January 28th to February 22nd, 2012 – The Difficulty of Maintaining a Poker Face during especially Trying Times.

Hello again!

How have you been? As for me, as I type these words it’s currently -23. Yes, that’s right. -23! *shivers* Burrr indeed!!

I’m definitely not prepared for this. My nice wool coat from Austin Reed which had felt so nice and warm on the streets of London, seems like a collection of barely hung threads here. It feels as if I’m wandering the streets naked which, given the stares I generally have received since arriving, I might as well be doing. Something’s got to give. I’d rather it not be my nominally frost-bitten fingers and toes.

I really need to get one of those big Russian hats. They look wonderful, don’t they? Nevermind the fact that they make everyone wearing one look like some kind of Soviet spy out to frame Kevin Costner, there’s a certain world-weariness that seems to come from wearing one, as if you’re somehow wiser and more street savvy than your foolish Western counterparts… which I suppose you are since we’re all wandering around in our NYC style wraparound ear muffs and coats that wouldn’t be appropriate for anything more than a particularly cool Autumn evening!

Well let’s see, quite a good deal has happened to me since my last lengthy update so it’s high time to fill you in! But the question is where to start?

How about a gay club on a Saturday night? It would only be appropriate to begin there as that is where all the trouble seems to have started. As you’ll no doubt recall, I have a gay friend here and he and his boyfriend have both been terribly insistent on going to some gay club ever since we arrived in Kharkiv. A brief recount of history would reveal that I have actually been in a gay club on two separate occasions. Back in 2007 in Chicago and in 2010 during a visit to Lima, Peru. On both occasions I was unaware that I was even in a gay club until, in similar fashion, that detail became apparent to me. This time was going to be different though. Yes, I would actually know in advance what I was getting myself into but also, I was going to be with a group of people. In addition to the happy gay couple was going to be a straight couple and a Ukrainian girl, all mutual friends. This, I remember thinking at the time, wouldn’t be so bad. So we walk in, pay our 50 Grievna entrance fee, and enter the club.  The “club” was more of an outfitted bar with a dance floor really. But no matter, everyone is gay and happy and drunk, save me naturally. Despite taking a certain number of vodka shots (a liquor I’ve already grown quite tired of… vodka’s a bit played out I think, certainly in these parts) I found myself perfectly sober, which made what was coming next both easier and harder to handle.

In addition to being an outfitted bar/gay club, this little dive (somewhere along the way they misspelled it “drive”) contains its very own drag show. In my defense, if I have any left, I have never before been to one of these but have heard, through friends both straight and gay, that they are actually quite fun. I suppose they didn’t find themselves the object of ridicule when they went. Of course, as a straight man walking into a gay club, I suppose I was asking for it. Or at least, that’s what the drag queen must have thought as he was asking for my dick size. Sorry Charlie, or whatever your name is, but I don’t understand your silly Ukrainian measurement system here and am thus at a loss. Though this didn’t stop him from trying to feel me up through my jeans, it did allow me to lean back on the “I only speak English!” card. And this worked for about .5 seconds until queenie opened his mouth and started inquiring of me, in better English than I would have thought possible of a Ukrainian drag queen, whether or not I liked his legs and why I was so sure I wasn’t gay.

Okay, you’re right, it’s hard to garner much sympathy for me when I did after all knowingly enter into the gay man’s domain, but I’ll plead the “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” card. It’s my second favorite after the aforementioned “English only,” card. Of course the limit of plays I can muster from this former card are limited, and “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” doesn’t go very far in the self-consolation department when you’re sitting all alone on a chair in the middle of the dance floor watching a grown man writhe his half-naked body inches from your face. I must have been wearing a flashing red light that night, because every drag queen and stripper in the place managed to pinpoint my exact position in the crowded room with such precision it’d make a guided missile jealous. Failure to launch this was not. Neither does “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into” qualify as an excuse when said grown man, half-dressed in a sailor’s uniform no less, has his fingers working to unbutton your shirt. Both cards exhausted, there’s little choice but to trot out that old Nancy Reagan “just say no,” line; or as it’s known here, the Nyet card. When Nyet doesn’t work, confused by half-dressed sailor strippers for “not yet,” there’s only one option left, and that’s to toss your cards and make for the door. Or back to your seat if you’re some kind of masochist, which in the end I suppose means you’ve come to the right place after all.

All of this action was interspersed with about half an hour of raucous dancing spaced out at forty-five minute intervals, apparently to keep everyone who wasn’t me involved. Not that I felt neglected during these dance breaks, on the contrary it was a chance for every other man in the building to hit on me. On further reflection it’s quite likely I broke more hearts on this one night than I ever have before, though I don’t take pride in this.

In fact, I made sure to stay as close as possible to the five people I had come with; the aforementioned gay couple, straight couple, and solitary Ukrainian girl. She wasn’t really my type. For one thing, she smoked, and this isn’t an appealing feature on anyone, regardless of nationality. But as the night wore on she became fonder and fonder of me, whether due to the fact that she was drinking like a fish or because I was the only straight guy in the room. One moment we were dancing and the next she had her lips wrapped around mine like I was another alcoholic beverage she had to consume to keep up with the beat. In reality, I felt more like I was getting a very thorough tooth cleaning from an overly intoxicated dentist. This went on for a while… spinning on the dance floor until, near the point of collapse, I sat down at the chair and she came at me from above like a hawk. Some point and a severely strained neck later I managed to finally pry myself away. Like Prometheus I had been set free and out the club I went, never to look back. I’ve never been especially good at card games… not unless they’re of the “Go Fish” variety that is…

All of this though is nothing compared to what happened afterwards when I arrived back at my apartment only to be greeted by a wall of steam when I opened the front door. Apparently a pipe beneath the carpet (odd location for a pipe but I didn’t ask) had broken and everything; my nice row of books on the windowsill, the carpet, the sheets on my bed, was left soaked. The wood on the bathroom door had warped which made it no longer possible to close and pieces of the ceiling had actually fallen off and onto the floor.  Not only did this mean I wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night, it also meant that following classes that day I would be moving in with Daniel and his girlfriend in a spare room at their place. Daniel, in case you’ve forgotten, is the colleague who we last left in my previous post picking lint from his beard while observing my gay friend and his boyfriend being a bit overly affectionate. Yes, that Daniel. And is he ever an interesting fellow. I could tell you quite a few stories about this guy and the kind of parties he hosts and the lifestyle he leads. Let’s just say I’ve never seen a game of spin the bottle being played with such gusto and seemingly high stakes, though I won’t explain this now other than to say that drunken debauchery seems to be the ideal two words to sum him up in quite the compact little nutshell really.

I start to dread the inevitable knocks on the door, the odd questions, strange ruminations on things that I never bothered to think about before, and probably would have been quite fine never having been bothered to think about. It’s like some crazy kind of psychological roller coaster. I hear a knock and I wonder what possibly he could have to say now. I’m silently amazed time after time at how he manages to pull out a completely new, absurdly odd monologue from somewhere deep within himself. Where does he get this stuff? A paradox of epic proportion, I wonder how much more I can take before I succumb to some kind of brain paralysis… but the larger question is, will I make it out alive? *Spoiler Alert* Two weeks later I manage to emerge intact and fully functional and as of this date I have traded the drunken would-be philosopher and his mistress for my gay friend and his boyfriend. Both of whom make for much better roommates- and cooks.

Well, with that tumultuous chapter closed I think I shall be off to bed now. I have a Russian lesson in the early afternoon which I, as usual, have not prepared for, so it would be advantageous for me to be up before my typical 12 noon waking time. Tomorrow, by the way, is Men’s Day. Yes, there is a holiday called Men’s Day. Supposedly begun to commemorate the service of those serving in the Red Army, Men’s Day (according to my students) now extends to all men. Meaning that even I, a resident of Ukraine for just over a month, will be able to participate in the festivities. Though I’m not aware whether any festivities are even included. I did have a couple students promise to bring me some pancakes tomorrow though, so for festivities, this will do fine.

Lots of love from the sub-zero east,



  1. hahahha Brendan, I feel like I’m reading an awesome book! Nyet for not yet I cracked up for a good while…seems like you are having tons of fun! keep it up and I shall see you soon in Europe, already have the one way ticket bought ! 😀


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