They met during a New Year’s party. Both were students of Kiev’s prominent colleges and both were half-a-year away from earning their Bachelor degrees. Fannie was studying accounting, and Sam – cinematography. At one point during the party, a movie made by Sam and his fellow student friends was screened for the benefit of all party-goers. It was only a twenty-minute documentary, but the camera work was excellent and everyone was congratulating Sam on the professionalism of the film. That was the moment when Fannie took notice of Sam for the first time. She was equally impressed by the quality of the production and by the respect exhibited by the other guests when speaking with him. Fannie scrupulously observed his tall and lanky figure, his open handsome face, his easy manner, and finally made her decision… then she smiled warmly at him.
Sam had many dreams: he wanted to become the world’s best cinematographer, to work with the famous movie producers, and to capture the world’s beauty with his camera.
But all his long-standing dreams faded, at least for the present, the instant when he first noticed Fannie smiling encouragingly at him. He had never seen such an exotic beauty: stately and almost as tall as himself, she carried herself like a queen. The skin of her face was incredibly white and satiny; her cheeks and lips were bright pink; her huge, dark brown eyes shone intensely; and a mass of thick, long straight brown hair, split in the middle of her forehead, was cascading down, almost to her waist. The color contrast of those bright cheeks and lips against her fair skin might have appeared vulgar on someone else, but on Fannie this combination looked regal and gorgeous. In short, for Sam it was love at first sight.
Sam observed her expensive-looking dress, stylish shoes and high-fashion jewelry. She must be a rich girl, used to the best; it won’t be easy to win her. But if she gives me a chance, I’ll dedicate my life to her and I’ll make sure she always has the finest things in life, Sam decided fervently.
They started to date and several months later, Fannie invited Sam to pay a visit to her apartment where she lived with her parents. The apartment was opulent by Kiev standards, consisting of three large rooms situated in Pechersk (the most prestigious district of the city), with expensive carpets on the floor, crystal vases lining the shelves, and original paintings in golden frames on the walls. For dinner, sumptuous and rare delicacies, hard to find in the stores, were served on fine bone china.
Who are her parents that can afford such a lifestyle? Sam pondered. As it turned out, Fannie’s father was the director of a large supermarket, so it was not necessary for her mother to work at all. Such a prominent position afforded a person access to big money and guaranteed good connections that were essential in the Soviet Union.
Fannie’s father was much less impressed by the intended profession of his potential son-in-law, but he kept his opinion to himself. As long as his precious girl was happy…
Fannie and Sam married soon after they graduated. The wedding was a splendid affair and the gift from Fannie’s parents was incredibly generous: a two-room condo apartment! Sam was thrilled and very appreciative. His only worry was how he could afford to pay the monthly condo fees and other associated condo expenses. Those recurring expenses were almost as large as his monthly salary!
They managed to get through the first year. Fannie was working as an accountant, while Sam was engaged as a cameraman in a film studio. He quickly discovered that there were many young and talented cameramen, and that the competitive road to real movie-making and to the position of cinematographer would be long and arduous.
A year later, Fannie gave birth to a baby girl and Sam soon found that on his salary he couldn’t sustain his family, certainly not in the style to which his wife was accustomed.
His father-in-law proposed a solution. “Sam, enough of these childish dreams. You’re a man, the head of the family and you have responsibilities. In my supermarket there’s a position open – that of a butcher. Take it.”
“You must be kidding!” Sam exclaimed incredulously. “You want me to trade my camera for a butcher’s knife?”
“Or starve,” was the blunt and dispassionate retort. “How much are you making now? A hundred? A hundred and twenty rubles a month? As a butcher, if you’re smart and follow the advices of more experienced employees, you could easily make five to six hundred rubles a month. In your spare time, you can make as many home movies as you like.”
Fannie took Sam’s hand in hers, looked into his eyes and smiled pleadingly. Sam grudgingly relented.
Three years later, Sam was a changed man. He had gained a bit of weight and more importantly, self-confidence. It was relatively easy to be confident when your pocket was always full of money. Comparing his life-style now with the life of his penniless university friends, he knew that he had made the right decision after all. His jokes had become ruder and more vulgar; his primary interest had changed from that of capturing images of beauty to capturing money.
Fannie was very pleased and proud of her husband. In the office, her co-workers were all jealous of her good fortune and were constantly asking for favors. “Fannie, dear, can you ask Sam to put aside a couple of chickens for me?”
“Fannie, I’m throwing a large party and its success is totally in Sam’s hands. Whatever he can provide…”
And favors had been granted… Sam was happy to oblige Fannie’s friends, at a price, of course, that was much higher than the store’s state-mandated official prices.