. In other words, you want to know what’s available, and hopefully you can make the best choice."

Is she still in the running?

“Yeah, but uh, it’s...uh, it’s really up in the air. Any human being has to select whether it’s the best he can get. You can’t pick what’s not available, so you have to know what’s available."

What will fit your criteria of the best?

“First of all, I have to be attracted physically. I have to see that there’s a genuine interest in me on the other side. There’s an intangible factor in life that I like to call vibration that occurs whenever you’re interacting. I would also look for someone that speaks better English than this girl, that would be a factor. Someone who's a little more advanced."

How do you know what the women will be like once they arrive?

“If life were guaranteed, there’d be no divorces. There's a degree of chance. If you’re clicking with somebody, that doesn’t mean you’re clicking every day. Even the one that’s here, she wanted to go back earlier. Then we got to clicking a little bit. After she leaves, I’m going to go over there. The people I’ve corresponded with, the people I’ve narrowed it down to. I’m hoping they’ll show up, or some percentage of them."

Greenspan again lowers his voice to a whisper. “This one. I’m very happy with this one. There’s a problem because I go to work, and what does she do? Nothing. That's the problem. Now if I had an American girl, let’s say from Florida, she'd be taking one of my cars. I don’t know if it’d come back in 100 percent condition. She might take off for a weekend. That’s the kind of stuff you get with the American stuff. You get a little note. ‘I had to go to Las Vegas, meet somebody there. Back Monday.’ With my car and whatever.

“I get a feeling with these [Russian] people. You can trust ’em as far as any valuables. Most of them don’t drive, which is nice. In a sense you don’t have to worry about them commandeering anything. They’re at home.

“The motivations are even worse for American girls because they’re spoiled. I’ve had particularly bad experiences with American girls. I noticed a lot of the women had emotional problems. Their lives haven’t turned out like they’d like them to. They’ve been living in a Pollyannish dream world, which is not reality. They take to drinking and don’t have the kind of devotion that’s necessary.”

Why is that?

“I think expectations are too high. This is a country closer to mass media and so on. Everybody wants the cream. In other words. 90 percent is after 10 percent; there’s obviously going to be a lot of disappointed people. And you see this whenever you go to parties or you go to clubs. There’ll be a small percentage that will be fraternizing and assimilating and so forth, and the rest seem to stalk and reconnoiter and basically they go home without the bacon, so to speak. That’s true for the singles’ world. The singles’ world, you’re talking about a small percentage of success. What happens to the other 80 percent? They’re left in a lurch. Now I may be in that 80 percent because I’m past my prime."

What do you mean, prime?

“Well, prime, I’m talking about 30, where you’ve got the most to offer in the way of health, life, future."

One immigration attorney claims that Russian women are chaste, not prone to having sex before marriage. True?

“Using this one example [Greenspan points upstairs], I wouldn’t say there’s any problem.

But when I was over there six or seven years ago, I was shocked how clean the country was. I didn’t even see Playboy. Here was a country that denigrated religion and yet was more religious in the moral way than a lot of the religious countries. Because very frankly, I had a couple Playboys that were confiscated. There’s no discos. People go to sleep around 10:30, and there’s just a few restaurants. Communism was not licentious. And I’ve studied communism. I’ve studied Karl Marx."

When are you going to Russia?

“January 12.“

Does the girl know?

“No. Why tell her? This was something I felt was the only way for me to proceed at this point. I made contact with a certain amount, a couple dozen, and they couldn’t get visas. In the meantime, even a couple got married. There was one who was a real cutie. Maybe she was too young for me anyway. “

Too young?

“Well, I’m not going to grieve over anyone who’s 21 or 19. Although if you look at the contestants from Miss America, I don’t think anyone’s thinking they're too young. Like Justice Potter said about obscenity, you know it when you see it type of thing. I don’t like the heavy-set side, I’ll be honest with you. I’ve got a penchant for someone on the svelte side, but that’s all got to go with the gestalt. Wherever my gestalt takes me, that’s where my gestalt’s gonna be. If something in the abstract’s gonna govern the realities, I’d be a fool. The reality will be that I will say to myself, I want this, I want her, or whatever. Which is like if you’re shopping for a car or whatever, something will just hit you and you say, I want that.

“This could be the gold rush of social, let’s say, intercourse. I’m really impressed myself. I’m laying the groundwork. Correspondence.

So I got a little something going.

So I’ll hopefully make my choice. I don’t want to put this in an Old World sense, like the king gets his pick. There's a certain kind of admiration for the guy who looks over a group and then can make his choice. It’s something like a dream; in a way it’s a dream of mine.

“Hey! Do you want to meet her?"

Sure.

He bounds up the carpeted stairs, making loud pidgin English sounds: “SAY HELLO! SAY HELLO! FRIEND DOWNSTAIRS, HELLO!" Bashful young thing peeks out from behind a pillar. “SAY HELLO, FRIEND!”

“Ha lo," the girl squeaks, embarrassed.

“HELLO. FRIEND! HE FRIEND, SEE! SAY HELLO, FRIEND!” Greenspan turns toward me, shrugs. “She don’t know too good English."

Letters are one thing; getting the men within kissing distance of the women is another. Kearny Mesa immigration attorney Larry Holmes points out the difficulty of getting the women to the U.S. on a traveler’s visa. “Only about 1 out of 20 can get over that way. It’s a real crapshoot.” The only real alternative is to travel to Russia, meet the girls there, make your choice, and file for a fiancee visa. Holmes says that it usually requires four months to get the visa processed, and much longer for less experienced attorneys.

"When they come over here on the fiancee visas, they got 90 days to stay here and get married or go back," explains Holmes, a compact, conservatively dressed, middle-aged gentleman with Vietnam War decorations and signed letter from “business hero" Ray Kroc on the walls. “They have 90 days to get married, then they have to file Adjustment Status, and then they have the interview sometime after that. It can be two months or can be as long as 13 months after filing.

“The INS doesn’t consider that a real priority. The girl’s here, she’s married, she’s got work authorization, what’s the rush? But the thing is, that interview starts the clock when she can become permanent, which means if she gets divorced the next day, she can still stay here forever. Some will wait until they file a Form 751, and the next day, psssht! she’s gone. But will that happen? The men, they’re pretty decent guys. They’re not going to be alcoholics. Over there, it’s unbelievable.” Holmes’s Russian bride caseload has really taken off in the past year, handling referrals from Scanna International and American Russian Matchmaking, a Studio City-based company that arranges tours to the Motherland, where American men are set upon by hordes of desperate females at banquets and parties.

“Sometimes a guy will go to that first meeting [in Russia] and it goes to his head. He thinks he’s a rock star. Usually, he’s the guy who’s got dates with three or four girls an afternoon and ends up with nobody. Surprisingly, these girls don’t automatically say, ‘Yes, I’ll marry you,’ so they can come to the United States. They got to have something going. Some of the guys are surprised. They say, ‘I thought they’d marry anybody.’ Not necessarily.

“The Soviet women admire Americans because they smile easily. You and I wouldn’t smile easily if we had to live over there. There are certain mannerisms the men have over there that in the United States would be considered totally gross. The sidewalks are all covered with betel juice, because they don’t have dentists, and when they get cavities they get this betel juice as an anaesthetic, and they spit. It’s gross. All over the place. Things like that the women over there don’t like. The women over there are fantastic, they really are.

“I’ve raised a son by myself, and now he’s finally in college, and so I was going to be a free man and start a social life. On the way over to Russia, the guys were asking me, ‘Are you looking for..'..’ I said, ‘No, strictly business.’ The first meeting I got to, Ron [Rollban, president of American-Russian Matchmaking] introduced me as the immigration attorney, in case any girls wanted to ask any questions.

“There was about 75 women there. I panned from right to left with my mouth hanging open. The women were all so beautiful. I just couldn’t believe it. And way in the corner there’s a girl, she looks just like Brooke Shields, eyes about this big, she just smiled, and I smiled. She said, ‘Are you tired?’ and that caught me off guard. I said, ‘Pardon me?’ And she said, in English, ‘Are you very tired?’ And I invited her to dinner, and we’ve been together ever since. And you know, the thing is, she was born the same day, the same year, that Brooke Shields was.

“Ron, he was the Hugh Hefner of the industry, and even he’s getting married. He said to me, ‘If I ever get married, take out a gun and shoot me.’ He's fallen too."

The fallen 56-year-old Ron Rollban is one of those energetic entrepreneurs who seem to enjoy selling you something. The gist of his matchmaking pitch is this. “If a guy finds a wife through me, there are three things I guarantee him. She’s going to be younger, she's going to be prettier, and she's going to be far better educated than her Western counterpart."

The Studio City-based tour business avoids what Rollban perceives as an endemic problem with some of Scanna’s clientele. “There are people out there who go through their whole life ordering pictures and not doing anything about it. They’re photo junkies." American Russian Matchmaking pares down the photo fetishism by setting a limit on photos and addresses, which are used primarily to whet members' appetites for regularly scheduled trips to Moscow.

“On my last trip, there were some very nice guys and there’s some playboys. Before the trip was over, every one of my playboys was engaged. And the nice guys turned into playboys. What happens when we go over there, we assign each guy an interpreter. These interpreters are our personal secretaries; they make sure where we're supposed to be at all times. They’re our brain and tongue; we can’t communicate without them. They’re like our mothers — they see we get to bed regularly. They're our confidantes — we exchange information about the girls and get their opinion. They’re our friend, because they spend all day with us.

“So it happened that my son Rourke was appointed an interpreter. After the first three or four days, he was meeting with all these women who had written him. After four days, my son decided which lady he was most interested in. The interpreter."

Every man who signs up on a tour with American Russian Matchmaking is obliged to sign a contract stipulating a $3000 payment to Rollban “after client has found a suitable mate and married them." The three-grand lump sum does not include tour, attorney, or correspondence expenses. The company’s kit to new members explains the high cost. “We realize $3000 is a substantial sum, but when you put it up against what you spend for a car and accept the limited utility and pleasure you receive for so many thousands more, a lifetime mate seems a bargain by comparison."

In a flurry of activity — barking orders to his Russian-born secretary, taking phone calls — Rollban starts up a video of all his television clips. He’s been on To Tell the Truth (only the prehistoric Kitty Carlisle guesses Rollban’s identity) and Entertainment Tonight, Geraldo, and PrimeTime Live. This last segment shows Rollban’s Moscow banquets, where a flotilla of tarted-up females, like starry-eyed groupies, surround painfully ordinary American bachelors.

Does Rollban have good response from radio talk shows? Ever run into any trouble?

“Trouble would be the wrong word. Flap would be a better one. People get the idea after talking with me that I may be too worthy of an adversary for them. If we start getting caustic with one another, I’m going to cut their heads off. Instead of attacking me, they attack my clients, saying, ’What type of person would go for a woman in Russia as opposed to one here if he wasn’t a loser?’ Yeah, right. Some of my losers are judges, doctors, owners of major corporations, heads of state...."

Heads of state?

“Well, when I say ‘heads of state,’ well, I got political people, which would be heads of state, and military, high-ranking military."

What do you hear from American women?

“On every show I’ve appeared on, I get attacked. I did a radio interview, and this woman calls in and says, ‘Mr. Rollban, have you heard the expression of a Communist under every bed?’ And I said yeah. And she said, ‘Now you’re trying to put them in the bed. Does the FBI know about you? You should be arrested!’ No one has come right out and said I'm peddling women, because there are too many dating services to do that."

Never been accused of being a procurer?

“One guy said with a joking lilt in his voice, ‘Ron, you’re kind of like a pimp, aren’t ya?’ My whole line was, all my life I’ve strived for some degree of success so one day my father could point to me with pride and say, ‘There goes my son, the pimp.* Of course, I’m only a Russian pimp, a specialist.”

With an “aha!" Rollban discovers a video taken from the most recent Moscow excursion, with footage of his fiancee Lydia. He fast-forwards through a parade of would-be emigrants reciting their vital statistics to the camera. Suddenly a girl appears — big eyes, bee-stung lips. The enraptured old bachelor switches to extreme slo-mo in order to take in his young blonde dish one frame at a time. “Look at that face! Look at that face! If you looked up pig heaven in the encyclopedia, this would be it! Look at her mouth! She seems astonished at the world! I like to watch her when she turns and her hair whips out! Like that!"

The May-December man switches off the video after blonde Lydia sashays out of view, and he sits in thoughtful silence for a moment or two. “I have been very fortunate in my lifetime where women are concerned. More so than any five men have a right to be. Two trips ago, one of the questions that was raised from the floor was, was I married? I said no. And she asked why not. And I said the day that I marry, the two stupidest people on the face of the earth will have surfaced. And she says, what does that mean? And I said, when I have all this available, I could go out with you and you and you. So I said, if I marry out of this, I’d have to be the stupidest person on the face of the earth.

“And the second stupidest would have to be the one who would marry me, because there is no woman who could handle this kind of competition. The temptations are out of this world. I won’t go into the kind of propositions they’ve made to me, but they're multitudinous, and man, pretty tempting.

“Then I meet this little blonde, and she torpedos me with six direct hits. I sunk immediately. She’s a doctor at 22. She’s got the warmest personality you will ever encounter. Like she fell off a Christmas card. You say, why is she going to marry this fat old guy? It doesn’t make any sense. So I have to admit I’m marrying her in anticipation of losing her. Why would I want to heap that kind of misery on myself? Because obviously this is going to be better than a puppy."

Now that you’re betrothed to this woman, are you rescinding your playboy ways?

“I will do a little boasting here. I’ll tell you that I’ve had the unusual. A female chief of police, the head of a major motion picture studio, a Playboy centerfold, two from Playboy pictorials, models, actresses, well-known actresses, doctors, lawyers. I’ve had the best, I’ve had the rest, and I’m old enough and experienced enough to know better. And then this little thing comes walking through my life and I’m doomed."

There’s a big age difference....

“Thirty-three years. I’ve been with lots of women, none with 33 years’ difference with any serious intentions. I got a lot of flack with 15 or 20 years’ difference, but everyone is accepting the 33 years’ difference. Why? I don’t know.”

No conflicts?

“She spent the night the second night she was with me. She was very nervous. She’s inexperienced. Grossly inexperienced. And she got up out of bed and went into the kitchen and sat there crying. I tried to find out what was wrong, and she tells me she shouldn’t be with me. She says astrologically it was wrong. I said, I’m going to tell you this right now, if you think that I’m going to let astrology govern any aspect of my life, you’re wrong. I make things happen, not the stars. And if that's what you believe, there’s no relationship here. And she said, I think I should go home.

“I realized what hour it was, and I wasn’t about to put her on the streets at that hour of the night. We shared the bed that night. By morning things had not changed. And she said at 8:30, standing in the doorway, 'I not see you today?’ I said no. Well, we got a double negative there, and about that time my interpreter walks in, and I ask her to tell Lydia that I will do everything in my power to find her the right husband. But she’s not for me. I’m not for her. I will not be seeing her again. After Lydia was told this, she looked back at me and said okay, and it seemed emotionless to me. Maybe slightly pained, but that was the extent of it.

“Everybody was trying to get me to go back to her. I kept saying no. That night I lined up this blonde — you’d kill for this blonde. Great face, great body, fabulous boobs. She’s in my apartment. And I had no interest in doing anything with that broad, I just wanted to hear from Lydia. My interpreter said she talked with her sister, who said Lydia had been there all day crying, and she wanted to come back and beg me to take her back. It hurt me to think I caused her so much pain. Ordinarily I’m not quite this sensitive to other people, but in her case I am.

“When I got back here, I told my son I got engaged. He couldn’t believe a die-hard bachelor, particularly with the, ahem, resources I have. I said, Tm going to show you a video, and you pick her out.’ I said, ’You’ll probably guess wrong, but you'll be dazzled when you see her.’ So he watches the comings and goings of all these women, and he picks three, but she isn’t one of them. When she did appear, he says, ‘See, that’s what I’m looking for. She’s perfect.’ He couldn’t believe she was the one. He couldn't believe she would have said yes to me.

"Let me read you a letter Lydia sent me. 'Ron, how you’ve grown in my esteem, when I’d heard from you words of defense in my regard.’

“With respect to that — Russian culture is much different than ours. There’s a respect for age and authority. But I told Lydia I’m not seeking parental authority as far as she's concerned. I’m older than her parents! They should seek my approval more than anything else. When I called her one night, she couldn't talk to me because she said that any feelings of warmth for me would be laced by her father’s epitaphs.

“I told the father, through Lydia, that he'd better watch his ass, that he should accord me respect because I was American, and if I had a wife, he'd have to give her the same respect. And she, Lydia, was going to be my wife, and so he better get accustomed to according her that kind of respect now. Otherwise, he’s going to have to deal with me. So she said:

  • In my life there were not a few men who aspired to the right of becoming my husband. Some of them were not bad at all. but I was never sure of the strength of their character and the ability to contradict my father. To stand up with me and take my side. But no, that was almost beyond their strength. They babbled before my father like stupid birds, and I gazed on each of them with slight loathing and gradually understood that their simple compliance makes it impossible for any feeling on my part. Whereas you, you are simply the fulfillment of a dream into reality. Next to you. I'm not afraid of anything. Only near you do I feel perfectly at peace and see the beauty of life. Your words subside my fears and at the same time fill my being with energy and spiritual calm. How grateful I am for your words of respect and support Such sincere, trustworthy solidarity is a rare quality and is of incredible value in a person, and you possess it I don't want to seem to make promises, but believe me, I will always abide by the point of view we will agree together on....

When is she coming over? “Not till June."

Why so long?

“She has to finish school. Junior high. No, just kidding.’

You should have seen this Russian gal’s eyes when I took her into the Price Club," recalls Ed Burden. “Wide as saucers." Attorney Larry Holmes recounts an oft-told anecdote about newly arrived Russian women who, when visiting American stores, will throw everything they can grab into the shopping cart without regard to necessity, size, or price. “It’s not that they’re greedy. By reflex, the gal was hoarding because she thought the stuff wouldn’t have been there even a few minutes later."

Though just a few marriages have been arranged so far, dozens more are underway. Ron Rollban is seriously considering producing late-night television infomercials, complete with 900 numbers. There’s no telling how well the intercultural promiscuity will pan out. Holmes, a born-again Christian, believes Russian women will be less prone to divorce than their American counterparts. “They've been through a heck of a lot. They’ll be grateful for what they have over here."

Says David Greenspan, “The gorgeous women over here wouldn't give me a shot. Not so in Russia. I’m anxious to get over there and get it signed, sealed, delivered before it comes too well known. Maybe I shouldn’t be talking to you. When there’s a buyer’s market, you’re not too anxious to get a lot of competition for the goods."

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