My mind was already on Ukraine. I could stick a fork in the juicy hype that was buzzing around it. “Learn Russian,” the guys who had been there would say to me. “Go before the Euro 2012, before it gets spoiled,” they’d add.
Every night I’d grab my mp3 player and take a walk outside in Riga’s Old Town to knock out an hour of Pimsleur Russian, the steady cadence of my footsteps acting like a metronome to keep my brain focused. I started the nightly walk in Poland and carried it into Riga.
“Every word counts,” my language motto goes. Winter’s arrival made the walks cold, but strengthened my resolve. Like a bodybuilder, I was working hard in the off-season to show a lot of new muscle when it was time to take off my shirt in the summer.
The Old Town of Riga was deserted during the week. There was no one to hear me doing my Russian courses under my breath, saying things like “Excuse me, where is the central square?” or “My wife and I want to drink something.” I’d put myself on a loop that would take me past coffee shops, office buildings, and residential apartments that had somehow escaped the ugly Soviet-bloc style of architecture. The occasional taxi would roll by on the cobblestone streets, looking for a tourist to scam with their rigged meters and “Euro only” payment demands.
One Wednesday night during a walk I saw a short man with dark features approaching me. He stopped a few feet away. I hit pause on my player, only two minutes left in my lesson, expecting to resume it shortly.
“Do you know a good place to go tonight?” he said in a thick Italian accent.
A sex tourist, I thought.
I took off my headphones. “Wednesday is a tough night. There’s a place called Milk, but you have to take a taxi. Besides there, I’ve never been out on a Wednesday night. Things don’t get started until the weekend.”
“How about in Old Town? Where can I go?”
“You can always try the Colonel. If that place doesn’t have people, I doubt anywhere else will,” I said.
“Where are you from? Are you American?”
“Yeah, I’m from Washington DC. And you?”
“I’m from Italy. You’re traveling here?”
“I’m staying for a month. I’ve been here for a couple weeks so far, but I don’t like it too much.”
“You’re walking like you are upset. I could see in your face that you’re not happy. Look, what are you doing right now? Did you eat?”
“Actually, I was right about to go to TGI Fridays to get an American burger. I haven’t had one in the while. You’re welcome to come with me.” He stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Luigi. We walked to the restaurant and got a table.
Whatever image you have of a stereotypical Italian wouldn’t be far from Luigi. He was short, not more than 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a slightly round belly. He had a clean face with wide eyes that made him always seem curious. He talked exactly like the mobster types in Hollywood movies, with the same hand gestures and Italian filler noises like the teeth sucking and the “Ah’s” and the catch phrases like the “Oh, come on!” and the “Don’t-uh bullsheet me!” and “I swear on my seester!” He was one year older than me and could probably have passed for my brother.
He said, “Before I came up to you, I was positive you were Italian. I was going to speak Italian, but at the last minute I changed to English because of your clothes.”
“I get that a lot. When I was in Poland, most of the girls thought I was from Spain, but Italian was the second most popular guess.” He nodded and I continued, “I had a great time in Poland, but so far Riga has been a huge disappointment. So many guys said this place was amazing for women, but I’m just not seeing it, and I feel like I’ve been everywhere in the city. I’m ready to give up.”
“Look, I’ve been here twenty times. If you came five years ago, the women would throw themselves on you, but now it’s shit. I don’t know what happened, but I swear on my seester it used to be better. Every girl wanted a foreigner, but now they don’t care. Riga is finished.”
“So why are you here?”
“It’s like a drug, I just keep coming back because I’m stupid, because I know the city and I’ve met so many women before. I fell in love one time here with a girl, four years ago. She wasn’t blonde, but she had the beautiful blue eyes. She looked like a doll. I told her I want to be with her forever. I pay for her to come to Italy, I introduce her to my family, I treat her like my queen, and then in the end, she fuck me. She left me for another guy who had more money than me. These girls, they are obsessed with money. They don’t care about you, how you look, your job, your personality, just if you have money.”
“How did she screw you?”
“Before she came to Sicily, she said she wanted to see Rome for two days. Why do you think she wanted to go to Rome? Because she has a cock there. These girls have cock everywhere—you can’t trust them. So she came to Sicily but she changed. In Latvia she think I was a rich man, and compared to men here I was, but in Italy I am normal. She knew that and right away tried to get a better man.”
“Is that what you’re looking for here? A wife?” My burger and fries arrived. Luigi was on auto-pilot now.
“No, I have a girlfriend. I come here just to play. We live in Ireland because I hate Italy. Look at me, do I look like typical Italian white trash? I know you’ve seen the Italians here. They are nothing, they are shit. Back at home they live with their mother and father until they are 40 years old. They don’t have a job and come here because flight is cheap. I don’t want to be like this trash. I want to be successful. I want to have class. I have a good job. I have my iPhone at home. I want to travel. I want to experience the world. When I go home and visit my family they don’t understand me, why I do this. I don’t want to be like an Italian.”
“Let me tell you,” he said, “I love America. I love America with all my heart. The people there, they believe, they are optimists. ‘Yes, we can!’ Your flag is on the moon! You are the biggest country in the world. Americans can do anything they want. You don’t know how lucky you are to be one, how much power you have.”
“Maybe in the past it was great to be American, but I think our time is gone.”
“No, it’s still here. America is a dream that people still believe in. It’s the fantasy, the movies, the music, New York City, Las Vegas, Miami. Come on, man, you’re American. Be proud! Girls here love America. I will die for your passport.”
“I’m not sensing that. The girls here don’t seem to care.”
“That’s because you’re going to the wrong places. We will go out, I’ll take you to the right places. I come to Riga and I get a girl every night. Tonight we will meet girls. We will do it.”
“But it’s Wednesday. Where can we go?” I asked.
“Don’t worry, we will find a place. We will do it!”
Was an Italian man selling me the American dream? Yes, he was—and I was buying. This was part of his infectious nature, his game. He made you believe in yourself, selling you fantasies, and even when it turned out that those fantasies weren’t true, you wanted to go back to hear more. Luigi gave me faith in myself, shutting down the voice of logic and reason. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that my American passport mattered in Latvia, where every one of my experiences so far had contradicted that.
“I went to New York City many times and they don’t care about my accent. I go to a bar and I try to talk to the girls, but they don’t talk to me. I love America but I don’t understand American women. ‘Do you want to smoke? Do you want to talk? Do you want to do dance? Do you want to drink? Do you want to fuck? What the fuck do you want?’ Then I go to Canada and I talk in my accent, like Tony Soprano, and the girls they like it. They compliment me. I can’t live in America because it’s hard to get a green card, but I will move to Canada. Close enough, just no guns. But I still love America.”
“What do Latvian girls want?” I asked.
“They want money! It’s their sickness. It is so sad that you have beautiful girls here and they will give you pussy for a couple drinks and 20 lats.” [20 lats is $40 dollars.]
“Yes, but you keep coming back. You’re part of the problem, no?”
“Yes, because I love the blonde girl here. They are my dream and I come here and give them what they want. I sell them the dream and I fuck them, and if they ask me for 20 lat then I will give it to them as long as I can fuck. I’m going to marry my girlfriend one day, she is going to be the mother of my child. This trip is my last one here. This is… how do you say in America when a man is going to get married?”
“Yes, this is my bachelor party. Please teach me the English, all the slang. I want to know it.”
“So all these girls are prostitutes?”
“Yes and no. These girls are not prostitutes, but they are looking for opportunity. So either you sell them the dream, the future with you in America, or you give them the money. But you don’t go to a girl and say ‘How much?’ Maybe she asks you before sex, maybe she asks after sex. Maybe she never asks you. It’s not always so clear.”
I had long ago started taking notes with my pen on what he saying, jotting things down on my paper placemat. He knew I wrote travel guides, so he stressed important things by adding, “Put that in your book!”
I said, “In American slang, we call girls like that semi-professionals, or semi-pros. They’re not full-blown prostitutes, but they’re not normal girls, either. The line is blurry and you’re not sure what you’re getting. But I only want a normal girl.”
“You want a normal girl in a fucked-up place? Roosh, this is not America. This is not Italy or Sweden. The people here have no class. They don’t care about who you are as a man. They want money and they want a future. They want to trade their beauty for something, for something they can touch and feel.”
“I guess that explains why the first Latvian girl I fucked had lived in England for a long time. She seemed more Western than Latvian. I think there are normal Latvian girls, but they’re just hard to talk to.”
“Yes, they are hard because they think you are a sex tourist. The normal girls only want a Latvian man. So we have to deal with the girls who are bitches, who want money. Those are the two types of girls here, the normal girl and the bitch. You are going to normal clubs and getting nowhere, right?”
“You must go to the bitch club and treat those girls like a bitch. It’s very easy here, I will explain it to you.” He took a dramatic sip of his mojito. My pen was ready. “They don’t like cheap men. Very early you have to buy her a drink.”
“It depends. I like to start with conversation, but you can even go up to a girl and say, ‘Would you like to have a drink with me?’ This is why in Latvia it’s important to go out with a friend. That’s why I talked to you outside. I don’t want to go out alone. I hate being alone. Two is perfect here because the girls are always in twos. That’s how you know a girl is a bitch because she won’t be in a big group. If ten of her friends are making a big party, she’s a normal girl and you won’t get anywhere.”
“Yeah I always get cockblocked when approaching a girl who’s part of a big group. They don’t even let me finish my opening line. Right away a friend comes and takes her away, like she’s trying to save her from being raped or something.”
“Yes because they think you are a sex tourist.”
“Do you think I look like a sex tourist?” Maybe I was putting out a sex tourist vibe.
“No, man, you don’t look like a sex tourist, but you’re a foreigner. The normal girls do not like foreigners anymore. Forget about it. Look at the time, almost 12:00. Let’s get the check and go. I’ll tell you the rest later.”
We paid the bill and left. I was ready to follow Luigi’s lead.
CONTINUED: PART TWO