Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Late Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Not that I didn't appreciate the food, because I did. I just always found it a little disappointing, maybe because it's not Christmas, though it does somehow mark the start of Christmas stuff.

We used to have Thanksgiving at my grandparents'. My mom's side in Vegas when we were little, and my dad's side in San Francisco when we were older. As a kid I took food for granted, and I was never much of a turkey fan (though few things beat cold stuffing for the next few days), so Thanksgiving was mostly about uncomfortable clothes and special china that you had to be extra super careful with.

At least we were all allowed to have a small glass of wine. That was cool.

When my parents did Thanksgiving at their house and I had learned to appreciate food, the meal itself was, of course, phenomenal. But it took at least three days of prep before the day, and then a full insane, exhausting day of non-stop cooking. I was never hungry anyway by the time dinner came around because of all the snacks. And then the meal was devoured and that was that. It just never seemed worth the effort, maybe because we have phenomenally good meals at my parents' all the time anyway.

So since I came here, I never really bothered with Thanksgiving. I hardly noticed it. Last year, a potluck at some friends', was the first time I did Thanksgiving in Turkey.

On Thanksgiving morning at work, my friend wished me "Happy Thanksgiving." I didn't hear her because of the copy machine, so she said it again louder and I remembered it was Thanksgiving. I remembered it was Thanksgiving several other times throughout the day when the same friend was wishing other people "Happy Thanksgiving."

The same friends were giving the potluck this weekend, and maybe something in me wanted to have Thanksgiving for real because I made a shitload of food. Stuffing sans the turkey, gravy with some drippings and caramelized onions left over from a chicken breast I roasted. Hummus. Of course hummus! Vegetable sticks. And some onion dip with a packet of onion soup mix I've had for I don't know how long, but I was pleased to find it.

At this point, I realize it's really hard to not capitalize "Turkey." I do it automatically. I did it just now. I never talk about the food kind of turkey.

Last year, LE didn't like the Thanksgiving potluck at all. He bitched the entire time, and didn't like the food, and threw a tantrum because he lost at bingo. But my friends' house was all done up with Christmas lights, which meant Thanksgiving was the start of Christmas for LE.

This year, he didn't want to go. He remembered that he didn't like the food. He didn't remember the bingo or the tantrum. But he heard some of his favorite man-friends were coming and grudgingly agreed.

And it ended up being pretty good. He partied with the grown-ups like a champ, and even toned it down a bit when I told him he was getting a little crazy. He ate chips and candy and vegetable sticks and didn't bitch about the food. He even sat and drank his coffee nicely.

My friend's husband had the clever idea of stuffing some old jeans to use as floor pillows. The pants-pillows make a lot of possibilities for pretending there's a dead person under your table.

They also fascinate little boys.

Then I gave LE my phone so he could wind down a bit. He remembered how to work the two-way camera.

It's a study in Boy.

Then he curled up next to me and went to sleep on the pants. Since I had just gotten him back that afternoon from his dad's, I was still in can't-stop-touching-the-boy mode. I got to pet him for an hour. I tried to make an elvin spit-curl with his hair no one has bothered to cut.

I remember how nice it was to be a kid and fall asleep, or fake asleep, while the grown-ups are all still talking. Their voices go in and out of your half-dream, with the soporific laughs and comforting sibilants and it feels so warm and good be safe like that.

When it looked like things were winding down, I dragged him awake for a pee before we left. He protested bitterly, still half asleep. But we weren't leaving just yet and he staggered back into the living room and crumpled onto the closest bit of rug he could find, kind of behind the dining room table.

He was all partied out. It was a really very good night.

Yeah, we totally did this.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Open Letter To The Universe

Dear Universe,

Thanks for everything, seriously.

That's is all.

You look fucking hot in this pic, Universe!

Your till the end,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vice Haiku

I like to drink. Why?
It makes me feel really good
And solves my problems.

I like to smoke. Why?
There's no good answer for that.
I just do. So what?

I like to fuck. Why?
It's free and doesn't harm me.
And men smell so nice.

I so like music
Music is like sex and booze
Like butter into my ears.

I like to read. Why?
Reading's not a vice, really.
It just feels that way.

Getting High
Getting high is fun.
Sex, booze, music, words, reading
Are better while baked.

And I like writing
I start it and I can't stop.
It's better than dreams.

Being Lazy
Being lazy rocks.
Because of doing nothing,
I like working more.


I like to swear. Why?
Because I know big words, too.
Fucking fuck fuck fuck.

Being Human
Being human's sweet
Loves, vices, smells, and ennui
It's under my skin.

Aw. Thanks, You Lovelies!

I got your note, guys. It made my day. It was like getting an anonymous love letter, only less adolescent.

Keep yourselves safe and I'm waiting for the next new thing.

Ah, The Kids: A Post With A Soundtrack

Maybe all my posts should have soundtracks from now on. Only I'm afraid I'd start getting all anal about telling you when and where to start which song.

Actually, I should totally do a post like that.

But for this one, it's just the one song.

The video is lame. Just play the fucking song, all right? Because pretending you're in the 60s makes everything seem way cooler and trippier than it is, so long as you don't think about the armpit hair overly much.

First, my today's horoscope:

A fog settles over the land this afternoon, making your logic unreliable as a navigational tool. You aren't as certain about anything today. Although you can feel a rumbling beneath the surface, it's not strong enough to be an earthquake. Finding your way can be tricky, but you don't have a choice now. Trust your imagination while drawing the map that you need to reach your future destination.

Of course, I had an earthquake dream last night.  Anyway. Just tripping out a little bit here.

So, the kids. Today, the kids staged a flag waving "Protect The Turkish Flag" protest in response to last Friday's hunger protest. Thanks to a super-cool former student who's totally worth keeping in touch with just because she's the kind of human being I want to know, I knew this protest was going to happen today.

Though even without the insider's tip, I might have guessed something was up. Since Friday's Occurrence, security guards have been strolling around campus with coppish-looking older fellows in dark suits who talk on the phone all the time.

Wish it was this soup.
I figured their protest would be around lunchtime like the last one was, so I brought my lunch from home. It was some Mystery Soup I found in the freezer the other day. I have no memory of making the soup, but it seemed to involve a whole bunch of stuff that I needed to get rid of all at once, probably because it was about to spoil. Also beans. It's yummy, except for the tomatoes. I don't even like tomatoes, so goodness knows why I put them in the soup. At least I cut them in big hunks for easy removal, which was considerate of me. Thanks, Past Tense Stranger!

I was in a dickish mood today. I kicked out half a class for failing to bring laptops, and they were all panicked and dismayed because they're really good students most of the time. I felt kind of guilty for upsetting them, but not too much. Life sucks sometimes, kids. Get used to it. Within 15 minutes, they had all returned with laptops, though one group couldn't use theirs because they didn't know the password. But they still did their work. Well, one kid in the group, anyway. One kid had a nap and the other read his graded reader.

God dammit. I'll bet you anything I give those kids good grades just for being nice, even the sleeper. Anyway.

For my second class, the first hour was the much-coveted Library Training, a once-a-year event when someone from the library comes to your room to explain some stuff about the library. So my job was to turn up and make sure the library training was actually taking place. It was. I confirmed the training would take the full hour and then I left.

What a fucking dick.
When I came back about half the class was there. At this point, it's worth explaining this class. About half of them are wealthy, spoiled, private-school educated, fabulous Istanbulites. They ooze money and privilege and arrogance. For the most part, they're quite good students, but at the same time they're rude, impatient, and selfish. They're also noisy, which is kind of the same as selfish in a classroom. And they oof a lot about how bored they are, and play with their phones and twirl their hair, including the boy with the Bieber-do.

The other half of them are regular kids, or kids on the list of Anadolu Lisesi students that Rektör Bey made sure we saw this year, so we'd be extra supportive of them. As though we needed a list. These kids are shy, well-mannered, hard-working, and pretty much the kind of kids you'd bust your ass for even if Rektör didn't tell you to. Also one of them is blind. The worst problem you have with these kids is getting them to come for help when they need it. The worst thing about them in general is that they'll graduate the program quickly and not be your students anymore.
It's good to be the queen.

I got all Draconian last week and made assigned seating because the Dynasty kids had crossed the line of obnoxiousness and entitlement. If the blind kid can't hear, he doesn't have a lesson, and the nice kids would never tell you they were having a problem concentrating. It was a little like that logic game with the geese and the fox and the bag of grain crossing the river. This one can't be anywhere near that one, these two will or won't work together nicely, and you can't ask the blind kid to change his seat because it's too much of a hassle with the stick and laptops and power outlets and his graduate-student helper who's with him all the time. But I managed it and the problem is solved for now. The rich kids all made a lengthy show of kissing each other goodbye, one by one, as they moved to their seats two meters away.

Not a pleasure to have in the classroom.
I was unmoved even though I hated myself for becoming this person.

So, back to today. When I came back after the library training, guess which half of the class wasn't there?

Actually, I was glad. It meant I got to have a nice lesson without Jan's and Marcia's and Justin's hair, or their little toady popping his lips incessantly, and there was no bitching or oofing or custom ringtones. 25 minutes into the class the Dynasty kids burst into the room breathlessly with their flags asking if they were absent. I told them yes and encouraged them to collect their things quickly.

And here's me trying to figure out what it means. A class thing? A polite kid-not polite kid thing? Place of origin? Ethnicity? An excuse to skip class? Or something I'm completely missing? It's probably the last one.

Almost certainly the last one.

Here's the thing. If certain of my kids had wanted to attend the hunger strike protest, I probably would have let it slide because I would have guessed it wasn't just an excuse to skip class. But those kids never would have expected or asked for special treatment anyway.

Look, by law and by convention and by wanting to keep my job, I can't say anything to my kids one way or the other. I never would anyway, partly because I have a sort of authority that makes it not fair, partly because I'm foreign which fucks whatever balance even further, and partly because my risks and theirs are totally not the same, were I to encourage one sort of behavior over another.

It's a position to be in that makes me feel dirty, and not in a good way.

Still, the way I figure it, especially with the dark-suited fellows accompanying security around all day, the kids on Friday took a huge risk by sitting on the stairs. The ones today took no risk whatsoever by brandishing their flags and shouting.

And the ones who came to class knew what they were doing, for whatever reason and regardless of where their political sympathies lie. I let them go five minutes early to reward them for whatever they deserved to be rewarded for. They looked stricken, like I was mad at them and sending them out. It took the remaining five minutes to convince them I thought they were great, and that I just didn't want to rush them through a bunch of vocabulary just to fill five minutes, and that it was my way of saying thanks for being cool.

Also it's about the only way I can be a little bit subversive, however flat it fell.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Bit Of Spirit, Quickly Quashed

Normally, the students at my university appear pretty apathetic about everything. Unless it's hair care or eyebrow threading or football or PSP, it seems like not many things arouse their passion.

But lately, it's like they've woken up a bit. In support of the Kurdish prisoners around the country that have been on hunger strike for almost two months, some students tried to stage a hunger strike protest in the student center last week by blocking the stairs that go down to the food courts. Security took care of that very quickly, and in fact they seemed somehow aware that there would be an Occurrence later in the day, because they were being especially thorough about checking IDs at the gate.

This morning on the way to our 8.30 classes, we spotted another small sign of spirit. It's not related to the Kurds. It's about the heavy on-campus video surveillance. It says something like "blind zone," or camera-free zone, because I guess these stairs are one of the few places on campus that doesn't have a camera pointed at it.

It's the first time I've seen real graffiti on campus. There were five or six guys, including two security guards, standing around the graffiti and discussing it.

By 10.30am, the graffiti had been censored.

And by 11am, the guy was out with a sander making sure the graffiti never existed.

These guys discussed the sanding job for almost an hour.
Some students were shouting about something on the stairs to the food courts again today, though they had made a narrow aisle to let people pass. Since Öcalan got the prison hunger strikes to end yesterday, I'm not sure what this protest was about, and I kind of felt like staying out of it anyway. It's their thing, not mine.

It's just good to see that some of them are passionate about something real.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Halloween: Way After The Fact

At least I made a cool FB profile.
You know what I did? I completely forgot to do the Halloween post. I realized it the other day when I discovered a bunch of Halloween photos in my phone. Lame.

There have been a whole lot of Halloweens that have gone by since I've been here. Mostly they go by with an "Oh, shit, today's Halloween. Moving on."

But the fact is, I've always kind of missed Halloween. Halloween captures the unsettling autumnal goodness of fall way more than Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is cool and all as a precursor to Christmas, but since it doesn't have a fixed day, there have been times I didn't even know it was Thanksgiving until my parents or Facebook told me.

But Halloween has a real, proper date. Also Halloween is Nevada Day. Growing up in Nevada, I always thought Halloween was a bank holiday and day-off-school day. It totally should be.

Also, speaking of Nevada, this week was the one year anniversary of when my cousin died.


We got to do Halloween one year in the States, when LE was a boy-toddler. He was a dragon. I can't find the pictures anywhere, which is making me worried they were in the stolen computer. But they could just be on some disc somewhere.

Otherwise, Halloween hasn't been much more than symbolic. But then LE got wind of the candy possibilities and costumes. I blame Calliou for that. I fucking hate Calliou and I'm so glad the boy is pretty much over him.

So last year I McGuyvered the kid up in a sort of cowboy costume and we went trick-or-treating up at the lojman of my school. It was fun for the kids and sucky for the grown-ups because most of the kids up there are spoiled shits and their grownups weren't with them and no one had bothered to teach them that Halloween isn't a screaming bum-rush for fists full of candy.

When I describe Halloween to Turkish people, most of them liken it to the Şeker Bayramı of the not-so-old days. But around the time I was working at Fatih University, it got decided that it's not Şeker Bayramı anymore. It's Ramazan Bayramı, and it's serious and no one gets to have candy from strangers. But in the not-so-old days, kids would go door-to-door wishing people happy Bayram and doing the hand-kiss thing and people would give them candy.

I know this is true because in my early years here, kids would come to my door and I didn't know why. Mostly I figured they were there to torment me somehow. And by the time the kids turned up, I already wasn't opening the door because of the creepy guys with drums who came round aggressively asking for money for banging their drums to wake people up for sahur. Often enough, I was just getting home at that time so the drums were just there to tell me I was getting home close to sunrise, which I knew anyway.

It used to be way cool.
An even older generation likens the "trick" part of trick-or-treat to the Hıdırellez of the way-old days before I got here. But that's been co-opted into another sort of we-don't-talk-about-that-so-much-anymore non-holiday, just as much of the candy-giving of Şeker Bayramı has been corralled into Bayram Parkı and Bayram Şenliği, where you often have to pay money just to get in. There are way more cops at the Hıdırellez "events."

Everything is fine now. Just look away. Nothing to see here.

But in the not-so-old days before the drums got banned most places in the city and Şeker Bayramı was Şeker Bayramı and booze wasn't taxed at 300%, people didn't pretend so much to respect religious shit that pissed them off. And now it's Ramazan Bayramı, just as it always has been, and soon enough we're to be at war with Eastasia, just as we always have been.

And here I was all worried about a silly old earthquake.

Son of a bitch.

Anyway, Halloween! Yay! It's fun and happy and one of those times when we yabancı get to band together and do our thing. This year, the woman that normally organizes the lojman Halloween thingy got fed up with the mean girls and shitty kids and the "Is this soap organic?" parents, so she didn't get things together this year, which I think was a wise move on her part.

So this year, we took the kids up to the yabancı-ridden sector of Zekeriyaköy. There are actually two parts to Zekeriyaköy-- the köy part with wandering fowl and skinny dogs and close-together houses with small yards interspersed with dusty bakkals. Then there's Zenginköy, the other part up on the hill with the expanding outdoor mall and the new villas with big yards and broad, smooth streets and servants' quarters. The street dogs are well-fed and vaccinated and neutered, there aren't any chickens, most everyone speaks English. That's where we go for our pork and smelly cheeses.

And they do Halloween up there. The businesses put out balloons to show they're giving candy. The site director has a map of houses doing the same. There are little kids in costumes and teenagers in costumes and grown-ups in costumes making the rounds. Merriment abounds. Many of the grownups are settled into places that sell wine and cheese, wondering where their kids have gotten to.

So it was different than Halloween like I'm used to, but also the same. Normal somehow, because sometimes if you want to find the "normal" in Istanbul, you have to find the money people. No matter. One day, I hope to be one of the people having wine and cheese, wondering where my kid has gotten to but knowing he's just fine. Even if the wine has a 1,000% tax on it. It'll totally be worth it.

Guess which one's mine?
Then after that, we went to a Halloween party. Turns out a lot of other people I know are into doing Halloween up right. The week before, a friend and I got all crafty and made decorations and a pinata. We also learned that the cool kırtasiye near my house not only has pirate copies of our textbooks before we even officially know the publishers have fucked up yet again, but also cool stuff like glitter and crepe paper and colored pipe cleaners.

The pinata rocked.
So that was cool. The party was kid-friendly, which meant it was exactly like our grown-up parties, but there was also a bowl of punch and games for the kids. The crafty friend had gotten even more crafty around her house, so there was also a super-cool ghost that lit up and cotton spider webs. I kind of refuse to do the costume thing because I'm a dick like that, but I did wear orange tights and a green skirt. I would never wear those in real life so it sort of counts. But most everyone else had cobbled together some sort of costume with the stuff they could find, or had lying around the house.

And LE got to party with the grown ups. He's good at parties. Plus he ate nothing but candy for hours on end-- so much I was afraid he would puke, but he didn't, which was good.

Brave enough to hold the pinata up while kids swung a stick at it.

Scrabbling for candy like 3rd world beggar kids.
Children start getting blurry when there's lots of sugar.

Likes sticking his face in water.
Halloween. It has to be done next year, too, and for however many years we end up here. It's one of those things that makes being a yabancı so much easier. And way more fun.