A certain friend who shall remain nameless for the sake of not making too much fun of her (she’s gotten enough from me for the past few days) took momentary leave of her senses on her birthday and gave her phone number to the owner of the bar at which much birthday related revelry was taking place. For the sake of brevity, let’s call her Brittney Spears, since that’s who the bar owner said she looked like.
All was well in the land of birthday. The international students from HSE and some of our more adventurous Russian counterparts were out for a night on the town! We danced, some of us with each other, some of us
Thankfully, one of my watchful Russian pals caught the man’s words and shoved me- tank topped with coat in hand- up the stairs and out the door before any (further) sketchiness could ensue.
Cut scene to next day: post-birthday sleepiness abounds. Brittney’s phone rings, waking her up from her 3pm snooze, and who is it but her friend, Older Bar Owner! She hadn’t saved his number to her phone, and thus was without the benefit of our friend 'caller ID'. Being a persistent little bugger, OBO had called her the night before (as soon as we left his bar), and then again the morning after her birthday. Repeatedly. From different phone numbers.
Finally Brit picks up the phone, three days, and many, many phone calls later. Would she like to go on a date?
OBO is- loose ballpark here- minimum of 55, tops 65. Brittney had just celebrated her 24th birthday.
Also, Brit doesn’t speak a lick of Russian. Нит.
OBO doesn’t speak and English.
And there’s a mere 20-30 year age difference.
She’d go have dinner with him.
What could possibly go wrong?!
Pause. I am going to put a little place holder here. There is much that needs to be said about the politics of getting hit on, age differences, and the commodification of dating behaviors. In one night, a) I got a $100 or so bottle of vodka (hilarious, as I do not drink. At all.) and b) had my table’s tab picked up by a (very old) guy who I danced with and c) Brit got asked out by a guy also much older than her. Gender, age, money, sex, cultural expectations are all implicated in these rather run of the mill interactions, all of which call into question social capital, privilege and power. I intend to delve into these…another day. However, the following story deserves its own post, sans sociological commentary (snarkiness, however, is always a given.
So, Brit decides that dinner is on. Our friend Matja from up the hall, always a gentleman, decides that he is going to accompany, as Brit is about to head off to dinner at a bar that scammed us only three days prior with the owner who is only 30 or so years older and who speaks not a lick of any of the seven (no, really, seven) languages that Brittney Spears speaks. Luckily, Matja speaks Russian, and so the lovebirds to be had not just a chaperone but also an interpreter.
Let me take a moment to fill you in just a bit more on part of my motives for coming to study abroad in Russia. My partner and I have made a commitment to one another to try to live adventurous lives in pursuit of the things about which we feel passionately. For him, this is justice and equality under the law. For me, this is women’s safety and security. Last summer his quests took him to Tanzania, where he had an amazing, transformative experience. He wanted me to have the same, to suck all the marrow out of life and sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world. I decided to come to Moscow to study abroad as much due to his desire for me to have a great adventure as my own.
Clearly, I was going on this date.
Based on 1) the fact that we had gotten scammed at this bar, 2) the fact that the two times I had been within its lavish and expensive looking interior I saw a total of seven patrons not associated with our group, and 3) that the wait staff to patron ratio was inordinately high and these people were getting paid somehow, I thought that it might not be completely outside the realm of possibility that this bar was in some way not completely legit. Cleaning out my purse of passport, migration card, and all but 1000rb ($30), I made the decision to adopt my middle name as my moniker for the evening and keep any memorably identifying features to a minimum. Black turtleneck sweater. Check. Dark skinny jeans and non-descript black boots. Check. Cute coat stayed home, Muscovite standard issue black parka came. Thus appropriately anonymitized and attired, “Anne”, along with Brit and Matja, headed out into the balmy -14F evening.
The bar is approximately 50 yards from our dorm, and as we breathlessly rushed from one warm concrete block of respite to the next we solidified our plan: Matja would be Brit’s ‘brother’, their loving father had visited them both often as they grew up in their respective European countries. I would be Brit’s roommate along for a fun evening. We breezed into the bar, and were instantly greeted by a rather cute, rather appropriately aged man that, for one fleeting second, I thought might actually be the owner of the bar and we had been so hilariously foolish in thinking it was the old creepy guy to whom Brit had given her number was actually the guy we were about to go on a date with. Young cute guy, alas, was just OBO’s business partner, and would let OBO know we were here. Le sigh.
Our little threesome was shown to a secluded private room that could easily double for the set of a low rent Casablanca themed porno. Ornate frescos depicting an indeterminate middle eastern country plastered the walls, and a lush oriental rug and plush pillows softened the enormous booth which encompassed the entire tiny room. Although the table was at an average height to which chairs might be pulled up, the booth was actually on a raised platform, making it necessary to crawl down the long cushion to reach the other end of the table. The room was freezing, and the three of us, having slunk down the booth on hands and knees, huddled together at the end of the table in an attempt to avert hypothermia.
Nervously giggling about the fact that Brit was about to go on a date with someone more than double her age, we gave our drink order to the waiter, who assured us that OBO was just finishing a phone call and would be in shortly. In the interim, quiet, large men walked past the doorway to our booth every few minutes. The temperature wasn’t helping matters, but I was pretty sure the goosebumps forming under my sweater had more to do with the creepy vibe I was getting from my surroundings.
Tune back in for part 2 tomorrow!