Ever felt like you wanted to disappear, get out of town—out of the country, even—to escape embarrassment? 

Ever been caught just as you were boarding a plane to Austria? 

Except for the last part, that story is me—most excruciatingly, when I stood before Mr. Webb’s ninth-grade English class at Rockingham Junior High to recite an original poem he’d assigned each of us to write. I proudly and dramatically recited my “original” work and waited for Mr. Webb to laud my performance, to tell me that I was excused from class for the rest of the year because I’d done such a wonderful job. 

He didn’t do that. 

Instead, after I took a bow and waited for the applause to wash over me, he said, “My, that James Brown is a heckuva poet, isn’t he?”

Sure, I was busted, but how was I to know that Mr. Webb, a teacher who wore horn-rimmed glass, wingtip brogans, and cardigan sweaters with suede elbow patches, knew about “King Heroin”

Know about it he did, though, and he busted me in front of the entire class, which was now laughing hysterically.

That humiliating classroom experience is the reason I know how Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman feel. The day Mr. Webb caught me plagiarizing the Godfather of Soul, I slunk back to my seat and prayed to fall asleep and wake up in another country. That’s precisely what ol’ Lev and Igor tried to do.

Upon discovering that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan was fixing to arrest them for trying to buy U.S. politicians, those two bought one-way tickets to Vienna—and not because they were dying to eat the city’s famed sausages. 

The men, besties of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rootin’ Tootin’ Rudy Giuliani, are charged with trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations by spreading foreign cash to politicians. 

That is, of course, against the law. But let’s look on the bright side. Igor and Lev, in one sense, represent the ultimate immigrant success story. They are, at heart, two men who came to America with nothing but a dream of a better life—and lots of rubles to spend on malleable politicians willing to remove recalcitrant ambassadors who stood in the way of their profiteering. 

The Washington Post reported recently that Parnas, a stockbroker, donated $50,000 toward Trump’s election in 2016, and two years later, he and Fruman were breakfasting with the president, lunching with the First Sons, and doing The Funky Chicken at Mar-a-Lago. In May 2018, they donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump PAC. 

Is this a great country or what? 

All of you immigrants massed at the border, seeking to enter the country, take note. In the immortal words of Montel Jordan, this is how we do it.

I didn’t even try to reach Parnas, a Ukrainian, or Fruman, a Belarussian, to get their side of the story. I’m sure if asked, they’d offer perfectly legitimate reasons for trying to leave the country abruptly. My efforts to reach their attorney, John Dowd, were unsuccessful, but I did conduct an, um, exclusive, made-up interview with the Uber driver who drove the duo to Dulles. 

Seymour L. Pettigrew—the L stands for “License? I don’t need no stinkin’ license”—who drives for Uber as a way to supplement the income from his full-time job making airplane seats uncomfortable, says he immediately suspected something was screwy with his passengers. 

“First, all the way to the airport, they kept lookin’ out the rear window, like they thought the feds were chasing us,” Pettigrew told me. “More troubling was how they kept singing song lyrics from sixties pop songs. If I never hear ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’ again, it’ll be too soon. The next person I hear singing that is getting socked in the eye.”

Chill, Seymour. 

While I share Parnas and Fruman’s embarrassment and desire to flee, I share an even stronger bond with their apparent U.S. sponsor, Mr. Giuliani. 

Back when I was a juvenile delinquent, and the Rockingham cops seemingly wore a path in the front lawn to our house to take me down “for questioning,” and I’d invariably blame my wrongdoing ways on my friends—Lil’ John, Tony, Blind, Vap, et al.—my exasperated aunt, tired of missing work to accompany me to court, would ask, “Don’t you have any friends who aren’t criminals?”

After all this, maybe Americans should ask the same of Rootin’ Tootin’ Rudy.

BARRY SAUNDERS is a former News & Observer columnist.

NEXT WEEK: T. GREG DOUCETTE, a local attorney, criminal justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information.