If you take “A Dead Bat in Paraguay” without worrying about Roosh’s subsequent career it’s an enjoyable read – a sort of anti-travel book written by an observant and honest young man. The writing is uneven but has real potential. It’s a shame that Roosh couldn’t have written more along these lines, but books like this don’t sell, and he was determined not to go back to his career as a microbiologist. To make money he wrote the “Bang” series about how to pick up girls in different countries, and so became a controversial figure banned from some countries for his misogynist views. His reputation was the victim, and his publicity machine benefactor, of the easily triggered outrage of our PC times.
There is a lot about how to bed girls in Dead Bat. In hostels and nightclubs from Ecuador to Brazil, Roosh and other young Western males scheme to score local women, with the less exotic but more accessible gringas as a backup. Having experienced this hostel scene myself, it’s hardly controversial or uncommon for guys and girls to have casual hookups as they travel the world, sometimes their free and easy Western values may clash with the more conservative local cultures. In South America, the people are often more sexually conservative than their highly social manner would indicate. What is unusual about Roosh is how much he analyses and obsesses over how to pick up girls. He wants the algorithm that will get him as many girls as fast as possible. However, his first few months in South America are a total failure in this respect.
Dead Bat is not only about trying to score, Roosh is really good at describing things that most will experience along the gringo trail between Lonely Planet attractions. His humourous descriptions of long-distance bus travel are a highlight:
“When you ask the fare catcher how long it takes to get to the next city, the time he gives you is based on maniacal driving. Regular driving takes twice as long to arrive and just isn’t as fun for the adrenaline junkies that compose the bus driver corps. It didn’t matter that the road to Tena was this gravel and dirt thing that days of rain had turned into thick mud. I could feel the back of the bus sliding as the driver hurried anyway like he was rushing the President of France to an important diplomatic meeting.”
The first half of the book, when Roosh is in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia is the stronger half. There is more social commentary focusing on transport, the poor and food as well as unsuccessful pickup attempts. Roosh is not afraid to say that he is completely underwhelmed by the continent’s number one tourist attraction: Machu Picchu. Other gringos are shocked by his attitude. He is disparaging of the lack of hygiene in Bolivia, but sympathetic to the fate of the miners in the Potosi mines. The mines are another “must do” attraction, Roosh is not breaking any ground, but his description of the appalling conditions of the miners is quite good. Here are two examples of him sharing his raw thoughts:
“Bolivia has no redeeming qualities besides what nature bestowed on it, not to the credit of the people or culture. I hate Bolivia. I was on the road to health but Bolivia destroyed it, and now I was sick again. I should have rode the bus right through the country.”
“I felt small for complaining about my relatively easy job at home that paid me a salary the miners could only dream of. How did I come to the conclusion that a professional job with fair pay in a modern building was actually torture?”
Many have had the emotions in the first quote on a long bus ride but wouldn’t write them down. We’d certainly like to express the sentiments in the second quote – whether we felt them or not.
It is in Mendoza, Argentina that young Jedi Roosh turns in the Dark Vader pickup artist. Sitting on a bench, he is overwhelmed by the beauty of Argentine women passing by. Up until this point Roosh has failed to get laid, but here he hopes to make up for that. He and his crew of hostel friends hit the clubs hunting. But Argentine culture has some surprises in store for Roosh. He gets into conversations with girls and they’ll show great interest in him only to disappear if he takes a toilet break. They’ll touch him on the forearm, a real sign of interest in the USA, but again just disappear. They are toying with him and he is offended. When he gets close and goes for the kiss he finds another hurdle as girls turn their heads at the last moment. Why does it have to be this way? Roosh is very upset. He is discovering what many have about the Argentine social scene: it promises a lot to the outsider but delivers little. Here are beautiful girls who draw you in, but it is only their endless need for attention that motivates them, they are not interested in you at all. Argentines of the class that the beautiful girls of Mendoza come from are actually quite cliquey and conservative – and arrogant to boot. Wanting something from them will damage your self-esteem, and this is a tipping point for the bold and cold, yet sensitive, Roosh.
“I was so mad I wanted to throw my drink into the crowd. I wanted it to smash on some girl’s head and I wanted her to bleed and cry. How much worse would I feel if I bought them another drink! God I was so stupid. Every night these girls disrespected me and played me like a cheap toy, and I kept going back for more. I leaned against a column, stewing in anger.”
There is an explanation for the Argentine women’s behaviour and that would be Argentinian men. The men are aggressive in trying to pick up, in a way that in America may be considered harassment. I recently talked to a Kiwi woman traumatised by travelling in Argentina saying that the Argentine men touched her all the time. So the women have natural defences against the men chatting them up – they can calm them by showing interest – but then disappear at the first opportunity. Often they are actually interested in the conversation with gringos, Argentines are quite intellectual if not particularly broad in their outlook. Roosh sees the situation as chicken and egg: what came first the hard-to-get women or the aggressive men? In English-speaking countries it’s not easy to get into conversation with an unknown woman at a bar – it’s often seen as creepy to try in New Zealand – but if you do hit it off with someone, it can very often lead to something physical. Would you rather go out and talk to beautiful women but get no action? Or go out and talk to nobody new – apart from once in a blue moon? After a lot of suffering, Roosh gets the low down on the behaviour of the girls from a local:
“The first: “There hasn’t been a sexual revolution in Argentina.” The second: “Girls have been trained that they aren’t worth anything if they are easy.” That would explain their unrevealing dress, lack of sexual suggestive dancing, and maddening head turns. His information helped me connect the dots, but the boat had already sailed.”
Just on a (probably unnecessary) personal note, I experienced the scene in Mendoza in 2004 and 2005, several years before Roosh’s trip. I remember the exhausting schedule of going out at 2 am that is the norm there. Roosh and his buddies start drinking at 9 pm, giving them a full 5 hours before time to go out. I started at 6, the time I would start drinking in NZ or Asia, and this often had me too intoxicated to hit the clubs – that I was never much a fan of anyway. Another feature of Roosh’s trip is the deterioration of his health both physical and mental, and this punishing nightlife schedule hardly helped. His guts give him a lot of trouble. He realises some of his other health worries are in his head but can’t help it. Sigmund Freud may have enjoyed psychoanalysing Roosh, a man with hypochondriac neurosis stemming from frustrated sexual desires. He is the sort of person who needs a project otherwise his racing mind starts attacking:
“South America is not kind to even the mildest of hypochondriacs, which I had to accept I was. In the past I easily diagnosed a slight rash as scabies and odd headaches as brain tumors. When I got tested for HIV I’d browse through AIDS forums on the internet and calculate the odds I actually did have HIV before the results came in. A little twitch in the leg and I might as well be in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis, a pain in the chest and it was a serious heart problem.”
Roosh makes a lot of male friends, often Irish or Aussie guys, hard drinkers, who are committed to going out at night. Roosh realises these friendships will be short-term and doesn’t get too attached. He befriends locals where he can too but never makes much effort to move beyond gringo hangouts, despite the fact he studies Spanish diligently. He details a nice episode with a friend, Max, where they walk out to an offshore island at low tide to see some sea lions. There is nobody else out there, and for a moment feel happy because they have had a unique adventure:
“It was just me and a big piece of plastic in the ocean, away from the gringos and crazy Argentine girls, waiting for the water to lift me up. After riding a wave I’d turn around to face the ocean and feel the same as when on the rock with Max, when we watched the lobos sleep as the sun set in the background. My spirits were coming back. I was tired of moping and feeling sorry for my stomach and my luck.”
Finally, Roosh has sex with an Argentine woman in Cordoba, getting his flag as he says. He also comes across a couple of characters he admires, the shameless ‘predator’, who goes for the kill with girls without hesitating, and a high-energy Italian with a joyous demeanour impossible to replicate. Before leaving Argentina, Roosh gives us some interesting positive cultural insight, largely absent from his blow-by-blow accounts of nights out, which have begun to get tedious:
“Along with the huge bottles of beer that one person can’t possibly finish on their own before it gets warm, the Argentines have a culture of sharing and community that is only dependent on your luck of getting an invitation. My Quilmes beer is your beer, my mate is your mate, like weed smoking almost, but sip-sip-give instead of puff-puff-give. The best way to get to know an Argentine is through beer or mate (they smoke weed, too).”
An Argentine friend told me that when she was in a club in Florianopolis, Southern Brazil, Argentine men on holiday would come up to her and ask “mina or menina? ” meaning ‘Argentine or Brazilian?’ If the answer was mina the men would walk away, it being too much effort to pick up an Argentine girl compared to a Brazilian. So Roosh’s last stop is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a place that he has been told is the promised land for the pickup artist. Before getting there, Roosh moves through Uruguay and Paraguay, where he wakes up with a dead bat in his bed, hence the title of the book, which I think was well chosen.
In Rio, the girls are friendly and Roosh starts to enjoy himself, despite lingering problems with his stomach. He enjoys the fresh juices, especially the acai, and makes friends with Marcelo, who runs a juice stall. Roosh is quite taken by Marcelo’s upbeat attitude despite his six-day-a-week work schedule. As a natural introvert brought up in an Anglo culture, Roosh realises his life can never be as immediate and social as the average Brazilian. On one of his many pickup stints in a crowded club, he approaches a girl who actually finds him interesting. So begins the great romance of this book – Roosh can’t quite believe luck – she is beautiful, passionate and caring. He also meets up with some Brazilian girls he met earlier in his trip, forms solid friendships with them, and gets insights into how Brazil ticks.
Roosh misses his family and wants to fix his stomach. He buys a plane ticket and leaves his girl. This is sad, what he sought did not seem to mean much to him in the end – surely he could have given the relationship a go? But to this point, the story is not too tragic. It’s the epilogue that spooked me because of its near-nihilistic tone. Two years later Roosh, now thirty, returns to Rio. By this stage, he has already begun publishing his bang books. One of his local friends has discovered his writing and is obviously shocked. This must have been a constant danger for Roosh. Amazingly, he meets up with his old flame and she is willing to take him back. Such things don’t happen! But again he can’t commit and their dates are increasingly hard to read about. Despite this downer, there was some stuff I could really relate to in his Rio vignettes. For example, I got robbed by knife-wielding favela kids outside the Help disco at Copacabana Beach in 2005. My friend and I didn’t have much money on us so that was OK – but after the robbery, we had nothing for a taxi and so had a spooky 2 am walk back to our hostel. This was made worse because my friend was legless drunk and I virtually had to carry him. Roosh also leaves Help Club late at night and on foot, but has an interesting tactic not to get robbed – he takes his shirt off – reasoning that a shirtless man will be a less likely target for potential muggers.
Dead Bat is an interesting book about the gringo trail in South America by a man looking to self-actualise while fighting his own demons…Don’t read it as a how-to guide, but also don’t let it get your moral hackles up without due reason.