In my college years I was hired by various International Fairs which were hosted in Bucharest. This was an honor and it made us, those chosen by the foreigners after thorough interviews, feel special. The job came with hard work but also benefits, and at the end of one of these Fairs, my boss gave me as a thank you, a small bottle of Channel #19. Channel #19! Yes, I was going to smell like Channel #19, imagine that! A minute before he gave me the gift I didn’t even know what Channel was but now, that I was the owner of a bottle, I did my research.It was expensive, it smelled good, it come by numbers, why didn’t they just have one number, to not confuse buyers, I didn’t understand, but I complied. I was convinced number 19 must have been the BEST of all numbers, if #5 were the best, he would have given me #5, but that was only the most popular.
I was using the perfume only on very special occasions and the bottle lasted me a very long time.
When I came to the last drop, I was already graduated and working for the American Embassy.
I was full of myself and my new position and of course, then more than ever I had to continue to use Channel # 19! The problem was, there were no French perfumes on the Romanian market. The only way was to find someone who had relatives out of Romania and received packages from them. Many such lucky people were then selling the goods the relatives mailed them, to less fortunate Romanians like me. The prices were exorbitant, but as they say, if you have to ask how much, you can’t buy it.
Asking from snob to snob, now, being one of them, they shared the secret that next to a famous movie theater, Patria, there was a very small store owned by a man who had relatives in Paris and although he said he sold cigarettes, he would get my Channel 19 if I ordered it and came recommended and of course I had money.
The store was so small, Christian and I could not both be inside at the same time. He waited outside since I was the buyer. The older, bold man, with thick glasses, looked me up and down quickly. I felt he was somehow assessing me if I even had enough money to step in his world. I told him what I wanted and he told me a price which represented my salary for two weeks. I didn’t bat an eye, because I figured by the time he ordered the perfume and it arrived, I would have time to save. I said yes, and because it seemed to me he was not taking me seriously, I produced a freshly printed business card from the US Embassy which had on the front my name, translator, and a phone number where he could reach me when the perfume arrived. The card had an instantaneous effect on the old man. He looked at it and turned it around and smiled looking me in the eyes:
“Do you really work there?”
“Of course,” I said acting offended.
“Of course, of course you do, you’re young, pretty… are you married?”
I pointed to Christian who was piercing through the window, and the marchant’s smile disappeared, however now he was treating me with respect. I liked that. He placed my card in a huge book of “requests” and told me he will call me when the perfume arrived. Okay, that was good enough. I said good-bye and left the cramped place which looked more like storage than a store.
A few months went by, and no calls. I was doing just fine without the perfume and frankly it was so hard to save money I wasn’t looking forward to the day he’d call that my perfume arrived.
Beside, my attention had to suddenly focus on another incident, much more serious.
One morning, I received a call from the Romanian Militia (Police) and the Major (that was a high rank) ordered me to the Police Station for an interrogation.
“An interrogation? Me? Why?”
“You are asking too many questions, comrade, I said be here at 4:00 PM, it’s an order!!”
I couldn’t sleep or eat and my friends with whom I shared, assured me that as long as I didn’t steal anything, I should be okay, unless someone “framed” me for doing something terrible, and I wouldn’t know the accusation until I go to the Militia Station.
I stepped up in a plain building, and was lead to a small plain room with no windows. There was a desk and behind the desk an officer. He pointed to the chair in front of him and I sat down. No hello, how are you, no introductions.
“How do you know Itzig Isopovici?” he asked with a stern look, clearly trying to detect not only how I knew this person but how well.
My mind scanned quickly names I might have known but Isopovici was not among them.
“I do not know any Isopovici.”
“Really, comrade, let’s not play games!”
“May be he used a different name? Do you have a picture?”
“Picture, hm… now you want a picture!”
He opened the thick file in front of him and handed me a picture.
“Oh, him! Yes him I know, he has a store next to Patria. I was looking for Channel #19 and ordered from him!”
“Your card from the US Embassy was found in his list of contacts, comrade! Do you know how serious this is? What Chanal? What 19 is this a code?”
“No,” I assured him, this was a real famous perfume, I could show him the empty bottle.
“Leave the bottle alone, all I can tell you is that you are in trouble. Isopovici was running a prostitution rink with diplomats from various embassies and wives of Romanian security officers, whores who were selling themselves to foreigners for money! Were you his “connection” with the American Embassy? Tell the truth we know everything!”
“No, I just wanted Channel #19! I sware I didn’t know his name I only saw him once, he didn’t even call me. I have witnesses!”
It took me hours to convince the officer I was not part of the prostitution rink and as a result, some of my friends and my husband were interrogated too.
When everything was over, I was told that I will have to be a stand by witness at Isopovic’s trial.
The room where his trial was about to begin was filled to the brim. In the front row there were about 8 to 10 young, attractive women, their hair colored in various colors, from where I stood it looked like a rainbow.
Then Mr. Isopovici stepped in the room, dressed in a zebra prisoner costume and his hand locked to the one of a young officer who was walking with him. Other officers were all around him so Isopovici who apparently was dangerous, could not escape. He must have been, but probably in ways of the mind. I just couldn’t imagine this little skinny man fighting the tall, young officer to escape. But what did I know? I was now involved in a trial for a prostitution rink and all I wanted was Channel #19.
I was not called on the stand. There were too many other real victims. He had so many shady businesses in play, I never wanted Channel #19 ever in my life! The thought of Channel #19 made me sick!
A few years later, someone gave me a bottle of Opium perfume and I got hooked on Opium perfume. Once a snob, always a snob! I still use Opium but I don’t leave my card behind!