Perhpas one of my my favorite contributions from Mike so far…..
A few years ago my wife’s job took us to Ireland and without work-papers or the prospect of getting them I was living on the fringes of the employed. I was taking jobs primarily to have something to do with myself besides go to the movies. It was an interesting time. I met a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise; I learned a bit of Polish; I once acted in a union delegate-like role during a labor crisis because both my Polish and English were deemed “adequate” by both sides and this happened:
I worked with this guy from Columbia, his name is Jose and he came here to make money so he can send it home to his 2 brothers so they can go to college. He was there on some kind of student visa that allowed him 20 hours a week of work, which he did at night and supplemented with our less-than-legal day job. Then one day he invited Melanie and I to his wedding…a sham marriage he was entering in with a girl from Poland to get work papers. Needless to say, the Toomey’s RSVP’d that we’d be there (without a gift)!
He told me that he knows many people who have done this and the going rate is about 9000 Euros (which is about $10 grand, if anyone in the States is looking to make some extra cash). Jose said that he got a discounted rate (to which I responded, “Nice!” though I’m not really sure a wife is one of those things you want to get out of the bargain bin) because the girl (Viola) had pretty much sold herself into (a very unnecessary) indentured servitude to come to Ireland. A guy from Poland had offered to get her passage from Poland and a job and place to live in Dublin for a fee that would be negotiated ex post facto and then once she was here he quoted her a price she couldn’t afford (especially once she lost the job he got her). Some people would say he was a human trafficker, I prefer to think of him like a travel agent who doesn’t tell you how much a vacation costs til you’re at the destination and then won’t let you go home til you pay. Anyway, Jose said he would pay her debt in exchange for her marrying him (where Jose is getting this money I have no idea) and we got ourselves a sham wedding.
I felt compelled to spell out the entire situation because one point of note is that despite all the evidence to the contrary Melanie believes that this whole thing is like a Romantic-comedy and (even though the case I laid out above really proves that this is a marriage of economic convenience) in the end Jose and Viola are going to realize that…they love each other.
Viola: Jose, stop. You had me at, ‘Will you marry me so I can get work papers’.
So on the day and time we show up at the appointed place (not some elaborate Meg Ryan rom-com set, but); the office of Civil Marriage. The guest list was like the UN (with less doing nothing): Melanie and I were representing The United States (though we would probably be slightly more hated if it was the real UN); Tomaso (who I did NOT call Tomato, despite what you may hear) from Italy; Pepe from Chile; Sede (pronounced like what you play music on (not “8-track”, Pat)) from Senegal and O’Connell and Coco from China. Needless to say “O’Connell” and “Coco” aren’t the Chinese couples real names but Westernized names they’ve adopted for themselves since coming here, this send Melanie into a frenzy of deciding what her name would be if she got to name herself (which she already tried twice in declaring herself “SuperKravz” as well as when she tried to steal “Nacho” from Beth Bolwer). One final “O’Connell” name note; calling one’s self O’Connell in Dublin would be like calling one’s self Newbury in Boston, but I’d like to believe that even in the deepest coldest points of Eastern-most communist Asia they’ve heard-tell of a lawyer who once hit .427 in over-40 men’s league baseball.
I introduce Melanie in my broken Spanish the same way I always introduce her to people of color who don’t speak English, “This is my wife, Melanie. She doesn’t like Black people.” To which Melanie can always be counted on to say the only thing she knows to say in Spanish, “Si! Si!” thereby confirming what I just said with the enthusiasm of Trent Lott preaching to Chris Dodd. It is translated from bad Spanish into good Spanish into Chinese, Italian, Senegalese (?) and finally back into English for Melanie. At which point I think she denied it, but I’m not sure they understood.
So the wedding begins (much to my disappointment, O’Connell was the best man) and the lady presiding is terrible, it was like a very bad Judge Judy episode. She is rushing through the ‘repeat after me’ stuff so fast that neither of them can repeat after her. She pronounces the J in Jose and twice asked Viola if she understands what she’s saying. Viola says she does but she explained later that she only did that because someone once told her that the answer to “Understand?” is always “Yes”. We were pretty sure the lady was going to expose the thing and cancel it but she let it go. Which I still thought was odd; I mean, she must preside over dozens of these things and I figure you either have to be by the book and call them out on it or pretend it’s Melanie-land and these people really love each other–you can’t really play it down the middle.
So they’re married! And we get invited back to their (collective) place for a meal. On the way to the bus I stopped to buy a water so we would have some change. As I was boarding the bus Pepe asked if he could have a sip…I can only imagine my reaction was out of “Curb your Enthusiasm”. I stood there for what felt like forever; wanting to be so international, but at the same time thinking in my head, ‘We don’t really do that in America’. Now, just to clarify, it’s not because he was a dude, or because he was foreign (I’m foreign, lest we forget)–it’s just because I’m not huge on sharing drinks. I don’t even like Melanie drinking out of my glass at dinner (luckily I never have beer with dinner so there’s little chance of that). But after an awkward eternity I hand him the unopened bottle of water and tell him to keep it (which is saying something, who among you would have guessed my germaphobia would have won out over my cheapness when the two adjectives most commonly used to describe me are “cheap” and “handsome”?), but he just takes a sip and returns it which means I have to carry it around the rest of the night without drinking it. Anyway…
We go back to their flat. TomaSo made a pasta dish that was great. O’Connell and Coco made some Chinese thing that was okay (though to be avoided if I’ve told you what O’Connell told me about his diet). We got in some conversations about ethnic delicacies (I told them all about B-boys, which is about as ethnic as I get). Sede got to talking adamantly about how he doesn’t eat snacks in an exchange that went something like this:
Sede: I never eat snacks anymore!
Us: Oh yeah?
Sede: My mother used to make me eat snacks! I hate snacks!
Us (confused): Yes, you’re very fit.
Sede: I never liked eating snacks!
Me (contributing): I eat Pringles sometimes, but it’s so hard to get your hand in the container. Have they seen the bag?
Pepe: I think he means “snakes”.
Sede: Yes, snacks, I hate snacks!
Also O’Connell is entering into a program that would allow him permanent residence here if he can speak English well enough to pass a test to become a cop. He has told me in the past that he does not want to return to China as since leaving he has learned things about it he never knew (he had no idea what Tienanmen Square was until 6 months ago), so something like this is a pretty important opportunity. He was asking me about some phrases he had seen on the practice test that he didn’t understand. One of these was “get down”. So I go into this scenario-based pantomime of what ‘get down’ would mean were a cop to say it. Just as he’s starting to grasp it, Melanie returns from the bathroom and hears what I’m saying. She starts dancing and singing, “Get down, get down” like I was trying to teach him ‘Jungle Boogie’. So either O’Connell is going to end up back in China or he’s going to be on the streets of Dubs challenging criminals to dance-offs.
Melanie just read this (actually she read half, took a nap and had me read her the rest) and decided that a) it is the longest email she’s ever read and b) that’s quite enough. So that’s the full account of the sham wedding we went to last week (and, yes, I appreciate the irony of someone who was married on a beach by a witch-doctor referring to someone else’s wedding a “sham”). Sufficed to say nobody liked my idea of holding a joint bachelor and bachelorette party at a place called “Knobs and Knockers”. I assumed it was a strip club with something for everyone (turns out it is just a place that sells stuff to put on your door).