See if you can date this hackish lead:
Fridays are Ladies' Nights at the Duck. Teenie-bop dyevs scream and swoon as the male stripper rips the bra off the chubby young girl that he has hoisted onto the bar counter top. At first, she protests, but soon, she submits, allowing the stripper to lead her in a simulation of a backroom wall-fuck. Around the counter, bartenders pour unlimited free drinks--the lowest quality generic vodkas, gins, martinis and whiskeys--to sweaty, wobbly, outstretched arms. Soon, this bar will be overrun with horny young males, Russians and foreigners alike, some of them beneficiaries of Moscow's skyrocketing stock market, the top performing market in the world this year.
Sound familiar? Pan back a little, and you'll start to see the pattern. Two new clubs opened last weekend, Kukly and Champion. Kukly caters to the emerging dorkadent crowd that traces its beginnings to those standard-bearers of late-90s pseudo-exclusive clubbing, Justos and Jazz Kafe; Champion is a multi-million dollar entertainment complex unlike almost anything seen in the former Warsaw Pact. They're just the latest in a series of clubs and restaurants that seem to be opening with reckless abandon every week. Business is looking up. Russia's stock market has soared 178%, the best performing market in the world. Anders Aslund, the Swedish economist most closely identified with shock therapy reforms, was recently quoted as saying that the Russian economy is in a better position now than ever to begin solid, meaningful growth, and month-on-month industrial production figures seem to support that. Russia, some are saying, is turning the corner.
Even the bad news is the same bad news as the bad news we'd read during the boomtown years. On Tuesday, the World Economic Forum named Russia the worst place in the world to do business, echoing the boom-era assessment by the Control Risk Group that Russia was the most corrupt nation in the world. Both times, markets brushed off the survey results. And the bad guys? They're the same too. Boris Berezovsky is making journalists seem more clever than they really are by feeding them half-baked Kremlin intrigues and banal sound bytes like. "Information is about politics; and politics is a huge part of today's Russian reality." One of the last independent newspapers gets bought out by an oligarch, either Chubais or Berezovsky. Sounds great, doesn't it? Sounds just like... well, just like 1997, or 1996, or any one of those days of "heady market reform" with its attendant "free for all, Wild West, anything goes nightlife."
There's only one hitch. This is 1999. While all of these exact same events ocurred two years ago, in the peak of Russia-philia excitement, back then, things was different, by gum. Berezovsky seemed like he was on the verge of taking over the world, although he'd settle for the CIS. Aslund was an indestructible, evil fool who commanded respect the world over; now his credibility only rates a quote or two somewhere in the last third of even the most hackish wire story. Getting into clubs like Jazz Kafe and Justos once mattered, but now, with so many exclusive clubs enforcing so-called "strogy face control," it's hard to feel all that special. Once inside, you can feel that special buzz missing; you can sense that the marble-bodied dyevs and the cell-phone toting dorkadent bandity lack a certain reckless arrogance. Perhaps what they really lack is trashbags full of E-Z cash. They pull up in their year-old Merc Jeeps, but they can't even buy themselves a ten dollar gin and tonic.
And the Duck... the one thing guaranteed about your visit to the Duck was that you'd be pissing razors within a day, and nursing a vicious hangover--not to mention a cracked tooth or a scratched eyeball-- for weeks to come.
Something changed has changed, though. Something is definitely weird when the world's highest-flying stock market registers volumes on the level of the average daily turnover of a Fresno Wal-Mart store, or when Europe's top whore haunt, Moscow's Night Flight, is half-empty at 2am on a Friday. Even Ladies' Night at the Duck--once Moscow's leading barometer of the Moscow Babylon meter--is now a drag. The girls seem to be half-distracted during the strip show, and were even less interested in the free drinks. The club doesn't fill up until well after the strip show and free drinks program ends, while most patrons are too cash-poor to do much more than slowly suckle on one overpriced cup of draft beer.
Moscow's mojo is gone, folks. Today, this place appeals to no one and no thing. It doesn't even appeal to itself. Even fly-by-night speculators have picked up their snakeoil suitcases and headed for the next town. It's all over. It's a wasteland with twelve million inhabitants. In short, it's mojo is gone. While it's impossible to define exactly what "mojosity" is, in this case, we can at least break down Moscow's mojo (or lack thereof) into its various components, and thus better help to understand how it happened that Moscow's mojo was stolen.
Last fall, every hack in town and beyond published, recorded or taped a story about how Moscow's expat community was fleeing town for good. And that was that. Case closed. Story done. Right?
Wrong. Anyone here last fall can tell you that the Moscow was still working its mojo at a pretty furious, even bizarre pace: there was a kind of celebration at the end of the world feel about the place, with few tangible signs of devastation or exodus. The A-Club rave in September and the eXile-Buck-Wiley blowout in October are just two examples.
This year, there are no examples of partying atop the ashes. And one big reason for that is Expat Flight. The real Expat Flight. If last fall saw a exodus, then this year's Expat Flight is truly biblical in its proportions--but for some reason, no one has yet written the follow-up.
Peter Vin, who runs one of Mosow's leading transportation companies, Vinlund, says that this year, his business has been moving twice the number of expats out of Moscow as even the busiest period last fall, in the wake of the crash.
"Last fall, business increased by three-fold," he said. "But that was mostly a knee-jerk reaction in the financial and banking sectors. This year, business has doubled over last fall's figures. We thought it was all over last year and that no one was left, but then, starting in February, business boomed. The multinationals and Fortune 500 companies are now the ones pulling expatriates out and downsizing. It's much deeper than last fall's exodus."
Scott Blacklin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that this year's exodus is far more profound than the headline-grabbing flight of last fall.
"I think what happened was that at the end of the year, the bigger companies and multinationals sat down to look at their budgets for the following year and revise their projections, and many of them made some big cuts or got more conservative," Blacklin said. He estimates that somewhere between 35% to 50% of the American expats who were here last year have left, and three quarters of those who bailed went this year as opposed to last fall.
"You could see it at our Fourth of July party," he said. "Last year, except for the rain, we'd expected over 12,000 people. This year, even with the perfect weather and having Wynton Marsalis, we only attracted 7,000 people. And of those, at least half were Russians."
At its peak, Blacklin estimated that the American expat community was about 50,000 strong here in Moscow, although the embassy put that number at 70,000. Now, he estimates, that number is 25,000 to 30,000. And shrinking. "Many multinationals wait until the school term is over so that executives with children won't have to move out mid-term," Vin said. "So at least until the end of this month, we're still seeing peak activity in terms of expatriates moving out." All's not bad news for Vinlund, as they've succeeded in weathering the crisis by cost-cutting and diversifying more into commercial transport, particularly importing specialized equipment and exporting dollar-cheap Russian goods. But he knows that personal moving is not the future for Vinlund.
It's not that the Westerners gave Moscow its mojo. For the most part, Westerners in Moscow are just as bland, cautious and work-obsessed as they are in their home country, with some exceptions. Rather, the Westerners here have been a barometer of mojosity--the more foreigners, the more Moscow's locals partied, the more shagging in the vomit-soaked toilet stalls, etc. That's because foreigners mean money. With foreigners gone, prices have collapsed. Rents, for example, have plummeted: by our accounts, by almost half last fall, and by another third this year. The real estate market is as dead as... dead. Whores make half or less than what they used to, as supply has exploded and demand plummeted. All of this means less cash, and less cash means less decadence, and less decadence means, welp, less cross-mojination.
Like you, we're not all that interested in all this mumbly-jumbly about moving companies and statistics about foreigners. We're interested in s-e-triple-x. The most obvious, direct way to measure Moscow's mojo is by sizing up the dyevs, who became the world's best-known secret after word got out that Russia, and Moscow in particular, boasted the best babes in
Every spring, from the time that the first snapper-breathing minis were
A recent phone call to the Cosmopolitan editorial desk found little support for the old pre-crisis fashion ways. "The new long-skirt style for girls is just as sexy as the mini-skirts," said a Cosmo editor who identified herself only as "Tatyana, editor." "In fact, I would argue that they're even sexier than the mini-skirts, because they accentuate the figure more."
Tchya, right. That would be like saying John Helmer would look even leftier if he wore a sailor cap and glued pink boa feathers to the rims of his glasses. The scary thing is that this fashion judgement comes not from the Iranian Revolutionary Council of Mullahs, but from Cosmo. You know, Cosmo: the magazine that teaches women twenty ways to please their boyfriends, cute role-playing sex games to liven up their sex lives, bizarre fellatio tricks, snapper-shaving advice, and so on... A widely-published survey a few years ago revealed that the first priority for Russian women in the bed is pleasing the man; their own personal pleasure came in a distant fourth. We'd hate to see what the results of that survey would be now.
Sorry, folks, but this is the new Moscow. Even the whores have changed. Sure, you can jew them down to bargain-basement prices, but, perhaps because of that, you're almost guaranteed to getting cornered into starting a long-term relationship with her. Several recent eXile experiences with Moscow's working women have confirmed this new trend. Just this week, a call girl who only a year ago was living high on the hog told me about how her mother had lost all of their money in Inkombank after the August crash, leading to two heart attacks and bedridden unemployment. "My mother told me, 'Tanya, you're going to have to make money however you can. You'll have to think it up yourself. I can't help you anymore.' If she knew I was doing this, she'd hang herself. But I have no other choice. I have to put myself through school, take care of my mother and help my sister." Inevitably, it took gargantuan effort to force Tanya out of my house, but not before she left her phone number and told me that she really liked me and would like to meet me "outside of all this, just as two lovers..." She admitted that clients were few and far between these days, that the take was a fraction of what it used to be. One of her best friends had just moved in with a Belgian businessman that she'd met on the job... maybe something like that would happen between us? Sure, right. I'll call you, Tanya. I'll have my people get in touch with your people. We'll have jumbo fried shrimp.
With the departure of most of the expat community, and the relative impoverishment of much of the remaining expats and Moscow's emerging middle-class, whores are more desperate than ever to lock in on a good deal. Moreover, the supply of whores is overwhelming the market. Whereas before, outdoor slave markets were confined to a few select areas on Tverskaya, Novy Arbat and Mayakovskaya, today, almost the entire Sadovoye Koltso is ringed with evening whores. Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a piece a few months after the crisis started about how street whores, who had once commanded $150 or more per night, were now reduced to accepting 1000 rubles, or $40--if they're lucky.
Around the MKAD and at Kursky Vokzal, it's even worse. Mobile whores-on-wheels units, which are basically Latvian vans packed with a half-dozen village girls, occupy the rock-bottom end of the market, the overstock, as it were. Dacha dorks pull up in their Suburbans, shine their high beams into the van, and start shopping. Girls here go for as low as $10 to $20 a pop in ruble terms. And that's not the worst of it. Whereas girls from Night Flight or Metelitsa can earn enough over a weekend to go on a wild shopping spree at the Petrovsky Passazh and have a reasonable hope of wheedling into a long-term relationship with a married, middle-aged Western businessman, the MKAD girls have life spans roughly similar to fruit flies. And before they die, they'll be raped and beaten by client and pimp alike.
So there you have it, the new chick scene in Moscow. Either it's gone Victorian, or it's gone Dickensian. Either way, it's mojo is gone.
THE WORLD'S TOP EMERGING MARKET
Until last spring, Russia was the buzz in the world of emerging markets. Two years in a row, it had outperformed every stock market in the world. Returns were astronomical. Stories abounded about how maverick entrepreneurs and wiley robber barons were emerging as world players in the global market. And then came August 17th.
Today, the buzz about Moscow coming out of New York is, there is no buzz. As one lawyer in international finance told us, "It's like that saying: 'There's no there there.' The whole thing turned out to be a total joke."
Another emerging markets analyst who once dealt in Russian GKOs agreed. "No one even talks about Russia. It's down there with Papau New Guinea." What about the fact that this year, like in 1996 and 1997, it's the world's top-performing stock market? "People aren't that stupid. They're greedy, but not stupid. If there is a buzz about Russia, it's that it's a small-time, crooked roulette game. No one will touch that place for years."
"All people in New York care about is where you can do deals and make serious money," said the lawyer. "From all the reports we were hearing, people were thought to be making huge amounts of money in Russia. Now we know that it was all a ponzi scheme. Sure, a lot of expats made better livings than they would have back home, but no one was doing anything serious. And that's how New York finance people look at Russia: it's just not serious. The so-called robber barons were just clowns and crooks."
"There's so much money to be made in Asian and Latin American markets that there's no need to play around with Russians," agreed the former bond trader. "Those are real, substantial, well-developed markets with rules and sophistication. The Russians on the other hand are so used to cheating and scamming--I mean their top officials and bankers--that there's just no reason to commit money there."
So, sadly, this time around, being the world's top performing market doesn't mean anything at all. The mojo index on the capital markets hasn't budged since last August. It's stuck at zero, and it ain't going anywhere until there's a huge change in the political, legal and social fabric of Russia.
"It won't be like 1997 or 1998 for a long time," said the AmCham's Blacklin. "That was a false bubble that we all bought into. It's not going to happen again."
MISHA THE POO
One running myth about Russia was that the West had to do everything it could to avoid "losing Russia." After all, it's loaded with thousands of nukes, one of the world's largest armies, and enough resources that losing it could turn the happy Global Village into a Global Deathcamp. That's why the IMF committed more money to Russia in just this decade than to any country in the world during its nearly-50 year existence, in spite of the fact that the government never even pretended to come close to meeting its creditor's conditions.
And then Russia was lost. And nothing happened.
And then Russia rattled its saber during the Kosovo crisis, talking of sending warships, upgrading its nukes, declaring war. And nothing happened. They seized the Pristina airport, triggering a confrontation with unpredictable consequences. NATO's response? The military equivalent of a yawn. They went ahead with the takeover of Kosovo as planned, trapping the hapless 200-man Russian contingent in the airport, and took the other 99.9999 percent of Kosovo for themselves. And nothing happened. Which means... you really can pooh-pooh this bear, and nothing will happen. You can tease it, bang a stick on its cage, wear a gorilla mask and scream while running back and forth in front of it, even slowly suck down a jar of
THE LIMP DUCK
Up until last summer, the Hungry Duck was the epicenter of Moscow's mojo. Here, the mojosity burned so hard that it radiated genital-greasing heat, turning once-decent citizens into sex-crazed spider monkeys. Cunnilingus and fellatio were freely performed on the counter tops and in the booths. Clothes hung from the ceilings. Couples fucked in the disused kitchen, the offices, in the vomit-drenched toilet stalls, on the stairwell, in the dirt beneath the balcony...
Just a couple of weeks ago, Matt Taibbi and me did a little mojo-research and agreed to guest bartend at the Duck on Ladies' Night. We'd guest bartended back in The Day, so we knew what to compare it to. How was it? Put it this way: from 7pm to 9pm, most of our time was spent leaning on the bar counter, smoking Marlboros, slowly drinking the cheap gin, and feeling a vague sense of depression. Like when your favorite dog dies, and your parents buy you another one for your birthday, but the new Rusty just doesn't have the same spark as the old Rusty. And it only saddens you and makes you miss the old Rusty more than ever. That's how we felt.
Whereas last year, the bar was guaranteed wall-to-wall second-tier dyevs, now, it's sparsely scattered with dyevs disqualified from the competition. There were none of the free-vodka-vacuum-cleaners from days of yore--these girls seemed almost nervous about taking too much liquor. Most appeared bored during the striptease act. Some screamed, others stared off into space. When the Stanley-abe DJ yelled, "Devushki! Yescho!" it barely stirred the crickets.
Later, after the free booze, the bar started to fill up. Girls took to the bar top as before. Some were carried into the center. By eleven, is was almost wall-to-wall, featuring the familiar mix of lecherous expats, the odd jock, and scads of junior flatheads and skymie prole girls. Even with this volatile mix, we didn't notice any acts of public sodomy. A few girls half-heartedly took their tops off. Worst of all, I didn't even come close to getting laid.
Finally, I walked out to the courtyard below and sat on a piece of concrete, stalking for prey. A group of Americans, Marines perhaps, in baggy denims and squeaky white sneakers, were courting a smaller group of dyevs to join them inside. One of the dyevs straggled my way and asked for a cigarette. A jock was trying to cajole her into coming into the Duck with him, but she could barely stand she was so plastered drunk. I patiently waited, seeing that the moron was going to choose his friends over the easiest lay in all of Moscow. He kissed her and told her he'd be back down in a few minutes, then scurried inside. I pounced immediately, taking her by the shoulder and leading her through the arch and out to a taxi on the pretext that I was taking her home.
The rest is pretty standard stuff. Too drunk to use a condom. Quick, sloppy fuck, passing out, blowing little vomit bubbles, then awaking in horror, running her to a taxi, and taking a two hour bath. I waited for the consequences to reveal themselves. And waited. One week, two weeks. Still, no sting. No sores. No warts. No nuthin'.
So there it is. Moscow's mojo has been spirited so far away that these days, you can't even catch a simple sexual disease from a drunken dyev at the Duck.