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"Really, Mr McChesney!"
I've avoided certain easy targets in the Moscow expat press till now. It's a matter of pride, I suppose, a dimly-remembered childhood rule that one doesn't kick cripples. This reluctance to attack the easy target led me to exempt Andrew McChesney, whose columns grace every Thursday edition of the Moscow Times, from my embittered analyses of my fellow journalists' efforts.
Most expats in Moscow share my former view that McChesney is harmless. He's a laughingstock, but most of the mockery is good-natured. His columns are trite, somewhat simple-minded -- but until this week, I'd have to say that McChesney did try to avoid the swaggering assumption of Western superiority which is the besetting sin of the expat press in Russia.
Until this Thursday, his columns were harmless strolls through familiar Moscow terrain: a trip to the grocery store or some other everyday destination, in the course of which McChesney learns a lesson of some sort from one of his many "friends," Kolya or Vasya or Tanya. The lessons, though silly, were kindly -- like the one in which McChesney, irritated at a rude sales clerk, was reminded by Kolya or Tolya that until recently, Muscovites had nothing to shop for.
That's the benign McChesney I knew and tolerated: thick as two posts, but a decent old spaniel, after all. There's worse in this world, God knows.
That's why it was such a shock to hear McChesney talking, in his most recent column (5 December 2002) about grasping Russian sluts and-ahem!-"oral sex." It was rather like hearing an epicene curate or Leftie start talking dirt about TV starlets.
McChesney's column wore its newfound smuttiness on its sleeve, or rather title: "For Love, Money or Oral Sex." The topic, as you can probably guess, was that pub-blatherer's favourite: the way those desperate Russian women will do ANYTHING -- and I mean anything, mate -- to grab a Westerner.
It's an old story. You've probably told some version of it yourself -- if not here in the expat pubs of Moscow (where they know you too well to believe it), then during your visits home, where your old friends, dying by inches in dull jobs and grim marriages, will suspend their disbelief simply to be able to believe that somewhere, somehow, there must be a wilder, more decadent world. But I have to say, I never expected to hear such coarseness from our Mr McChesney.
Yet there it was in his most recent effort, McChesney boasting about his encounter with
"...Ira, a stunning 22-year-old brunette with a shy smile and gentle voice. She flattered me, offering to give me Russian lessons just minutes after we got acquainted. I readily accepted. Our first lesson was in her small bedroom at her parents' apartment. It consisted of my reciting the Russian alphabet and her inching closer and closer. When I reached 'ya,' she reached for my pants."
That's as far as poor Ira got, McChesney explains: "I got a new job and threw myself into long workdays. I told Ira I wanted to postpone the lessons until I got settled in at work."
Poor Ira. These Westerners aren't as easy to catch as they look, Ira. Don't blame yourself. You chose yourself a very tough target, Ira. If only you'd read McChesney's columns -- they've always been as chaste as a pastor's newsletter. McChesney is a man with lots of friends but nothing resembling a romantic interest. Unless, of course, one jumps to the conclusion that all those "friends," the interchangeable Kolyas and Dimas who play interlocutors in his columns, are friends in the raised-eyebrow sense. In which case, it's a pity McChesney can't simply say that he resisted these advances because he's gay, rather than implying that his resistance to the "stunning" Russian women who threw themselves at him was due to his high-mindedness.
It also would make a much better, funnier and more interesting anecdote. Alas, McChesney lacks the sort of courage needed to be a raw, funny wreck (a la eXile). Instead, he falls into the nastiest sort of Russian-woman generalisation. After telling his tale of the sexually-aggressive Ira, he lets another of his "friends," this time a Tanya, draw the moral of the story:
"'You need to be careful of Russian women,' Tanya told me. 'There's a type who only wants to get out of Russia.' A couple years after Ira, I met Olga, who was, coincidentally, a stunning blonde with a shy smile and gentle voice. She was being abandoned after living for a couple of years with an American, who was returning home. Rejection was apparently nothing new -- she had previously lived with a Brit. Undeterred, within a few months Olga started dating another American. They quickly married."
This strikes me as much nastier than it need have been. It's clear enough that no Russian woman, be she an Ira or an Ol'ga, was going to get very far with the chaste (or discreet) Mr McChesney. But there's an unpleasant gloating here, familiar but no less distasteful for that. That line "She was being abandoned after living for a couple of years with an American..." sounds like a curate's attempt to speak a pimp's language. The sneering "Undeterred" manages to make it very clear to the reader that Ol'ga was a heartless whore without saying so.
No, Mr McChesney, I'm afraid your exemption from mockery lapsed the day you decided to sneer at poor Ira and Ol'ga. They wanted the protection of a powerful Western man; do you really find this so difficult to grasp? After all, Mr McChesney, are you not yourself one a bit of a Ringo-the weak link, who gets by only thanks to a good deal of help from his friends? I can attest, from direct experience, that the good-natured jokes about McChesney become distinctly less indulgent when the joker is an MT staffer drinking herself into a rage at the thought of how much more than herself the modestly-endowed Mr McChesney is earning. Explanations for McChesney's singular good fortune range from "dumb luck" to various darker insinuations-all no doubt cruel and unfair, but no more so than McChesney's casual implication that Russians who marry Westerners are cunning whores.
At any rate, the prevailing story among journos is that you, Mr McChesney, keep your august position of deputy editor at the Moscow Times not thanks to your very modest abilities but because you bask in the protection of powerful Western friends. It doesn't feel so strange to be a protege after all, does it? What's one "e" more or less in the "protege" business?
McChesney should extend professional courtesy, if nothing else, to the Iras and the Ol'gas who, like him, have found Western men to protect them. But then the protection of powerful Westerners always strikes those of us who have had it from birth as natural or even well-earned. It's not at all like what those dirty Russian sluts are after-is it, Mr McChesney?
Atlantic Free Press
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