This can be either good or bad, depending on the inherent nature of the Kramer. My friend Amy had one of those crazy uncles, not unlike that idiosyncratic Seinfeld neighbor, who seemed to be involved in some new “idea” every other month. Uncle Ernest, we’ll call him, was always on the go, had a neverending cash flow and was a health fanatic- unless Amy’s mother happened to leave a red velvet cake out, meant for someone’s birthday, which Ernest gobbled down the entirety of in the middle of the night one night. Ernest, tall and spindling, enjoyed pushing Amy in her studies and would give both of us “history quizzes” while we ate our macrobiotic dinners.

“You have to know this kind of stuff,” he’d say all the time. “You must do well in school to get somewhere in life.”

Getting somewhere for Uncle Ernest meant doing odd jobs in England, attempting to be a Japanese film producer, and being an owner of an Atlanta mail-order bride business. The “international dating service,” as they usually prefer to be called, specialized in Russian women, and Amy and I would peruse the magazines full of photos, replete with young Russian females donning bathing suits and revealing clothing. We’d joke about the whole thing, knowing that Ernest was just involved in another short project, but Amy was working part-time in the central office before she was 18. It turned out to be a rather lucrative business, and I believe that he is still involved with the company still today.

Amy didn’t really mind the nature of the business at the time. But I don’t think she ever enjoyed answering the phone, understandably. You can imagine some of the strange callers a place like that might encourage. I didn’t help the situation when I called one afternoon after school, bellowing out with a deep male-sounding voice: “I’m a big sexy man and I want me a sexy Russian woman!” She bought it, and for a second was speechless. “Okaaay, um...” eventually fell out of her lips. She breathed a huge sigh of relief after I began laughing.

I helped out in the office one time as well, although the entire thing was a bit too bizarre to me and I wouldn’t return but once afterwards. I kinda hoped Ernest would go back into producing Asian films, where he’d ask Amy and me to help him create names and plots for some of the proposed movies.

“Can Mr. Ho be a demon disguised as a pimp?” we’d ask, half-jokingly. (Silly teens)

“No!” he’d reply, his brown-tinted Annie Hall glasses looming at us like bug eyes. “Girls, come on. Help me here.”

Ernest would occasionally have one of these Russian women come over and visit in town (thinking about this now you’d think I’d have had a lot more questions about all of this), and Amy and I would show her around, bring her to concerts and such. “Do you like Nine Inch Nails?” we’d ask one. She looked up, smiled and nodded. Oh, these unfortunate women.

It wouldn’t be until four years later, some time after Amy and I parted ways, that my mother and I would catch a mail-order bride expose on TV one night, and Uncle Ernest’s big head and bigger glasses would show up on the screen, discussing the positives of the business. Was he turning his massive head away from the abusive aspects of some of these marriages? Did he not see the occasional cases of fraud? Of course, of course, he was in it for the money. Nothing like a crazy uncle to look up to.

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