Monday, October 31, 2011

How I Completely Suck At Life, Part II: In Pursuit Of A Shot In The Ass

So yeah, I meant to write more on this sooner, seeing as it was Part II and everything, but even though some time has passed, I'll just carry on. If you have loads of time on your hands, Part I might explain some things. Or it might not. Whatever. There's only so much I have control over, and apparently, it's not much.

Anyway. When the doctor told me the antibiotics were the injection kind, I had all this other stuff in my head. In this post, we shall take some journeys into my head so you can get an idea of what it's like in there at any given moment. At the time the doctor was telling me I'd have to arrange a bunch of injections for myself, it was looking a little like this:

It might look like this in there.
Maybe we can have English chat time with the doctor someday, what's our schedule like? Child is damn sick and tipping over and we've been at this hospital over an hour. Smells like cigarettes in here. Is Robitussin codeine syrup on that list of prescriptions? Coffee? I like coffee. Poor kid is so sick, this sucks. Get over this disease quickly, eh? Fuck our whole I don't take antibiotics for no reason thingy, it's boring. Is it for real English chat, or does he have ulterior motives? I am repeating back everything the doctor has said to me to make sure I've understood. Injection? How old is this guy, anyway? Maybe we can get the jab on the way out, shouldn't take long. Or tomorrow. The boy wants to go home. Hee, remember that bottle of Robitussin codeine we had that one time? Yes, the child speaks Turkish and English. Say the thing where he speaks Turkish better than I do, it always gets a laugh. Ooh, it's worked again, say Maşallah now. Smile politely and nod. Everything is going to be fine. Is this an adventure or do we suck at life?

Just shut up, fucking Brain.
Honestly, it's nothing but my own fault that I accepted the shot in the ass. I just wasn't paying attention. It was a hard day, all right? And it really troubles me, as I look at what I've written here, that some of the chatter in my head is first person plural. It should be singular, right? Unless my brain is somehow on a different team from me, which is entirely possible.

So I hauled the poor limp boy back to the counter at the front to get our receipt, and remembered there's the loveliest eczane just a few doors down from the hospital, where they actually went to the trouble to decorate the place like an old-fashioned apothecary, with wooden walls and cupboards and high shelves lined with old-fashioned jars labeled in Turkish and French. In my effort to get out of the hospital and through the eczane and back home as quickly as possible, I forgot to wonder why no one was giving me one of those miraculous Turkish antibiotics shots that make you better in like 20 minutes because you're American and haven't overused antibiotics your whole life for every sniffle.

At the eczane, there were stools and a flamboyantly dressed and made-up old lady who kept asking me where the child had gotten cold. I didn't really know how to answer that question because it was weird, but also I didn't want to insult the woman because in any other situation I would have thought she was super cool, like a washed-up silent movie star or something.

Say, why don't we take this party to the fucking eczane?
Besides the decor, the other reason I like this one eczane is because there isn't the usual horde of eczane groupies of both genders who hang out there all day and drink tea and bug customers about their illnesses. Try getting diarrhea or yeast infection medication from one of those places and you'll understand what I mean. The old woman lost interest in me after a few evasive answers, opting instead to talk to the pharmacist about the dangers of various types of air for small children. The pharmacist was taking a really long time to fill our prescriptions, even with me standing over him telling him we don't need this or that one. I found the shelf of painkillers and tried to find that great non-prescription  muscle relaxant slash anti-inflammatory I like using when my back is flaring up, but I've forgotten the name.

Stunningly useful.
He led me through our medications one by one, writing the dosages and amounts and special instructions on the boxes, as they do. I have a really hard time with medications in Turkey, actually. The instructions and warnings are written on a separate piece of paper inside the box, and the pharmacist writes more stuff on the box. Nothing useful is written on the bottle or box. This means if the box and medications and instructions become separated from each other, you have no idea what they are or how much to take. Wikipedia doesn't help because Turkish doctors apparently love off-label medicating. Why do we have that 1960s anti-depressant lying around the house? Why, it's a painkiller outlawed as a painkiller in most countries since 1985. Sweet!

Halfway through, he stopped and said in Turkish, "How shall I write this on here?" then in English, "Daily. One. Full," and I gently reminded him I'd been speaking Turkish with him for the last 10 minutes. He looked relieved and carried on.

In front of him, he'd neatly stacked 8 little boxes. "You'll have to have these injected," he said.

"Where...?" I asked.

"In the ass," he replied. Actually, he said "In the hip," but it's funnier when I say "ass." At least I think so, because I'm such a fucking grown-up. Anyway.

"No, I mean, at which place should I have that done?" I asked, feeling ever so proud of myself I'd managed to use a causative verb.

"In the ass," he said, pointing to his hip. He didn't really say "ass" that time either.

"No, I mean, who is going to inject it?"

"Ah, they'll do it at a clinic or a hospital. The clinic at your school will do it"

Fuck you, George Lucas. Seriously.
Smile politely. Nod to the man and repeat all the information back to him. This interaction is going fine. These aren't the droids you're looking for. Stupid George Lucas wrecked the original films and the new ones sucked we waited our whole lives for that, our whole lives! Like 20 years! Holy shit, was it really 20 years? Wait, when did the first movie come out? 1977. We were four. We saw it in the theatre. Right. Okay. We understand the boy's medicine. Hey, that jar up on that shelf says "rezene." Wait, 8 shots? Where the hell am I going to get that done? We know "rezene."  Why do we know that? How are we supposed to get this sick child to someplace where we can get the shots? Quick, reject the medicine. Oh, shit, too late he's run the card already. Wait, seriously? The doctor saw this poor sick kid and expects us to trek around further for shots? What is it with men? Don't they notice anything? Greasy dishes, smelly towels. Fuck. Really? We're supposed to load this little boy onto a minibus to go up to school every 12 hours? After bedtime? WTF? Nod and smile, Stranger, nod and smile.

On the way to the taxi (A taxi! We have to take a taxi. Can't make the kid walk. Remember to apologize to the driver for going such a short distance, remember in Bakırköy when they wouldn't take us home because it was too close? Point out the sick kid. Use the kid, Stranger, the kid. Holy shit we just dropped 300 lira on medical care and now we're taking a taxi), I started trying to work out how many days it would take to get all the shots in the ass, and where I was going to go to get them done. I cursed the doctor some more, and the Turkish medical system, and the traffic and passersby, just for good measure. Then I cursed myself for stupidly agreeing to all of this because I suck at paying attention and I just wanted to go home.

It's really funny, trust me.
So I decided to hold off on my shots in the ass until the next day. LE and I watched cartoons and I assured him we weren't going to school the next day. I also told him that we'd have to get up early so I could have a shot. I'd decided this was a good time to get him warmed up to the idea of shots, because he's got another round of vaccinations coming up and is more scared of shots than he is of zombies. He was greatly concerned about my shot, so I told him I would be getting it in my butt. I didn't say "ass" this time because he doesn't exactly know that word. He thought that was pretty funny, because he's four and any sentence with "butt" in it is extremely funny. But then he got worried that I might cry. I assured him I wouldn't because I would power through the pain like Bruce Lee. I've been teaching him to power through the pain like Bruce Lee. It doesn't actually work, but believe me, few things are funnier than watching a skinny four year old power through the pain like Bruce Lee.

I messaged a friend of mine to find out if eczanes will give you shots in the ass. I've heard they do, and she confirmed it was true. The one near her house does it, but I bet they don't post it in the window along with the cellulite removers and hair growers. I decided to try the eczane up the street. LE's antibiotics were already working and he was rallying.

Please, my friends. There are nicer places to have tea. Here, for instance.
Bright and early the next morning (well, not super early), I packed up the boy and a box of antibiotics and we went off to the nearby eczane. I'd chosen this one not only for its proximity, but also for its lack of groupies. Turns out I was wrong on the groupies thing. I guess I'd only ever been there in the evening after the groupies had already gone home. I explained my antibiotics thingy to the girl there, but already from the look of her, I was shit out of luck.

In Turkey, there is a certain breed of 18-25 year old skinny, pretty, but-not-too-pretty tight-shirt-wearing girl who is, more often than not, a daughter of the owner, and who is also one of the most useless people on earth. She'll take one look at you and decide she is going to grasp whatever shred of power she has in the world by being as unhelpful as possible.

Nevertheless, ready for my shot in the ass, I powered through the pain.

"Hospital," she said. "You have to get that done at a hospital."

"Really? No one here can do it?"

"Hospital. You have to get that done at a hospital."

"Because look, my child here is sick and we already walked all the way down here, isn't there anywhere else I can get this done?" Again, these are my barbaric wheedling skills. Use the child. Rules mean nothing. Maybe there is another doctor nearby, like maybe one of those abortionists or laser epilation people upstairs who help in cases like these. A dentist even.

Please, sir! Don't go to the eczane!
"Hospital. You have to get that done at a hospital." The groupies stared and stared. What entertainment for a Tuesday morning! One of them stirred sugar into her tea, slowly, so the tinkling of of the spoon on the glass wouldn't cause her to miss one thrilling moment.

"Really? There's no other place?"

"Hospital. You have to get that done at a hospital."

"Can I do it myself? How hard can it be?" Now I'd shown weakness by revealing my Plan B, doing it myself. I mean seriously, hitting the gluteus maximus with a needle? With the help of Google? Child's play, I'm sure! I have a few friends who've given themselves shots in the ass during IVF treatment. It can't be much harder than taking a picture of my tattoo. Junkies manage to shoot up in their veins all the time and this must be way easier. It's not like junkies are rocket scientists or RNs, or even phlebotomists or silly eczane girls.

"Absolutely not. Hospital. You have to get it done at a hospital."

So I gave her my best angry face, and, failing to catch the eye of the proper pharmacist down at the other end of the counter so I could go over this girl's dumbass head, I gave up.

And there was snickering before the door hit my ass on the way out, so I slammed the door. Well, not slammed really. Just I closed it a little louder than necessary. But it popped back open so I slammed it again, a little more carefully this time. They were all staring and snickering and I had no way of knowing if it was because I was foreign with my hilarious Turkish, or because I thought I could get a shot in the ass at the eczane, or because I'd offered to give my own self a shot in the ass, or because they were all just horrible people who completely fucking suck, or because I was making a scene, but suddenly LE remembered he knows a bunch of swear words.

"Fucking people," he said.

I'll be honest here, one of the first things LE ever said was, "People, people, ah, people, fucking people," because you can be sure this is definitely not even close to the first time I've sucked at life and blamed it on everyone else. Plus, to borrow what my grandmother once said while we were watching a Pat Benetar video on MTV, "I'll bet she swears like a sailor."

I felt like crap the whole rest of the day, not only because I was still sick and hadn't gotten my miracle shot, but also because I'm foreign and we don't like making public displays of emotion. I talked to another friend on the phone that night who confirmed eczanes generally don't give people shots in the ass anymore, and she also promised me I don't suck at life by pointing out a whole bunch of ways I don't suck at life. Then she reminded me I could have asked her for help, which I never think to do because I feel like I suck at life even more if I don't try to do everything all by myself all the time. I seem to think I'm some sort of superhero or something. Who am I kidding? Still, it was nice to know she doesn't think I completely suck. I bucked up a little after that.

Then I told this story to my friend at school the next day, the one who told me the eczane near her house gives shots in the ass. And apparently, yes, only some eczanes give you shots in the ass but you have to know which ones. You have to be Turkish to know which ones, I guess. Or at least speak Turkish and have normal, easygoing relationships with the Turkish people around you, which I don't. As much as I'm improving at life in general, I still find interactions in Turkish with people around me, like neighbors and stuff, to be extremely stressful and time-consuming and confusing, plus there's that problem I have of paying attention. But she made me feel a whole lot better, as she often does when I confess having made a public spectacle of myself, by saying that the eczane girl was probably bitchy on purpose because there's something in her home life that is terrible and disturbing. I felt a little bit sorry for the eczane girl, but not much, not that it matters because I'll never set foot in that eczane again. My friend pointed out this isn't very good revenge, since I don't buy that much from them, and suggested we firebomb them instead.

So the next morning after the eczane day, I had to go back to work. I got up extra super bright and early (for real bright and early this time) and got to school and presented them with my my box of antibiotics and politely requested a shot in the ass.

"Do you have your prescription?" she asked me.

Of course not. Of course I didn't think I'd need to bring along the damned little piece of paper I'd needed to get the antibiotics, because how would I have gotten them in the first place without the prescription?

"Not on me," I told her. "Can I bring it tomorrow?"

"We can't give shots without a prescription," she said. "It's the policy."

Oh. A fucking policy. A policy I can work with.

"Please," I said. And I started begging. I used the child who was so sick I couldn't go out for two days and get the shot. I pointed out the stupidity of the doctor who'd prescribed me these. I said the pharmacy had told me to come here. I asked her to call the doctor who's prescribed the medicine. I had a coughing fit for good measure.

"I understand your situation," she said, "but this is our policy. What if you had an allergic reaction or something? We need to have the prescription of file for the insurance..."

Ah. The insurance. Now I knew I had a fighting chance because it wasn't a law. It was something no one gives a fuck about in real life once they're off campus and everyone remembers it's not Stanford.

So I began the same begging rant again. I was fucking tired of failing at life. For once in this goddamned week I was going to make someone do what I wanted. I could see her weakening. I promised her the prescription was on my kitchen counter and I'd bring it the next day. I reminded her that I'm foreign and couldn't possibly know about these kinds of rules about bits of paper. Just give me the shot in the ass already.

"In America," she asked, "Do they let you have antibiotic shots without a prescription?" She looked all triumphant with that one.

"In America," I replied, "Doctors just give you the shot right then. They don't generally give sick people a bunch of medicine and then send them off to find a way to get it injected, especially when they've got sick children with them. And the prescription is attached to the package."

Oops, bad move. She started to act all refuse-y again. I had two weapons left in my arsenal at this point. One was that I was going to march down to the eczane and buy some needles and ask Dr. Google how to give myself the shots. The other was one I hadn't tried yet.

Just give it already.
I started crying. Totally lost it. It was a little bit fake and a little bit not, because I had pretty much had it with doctors and hospitals and sickness and money and the fucking shots in the ass.

And you know what? It worked. And they were even nice to me after that. The next day I had the prescription on me and no one asked for it. The following day I asked the woman if she would like to photocopy it and she was all, "Sigh."

In the room where they gave me the shot in the ass, there was a little sign that said, "We ask that you not insist on getting injections for which you don't have a prescription." If I'd been in a better mood, I would have told that nurse that it was clear she didn't know that much about America because if she did, she would have known she could have just pointed at the sign. I'm American and if it's written on a sign I give up immediately.

So now my ass is like a pincushion and I don't feel too terrifically better sickness-wise.

But I feel a hell of a lot better for having managed to get myself some shots in the ass. I like to think of them as Victory Shots.
Now I need eight of these.
That's the thing. Set the bar very, very low and you'll always manage to impress yourself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How I Completely Suck At Life, Part I: Further Adventures With Doctors

This is a tale of how I've been going to an inordinate amount of trouble lately to get a shot in the ass. As is the case with most of my tales where no one can interrupt the telling, this tale goes off down some side streets and gets completely lost, but finds its way in the end. Unfortunately, it probably doesn't have a punchline because most of my stories don't. Or maybe I'll think of one like two years from now. I'm slow like that, which is why this story has to be told in two parts and the shot in the ass doesn't even come until the second part.

Like everyone, there are times when I completely suck at life. It's really easy to blame my suckiness on Turkey because seriously, there are times when Turkey is totally conspiring against me. Of course, I handle these conspiracies better sometimes than others, so it's probably the case that when I suck at life, it's still mostly my fault.

That's because it's safe to say everything is my fault.

Okay, this is India but I'm pretty sure the bank has a guy like this.
Like my bills. I should have joined the 21st century ages ago with everyone else and started paying my bills automatically. But I haven't. Why? Because it's a pain in the ass because this is Turkey. The bank has a way to set it up online which never works. It tells you it's all set up, but then the bill doesn't get paid. So you go to the bank to set it up and they give you a piece of blank paper and a pen and dictate a talimat to you, and you sign it. I don't know what a talimat is exactly, except that it seems to be some sort of formal declaration that you want your bills to be paid automatically. Quite why such a piece of paper needs to be filed somewhere I have no idea, but again, this is Turkey. Byzantium has found its way into the digital age, and it's working, sort of.

Fuck yeah!
Burası Türkiye.

One thing I realized about Turkey the other night when I couldn't sleep is that people say, shruggingly, "This is Turkey" only when something bad or annoying or scary or insanely catch-22ish happens. People in America never do that. We're more inclined to thump our chests and say, "This is America!" when something really great happens and there are fireworks and music and someone has discovered they're free as a bird to do something stupid, like launch themselves headfirst from a giant slingshot into a swamp. Fuck yeah! It's a free country!

It's only one of the differences between Turkey and America, but at 3am it seemed really significant.

Anyway, at the bank you file the talimat and wait for the bill to get paid and it doesn't happen. Then you go back to the bank to find out why, and they tell you it's because there's already a talimat on file at a different bank. They couldn't have possibly told you this before. So you tell them you already filed a talimat at the old bank to cancel the other talimat and they shrug and give that implacable look that says, "This is Turkey. Begone, silly foreigner. If you had the sociolinguistic skills to get around this problem like everyone else does, I'd let you talk me into it, but all this reason and logic bores me. Plus you have an accent and that's just weird. Oh, and we'll be snickering at you before the door hits your ass on the way out."

Your friendly neighborhood muhtar welcomes you.
And that's why I don't pay my bills online. I won't even get into the other problem of the bills being in my husband's name, which is sometimes a problem and sometimes isn't, but in order to solve it, it means both of us taking a day off work and going to the most unspeakable places, shoving pushy people out of our way by the face and stroking the egos of the most appalling desk people who want unimaginable bits of paper, and since I'm pretty sure the muhtar (don't even get me started on the muhtar) won't put me on the registration form because I'm foreign, I have approximately a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting some bills put into my name. But my husband can't be trusted to pay the bills automatically because he doesn't keep track of his bank accounts and they get empty and then the guy comes over for the 10th time to shut off the water or electricity or whatever, looking relieved that it's just that foreigner who doesn't screech at him. We've gotten to be buds, the shutting-off guy and I.

That's what a catch-22 looks like from my side of the world. So now, all my bills are late because LE and I have been sick for the last couple of days. I went to pay them today at the post office at school, but they're on their lunch break during my lunch break and when I ran over there right before my classes started, their system was down. So I got out of work as quick as I could and stopped at home to pick up a prescription that comes up in Part 2 in this story, and rushed down to the bill-paying place that even takes your water bill, which the post office doesn't for some reason. The bill-paying place closes at 6 and I got there 2 minutes to 6-- their clock was the same as mine-- but the woman was all "We're closed" and I started to employ some of my barbaric wheedling skills to make people do what I want, but she said the system shuts down automatically and there was nothing she could do. At least she was nice about it, so I didn't get very mad.

But when I got outside it occurred to me once again that I'm sucking at life a lot these days.

When I'm sick is one of those times I don't handle Turkey problems well. And for the last couple weeks I haven't been sick-sick, just the kind of cloying, snotty sick that isn't enough to get out of work but is just enough to feel crappy and depressed because I fucking hate being sick and consider it a reflection of my weak character. And then there's the cough that has me doubled over by my 4th lesson of the day. That's starting to weigh on me too. My ribs hurt and people are starting to comment.
Naturally, the last thing I do when I'm sick is go to the doctor. No fever, can still breathe, can still do my job, no doctor. Fuck no. But then LE got an ear infection Sunday night. When that happens, there's nothing to do but go to the doctor because he's fevered and his ears hurt and he whimpers all night, generally becoming limp and tragic and cuddly. I'm afraid if I don't get it fixed right away he'll go deaf or the infection will eat his brain.

I am the 99%
Speaking of brains, let it be known that I'm NOT the one who told LE about zombies. I think it was his dad and some fucking video game with shotguns in Bakırköy. But when LE started telling me about zombies I didn't do a very good job of hiding my fear of zombies because when the zombie apocalypse comes, there's fuck all any of us can do about it. He asked me if zombies can run and I just shuddered and said, "Let's hope really hard they can't, sweetheart, because if they can we'll be even more screwed. Running zombies are way worse than regular ones."

So Monday morning I felt especially crappy after a sleepless night, and after breakfast I packed poor LE into a taxi to go to the doctor. I decided while we were there, I'd go to the doctor too. I was hoping for a super-sized bottle of Robitussin codeine cough syrup so I can party when I get better. LE's doctor visit went fine, except the great pediatrician that used to be there wasn't there anymore. And I had to pay full price because I didn't know BE doesn't pay LE's Bağ-Kur anymore until I tried to use it. I didn't want to call BE because he'd tell his mother LE was sick and the last thing I wanted was the litany of different kinds of deadly air I'd failed to protect my son from.

Shit'll fucking kill you.
 I mean, I'm sure she's just being caring and stuff and in her crazy world where there're all kinds of air that can kill you, her job is never done. But whenever she starts going on about all the air that made LE sick, what I hear is, "You incompetent boob, it's all your fault it's all your fault, if you weren't such a stupid inattentive foreigner who doesn't protect our sole male heir from every type of air..." Is there any good air, I wonder, holding the phone away from my ear until the nattering is done. Besides the famous air on Tekirdağ, of course, which is probably still cold and changing and moving and all those other things air does that kill the hell out of you.

My doctor visit was full price too. They don't take my private insurance and my SSK is, according to the woman there, not active. Quite why this should be the case I'll never know. I'm paying SSK out of my paycheck. I have a crappy, frayed pink card (pink is for girls, blue is for boys, even the state is enforcing this shit) with my picture stapled to it that I've been carrying around for 10 years. To make it active, she said, I have to go the such-and-such unspeakable place somewhere in Beşiktaş and do this, that, and the other thing. I just gave her my credit card before she finished because it sounded like a miserable way to spend a day off and I'll never get around to doing it, much like setting up my bills to be paid automatically.
Coming for me.

Like the bills not in my name, and the fact that I have two names in Turkey (another boring story), I'm sure the SSK thing will come back to bite me in the ass someday. Fuck it.

The doctor for grown-ups was a lovely, dapper fellow who I'm pretty sure should have retired about 20 years ago. The room was redolent of fresh cigarettes. LE was sort of slumped pink-faced and fat-lipped on the sofa with the fever the ped and I had agreed wasn't high enough to medicate and should just be allowed to do its job (points for the ped!). The doctor tried out some of his English on me.

"Alman mısıniz? Vere are you from? Şikayetiniz nedir? Vat is your compliant, yani, complaint?

So I went along with it and told him everything in Turkish and elementary English. He was delighted, and wondered if I'd be interested in practicing English with him. "Grip!" he pronounced. "You haf de infiluenza."

"Ama hiç ateşim yok. No fever."" I told him. So he got out his stethoscope for a listen. He went to undo the zipper on my cardigan with struck me as oddly intimate and patriarchal, but he wouldn't let me undo it until it got stuck. Then he had a listen to my chest. "Derin bir nefes alin. Deep bireathe." So I did, and I could feel all sorts of gross noises in there. He ordered a chest x-ray, at which point I decided the cigarettes have finally kicked me in the ass and this was the place I was going to find out I was going to die. LE was asleep by now.

My chest x-ray. No, seriously.
So I hauled the poor boy out to the front to pay for the x-ray, and we went to wait by the x-ray room. It turned out that creepy, slightly malodorous man with the massive mustache I'd seen bustling around wasn't an orderly, but instead was the x-ray technician. He told LE he'd have to wait outside and asked me a couple of times if I was pregnant. I propped LE against the wall on a stool and assured him I'd be right back. He didn't care. The creepy man told me I'd have to take off my top and bra. I started getting nervous wondering exactly how much I was going to have to put up with here, and mentally setting the bar for exactly how much I would put up with, but then he remembered to mention some well-used and none-too-clean gowns hanging on the wall.

The x-ray machine was all steampunk, like something out of a nightmare Victorian sanatorium for tuberculars. It was all mercifully quick and professional and the fellow probably wasn't nearly as creepy as the mustache let on, which probably says more about me and my prejudices than anything else.

LE sacked out my lap while we waited for my death sentence. In the waiting room was one of those women who loves to talk about illnesses with everyone else in the waiting room. She had a kid with her who hardly seemed sick at all, but apparently he was very sick and had been getting sick for weeks with a cough and a stuffy nose and she gave him lots of fruit and everything, to no avail. Fortunately, there was another woman there who also liked this kind of conversation and they started talking about all the dangerous kinds of air that can hit you and everyone was happy. They were finishing each others' sentences by the time they got to the part about the air, and it occurred to me that a lot of my problem in Turkish isn't understanding what people say but why the hell they say it. The dapper doctor called me in before the women could attack me about my sick kid.

"Very bad," he said. "Bronchitis. My English has gotten very bad. If you're not busy you should stop by. I'll offer you tea or coffee and we can chat. Do you want to get better quickly or slowly?"

But it looked so tasty and sweet!
After two weeks of being sick, I went for quickly. I knew it would mean antibiotics for a non-bacterial infection, which I usually refuse, but fuck it. After 10 years I've drunk the Kool-Aid and I'll take the generosity with the antibiotics when it suits me. To whoever catches my antibiotic-resistant bug, I'm very, very sorry and I don't usually do this but I really suck at life right now and we all  have to draw the line sometime.

Easily distracted.
Between putting off the doctor trying to get me to practice English with him at some later date, and keeping LE from falling over, I completely sucked at life again. Sometimes I'm so focused on making sure the interaction goes well that I fail to pay attention to the content, so I didn't notice the doc was prescribing the kind of antibiotics that need to be injected. I was still excited about the part where he mentioned getting over the sickness quickly, and busy wondering if anything on that long list of prescriptions was going to be fun in a recreational way once I got better. Then he started telling me a recipe for an herbal tea that's good for lungs and that was interesting too. Perhaps it was an indirect way of telling me I shouldn't take all the medicine on that prescription.

And now it's much later than I want it to be, which means I'm sucking at life again because I should have been in bed an hour ago. Stay tuned for the next post, wherein I work really hard to get a shot in the ass.

Eight of them, actually.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Ugliest Cat In The World

Lately, the ugliest tomcat in the world has decided to walk us from the trash bin near our house to the one up the street.

He doesn't look like the sort of cat who should be scampering cheerfully alongside a squealing 4 year old. And he definitely doesn't look like the sort of cat who would stand up on his hind legs whoring for a cuddle with the iPhone. He looks like the sort of cat who should be out doing some serious scrapping and kitten-making. He's got these black oily stains that have been there all week, as though he's been rolling in tar and calling it his bitch. His face is a permanent mess of fighting and sticking his head into oily trash carcasses.

He's clearly a tom, all chest-heavy and surly, much like the cat version of the dog in Tom and Jerry.

Imagine if this dog were an orange cat.

And to make it worse, the poor fellow has a touch of smashy-faced Persian in him. Or something. Plus there's the eye thing.

Still, LE and I both like him pretty well.

I totally petted the dirty little bastard today. And I didn't wash my hands after, either. Hah!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sarıyer Spor

 Suddenly, there are all these football matches, I mean soccer games, at the little stadium behind our house. You know there's going to be a match when, Sunday morning, an Algida umbrella appears and then they start testing the sound system for an hour, first with explosions of the national anthem when they're discovering it's too loud, then intermittent bursts of Shakira and Turkish pop.

Usually the turnout is okay. They let the local fans in first, and then about 20 minutes after kickoff, the other team's fans are allowed in. I guess there must be a history of inter-fan shenanigans, because the ratio of away team fans to cops is about 2 to 1. And usually we know who the away team is, because they bring a banner. A couple of weekends ago it was Eyüp Spor. Then it was a team whose banner just had a slogan I couldn't make sense of, but I'm sure it was very manly and supportive and stuff.

Because the Sarıyer Spor's training field is off the other side of our balcony, I know those guys work their asses off, in all weather, every night after work until around midnight. I mean, I'm assuming they have day jobs, since I'm guessing an illustrious career with Sarıyer Spor doesn't pay the bills unless they all live with their parents and don't pay bills.

Still, this past rainy, freezing Sunday, I don't think I would have felt very good if I had been playing for the away team.
They didn't even have a banner. And I guess the cops decided to knock off for the day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Student Wisdom

Today was a rainy Friday after the midterm. Most students didn't bother showing up, as one would expect. The bad class had some catching up to do because they never pay attention and I can't finish anything.  The good class, I decided to reward with some Internet cartoons, thanks to The Oatmeal.

Educational cartoons, of course.

It was funny watching it dawn on them that normal-looking English words can go together in thrilling ways, and that the pictures were worth looking at. Stuff like this doesn't happen to them very often, it seems.

Of course, I had to make it all learn-y and shit.
Best whiteboard ever.

Once they realized there was more to be learned here than semicolons (which I assured them at the beginning I despise and have no use for, though The Oatmeal did mention a couple of cases where they might be necessary, should you be the sort of person who likes to list dates, locations, or complicated adjective clauses, which I'm not, you can be sure), they started asking questions.

"Teacher, what is 'knuckles?'"

I showed them the knuckles on my hand. "Isn't that 'fist'?" asked a clever one. I pointed out the difference. A murmur went across the room, and another one said, "There's not a word for that in Turkish." Another one got out his trusty telephone and looked it up, but only found the word for 'joint.' "It's for knees and elbows, too," they explained. I was impressed they knew "knee" and "elbow" in English.

"Okay, " I said. "But what do you say when you see a man with hairy knuckles?"

"Teacher," said one kid, very slowly like I was the dumbest person on Earth, "You don't say anything."


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tattoo: A Sordid Tale That I Won't Be Posting On Facebook Because I'm All Professional And Shit

This is my tattoo.
I'll tell you what, taking a photo of your own almost-40 thigh, in a relatively flattering light, without moving, and not showing any ass, un-groomitage, spider veins, cellulite or assorted other close-up thigh-related unpleasantness is fucking difficult. It took me like 15 tries.

Open letter to my parents:

Dear Mom and Dad,
Remember that one time the boys and I were talking about some bad, dangerous stuff we did when we were teenagers, and you guys shuddered and asked us please to not tell you anymore about the bad, dangerous stuff we did when we were teenagers? Well, this is one of those stories. Seriously. Just take your browser to another page right now and stop reading. Trust me.

Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you this story, the story of when I got my tattoo. I've been thinking about it lately because I've gotten it into my head that I want to get the tattoo fixed up into something proper and grown-up, the sort of thing people pay for. That's because I didn't pay anything for my tattoo, which is part of the story. As for the tattoo, I pretty much got what I paid for. As for the story, well that's something else entirely.

The story starts here.
The 60s: Way Cooler In Pictures
So. After I got kicked out of boarding school, I ended getting to go to this super-sweet, founded-by-hippies private school in San Francisco, just around the corner from the house where Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead all hung out during some fleeting and entirely overrated summer of hippie love and greatness. Tom Wolfe popped by that house while he was researching The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which I know because I read it and everything I know about the 60s comes from books and the Beatles and Cream and Jimi Hendrix and movies and Donovan and a lot of things I imagined while under the influence of crap I bought on Haight Street when I was in high school.

Awww, bless!
Anyway, one thing about Haight Street at that time (I don't know if it's still the same) is that the region between Golden Gate Park and Divisadero was like some sort of Mecca for every loser and throwback and runaway who thought it was still the 60s, or who thought they could make some money off people who still thought it was the 60s. After Divisadero was a junkie crack zone, and I probably was too green to notice the borders weren't so clearly defined as that. Which meant that when you walked around Haight, people would brush by you muttering "buds doses," and also there was a really fucking great burrito shop down the end of the street. Huge burritos with beans and meat for five bucks. My brother and I used to split one for lunch because I never could finish a whole one.

In the old days, it was just coffee with no fucking pictures.
So there was this cafe we all used to hang out at after school. It was run by some Middle Eastern guys (Jordanian, maybe? There were a lot of Jordanians around for some reason) who would play really loud Middle Eastern music when they felt like clearing everyone out. Otherwise they played good music and we could smoke there without getting caught if we went upstairs (our teachers were always on the prowl for smoking, even on vacations, it was said), and the worst problem was not being able to use the bathroom because of some junkie shooting up or a homeless person conducting a lengthy personal hygiene ritual in there. Then a junkie died and they started a key system for the bathroom, which kept out the junkies but not the homeless. I think this means those Middle Eastern guys were probably nicer than they seemed, because otherwise they mostly shouted a lot.

I just now thought of Louis, the Palestinian who ran the corner store across the street from the cafe. He had an arsenal of terrifying weapons behind the counter. This one friend of mine used to go in there and ask Louis to see his gun or baseball bat or lead pipe, and Louis would go all batshit and shout stuff like "Fire in your ass!" which, in light of Turkish swearing is either way funnier or slightly less funny. Louis was nicer than he seemed, too.

I'm getting to the tattoo now, I promise.

Dear Mom and Dad,
If you've decided, against my helpful advice, to read this up until this point, around now would be a good time to stop.

Would you like to chat?
Upstairs at the cafe, there was a guy called Straight-Jacket who was running his little dimebag business over bottomless cups of strong-as-shit coffee, surrounded by a few street kids who seemed cool to us at the time, and us disposable-income private high school kids hoping to cash in on some of the cool. And also play Othello and work on crossword puzzles and flame the new-fangled coin-op Internet machines where, for a quarter, you could enter an ongoing chat and make fun of all the crazy sexual proclivities expressed therein. The screen was black with green writing. Straight-Jacket would mete out his dimebags to appropriately bedraggled kids not much older or younger than we were, who would go out and join the legions of "buds doses" walkers, and from whom we never bought anything because we knew how pinched the bags got along the way and their doses were usually bunk. In any case, Straight-Jacket never would have let me buy from one of those fuckers anyway. He was very protective, and made sure I got my dimebags properly filled up.

Straight-Jacket was a charismatic, erudite, not-quite-high-school-educated Southerner who aligned himself with the Hell's Angels White Supremacist types. He'd been in prison, which easily amazed me in high school, and he told great stories and was probably completely full of shit most of the time, not that I would have known. Because I know his real name, I Googled him recently and found he's back in the South (okay, Southeast, but whatever), refurbishing classic cars, that he has a young kid, and that he once wrote a rather lengthy and articulate open letter endorsing Obama and the Democrats. I also found out he graduated high school in New Jersey, so I don't really know what that whole uneducated Southern thing was all about.

Straight-Jacket had a tattoo of a spider under his eye. I later worked it out that it originally was a teardrop tattoo, to show he'd killed someone, or at least to make everyone think that. And he took a liking to me, which in my bull-headed innocence that The World was the way I Wanted It To Be, I assumed was a matter of friendship. Also he was twice my age, so I never would have thought of it as Liking anyway.

Dear Readers with short attention spans,

I promise I'm getting to the tattoo part soon, really. I haven't told the tattoo story to very many people. It's not because I'm embarrassed. It's because usually the background of this story is story enough, and I rarely manage to make it to the end. It's a long fucking story from here on out, so you might as well go get a cup of coffee or whatever and just settle in.

One day, I expressed to Straight-Jacket an interest in getting a tattoo of my own. I was a couple weeks short of going off to college in Baltimore at this point, and had already had my navel pierced, so a tattoo was the next logical step, given I wasn't interested in a face pierce and I'd never heard of nipple pierces. And I sure didn't want to go off to college being the one who wasn't fucking cool and sophisticated and knowledgeable about the world and shit. As it turned out I needn't have worried.

Straight-Jacket was more than happy to oblige. He may have even said the word "oblige," which would have thrilled me in a Faulkner-esque kind of way. He knew a guy called Spyder, yes, that's Spyder with a "y," who he knew back from the South or prison or maybe from just down the street in Golden Gate Park. Anyway.

Whee! Altamont!
Spyder was an older Hell's Angels type of guy, sort of a Hell's Angels-meets-hippie-meets-I-don't-actually-have-a-motorcycle-but-I-used-to-have-a-Vincent-Black-Shadow kind of guy, one of those fellows who claims to have been at Altamont when the whole Altamont thing happened. And there were a lot of scruffy-faced guys around the Haight with scaggy girlfriends and leather vests and lots of tattoos claiming they were at Altamont, so who knows? I'm not even sure how I knew about Altamont in the old days before Wikipedia, but I did. Probably it was down to Leroy, the best history teacher ever, who taught us about Altamont as part of the Civil Rights Movement unit. I also learned a lot about the 60s from school. And also the 70s when it was still the 60s.

Hee! Religious humor sucks.
Straight-Jacket and Spyder appeared to be friends on the surface. In fact, one of the reasons it took six hours to get a two-hour tattoo was because those two kept swapping Southerner fish stories. Not actually about fish, mind you, though some of them were indeed about fish. I mean the kinds of stories where one guy tells a long story and the other guy tries to one-up him with an even longer, better story. I heard some good stories that night, and I wish I could remember them.

Which is one reason I feel like I can't tell the tattoo story without making it into a really long fucking story. Some sort of justice has to be done not only to the event itself, but to narratives in general, and the narratives we create for our lives and what it all means.

Deep-down, though, Spyder and Straight-Jacket were frenemies. There's no other way to say it but with a coinage that's not as contemporary as it seems. Spyder had a scaggy girlfriend, or shall I say "Old Lady," just to be down with the vernacular, whom Straight-Jacket coveted. This turned out to be one of several underlying unpleasantnesses that went on throughout the tattoo.

I'm a Water Ox, for what it's worth.
Now, the tattoo itself, I have no idea where I found it. Simple, tribal-style tattoos were just coming into vogue, as were a certain type of Asian tattoos. And, mind you, it was 1991, so Internet for us was limited to my dad's incomprehensible Compuserve and the aforementioned coin-op machines. So somewhere, probably in a book or magazine, I found a picture of a solid-black dragon that I liked, which I traced onto a thin piece of binder paper and carried around in my wallet for awhile, long enough for it to get a bit frayed around the edges. It wasn't so much that dragons had a particular significance in the narrative of my life (though there were one or two incidents involving a lot of weed and long sticks and some vivid imaginings on my part that had occurred well before the tattoo, which I considered "defining" at the time), at least not in terms of dragon-like feelings or Asian horoscopes or anything like that.

Before taking me over to his scary friend Spyder, Straight-Jacket had me meet him at his real house (not the Divisadero squat I'd been to previously) out in Daly City. He offered me a beer, then told me not to drink too much, as it thins the blood and can cause the tattoo ink to bleed out too much. One beer was okay, though, for the road. He assured me any experienced tattoo-getter knows stuff like this, which was a good thing because I'd assumed getting shitfaced was a pre-requisite of tattoo-getting. Also, I wasn't sure how comfortable I was getting shit-faced with Straight-Jacket out in his flat in Daly City.

It's cool, and also not.
Then he went on to rant about how he'd failed the California motorcycle license test because of a question where the correct answer was that a motorcyclist should approach railways at an angle, while any experienced motorcyclist knows you should approach tracks straight on, otherwise you'll crash and die. I'll have to take his word on that one. He'd found the mistake in the book before taking the test, and figured by getting the answer wrong, he'd set the California DMV straight, once and for all. It didn't work. Articulate as he was, he still had a spider tattooed on his face, some missing important teeth, and a rather scrappy, threatening manner overall.

Dear Mom and Dad,

This is the part where we go to a grotty, possibly illegal basement flat in the nether regions of Polk Street. We told you we were staying at someone's house, and that this person's parents were at home. We knew that if you called, this friend's parents would say we were at a movie, as per The Plan. My dear brother and the friend probably actually went off to see the movie, as they were too grossed out by the squalid basement flat, and the inhabitants therein, to stay. Plus, someone else getting a tattoo is really boring and I told them they could go. It might also be worth mentioning that said dear brother and friend started advising against the whole tattoo adventure once they saw the aforementioned flat.

So if you're still reading, now would be an even better time to quit than the time I said before.

I'm the most gullible person on Earth. Just humor me, okay?
In this possibly illegal nether regions of Polk Street flat, Spyder lived with any number of street kids and runaways, both male and female. He said he was taking care of them, and I hope it wasn't just my 18-year-old ingenuousness that wants to believe this is true, because I still kind of believe it was true. There were a lot of kids there, most of them a bit younger than I was at that time, but kids to me now. The rooms were nothing but dirty laundry and clean bedding on the floor. Spyder assured me he didn't take junkies, crackheads, or whores into his house. For some of the kids, girls especially, he found housekeeping/cooking jobs, in houses with single men. So I'm not entirely sure about the whores part. On his tour of the house he pointed out he didn't take any money from the girls, but instead acted as a reference, phone number, and physical address on their resumes, as a first step to getting a proper job. Plus he claimed to beat the shit out of any of the employers who got fresh with the girls, which didn't happen much anyway since most of the employers were old-school Polk Street queens.

Things started to go wrong.
I gave Spyder the dragon picture and, using a piece of carbon paper, he traced it onto my thigh, where I wanted it to be. Somewhat hidden but a little bit sexy, in my 18-year-old might-as-well-have-been-a-virgin way of thinking. However, as he was tracing, there were these Southerner story interludes, plus some other stuff that caused the carbon to shift slightly, and when this huge bearded tattooed leather man asked me if I liked the picture before he started inking it, I just said yes because what the fuck else was I going to do? I started to mention that I wasn't quite sure about how the part that was supposed to be dragon's beard was now well underneath its front legs, and its front legs didn't look like anything, but then they were off telling stories again so I shut the fuck up.

One reason the carbon-tracing of the tattoo got screwed up is that a girl came into the house in tears. She had a stack of Polaroids, and her baby-tee showed fresh jello-y red stretch-marks on her belly. The photographs were of her newborn daughter and the family that had just adopted this baby. The new parents looked shiny and kind, and the baby was beautifully dressed and blissfully sleeping.

Some things don't go as planned.
This crying girl had just then gotten the photos in the mail and had fallen apart. The baby was about 2 weeks old and Spyder made the girl a cup of chamomile tea and sat with her until she'd stopped sobbing. Then this big, gruff leather man reminded her of all the reasons she'd decided to do this, and how happy and well her daughter looked, and how the family would keep in touch with her about her baby, as agreed with the agency. By the time the tea was finished, the girl was smiling.

Bob Fagin. Not all bad but kind of bad.
So either he was an evil Bob Fagin-type of man, or some sort of street world visionary, or I was a very naive little girl getting a tattoo.

Probably the truth was somewhere in the middle of all of that, as it usually is.

After he was done tracing the carbon, Spyder showed me the tattoo gun he'd made himself. Then he took it apart and boiled all the pieces in the teapot. While it was boiling, he assured me he had a sixth sense about people who have AIDS and had never tattooed one of them. Then he and Straight-Jacket started off on the Alabama fish stories again.

At this point, I wondered if my brother and our friend would be returning anytime soon. Two or thee hours had gone by already, enough for the alibi-parents to start wondering, if they hadn't fallen asleep, which they probably had. The alibi-parents didn't really give a fuck what we were up to, so long as no one got arrested and everyone went to school.

Spyder fired up his gun and told me the outline hurts more than then filling-in part, because the needle was thinner and slicier, while the coloring needles are actually four needles across and their vibration numbs the skin somewhat. This turned out to be true. It also turned out to be true that smoking weed would make it hurt more, but that kid with the pipe was just too appealing for any of us to pass up. Plus the homemade gun was, I suppose, a bit slower than a real tattoo gun.

And that line of speed just made me puke. "Toilet's over there, " he said, pointing to a beaded curtain, just as the prickly black lights were appearing in my vision. "I can tell when someone is about to puke." Good call, Spyder. Fortunately, by the time I puked, the outline was just about done and my brother and friend turned up.

"I just did speed," I announced nonchalantly. "And I puked. The weed's in the other room."

You never know.
So I hardly felt the coloring-in part. At one point, it was a little sensitive, and Spyder said it was because he was going over the same area again and again because it kept bleeding out. "You might have to come back for a touch-up," he said. Looking at my tattoo now, I probably should have taken him up on that. He also warned me about picking at the scabs and sun exposure, and he gave me his business card, telling me I should call him if I ever needed anything because he had a good feeling about me. He added something mystical about how our paths would surely cross again someday, when one or the other of us needed it the most. I'm still wondering about that one.

But by the time the scabs were off I was into my second week of higher education in Baltimore, and when I came home for winter break, Spyder and Straight-Jacket were no longer speaking to each other because of a kerfuffle involving Spyder's Old Lady, and the new tattoo of her face on Straight-Jacket's tricep, which Straight-Jacket maintained was for aesthetic purposes because she was so pretty, and nothing to to with any alleged fling.

Then he and Straight-Jacket started off on another story. The speed had made them all the talkier. Spyder called Straight-Jacket a fag. Straight-Jacket said, "If you call me a fag one more time, I'll cut you."

"Fag," said Spyder.

It bled a lot.
Swish went Straight-Jacket's knife, out of nowhere across Spyder's well-inked forearm. Actually, it didn't make a swishing sound at all, but it should have. Blood burbled out of the cut, and filled it, and started dripping. Spyder was creepily calm and silent on the issue and muttered something about getting a poultice. Straight-Jacket wiped the knife on his jeans, closed it, and put it back into his pocket, calling off to Spyder that he'd warned him about calling him a fag one more time. I was worrying that it was after midnight and our alibi must be seriously wearing thin. The fact that there were no cell phones in those days was both a blessing and a curse, though we generally managed to get by with pay phones most of the time, and that was okay. I just hoped a serious argument, or worse, wasn't going to result from this fagcalling-cutting incident.

While Spyder was gone (and he really was making a poultice, by the way, with a stash of herbs he apparently had in the other bathroom, along with some medical tape and cloth bandages), Straight-Jacket wanted to confess something to me.

"I don't just like you as a friend, Stranger. I *Like* you, if you know what I mean." I started to answer with the stock response a teenager has for such awkward moments, but he cut me off. "I know you probably don't think of me like that. You're going off to college and your whole life is ahead of you, better than I can ever do, but I just wanted you to know that from the first time I met you, I thought you were the cutest, prettiest little thing I ever saw."

Okay. I wasn't really sure what to do with that, and I was very, very tired, among other things. And those weren't his exact words, either, but it was something like that. We had a good uncomfortable ten minutes for this conversation.

Then Spyder came back with his arm all wrapped up. Straight-Jacket excused himself for a pee. While he was gone, Spyder said not to mention it to Straight-Jacket, but that he probably should be getting stitches, what with the way the blood had burbled like that the knife had nicked an artery, but he didn't want to fuck up his tattoos with stitches, plus he wanted to finish my tattoo.

Later I found out it wasn't just the Old Lady that had caused the rift between Spyder and Straight-Jacket. It was also the cut, which Straight-Jacket said had healed up just fine, with almost no marring of the tattoos.

After that, there's not much I remember except that the tattoo was eventually finished and bandaged, we all got home safe with no one the wiser, and I went off to college shortly after to start my new life. This life didn't involve becoming a plastic businessman, as I'd feared, so it's a really good thing most 18 year olds don't know jack shit about anything.

And so, dear readers, that is the story of how I got my tattoo. It's a fine tattoo, as far as free tattoos go, save for the bits that bled out and the bits I was never totally happy with. And I like the way it changes shape depending on how I move my leg. I also like how it's mostly secret except in summer.

But most of all,  I like the story of how it got there. And now I think, 20 years later, it's time to amend the dear thing in honor of the ever-changing narrative of life and reality, because that's worth something too.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I sincerely hope you haven't read this far. If LE ever tells me a story like this, I'll tell him to shut the fuck up, or I might just drink a pitcher of margaritas and hope he had as much dangerous fun in an ultimately safe and lucky way as I did.

Your Stranger.