Virginia Slims and California Dreams, Part 1

(by, 14 December 1996)

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Virginia Slims and California Dreams
Part 1 of 5
Copyright 1997 by
Reproduced here with permission of author

	It had been a long week on the road for Mike.  The Californian
had been living out a suitcase for the past week, working twelve and
fourteen hour days, debugging the instrumentation his company had sold to
this factory in suburban Toronto.  It had been hard work amongst
unfamiliar faces, but he was satisfied that his work here was done, and
he had reservations for a flight home the next morning.

	Everyone had been most friendly to him, and he said his goodbyes
to most of them at five o'clock that afternoon.  The brightest highlight
of this trip had been meeting Christina, a college student and part-time
secretary at the plant.  She usually came in at about four every
afternoon, after her classes, and worked until about eight o'clock.  The
plant's office had been a busy place the last few months, and Christina
had been hired to help the clerical staff with all of those projects that
never quite got finished by five.  

	Most nights, Mike had been in the office or in the plant long
after most of the employees had gone home.  He frequently saw Christina
at the copy machine or at a typewriter, and she was always quick to smile
at him, say hello, and make him feel at home.

	This office, like Mike's own, had a non-smoking policy, and one
afternoon Mike was outside smoking a cigarette, doing his best to shield
himself from a light afternoon drizzle.  Christina was just coming in to
work and laughed as the plight of her fellow smoker.

	"Hey Mike," she shouted from across the parking lot.  "The next
time you want to smoke in weather like this, let me show you where the
smoking lounge is!"

	A couple of hours later, she walked up to the desk where Mike was
working and asked him to join her for a cigarette.  He gratefully
accepted the opportunity to break for a few minutes with such a charming
companion, and followed her down the stairs and into the plant.

	The two walked past the noisy machinery on which Mike had been
toiling, and eventually wound up on the loading dock.  Christina opened
the overhead door a bit, and the two sat down on two old office chairs
that were sitting a bit askance on the concrete floor.

	"I thought you said we were going to the smoking lounge," quipped

	"Well, that's what this is, unofficially at least.  We're not
really supposed to smoke inside, but when the weather's like this, this
is where I usually come."

	Christina lit one of her Players, and Mike lit one of his
Marlboros, and the two smoked and chatted for a few minutes.  When
Christina mentioned something about her boyfriend, Mike was just a little
bit jealous--Christina was charming.  She had an outgoing style that just
drew Mike toward her.

	On his last night in Toronto, Mike went down to the loading dock
for a cigarette, and discovered that Christina had the same idea at about
the same time.  He was happy to see her.  He started to say his goodbyes,
but on second thought, he decided to postpone them a bit and ask her out
for a cup of coffee after work.  She was happy to oblige the handsome
Californian, and the two left work that night in Mike's rental car.

	It was ten o'clock, Mike had an early flight the next morning,
and Christina had an 8:00 class.  As the two said goodbye, Christina had
a thought.

	"Mike, I'm usually not much of a matchmaker.  But I was
wondering--could I introduce you to a friend of mine?"

	"Well, we'd have about nine hours to form a lasting relationship.
 I'm leaving Toronto first thing in the morning."

	"Well, she doesn't live in Toronto.  In fact, she doesn't live in
Canada.  She doesn't even live in North America.  You remember the trip I
made with my father?  I met her there."

	"You mean she lives in Russia?"

	"No, not in Russia.  She lives in Kirghizia, in Central Asia.  My
father gave a lecture at the University there, and I met her at a

	"I've never even heard of Kirghizia!" was Mike's only reply.

	"Well, I really liked her.  I was a little scared on that trip,
but meeting her made it all worthwhile.  Mike, Elena's a real sweetheart,
and I think you'll be sorry if you don't even give it a shot.  I think I
have a picture of her with my books in my car.  Don't say no until you've
seen her."

	Mike couldn't argue with that, and for the sake of his friend, he
decided that he'd at least look at this girl's picture with an open mind.

	The two drove back to the parking lot, and Christina retrieved a
photo from her car.  She copied down an address and phone number, and
handed them to Mike.

	"You can keep this picture--I have the negative.  And here's her
address.  Say hi to her from me!"

	Mike promised to consider the idea.  In the dark parking lot,
however, he didn't have much opportunity to examine the photo.  But he
accepted a kiss on the cheek from Christina, and the two said their
goodbyes.  He tucked the photo and address in his briefcase, and drove
back to his hotel.

                        -             -           -

	Three days later, as Mike was cleaning out his briefcase, he had
nearly forgotten about the photograph.  But now, as he examined it, he
was moved by what he saw.  There was something about Elena that
captivated him from the moment he saw her.  He couldn't place it, but
something about that picture moved him.

	On the one hand, Elena seemed to radiate contentment.  He
remembered that Christina had used the word "sweetheart".  It fit the
innocence that this girl exuded.

	But at the same time, Elena was exotic.  She had dark features,
and was wearing a short skirt that revealed her beautiful long legs.  

	And the setting looked exotic yet familiar.  It must have been
taken at a restaurant or bar in that distant land.  There appeared to be
two cups of coffee on the table, and Elena's purse was lying open on the
table.  Mike wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a package of cigarettes,
possibly Christina's he supposed.  He couldn't make out the package, but
it didn't look like the Players that Christina had smoked in Canada.  

	One of the things that excited Mike about this exotic woman was
the possibility that she might be a smoker.  For as long as he could
remember, Mike had always been fascinated by women and girls who smoked
and mysteriously drawn toward them.  As far away as she was, Mike decided
that he wanted to meet Elena.

	He looked at the address that Christina had given him.  He had
almost forgotten the name of that country.  In the postal address, it was
written as "Kyrgyz Republic".

	Mike vaguely recalled having heard of this country before, but
knew only that it was one of the republics of the former Soviet central
Asia.  Beyond that, he knew nothing.  The next hour was spent in the
encyclopedia and atlas.  He learned that the mountainous republic, while
suffering the same economic fate as most of the former Soviet Union, is
making some attempt to turn itself into the "Switzerland of Central
Asia".  He also learned that it was almost literally on the other side of
the world:  To travel there, one could go west or one could go east, and
it would be about the same distance.

	That evening, Mike set out to write a letter to Elena.  It seemed
awkward as hell, but he really wanted to meet this woman with the seeming
mystical qualities.  

	He found some good stationery and began to write:

My Dear Elena,

Please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Michael, and I live in
San Jose, California, in the United States.  I was given your address by
our mutual friend Christina in Toronto, Canada.

Elena, please let me so bold as to say that I was absolutely captivated
by your photograph and Christina's description of you.  I would very much
like to learn more about you.  I don't really know much about you.  All I
know is that you are 19 years old, you live in Bishkek, and that you are
a student at the University.  Please tell me more about yourself.

I am 27 years old and work as an engineer, and I enjoy travel.  I
especially love living here in California.

I think I am a kind, considerate person, and I like these same qualities
in other people.  I do not have many bad habits.  I drink only in
moderation, and I do smoke.

Again, Elena, I would love to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,


	This first letter was rather brief, he thought, but it was
upbeat.  Something told Michael that he should write something about
smoking right away.  He himself loved to smoke, as unpopular an interest
as it was.  But more than that, he had always enjoyed the company of a
beautiful woman who had smoked.  There was something about a woman with a
cigarette that made her appear a hundred times more glamorous.  

	There was something about Elena that made Mike assume that she
smoked.  First of all, there had been that package of cigarettes at her
table.  True, they might have been Christina's, but they didn't appear to
be her usual Players.  

	But there was something more.  Despite Elena's sweet good looks,
there was something about her that made him know that she was a smoker. 
He couldn't put his finger on it, but he just seemed to know.

	This ability to discern a woman who smoked--or at least one who
ought to smoke--came from practice, he assumed.As he looked at Elena's
picture, he couldn't help thinking about all of those girls whom, over
the years, he had watched smoke.  Even during his abortive attempt to
quit smoking himself, he had watched them.  Those girls, probably without
being aware of it, we're putting on a show made especially for him.  

	Even when it happened in a crowd of a hundred, he always supposed
that there was but one performer and one member of the audience.  That
audience had always been captivated.  And the unknowing showgirl had
always put a show as sexy as any striptease act by the simple act of
smoking a cigarette.

	Somehow, Mike just knew that Elena smoked.  But he yearned to
confirm that knowledge.  He didn't see any good way of asking directly,
but perhaps his mention of the fact that he smoked would break the ice.

	Mike retrieved a couple of recent photographs, and the next
morning sent the letter by registered mail.  For the next few weeks, he
would look at Elena's photo almost every day.  He still felt like there
was something in that photo that could prove one way or another whether
she smoked.

	Mike hated to admit it, but he began counting the days.  And on
day 37, his mail included a letter from the Kyrgyz Republic:

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your letter.  I was very excited to receive it,
and to hear you said such nice things about me.  And if you are a friend
of Christina, I know already that you are my friend too!

I think we have a lot in common, because, for example, I also like to
travel.  I have never been to America, but I have heard such wonderful
things about California that I know it is a place I should like to visit.

Michael, please tell me more about yourself, too.  Now what is there to
say about me?  Like you know, I am 19 years old and I attend the
University.  You know, I am also studying engineering, so we also have
this in common.

Michael, please let me know what more I should tell you about myself.  I
am very exciting to get to know you better, Michael.

I should also tell you that I do not speak or write English very well
right now.  I am studying it, and perhaps my knowing you will give me
more incentive to learn!  Right now, I have the help of an interpreter to
write this letter.

Well, Michael, thank you again for your nice letter, and I look forward
to more news from you.

Best regards,


	Something about this letter told Mike that Elena just might be
smitten.  She sounded even sweeter than she looked.  But he had no idea
whether or not she smoked.  Could it be that "we have a lot in common"
meant that she did?

	Another problem was the language barrier.  The fact that a
translator was helping her made Mike reluctant to talk any more about
smoking.  Someone just might take it the wrong way.

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