11/15/06

story - The Lacoste Factor



Casimir Lacoste winced and moaned his tedious way into consciousness, having tried unsuccessfully to ignore the morning sun forcing its way through the wrinkles of his Italian satin curtains and through the creases of his matching satin sheets. As he struggled to come to terms with the hatchet buried in his head – the one he attributed as being the cause of his splitting headache – Casimir tried to put together the pieces of yet another night of debauchery and mayhem. He first sought to recall when he actually went to sleep, vaguely remembering the sun seeping its rays menacingly through the blinds of yet another strange house, with yet more strange people, none of whose names he could remember. He also remembered the shadows that Helios had ironically cast over his conscience, even as he had remained doused in good spirits and continued to babble incoherent nonsense, surfing out the final, dying waves of pharmacologically inspired bliss that splashed on the shores of his drained mind. Amid the “never again”s and the “I wish I hadn’t”s that were exclaimed in the form of inarticulate groans, Casimir found his only solace in the comforting thought that he’d avoided bringing home yet another girl with a body that resembled an over-ripe pear. He half-seriously checked under the sheets, just in case.

A pop, fizz, and a gulp heralded Casimir’s gallant attempt to fight his way back into normality as two noisy aspirin were swallowed with convalescent determination. Next could be heard a snap, crackle and pop, as he prepared his favorite breakfast meal: rice crispies with full-cream milk, honey and banana. Mummy always had boxes of the stuff stashed away in a dry cupboard so it was always only a tug, creak and a snatch away. With Daddy out of town and Mummy on vacation, Casimir would have to bite the bullet and attend his first day of work with feigned intrepidity and an overabundance of self-confidence that would have to go a ways toward compensating for his independence-anxiety. Now if only nobody would notice the hatchet buried in his skull, he should be alright, he thought.

At the ripe old hour of 10:36, by the time the worms had already been caught, devoured, and shat by early birds onto speeding windscreens on the freeway, Casimir made his cheeky and glamorous arrival at his new job, a small dot-com that had been set up just a few months ago. The company had been founded on youthful “I-want-to-be-a-dot-com-too” exuberance, not as yet resigned to its inevitable “I-ran-a-dot-com-into-the-ground-too” fate, and the look and feel of the place resembled a slick ad for what could’ve been a real product. Of course, being an Internet company, there was no real product, just the slick ad. Casimir felt at home, since his other option was to work for a marketing firm. He had also thought of advertising, but he didn’t like the idea of his name being associated with any jingle-driven clichés – the best-case-scenario fate of any successful advertisement, he thought.

Having tightened his buns and sucked in his stomach upon entering the office, Casimir squeezed out his act of self-confidence, this time letting it ooze forth in the form of a wink, a rakish smile and a sideway nod at the first employee he saw. This was rather unfortunately followed by two more of the same cheeky gesture, and then a fourth, so that by the time he offered his tap-tappity-tap-tap on the director’s office door, he had effectively carved out for himself a reputation in the office that usually takes months of social ineptitude and at least one sexual harassment suit to uphold.

The meeting was brief and perfunctory. Casimir already knew he would be working on the new database of triple-A blue chip companies, having talked it over a few days before with the director, who actually happened to be his cousin. Casimir’s uncle had suggested Casimir put in some hours for the company, declaring in the process “if you can’t rely on family, who can you rely on, eh?” And so, remaining aloof to the time-honored dictum “if incompetence cannot rely on nepotism what can it rely on?” Casimir set to his task with a rip-roaring rah-rah spirit that belied everything except his enthusiasm.

As Casimir nestled himself into his cushy new cubicle, he let out a sigh of contentment and satisfaction with his little sinecure. After all, a little money could close the shortfall on his allowance. And besides, he fancied there was some “fit tottie” (as he called it) working in the office, not least of whom would have been the girl in the cubicle behind him, whom he tried sneaking a glance at between his legs as he bent over his knees to pick up the pen that would drop from his hand at shamelessly regular intervals. Casimir felt proud of the ingenuity he demonstrated in being able to make the most of his chronic fidgetiness, especially as he briefly daydreamed of every grade school teacher he ever had regretting and ruing all the “tsk, tsk”s, “tut-tut”s and accusations of dyslexia and hyperactive disorder they had hurled his way; if only they could now see the professional career man that he had obviously become. As the director was heard leaving his office, Casimir finally decided to turn off the daydreaming and turn on his computer to begin his database task, which mainly involved phoning up companies to collect or verify information, and then to store it in an Excel file. In other words, child’s play.

Casimir stretched and cracked some fingers and knuckles, and then began his first calls of the day, swooping in and jousting with one contemptible and assuredly stupid (he thought) secretary after another. With every call, he felt a heightened sense of self-importance, heightened all the more due to his sense of chagrin at having to even exchange words with this execrable rabble he called “secretaries.” He did of course like his daddy’s secretary, but then she was so flattering and charming in her manners, so sincere in her obsequiousness, that she was absolutely adorable. Not like the nasty crones that demanded his name and the name of his company, and then put him on hold, forcing him to bear through another Muzak version of “Hey Jude,” before eventually denying him access to the important people he demanded to talk to. A normal conversation would go something like…

“HELLO I’M CALLING FROM TRIEDANDTRUE.COM, I’D LIKE TO SPEAK TO MR. FEATHERWEIGHT PLEASE!”

“Your name please sir?”

“CASIMIR LACOSTE, AT YOUR SERVICE. IS MR. WEATHERBAIT IN OR SHALL I CALL BACK?”

“What company are you calling from sir?”

“I HARDLY SEE HOW THAT MATTERS, DON’T WORRY I’M NOT TRYING TO SELL ANYTHING OR BUY YOU OUT, I JUST NEED TO SPEAK TO MR. TICKLEMATE”

“Are you dyslexic sir?”

“WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?”

“I said ‘just a second’ sir”

“YES, RIGHT-E-O”

“…pardon-me-boy-is-this-the-chattanooga-choo-choos…”

“BLOODY HELL, AM I GOING TO LISTEN TO THE-CAT-WHO-CHEWED-YOUR-NEW-SHOES ALL DAY OR WHAT?”

“Sir?”

“YES?!”

“Mr. Micklethwaite is not in at the moment, he’s in the middle of a meeting, can I take a message?”

“YES TELL HIM CASIMIR LACOSTE, JUNIOR DIRECTING BUSINESS ANALYST SUPERVISOR, CALLED FROM TAKETHATANDSHOVEIT.COM AND TELL HIM TO CALL ME BACK WHEN HE GETS IN, OK DEAR? THERE’S A GOOD GIRL!”


The telephone call was usually terminated with a clumsy attempt at crashing the mouthpiece down (even in kindergarten he had difficulty putting the right shapes in the right holes) and was synchronically accompanied by a loud, condescending chuckle that said nothing so much as “I can’t believe I’m dealing with these people.” What often followed was a poke of the head over the cubicle and a snickering glance around at the other employees, spouting off derogatory remarks that seemed to center around the discrepancy in mental agility between others (“Telephone People,” he would call them) and himself, but also in an attempt to foster a sense of camaraderie between himself and his new office coworkers through such presumably shared anecdotes in the never-ending struggle against the “Telephone People.” There would also be the odd spontaneous “OH-OH” or “OH-NO” that followed yet another accident with his complex Excel computer software, and other mishaps that arose with the use thereof. Casimir’s confreres proved too subtle in their silent protestations to even garner a modicum of suspicion from him that they were being less than sympathetic with his cause.

As Casimir’s gap-laced database came along agonizingly slowly, yet another setback even more frustrating than the “Telephone People” came Casimir’s way. A blaring “OOPS… OOOOOOPS…. OH GOD” heralded Casimir’s unfortunate discovery that he had just kicked his computer’s plug out of the socket whilst stretching his legs in as violent and vociferous a fashion as his past two hours of tedious frustration deemed exigent upon him. The knot in his throat was compounded when he came to the unsavory realization that he had also not yet saved his work onto his hard drive, thereby having erased every little phone number, name and address he had desultorily recorded over the last two hours. Even his by now long-suffering colleagues began expressing pity rather than their initial cold belligerence as Casimir proceeded to repeat this truly mind-boggling feat of self-annihilation on two more occasions before it was even lunch time. “BY GOD, I’VE DONE IT AGAIN” would be the dreaded words reverberating about the office, setting eyes rolling and heads falling in post-disbelief resignation to the disastrous challenge fate had hurled into the office that fine, undeserving morning.

Lunchtime came as a savior, and Casimir was positively famished. His ego had taken somewhat of a hit, and he was anxious to drown his sorrow in consumptive pleasure. The object was food. His boss – that is, the director, who was also his cousin – took Casimir with him to a meat restaurant where Casimir engorged himself on half-a-kilo of ribeye steak before digging into the leftovers of his boss’ meal, and then ordering and doing away with yet another corncob, so that by the time he was finished he was truly finished, physically and gastro-intestinally, enclosing himself in the restroom for a solid half hour. After he emerged with water – and not insignificant amounts of sweat – dripping from his face, along with the same glazed look in his eyes as had descended upon him after the third corncob, Casimir was carefully escorted back to the office to carry on with his new job.

By four o’clock in the afternoon, the whole office was working for Casimir Lacoste. The technician had tampered with the normally faulty ventilation for a good half hour as fellow colleagues rushed glasses of carbonated soft drinks and pink peptic syrups back and forth between his cubicle and the kitchenette, all to no avail. Soon Casimir’s stomach cramps became so unbearable that he slid painstakingly off his chair and onto the floor, finally lying supine on the office carpet. By now, the feet that were pathologically propelled away from his body as they knocked out the computer plug from its socket for a solid fourth time was merely passed off as a footnote in the afternoon’s proceedings. Casimir seemed almost delirious, as yet more viscous pink-colored syrup stained his blue pin-striped shirt. Voices rose and fell in the form of incomprehensible blabber and from the distance he sensed he could see Orpheus the cat chewing a shoe and playing a lyre on a train from Chattanooga. He was very ill.

After another few forays into the office bathroom, where he proceeded to drive the proverbial “porcelain truck” with some hefty pit stops along the emesis highway, Casimir Lacoste finally decided to lie down on the conference table in the director’s office, although it was an unstable one that was right next to the floor-to-ceiling windows that afforded a view onto the teeming city street below. And yet, before he could even hear his cousin’s warning, Casimir rolled over onto his side, thereby tipping all his weight off-center, leading to the collapse of the table into the window, thus effectively sandwiching Casimir between a heavy pinewood surface and a fragile glass frame that only just decided not to give way in the face of the full brunt of the table’s collapse in this latest in a tragedy of errors usually reserved for the silent film era. By now all Casimir could venture forth was a whimper – and that was the way his world nearly ended: both with a bang and a whimper. As his cousin and his co-workers swarmed all around to help him from this rather tight situation, the people who had looked up from the bus-stop down in the street stared in bewilderment at the large, plump, apple-red cheeks pressed against a window on the 6th floor of the building that towered above them. They noticed the other white-collared employees rushing to the aid of this poor hapless creature who had so nearly flown out the building on a wing and a prayer… and a substantial amount of Pepto Bismol-soaked ribeye

Casimir was hauled up and led back to his cubicle, and as the director’s office was being set back into order, with Casimir’s fingerprints and facial grease being wiped off the glass, Casimir was becoming decidedly frustrated with his first day at work, which really wasn’t going the way he’d expected, or even adding up to much more than a complete flop. He sensed this was probably the general consensus around the office as well (which for a split-second resembled in his mind a malicious Rube Goldberg device that was out to get him), and this made him irritable. His indignation aroused, Casimir let forth a decidedly audible “hmmph” before storming back to his cubicle (carefully avoiding the imaginary discarded banana peels and idle rakes strewn along his path) and throwing himself at his task with renewed ferocity. Tap-tappity-tap rang his keyboard, and people had just become accustomed to relative normalcy, when all of a sudden the phone rang. It was for Casimir. His desire to work at his uncle’s marketing firm in New York was now in jeopardy because of visa problems.

Panic seized Casimir as surely as frustration seized the rest of the office. Hysterical protestations of “HOW DARE THEY!”s and “HOW COULD THIS BE?”s were followed by an unfortunate amount of audible thinking on Casimir’s part. His cousin, the director, tried to help him. The first task was to call…

“DADDY? YES, HULLO DADDY, I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE WORK PERMIT, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING… YES… WELL DO YOU KNOW ANYONE THERE? RIGHT… WHO?…. WELL BETTER GET HIM ON THE CASE THEN… RIGHT, OK… BYE DADDY!”

A way would be found. For the rest of the afternoon people called, connected, dialed, redialed and then reconnected every phone-line the company had for the sake of Casimir’s crusade to move to Manhattan by September of that year. Soon Casimir looked like the producer of a TV news show, accepting, declining, offering intermediary ideas, expressing hope and then distress as call after call flew back and forth between lawyers, bureaucrats, geeks, totties, horrible secretaries, Daddy’s sweet secretary, friends, Daddy, Mummy, and whatever hapless civilian happened to get caught up in between. Casimir’s uncompromising English accent belched forth one anomalous expression or comment after another, when finally, by evening, a lawyer was found who would take charge of what had by now become ubiquitously known as “The Lacoste Case”, aided by an insider in the relevant ministry’s bureaucracy, and a push and a shove from Daddy himself. Casimir’s “WHEW, THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE!” followed by his trademark cheeky grin, marked the end of the working day. The show was a success after all, everything worked out, God was in his heaven and all was well on earth.

Casimir gave a big grin, brought his hands behind his head, leaned back in his seat, and – of course – kicked his feet out and knocked the plug out of the socket for the fifth time. But Casimir was a step ahead this time, for he’d saved all his work. Even as the screen went “bleep” and blank, he didn’t hurry to plug the computer back in. After all, it was almost time to go home. He sat there grinning, wondering what that smell of burning plastic was all about. It was a distinctly noisome smell and he wanted it gone. It was then that he noticed there was smoke emanating from under his desk, and that he had a very, very bad itch in his toes. Casimir jumped in the air when he realized that it wasn’t an itch but a burn, and he let out a scream and a terrible cry when he found that the plug and the computer cables and part of the carpet were all aflame.

“OOOH MY GOD, FIRE, FIRE… EVERYBODY RUN!” shouted Casimir with a shrill, panicked voice at the top of his lungs.

The entire office jumped up out of their cubicles and ran around in panic amid more screams and shrieks. The director ran out of his office and wanted to know what was going on. He instinctively looked first at Casimir’s cubicle, and sure enough, his desk, his computer and a good portion of his cubicle were all alight. He saw Casimir screaming and running for the wrong door – and then to the elevator – as others ran for the fire escape. The director – his cousin – grabbed him and shook him, trying to calm him down, but Casimir wouldn’t listen.

“JESUS CHRIST, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Casimir screamed.

The director slapped him across the face, but Casimir just panicked even more and threw himself to the side where, unfortunately, there happened to be another computer on another desk in another cubicle. Casimir lost his balance as he cowered away from the slap and fell crashing onto the computer. The entire desk collapsed under the weight of his body. The director ran for the nearest fire extinguisher and unloaded it all on Casimir’s cubicle. The fire had already spread to the adjoining cubicles, however, and now the director found himself screaming at Casimir to get up and help him. Everybody else had fled from the office, naturally unwilling to risk their lives. Casimir was in a daze. His stomach churning, his body hurting, his mind spinning, his heart thumping and his hands and knees shaking, he mumbled incoherently to himself.

“are you… Chattanooga, cat, who chewed ya, I should have choo-chooed ya…”

As the director ran past him to get another extinguisher, he grabbed Casimir by the collar and pulled him up, ripping his pink-stained (and now blood and smoke stained) shirt as he tried to shake him out of his shock. Casimir cried out “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY!!!???” and he curled up in a ball and continued babbling insanely. By this time, the director had got another extinguisher and was foaming it all over the rest of the fire which was, within five minutes, finally out. The wailing fire engines screeched to a halt and firemen came marching up the stairwell. They burst into the office to find a smoke-filled mess. The director lay soot-faced on the floor trying to breath, while Casimir rolled around on the floor crying as broken computer parts dug painfully into his ribs.

The firemen took them outside where there stood assembled the rest of their coworkers. They cheered when they saw Casimir and their boss rescued and seemingly alive. At that moment a chauffeur-driven limousine pulled up alongside one of the fire engines. It was Casimir’s father’s driver who had come to pick him up after his first day at work. His face sooty, with the residual streaks left in the wake of the tears that ran down his cheeks, his shirt bloody, pink, black and ripped, his hair frazzled, his right shoe burnt, his dyspeptic stomach in pain, Casimir began walking toward the limousine, still in a shocked daze. The chauffeur dutifully opened the car door for him, helped him in, and then drove off.

Thus ended Casimir’s first, and almost last, day at the dot-com, save for the 3:15 p.m. appearance he put in the next day, just before he had to take off at 6:00 p.m. in order to make it to the Turkish Embassy cocktail. Despite feeling a little groggy, Casimir Lacoste gave good account of himself, tightening his buns, sucking in his stomach and trying his darnedest to remember what the Turkish Ambassador’s name was – yet again…

“AH, MR. AIRGUN PELLET!”

Diplomats, bureaucrats and their wives were impressed by the story of his day at work. They gasped and raised eyebrows as they heard of his brush with death, the time he prevented an entire conference table from crashing through the glass and onto the unsuspecting pedestrians below by throwing himself between it and the window; the time he was given a faulty computer that exploded in his face even as he still managed to fulfill the task at hand; the time he contracted food poisoning yet braved through it all and kept working; and of course the fantastic feat of heroism in which he not only fought a fire but saved the entire office and his coworkers by warning them of the danger, even as he stayed back until the fire was out and his cousin – the director – was safe. As he took a smug sip of his white wine, he basked in the admiring stares of the eminent company around him.

“Yeees,” said one diplomat with a French accent, “working is such a dangerous profession these days.”

Casimir smiled.

“Well of course,” he said, “the people in charge are all so incompetent!”

They all laughed heartily at this, and nodded their heads in agreement. Casimir was the only one unable to avoid spilling part of his drink on his shoe.

11/12/06

My worst dolmuş ride ever


As soon as I hailed the dolmuş I knew I was screwed. It was packed full and the driver was wearing a gold neck chain that rested on a thick teeming bed of chest hair that gushed up through the part in his shirt where there should have been two buttoned buttons instead. His sunglasses pointed in my direction, indicating that he had probably seen me, but he saw fit to stop ten meters down the road instead.

As I ran over to the dolmuş, my laptop swung right and left off my back like a clumsy pendulum, throwing me off balance as I ran, probably giving the impression that I was either drunk or retarded by the time my sweaty red head made its entry into the dolmuş – but only after it first bumped the top of the door. Before I could say ouch, I noticed the automatic door was slowly crushing my thumb with such steady conviction that it seemed to be enjoying it. I just rescued my thumb (though not without letting escape a decidedly unmanly yelp), squeezed into a seat where my knees didn’t fit, put the laptop on my (you guessed it) lap, and tried to look for change in my pocket as I stretched and thrashed and fumbled around to get a single 1 YTL coin out of my sweaty “god-I-wish-I-were-wearing-shorts-instead” pants that were stuck to my skin in the summer heat. I ended up taking out the entire content of my pockets – some bills, a box of gum, and a bunch of coins. No sooner were they out, we hit a speed bump at around 50 km/h, which made me drop all the sweaty contents of my hand on the floor of the dolmuş. It was such an unfortunate event that as soon as I realized it was actually happening, it all seemed as if in slow motion.

Now usually the last thing you want to do on a crowded dolmuş is anything at all except just sitting put until your stop. The very last thing you want to do is look for little coins under people’s feet, trying to act like you’re not some sort of sexual deviant. Well not me, no sir. I relish this kind of stuff... So I gave my laptop to the passenger next to me to hold, and I slowly tried to squeeze my head down into where my knees were, groping around for coins and bills as my face was squashed into the black, sticky upholstery of the seat in front. Just then the driver hit the brakes, and I was thrown off my seat altogether, now on all fours on the floor with my head virtually in the crotch of the passenger who was holding my laptop. Think of beautiful things, think of beautiful things… Halfway as I was getting up, the driver had obviously found some sort of “traffic hole” and relished putting foot to gas pedal, thus throwing me violently back into my seat. Now although my butt made it to the right place, I was still sideways, so my face ended up on the next passenger’s stomach – nose first. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, beautiful things, beautiful things…

I finally straightened myself up and climbed into my seat with what coins and bills I had been able to scrape up from the floor with my fingernails. The guy next to me stared at me horrified after our Close Encounter of the Disturbing Kind. I took my laptop back and said the only thing a dignified gentleman could say: “Thank you.”

OK, I was cool again, nothing could go wrong now. It was then that the woman in front of me (the one whose ass my face was virtually pressed against while on the floor) decided to close the window next to her, turning to her daughter to add “we’ll get sick if there’s a draft.” The old Turkish “if-the-wind-blows-we’ll-get-sick” superstition strikes again! Now usually, with an open window, you can put up with the smell of a crowded dolmuş. But when that window closes, it’s like you’re suddenly sitting in a massive armpit. As expected, that all-too-common smell of human flesh marinated in its own dried sweat began to take on an almost palpable presence. Before long, the entire dolmuş smelled like a mountain climber’s sock. I pleaded for her to open the window, to no avail. Her look said “Do you want us all to die of pneumonia?” My look said “Of course not… not of pneumonia anyway. Something a lot more painful.”

I was finally relieved when a bunch of people got off at Beşiktaş. We were proceeding along the shores of the Bosphorus, so I could now put my laptop in the seat next to me, slide over next to the window, and look at the beautiful view of… the blurry smudge of hair grease left by the last person who rested their head against the glass. That was it, I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to get off NOW. I told the driver to stop, paid him, and as the door opened and I took my first step out, I felt a ridiculous sense of relief… like a cow that had just had to tap-dance its way out of a slaughterhouse (I said ridiculous). The air was never fresher, the future was never brighter, the dolmuş that was speeding away was never further away from me than at that moment. Actually, I thought, it wasn’t that bad a ride. I mean, I’m sure I’ve had worse rides than that before…

Wait a minute, where’s my laptop?

story - The Wasp


(Based on a dream by J. Alfred Prufrock)

A wasp is a rude creature. It intrudes uninvited, seeking to make my home its home, without paying rent, or a single one of these bills, without lending a hand with the groceries, or helping take the dog out for a walk, without knocking when it enters, or saying goodbye when it leaves. And I’m often left thinking behind it. It bothers me that it has never introduced itself, or kept me even the most trivial company on those long nights after work. It seems not to acknowledge my existence, and that pains me the most. It flies when it likes, goes where it likes, and recognizes nothing beyond its own being.

And if I were not to reason this way (and I believe I have good reason)? Not even attention, let alone an apology. In fact it would further threaten me. It has done so in the past, when I approach to observe its incessant buzzing, its busyness, working, traveling, to and fro. And once, when I approached its nest, it well near chased me out of the room. No, to open my mouth and reason would bring me nothing but a nasty sting in the tongue. If I told the people at work I’m sure they would make fun of me. They take every opportunity for doing so anyway, so why should this be any different? They would think me making a big deal out of nothing, as if I didn’t have the right. Perhaps they would even think me insane. “Just kill it,” they would say, “What’s a wasp?”

What’s a wasp? What is it? An insect, nothing more. A large, flying insect. But I have to admit it’s a graceful creature. And it’s a subtle creature, so much more subtle than all these polite human cattle that surround me, that live next door to me and yet intrude on my sensibilities more than this wasp, this merciless monster in miniature that shares my home. So much more subtle is its pitiless will, a will as direct and unwavering as a straight line and as venomous and unyielding as its own sting. And yet it’s still more comforting in its deadliness than even the most comforting of my so-called friends, who waste no time in saying what they really mean behind my back. The wretches. And this wasp, gliding regally through this room, as if a discoverer, an adventurer, so elegant, so beautiful in colors of black and yellow lifted under the humming blur of its diaphanous wings beating incredibly in the air, an extraordinary cyclone of activity suspending its tiny universe in a balanced, floating stillness. It has no idea of how beautiful it looks, warding off predators courageously, looking danger in the eye without conscience, reason, emotion or fear, doing away with intruders in arrogant fashion, tackling other creatures for the protection of its nest and its future offspring, to reproduce, to bring forth life and then to perish, having run its course and lived its time. I must have looked a sorry sight; me, with my slippers, pyjamas and thinning hair, with a rolled newspaper in my hand, preying on this fine, lean, warlike animal with agile wings, a hard, poisonous sting, its sword, its weapon, bravely holding its ground with nothing but its own stoic countenance, unadulterated instinct and unswerving will.

And here I am, bloated wretch, of dead muscle, numbed nerves, rotted, smoke-infested lungs, of insipid intellect wasted over countless hours behind a desk in an office, a decaying mass of stifled passion, yellow, dead skin, thinning hair (have I mentioned my hair?), and eyes far too snug in their sockets to dare seek more. Here, in the extravagance of my waste, and with all the comforts that sustain this impotence – this affront to life itself that I awake to see every morning in the mirror – here I have the effrontery to prey upon the life of this fine creature for the sake of my own peace of mind, I who deserve none yet have all. And what is my future, what is my goal, where lies my destiny? How could I create new life when I have not even created and appreciated my own? How without a woman? How comrades when hardly a friend? How, when music makes sad and change makes weary? To be weary of oneself is horrific. I live this horror every day of my life.

I once had a dream in those few hours of sleep when oblivion loves me. In that dream I witnessed a swarm of millions in the shape of a giant hammer striking blows – huge thunderous blows – upon a large fatted calf that had such thick hide as deemed it impenetrable and protected it from any harm. It stood its stead and did not budge, standing firm as it had done over countless millennia, impervious and sullen, gradually getting older, the calf becoming a cow, even as the swarm had now merged with all the heavens, with all its angels and demons, to form one omnipotent, solid hammer striking blows that would tear the universe asunder, but not this cow. Like a wrath that had festered in the heart of a dark primordial longing, the swarms inflicted their vengeful force over and over again upon this unholy domesticated beast, inflicting a power that sought only to satisfy its own destructive malice.

And then, in a moment of respite, the thunder of the heavens dissipated. The swarm dispersed and the light shone through, once more, as dawn broke through and spread across the land like a hopeful embrace. And just then, this wretched cow that had suffered and endured the blows of the swarms and the heavens for thousands of years, this wretched cow began to crack and open, without a sound, without so much as a whimper, and it crumbled and fell as if it had all along been made of mere ashes and flimsy sticks. And as the cow was annihilated, from under its hide a cocoon appeared, warm, white and pulsating.

At mid-day there emerged a moth from the chrysallis, without bright, warlike colors, without the long, lean, dextrous limbs, without hard, armored skin. There emerged a moth of soft round body, of grey furry surface, with no penetrating weapon, but soft and yielding, of clumsy, slow beating wings, without the clear, lucid eyes, without the long black unfaltering antennae, without the fearsome beauty, without the hard warlike spirit that could take on and conquer the world.

In fact (and I remember this well) all it had were wings and the light, but it did fly.

11/11/06

What is a Turk?

Like names, religions, birthmarks and congenital diseases, nationality is yet another burden we’re born with and which is – for better or for worse – a major factor in our definition of selfhood. But what the hell does it mean to be a Turk?


You know the dictum “Happy is the one who says s/he is a Turk.” Now, if you haven’t already thrown yourself into the arms of glorious Turkish citizenship upon hearing it, I understand. That propaganda was meant for an overwhelmingly illiterate population which had just come out of over a decade of wars, had lost an empire, and had fought tooth and nail for a homeland in the face of occupying powers. In other words, you’d better be happy, because that’s all you’ve got. So you probably wouldn’t get it. But the problem is, neither do I, and I’m a Turk. In fact it sounds more like someone’s trying to get away with something, like everything is justified for the sake of Turkishness – war, corruption, incompetence, oppression, whatever… “Just be happy and don’t worry about the details.” As a result, I’m often left pondering instead on how “Confused is the one who considers him/herself a Turk.”

Let’s face it, Turks don’t have a great reputation. Europeans used to scare their children by saying they’d feed them to the Turks. In fact you can sum it up in two words: Midnight Express. Very few times have I met someone outside of Turkey who, after I told that person I was Turkish, didn’t at some point in the conversation bring up that they’d seen that movie, usually immediately. In fact that’s all they’d do, just mention that they’d seen it and then look at you expecting a reaction with a slightly malicious twinkle in their eyes. I’d of course just ask where the beer is and move on, but there’d always be a part of me that just wanted to ram an ashtray down that person’s throat. And it would get me thinking what the hell a Turk is – in other words, what I am.

Read up any history book – or our own Turkish high school textbooks – and the Turks will appear to have come from Mongolia. The oldest Turkish inscriptions – the Orhun inscriptions – are still there, and the Turkic languages are included with Mongolic and Tungusic as being Altaic languages (into which some linguists also include Korean and Japanese). That’s all cool, but then I look around me – and at myself – and I see nothing that makes me feel even the remotest sense of affinity with that supposed origin. We don’t have epicanthic eyes, or look anything like those people. In fact we don’t even look like our fellow Turks in Central Asia. Sure they speak a related language to us, but I’ll be damned if I can understand more than a few words of Kazak, Tatar or Uzbek, let alone care to.

DNA research shows that we are most closely related with all our neighboring nations, but then that poses another problem: we hate all our neighboring nations. And they’re not exactly in love with us either. Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Cypriots and Persians generally define their national identities in opposition to Turks, and vice versa. We all celebrate the time we kicked one or the other out of our “homelands.” And yet we’re all more racially – and in many ways culturally – interrelated with our neighbors than we are with our fellow Turks in Central Asia. A comparison of the DNA of the local population of Selçuk near Ephesus in western Turkey with the DNA from the bones of people who lived in that area thousands of years ago reveals that the local population is directly descended from the people that lived around there in antiquity. So the obvious dilemma arises: those people who were taught to believe they are descendents of Central Asiatic Turks who conquered Anatolia in the 11th century are actually descendents of the local Greeks that lived there instead and whom they’re supposed to have conquered! The ties between southeastern Turks with Arabs and Kurds, of northeastern and eastern Turks with Georgians and Armenians, of Thracians with Bulgarians, of central Anatolians with the ancient Hittites will also be apparent in the same way. Thus, the word “nation” is, etymologically speaking, a lie that comes from the Latin root “nascere” meaning “birth” as in “of the same mother’s womb, of the same origin.” But as our racial mixture proves, this is not the case.

So what the hell are we then? We obviously have to forsake the racial aspect to our national identity. But then that means our whole concept of nationality is just based on language and state, and more significantly the latter. Ultimately language is an instrument of state power, and whatever state holds sway over a population, the language it propagates through its ideological apparatuses (school, media, propaganda, myth) becomes the language – and identity – of that population. But then you can’t help but see how fickle your sense of nation is… all it takes is for another state and language to conquer you and your national identity changes, the way it became Turkish over the last few hundred years. So national identity is really just a convenient means of domination that is upheld by – and in turn upholds – a systemic power apparatus (the State), and is merely a tool for instilling a sense of self-subjugation by internalizing State power into the consciousness of the subject-citizen…?

Maybe, but nationalism does have one magic recourse that never fails to seduce: the printed word. Ultimately, we like to cling to national identity because we want to feel like a part of something bigger, like a part of history, of glorious conquest and empire, success and greatness. Every time we read of our nation vanquishing foreign armies, building magnificent empires, conquering continents, being led by great heroes, we enjoy associating ourselves with that if only to overcome our own inevitable mortality, to live glory vicariously through history books in spite of our average, mundane, ordinary personal lives (which is also why we like football, because it’s basically a self-contained, easy-to-use micro-war). When you get on the bus to go to work and see the people around you, you hardly feel a sense of empathy – let alone solidarity or pride – with your fellow nationals. But when you open a book and see the magic word “Turk,” it’s like you’re looking at your own name as you besiege Vienna, conquer Egypt, defeat the Greeks, do battle at Gallipoli, and so on. The “I” becomes “We” and you feel like you’re a part of something greater. So ultimately nationality is just a delusional narcissistic vanity trip. Sure, there are the horrible things we’ve done in history too, but we tend to overlook those and leave them for our enemies to remind us about, God bless them.

And what if I didn’t have that nationality? What could I be proud of? Writing some silly article in a magazine? Graduating from university? Speaking English well, maybe? I’ll take a tiny part in the Conquest of Constantinople over those any day. So, all in all, I guess I am one who is happy to be a Turk – even though I’m still somewhat confused… and, come to think of it, three-quarters Circassian. Now my head hurts.

11/8/06

Artsy tarts

Introducing the pseudo-hippie art school graduate who’s out to blow our minds and broaden our horizons.


And then there’s the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl. In conservative Turkish society where people abide by very set standards of dress and fashion, rarely straying from “the look” they’ve chosen to belong to, it’s no wonder that the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl also abides by set standards of style. In fact, the standard appearance can be acquired with a simple purchase of the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl Action Kit (“AFLGAK,” pronounced “Afflegack”), thus helping her conform to rigid standards of non-conformism.

Unlike the Yuppie Combo Kit (or “YUCK”) – which comes with a pre-gelled attachable hair set, attachable smirk, adjustable double chin and belly, complimentary collared Polo shirt, and a mirror – or indeed the Nişantaşette All-Girl Set (“NAGS”) which comes replete with lip gloss, nasal congesting spray (for that extra annoying nagging tone every time she opens her mouth), do-it-yourself rhinoplasty kit, and mirror – the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl Action Kit has some very different items, although the mirror is still included, albeit in an artsy fartsy Indian frame with painted elephants and fat little Buddhas.

Contrary to the YUCKs and the NAGS, the Afflegack purchaser can expect to find a book in her kit. Literacy is an important differentiation point in the Afflegack. Whereas the YUCKs can only read the sports pages and the daily currency exchange rates, and whereas the NAGS can only read big catchy titles and very short, numbered paragraphs accompanied by lots of colorful distracting photos (i.e. in magazines), the Afflegacks make a point of letting everybody know that their favorite book is the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This, as you might guess, is the book that’s included in the Afflegack, although there is also the choice of the kits which come with The Teachings of Don Juan. She will then mention her painting, her poems, reincarnation, and probably some capoeira. This will of course lead to a short monologue that is spattered with words like “karma” and probably something about being “free from the ego.”

Of course, being “free from the ego” doesn’t necessarily mean one is free from wanting to look hot. After all, the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl has to get laid too. That’s why the Afflegack also includes dreadlocks or pink hair dye, a small tattoo, some piercings, and a balanced assortment of worn clothes, ripped jeans and loose exotic “ethnic” items. Thus, although she should be able to have an opinion on everything and impress men with her liberated, intelligent, idealistic views on everything from Iraq to clubbing baby seals, she does still have to nab a guy who’s going to be blown away by her wonderfully liberated artsy fartsyness. Obviously this has to be someone “who gets her” (and you’ll hear about how people just don’t “get her,” being, as she is, yet another one-of-a-kind). So the guy who “gets her,” and thus gets her, has to be 1) just as corny as she is, otherwise he’ll just end up pointing her out to his friends and laughing out loud every time she says the word “postmodern,” and 2) so anxious to get laid he’s willing to put up with all the crap that’s coming out her mouth, even though he knows there’s no hope of it abating in the foreseeable future, either pre- or post-coitus.

Another crucial factor for the Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl is the need to be spontaneous. A little booklet explains how this can be achieved: For example, to dance especially when nobody else is dancing, acting like you can pick up subtle rhythms in the music which nobody else can hear. This can be communicated through feigning a trance-like state while using a lot of unnecessary and uncalled-for arm, hand and finger movements, unusual footwork punctuated by kicks, the throwing back and forth of the head, all with closed eyes and a perfect “I’m-in-harmony-with-the-universe” expression plastered across her face. This will leave the uncomfortable standers-by wondering how to deal with her, whether they should look on, smile, clap, whoop, dance along or just look away… the confusion of which is of course the intended effect and part of her standard aggressive attention-seeking. Another spontaneous display of Artsy Fartsy Liberatedness includes jumping on random guys for piggy back rides, spontaneously bursting out into song, talking to strangers about Simone de Beauvoir, and taking every opportunity to show off her creativity – something which can often involve drawing things on napkins or making figures out of tooth picks. These creative outbursts might cause you to lose your temper and blurt out “We get it, you’re an artist, can we eat our burgers now?” but don’t, because you’ll just be asking for a rant on how “narrow-mindedly chauvinistic” you are, and you will NEVER win that argument without actually coming out looking like a narrow-minded chauvinist.

Finally, no Artsy Fartsy Liberated Girl Kit is complete without the requisite “I’ve-been-through-so-much-shit” stories, usually involving abusive ex-boyfriends and/or fathers, a car crash in which a close friend died, a spiritual catharsis she once had in Latin America or India (whichever), and a “the-time-I-tried-to-commit-suicide” anecdote, all of which serve to fend off any inevitable “Who’s-this-wanker?” sentiments from those around her. It’s actually a clever ploy, because you never know if it’s actually true or not, so you have to refrain from making fun of her whether you like it or not. But then, it’s just as well you do refrain, because that’s just bad karma, and bad karma has a tendency to come around and bite you on the ass when you end up living your next life as a dung beetle or something.

My worst New Year’s Eve ever


As far as bad new year’s eves go, I would’ve thought the worst would always be the one I spent alone in Mexico City among thousands of revelers before getting mugged at gunpoint beside a taco stand – plus it was the 2000 “Millennium” party, the one where everyone was bully-hyped into the expectation that they had to have the best party of their lives. But that was until Istanbul, 2006, when I got dumped by my girlfriend right after the countdown… wearing a silly party hat.

Obviously getting dumped is never fun, but it’s even less fun when everyone else is having fun around you, dancing and laughing while your sorry ass just wants to crawl under a placemat to ponder your pathetic excuse for an existence. And the house music doesn’t help things either.

Of course, like all breakups, you always see it coming through little signs… the cold responses, snappy remarks, unreturned calls, the careless “I-hate-you-and-never-want-to-see-you-again”s that are meant to convey the subtle message that you are no longer wanted in that person’s life. Reasons are usually given, but of course there’s only ever one reason why people break up: because one person doesn’t like the other anymore. In my case the reason given was something to do with me being “of a character unfit for my age,” which, when you think about it, is a pretty sorry thing to be, because it basically means she thinks you’re both old and immature, which sucks to know, but sucks even more when she tells it to your face before going off to dance with her friends (whose party it was). Her being ten years younger than me also adds a certain element of “Ouch” regarding the immaturity factor. Of course, this is what men need women for: so as to be reminded of all the unpleasant things they suspect are true about themselves and which they’d rather ignore, but sort of know they shouldn’t, even though it always sucks to hear it. Anyway, it sucked to hear it.

So there I was at a party full of strangers, all dumped, old, immature, of-rotten-character-unbecoming-of-my-age, and not even drunk yet… and still wearing the silly party hat. But I still had my pride and dignity, right? Wrong. I did what every guy who can’t be a man about a situation and just walk away does: I irrationally kept trying to talk to her just so she wouldn’t go away. I just kept uttering things stupidly, aimlessly, to the point where she was looking at me like I was roadkill. And yet, even as I babbled on and on, all that was going through my own head was "shut-up-you-idiot-shut-up-you-idiot"… Simple enough instructions, you’d think, but my mouth was incapable of following them, because it kept saying "bleh bleh bleh" instead. Okay, now I could add moron to the equation, and also include pride and dignity on my new year’s resolution “Things-To-Get” list. Now all I had to look forward to was a very long and painful walk across the room, through what seemed like a thousand mocking eyes, and out the door. Simple, right? Wrong again! How about stopping half way, going back up to her, and asking if I could call and talk some time, even while she and her friends had that look you have when you look at rotting food in a fridge? You know how people say “What am I, chopped liver?” in a joking way? Well I was like “Holy shit, I AM chopped liver!” but not really in a joking way. So now we can add “pathetic” to our impressive tally of adjectives, and move on.

I finally wriggled out of there like a worm, enjoying that warm radiating glow of helplessness, paranoia, panic, loneliness and despair, generally feeling more like a dog’s anus than a human being. But I thought, half-jokingly, almost for sport, that it must be possible for this to get worse… yet how? Well, how about an hour-long cab ride with a talkative taxi driver nudging inch-by-inch in New Year’s Eve traffic from Rumeli Hisarı to Beyoğlu? And how about calling her one more time from my cellular, which of course she didn’t answer? Had enough yet? It was like I had a genius for this, as if even Satan couldn’t have planned an evening this perfectly bad for me. He would have just stood aside in astonishment, waved his hand and said “Dude, it’s all you!” The only thing that could top it all off was a nice pleasant time laying in bed till morning all by myself… just me and my cozy thoughts – and what felt like a bowling ball sinking into my chest – as I picked over the minutiae of everything that had happened over and over again in my head – in between erasing all her contact info from my phone and irrationally trying to un-memorize her phone number (don’t try this, it actually has the reverse effect). It was one of those things you just really wish was all just a bad dream – I mean, really wish, like if I said it over and over enough times it would all just be reversed… you know, like when pigs fly.

And they say your new year will go the way your New Year’s Eve went, which, in a twisted and diabolically ironic way, would mean that I should actually be looking forward to the next one. I can’t wait.

11/2/06

I am a Sex God

The ladies are sick of all those sleazebags out there. It’s time to do things “The Pearl” way, so listen up and take some lessons in love.

By P. Earl Nicholas

You may at first be taken aback by my thinning hair, cascading belly, double chin and the wheezing sound I make after I tie my shoelaces, possibly thinking “This guy is no Sex God.” Well I only have two words for you: Ron Jeremy. Don’t let the looks fool you, because if you know the art of love and seduction the way I do, then you too can be a Sex God like me. How? Just let Earl “The Pearl” Nicholas show you.

First of all, you have to smell good because the ladies appreciate that. Let’s face it, if you look like a pig AND smell like one, you’re in a lose-lose situation. Trust me, Rush Limbaugh smells like roses, and so do I. How? Well what I do is I crack open a bottle of my favorite cologne and I douse it liberally all over myself, enough to cover some good tracts of body surface. If you’re piliferously endowed like me, you’ll want to really rub that odor in so it gets through the thick tufts of back, shoulder and chest hair and soaks into your skin. Get it under your arm flaps and all over your belly. Rub it all in. If you have time to spare you could also shower beforehand, but the cologne should be enough since the smell is very strong. You just want to smell good, you don’t want to be a namby pamby pretty boy.

Next up, you have to dress in a way that accentuates and complements your natural sex appeal. You want to be casual but elegant, fun but stylish. That means Hawaiian shirts. Preferably red or blue with white palm trees and a yellow sun, all hanging out casually over your pants. Nothing conjures easygoing, sultry and sexy tropical delight the way an oversized dyed shirt can. There’s also a subliminal message to it, because people will look at you and think “this guy’s getting Lei-ed.”

Now you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. When you’re at a bar and you find the girl you want to seduce, just go on up to her and sit down. Don’t ask if you can or not, because that’s a sign of indecision. Girls like a take-charge guy who knows what he wants. So sit yourself down nice and close to her and introduce yourself as you playfully wrap your hand around her waist and buy her a drink. She’ll find this charming and will already be impressed by how good you smell and how cool you look in your Hawaiian shirt. Now let her know how good SHE looks, because girls love to be noticed and considered beautiful. So try to focus on her most beautiful assets; let your eyes wander over her legs and linger over her breasts as you talk to her, smiling all along to let her know you like what you see. She will be flattered and even grateful for your attention, thus all the more amenable to further advances as the night progresses.

Conversation is more important than you would think. You have to talk nice to her and be funny too, because girls love funny men who aren’t afraid to tell jokes. Sexually explicit jokes are the best, because they’re not only the funniest, but they also put sex in her mind, thus making her even giddier for romance. Lean in and squeeze her thigh when you get to the punch-line, let her feel your breath in her ear and on her neck as you laugh hysterically with her. It will turn her on. Girls also like men who are successful and charismatic, so she’ll be interested to know what you do and who you are. Talk about yourself, your exploits, your successes. There’s nothing wrong with a little exaggeration, because the more impressive you sound, the more the girl will appreciate your company. I mean, she doesn’t want to sit there talking to a loser, right? So let her know she’s in the company of greatness.

“Now how do I get this chick in bed” I hear you pant. Relax. If you’ve followed “The Pearl” procedure so far, she should already be wrapped around your finger tighter than a toey toad’s tongue. It’s time to play it cool. Put your cigarette out as you exhale the final puff from your lungs and lean back with a pensive air. Pretend you have better places you could be right now, but are doing her a favor by hanging around with her. Girls love a mysterious, hard-to-get guy. Be condescending. She’ll make double the effort to live up to your expectations of her. Casually slip in the fact that you’re staying in a place that’s affiliated with a major American hotel chain. She’ll feel like she’s in the presence of royalty. She’s putty in your hands. All you have to worry about now is slipping the guy at the reception of your hotel a few buckaroos, and before you know it you’re back in your chamber with the-girl-who’s-with-the-man-of-her-dreams.

And now that your efforts have borne their obvious fruits, it’s time to speak of the ways of passion. Don’t underestimate foreplay. Give it a good five, maybe even ten minutes, as you lick her ears and neck repeatedly, losing yourselves in the lubricious ecstasy of the moment. Grope her buttocks and breasts tightly, letting her know how much you want her. Speak sexy to her; tell her she’s tastier than steak and hotter than Anna Nicole Smith. Before you know it, she’ll be melting in your arms like grilled cheese, begging you to take her, telling you you’re such a man. And finally, like a sudden tsunami of savage seawater bursting over soft sandy beaches, those tropical shores will lay awash with the waxing waves of your love…

Oh yeah baby, you just got the P. Earl Nicholas treatment.

11/1/06

Mabel Micklethwaite - Sailing the mighty Bosphrous!


Hello my little frosted cupcakes! Last month my hubby Phil and I took a lovely Bosprous tour! Tickle my tush, I never knew the best view of Istanbul could be from the sea instead of a much higher place! We got on our boat at Enimomu (I’m terrible with Arabic spelling!), and were treated to a wonderful tour that took in the Bosporos Bridge (just like the Golden Gate Bridge in Los Angeles!), the Chegharan Palace (now a deluxe hotel!), and a wonderful building with two pointy towers called Kahlualee (I think), and even a second Bosoprous bridge! Unfortunately I had trouble getting my sea legs and was queasy in the choppy waters! Phil had no such problem because he started downing some refreshing cold beers, thus staying in rhythm with the teetering boat! Well, in between the awful tankers and their big waves, the monotonous sound of the droning tour guide who kept saying “In Otomman times”, and the seagulls shrieking in my ear, it all got a bit much for dear old Mabel! Your’s truly bounded off to the bow of the boat to purge right out into sea! Lesson number one, my little crumpets: never vomit into the wind! I was now wearing my lunch as make-up! Phil – who was now even tipsier than the boat – stumbled over to grab me, but, unable to control his momentum, pushed us both out over the gunwale! As we dangled in the air with nary a foothold, he screamed “I’M THE KING OF THE WORLD!” before he too let out an extraordinary projectile vomit which the wind threw back in our faces yet again! Dear me, were we a silly dripping sight to see! Watermelon pips in our hair, beer and yoghurt in our eyes! But nothing some cologne and napkins couldn’t fix! Ta-ta till next month my little landlubbers!