#13 | July 31 - August 13, 1997  smlogo.gif

Moscow Babylon

In This Issue
Feature Story


by Mark Ames

Alive and Yellow

There's this new Moscow City advertisement in the metro-I can't remember the words exactly, but it's from a letter Chekhov had written, in which he says that once you've grown used to Moscow, you'll never leave. I started thinking about how true that was, in a twisted sort of way. It's not a healthy, heartwarming Sleepless in Seattle kind of love-more like an abusive relationship, the kind so emotionally damaging that it can only be cured with heavy shock treatment and Prozac.

Somehow in my mind, the Chekhov postcard got transformed into: "If you've grown used to Moscow, you're damaged forever." All of us who have begun to think that Russia makes sense, are damaged forever-and, I would argue, for the better. After all, the alternative is much worse. Only an asshole would dedicate his life to his career and ESPN-which is why America is filled with so many assholes. I could have been one of those assholes-instead, I became THIS kind of asshole. Follow me.

Exactly two weeks ago, I saw another corpse-my tenth since arriving. Even before I got a good look, I knew he'd been thrown out of a window from the seven-story Stalin-era building...

I stopped before the corpse to, as MT Out would say, "check it out." It wasn't as nasty as I'd expected. Except for the left tibia, which poked out of his knee like a giant pink turkey bone, he looked like he'd died with some dignity. People passed by, pakyeti in hand, casting a nonchalant glance on their way to the metro. Even the cops seemed bored, waiting for the ambulance to come. The ambulance wasn't in any hurry.

I proudly realized that my own reaction was anything but horror, and I that I'd acquired some of the Russian "rovnodushnost'," or indifference. At least, I thought so. Last Friday night, I met up with Polina, a Latvian girl whom I'd got to know a few nights before in a drunken haze at Jacko's bash. We headed out to Maks-Club, a flathead-infested disco that she described as "solidny." She paid for nearly everything, making her a winner in my eyes.

Later, we headed back to her apartment (on her coin), way out in the distant suburbs. She had a large selection of videos, and asked me which one I wanted to watch. I suggested "Anal Kanal 3," a German porn flick featuring a black man with an fourteen-inch tool. I guess this is how Germans purge themselves of Nazi war guilt-letting Helga get sodomized by all the untermenschen. What's next? Anal Kanal 4: featuring Rabbi Schlong spraying face paint on a group of Hitlerjugen?

Just as we were crawling into bed, Polina got a phone call. It was her husband, or ex-husband... He said he'd seen us at the Maks-Club, and he wanted to meet with her and talk. Polina hung up, and told me a few interesting tidbits: such as, her husband Seryozh is a serious bandit who is on Russia's wanted list for selling illegal weapons, and that he's a major coke head. "If he gets ten grams, he just snorts it all up and goes crazy," she told me. "I'm afraid he's coked up right now." My first thought was, gee, I'd like to get to know this guy.

Seconds later, Seryozh called again. He was raging jealous. He wanted to come over that second and see her. She told him no again, that her father was staying with her. He told her something that made her blanch, her eyes bugged out. She held her hand over the phone, and whispered, "He's right outside my window! He's calling from his mobile phone from right out the window. Stay down!"

Here's where things get ugly. She agreed to meet him out on the street, and told me to stay in bed, not to move. But I didn't listen. The minute she walked out of the door to meet him, I got up and dressed, just in case. What a horrible way to go: a victim of "domestic violence," six bullet holes in my gut. No glory in that. My pretzel corpse in a suburban Moscow podyezd...

I waited. An hour had gone by, an hour of terror and cowardice. I decided to act. I moved from the bedroom and crawled up to the window to look down onto the street. No one was there. I sat down on the couch in the TV room and went over my options. Either she took off with him, or he killed her. Either way, I figured, I was fucked. My selfish instincts, perfected over the years in California, seized control. I had three options: either stay in the apartment and wait, hoping that the steel door would protect me; sneak out, run up the stairwell, and hide; or make a sprinting "Run, nigga! RUN!" break for it.

Just then, a car pulled up. It stopped below her window. I heard her voice, and that of another man. It was too late. They came up the stairs, then stopped outside the front door. I bet a bullet hurts a lot worse than they make it look in the movies. I hid in the back room, in the dark, looking out the 2nd floor balcony, wondering if I should jump. The image of the defenestration guy flashed... that snapped tibia sticking out of his knee.

She opened the door, and closed it. Then checked the bedroom. I wasn't there. She stopped. I didn't hear Seryozh's voice. Did he leave? Yes! She's alone! When she saw me in the back room, I tried to pretend as though I'd just tied up my shoe laces, that I wasn't afraid of nuthin'.

"I was about to leave," I said, taking little notice of her swollen red face. She was crying and shaking.

Then she told me what had happened. When she walked out of the door, Seryozh grabbed her by the hair, got her in a headlock, and tried dragging her into a car driven by his crony. She finally broke free and ran out onto the main street, where an unmarked militsia car happened to be passing by. They saved her, but naturally, they didn't lock Seryozh up-after all, it was just a "domestic dispute." She was disappointed by my cowardice, but hey, as the 70s California anthem goes, "You can't please everyone/ so you've got to please yourself."

When it was all over, we crawled back into bed, and, in a way I can't explain, reenacted some of the violence of the evening. It was... interesting. When I left the next morning, I saw that metro ad again, and thought, "Yep, I'm damaged for the better."

Needless to say, I'll be seeing Polina again real soon.

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