3/28/08

Inconvenience me please!



If there’s one thing I love, it’s to be inconvenienced.

Excuse me sir, whatever it is you’re selling, could you repeatedly shout it at the top of your lungs through a bullhorn outside my window on this glorious Sunday morning please? What is it, onions? Potatoes? I don’t care, that’s fine, even though I know I can buy onions and potatoes anywhere, it’s amazing to know that if I so desired I could just be woken up from deep sleep at 7:30 am, get out of bed, hastily put on some clothes, walk down three flights of stairs, and buy a sack of cheap onions and/or potatoes from the back of your pickup so that I can proceed to eat twelve kilos of onions and potatoes for the next ten days of my life. Why is that nice to know? Because I love the inconvenience of it all!

I always knew I was in the best city to satisfy my compulsive need to be inconvenienced. Once I was aware that this was the dream place where I could be annoyed to my heart’s content, it was only a matter of finding the right flat where there would be regular water and electricity cuts, where the acrid stench of black mold in my dank bathroom and under my humid kitchen sink would creep up my nostrils with every neuron-killing breath, where the ceiling would always leak after it’s rained, and where there would always be a construction site somewhere near my home in which the constant sound of jack-hammering, workers shouting, and rubble being thrown on to a truck from a considerable height would only be drowned out by the raspy voice of a transvestite neighbor who likes to sing loud songs off-key every afternoon in what could only be an atrociously misguided attempt at securing a spot on a pop music reality show. Yep, I knew when I received a four-month unpaid water bill left over from the previous tenants that this was the place to be for an inconvenience addict like me!

Oh, wait, I have to stop wrjting fori ac secvodn… it’s the call to prayer from the mosque next door… at 100 decibels… from two brand new 200-watt speakers that are placed six and a half meters from my window… again, third time today… almost over now… Ok, done. Oh, now it’s the church bells, ding dong ding dong… I love it, whatever thought I had in my head before is gone. Perfect! Now I can retrace my mental steps… let’s see, I was talking about potatoes, mold, transvestites… oh yeah, my inconvenience addiction. Oh wait, that’s the door and the phone at the same time, let me answer those. Ok, wrong number again. Good thing there isn’t a telephone directory in Istanbul, since that would’ve been a little too convenient. Instead we can just dial the number we roughly think might be our friend’s new home number and just hang up without apologizing if we happen to be wrong. Hm, let’s see who’s at the door. Looks like someone’s food delivery came to me by mistake. Oh well, good thing the building and flat numbers aren’t marked out properly, and even if they were, the delivery boy can’t bother to read them, so a very inconvenient mishap is bound to happen. Score!

Ok, where was I? I keep getting distracted, it’s so inconvenient. I love it! Maybe I should just leave the flat for a bit and go for a walk to clutter my head with more noise and too many people everywhere. Aaaah, that’s better, the smell of urine outside my apartment door along with a small pile of shit beneath a cloud of hovering horseflies – the perfect start to an outing on a Beyoğlu backstreet. Ok, now if only the sidewalks were so narrow that I constantly have to jump in and out of speeding cars and scooters going the wrong way on a one-way street while I contort myself into a million awkward positions so that I can fit past people who either walk too slow, or walk three people side by side oblivious to other pedestrians, or who suddenly stop and talk into their cell phones, or who keep walking right down the middle of the footpath even while they’re staring at something behind them over their shoulder with mouth agape, and who then act surprised and indignant when they slam straight into me like it was my fault… that would be divine! Now if the odd person can also just jump out in front of me when exiting a shop or a building without looking left or right, thereby cutting me in my stride and causing me to stand there and wait for them as they decide which way they’re going to go themselves, that would be perfect. Yay! Oh, and could somebody please spit a gob of mucus on to a wall just as they overtake me, and then continue to loudly gurgle up another rumbling slop of sinusitic phlegm into their mouth as I’m left nervously anticipating when and where the next greenish yellow loogie will fly out and land with an audible splash somewhere in front of me? Double yay! Hey, let’s also not forget to enjoy the homeless person and the kid sucking fumes of paint thinner into his mouth from a filthy rag and the pack of feral unemployed youths eyeballing my girlfriend and the beggar asking for money, money, hey, do you have any money? Sweet!

I know I’m not the only inconvenience connoisseur out there. After all, literally thousands of people flock from all over the world to this cutting edge city of inconvenience every year. In fact, you’re probably one of them. So here are some tips to making the most that this city has to offer inconvenience-whores like us: 1) Be impatient. When everybody impatiently tries to get their own stuff done faster than everybody else, there arises an unavoidable bottleneck in which everybody’s business gets delayed way past what the delay would’ve been if everybody were more patient, respectful and considerate instead. That means fights, shouting, haggling, finger-pointing and hatefulness… Inconvenience jackpot! 2) Act like nobody else exists and the world revolves around you. When you block out the existence of others, you naturally end up trampling all over their right to any kind of human consideration. Could anything be more inconvenient for everyone? I think not! 3) Fret. Nothing says ‘I’m better than you’ better than fretting and tsk-tsk-tsk-ing and complaining out loud like you were the last precious person on earth and the world had just been overrun by human-sized dung beetle larvae. Potentially inconvenient situations for everyone concerned as a result of your unabashed arrogance? Check! 4) Be temperamentally volatile and ready to fly off the handle at any given moment because you can’t control your emotions. Someone just made you wait 12 seconds while loading their groceries into their car as you wait for their parking space? Teach them some manners and compare them to villagers and day-laborers (you must first consider those two types of people bad, and then use metaphoric comparison to said people in a pejorative and demeaning sense). Inconvenience factor from resulting two-way mudslinging contest as other vehicles pile up behind you amid the amplified echo of honking car horns in a closed parking lot? High! 5) Let others clean up after you. Hey, are you a garbage collector? Hm? No? Well then are you a street sweeper? Hm? Of course not! So why don’t you just leave all those leftover egg shells and half-eaten sandwiches and newspapers and plastic bags from your picnic strewn all over the park for someone else to pick up? Inconvenience code level: Red!

Now make my day and push into the queue I’ve been waiting in for the last 5 minutes and then threaten me with physical violence when I try to explain that there’s a line of people waiting please!

3/15/08

Bureaucrats are scary



Public servitude is a crime against humanity, no matter which side of the desk you’re on.

Anyone who’s had to deal with any kind of official paperwork (i.e. everyone) will know the creepy feeling of dread and depression that comes upon entering a public office and having to make that first visual contact with the deadened eyes of a member of the bureaucratic race. Just the unadorned fluorescent lighting alone is enough to induce a bout of nausea as you stand there in a stuffy grey Sartrian hellscape that’s bereft of anything beautiful, kind, warm, or even remotely human. It’s a place where the meaninglessness of existence hits you with full force in the face, like a gigantic slap into reality planned by an officious malevolent God and administered through his heartless, soulless, zombie-like demonic minions: the bureaucrats.

The only way to deal with public servants is to accept Dante’s advice to the hellbound: ‘Ye who enter, forsake all hope.’ In other words, the first thing you should do when you find out you have to do something that involves any kind of bureaucratic procedure, is to accept that you are going to hell. If you do that, if you lose hope that anything will resolve itself easily or logically or in any way to your convenience or favor over the next three days, then the infernal torture you’re about to endure will be relatively not-as-completely-loathesome. You’ll still want to kill yourself, but if you expect the absolute worst, you could probably hold out until you come across some cyanide or a gun, rather than seriously considering ways you could put yourself out of your misery with the nearest handy office utensil.

Having forsaken all hope, you can now proceed into the land that reason forgot. First you’ll put together all the notarized documents and photocopies of notarized documents and proofs of residence and proof that you’re not a criminal photocopy of the proof of non-criminal proofs of notarized residence and 126 passport-sized photos you’ll have been informed you’ll need before being told that half of them are missing or invalid or out of date. Then you’ll go back and do the same thing again, because they’ll have forgotten to tell you about another document you also needed. Why does this happen? There are two reasons: 1) public servants don’t care, because they hate themselves and therefore hate you, and 2) they’ve become dumb the way domesticated animals have become dumb after their ancestors were extricated from their wild habitat and forced into a life that revolves solely around providing milk and meat to their evil masters (a.k.a. us).

Those two crucial factors go a long way to explaining why you are wasting precious hours of your life in a public office. But there’s a more fundamental reason behind the ineptness, laziness, and overall bovine incompetence of the average public servant, and why you are paying the price for it all. They are wasting your life because their own lives are being wasted too. In other words, they are jealous of you. They are jealous that you don’t have to watch your spirit decay and your soul slowly wither away in that hopeless, loveless cement cave of drudgery and despair that is their workplace. They despise that you have a life, they hate that your heart still beats, and now they have you right where they want you. As you stand there with a sweat-soaked pile of crumpled documents in your hands and that sheepish sucker smile on your face, wishing them a perky peppy ‘Good Morning!’ as if they could give two shits about any semblance of civility anymore in their dreary existence, they know that they now have the chance to grab you by the testicles and twist them so hard that your privileged little college-graduate pretty-boy face will crumple up into that of a big blubbering baby crying for mommy the way they do on the inside every day that they spend in their pathetic den of sad.

However, it’s not the bureaucrat’s fault that s/he’s being a prick. It’s the system of bureaucratization and public servitude itself that is the culprit. It is a crime against humanity to take a real human being and turn them into one of those poor miserable creatures who ends up gazing vacantly into your eyes, not understanding a single thing you say, and then either maliciously or idiotically telling you to do a whole bunch of stuff that their colleague will tell you to do the opposite of when you return the next day and the day after that, all so that you, the citizen, can obtain legal permission from Mr. State to carry out your Gonad-given right to travel or work or have a home, because Mr. State is looking for any chance he can get to create extra paperwork to charge you for so as to pay for his fighter jets’ oil bill (and if he has a little something left over, maaaybe your child’s school desk). It’s the system that is at fault, because it degrades and dehumanizes those who do it’s dirty work for it, and they in turn degrade us so as to satisfy their need to redirect unto you the vomit-inducing pain of sadistic (low-)salaried slavery they are being subjected to themselves every minute of every decade in their death march toward a thank you certificate and a handshake.

So how do you deal with it all when your time comes? Here’s what you do: whatever they say or do, you just grin and take it in the ass. If they tell you one conflicting and irrational thing after another, you just do as they say. If you complain, you’re screwed. They can smell blood, and they will tear you apart. If you act superior, you’re screwed. Remember that they really do hate you. They hate all of us. So unless you know people higher up in the chain or can afford some hefty bribes, you just have to give up hope and accept that these next few hours will be spent around stale perfume, bad shoes, limping security guards, and urine-stinking corridors as you are either gruffly ignored or misdirected with curt grunts from one shoddy office to the other.

Now go and pay a hundred dollars for a 6-month passport extension because you have to, fellow peon sucker.

3/12/08

High Substandards



Let’s take a look at how we manage to remain at the pinnacle of half-ass lackluster so-so-ness.

You may have noticed that we Turks don’t care too much about quality. In fact, some might even point out that we actually have a genius for mediocrity. Anyone who’s had their plumbing patched with paint and cement, or who’s eaten a ‘karışık’ (mixed) anything that combines potato salad and french fries with bread and ketchup and mayonaise, or whose request for directions has been met with a grunt and a point of the finger by someone who was either too lazy to say ‘Second street on the right’ or too ashamed to say ‘I don’t know’, will have figured out that in all endeavors we undertake, we almost invariably opt for some kind of sloppy all-encompassing middle-way quick-fix. If there’s a corner that needs to be cut, we’ll be damned if there isn’t a way we can cut it even more. We are at the blunted edge of average, and absolutely nothing is going to sway us too much from our blurry path.

So where do we get our knack for all things shabby? Is it a generally underdeveloped sense of aesthetics? After all, the Turkish worldview is a moral one, not an aesthetic one that has evolved in the Western realm of relativistic epistemology. Ours is a religious universe of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Black and White, and anything in between – the means and the ways that go to shaping and forming that universe – is profanely unimportant in comparison to the sublime overall picture. Our world is the imperfect and ephemeral abode of stop-gaps, band-aids and patch-overs that precedes an eternal afterlife of perfect heavenly bliss… so go ahead and fix your toilet with duct tape in the meantime.

Perhaps another factor is our inability to abstract our private selves from our professional personae – put simply, our inability to differentiate at-work-Me from sitting-on-the-living-room-couch-scratching-my-ass-Me. Working-Ayşe is the same person as at-home-Ayşe, and at-home-Ayşe doesn’t like working but begrudgingly does it anyway because she needs a job, so she’ll be damned if she’s going to help you get a refund on that TV without an audible sigh followed by a nasally whining tone of irritability that is meant to convey – through an alternation of sluggish and jerky movements accompanied by a vacant frown – that she really doesn’t want to be there and that you should be grateful that she’s bothered to help you – the customer – at all, so just back off and stop pestering her already with your ‘warranty’ and your ‘receipt’ and stuff, okay?

Maybe it’s partly both those things, but our general under-par state of affairs also has a lot to do with our undeveloped capacity for critical thinking, and resulting lack of critical discourse. This isn’t to say that we don’t have a gift for complaining – quite the contrary, we’re exceptional complainers. We just don’t have an aptitude for critiquing, because it’s easier and more convenient to complain than to critique. While the latter necessitates some kind of deconstructive scrutiny followed by a positive proposal for the amendment of that which is critiqued (which takes up precious brainergy), all you need for complaining is to simply point at the thing that is inconveniencing you and badger on about how you wish it wasn’t there (since complaining is only ever undertaken when things go wrong, i.e. when it’s too late).

Critical thought, on the other hand (be it in media, high-culture, or on a personal day-to-day basis) is a quality that is switched on at all times, before things go wrong. It’s like a vigilant quality control mechanism that points out the inherent underlying weaknesses of a given system/procedure/thing/practice, done for the preemptive purpose of avoiding potential mistakes (in the form of lost money, time, resources, emotional frustration, and sometimes sanity) in the near future. It’s a skill that is formed through a rigorous educational process which is subsequently maintained by those who have undergone that process. It trains citizens to demand excellence and to approach all things questioningly, thus necessitating a general adherence to certain elevated standards on the part of those in any kind of service industry who know that anything that is shoddy will not earn them money, because a discerning critically-attuned public will simply not go for it, since they will not settle for second best.

But unfortunately, our pedagogical system for the most part promotes blind obeisance to authority, rather than any kind of critical refinement that could and would demand accountability from those who sell us things or sit behind desks for a living. This is further bolstered by a legal system with strong libel laws that almost enthusiastically confuses critique with insult, and is augmented by social norms that deem outright criticism to be bad manners. And so we’re used to making do with a lackluster second best, even though we live in potentially the best city and the best country in the world (yes, I checked). But unfortunately, your ceiling still leaks; TV still sucks; you will still go to the wrong place 4 times before you get to the right place when dealing with any kind of official paperwork; politicians still never resign but only retire; douchy poseurs still get away with crappy art and shitty ideas and bad food served at exorbitant prices more than they should; and you still can’t seem to get exactly what you want rather than something sort of similarish that you’ll just have to make do with instead.

Then again, perhaps it’s the fact that we don’t care that is so endearing about this country, that we’re not too stringent about precepts and rules, that we have other creatively flexible ways of dealing with things that maybe somehow works – a distinct A La Turca way of doing things that has evolved as an alternative style of living, and which, once one has got the hang of it, might prove more appealing than that of suffocating overcautious legal procedures that regulate every aspect of a life further incapacitated by hypercriticism and compulsive second-guessing.

So what’s the solution? Who knows, I just enjoy complaining.

3/10/08

The Bourgeois Bump-in



If you ever find yourself in the situation below, run. Explain later that you had diarrhea.


There are few things in life more entertaining than observing two ladies bump into each other on the street in upscale Nişantaşı. That’s because the bourgeoisie have all these fascinating ritual displays of insincere sincerity that’s great to observe from a removed distance. They have to feign excitement and affection at seeing each other while maintaining a cut-throat competitive edge as they compare their children, their possessions, and where they went for their last holiday. They have to flatter profusely while insulting subtly. They have to make veiled jibes disguised as kudos on how much weight each of them seems to have lost and what they’ve done with their hair. They have to extract juicy tidbits on each other’s private lives with innocent-sounding questions that can be given a pejorative twist for future gossip. In short, they’re completely deranged and fascinating to watch as a result.

First there’s the hyperbolic surprised greeting, the excitement and momentousness of which would suggest that they’d both just seen a giant duck. It usually involves a jaw-dropping gasp and a small scream followed by an ‘AY İNANMIYORUM!’ (I DON’T BELIEVE IT!), which is strange, because they usually live three buildings apart from each other. After that, you get a series of questions and answers (like a bourgeois catechism) on what each has been doing, who they know in common that they’ve seen lately, their last trip (usually New York, Paris and whatever exotic location is popular that year), what expensive thing they just bought (car, earrings, animal, son’s college education) and how good each of them looks, followed by a comparison of their children’s exploits, the details of which they take turns listing to each other with the desperate persistence of jackhammers.

Now, all of this is funny from a ‘removed distance’. But one time I was actually caught in one of these situations without the convenience of said removal. In fact, I was right in the thick of it – and it was grisly. I was with my mother when she bumped into her friend, and they automatically went through the obligatory steps: giant duck, what doing, who seen, where been, how looking, etc… until it came to the inevitable and brutal offspring-comparison, with me – offspring – standing right there. And I knew it was coming, because right with the first gasp and perfunctory ‘SO GOOD TO SEE YOUUU!’ I immediately started hearing the music from Jaws playing in my head. Here it comes… da-da da-da DA-DA DA-DA

‘And what’s your son doing now?’

Um, hello, I’m right here! Why don’t you ask me? Instead she asks my mother and then as my mother’s answering her, the lady looks at me with a discerning smile as if she were an art critic looking at an exhibit while the exhibit was being explained to her by the curator. Of course, that’s how bourgeois mothers look at their kids: as artifacts they themselves have created and displayed in the prestigious museum of sidewalk-cocktail-and-dinner conversation. Furthermore, they all think they’ve created the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David, while everybody else has a forgery and a fake instead. She was looking at me like I was a print from Ikea.

So my mom answered ‘Oh, he’s got some projects he’s working on…’

‘Projects’, of course, means I’m not really doing anything, but planning on doing something in the ‘near’ future. I didn’t listen to the rest because I suddenly felt sad.

It’s depressing to have who you are summed up in a series of actions with resulting degrees of success appended to them so as to qualify the importance and value of aforementioned actions, the sum of which apparently equals Me. After all, we always like to think of ourselves as more than just an agglomeration of ‘things we do’. Our whole rich inner world of thoughts and feelings, reminiscences and memories, those ‘inactive’ qualities that we feel define us more faithfully, all seemingly account for nothing – or at least nothing that can be quantified and summed up in little morsels of easily digestible information that can be readily exchanged during a five minute conversation between two inquisitive ladies. Plus you can’t really include all the useless things you’re proud of, like your aptitude at impersonations, or a funny joke you made, or finishing a crossword, or reading Heidegger, or how much you enjoyed having sex the other day. Unless those things are earning you money, status or recognition, the bourgeoisie are not interested. What they want to know is where you’re working, how successful you are, and how much money you earn (which they can’t ask outright but will roughly deduce from your answers to the other questions) – all of which can be instantly compared and contrasted with similarly relevant data correlating to their own children, processed faster than a microchip in the rival mother’s head.

Anyway, so, as you stand there first listening to your mother sum you up in 80 words or less, and then her rival/friend do the same about her own son – who is of course married with kids, earning gazillions of euuuros, living in a house with multiple toilets, and on his way to becoming President of the World – you wonder what it would be like if your mother actually told people the truth, something like:

‘My progeny, like yours and like everyone else, is a Homo Sapiens who has a genetic predisposition to the pursuit of sleeping, eating and procreation, and who occupies an ever-shifting nexus in the complex web of human social interaction as he muddles his way through as best he can in the precarious hope of finding a delicate balance between the promise of happiness and the inescapable consciousness of the fleeting nature of his own existence.’

But in the meantime, run. Run as if you’re about to spray a giant greenish brown cloud of diarrhea all over Nişantaşı.