I was a little nervous when FHM's Russian office called me up and asked me if I wanted to join them for their provincial tour, in search of their "Girl Next Door" beauties. It was almost summertime, and I had about as much mojo as that old wheelchair-bound geriatric in Family Guy, who screams at his unit and punches it, "Wake up, goddamnit!"
The basic idea behind the "Girl Next Door" events was perfectly suited for a roving party tour of the Russian provinces, which experience has shown are disproportionately packed with gorgeous Russian dyevs just waiting to be discovered -- and most, tragically, never are. Enter the FHM "Girls Next Door" party train, as big-city honchos roll into [name of bumfuck town], set up a party at [name of bumfuck town's top disco], and hold contests not for the most beautiful girl, but rather, for the most appealing girl who seems available.
Olga (r) with mojo-challenged editor (c)
The "Girl Next Door" contests were held in five large cities -- Samara, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and Sochi. I was asked to join for two -- Samara and Sochi.
It wasn't the first time I went to Samara. I'd been twice before, to check highly suspicious mainstream journo-reports about the supposed miracle there. Businessweek's Paul Starobin even wrote in 2001 that he would like to raise his family in Samara -- before ditching Russia and writing a scathing condemnation of the entire country...
We rolled in to town in late May and hit problems on Hour One, when we learned that FHM's promoters had booked us into one of the shittiest hotels I have ever stayed in. It was called the "Lesnaya," and it was essentially a student dorm.
Samara was surprisingly charming. Perhaps things picked up after Starobin fled. The town was relatively clean, the people surprisingly healthy looking. Indeed there is a certain pride that they have -- or rather, a noticeable lack of desperation which you don't often find in the provinces. While this is good for Samarans, it was bad for me.
The FHM party was held at a popular open-air disco in the center of town, which also had an intimate strip lounge upstairs. As the girls started to pile in to see what the FHM party/contest was all about, I spotted a nude, spunky blond with giant strawberries body-painted on her breasts. She was running around spraying whipped cream.
Her name was Natasha. She told me that she was studying to be a journalist in Samara. She came to Samara from a small village in the Samara oblast, and she only did the stripping for money, to put herself through school and to help support her mother in the village. But she wasn't selling me a hard-luck story. She enjoyed her job, and was proud of her positive attitude.
Natasha told me that she was planning to head to Israel soon to dance for three months. Her mother was scared for her -- she was convinced it would be a sex-slave operation. I agreed it was -- but Natasha didn't seem too concerned. I think she was just trying to weigh the pros and cons of sex slavery in Israel versus what she had in Samara or in her village.
I drank about 15 or so vodka-tonics that night, as well as the wine cocktails that the sponsor was offering via its Treblinka-thin model hostesses. And hung around the strip club, missing much of the "Girls Next Door" contest. Natasha asked me to stick around, which I did, powering more vodka-t's. I met an American guy loosely attached to the FHM entourage who complained that the Samarans were too self-satisfied. "I thought I'd roll in here like a martian and be treated like a god, but I can't score here! What gives?"
Finally, well after sunrise, at 5am, Natasha was freed up. She gave me her phone number on a ripped piece of paper and told me she was going home, but that she'd want to see me that night. On a date. Like a nice Christian couple.
Even the sex slaves had pride! I skulked back to the hotel...
...Two weeks later, I fly into Sochi. The weather on the Black Sea is warm, semi-tropical. I can't get myself to leave the Radisson Park Hotel, where I've been put up on the FHM bill. There is something pleasing about staying in a free hotel room, and I wanted to savor it.
After being hotel-ridden for two days, I finally left to stroll on the concrete promenade. It's amazing how much concrete they poured onto Sochi. Even on the beach area, there are broken columns of disused concrete, some with metal girders twisting out like ossified arteries.
On the promenade, you can take a picture next to some exotic animal: either a monkey, a parrot, or, if you really want to get exotic, an African.
That put me in a good mood -- the right mood for the FHM "Girl Next Door" contest, held in an intimate two-level club with a small pool in the center.
It was there I met Olga, a model/dancer who, strangely, was studying journalism.
FHM held its contest on the edge of the upstairs pool. Dozens of dyevs packed the tiny stage trying to win the contest, as the MC charmed and groped them. All those girls in their FHM shirts had me confused -- I felt like a lion caught in a zebra stampede -- a very tired, drunken lion with bad knees, that is. And a bad memory. Because this time I really don't remember who won. All I know is that I had about as much mojo as a chunk of tundra. By the end of the night, I scored... Olga's phone number, that is. Two for two! Maybe it was time to forget these girls-next-door, and go back to the whore-next-tochka.
This October, the top contestants from all the cities will gather for the finale in Moscow. I'd doubt I'll get my mojo restored in time for that. But maybe, just maybe, if I'm really lucky, I'll get the phone number of another dancer.