My Eight Marriages for the Mob

"Ahhhhhh," said a girl with drawn-in batwing eyebrows. "You look so . . . so . . . unique. We thought you were Japanese or something."

Dumb fucks. The five-hour flight to New York City seemed completely pointless. We boarded the plane for the People's Republic of China. For 16 hours, I sat next to two Korean amazons who never said a word. The shit-talking, lowered-Honda-driving, brassy-blond-streaked assholes were four rows ahead of me. I could hear them cackling about math problems and shooting pool.

Guangzhou International Airport: thou art vile and unsanitary. I complained about the heat and humidity in New York earlier, but Southern China was a sauna, the sun raking my face. I sauntered out of the gate, waiting for the rest of the party to catch up and saw a white placard with my name in large block letters, held by a woman with a sloppy peroxide job. Jack scooped me up out of nowhere and introduced me.

"Okay," he said cheerfully. "You're going with her now."

I could feel the first little pricks of panic. "Um, I thought you were escorting me—help me translate, help me situate," I said. "What's going on?"

"Translate?" Jack asked. "I'm Vietnamese, not Chinese."

Was he chuckling? I laughed with him, waiting for him to pull me back to the group. He looked at me. "You don't seem to get it," he said. "I'm taking that group to another city. Go with Kelly. She'll take good care of you!"

He walked back across the lobby. I almost hiked up my Dickies and followed him, but then my subconscious puffed out a few quick math problems: five grand could buy me an assload of records. Five grand could buy me a turntable, a PlayStation 2, a proper trip to New York City—the possibilities were endless. In my fist I had two phone numbers I could call.

It was enough to allow me to watch Jack—and everyone else—walk away. I turned on my heel, smiled, said hi in English and stuck out my hand. Homegirl scowled and started to spit mad Cantonese at me. I don't speak Cantonese at all. She took charge of my arm and steered me outside through the hot, smoggy air to a waiting car.

My husband was Ah-Ling, an adorable, wiry man-boy of 22 years (26 now and perhaps living with nine cousins in a three-bedroom apartment somewhere in the U.S.). His mother and father were lychee farmers and were warm and receptive. They took me to eat dog, snake and rat to honor my visit. Out of respect, I ate each dish. It shouldn't have mattered. They never cooked me any of this food. Most of it was from the E. coli canteens in the city. When they brought out the plate of roasted dog meat, I wrestled with the urge to vomit; it smelled like wet fur.

After the pleasantries, we got around to doing some work. It was a two-hour trip to Ah-Ling's hometown by bus, which was nice, save for the rancid, smelly old men. We had to submit documents proving we were unmarried, and then we had to pass a medical exam. The clinic was daunting. Even though you could smell bleach and other sterilizing agents, you couldn't look away from the mildew between the tiles; the rickety furniture; the babies with flaps on their pants to shit at will, instead of diapers to contain the waste; the nurses taking blood samples without discarding their latex gloves after each extraction; and the cups of urine sitting on a table, waiting to be examined. But at this point, nothing shook me. I just repeated "$5,000" in my head. We passed the exam.

Then came our wedding day. It wasn't a large affair. We rented bridal wear, assembled in a restaurant, and took a lot of pictures that made me feel like we were models for a brochure: "Come Get Some Hunks in the PRoC!" The food was relatively normal this time: prawns and clams and Peking duck. After eating, we made our way to the marriage-license bureau and met an elderly woman in her 60s who was covered in gold jewelry. I nodded and smiled. Ah-Ling pushed a red envelope toward the official. Her gold rings sparkled in the sunlight as she walked outside. Ah-Ling poked me in the side and said something in Chinese. I was told this was something to help speed the paperwork. Normally, it would have taken a month. The marriage-license official returned to her chair, leaned back and grinned madly.

A few days later, I received my little red book—the Chinese marriage license—and was on a flight back to New York City to try once again to meet the boss. I still hadn't gotten paid.

JFK again: before the flight home, Jack explained that I was to return to New York to receive the rest of my money and turn in the marriage license. I dragged my three full new suitcases out of the baggage-claim carousel and trotted lamely behind Jack as he walked briskly toward a lanky man leaning against the railing outside the terminal, smoothly sucking on a cigarette.

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