By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
For $100, T.L.C. will mail your photo and specifications to 1,000 eager Latinas. You don't have to wear a swimsuit; the listing is one page of postage-stamp mug shots, many men staring out with dead eyes and no smiles.
Their addresses are on the back. When you try to call, sometimes the men don't answer their phones. From Arkansas, a woman called to say her husband is out of town, but he'll get the message -- she'll make sure of that. In Florida, another woman said her husband had died, but that the number must be wrong, because they were married for 60 years, and the one thing he didn't need was a wife.
The men became, when they answered, a repetitive lesson in how a publication can target a demographic. A salesman in Oklahoma said his American ex-wife had given him hell -- "more of that women's lib stuff and which one of my rights did you violate today." A divorced engineer groused about women buying into "all these feminist ideas." And in Arlington, Texas, another salesman said the mail-order business offered some wonderful deals:
"You can get Miss America, because they just want to get the hell out of Russia or wherever."
From Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, Jeffrey Burnett, a retired trucker, said he had never married an American woman, and maybe he should give them a try. But it was getting kind of late, he said, since he was 59, and ladies his age "tend to spread out and get fat and heavy and ugly." It was better, he thought, to stick with younger, foreign women. Not too long before, he had concluded a relationship with a lady from the Philippines 24 years his junior. He got her pregnant, and angry, too, and she began screaming at him -- he didn't know why -- and eventually, she left. Burnett had no idea where his wife and child had gone, and he wasn't looking.
"Same as like a car, you can get a lemon sometimes," he explained. "I guess the lesson, if there is one, is to stay away from Orientals."
None of these men did Bruce White intend to stand as typical T.L.C. customers. For that purpose, he gave the name only of Brian Korzenowski, a 39-year-old San Antonio insurance executive.
Korzenowski's first wife had been ten years younger, and when she grew up, she grew independent and walked out. He had gone shopping, therefore, for a woman who wouldn't do that again, a woman with "not a lot of body fat, with big hair -- very exotic-looking. Someone who could dress up, and at the same time, be a good mom for my son."
He shopped the bars but found no such creature, and when he saw the T.L.C. ad in a singles magazine, he signed up and began writing letters. Before long, in late February, he decided the thing to do was to take a T.L.C. tour.
"I knew they offered a quality product," he explained. "I'd seen the video."
Barranquilla, Colombia, is little more than a large industrial city, but Korzenowski wasn't disappointed. "My approach was, 'This is not a vacation,' " he said. " 'This is a business trip.' "
He had with him a diamond engagement ring; his jeweler back home told him it could be returned if the proper finger weren't found within 60 days. Korzenowski was optimistic that first evening, as he looked around the ballroom. There were women of all sizes and complexions, a dozen of them for every man. "Whatever your desires," he said, "the variety was there."
His correspondents were nice ladies, but the "quality" of others was such that he quickly put them on his B list. Finally, through a glass partition, he spied the package he wished to marry. She was wrapped in a white dress to accentuate her "natural tan." She was fit and feminine and exotic-looking, and she was very excited to see him.
They had lunch the next day, and prospects only improved. Korzenowski likes going to the beach, and he learned, amazingly enough, that she did, too. Two days later, when the tour left, he stayed behind. "You can never spend too much time" choosing a wife, he said. But ten days were enough, and on that tenth, he fetched out his standby diamond, dropped down on his knee and made her a proposal she didn't understand. After he had stumbled through it in Spanish, she began to cry, and that evening, through an interpreter, he cleared it with her parents.
He's still trying to clear it with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but with the help of T.L.C.'s "Marriage and Spousal Immigration Assistance Kit," Korzenowski hopes that by August, he'll have Ingrid by his side. They still can't communicate very well, but she's down there getting ready, watching American TV, and Korzenowski is sure language won't be a problem.
"This doesn't have to do with words," he solemnly said. "It has to do with feelings."
Mail-order brides and the men who love them remain a very small group. Consequently, mail-order companies tend to fight with one another like starving dogs.