“Haven’t you ever wondered why the Church doesn’t allow women to be preachers?”
“Not specifically,” I replied, throwing my pack on the bed. I sat down. Icelandic Pizza Chef sat down on the opposite bed.
“It makes God less attractive to women, so they all become whores and drug addicts.“
I blinked. I had nothing.
“So the Mafia profits!” He paused to let me connect the dots. I still had nothing. I proffered the blank look.
“And everyone knows that the Mafia and the Church work together. Don’t you see? It’s so simple.” Icelandic Pizza Chef settled his argument by clapping his hands together.
Taking a cue from Socrates, I asked “You, uh, think this is a big problem?
“Oh yes. I would say that probably 90% of all women are prostitutes and into drugs.”
Icelandic Pizza Chef had flown down to Kiev to meet a woman he’d found on an internet dating site. In fact, he’d had his first date with her the day I met him. Now he needed someone with whom to confer.
“Here, I will show you.” From out of a manilla envelope he pulled a stack of high quality, glossy printouts. He spread them out across our little desk. They looked like professional studio shots. Naturally, the subject was stunning and dressed in a fabric-economic fashion.
“She did not look anything like this in real life,” he commented, “maybe it was the makeup. I don’t know.”
The first hour and a half of the date they spent sitting a few tables apart, neither person recognizing the other. Icelandic Pizza Chef then walked to a phone booth, called the woman’s cell phone, and confirmed she was the one whose nervous glances he’d been avoiding. They spent the second hour and a half sitting at the same table, neither person having anything to say to the other.
“I think it went terribly,” Icelandic Pizza Chef told me, “she acted like she didn’t want to be there.”
“Well, what did you two talk about during your date?”
“Nothing. She speaks very little English, and I don’t know any Ukranian.”
She knew enough English to ask for 500 hryvnia (about 100 US dollars) to cover her train ticket back to Sumy, a nearby town. Actual cost of a ticket: 25 hryvnia.
“Don’t worry man - it happens to all of us,” I offered as meager consolation - sure, all men get taken in by Ukranian mail-order bride dropouts - “At least you’ve learned from the experience.”
“Yes, I have. I think tomorrow I will go to Sumy and find a cheap apartment. This way I will not have to pay for her train tickets.”
I laughed, although I don’t think he was joking. Godspeed, Icelandic Pizza Chef!
Everywhere I went in Russia and the Ukraine, I saw this twist on value systems: extreme differences of wealth, status, treated like just another facet of attraction and suitability. The fall of the old regime seemed to have brought forth a whole new viciously status-conscious class of young people. Everybody wants it - that’s why they call it money.
Russia had some internal source of wealth upon which this new culture could cultivate. In St. Petersburg, slick Volgas with black tinted windows would pull up to a curb. Out of one side would emerge a balding, plump government official. Out the other, a fur coat-clad woman half his age. On the Moscow Metro, atop a pair of long legs with fishnet stockings, I spotted a pink handbag with sequin lettering. It read, “If you’re rich, I’m single.”
The Ukraine has had no such treasure trove, instead looking to the west for its future, waiting for the big payoff. There was a strange sense of urgency and anticipation in Kiev. One afternoon I walked through a towering shopping complex, brand new, full of Guccis and Pradas, fluorescent escalators, Aston Martins spinning slowly inside thick glass columns. All the stores were empty. Shopkeepers sat bored behind pristine counters. I sat down and had a coffee there, but I sort of felt like an asshole so I left not long after.
Rick was an American business consultant looking for investment opportunities in Kiev. He told me,
“So, these two Ukranian girls are at a cafe, having a chat over a cup of coffee.
One girl says to the other,‘You know, I could really use an extra 500 dollars a month,’
‘That’s easy!’ replies the other. ‘Just get another boyfriend!’
‘But where do I find a boyfriend who will give me 500 dollars a month?’
‘Hmm, how about finding two boyfriends who can each give you 250 dollars a month?’
‘But that’s still so much!’
‘Then find three boyfriends who can each give you 150 dollars a month!’
‘Devushka,’ a man interrupts from a nearby table, ‘when you get down to 5 dollars, let me know.’”
The day before I left Kiev, I saw a man putting coins into a slot machine. A monkey was sitting on his shoulder, and the monkey was wearing a diaper.
On the train back to Moscow, I met a Ukranian ex-soldier named Max. Max had coordinated joint operations with U.S. soldiers at Westpoint. Max, his friends, and I shared much too much vodka that evening, and they all agreed that I was a very nice fellow.