I learned everything I know about becoming irresistible to women from this Russian gangster named Bad Dima one night before they deported him to Petrograd.
He was a regular at this bathhouse where I worked as a bartender, this place called The Human Samovar down in the Financial District. Bad Dima would have been just another middle-aged man trying to steam away his daily troubles if he didn’t always have some throbbing, dewy daydream on his arm drawing the whole spa’s attention.
As it was, Bad Dima was a legend when it came to women, though no one really knew his secret. Some said it was vast riches. Some said he was hung like a horsethief. However, except for being a criminal and except for being a very good customer, there was really nothing unusual about the man.
Bad Dima came in three days a week and stayed until we closed, moving between the sauna and the freezing ice bath before finally settling in our Jacuzzi. There, he would conduct business with underlings while blowing out flavored nicotine vapor from his telltale electric cigarette and then quietly seducing each evening’s lady. The steam of the baths mixed with the steam from the cherry, coffee, peach, mint, or pistachio liquid nicotine that he carried with him in tiny squeeze bottles like eye-drops.
Bad Dima drank nothing but straight tequila, and he settled his tab every night in cash – a big wad of cold, stiff twenty dollar bills – overtipping anywhere from 30 to 40%, even when he was in a foul mood.
He made it a point to learn the names and histories of everyone who worked at The Human Samovar. We had a manager – this skinny weasel with a ponytail named Raphael. But even Raphael took orders from Bad Dima. If we had any problems with customers, Bad Dima would quietly sort them out for us.
New York is a city full of tyrannical people with obsessive habits, and there were lots of regular customers at The Human Samovar who had precious little bath-time routines that we were expected to accommodate. But Bad Dima seemed to understand what it was like to work customer service in a city full of hateful, anonymous assholes who liked to traumatize the underclass with their hostile and repetitive needs.
Instead of being a regular burden, Bad Dima was a regular joy. He listened when all of the immigrants who worked at The Human Samovar bitched about their petty woes. He brought us all honey cakes on our birthdays. He even gave sympathetic advice to the towel attendants and the tea room dishwashers. He understood that simple kindness was priceless in a city where even friendship had a pricetag.
And he always smelled good. He never smelled like sour middle-aged frustration sweat.
Bad Dima came to the bathhouse all alone the night before he got deported.
He was the last customer left in the tea room after I was done wiping down all the chrome fixtures on the bar, so I poured him a glass of Patrón and brought it over to him. He thanked me, but then he grabbed my wrist, pulling me closer and staring me in the eyeballs.
“Tell me something,” he said. “In all the years I have been coming here, have you ever seen me be cruel or unjust? Have you ever seen me do anything illegal or violent?”
“No way,” I said. “You are the nicest person in all of New York.”
He let go of me and leaned back in his seat, satisfied. Between the flaps of his fluffy robe I could see the sopping curls on his bull chest. His slick hair revealed a prominent widow’s peak that flowed downward to the hooked nose between his clear blue eyes.
“Then what have you seen?” he asked. “Be honest.”
I thought about it. When Bad Dima asked me to be honest, he really meant it. He wasn’t inviting me to kiss his ass.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve seen,” I said. “I’ve seen you chew through every beautiful woman in this city like a starving bear at a fish fandango. Seriously, you have a rare gift.”
Bad Dima laughed at me and saluted me with his glass of tequila before draining it.
“How do you do it?” I asked, sitting down across from him. “I am young, dashing, witty, and I have a steady job, but women won’t even share a cab with me, let alone skin friction and interesting fluids. You seem to pull women to you without even trying. People say it’s because of your money, but I know better. I’ve seen plenty of millionaires strike out in this town.”
“The women I bring here are truly beautiful,” said Bad Dima. “They are not plastic nor are they callow in spirit.”
“That’s the most amazing thing,” I said. “It’s not like you are hooking up with vapid actresses or fashion students. You get real women. Lawyers. Teachers. Executives. Artists. The kind of real women who are looking for real love.”
“I have a complicated life,” admitted Bad Dima. “My biggest regret is that I am sadly not capable of the entanglements that serious relationships require, despite my predilection for mature and vivacious company.”
“I wish I had your charms,” I said, thinking about this girl named Sheila who used to come into the bathhouse with a group of her publishing company pals but who I had scared away forever when I had asked for her phone number. “I’d love to have your options.”
“You want to know what it is about me that attracts such quality?” asked Bad Dima. He leaned closer to me. I could smell the tequila on his breath and the tendrils of his minty aftershave. He took several ragged breaths, looking haunted and then amused.
“You are in luck,” said Bad Dima, finally. “I will be going away for a long time and you will probably never see me again, so I have the perverse desire to tell you everything I know.”
“Where are you going?”
“Share a drink with me, and share the night, and we will discuss real women like real men.”
Employees were allowed to use the baths after hours, as long as we cleaned up after ourselves. I played Delta blues on the house speakers and finished cleaning the bar in the tea room while Bad Dima explained his situation with the State Department. He told me that tomorrow was his last day in this country. He said the rest of this country could go fuck itself, but that he would miss New York City, a place that he now considered his one true home.
I assured him that he would be back soon, but he didn’t seem so sure.
When I was done cleaning, Bad Dima and I stretched out in the green waters of the Jacuzzi with the bottle of tequila between us. Most of the lights in the bathhouse were dimmed and the big swimming pool next to the hot tub was like a stagnant purple pond in some underground cave.
“It is my fault that I must leave this wonderful place,” said Bad Dima. “I should have married an American girl. But I did not want to break her heart or put her in harm’s way.”
“American girls are pretty tough,” I said.
“I am a scientist of women,” said Bad Dima, handing me the bottle. “It strikes me now that it has been a mistake that I have never conducted any actual studies or written anything down about my experiments. The knowledge I have acquired is ancient and esoteric, yet as modern as any science magazine. Know this about all the beautiful ladies in my life: I have not pursued any of them. They have pursued me. And each time we have parted company, they have been devastated. I do not fear my male enemies, but I live in mortal terror of the women I have scorned. Any woman I marry would be in terrible danger.”
“Craziness,” I said, taking a tiny sip of tequila and then returning the bottle to him.
“Like I said, I am a scientist of women,” said Bad Dima. “Listen and I will tell you what I know.”
Bad Dima was silent for a moment, collecting his thoughts, swirling the bottle of tequila around in the waters of the Jacuzzi like a witch stirring a smoking cauldron.
“When I was young and stupid, as you are, I noticed that the most interesting and attractive of ladies always seemed to be dating fellows who seemed to be entirely unworthy of their company,” he began. “When I first moved to New York, I lived in Brooklyn and there was this girl in my apartment building named Erica. She was an amazing woman of almost angelic beauty. Not only was she of much charm physically, but she was also a brilliant physicist and a professor at NYU. I could not understand why she had chosen her mate, this greasy, hairy troglodyte named Marco. Marco was a butcher for a living, a man who literally cut up dead meat for people to put inside their sandwiches. Every night, I could hear them copulating above me. I would first hear them fighting about their obvious incompatibility for hours, and then I would hear Marco’s pig grunts joined to Erica’s trilling screams of ecstasy. I could not understand this relationship. It went against all the supposed logics of human desire. Marco did not have money, looks, or exceptional talent. But I told myself, I am here in the big city where things are different, and so I must try to understand these big city people.”
“What happened to Marco and Erica?” I asked. “Did they get married?”
Bad Dima chuckled. He stretched his legs out and lifted his toes out of the water, flexing them.
“Eventually, Marco and Erica went their separate ways. Marco left Erica for a woman who predicts the weather on television, and then Erica went to the Philippines, the country of Marco’s origin, searching for another man just like him.”
“Yes, it is interesting. In fact, there hangs the crux of the truth about human desire.”
“We want what we can’t have.”
“No, not at all. We want exactly what is right for us, though we are often shocked at what this means. Let me tell you another story about real men and real women.”
“Okay,” I said, trying to concentrate.
“They say there are only two stories in the world,” said Bad Dima, holding up two fingers. “One is the long journey of the young person who leaves town to find a mate. The other is the story of the dangerous stranger who comes to town and fucks everything up. The truth is that these are the same story, considered from two different viewpoints.”
Bad Dima dipped under the bubbling water and then came up for air, slicking his hair back and hugging the side of the Jacuzzi to massage his chest with the pressure jets.
“Once upon a time, when we all lived in tiny villages, the gene pool had a nasty way of becoming too pure,” he said. “Too inbred. In order to create strong and healthy human livestock, the simple villagers mistreated their children in ways that seem harsh now, but which were actually very cunning for the diversification of the species. The cunning villagers would banish all of the young men who were too pure of blood, and they would lock up all of the young women who were too beautiful. These special children were dangerous. They represented the strongest expressions of the village gene.”
“The village brand,” I said.
“The outcast males would join up in gangs and wander the world, trying like hell to mate with their counterparts: the beautiful locked-up daughters in each village they crossed. These brigands would steal these women away, traveling with their new mates to new places and restarting the cycle. But eventually these outcasts grew tired of making mere villages for themselves. They wanted something new. They wanted cities.”
“In cities, these outcasts could gather from all over, including women who had run away from their villages, preferring freedom to a life of confinement. In cities, diverse genomes mixed together like public sweat in a public bath. Here, while searching for a mate, men and women could also get work done and also have meaningful lives instead of wandering from village to village as rapists and barbarians or waiting around to get raped or barbarized. Additionally, many of the same hyper-aggressive instincts that came from genetic superiority were actually useful in cities, which were not places for easy lives.”
“I get it,” I said.
“Everything comes down to one central question. How do these people in cities with intense, fucked-up outcast genes find each other?”
Bad Dima blinked at me.
“Yes, dancing is a good answer. But why dancing?”
“It’s like sex. But no diseases. Though, you have to deal with dance music.”
“It’s smarter than that,” said Bad Dima. “While writhing against each other in cramped clubs, we can smell each other’s genes. We can quickly sort each other as potential partners and smell whether or not we will make good babies together. Your chemistry is your reaction to the hard, strong genes of a woman who has suffered in a way that you have never suffered.”
“So the hotter and sweatier you get…”
“The easier it will be for women to smell your future together,” finished Bad Dima. “Anyone can fake good genes. Once you have learned to unlock the ancient power in your DNA, then you will be able to set yourself on fire and intoxicate women with the riches of your gene smoke. It’s all about hormones and neurotransmitters.”
“What do you mean anyone can fake good genes?”
“Your genes are not set in stone. The way that you live your life influences the expression and development of your genetic material. You may have fat genes, but they will never kick in if you spend your whole life running marathons. If you are a psycho, you will smell like a psycho. If you are a hero, you will smell like a hero.”
“So basically what you are saying is that if I want to pick up girls I need to start slaying dragons and kicking ass.”
“You could do that,” said Bad Dima. “Or you could cheat. Like me.”
Bad Dima hauled himself out of the Jacuzzi and dove into the freezing cold ice bath, hugging his knees and sinking slowly to the bottom. I winced. He came to the surface gasping and roaring, and then he climbed the ladder out of the bath and stood on the deck of the bath-house, dripping and grinning.
“Turn on the sauna,” he said.
“Always keep this in mind when dealing with ladies,” said Bad Dima. “It is as hard for a woman to have a climax as it is for a man like you to get laid.”
“Oh really,” I said, tossing some eucalyptus oil on the burning coals and then sitting back down on my big fluffy spa towel spread over the sauna’s pine slats.
“Striking out for a lady means choosing a man who is not really a man,” said Bad Dima, squirting melon-flavored nicotine into his electric cigarette and then screwing it together. “Striking out means picking a selfish and unskilled lover. The stakes are much higher for women. You would be much more coy and unenthusiastic about sex if you were never guaranteed an orgasm, but rather were only able to climax ten percent of the time. Perhaps one percent of the time with a stranger. Additionally, women get called sluts for merely trying to find men who activate their wild passions. They might have to sleep with hundreds to find this man, the same way that you might have to hit on hundreds of women to find one willing to go home with you.”
“I never thought about it like that,” I said. “But what did you mean about cheating? Are there ways to make your gene smoke more appealing without saving the world or becoming a rock star?”
“In Russia, we call it homeopathic gene fire,” said Bad Dima, blowing out vapor from his cigarette. I wondered how long he could hold onto it in the sauna before the steel burned his fingers. “American scientists call it epigenetics. The ancient art of stimulating your genes to convey strength. Homeopathic medicine contains the smallest discernible amount of a chemical dissolved in gallons of water. The method for homeopathic gene fire is the same: you simply do a little bit of something amazing just to get the scent in your smoke.”
“How do you do a little bit of something amazing?” I asked.
“There are tricks that work for every man.”
He stared at me.
“Even American men,” he said.
“Some tricks are very simple,” said Bad Dima. “Like learning an instrument. You don’t have to be a professional. You just have to know how to play a few songs. Women can smell this.”
“I can already play the harmonica. What else?”
“The more languages you know, the better,” said Bad Dima. “The stench of world travel is very attractive. You don’t need to go to South America and become a cocaine pirate, seducing senoritas with your lusty passions and your retarded rebel poetry. All you need to do is learn a little Spanish.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“Here’s an important tip about this stuff,” said Bad Dima. “Never brag. Women who smell your smoke will ask all kinds of prying questions, trying to figure out why they are attracted to you. Be humble and aggressive, but also be circumspect. Don’t talk them out of sleeping with you.”
“What else? What other tricks are there?”
“There are thousands,” said Bad Dima. “For instance, raising a child. This doesn’t mean simply being a father. This means actually raising a child. Caring for and loving a growing human baby. Nine times out of ten, when a woman is attracted to some malformed, fat motherfucker with a receding hairline and wrist-wrinkles it is because he was the oldest child of a dozen and spent his whole youth taking care of infants.”
“I don’t know any babies,” I said.
“You could volunteer at the hospital,” said Bad Dima. “You could take babysitting jobs from the internet.”
“What else?” I said.
“Jury duty,” said Bad Dima. “The more times you sit in judgment over the life and death of another human being, the stronger your genes will smell. You could be putting murderers away for life or giving out traffic tickets and your genes won’t know the difference.”
“You talk about genes like they are always watching,” I said.
“They are the real secret police,” said Bad Dima.
“What about killing animals and stuff?” I asked.
“To gain mastery over nature, I cheat by going to the zoo,” said Bad Dima. “The zoo is the perfect place to practice staring down wild beasts. I like to practice with the monkeys. I go up to one of those monkey huts in the Central Park Zoo and I put my face up against the glass and I just stare at the monkeys without blinking until I get a reaction. I don’t stop until I make them shriek or toss cedar chips at me or start masturbating.”
“Do these tricks work for women?” I asked.
“Women have different tricks,” said Bad Dima. “Men must express their dominance and invincibility. Be on the lookout for opportunities to kill people. Terminally ill people often need assistance with their suicides, for instance. You could also volunteer down at the abortion clinic, depending on how you feel about the personhood of fetuses. Do you think fetuses are people?”
“No,” I said. “I mean. It’s hard to say.”
“Well, if you have an opportunity to help with an abortion, you’d better do it anyway. Also, if you can serve on a jury in a death penalty case, you can kill two birds with one stone. You are a bartender. Eventually, somebody is going to drink themselves to death in front of you or drive into a telephone pole. If you can convince yourself you were responsible, you will feel it in your genes. The mark of Cain. There is nothing sexier to a lady, though they will never admit it.”
“Let’s pretend that I am not interested in killing anyone,” I said.
“There are some other very strange tricks out there,” said Bad Dima. “Nobody knows why they work, but they do. For instance, giving another man a blowjob or letting another man give you a blowjob.”
Bad Dima leaned back in the sauna and grinned at me. His smile was sly and toothy.
“A blowjob?” I said nervously.
“Haven’t you ever noticed how attractive gay men are to young women?” said Bad Dima. “You give a man a blowjob and your genes will get smoking hot. I don’t know how it works. Nobody does. But it is cause and effect.”
“You are telling me to go out there and blow dudes so I can pick up ladies? This is your big secret?”
“One blowjob,” said Bad Dima. “For your genes.”
He stared at me. I stared back at him. He wafted his towel at me. His body odor mixed with the melon-tobacco smoke and filled my head like a gym sock in my mouth. I had visions of liquid steel flowing through pounding pistons, being shaped into hard hammers and jagged swords in the assembly line of some dark factory. I could almost hear bass voices chanting in deep tones that made my bowels ache and made my testicles twitch, sending creamy panic to my brain on a gout of sex blood. I leaned toward him and my knees shivered. My mouth went dry. His gene smoke was like a club drug.
I mastered myself and shifted my legs to the side to hide my own growing erection. How could any woman ever hope to resist him?
“I’m not going to give you a blowjob,” I said quietly.
“Another American coward,” said Bad Dima, laughing. He stood up and walked to the door of the sauna, taking his sex cloud with him. He put his hand on the door and cocked his head to the side. “Anyway, that’s not the only weird trick. For instance, if you make a beautiful woman your friend, but you never, ever sleep with her, she will draw other single women to you like flies to shit. You should also always vote. Vote liberal, but buy a handgun. Learn to drive. Learn to fly an airplane. Never masturbate. Always answer your phone. Never drink alcohol, unless you drink straight tequila. Never smoke. Eat pancakes with maple syrup every Sunday. Eat black caviar at funerals. Don’t ever walk away from a bed of sex unless your partner has also climaxed. Stay there for days if you must.”
Bad Dima staggered out of the sauna. I followed him. He threw himself into the dark waters of the ice bath and stayed underwater for a full minute. He broke the surface with a roar that echoed off the tile of the bathhouse like some monster infant crawling out of a bloody womb and feeling pain for the first time.
“Do not fear heat,” said Bad Dima. “And do not fear cold!”
He turned and headed for the dressing room.
We were both silent as we put on our street clothes, but I knew there was something else he wasn’t telling me. I put on my sweater and then my leather jacket as Bad Dima slipped into his expensive suit and his silk scarf.
I turned off all the lights in the bathhouse and locked the door. Bad Dima was waiting for me on the street in front of his black sedan. Smoke was pouring out of the exhaust pipe of his car.
“You need a lift someplace?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” I said.
“You sure?” he asked. “I will drop you right to your front doorstep.”
“I’m not even sure I’m going home,” I said. “I need to process all of this.”
We shook hands. I felt him slip something into my palm and I came away with a hundred dollar bill.
“What’s this for?” I asked. “I should be paying you.”
“It’s the most important part,” said Bad Dima. “Always, always, always be generous. Tip at least 20%. If you can’t afford to tip 20%, then drink beer at home or cook your own food. Above all else, your body knows when you are being generous and it will pay you back with enough gene smoke to get lesbian grannies wet. It’s not how much money you make – women can always help you make more money – it’s how generously you spend it. Look like a capitalist, live like a communist, fight like a fascist, and fuck like an anarchist.”
He clapped me on the shoulder and stared deep into my eyes. I wished I had given him a blowjob after all, or at least let him blow me.
“You suave motherfucker,” he said solemnly, “may you never die.”
Bad Dima took one last drag from his electric cigarette. The blue tip lit up like a star in the freezing night air, and then he got into his car and I never saw him again.
I gave his hundred dollar bill to the first down-and-out dude who asked me for spare change on the subway and I swear to god every girl in that subway car was checking me out.