Faxed to the offices of the newspaper late on a Friday afternoon the spring before last from somewhere within the bowels of Rossvyazokhrankultura, the Russian Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and Cultural Heritage Protection, it announced the imminent “conducting of an unscheduled action to check the observance of the legislation of the Russian Federation on mass media.” a Moscow-based, English-language biweekly, stood accused of violating Article Four of that legislation by encouraging extremism, spreading pornography, or promoting drug use.
The letter scheduled the unscheduled action to take place between May 13 and June 11. An founder and editor in chief Mark Ames, at that moment a world away in Los Gatos, California. Someone on President Dmitry Medvedev’s staff, or, more to the point, in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s circle of spooks?
On another occasion, a deranged and slighted man sent a letter promising to kill the “frat boy” Ames.
Ames in turn published an editorial urging the loon to instead off his co-editor, Matt Taibbi.
Thanks to his coloring, the Moscow police often mistook him for a “black ass,” slang for a migrant from the Caucuses, and delighted in shaking him down for bribes.
In the bedroom, his 27-year-old wife, Anastasia, is still asleep, and in the next room over, among half-emptied suitcases, sits an unopened hulking green Samsonite festooned with Fed Ex packing tape.
Writer Kevin Mc Elwee, an American expatriate, had both legs broken when he was torn from the side of a building he was scaling to escape an angry mob of Muscovites, an incident that had nothing to do with anything he’d written—Mc Elwee, *The Exile’*s film reviewer, was just a rambunctious drunk.
By the time it was shuttered, the paper had published damning views of Russian life through three administrations, two wars, and a stock-market crash, ever since the freezing February night in 1997 when, penniless and infuriatingly sober, Ames had put out the first issue in a torrent of outrage at the sharpies and frauds who insisted that post-Communist Russia was a new democratic paradise, at the liars in the Kremlin, the dreamers in Washington, the academic careerists, Wall Street, the World Bank, the idiots in the press who’d never hired him—at pretty much everyone save Ames himself.
Never mind that he and Taibbi would prove the hardest-partying Moscow media celebrities of their time, never mind that they wouldn’t just expose the place’s hedonism but come to embody it—Ames was pissed off.
The pie was made with fresh vanilla cream, hand-puréed strawberry, and five ounces of horse semen.‘That’s what he said? “He said the same thing back then, the poor bastard.”It’s a late-November afternoon and Ames is sitting unrepentantly at his kitchen table, next to a window looking out onto a cheerless backyard complex, in the second-floor Brooklyn sublet where he and his wife moved a month earlier after deciding to leave Russia for good.
It’s been 15 years since Ames first moved to Moscow.