Let me tell you how Dasha Nekrasova came to be this poet’s muse. But first, a few details about my addiction to and recovery from conspiracy porn.
I am not and have never been a conspiracy theorist. I think of myself instead as a conspiracy enthusiast. There’s no crew of undercover FBI agents working out of a faux-graffitied Chevy van inconspicuously parked kitty-corner from my apartment. Nah. The dudes in charge of the infosphere can see I have no followers, no likes. I’m just another dud of harmless data, a truth-consumer who is in no way vying to become an owner (or broker) of its shares.
I began as a run-of-the-mill truther strolling Zuccotti Park who became riveted by Barry Jenning’s illuminating timeline of events on the Scary of September Eleventh. I then grew increasingly paranoid about issues of privacy, until I angrily deactivated my Facebook account, which had begun to feel in retrospect like an unsanitary public bathroom. A few weeks later, when I reluctantly rejoined to say hi to a very old friend from the past, I discovered that my account and my identity had been entirely translated into a Slavic language. I couldn’t read my own name, but there was my face, which I somewhat miraculously could still recognize. Just like that, I’d become a Russian bot.
Things got really graphic around the Boston bombing. After the event, I mentioned the bloodbath up in Boston to my secret service doctor neighbor down on the Jersey Shore. It’s hard to say how close we ever were. Our friendship began one July when we took our little girls out for ice cream at a place called Hoffman’s and while we were in line, he whipped out his cellphone, scrolled down a few thousand pics, and handed it to me so that I could feast my eyes for a sec on a pic he had taken of himself at the White House with Obama’s Portuguese water dog Bo Diddly.
Given that I was a big fan of the breed and had my very own Dragon from Lisbon, I didn’t hesitate to put 100% of my trust in this man for life. We were instant pals. I thought, surely he would be the guy to know the truth if indeed Boston had been a false flag event, involving your basic theater company of military-trained crisis actors. He gave me nothing. And so I turned my attention back to the investigative journalists online, who were magnifying high-res snap shots like in Antonioni’s Blow Up, to more closely inspect and analyze the grizzly crime scene.
I was teetering between disbelief and the suspension of it—I was in the zone. Was the shrapnel artificial? Were the mangled pedestrians and runners sprinkled and blotted with a crimson product purchased at Ricky’s the week before Halloween? The conspiracy theorist (who was more like a self-taught Ph.D. in forensics) certainly thought so, as he rewound the tape and studied it frame by frame. I grew convinced that the bombers were not the Russian brothers, but the ominous pro-football-seeming guys in tan Kraft soft-combat gear standing around as if in strategic locations holding devices with fingers on buttons (I’d imagine they had all been hired or at least interviewed by none other than Erik (with a K for KKK) Prince.
Where was this significant time suck on a decade of my life leading me? I decided to reach out to my best man in Boston. He had literally been the best man at my wedding. We met in college; he was ROTC; he entered the special forces; was the son of a U.S. Army colonel, and the brother of a high-ranking expert in counterterrorism.
Anyway, I finally had him over (it took all kinds of convincing) and there he was at my kitchen table catching me up on many of the twists and turns his life had taken over the years. I learned that he ran the Boston Marathon that very day. While he forked a nice big piece of lox onto his toasted everything bagel and scooped out a giant portion of whitefish salad onto his plate, his tiny-boned wife revealed that her niece had been seriously injured in the bombing, and meshugeneh internet trolls has proliferated images of the catastrophic event all over the internet, and had characterized her own mother as “The Pink Lady” (she wears a pink puffy vest and can be seen tending to the injured down in the mosh pit. I have to admit I had actually seen these very pictures). Her older sister’s daughter had not only had much of her calf blown off by the bomb, but had miraculously managed to get most of it grafted back on in a state-of-the-art procedure, at a state-of-the-art shock trauma facility that was now being funded by her parents, who are extremely wealthy real estate moguls.
Eye opening to the truth? Yes. But, like Nekrasova in her new film, The Scary of Sixty-First, my eyes remained wide shut. And, like hers they are still wide shut.
Other reporters have noted Nekrasova’s appearance in an Eyes Wide Shut shirt at a promotional event for The Scary of Sixty-First, a Kubrick-lite movie about everything that ails us, as citizens of an unreality that more or less suddenly appears to be a permanent state of affairs, with the chinks and gashes (are the alarm bells going off?) that appear in the digital fabric instantly repaired by crawling censor-bots, leaving the worm holes of conspiracism as the de facto loci of what only lunatics could call truth, which allows the powerful to hide evidence of their crimes.
My psychic connection to Nekrasova, crisis actress and auteur filmmaker, began when I was in COVID lockdown texting with a painter friend of mine who has told me to my face that she hopes I never review a show of her paintings because I come across in my critical art writing as if I’m “toying” with the artist—the way a cat toys with a mouse before eating it. Fair enough. I don’t see it that way.
Anyway, the point is: My friend finds me repulsive, but at least she’s sophisticated, tolerant, resilient and humorous enough not to have canceled me. On the contrary, she gave me a little gift for being such an asshole—directing me to check out the exceptionally unpredictable, politically incorrect Red Scare Podcast, hosted by two intelligent 30-something women who seem to approve of incorrigible, intuitive and overgrown boys like me. My friend noted that I wouldn’t be drawn to Red Scare for its reference to the McCarthy era witch hunt for communists, but for one of its two hosts, Dasha, who she predicted I’d instantly become obsessed with.
So I went right to the “ladies,” as they call themselves. I can’t really describe what I heard, but I knew immediately that I liked it. It came across as a low-budget, entirely uncensored hourlong chat session between two close girlfriends in their 30s making fun of the circus we live in—laughing and gossiping (while smoking and drinking) about all the people who are either getting attention or trying to get attention—the so-called “awfuls.”
Here is a short piece of writing I did a while back in my journal after a dinner party at my publisher Barney’s house, which is when he lit a joint after dinner with a red lighter stamped with the words “Red Scare” in big black type:
“On the Red Scare pod-cast the other day, I listened to hosts Dasha Nekrasova and Anna Khachiyan. They cracked me up. Maybe their show has been associated with some pretty iffy people, like Steve Bannon, but they redeem themselves when they speak to people like Adam Curtis, Slavoj Žižek, and John Waters. They are open minded; they call it as they see it; they wrestle with all the contradiction; and they tease each other about the wide variety of iffy men they’d actually like to fuck.”
One problem I have when listening, is that I can’t tell which voice belongs to which girl. The voice on the left sounds kind of ditsy and slutty (what they call vocal fry) and the voice to the right sounds pot-Ph.D.-ish. When I looked them up it turned out I had guessed wrong. I thought the smart one was the hot one. Then I discovered the hot one was in fact the ditsy one. Oops. Actually they are both smart. And I suppose objectively hot. But I’m sorry, Anna, you’re just not my type, which is to say, I’m not sorry, because you (I have learned by listening) are addicted to honesty and literally get sexually aroused by honest, somewhat cruel Jewish men.
Anyway, I know now which Red Scare lady is which. They are really at their best when they are making fun of people—it is their schtick. And honestly, when they let down on maximum irreverence for even two seconds, I get a little bored. They are here to cancel the cancelers—but really to shame us all in to admitting we are all “awfuls.” In a very recent segment show about Demi Lovato, titled “Themi Lovato” they warm up shooting the shit about whatever pure garbage is on their mind. But they do attempt to get to what is officially on the “docket.” They always use this word “docket” as if to remind us that they actually have prepped a little. Anyway, this episode’s docket concerns a tweet that went viral after Demi threw a shit fit in a frozen yogurt store in LA, crying that the store basically triggered her to fall off the wagon and binge on a snack with artificial sweetener. Dasha and Anna delighted each other by reading and ragging on a tweet concerning Demi. “A bipolar, bicurious, self-harming, bulimic, bullying victim, alcoholic cocaine addicted heroin junky with ADHD who was a pansexual queer nonbinary and survivor of child abuse childhood neglect and rape bedeviled by heart attacks and strokes, legal blindness … and brain damage???”
“Wait,” interjects Anna, “he fit all of that into one tweet?” (The ladies both crack up.)
Right around this time, I went online to research Dasha and discovered—in addition to the fact that she was born in 1991, in Minsk, Belarus, the hometown of my ancestors, to parents who were Russian acrobats (no shit)—about a zillion selfies, until finally my art school-trained eyes froze on one portrait that was not a selfie. On the contrary, it was taken by a pro, by the very famous, very perverted photographer Richard Kern. In the picture, Dasha is posed just like one of Balthus’ infamous underage school girls (in the tartan skirt, with one knee up). She’s kissing the camera with her eyes, playing the character of the sexual beast in Bataille’s Story of the Eye. Kern’s books are never exactly pornographic—they are just dangerously arousing.
So there was Dasha in the same pose that has been used on countless covers of Lolita over the century.
Next, I checked out her Wikipedia page and discovered that she has actually acted in a few films that have gotten the attention of critics. One, directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko is called Wobble Palace (2018). I looked for it on Netflix. No. Hulu. No. Then Amazon Prime Video. Yes! But for $3.99. No fucking way. Pay 5 bucks to see some low-budget flick?
I squeezed my eyes, and pressed BUY, and was suddenly streaming Wobble Palace. Sure enough, the film started off great (amazing haircuts) and only got better with each scene. Just when I was thinking it couldn’t possibly get more dazzling and original, a pretty sleazy but cute love interest was introduced to the narrative—a guy who is, hilariously, having stomach cramps and has to go off in search of a restroom to relieve his bowels in the middle of a day-date. I immediately recognized this character as a person who I actually know in real life. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t possibly make this up. It was Vish!
There he was. Vish Velandy! I kept watching. Up through the scene where he actually crawls into bed naked with Dasha and … I’ll use the word “spoons” here.
I paused the movie and texted Vish. “You’re great in Wobble.” Back came, “Can I call you?”
Soon the movie was on pause; I was anxious that I’d run out of time to watch it and have to re-rent it, dropping yet another 5 spot. But I had Vish on the horn and we were laughing away, getting caught up.
Vish was my ex-student, actually. He’d gotten away from fine art, studied for years in various method-acting classes, and slowly matured into a first-rate actor. We had kept up over the years. I reminded him that at Lucky Strike, about five years earlier, we’d clanked our ice cold Peronis, and I’d pronounced that he was gonna make it big one day. And now he had! But thankfully not too big—he was just big enough to be in bed in a low-budget sex scene with Dasha, but not so big that the body in bed would have been a body double.
Actually, I had given Vish his start, not to take credit for his success in movies, or in bedding Hollywood babes. In art school one year I’d taken his class hostage and transformed it into an amateur theater company and used the semester to selfishly create a play in order to see my own dream production come true: Being There. It went swimmingly. My Chauncey the Gardener (aka Chance) was remarkable (Lotfy Nathan). He convincingly “liked to watch,” and I whipped my cast into shape to play the doctor, the old man, Eve, and even the old maid, who all won Academy Awards in the old-fashioned Hollywood movie palace of my mind. We filled a trash can with bottles of empty booze at the cast party, and now I get to sit with Jerzy Kosiński and Peter Sellers and especially Hal Ashby in a place so sublime that it can hardly be considered a place at all. Deep breath. You guys all know it. Being There is like occult magic. It’s next-level shit.
So Vish, in any case, told me he’d been hanging out all during COVID with Dasha and friends at the KGB Bar on the Lower East Side and that he couldn’t wait to introduce us. In fact, he invited me to come along with him and Dasha that very evening to an opening of Wallace Shawn’s new play. But hey, three’s a crowd. Sadly it never happened.
A few weeks later, I was landing at LAX when my elegantly elusive editor at Tablet, who relocated himself upstate several weeks before COVID officially hit and has, I believe, information on Jeffrey Epstein and his involvement with billionaires and so-called world leaders that he coyly refuses to share with me, texted me: “While you’re out there, can you attend this premiere?” The link, coincidentally, was to Dasha’s new movie.
Co-written with her gal-pal Maddie Quinn, it is said to have something to do with Epstein, the wealthy pedophile whose activities totally put the lie to wacko conspiracy theories about top billionaires and politicians linked to the Clintons conspiring to traffic underage girls for sex and use their political connections to cover up their criminal activities. I plugged in my phone at one of those recharging kiosks in the airport and stood there surfing the internet for articles on Dasha’s film, and came across one very telling piece of journalism that compared Dasha to Chloë Sevigny circa Kids. The article provided this sensational anecdote:
“Nekrasova achieved social media fame—and gained the nickname “Sailor Socialism,” while attending South by Southwest in 2018 to promote Wobble Palace. Drinking an iced coffee and glancing at her iPhone, she was approached by a reporter for the conspiracy-laden Infowars, who put a microphone in her face and asked, “Are you a fan of Bernie Sanders?”
Nekrasova, wearing a sailor top, smiled back: “Yeah, I am.”
“What do you like about him?”
“Ummm. That he’s a socialist,” Nekrasova laughed.
She tried to beg off as the Infowars reporter excitedly asserted that socialism has led to a majority of Venezuelans eating rats, to which Nekrasova calmly replied, “I just want people to have health care, honey. … You people have like worms in your brain, honestly.”
Before I was even out of the airport, I was texting Vish to see if he could get me an interview with Dasha. Back came the number of her agent. Craving a cigarette, I was now out in front of LAX inhaling bus fumes and smog instead, waiting for my best friend Brandon to pick me up. A text from Dasha’s agent appeared apologizing that she was too busy to meet with me, which I attribute to the significant moment she is having right at this very second, not due to the growing popularity of Red Scare, or the discovery of Wobble Palace, but for her small but significant role in the new season of the HBO hit series Succession.
After a second quick text with Dasha’s agent to try to secure tickets to the movie (I said I was writing for the Jews, which in hindsight maybe wasn’t the best idea), I realized I was on my own.
Hurt by the rejection, I threw a regrettable fit with Tablet’s arts editor, bitching at her tardiness in securing me tickets to the movie, which I assumed would quickly sell out. “I’m out here in the field, which is why I need a little back up,” I screamed, like a hormonal teenager doing his best Rambo imitation, as Brandon sat across from me eating a burrito tapping his new soft shoe. We both really dig Gram Parsons. (This paragraph would be cuter if you had actually apologized to me, which you didn’t.—Ed.)
The next night I arrived at the movie theater (I bought my own damn tickets). The place was crawling with children. I flashed my COVID card on my phone to a girl with a clipboard, thinking, “I’m too old to even be in Los Feliz.” I was in line to get a coffee behind a girl who looked like a 14-year-old in a Richard Kern photograph. Stockings up past the knee. Short plaid skirt. No, it wasn’t Dasha. Just a Dasha wanna be. A few children looked up at me, I suppose noticing that I had white frizzy hair and a furry white beard popping out the sides of my surgical mask. I can’t imagine what they saw.
The movie began and my brain woke up instantly. Not so much because of the imagery, or sound, but because of the clicking of the projector, and the quick flicker of the glowing screen. It was an actual film, and there I was in a comfy seat in an actual movie theater. What a mind fuck!
The next day, my editor texted again, asking me what I thought about the movie. This is exactly what I texted back. I guess it can be considered a review, the way the critics used to write them when they’d go into a phone booth and read each line to a typist back in the news room.
“Dasha and Maddie’s movie is basically a B-film, with some tropes of the horror genre, mixed with many tropes of ’70s-type midnight films, like John Waters, with a little Russ Meyer and little Abel Ferrara mixed in, but with less skill behind or in front of the camera. Terrible acting, terrible sets, no camera work, pathetic writing, and a fraction of sex appeal. However, it was NOT slick. And it truly felt like they cooked it up from their own desire to grapple with the fucked up world we live in, and their own struggle with alternative facts. Also, the audience of Gen Z-ers laughed out loud often and some girls were even styled like Dasha, which made me wonder if she might indeed be the next Chloë.
“The flick was by no means a deep investigation of Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal enterprise, even though it is presumably based on his sex trafficking ring that is thought to have also been a complex blackmailing hustle. The film didn’t tell me anything I don’t already know about Epstein and the many influential people in his black book.
“The premise of the film is a little weird. It tries to make it seem like these young New Yorkers have by chance rented an apartment in the same very sinister mansion he lived in before going to prison. And the Manhattan townhouse turns out to be a haunted house with an extremely disgraceful Murphy bed, that made me laugh. The plot was basically about these two roommates who are visited by a third girl, played by Dasha (as I said, three’s a crowd) who shows up with a suitcase of drugs as if she’s Dr. Max Jacobson, aka Dr. Feelgood. In case you’re interested, the miracle tissue regenerator shots that JFK and every other VIP in Hollywood were getting almost daily:
Dasha announces that she has come in search of the truth, but seems more intent on breaking up a quasi-romantic relationship (Addie played by Betsey Brown and Noelle played by the film’s co-writer Madeline Quinn), and to replace one of the girls in bed. Soon all the girls find a tarot card and become ill with a potent viral conspiracy theory, which like syphilis, sends them into a sexually crazed fever, leading to a knifing, I seem to recall.
“The film is like a hodgepodge of pop cultural horror shows. Pizzagate comes to mind, as Dasha leads her friends like Nancy Drew on opium to a basement where she expects to reveal the remains of numerous murdered sex slaves, or something. (I may have dozed off for a few seconds, I’ll admit.) The film leaves us all a little confused: Is the druggy conspiracy theorist a girl who wishes she could have been one of Epstein’s sex slaves? Or is she a feminist truther hero who pulls back the curtain like the nippy Toto to display a contaminated world of predators and groomers who can afford to overpay for cheap thrills, groom and molest children as if they were sex toys. Both?
“Anyway, let me know if you still want me to review it?”
After reflecting on the film a few more days, I can say it has grown on me considerably. It may turn out to be an actual cult film as opposed to a bad film pretending to be a cult film. Why? 1) The film gets the last word on Murphy beds, which are beyond repulsive, 2) the directors make fun of boring sex between heterosexual partners, as in a sex scene between Addie and her classically hetero-bro boyfriend (played by Mark H. Rapaport) which is a disgrace that made me pray to wake up trans, and 3) the film is bravely grotesque: The horny Jewish chick with daddy issues implodes after finding the Jungian Kabbalah tarot card with the Hebrew letter (resh) and two naked toddlers hand in hand standing before a radiant sun.
The potent archetype transforms the preppie snotty Addie into a drooling conspiracy fiend. We watch as this bitch-in-heat descends into sexual madness, wiping her crotch with torn-out newspaper clippings of Prince Andrew. WTF? “It’s not so bad once you get used to it,” she says in a high voice looking like a hard-core bulimic who just sucked the helium out of a balloon. And then she pops an Ambien and hits the street in her PJs looking for, I guess, a rich white aristocrat to massage at JG Melons. I’m reminded of the horny Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. Remember the code word? Nightingale.
What I really enjoyed most about the movie is its use of the actual doorway of Manhattan’s mongo townhouse, The Straus House, located directly across the street from the Frick. This is the ominous 15-foot oak doorway to Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s now defunct headquarters, under a fresco of rococo gargoyles.
The 51,000-square-foot townhouse with its nine floors, is the largest in all of Manhattan. No I’m not selling real estate.
Its original owner was Herbert Straus of Macy & Co., and it eventually—after being donated in 1944 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to be used as a hospital, and then to the Birch Wathen School—wound up in the hands of the billionaire behind Victoria’s Secret, Leslie Wexner, which is when it was given (for no apparent reason) to Jeffrey Epstein, who moved in (in 1996), and fraudulently claimed to own it while also pretending to be a Victoria’s Secret supermodel recruiter.
A 2003 Vanity Fair piece titled “The Talented Mr. Epstein” (by Vicky Ward) captures Epstein’s decadence long before he became a household name and a legendary criminal. In the article she describes the moment she entered the luxurious home and glimpsed a copy of Marquis de Sade’s Justine—a tale of a sexually abused 12-year-old protagonist—casually sitting on the desk, as if to provoke. Yikes. The entire house, we now know, was also carefully wired with a closed-circuit television system, making it literally a booby trap for all the rich men who had ever gone there to ostensibly spend their considerable wedge of the world’s pie (their accursed share) on frivolous erotic encounters, or so one can only assume.
My favorite scene in The Scary is when Dasha shreds a yellow sheet, ties it around her neck, straps it to the bed post, and tries to hang herself the same way Epstein did in prison in an awkward and funny attempt to prove that it can’t be done. She comes dangerously close to proving the exact opposite, though she hates to admit it. She has to be cut down by her friend just before she stops breathing in a moment of perfect camp.
As I watched her experiment, I was reminded of my own desperation to make the virtual facts match the real facts, and I could feel so many question-worms racing through the network of holes in my brain. As Dasha struggles for air, I felt myself struggling to understand how it could have possibly come down to Attorney General William Barr to deliver the truth about Epstein’s prison snafu—given that it was Barr’s father, Donald Barr, who had been in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services—or the pre-CIA) and was the same Donald Barr who hired the young Jeffrey Epstein to teach at Dalton School, and the same Donald Barr who wrote a science fiction novel back in 1973 called Space Relations, summarized online as “a science fiction novel about a planet ruled by oligarchs who engage in child sex slavery.”
“If you’re persistent in your quest, your path will reveal the deepest secrets,” The Scary insists. Here we may really truly be speaking about Victoria’s Secret—Mr. Wexner’s trashy lingerie company that bloomed in the ’80s along with shopping malls and supermodels. Perhaps this has something to do with why Epstein’s temple on his island (his piano room) looks so much like a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag with those broad horizontal stripes. And why the association of Wexner and Epstein leads us to the actual VS fashion show afterparty where Donald Trump met his future wife, Slovene American Melania Knauss. And what Bill Clinton may have been doing all gussied up in a blue dress in a creepy painting that once hung in Epstein’s Straus House.
My guess, having given the movie and my muse more thought, is that you only get to know the secret once you own it. But for those who lack such resources, like myself and Dasha, we can at least marvel at the scope of the lie—which is life itself.
Jeremy Sigler’s latest book of poetry, Goodbye Letter, was published by Hunters Point Press.