Friday, March 26, 2010

The Exile

With all the hullabaloo around Matt Taibbi and his work on Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone, it's no surprise that someone should go back and do a serious piece on his earlier career at The Exile in Moscow with even badder boy Mark Ames.  I remember The Exile well.  I got to Moscow in October of '97, some months after it had started coming out, a few months married, a few years sober.

We all read the thing and its accounts of insane and epic debauchery at The Hungry Duck and with cheap prostitutes here, there, and everywhere. These guys were living the dream... the pornographic dream of every angry 17 year old boy.  And, yes, there was good journalism in there, but from what I read the main point wasn't so much what they said (which was largely self-evident) but that they printed it and got away with it. I dunno, they were just in a very different place than I was.

As graduate students in Moscow at the time, the lifestyle these guys lived really seemed like a logical extension of everything the emigre business community thought Moscow was about: Here's a quote from some Berkeley lit professor named John Dolan: "“Everyone in Moscow at the time—and I mean everyone—used prostitutes. That’s what Moscow was in the 1990s. But no one would talk about it,” Dolan says".  Well, I can tell you straight out that I didn't sleep with any prostitutes. I didn't have enough money to go in places where they would be, I didn't drink, I was recently married, and I didn't want to get AIDS.  When I would pass poor wet hookers on Tverskaia Street in front of some big hotel I thought they were a sad and pathetic lot, but I just had enough money to buy myself schwarma, cigarettes and a coke, so it's not like I could do anything to help them. Plus there were a lot of other desperately poor people who had not turned to prostitution or, for that matter, organized or petty crime.

One night when his wife was out of the country, I walked around Moscow with my 4th cousin, who worked in some diplomatic capacity at the American embassy.  We were looking for the Hungry Duck.  When we finally found it, it was just vile and disgusting, and that was just from looking at the people standing outside it, sweaty and pukey.  And besides, it was already 11:30 by then.  We turned around and went back to our respective homes. Walking around looking for the place was much more interesting than finding it.

I was much happier to meet my cousin's daughters, who were 3 and 5 or something like that. They climbed on my back and stuff when we went over to do laundry. That was an early indication of where I was headed.

1 comment:

Alison said...

I never went there, but I have a vivid memory of the ads for the Hungry Duck that used to run before films at English language cinemas. Even those were unpleasant.