Six months ago Oleg Kalyan put his life savings of $330 in his pocket and boarded a plane at Moscow's Sheremetyevo II Airport in pursuit of a lifelong dream: to pump iron at Venice Beach.
Kalyan, 30, was Mr. Moscow in 1985, bodybuilding champion of the Russian capital. For years he had read about Venice in muscle magazines.
After serving as a translator for several American businessmen and journalists, Kalyan decided he was ready.
Today, Kalyan lives in a hotel on Venice Beach, works out at Gold's Gym and is trying to find an employer who will sponsor him to receive working papers and eventually become an American citizen.
Mr. Moscow has fallen in love with Los Angeles.
"L.A. is the capital of bodybuilding," said Kalyan. "It's good here. There are lots of girls in bikinis skating, lots of bicycle people."
But now that he lives here, Kalyan spends little time lifting weights at Muscle Beach.
"It's not good for serious workout. It's good for fun. Good for the weekend."
Kalyan pumps up five days a week at Gold's, which gave him a free six-month membership. He is impressed with the equipment, the famous bodybuilders there, but most of all with America's weight-room democracy.
"In Soviet Union, professionals train separately from everyone else. Here, big people like Arnold Schwarzenegger train at the same gym, at the same time as everyone."
At the gym, Kalyan is friendly with a group of weightlifters who have a rock band he is hoping to join (he plays electric guitar.) The group's name: Solid State.
It's not just the weight scene here that impresses Kalyan. Most of all he loves the sunny weather and the food, especially since he is a vegetarian. In Moscow, fruits and vegetables are often in short supply.
His biggest surprise: Stereotypes to the contrary, Californians are not laid-back.
"This is illusion about California, no way," said Kalyan.
Californians, he says, "don't have enough time to relax. . . . They're all involved in business, moneymaking all the time.
"People are very occupied with their profession, their future. There are some people, like bums, they're relaxed. And maybe some of the people playing guitar in Venice.
"In Moscow it's not like this. In Russia, people don't think of future. Maybe this is why we have economic problems."
Kalyan, who is single, finds Los Angeles women especially money-conscious. Some women here are "very arrogant. They want a man who has lots of money. They have an attitude. They know they're good looking."
All the same, Kalyan has found people here very helpful. A businesswoman who is trying to import Soviet military uniforms to the United States put him up for his first two weeks in the country.
A trip to San Diego led him to meet a high school teacher who, after having him address her class on life in the Soviet Union, paid him to paint her house. She then escorted him into the San Diego naval base where he bought his first Walkman.
And, in Venice a friend of a friend gave him a part-time job.
"American people very kind, very friendly, and very helpful. Though they're oriented in business they still have time to help people and be interested in them."
"It's easier to survive here than in Moscow. When I told my friends in Moscow I found a job for four hours a day, they were surprised. It's not so easy to find such a job in Moscow."
He shares a cramped room, sleeping on the bottom of a bunk bed. In the bathroom is a poster of the L.A. Clippers cheerleaders.
But Soviets are used to tight quarters. In Moscow, Kalyan lives with his family, like most single people. The city's acute housing shortage makes it virtually impossible for a single person without government connections to have a private apartment.
Kalyan has even managed to get his own set of wheels. For $400 he purchased a '74 Triumph Spitfire that wouldn't start. (Even so, it was a cut above the '83 Lada that he drove in Moscow, he says). After a few electrical repairs he was cruising the freeways.
Los Angeles drivers, he says, are extremely polite.
"When you cross, all the cars stop. I was really surprised. In Moscow you have to look very carefully. You can wait five minutes to cross the street."
And Los Angeles auto thieves are tame compared to those in Moscow, where Kalyan locks his wiper blades in the trunk because they're such a sought-after commodity.
Kalyan is pursuing employment with a measure of professionalism. He has a resume, compiled with the help of friends, which lists his degree in engineering from the Moscow University of Irrigation and Drainage. After graduation he helped design plans for the rechanneling of a Siberian river. More recently, Kalyan worked as an insurance adjuster, estimating coverage for damaged vehicles.
He is fluent not only in Russian and English, but also in Spanish.
His career objective: "To obtain a challenging position as an interpreter, which will best utilize my excellent public relations skills.
"I would like to help improve relations between the countries economic and culturally."
So far he has mailed 20 letters with little luck.
"Job hunting is hard. Maybe I don't know right way. I almost feel desperation now."
Kalyan recently received a six-month extension of his visa.
His return ticket to Moscow is good until May 2. By then Kalyan hopes to be an employee of an American company traveling to Russia on business.