3/3/07

Special Supplement Journalism



A Special Supplement journalist takes time off from selling ads for a magazine supplement on some African country to respond to those who are less than appreciative of the worth, ethics and benefit that their industry offers in terms of attracting publicity and investment to developing countries around the world.

By Marcia Brady

"Dear Critic,

"I am appalled and shocked at how people have been dissing this fine industry with all their lies and slander. Sure, I once thought of working for an NGO instead, delivering aid to remote disaster-stricken villages in impoverished developing countries, but I heard it doesn't pay enough to support my coke habit so I scrapped that plan. I mean, who wants to do stupid volunteer work with a bunch of preppy rich-kids trying to garnish their CVs with some goody-goody philanthropy for their precious little college applications? No thanks! It doesn’t matter how cute some of those aid workers are, bending up and down with their tight tushes and their lean suntanned bodies glistening with sweat under the brutal sub-Saharan sun, throwing sacks of grain at a desperate mob of starving disease-ridden Africans who'll probably die of AIDS in a few days anyway. Sure it sounds fun and sexy, but it seems like a bit of a waste of time since there's always some other disaster that happens as soon as you're done helping the ones who suffered from the previous one. So instead, I opted for this line of work that we can call 'Special Journalism'. And I'm glad I did become a Special Journalist, because I really do believe that we can--and do--make a difference, much more so than those stupid aid organizations that are really just fronts for some shady trading in the global black market for cheap grain and rice. But that's another story.

"Many nay-saying neer-do-well negative nancy's here who like to poo-poo what I do would do well to note that these special reports we work so hard on serve a crucial function for attracting much needed attention--in terms of tourism potential and investment potential--to me. I get to see some of the most exotic locations around the globe while at the same time raking up some fine 5-10 percent commish on every sale so as to invest in a chic little flat somewhere back home where I can live in the future when my tits start sagging. How can you ignore the vital function that this industry serves for bettering the lives of so many impoverished college graduates with marketing and communications majors throughout the First World? Have you all become so jaded and cynical that you don't realize that in terms of developing and attracting tourism and investment potential, these reports are, I believe, of great benefit to me and thousands of people like me, by giving me the kind of exposure I need to help successfully take my place in the world as a rapidly developing, up-and-coming cosmopolitan person. So all you cynical sally’s better realize that when you're putting down this industry, you're putting down the very people this industry serves, the very people who are expecting to benefit from a better standard of living thanks to the services of this industry--people like you and me.

"Another thing I love about this industry is that I feel that it empowers me as a strong, independent, successful, modern woman. Unfortunately, this type of model woman is sorely lacking in the world, and especially in all the third world countries I go to, where women are anything but modern, successful, independent and proud. Instead they're all poor and undernourished and always dependent on their husbands and always asking for money, or they smell like rotten milk, and generally have a pessimistic attitude to everything, lacking that essential 'Can Do!' approach that makes the difference between us and them. By going to these countries, we are being excellent role models for what a woman should be like, and maybe that way those people will also start emulating us, instead of hiding their faces behind veils and cowering from the world in their ramshackle houses, when they could be going out there and being their own person, affirming their femininity, becoming a successful woman all on their own, just like us. Maybe they'll look at us and say 'Hey, I can do it too!' All they need is a positive frame of mind and a Go-Get'em attitude. When I drive by in the back seat of my chauffeur-driven car with my high heels and miniskirt haranguing some bigshot businessman or state minister on my cellphone to pay up or face our lawyers in between making snide and slightly racist remarks to my dumbass driver who can't seem to find a big goddamn GOVERNMENT MINISTRY on the only paved road in some shitty-ass third world hellhole, I'm setting an example to all the women by the side of the road trying to collect water from a puddle to stave off death for one more day for her 12 children... I'm basically saying 'You go Girl! If I can do it, so can you!' It's that sort of 'Take No Prisoners!' attitude that needs to be promoted in those kinds of countries, and we do that.

"Some people have also cast aspersions on the quality of these reports, as if they were just a front to sell advertising. Well how could we sell the advertising if we didn't have the report? We couldn't! That proves how important the report is! When you’re reading Business Week or The Economist and you turn the page and magically see the font change amid photos of oil refineries and shiny buildings in downtown some-African-city beneath a disclaimer from the magazine editor that they have nothing to do whatsoever with the special supplement that follows, you know that the 150,000 dollar full-page ad bought by the oil minister with the big pearly white smile gazing at you from the front page was well worth it. And even if it weren’t, his uncle is probably the president of the whole country so he’d only just get a slap on the wrist, so nobody is ever harmed in the making of our reports. Besides, our reports include crucial information for those planning on going to those places, and also sheds in a positive light governments and countries that have received nothing but bad press up until now. I mean all you hear are people going on about negative things like 'Oh, you committed genocide' and 'Hey, you're slaughtering political dissidents' or like 'Oh no, you just wiped out an ethnic minority', bleh bleh bleh. I mean, come on, is there nothing positive in these countries? Of course there are. Sure 800,000 people were butchered by machete-wielding mobs in Rwanda, but I bet you didn't know that they have wild gorillas and lush tropical rainforests? Thanks to our report, you know about it and can go see them before they're all killed by poachers (hurry!). Sure, you may know Sudan as an impoverished shithole where genocide is virtually official government policy, but did you also know that it's the biggest country in Africa, and that it has enormous ecotourism potential? Untapped treasure trove! Sure you may know South Africa as a giant puddle of AIDS and crime, but did you know that Cape Town is delightful? So let's stop the negativity and realize the importance of Special Journalism in giving people the other side of the story. As I always say, if God's given them AIDS, why not help them make lemonades?

"Besides the benefit we bring to these countries, there's also a lot of fun in it too. We all have a bunch of crazy anecdotes which we otherwise wouldn't have had if we weren't Special Journalists. You meet so many people wherever you go, but no matter where you are or how shitty the country is, we all know that there will be at least a few other white people (do Lebanese count as white?) there to hang out with and get laid every now and again. I'll admit it can be stressful, depressing and lonely at times--especially if you're in a Latin American country on one of your standard biweekly coke hangovers--but that just comes with the job. The trick is to have a little pep, take a bump, and always be positive. Some people think we're just using sexuality to make dodgy sales, but they're just people who are jealous that we're prettier than them. Sure, looking good is important for any business deal, but it's not the sex that sells, it's the product we're offering. That’s not to say that body language isn’t important, because it is. Subtle little things make all the difference, like making good eye contact, or playing with your hair, or accidentally baring a nipple while my tits are bouncing around because I'm fake-giggling at some CFO's puerile sexist pun. So yes, looks do matter. I mean people don't want to look at some fat ugly bitch when you're trying to get them in a spending mood. Instead they want to see a smart, beautiful, elegant, sexy lady, with nice tits.

"So let's say it once and say it loud: We're Special and we're proud!"

story - The Ogre and the Virgin

The street door creaked shut behind me, echoing as I ascended the steps. I sneaked a passing glance into my own shifty eyes from the cracked glass of an obsolete air-shaft window. They looked strange to me there, reflected by a single, seedy, unadorned light bulb in the stairwell of a crumbling art deco hovel that smelled of stale beer and piss. Letting loose a slight shudder, I proceeded to the door. I expected to hear the clanging of a fire alarm upon buzzing the doorbell, but all that broke the silence was a faint and perfunctory whizzing noise that seemed almost as if it were meant for dogs or for the tone-deaf. While I ruminated through sporadic images of hounds and deaf mutes, the Ogre opened the door to his lair and invited me in with a gracious bow. He gave a wide, playful smile that seemed so out of place as to add a refreshing touch of surrealism to a gritty portrait of urban decay.

Once I was in the lair, the door closed swiftly behind me. I was a guest of my drug dealer, the Ogre. The Ogre was one of those lost souls who had drifted from his native land to embark and rest upon the deceptively fresh shores of a country that was not haunted by the same ghosts that haunted the old country. His face bore the scars of a lifetime of perdition; his skin looked like the haunted beds of the silent seas left disheveled in the wake of Prufrock’s claws that had scuttled along so violently, so ineffectually, so inconspicuously. I was there to pick up the pharmacopoeia before proceeding to ingurgitate it with friend and foe alike in houses I’d never seen before, with people I’d never met before, among voices I’d never heard before. This was the beginning of a maelstrom.

I followed the Ogre’s shuffling feet into his living room. The whole apartment was like a testament to kitsch, lined with flower-designed wallpaper and stacked full of cheap souvenirs and trinkets, bawdy postcards… and key rings. In fact, lots of key rings – and from what I could tell, mostly with Catholic iconography. My gaze lingered on one key ring with a Virgin of Guadalupe that seemed to follow my eyes as I ventured in. They reminded me of my own eyes reflected in the stairwell only moments ago, eyes that had looked so foreign to me, even though they were my own. Many of the key rings featured the Virgin, dark and sublime, trapped and frozen in the translucent plastic. I thought I’d bring this strange topic up with the Ogre – to break the ice, as it were – but I also wanted to know why he had so many key rings. He noticed my curious eyes and with exaggerated alacrity he preempted my question:

“Ah, dat’s my business,” he said in a strong German accent, pointing unnecessarily at dozens of gaudy little images of angels and Virgins strewn across his stained brown carpet. “I make dose tings. I’ve got a factory out near San Angel. I make tousands of dem every day. A tousand Virgins hanging off a tousand key chains, lying in a tousand men’s front pockets, brushing against a tousand testicles.”

“So the drugs are just a hobby?”

“Dat’s right” he laughed, chortled, then coughed, “and a lucrative one at dat. People tink it strange sometimes, but de key rings and de drugs are de same. Packaged Magic iz vat it iz. Look at it or swallow it, people vant to buy de magic. You vant someting to drink?”

“Any beer?” I noticed I was getting irritated with myself for asking questions. Dealers don’t like questions, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

“I don’t drink anymore,” he declared with a violent diagonal slash of his hand. “Alcohol’s bad for me.” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic.

“Right. Well, I’ll just grab my stuff and go.”

The Ogre began shuffling his way toward one of the back rooms of his apartment. His fat, fluffy slippers dragged about like dead little furry animals stuck to a Rhino’s hoof. He was wearing a bathrobe and a pink sauce-stained shirt underneath that read “Hi!” I noticed a wheezing sound emitted every time he breathed out through his nose, which, by the way, was plastered to his left cheek. I assumed the cartilage had disintegrated some time ago. Some key ring Scotty must’ve beamed it up to his head along with a gram-and-a-half of yayo during a microdot binge.

As the dead furry little zombie animals cushioned his feet on their way back into the living room, the Ogre produced a bag of goodies that was intended for me. He knew what I liked, he knew what I bought, and he also knew what I was capable of, so we both already knew the what, which and how-much of the bag’s contents. We sat down on his couch as the bag was opened and its contents emptied carefully on to a large porcelain plate. First, the big packet of weed was taken out, clumsily and without ceremony. Then the small bags of coke were plucked, a gram sealed in each little plastic bag. Our fingers lingered on the pleasant texture produced by the curiously sensual collusion of meat, skin, plastic and powder. They always did. Next, we proceeded to pick out the pills of x – fat, thick, pink or blue pills with a purposeful groove down the middle that made it easier to bite into halves, thus ominously warning of its potency. Finally, we very carefully removed the tiny microdot pills: pure mezcalin-induced insanity. We both lit a cigarette at the same time, as if anticipating the certainty of basking in future states of bliss.

“Vell der you go my boy, old MacDonald’s farm,” said the Ogre, alluding to the local sobriquets applied to each and every one of the aforementioned goodies. He lifted the brick of weed and held it towards the gaudy glass chandelier (which I only then noticed) shouting “El Gallo” (the rooster) before quickly bringing his face down to let out what seemed like a mad – though silent – cackle. He then pinched a little bag of coke between his thumb and his index finger, while extending his remaining three fingers high, and shouted “El Perico,” (the parrot) alluding to the effect of logorrhea this particular drug induced, and he admired for some time the profile of a parrot that was created by his outstretched hand, his three extended fingers giving this shadow puppet the impression of a cockatoo. He gently laid it back down in the porcelain bowl, quite solemn in his expression. Next he grabbed a pill, or a “tacha,” and proceeded to stick his fingers in my hair and shuffle them about as if he were looking for lice. He then produced the “tacha” between his two fingers and held it up to my face as he pulled away with wide eyes and whispered loudly “El Chango” (the monkey). I didn’t even think that word was used to refer to x, but I was pretty amused with the whole mad spectacle so I let him go on, myself giggling nervously in between skits.

The maestro then demanded silence with a hammed up finger-to-lips and an affectedly loud shush that was almost lost behind the glare of two giant, blaring, blue eyes of mad intensity. He carefully placed one of the microdots in his palm. He then stood up, turned to me, bowed and rose with feigned ostentation, looked me straight in the eyes and announced: “La Perdicion.” I was slightly taken aback because I felt like he was telling me a secret. At that moment I couldn’t help but glance at the Virgin of Guadalupe with the roaming eyes, but this time I noticed the Virgin was somewhat bigger, no longer on a key ring but as one of those battery-charged plastic icons sold at the Basilica. She was now two palms tall and had flashing green and red lights around her entire body. I must’ve failed to see her until then as she was in the far corner of the living room. Surely enough, her eyes were looking right at me, right into my eyes, following me as I moved my head from left to right. I felt a chill and got the urge to ask the Ogre about his obsession with the Virgin (I knew he was no Christian), but when I turned my head back to where the Ogre was performing what must’ve been only a second or two ago, I saw that he was longer there.

I placed the pharmacological fauna back into the bag and took out the prearranged amount of money so I could pay the Ogre and leave. I had a look in the kitchen to see if he was there, but all I saw were unwashed dishes, plates and glasses in the sink, with some ham and a box of Fruit Loops on the counter. I then peered out into the long hallway. It was getting dark in the house, early evening, and I could barely make out the end of the hallway, let alone the doors to the other rooms. The hallway seemed to stretch off infinitely into a void which the darkness revealed. I guess I could’ve just put the money on the coffee table in the living room, seeing as we’d agreed on the usual price of the candy beforehand, but for some reason I wanted to see him before I left. I heard some tinkering and then some melody emanating from down the corridor, so I made my way toward the faint, distant-sounding music. My steps felt nervous, my feet felt clumsy, the hallway seemed to speed away from me, but without actually moving. Each move forward on my part was heavy and belabored, as if I were trying to run from something in a dream. But no matter how I tried, I seemed to be too slow. The feeling of being about to be caught in a dream had been superceded by the feeling of never catching that which I was chasing, and it was the same angst that I felt.

Having arrived after what seemed like the length of an entire night, I knocked on the door. No one answered. I knocked louder. The sound of my knocking seemed to reverberate in echoes all around me. Nothing. I was in two minds as to whether I should assail his privacy with my pecuniary concern, but I knew I wasn’t there as a client. I was there as a fellow narconaut and I knew that our deranged camaraderie was a quality the Ogre appreciated, if not treasured. The Ogre had no family or friends that I knew of. And as far as I could see, he had no national, religious or any other ideological affiliations. He didn’t even really have a job. He just had fellow narconauts to tell stories to, to share experiences with, to feel some sense of kinship to alleviate the weight of a life lived without anchors, without masts or sails, without even a compass. It must be said here, narconauts make very bad sailors.

So I slowly pushed the door open, and the music became more audible. I couldn’t recognize the music. It sounded like a requiem being played on a single violin. Some such melancholy mood enveloped the room that now came into view. It was consistent with the bedraggled aura of the rest of his apartment, but the air was stuffier, the lights were dimmer and the walls were red. It wasn’t until I extended my head around the door that I descried the Ogre, hunched over the cover of a 45-inch record that was being nestled in his hand. He was looking intently at the cover, but he looked like he was looking much, much farther away. I didn’t know if I should try and grab his attention, so I just stood there for a few moments, wondering if he was alright. He didn’t move. The music croaked and scratched on, something about storms and ships and loss, as I well may have imagined. I extended my gaze to cover the whole room. There was crumpled linen, an open closet full to the brim with flannel shirts and corduroy pants, and the Ogre in the midst of it all, head bowed before him, as if he were in a cell. Then I ventured forward a couple of steps to see just behind the door… and I found hanging on the wall, a giant portrait of the ever graceful Virgin of Guadalupe, arms stretched out with palms open as if ready to embrace, her sideway glance falling on the genuflecting Ogre at her feet, who was still looking away beyond any focus, beyond even the reach of perspective. I thought the Virgin would once again look into my eyes, straight into my eyes, and follow my gaze, but she didn’t. Her gaze was fixed unflinchingly upon the back of the man whose own gaze was lost despite its fixation.

The room suddenly seemed to vomit forth a whirlpool of misplaced hopes, forgotten dreams, forlorn and unfettered emotions, and self-deprecating satire; a sardonic, wasting, eddy of despair welled and whirled without and within. Forms of human imagination crept and crawled along the reeking, rusty red walls that changed color with every thought, with every apparition offered in its path, with every unwelcome vestige of conscience thrown on its altar of subconscious sacrifice. Voices ventured forth into the echoing chamber; clamoring, cantankerous voices, fed from the depth of its dark corners where there was being acted out the still-life image of the Ogre crucified upon the crooked cross of his painful immersion under the gaze of the now cyclopean Virgin, bent and distorted, protruding from the wall and leaning into the room with a menacing grimace that washed upon the angst-ridden faces howling under its omniscient, demented stare.

The voices in the room then merged into one, solid ululating tone that emanated from the twisted mouth of the cyclopean Virgin of Guadalupe… a chorus… like that of a requiem… arose… in whispers…

Tallied up do we face, in our bold and brazen reverie,
The fortunes and sorrows of the years,
Spent in the anguish of the once hopeful moments,
When our hearts did our spirits boldly steer,

Now savage, silent seas do cover the tempest,
That holds back our memories and tears,
Yet scuttling and scratching, clawing and groaning,
Do those reveries still haunt the darkest shadow of our fears,

Fear not thy fair fortune, man of wide fate,
Fear not thine own hands, at the ungodly hour,
Waste not, my young man, thy ravenous race,
Be not the man of denial,

Though raging and lost, though sickly to see
Keep faith in thy breast, though silent you be,
And give me thy hand, and bring forth with glee,
The last living whisper that once, long ago,
Brought you trembling to me.



Waves of nausea descended upon me with ever greater force and my head began to spin amid voices of pure madness and self-sympathetic distress. The music in the room swelled and roared to a crescendo, climaxed into a dithyrambic frenzy, and then gradually leveled out into a constant droning drum and bass rhythm. I thought it was now night and then noticed that my eyes were actually closed. As I opened them I noticed I was in a lounge surrounded by people, with a cigarette burning into my fingers and my head rushing through profuse, warm waves of blood and bliss. Spinning in dismay, wrapped all of a sudden in a glow of semi-consciousness, I searched around me for a familiar face.

3/2/07

Remembering the 20th century




(School report written by a precocious second grader from the year 2189)

by Theodore Bhaskarovinagi, Grade II, Tuba Wei Elementary.

The 20th century was the century where people fought a lot and had countries that could be drawn with lines on maps. There were lots of countries then, and some had straight lines but some had squiggly lines that were hard to draw. A lot of times two countries would fight wars over how the lines were drawn, because everybody wanted to draw there own lines the way they liked. The countries also had flags that were big square sheets that they would tie to long poles and worship and dance and sing to like it was a real person that they love. A lot flags had stars or the moon or the sun, because they were the easiest and prettiest things you can see, but some just had writing in diferrent kinds of writing, and they were very colorful. I don’t know why but none of them had any rainbows or flowers or even people on it, which is wierd because people made them and people loved them and singed to them but there was never any people on them?

In the 20th century also there were lots of poor people and people who couldn’t eat and had no food, but there were other countries where people ate to much food and were so fat that they sometimes needed to be pushed on wheel chairs becaue they ate to much. There were also companys that were owned by a single person who was as rich as some countrys! But there were other people who didn’t have any money and their children sometimes even didn’t go to school and even died because they didn’t have clothes and food and nobody helped them enough. Some rich people had their own airplanes and lots of cars and lots of houses, but some other people didn’t even have one house, which is strange.

Also in the 20th century people used to have special places called churches that were temples where they prayed to Gods who would listen to them and help them, but sometimes they didn’t and people would be killed by earthqwakes and sometimes they would drown, and sometimes other people would kill the people because they were from different churches and prayed differently to them. Everybody hated war and sang lots of songs and prayers about how they love peace and hate war, but everybody fought and killed other people anyway, which is strange.

Lots of countries in the 20th century had armys and lots of people whos only job was to kill people different from them to protect there own people, but some goverments (these are the groups who ruled countrys) used guns on there own people which is strange because they lived between the same lines and owend the same flags. Sometimes people couldn’t say things or else they would be aressted and put in special houses called prison for years because they said things other people didn’t like and made them angry and they had guns so they had no choice but to go to prision because they didn’t have guns. But some people did have guns and were called “crimenals’ because they were poor and didn’t have enough money and the rich wouldn’t give them any, so they had to take it from them or “ steel” them.

In the 20th century there was a lot of bad things but there was also good things. Children could ride bicycles just like today. There were also amazing animals then, including giant wild cats that were as big as ponies and even animals with very very long necks and spots, and some animals that were as big as a house and could swim or had very long noses and giant horns on their faces and had funny names like eliphents and rinoseroses and hipopopotammuses. There were also Gorillas that were giant monkeys that looked like us but only ate leaves and didn’t hurt anybody, because they lived in the jungle, but some people with guns who didn’t even live in the jungle killed them all, which is strnage.

In the 20th century people had to pay money for everything and everybody had to work a lot, sometimes every day. You had to pay money even to have water, and if you got sick you had to pay inshurence and if you didn’t have money the doctors would not cure you if you can’t give them money. Also you had to pay money to read books and listen to music, because nobody would right books or play music for free then and you also had to pay to go to school, or else you had to go to a bad school where there were not enough teachers and to many children. Some people only singed songs or played in movies as actors but they had very much money but a man in a factory who worked very hard and had to look after his family had very little money, so songs and movies were very important in the 20th century.

What I like about the 22th century is that we are different because we don’t fight wars and hurt each other as much as before and we don’t divide people with lines anymore. Also we are not hungry and poor or to rich and spoilled, and we care about each other more then in the 20th century. We are also smarter because we don’t waist time making hundreds of different brands of toothpaste and cars just to get somewhere we can walk or ride our bicycles or take the Zoombuses. Also we are cleaner because we don’t use oil and there is no longer polution.

My favorite part of the 20th century is that they invented many good things, but now it’s better because we now how to use those things better then they did then. For example, they used to use airplanes to throw bombs and kill people in the 20th century, which is strange.

Whitewashed identities

Ever wonder about the national origins of Turks? Well don’t ask us, because we have no idea.



By Mehmet Yilmaz (This article was emailed to me by some guy who calls himself Mehmet Yilmaz. Whether i agree with what he says or not is irrelevant, because I didn't write it, but I will post it here because it's interesting, ok mr. Turkish deep state secret service agent?)


The strangest thing about us Turks is that we’re such hardcore nationalists while at the same time being absolutely clueless about our national roots. For example, most of us believe that we as a nation are descendents of Central Asian Turks whose historical roots go back to the Hsiung-Nu, and who, following the break-up of the Gokturk empire began migrating westward from around present-day Mongolia in the 6th century AD, first conquering and colonizing the area that has since become Turkestan, and then from there springing forth into Anatolia in the form of Turkmen raiders and Seljuk conquerors while gradually displacing an entire population of millions of Anatolians who outnumbered the Turkic newcomers by about 7 to 1. Even the state propagates this myth in school, as does the general media. I’m no ethnologist or anything, but if we as a nation were descendents of Central Asians then wouldn’t we look like them? Ok, maybe 10 percent of us are descendents of Central Asians, but that hardly constitutes enough to claim such ancestry for an entire nation, not to mention all that Ergenekon/Ashina/She-Wolf/Bortucene/Altay mythologizing that goes with it.

To confuse things even more, there are other Turks who say we’re mostly of Hittite-Anatolian ancestry; others who claim we are mostly Turkicized Hellenes, thus emphasizing a reaffirmation of our Greek roots; and yet others who claim Turks and Kurds are all just Turkicized and Kurdicized Semites. There’s even parallel racial mythologizing on the part of Kurds expounding Aryan descent because they speak an Indo-European language, further claiming that most Turks are actually Turkicized Kurds; and even Circassian racial mythologizing claiming that the Hittites and Urartians were in fact proto-Circassians. So what are our roots? Why are we so confused yet so passionate and adamant about establishing some sort of coherent and semi-logical sense of ancestry? We are a nation that is absolutely clueless about our national origins, precisely because we don’t really have any. In fact, if anything, our national origins only really go back to 1923 and the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Anything before that is just hodgepodge.

Every new country needs some sort of founding myth that can be propagated through institutionalized ideological apparatuses with which we can indoctrinate and brainwash ourselves – even against common sense – into believing some myth as long as it creates a sense of common ancestry (and thus common destiny), offering us some kind of buoy of identification to keep us afloat. Our state-guided mythologizing started off pretty realistically enough, with Ataturk having the good sense to base our new nation-state’s national origin myths in a synthesis of Anatolian civilization and Turkic Central Asian civilization, going so far as to carefully extract any racial component (since he was intelligent enough to see that there is no discernible Turkish race) by stating that the land you live on and the language you speak is enough on which to found a sense of national affinity and, thus, a common destiny. As a case in point, in the early years of the republic many institutions, streets, suburbs were named after the Hittites (Eti, Etiler, Etibank, etc.).

The whole project of creating a new nation replete with brand new ancestral origin myths got a little too ambitious in its scope, going so far as to claim the Sumerians also as proto-Turks (one of Turkey’s first banks was named Sumerbank), developing a Turkish Sun-Language theory (probably modeled on the Japanese Amaterasu myth), and even going so far as to claim that all humans are Turks based on the argument that the Turkish word for man (“adam”) also happens to be the name of the first man in Jewish-Christian-Islamic lore (overlooking the slight detail that “adam” is actually a Persian loanword, which would make all people… er… Iranian?). But nevermind, you’re creating a new country, so you can’t blame people for getting a little creative with all the enthusiasm going on, and besides you want to re-instill some pride and vigor in a war-weary nation. In any case, the point is that Ataturk wanted to distance Turks from Pan-Turkism and Turanism and other racist ideologies which had had such terrible consequences on the Ottoman Empire under the rule of the Young Turks during the First World War. In other words, the new Turkish nation-state would renounce irredentist dreams of pan-Turkic expansionism and focus on creating a new sense of identity rooted in not just Turkishness but in Anatolianism as well.

Unfortunately this novel delineation of national identity was precarious from the start, and sure enough it eventually shifted in favor of Turkishness within a few decades. Race (and religion) started becoming more of a defining factor, especially in the face of Greek nationalism on Cyprus, Armenian nationalist (ASALA) attacks, and the rise of Kurdish nationalism. As the Turkish state’s interests were threatened, a more xenophobic, racist, exclusivist nationalism took hold in Turkey, both on an institutional state level and in the population at large. Emphasis on Anatolian ancestry – which could also be shared by Greeks, Armenians (who also claim Hittite/Phrygian/Urartian descent) and Kurds – was out, and Turkish Central Asian ancestry was emphasized instead as a desperate grasp at a sense of exo-Anatolian purity. The result is that now we have a whole generation of Turks who think their ancestors came from Mongolia and don’t even question it, while pre-Turkic Anatolian history is a mere footnote in our school textbooks, something we pass off as having “happened before us”. We are so confused yet so desperate to have some sort of coherent ancient racial ancestry scenario that any Turkish nationalist forum on the Internet immediately gets bogged down in pseudo-historical arguments over which view of racial origins we ascribe to, while any outward discussion of the topic is immediately stamped out under threats from both the Turkish state and Turkish far-right ultranationalists who are nervous and insecure enough in their belief in these racial myths themselves to know that letting it be debated or discussed would be disastrous for their cause.(1)

So why do we cling to this myth of Central Asianism? Here’s why: Because the Turks who conquered Anatolia in the 11th century and led to the Turkification of the Anatolian populace (of which most of us are descended) were the conquerors, the victors, the penetrating “Men” in our psychosexual subconscious, and so we would rather identify ourselves with them even at the price of the obvious contradiction entailed, than admit that we are actually mostly descendents of the vanquished, the defeated, the conquered (psychosexually “Female”) Anatolians (and later, under the Ottomans, Middle Easterners/South-Eastern Europeans/Caucasians) who were Turkicized and assimilated from the 11th century onwards. The evidence is almost literally written on our faces. So instead of accepting the unpalatable fact that we’re mostly descendents of converted non-Turks, we all lop ourselves in on the side of Alparslan’s victorious Seljuks so that our mythic history effectively begins in 1071 (the battle of Malazgirt/Manzikert) when we irrupt on the scene sweeping away all those in our path.(2) We ignore anything that happened before, as if trying to erase any trace of our shameful pre-Turkish or non-Turkish conquered roots. (3)

But it doesn’t end there. It’s not that we just ignore that we are obviously not ethnically descended from Central Asian Turks, but many of us (mostly the elitist upper-class Turks) actually make a point of identifying themselves as “white” even while still upholding a belief in the Central Asian ancestry myth. Sure, many of us are descendents of those we call “beyond the river” (nehir otesinden), i.e. those from either beyond the Meric/Maritsa river in Thrace (Balkan descent) or the Aras/Araxes river in the east (North Caucasian descent). But doesn’t that then preclude the Central Asian ancestry myth? What is it then, European or Central Asian? It’s a complete mess!

Why do generally cultured and well-educated people ignore this obvious contradiction? On the one hand it’s because those elitist Turks who form the highest socio-economic class in Turkey – and who are generally well-traveled, having lived or still living in Europe or America (the only options for elitist Turks) – are ashamed of the Turkish stereotype that predominates in these countries, and so they seek to exculpate themselves from the stigma of Turkishness by propagating the belief of white ancestry for Turks – or at least for their class of Turks. But since that would mean that they are descendents of conquered, vanquished, Turkicized people (since the Turks who conquered Anatolia were obviously not “white”), they also have to claim at the same time that they are descendents of the victorious Central Asian Turks who conquered Anatolia. And so here’s what we end up believing: a bunch of Caucasoid Altaic-speaking Turks miraculously emerged from Central Asia amidst a sea of Mongoloid peoples and came trotting into Anatolia as the victors and conquerors while the indigenous population that vastly outnumbered them just vanished into thin air. Nice. Why don’t we give our ancestors wings as well so they can fly? (4)

What are the tangible results of our self-deception? The obvious one is that we get bogged down in intractable problems that we can never solve because we can never talk about the real causes of those problems, because talking about it would unravel all the lies and myths we’ve believed in until now and which we’ve founded an entire state and national identity upon. That means we will always be blind to the causes of all the tragedies our country continues to endure. We will continue to send our citizens to their deaths, either as conscripted troops or as guerrillas, and think the problem lies somewhere out there far away from us in northern Iraq, unable to face the real issue at hand: i.e. that through our racist nationalism we have actively denied the basic human rights of an entire segment of our population for the past 80 years, forbidding them to speak, learn or even sing in their own language, forbidding them any political representation, closing down their political parties on flimsy excuses, leaving their part of the country impoverished, subjecting them to forced Turkization and martial rule, and virtually giving many of them an excuse to take their rifles and head to the mountains. Then we hypocritically mourn every poor 20-year-old conscript whose life is wasted in the name of this repression, as we curse the very bloodshed that our myopic nationalistic repression has helped create. We saw no hypocrisy when we decried the Bulgarian regime’s repression of Turks under Todor Zhivkov in 1989, going so far as to call it genocide because ethnic Turks could not use Turkish names, learn Turkish in schools, or speak Turkish in public, while at the same time we carried out the exact same policy in Turkey vis-à-vis our own Kurdish population. In other words, our nationalist lies have made us all blind to what’s really going on because we’re all too afraid that if we take one card out to see the number written on the back, the whole fragile house of cards will come tumbling down around us. (5)

So what are we left with when deep-seated complexes about our national identity are kept suppressed by an actively repressive state - and ourselves - for long enough? We get an entire nation that thinks the world hates them, that thinks everybody is their enemy, that everybody has complicated plans and plots and schemes and conspiracies to destroy our country, that a "Turk's only friend is a Turk", when really we are our own enemies but we try not to face this fact and instead project all our neuroses away from us, dumping it all on international Greek and Armenian lobbies, on Europeans and Americans who want to carve us all up, on northern Iraq, basically wanting desperately to believe that the problem is everywhere except among us. And so what do we get? We get what we have now: a paranoid pathologically nationalistic flag-fetishist xenophobic hypocritical society that’s afraid of looking in the mirror lest the image we see is neither white, nor Central Asian, nor European, nor Turkish, nor any other of our desired images, but instead something we’ve always dreaded being: ourselves.


Footnotes
1. After all, you just have to look at the faces of those present at a meeting of our head of state with those from the Turkic republics from Central Asia to figure who the odd one out is: one of them has a big nose and round eyes, the other four have flat noses and epicanthic eyes.
2. A common image we propagate of Alparslan is that he had chiseled Caucasian features and that he rode a big muscular Arab stallion. In actual fact, the Seljuks who invaded Anatolia had overwhelmingly Mongoloid features with epicanthic eyes and rode small Central Asian ponies ideally suited to the Turco-Mongol style of warfare which necessitated stability, maneuverability and endurance with which to traverse large distances and also be able to use their most effective weapon – the bow and arrow – with precision not only when attacking but also when retreating. Furthermore, we know from Byzantine sources that both the Seljuks and the Byzantines would often seek to hide their casualty rates (for propaganda purposes) by not only castrating their dead on the battlefield (Muslim Seljuks were circumcised, Byzantines uncircumcised) but also decapitating them, because the facial features of the Byzantines and Seljuks were so distinct from one another.
3. We have gone so far with this that any immigrants to Turkey with non-Turkish backgrounds are given especially Turkish surnames when they take citizenship, as if stamping Turkishness upon them: thus if you’re of, say, Bosnian, Albanian, Kurdish or Circassian origin there’s a good chance your family name will have the word “Turk” in it (Turker, Turkkan, Erturk, Ozturk, or just Turk). For example, the leading Kurdish politician (and ardent proponent of Kurdish national rights) in the Turkish parliament is named Ahmet Turk. That's probably the most perfect definition of irony you will ever encounter.
4. I’m not even going to go into the number of Turks who would have you believe that American Indians are of Turkish descent, with their whole “Iowa = Ay + Ova (moon + plains in Turkish)” bullshit, or the ones who think every Eurasian people in history were all invariably Turks, including Scythians, Mongols, Finns and Hungarians.
5. Excuse the trite metaphor.

3/1/07

Hangover Home Management

(Some rules of thumb under mother’s thumb)


Living with my sister in a flat that’s been all done and decorated and owned by my mother – and which has been featured on the cover of various magazines – is not the ideal lush ride you might think. This manual is expected to help us in case of emergencies, like when mother arrives with short notice, no notice at all, or when we’re hungover (when any notice is effectively a short notice and an unwelcome one). It’s a simple, point-by-point outline of how to salvage a house lived in by two drunkards and turn it in a matter of minutes back into the magazine-cover house of mom’s dreams. This process involves neither thaumaturgy nor devilry. It’s practical, logical, simple to follow, and – when done in the right frame of mind – might even be… fun? So here goes:

THE CALL
Let’s start with the easiest scenario first: She just calls to ask some questions. Just simple harmless questions, over the phone. A typical conversation might be:

“Hey mom, what’s up?”

“Good, good dear, how are you?”

“Oh we’re great, had a good night last night, just chilling out today, taking it easy. How’s dad?”

“Oh good good, that’s nice to hear… Now listen, first thing, there’s a tablecloth you have to take out of the chest…”

“Ooo no, here we go, ZZZZZZ”

“Shut up and listen! I saw a stain on that tablecloth last time I was there and I think it needs to be cleaned. And also those pots in the kitchen…”

And so forth. The conversation will usually begin as a standard question-and-answer format before devolving into that of an accuse-and-deny showdown. In this situation it’s best to follow certain behavioral guidelines. Initially evade the question by acting like you don’t know what she’s talking about, and then, as she becomes adamant, give an “oh-I-just-realized-what-you’re-talking-about” sort of expression. This serves the purpose of making it clear to her that what she’s worried about is actually totally trivial and exaggerated because of your “Pfff, that little thing?” attitude. However, don’t think that this will make her think that she’s exaggerating as well, it’ll just let you make it known to her that you think she’s exaggerating and help you vent a little frustrated annoyance without getting confrontational with her. DO NOT in this circumstance give her your initial heartfelt “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, ARE YOU INSANE, HAVE YOU LOST IT COMPLETELY YOU PSYCHO!?” answer, because this will only immediately deteriorate into an irrational shouting match that will end with her telling you you’re an ungrateful child. Once you have met her on an even playing field, listen to each point she raises and simply say “Ok, sure, got it” and agree with everything until you hypnotize her into a regular groove. This way, by co-opting her concerns and taking the edge off her edginess, you are cushioning yourself from annoyance and taking the bite out of her bark. Keep this conversational coddling going on until conversation is over.

In order to be prepared, here are some standard FAQ’s (Frequently Assumed Quagmires) that should be expected, along with suggested answers:

1. “What happened to the ring(s) on the shower curtain?” Now there is nothing to answer here except to accept you have been careless and brutish with pulling the shower curtain every time you go in the shower. SUGGESTED ANSWER: “oh yeah, It came off” to which she’ll say “You’re damn right it came off!” to which you just remain calm and take it. POSSIBLE TRICK: Say that you didn’t take the last shower, thereby insinuating that you weren’t the LAST person to see that the shower curtain ring was unhooked. This will work in the way of making the whole situation seem silly, as well as drawing your sister into the conversation, thereby taking some of the heat off yourself.
2. “Why is this lamp here instead of here?” This is a trick question. She’s expecting that the lamp has been moved because you’re not happy with something, and so try and resist your initial temptation of blurting out a “there isn’t enough reading light” answer in a tone of complaint. She will immediately pounce on that with a “then why don’t you go buy one?” which is a disaster, because she will immediately add, “did you get paid this month?” and that will inevitably deteriorate into a “what are you going to do with your life?” scenario from which there is no hope of escape without feeling like a dog's anus. Therefore, SUGGESTED ANSWER: “Oh, did it move? I hadn’t noticed (or) Oh, sorry, I was going to put it back, I must’ve gotten distracted.” POSSIBLE TRICK: Tell her you were cleaning around there and changed the place of the lamp so you could dust under it and the lamp itself. She probably won’t buy it, but it’s worth a shot. In fact, the more you throw in the word “cleaning” into your sentences in any context possible, the more you will subliminally pacify her, thus possibly taking a little venom out of her sting.
3. “Is there any problem in the flat? Tell me the truth” There is only one answer to this: No. Don’t tell her the truth. And whatever you do, BE DECISIVE in your answer. If you stall even for a brief moment, if you hesitate, or laugh, or chuckle in any way, she will be on to you like a pitbull. Remember, she is not gauging your answer through what words you use but through what initial unthoughtout (viz. honest) reactions you give to the question. Therefore, be quick, be firm, and say “No, there is nothing wrong in the flat.” Once you have given your answer and the phone conversation is over, immediately set about fixing everything that’s wrong in the flat.

THE VISIT
Thankfully, the visit will always be preceded by a phone call as a forewarning, not for the sake of those living there, but so that those living there will know they have to clean the flat up in anticipation of mother’s visit. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to clean the flat up:

1. If the flat is in post-party hangover mode, the first step would seem like it is to clean out all the beer cans, bottles, caps and ashtrays, but actually the first action should in fact be to make sure all the furniture is in the right place – as soon as you’ve of course woken up and gotten rid of the people passed out on your floor and/or in your bed (make sure also to check underneath the dining room table, and also for possible person passed out still hugging the toilet bowl). Arranging the furniture is crucial, because in case she happens to come by before you can get everything done, having all the furniture in the right and accustomed place makes sure there is nothing that will catch her eye as soon as she enters through the door. NOTE: The crucial items are the four red cushions on the red couch at the end of the room, because they are the first thing that is seen as soon as one enters the flat and instinctively looks left (where the window is, because we always first look toward where the light's coming from). The red cushions should be neatly stacked, preferably four on one side, thereby giving the semblance of normalcy. This is a PRIORITY. Quickly follow this up with similar stacking of cushions on long beige couch, two to each side. If things can’t look clean at first, at least make sure they look tidy and in their right places (i.e. the places mother put them in the first place. If you’re not sure, check and compare with photos of flat in the Country Homes magazine that is always to be found on the coffee chest).
2. Leave bedroom, library, bathroom last. Proceed to clear out aforementioned beer cans, bottles and ashtrays from living room and dining table, stack in kitchen, empty half-full ones (I'm an optimist), put in black plastic bags leftover from last night (the ones that smell like puke), place outside. NOTE: Do not attempt to hand-wash anything. Place all glasses, plates, cutlery, pots, pans, etc, in the DISHWASHER. You have no time to waste. (In fact it’s a good idea to repeat that imperative sentence out loud as a mantra all through the cleaning process: “YOU HAVE NO TIME TO WASTE!” – and act like there’s an exclamation mark at the end of it too, you lazy slob.)
3. Vacuum and wipe living-room coffee table and floors, followed by kitchen counter and floors (in that order). Pick up plastic cigarette wrappers, bottle caps and peeled off beer labels; neatly stack magazines and books that have been flung across the room; wonder who left their sweater at your place, and then stop caring forever even after one of your friends calls and says "Hey I think I left my sweater at your place"; put batteries strewn across living room back into remote control (first find remote control between cushions, or in kitchen – try not to ask what it’s doing in the kitchen or why the batteries aren't inside it, because all you will get are confused hangover groans from yourself); put broken things back where they belong, i.e. doorknob back on door, broken mirror back in frame, loose medicine cabinet door back on hinge, bottle opener out of woodcarved Indian statue’s nose. Curse your friends to let off steam, and also because they still haven’t gotten up off the floor and left your flat.
4. Put foldout bed away, first making sure there are no fully dressed people lying in it and/or having sex.
5. OPEN THE WINDOWS!
6. Tidy bathroom, hang towels, wipe wet sticky spots with toilet paper.
7. While in bathroom, brush your teeth and take a shit, you animal. FLUSH THE TOILET TWICE!
8. Sweep off and vacuum the white carpet under dining table.
9. The bedrooms are usually a lost cause. However, mother accepts it as a lost cause, so do not bother with bedroom unless it’s not in too bad a state. At least make sure bedcovers and pillows are in place and relatively neat. Check for cigarette burns in pillow.
10. The final touch is to place everything in linear fashion, meaning all straight edges should be parallel to each other and all 90 degree corners of objects should be at 45 degree angles vis-a-vis of all larger objects that they happen to be on top of: i.e. remote controls vis-a-vis coffee table, computer vis-a-vis dining table, magazines and books vis-a-vis chest, antenna vis-a-vis TV set, placemats vis-a-vis side table. Persnickitiness is always mistaken for cleanliness.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Having to do all this will inevitably piss you off, especially when hungover, but the tenth step is an important way to get back at the cause of your anger. Basically, when you receive the call that mother wants to drop by and pick up laundry or bring a new shower curtain (there’s always some excuse) when all you want to do is eat Big Macs and watch reality shows on TV as you push out trombone farts and gossip about the night before, then your initial instinct is to say “FUCK THAT, I’M LEAVING THE HOUSE THE WAY IT IS!” I cannot stress enough that you SHOULD NOT DO THIS! You will not get at her, you will only cause her to be angry, to shout and scream, making everything worse, and always inevitably bring on yourself the whole “what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life?” conversation which you can never get out of without being depressed. Therefore the best option is to do the house really well, in fact, TOO well, so well that she sees that you’ve gone to extremes solely on her account. How does the house look too good? Simple: step 10, obsessively finnicky linearity. Instead of having things look tidy, clean and lived, make things look tidy, clean and UN-lived, in other words, make the place look like it were a museum or a hospital. This also has the advantage of making mother believe that not only is she anal-retentive but her anal-retentive disorder may also be rubbing off on her kids, which may cause her conscience to intervene to your benefit. The danger, however, is that she may think this is a good thing, so make sure you do this linearizing consciously, always being aware why you’re doing it (viz. SPITE), otherwise you WILL become anal-retentive. If you find that you’re starting to do it because it seems natural – even when she’s not going to visit the house – then follow the initial impulse of not cleaning or tidying anything at all to save yourself from a fate worse than (a tidy and linear) death.

So that was a brief guideline on emergency procedures in the case of a maternal visit of the “I-wonder-how-the-house-is-now?” nature. Depending on how well you do, you will either get a thank you, or you will receive the standard “do-you-know-how-hard-I-worked-to-create-this-flat-you-should-know-how-lucky-you-are-because-I-can’t-do-it-again-never-EVER” speech.

Final word: make sure that ring on the shower curtain is HOOKED!

story - The Avenue


The Avenue was a bar on the main boulevard, a place we’d go when we were students, broke and living at the university dorms. We’d go there for beer and a game of pool on the odd night when we weren’t waiting tables or mopping floors for extra cash, or when we didn’t have an essay or an exam due the next day – or did, for that matter. Regardless of what excuses we’d conjure for going there or not, the Avenue drew us in like a siren. Its enticing song always drowned out the voice of reason, as, for the young, the promise of a moment’s enchantment always overrides the conscience-call of duty.

When I think of the place now, in retrospect, a single color – red – offers itself as an accomplice to my inebriated memories. It seems to sum up the mood one would be in when there, a place that seemed a cross between a games parlor and a bordello. It wasn’t really one of the student hangouts; it attracted the blue-collar worker, the weekend footballer, the part-time stripper, the rebellious delinquent, the gay hairdresser, and the odd bum. Passing by the place on any given night, it was likely you would see a fight inside, and probably some vomit or blood on the pavement outside, with a body or two lying around. Someone would be angry, another would be harassed, but others would be dancing like none of it was happening. And there was always music. Whether the place was empty or full, or whether it was the arena for a full-on bar brawl between Serbs and Croats, or Greeks and Macedonians, the music was always blaring full-volume, as if aloof to all who were gathered before it, like a hierophant preaching to followers who had all gone astray. Red were the walls, red were the faces, red were the fingernails, and red was the blood-stained mop in the corner.

And so we went, although never without the sense of some foreboding danger, or a feeling of egregious prodigality. There would be packs of men rather than groups, occupying corners and tables. The girls would sport impenetrable hair-dos and faces caked in make-up, their bodies sprouting like deranged flowers out of stiletto roots, leather boots and stretch jeans. Eyes would move and catch glances with phenomenal perception and speed, sizing every movement, every body, every look thrown their way, no matter how seemingly imperceptible, no matter how seemingly insignificant. In among the crowd was a more or less steady pack of Croats hanging by the bar, the Avenue being run and owned by Croats. They were truculent folk with hearty voices and solid frames, and one always made sure never to prolong a gaze at one of the girls in their vicinity, since she was not only certainly a Croat, but her brother, cousin, boyfriend or chaperon was sure to be never more than three paces away from her. But these Croats, and even the Croat bouncers, gave the place a familiar atmosphere. They were the ones who ended any fight, whether they started it or not, and they kept the place to their liking, whether others liked it or not. The younger Croats would come too and emulate their older brothers, combing their hair in the boy’s room, gossiping about some hot chick who was usually called Marie or Mariana. "Za Dom", they would say when toasting, and every second sentence would end with a "pichku mater".

On one of those nights we were at the Avenue, just a friend and me. We took our place at the end of the bar, next to the floor-to-ceiling window that looked out onto the street. Having ordered our beers we got to talking and joking, asking a light off some guy in the corner and checking out some girls on the other side of the bar. The place was crowded, since it was a Thursday, and Thursday’s were big nights to go out. I noticed a girl across the bar who couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old. She was sitting on the lap of some guy who was looking nervous and awkward. She had one leg dangling off his lap and both arms slung loosely around his neck. All the while she was talking non-stop, but she seemed to be talking to herself because the guy was looking somewhere else and only on occasion did he acknowledge her logorrhea with a nod of the head or a condescending smile and an affected raise of the eyebrows. It seemed a shame. She was such a pretty girl, though she’d obviously had too much to drink. In the meantime my friend had got to talking with some girl who had sidled up beside him. I nudged myself toward their chatter, vacantly sucking on my cigarette and sipping from my beer, feeling invisible. I must have zoned out and been lost in thought for a while because I'd completely forgotten about the girl across the bar. Then I noticed that she was now standing right behind my friend and looking passively over to the barman, slightly swaying as she stood there. She glanced my way for a second before looking back at the barman. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, still feeling invisible. She had such a natural, pleasant face, pretty, and with a nice body and a long neck. She was well-dressed, in a tight, one-piece blue toilette, as if she’d just come from a party or a ball. Her hair was light brown and long, and even though it was in a pony tail, there was enough length so that her hair would brush gracefully over her shoulders when she moved her head from side to side. But more than anything, I noticed her eyes. They were brown, and they were not large or piercing or the sort of eyes that pounce on other eyes with their intensity. Hers were the softest, the most delicate eyes, sensual and seductive. Drunk as she was, swaying though she was, her poise was graceful. And yet she wasn’t aware that anyone was looking at her.

I was mesmerized there while still sucking on my cigarette and sipping my beer out of habit. My mind was far away, occupied by this apparition. I was totally caught by surprise when she looked my way again. At first her gaze didn’t register with me, and we gazed vacantly at each other for what seemed – in hindsight – a long time, even though it was probably only for a second. Her eyes looked sleepy, as if ready to consent to anything, yet they had a strange allure, as if they were gazing from a distant, exotic island. Those dreamy brown eyes were now looking at me softly, invitingly. They seemed to be beckoning, regardless of the girl’s own volition. It was impossible to look away. Only when she staggered to the side was the spell broken. She made to come my way, trying to regain her composure, bumping shoulders with those who were seated at the bar, attracting sideway glances of mockery and disdain. But she never took her eyes from in front of her. I remember admiring her almost comical attempt at dignity and poise despite the state she was in. She finally made it to where my friend and I were sitting. She put her left hand on the bar counter to support herself as she looked at the two of us, one after the other, and not without a hint of mischief in those gorgeous eyes. By now even the blinking of her eyelids seemed an arduous task. She managed to keep her eyes open nevertheless. She stumbled onward, past my friend (who was amused and intrigued by all this), and straight over to me, coming up so close that I felt her small and firm breasts touch me below the chest. Her lily-white hands touched my shoulders and then made their way up to my neck. They were light as feathers, but firm, like a commitment. Her hands suddenly fell back down by her sides and she swayed slightly before balancing herself again with the help of the counter. Her eyes closed painfully slowly and her right hand went to her forehead as if to try and stave off the dizziness. When I saw her sway, my hand went to her waist, as a reflex. At that moment I looked up and noticed one of the Croatian men at the bar turning his eyes from me.

I guess I was expecting her to say something, but she didn’t. She stood there with her head in her hand and her eyes closed, looking precarious on her feet. My friend laughed her off and turned to continue conversing with the girl he’d met. I felt somehow responsible for this girl, as if it were my turn to take care of her in the bar. I told her to open her eyes. And when she did, I was spellbound again. Her soft brown eyes were moist and glazed and the moment they opened they were fixed on mine so completely, so affectionately that I was at a loss for words. I was still expecting her to say something, but she felt no such need. She simply eased her arms back up my shoulders and she pulled herself so near that I could smell her sweet and sour alcohol-tinged breath on my neck and on my lips. She never took her tired eyes off mine, and I couldn’t look away no matter how hard I tried. Then her face disappeared and I heard her warm breath and felt her moist tongue in my ear. Her breath seemed to make its way into every nerve ending of my body. I nearly lost my own breath. Her lips moved their way down my neck before she pulled away and looked at me again with those same dreamy brown eyes. I noticed this time that three other Croatians were looking at us, but this time they weren’t turning their faces away. They were looking straight at us, menacingly. They were making a clear point but I just couldn’t take heed. I was lost in this tired, drunk, broken little girl’s eyes. I asked for her name, but this seemed to bore her. Then she kissed me. Even though I didn’t respond to her kiss, I was almost in raptures. I heard my friend chuckle. When I opened my eyes I saw her staggering away. She disappeared into the crowd, among which the same three Croatian faces were staring at me like the Furies. My friend noticed this as well and gave me a little nudge and a nod of the head in their direction, indicating the potentially unpleasant situation we might be in if I didn’t pull myself together (“pull your head out of your arse,” I think were his words). I eventually did and I averted those menacing stares to go back to drinking and smoking and trying to mind my own business. But I kept thinking about those eyes.

I saw her again, about half-an-hour later. After having had some sort of argument with one of the Croats, during which he had pointed at me and she had angrily tried to get away from him. I saw her make her way toward me as before, clumsily, drunkenly, determinedly. I was amazed that she was still on her feet. Her eyes were half-closed and drowsy, but still so pretty as to draw my gaze upon her and not let go. I saw the expression on the faces of the other people around us. They were faces of condescension and disdain. I felt sorry for her, I almost pitied her, and it was a sickening feeling. I felt like maybe I could save her. I felt momentarily heroic. And she kept coming toward me until she was again right in front of me and looking into my eyes. Her hand touched my stomach, then ran up my chest. I saw over her shoulder the faces of the three Croats. I didn’t care. I felt someone’s fingers prodding my side. They were probably my friend’s, but I didn’t care. Only this girl mattered now. Her hands moved up over my shoulders and wrapped around my neck. She came up close to me, her lips were only centimeters from mine. I felt she was going to kiss me again. I wanted to kiss her too. This time my lips went forward. I saw from the corner of my eyes – just before they closed – the Croatians jostling through the crowd and making their way toward me. I didn’t care. I moved in, anticipating those soft, pink, warm, moist lips. But I didn’t reach them. Instead I felt her light hair brush and tickle against my mouth and then my chin and my neck, and when I looked down I saw that all she wanted was to rest her head on my shoulder. I was taken aback by her tenderness. When the Croats were only meters from me, trying to get around a crowded group, I put my arms around her. Our arms tightened. I saw six claws rise over her head as she pulled her face away and looked me in the eyes one last time. And as the six claws rose up around her, she smiled at me and said simply:

“Thank you.”

Her face disappeared as the thick, meaty claws clustered around me and dug into my shoulders, my arms, my neck and my waist. I was dragged away like prey as I bumped and crashed into sweaty, stinking, red bodies. Before I knew what had happened I found myself on the sidewalk, in front of the bar, looking back into the Avenue, if only to catch one last glimpse of that girl’s face. My friend came out to find me. He said some things but I couldn’t hear him. I felt as if I was awoken from a dream. I looked inside through the windows but I couldn’t see her anymore. I thought of her wastefulness and her grace, her beauty and her depravity, of how an embrace was all she sought to save her from a torrid sea of malice and disgrace. Her eyes glowed on in my head. They glowed on with purpose and determination, even though they were always far, far away...

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It was a cold night, probably another Thursday night (though I can’t remember well) when three of us decided to go to the Avenue after drinking at the dorms. We found ourselves sitting in the same part of the bar as on that night when I saw the girl with the faraway eyes. It was my favorite part of the bar. You could see the street behind you, like an aquarium into which this city had long since been thrown in with its denizens forced to swim around aimlessly for the course of their short and vapid lives.

I turned my head back and the usual suspects appeared before me: the cigarette squeezed between the fingers, the beer nestled in the hand, the cheers from us, and the Za Dom’s from those around us, the smell of cheap cologne and hairspray, the fringes and the perms, the yobbo’s, the pichka’s, the wog’s, the tussles, the boasts, the shouts, the sleazes, the sluts, the losers and the pool sharks, and the red. There was no place I’d rather be at that moment.

As the three of us sat around a table and drank ourselves into oblivion, a lady came and sat herself down on the bar counter behind us. At first sight she seemed young, but it was soon obvious that she was probably in her forties. Her body was curvaceous and would have knocked many a young girl out of contention; nevertheless, despite her heavy make-up and her jet-black hair, her age was legible along the contours and minuscule shadows on her face. She wore a revealing dress that showed her legs off. She was looking at us with a mischievous smile, and when she started talking I couldn’t help but notice her drawling accent and the strange words she used. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I felt there was something vaguely familiar about her. What was most striking about her speech was an ecstatic “Yahoo!” that came at the end of every sentence, with the last syllable pronounced as if there were a “w” to finish it off.

We were talking the usual bar talk: all questions and answers and affected mirth to start off, with intentions hiding behind words rather than inhabiting them. After every sentence came the “Yahoo” and soon we kept at the conversation just out of amusement at hearing the “Yahoo.” She pampered our vanity, and as she started moving in closer, eventually sitting at our table and touching our arms and legs as we bantered, it didn’t take long for us to figure out she was a hooker (us being perceptive university students and all). What was harder to comprehend was why she was spending her time on us when it was obvious we were a bunch of broke students. The fact that we'd count how much money we had left after we bought each drink would’ve tipped any hooker off that we were a collective waste of time.

But we kept talking anyway, and I noticed one of my friends - Glen - getting insidiously nastier and nastier toward the hooker, despite his beaming smile and flustered face. Soon there was nothing insidious about it – it was just downright malicious. He asked her if that was her real hair color; and how many bottles of dye she needed to hide her grey hair; and then, to top it all off, how much she charged for doing it “up the keghole” (his exact words). Although we’d tried to smooth things out in the conversation until that point, we were now stunned and speechless. The hooker was silent, looking Glen in the eyes and fuming. We were just having a good time, enjoying some female company and a few drinks, but Glen had lost it. Granted, he was in a bit of a rut that day. He'd declared his love for some guy, and his declaration had been left unrequited. He was probably in no mood to stand even the sight of a woman since the guy he loved told him he had a girlfriend. As much as we told him that at least he didn’t lose him to another guy, he wasn’t consoled.

I tried to explain this as an aside to the hooker, but she was gone in a flash. We settled back down on our stools and laughed it off, though our eyes kept searching the bar for the hooker, just to see if she’d start up any trouble. She had had the most ferocious expression on her face as she left our table. Soon enough, we saw her at the other end of the bar shouting at the bouncer as she pointed hysterically our way. We looked at each other in silent agreement that we’d better leave. Sure enough, a bouncer approached us and told us what we already knew we’d better do, but with the added impetus of adding his views on how soon we should do it... i.e. “You should get the fuck out, NOW!”

Before the bouncer had finished expressing his views, we saw some large object fly past our heads and crash into the window behind us. A half-full bottle of beer had mercifully guided its way between our confused crania as the screaming hooker tore her way from her side of the bar and toward our baffled selves. The fight was on. Before I could shout at Glen and Bahram to grab their coats and get out, the hooker had leapt past the bouncer and started slapping and scratching Glen’s face. The bouncer (who was muscular enough that he looked like a balloon filled with marbles) turned and tried to subdue her, but now Glen was in hysterics and lashed back at her with frantic (and very wayward) slaps of his own, all the while screaming “BITCH, YOU FUCKING BITCH!” Then one of his slaps went straight over her head and landed plum on the nose of the bouncer who was restraining her. That was the moment when our hearts shrank and fell into our stomachs. Blood gushed from the nose of the bouncer as he punched Glen in the chest and sent him flying back into the glass. Bahram and I, who had tried to separate them, ended up receiving the hooker’s kicks, one of which got Bahram in the shin and sent him reeling in pain on the floor. By now the other bouncer had come into the fray – unbeknownst to Glen – and just as he got up and sent a punch at the first bouncer (who was trying to tend to his bloody nose), his flying fist caught the right jaw of the second bouncer who had made his poorly-timed entrance into the melee. Some Croat regulars joined in, presumably to defend the honor of the hooker, and the Avenue was again a mess of blood, flesh, hair, beer and screams. It was like seeing a twister rip through a mosh-pit.

Luckily, Bahram and I were just able to grab Glen and pull him out, though we were well aided by a good push from a group of angry yobbo’s from the other side (probably the hooker’s regular customers). We all flew out and hit the pavement with a thud, Bahram and me in irritation, and our friend Glen in hysterical laughter. We must have looked like we were straight out of some spaghetti western, flying out of the saloon like a bunch of cowboys – except that we were a Turk, an Iranian, and a homosexual. Not your average cowboy material.

We picked ourselves up, still hearing the screams of the hooker from inside, and we waited for Glen to cease rolling around on the cold pavement in fits of laughter. We were pissed off, sore, beaten, broke, drunk off our tits, and even slightly embarrassed. There was of course only one sensible thing to do: go to another bar. We segued on to another seedy joint just a few doors down called “The Bin,” which was an appropriate name for this place. It was next door to a Chinese restaurant called the “Dragon Inn,” (what else?) and the combined pungency of MSG and stale beer made for a strange mutant odor, sort of like sweet-and-sour shoe-leather with a sprinkling of pollen.

The night was still young so we went up to the bar and perched ourselves onto some bolted-down stools that were near enough to the counter to hurt our knees and high enough from the floor to keep our feet dangling annoyingly. It was like being crucified in a closet without a foot rest – very uncomfortable. We drank to our health and went over the events of the night with the usual how-about-that’s and did-you-see’s, laughing heartily with the relief of those who have gotten through something they would’ve wished they hadn’t but were now pleased they had, if only for anecdotal posterity’s sake. The sense of having overcome some sort of danger and done it together added to our cheer and we sank the drinks back, though slower than our spirits demanded of us, due to the obvious financial constraints we were under.

Eventually Bahram and I realized that Glen was missing. He'd gone to take a piss but was absent an awfully long time (or so it seemed – we were pretty drunk). In fact it seemed just enough time to manage to be able to take a piss, bend over the bowl, have a hurl, and then curl up in a little ball on the yellow-stained tiles whimpering “sleep” like a stranded sheep. We checked the female toilets (which he always preferred) and then we checked the male ones, but he was nowhere to be found. We began to worry, especially considering the state he was in, not to mention the state we were in, none of these factors being conducive to a game of hide-and-seek at this time of night. The inevitable thought crept its agonizing way into our heads, and then clouded over our eyes as we looked at each other and saw the figure of our own unenviable fate manifested in human form. We didn’t even need to speak. We paid for our last round of beers and made our solemn way back to the Avenue, as if we were about to go over the top at the Somme.

We got there expecting violence and disaster, and maybe even rattling Hunnish machine-guns. Instead, we walked right in and – lo and behold – we saw the barman pouring strawberry vodka into two shot-glasses placed before our friend Glen and the hooker, who were laughing away and slapping each other’s backs as if they were long-lost buddies. Now Glen keeled forward in hysterics, now the hooker tipped to the side or backward in giggling fits, all as they slammed down their little pink drinks. We were stunned. Bahram and I walked in like a pair of logs, but before long we were all having fun, reminiscing about the events of the night as we kept drinking, courtesy of the hooker.

We got out of there eventually. Glen wanted to hug the bouncer whose nose he’d caused to bleed, and had luckily not broken. The bouncer wouldn’t have any of it. Bahram was so drunk he wanted to tip the barman, but he realized none of us had any money left. I wanted to sing some lines from an old Ustashe song a Croatian ex-girlfriend of mine had taught me, but I just managed to curtail myself, afraid that in my drunkenness I might have confused it with an old Chetnik song a Serbian friend had taught me. We made it to another bar, called “The Warren,” where I said I expected people should be fucking like rabbits, but nobody seemed to get it. As we approached the bar, some guy grabbed the hooker’s ass and blurted out an affectedly suggestive “Hi there,” which the hooker responded to with a stiff middle finger and a comment on the aforementioned guy’s unenviable genital anatomy for all to hear.

And so, as we were all getting drowsy from a long night, the hooker told us about herself. She told us about her hometown, down in Victoria, about her childhood as an orphan, about how she was raped when she was 14, about the alcoholic Croatian guy she had been married to and divorced years ago, about the dingy little truck-stop towns where she had lived, where she had worked as a waitress or a barmaid or a stripper or a whore. She told us about the roach-infested motels, the decrepit one-room boarding houses, the tenement blocks, the dole-queues, the coupons, the diapers… her daughter. I looked up at her when she mentioned her daughter. Bahram was teetering back and forth, Glen was snoring with his head on the bar. I guess I was the only one left listening to her. It seemed she was used to people not listening. When she mentioned her daughter she paused for a second. A look of affection came across her face, as if she’d remembered something that made her happy, perhaps the only thing that had ever made her happy in her wretched life. It took me aback to see her like that, to see this chink in her armor of tough indifference to her unenviable fate. I asked about her daughter. She told me about her brown hair, her soft white skin, her skinny little body, how she was only 16 and going to high school, how she had bought her a beautiful blue dress for her prom night, how she was the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen, even though she was aware she was her mother. She paused again and I saw her eyes fill up. Another guy, a different guy, rubbed his thick, calloused hand through her hair and said “G’day luv” with a grotesque testosterone-infused voice. But this time she didn’t react at all. She just looked ahead, into the distance, with faraway eyes, dilated and blue, eyes that seemed somehow so familiar to me, and she just said:

“Her eyes are brown.”

I was confused for a moment.

“Whose eyes?” I asked.

“My daughter’s eyes,” she said. “They’re brown.”

A dark, eyeliner-dyed tear trickled down her left cheek, leaving a trail in the thick foundation, sliding slowly, woefully down her face. I didn’t know what to say, or if there was anything to say. I hesitatingly put my hand on her shoulder, squeezed it nervously and took my hand away. She came to and wiped her eyes and smiled bravely. She turned to me as if grateful for listening.

“I have a photo of her you know, would you like to see it?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

She took out the photo and I took a look... and then another, more prolonged look.

“I told you she was pretty,” she said.

The brown hair, the white skin, the small pink lips, and those brown eyes, those brown, faraway eyes. It was the girl I’d met in the Avenue months ago, and the photo was taken on the same night, in that same blue dress, just before her prom. My mouth was agape. I looked up from the picture and looked in her mother’s eyes. Although they were blue, they were the same eyes. I looked down at the girl’s picture one last time before I handed her back the photo. She was very proud of her daughter, proud of my reaction, beaming as she placed the photo back in her purse. She seemed happy.

We were all quiet now. My friends snoozing; myself and her lost in thought. She didn’t speak anymore. She gathered herself together, paid the bill, turned to me and said she would have to move on. I just looked at her quietly. She kissed me on the cheek and smiled.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she left.

I scraped my friends off their seats and we made our long and dizzy way back to the dorms. As we passed by the Avenue we saw her sitting there chatting up some guy. We looked no more and just kept on walking.

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I thought about our friend Glen’s strange reconciliation with the lady that night, but I never asked how it had all transpired, and how it had all been resolved. In all our later drinking that night, nobody had brought it up. I guess, in retrospect, it would’ve been an interesting story, but at that moment it would have just spoiled that extraordinary reconciliation. He told me he didn’t remember anything that night after “The Bin” anyway, so I guess we’ll never know what happened or how it happened. I guess it’ll remain one of those little miracles that come around whenever we least expect it, and in places where we would never even recognize it. Besides, we don’t have to know everything. Sometimes it’s nice to find there’s still a place left in our world for little miracles.

In any case, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Avenue. I’ve since become something else, a different person, and so have my friends. I heard from someone that it was no longer there, that it had briefly changed ownership, given way to another seedy dive, and then become a bistro where pretentious prats wear scarves and talk about Derrida. Sometimes I miss the Avenue. I remember the pool game with the stripper who had a black eye and buck teeth and sang us a song when she lost; I remember the small flower a girl had given me as we walked home one night in the cold winter air, eating greasy chips and chico rolls; I remember the man who wouldn’t stop talking, even when there was nobody around, and kept saying he was sorry, over and over again. Among the rubble of deserted dreams and wasted lives, I remember finding those rare glimpses of tenderness, and sometimes even comedy, trying desperately to relieve themselves from an overwhelming tragedy.

And of course I always remember those faraway eyes, as I remember the gratitude of strangers.