CHAPTER 10 – TITANIC, TAKE ONE
Talking about Titanic gives me a great excuse to smoothly transition into our sub-plot, which revolves around my very brief and confusing infatuation with Nazan.
During college, Nazan lived in a suburb of Istanbul, a serene gated community built for rich people. Her dad was loaded, having made his money from textile sales in the eastern part of Turkey. The only problem was that her place was about as far away from school as my house was, only in the opposite direction. In order to get there with public transportation, she had to take a cab to Taksim and then had to wait for up to two hours for the express bus to show up.
I, on the other hand, could take my bus at any time but dreaded catching it during rush hour as if it was a particularly nasty case of crabs. I know, you need to have sex first before you can catch crabs, but can’t you let me have one metaphor usually used by someone with an active sex life?
Anyway, the simple reason for this anxiety was directly connected to the kind of insane traffic gridlock that awaited me on the Bosphorus Bridge. It was the price for traveling between continents, I guess.
I knew that a lot of people had to endure the interminable hours on the double-decker bus that stunk like pickled leather since they had to get to their families and loved ones, but who did I look forward to coming home to? A mountain of VHS tapes and DVDs I could pop in as easily and efficiently at midnight as well as at eight pm? So on the days when class would end around five pm, I would occasionally choose to hang out with Nazan for a couple of hours in Taksim in order to kill time until traffic eased up on the bridge.
We would grab some French fries and beer while making fun of Ozan’s various unsuccessful offensive tackles on Nazan that week while analyzing them like football coaches. Nazan would complain about how Deniz was jealous of her and of all of her vast-for-a-Turkish-woman sexual experience while I couldn’t make a peep about my true feelings for Deniz.
It was the end of the same school day when we had to trudge through Man With a Movie Camera after being introduced to the anorexic vampire elf who I was desperately hoping was desperate enough to go out with me.
After the last class of the day, I asked Nazan if she was going to Taksim as usual.
“Of course”, she answered, “Do you wanna join me?”
“Yeah”, I responded, “Do you have to be home at a certain time? Maybe we can go see a movie.”
“Sure, as long as it’s not Titanic. We’re all gonna see that together for the first time this Saturday. If we see it before Adnan does, he’ll never forgive us.”
“Yeah, and then what? He’ll deprive us of hours and hours of forced demos of his awesome sound system? I think I can live with that.”
Nazan laughed. It was easy for me to make her laugh. We had a very similar sense of sick, non-politically-correct humor. She wasn’t as uptight and precious as a lot of other Turkish girls I’d known.
Nazan was cool, it was as if she was one of the guys. She would talk about wanting to hook up with men she found to be attractive in the same primal way one of us guys would. Of course none of us were vulnerable enough to admit to her that we felt inferior to all those “hot-ass men” every time she drooled after one of them in front of us.
In all fairness, we talked about wishing to bang many unsuspecting attractive girls in front of Nazan and she had to act like she didn’t mind while agreeing that the chick that just passed by did indeed have “bodacious breasts”.
“I wouldn’t worry about Adnan”, I told Nazan, “The chances of us scoring tickets to Titanic are next to none anyway. We’ll go see something else.”
Nazan agreed and we made our way to Taksim. The central part of Taksim is called Istiklal Avenue, a long pedestrian road closed to all traffic except for the red tram that makes its way up and down the street.
Taksim is an unholy mishmash of ancient Ottoman-era buildings, pompous art galleries, old porn cinemas, old legitimate cinemas, hipster bars and douche bag dance clubs and it’s almost always packed with people of all cultural and economical backgrounds.
I was leading Nazan through a row of Istiklal Avenue’s (legitimate) movie theatres and saw that the biggest theatre was of course showing Titanic. Predictably, there was a long line in front of the box office. Regardless, I decided to check it out.
“What are you doing?”, Nazan asked while trying to pull me back, “We said we weren’t gonna see Titanic.”
“We’re not going to”, I reassured her, “It’s probably sold out anyway.”
So she followed me to the box office and to our amazement, there weren’t any sold out signs on the window. “It must be a mistake”, I said, “They must be so busy that they forgot to hang the sign.”
I walked up to the exhausted-looking woman behind the counter and asked, “There’s no chance there are any tickets to Titanic, is there?” To our amazement, she said there still were some tickets left.
So I turned to Nazan and asked her “So, should we do this?”, as if we were discussing the top-secret assassination of a South American dictator.
She leaned in and whispered, “I don’t know. Do you think we can get away with it?”
“We just won’t tell anybody. It’ll be our secret. We’ll take it to our graves.” I offered my hand.
She thought for a second and shook it firmly. “Deal”, she said with reassurence.
While we bought our tickets, there was an exciting energy between us that was only hinted at before. It was probably brought on by the knowledge that we were now involved in a secretive enterprise, which made us feel merrily naughty.
The usual watering hole for our film school pack was a bar that catered to a distinct Turkish-type intellectual who thought playing old school Santana was cool and hip. They would play Black Magic Woman on such a constant loop that if they used records instead of CDs, that particular LP would end up with more craters than the dark side of the moon, which is a great album they sadly never played.
Hearing that song still makes my skin crawl as my sense memory flashes me back to a time I danced with Deniz in a style that must have made us look like bad republican parodies of Woodstock hippies.
We had our usual simple dinner that night, beer and French fries, the two basic food groups of a Taksim artist. All that was missing was Gitanes brand French cigarettes hanging out of our pretentious mouths but neither of us smoked. Of course this didn’t stop the other intellectuals in the already cramped and windowless bar from turning the place into a dream sequence from a 1970s student film.
I was sitting alone at our purposefully dimly lit corner table, trying to figure out in my mind why I always chose to frequent joints where the male-to-female ratio was the exact opposite found in the Playboy mansion and where all of the men looked like non-Muslim versions of Yusuf Islam. Nazan brought the beer and chips because as we all know, any self-respecting man sits around like a lazy asshole while he lets the girl act like an impromptu unpaid server.
I pulled out my wallet, “How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry”, Nazan said, “This one’s on me.”
“Why?”, I put my wallet back without even attempting to contest it.
“You’ve been so nice to me, it’s just a show of my appreciation.”
Oh no, were we about to have a repeat of Deniz’s “Why are you so nice to me?” routine? And was I so nice to her? Not enough to make her think I might have had feelings for her also, I hoped. If I were, maybe this time the situation would be beneficial on my end. Attracting the appreciative side of the one girl in our class we all knew loved having sex might not have been such a bad thing.
I imagined how many cool points I would have scored if I became the first man in our gang to sleep with Nazan. Sure, it would have crushed Oguz and he might have ended up killing himself but I would have at least retained bragging rights for the next couple of years. Maybe it was time to get my hopes up about this girl, nay, woman, who I haven’t been actively pursuing in the least bit.
“Thanks but, how have I been nice to you?”, I asked.
“You know, the way you defend me around certain people, especially Deniz when she opens her big mouth”, Nazan answered.
This was a funny way to put it since Deniz had an exceptionally small mouth. Anyway, during the previous months I thought I was doing the exact opposite of what Nazan thought I was doing since I was obviously trying hard to appease Deniz in any way I could. Was I in fact backing the wrong horse this whole time? And is it wrong to compare women to horses? I might have, and it probably is.
“I was defending you against Deniz?” I asked with a baffled look.
“Of course”, Nazan answered, “Just the other day I was telling my boyfriend how I can always rely on you, how you always got my back whenever Deniz is offended by some sexual or, god forbid, realistic remark her precious fragile psyche couldn’t handle. When everyone else is complacent in her outrage, you’re the one who always comes to my rescue and I wanted to thank you for that.”
Have I been living in a Philip K. Dickian alternate reality this whole time? In my mind I was trying my damnedest to sell out my core beliefs as an insensitive jackhole in order to pander to a girl I thought I had a slight chance with by taking her side in every argument I could, yet in reality was I unconsciously sabotaging myself?
Maybe as much as I tried to sell my image as a sensitive, romantic man who would rock Deniz’s ambiguously Latin American-influenced world, my mouth was not willing to cash a check my penis was eager to write. Perhaps I subconsciously realized that Nazan and I were riding on a more similar wavelength and I instinctively took her side when it came to female sexual freedom, an issue that the general Turkish people would not touch with a fifty-foot pole.
Even though I felt mildly excited at the mere thought of maybe one day hooking up with Nazan, any mention of her boyfriend managed to pull me back into the real world where I was a fat film geek, and she was dating an older “man’s man” who could easily kick my ass three ways from Sunday.
There was nothing else I could have said other than “Thanks” while I lifted my glass for a toast. She said “Cheers, to Titanic”, and lifted her glass. “To sneaking around”, I proudly exclaimed and our glasses met with a faint “clank.”
After a couple of seconds of silence when we awkwardly smiled at each other, Nazan asked in the most casual way imaginable, “Ergen, I was just wondering, are you interested in me?”
Without thinking for a second, I said “Naah!”
I had never been asked that question before. In some indirect, beating around the bush ways, yes I had, but never so straight and honest. After she asked that question, all bets would hedge towards me appearing shocked for a full minute and a half and then stumbling through an embarrassing, deliriously fuzzy argument about how she was out of her mind and that I didn’t think about us having a relationship that went beyond anything strictly plutonic.
But without even thinking for a second, I said “Naah!” as if I was a normal man with a healthy and frequent sex life, as if I found myself in these kinds of situations at least a couple of times a month.
In situations like these, usually my fragile mind decided to interfere with my reasoning in order to inform me that talking to another girl about being interested in her was not in fact a normal occurrence for me and that maybe I should freak out, let my heart beat four hundred times a minute and my palms sweat profusely while I suddenly developed an intense stuttering problem.
But this time it didn’t happen. I gave a straight and quick answer and Nazan gave another one back. “Cool”, she said, “I was just wondering.”
After taking a long sip from her beer, she added, “I’m not interested in you either, by the way. I just wanted to clear the air so we can continue being friends without feeling any kind of discomfort between each other.”
Okay, now I started freaking out. Was she saying this because she really meant it, or did she switch to a defensive mode after getting a negative response so fast? I still doubt that she was remotely interested in dating me and I do believe that her said motivation for asking me that question was valid. But perhaps she anticipated me to react with at least a little bit of fluster fully expectable from a virgin beta fatso.
Let’s get one thing straight: I wasn’t stupid enough to flat out turn down a sexy, voluptuous creature like Nazan, even if I did have any other options within my Sahara Desert-like dating scene. And fuck anything I previously said about being possibly turned off by her unusually high frequency of arm hair that would have put the coat of a sea otter to shame.
Who was I to talk shit about a single imperfection on an otherwise fine creature? Up until then, I never thought about hooking up with Nazan, but I always understood why Oguz would put himself through such embarrassing lengths with hopes of bagging her.
The truth was, I wouldn’t have kicked Nazan out of my bed if my house were on fire. The reason why I could say “Naah” so straightforwardly had nothing to do with me not being sexually interested in Nazan. It was because she intimidated me.
I was dead certain that any attempt from me trying to approach Nazan in a way that remotely resembled romantic or sexual interest would be immediately met with utter contempt and ridicule. Here was a strong, confident woman who always dated older men, and she was already three years older than me!
As far as sexual conquests went, Oguz was a couple of notches above me, which isn’t saying much, but he was at least the same age as Nazan and had dated a couple of girls in the past. If his futile and obvious attempts at kick starting a relationship with Nazan became such easy fodder for her to make fun of Oguz behind his back, I would have become the butt of any joke during my entire time in college if I even hinted at any interest for her.
So as far as Nazan went, “Quit while you haven’t even started” was my motto. After dinner, we went to Titanic, perhaps the most romantically pandering film to come out only once in a generation, as two people who just had a conversation that made it abundantly clear that nothing more than friendship was going to happen between them.
Yet here we were secretly watching a movie that caused more pregnancies in two weeks than the entire theatrical run of Love Story. While waiting for the action and sweet carnage to begin, I was struck with an odd feeling that I could not shake no matter how much I wanted to.
Whatever was going on that night, it felt good. It felt, natural, for lack of a better word. Being eighteen years old, going out with an attractive member of the opposite sex, sharing fries and beer and then watching a movie, it felt like this was what I should have been doing all my life instead of locking myself in my room, willfully shutting down the outside world while I memorized every single line of The Empire Strikes Back.
But I had spent alone time with girls before, albeit in fairly short bursts and sometimes unwillingly by the other party, usually with daughters of family friends who were forced to be polite to me. Why was this night different than any other night? And no, I’m not talking about Passover.
And then it hit me: That night was the longest time I had spent alone with a girl. The screening started four hours after we left school and thanks to James Cameron’s bloated ego, the movie itself was another three and a half hours.
This was the first time I was spending an entire evening with a woman and that fact alone threw my brain chemistry out of whack, letting my libido fool itself into thinking I was out on a legitimate date.
This belief was an artificial construct concocted by my senses, based on nothing real or tangible whatsoever. My mind wanted to finally be on a legitimate date so badly that my body was burning up with unwanted desire (Danielle Steele can suck it!).
I wanted to shake this feeling away and bring myself back to reality. I tried telling myself that she was just a friend, that her and I wouldn’t make a good couple anyway even if something were to happen between us. Whatever fire was burning inside me was kindled by random coals of desperation.
While Leo was tapping some sweet New Zealander ass in the back of a car, I felt flustered and bothered like an undersexed, middle aged librarian waiting for the high powered dildo she broke weeks ago to come back from the shop.
I peeked at her light brown, delicate hand and was suddenly taken over by an irresistible urge to hold it, if only to say “What the fuck?” for once in my life and see how she would react. Yet I dared not make a move since the adult voice in my brain held my hands down with the force of a hundred rational men.
“What the fuck are you doing?”, he asked, imitating a stern father figure.
“I’m making a move!”, I yelled at him defiantly, “This loneliness won’t leave me alone, it’s such a drag to be on my own!”.
“First of all,” my adult voice said, “Don’t quote a Jimmy Cliff song and pretend you just came up with it on your own. Second, weren’t you there when she flat out made it a point to tell you that she wasn’t interested in you?”
“Yeah, I know, but I have to do something, to someone, at some point. I have to find a way to break through this crippling fear and self-doubt, to stop the endless self-scrutiny, the overanalyzing of every little goddamn thing and the backtracking of every little goddamn thought and just, just, jump into the abyss! I want you to shut the fuck up and take all of those other voices in my head for ice cream or something for just one minute so I can make a well thought-out yet highly irrational decision. Now let my hands go!”
My adult voice wasn’t having it. He held my hands down with a stronger force. I felt like I was strapped to an electric chair that would take seventy years to kill me, its only mission to make sure I was to die alone.
“Did you even begin to think how embarrassing this is going to turn out for both parties, especially you?” my adult voice said, “Nazan is a big girl, she’ll get over it before you can even take your first step into yet another one of your long odysseys through depression brought on by humiliation. How are you going to dig yourself out of that pit this time? How long is it going to take you to heal and cover your wounds?”
“I don’t care! Can’t you see I’m starving and desperate? I pretend like everything’s okay and normal with me, like I’m a liberal, open-minded man who’s calm and cool headed, constantly talking about sex and relationships with a kind of cold and clinical distance with my peers as if I’m some kind of a castrated, self-appointed professor of coupling. All the while I fool my mind into believing that I’m on a date like a conventional, healthy man with a woman who’s way out of my league, who sees me as nothing but a friend, just so my fevered libido does not goad my ever increasing frustration into crashing a night club somewhere with a semi-automatic, indiscriminately taking out innocent people just because I was too chicken shit to get laid? No, I’d rather expose myself and commit social suicide rather than live alone in darkness, pretending even the most adequate levels of illumination is overrated. Now let my hand go!”
“No!”, my adult voice screamed. It took him a moment to calm down. He looked into my soul, “Look, I know you’re hurting. I know this, because I’m hurting too. But this is not the way. Conquering your fear, it’s not as easy as you think. I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit this one out. Regardless of what you really want, you’re going to have to give up, that’s simply what’s in the cards for you. Accept defeat yet again. At least this time you know this feeling will pass much faster. At least this time, we won’t need as much make-up to cover the hurt.”
“You’re right”, I sighed, “I give up.”
“Besides, if you held her hand or made some other move and she stormed out of the theatre making a big fuss, you’d have to miss out on all of that sweet CGI action. Just take a couple of deep soothing breaths for ten minutes or so. The iceberg is coming.”
So I sat there the entire time, not even moving a muscle. The movie had ended, and we were now walking back to Nazan’s bus stop. The calm vibe between us seemed to have returned as we made fun of a group of bimbos who were sitting behind us, fawning over Leo before the movie started.
“I can’t believe these idiots were talking about how they couldn’t wait to hear Leo speak Italian in the movie, when all he said was one word”, Nazan laughed.
“Yeah, what morons. But you can’t say you’re not in love with him”, I goaded Nazan.
“Naah. I prefer more manly men. You know, the kind who doesn’t look like a ten year old boy. My sister loves him though.”
“Yeah I know, does she still think Claire Danes is an ugly skank for stealing Leo away from her?”
Nazan laughed, “Yeah, she does.”
“Maybe she’ll like Kate Winslet.”
“I doubt it, although I think she’s prettier.”
“Definitely”, I said, “Well, for me, seeing her naked might have tipped the scale to her favor.”
“I think any scale would be tipped to her favor”, Nazan giggled.
“Look who’s talking?”, I gested, pointing to her ass, which was proportionately large and round compared to the rest of her body.
“Fuck you!”, Nazan playfully pushed me away.
At a distance of a block or so, we saw that Nazan’s bus was waiting at the stop. Knowing she’d have to wait another two hours and would have to make it home at two in the morning if she missed this bus, we both started running our big asses off.
As we were bolting with all of our might, Nazan yelled, “It’s sinking!” as a way of making a freshly topical joke, even though it made no sense. How was a bus going to sink?
While running, the desire to hold her hand overtook me again. What better opportunity than this moment when both our hearts were pounding? If it failed, I could have just told her that I got caught up in the moment and that it really didn’t mean anything.
But I didn’t do it, I just ran beside her. For some reason, that brief sprint we partook together in order to simply make sure she didn’t miss her bus is one of those moments that always pop up in my head whenever I perform a mental inventory check of the handful of experiences I had with women that I considered to be oddly romantic.
I think it was because the run added some excitement to the climax of the evening. You could easily imagine a mediocre Hollywood romantic comedy with such a scene. The quirky and cute couple who are not aware of the feelings they have for each other spend an evening together as they find out more and more how romantically compatible they really are.
The magical night ends with the lovebirds running hand-in-hand in order to catch the girl’s bus. Of course in the movie version, the embarrassing conversation about whether or not they are interested in each other is left on the cutting room floor.
Well, maybe not, a scene like that could add some more sexual tension. Not that it matters, because regardless of whether or not that scene exists in the movie, they are bound to hook up before the end of the last reel.
During the climax, our guy has to drive through the entire city and bypass airport security using wholly unrealistic methods that result in hilarious slapstick hijinks just so he could stop the girl at the last minute from taking that lucrative job at Whogivesafuckville.
He tells her that he loves her, that he always loved her but didn’t even know it until a short while ago. After they finally kiss at the airport while the camera’s spinning around the newly-minted couple, the man could deliver some ear grating line like, “And all this time I thought you weren’t interested in me.”
Then the girl could say something completely original like, “I changed my mind.” Cue immediately recognizable Motown tune from the 1960s, even though white actors play both protagonists, fade to black, The End.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to you now to find out that fantasy wasn’t in the cards for us. Besides, as an aspiring filmmaker, what lucrative job position would she be offered that would require her to relocate? The entire film industry was in Istanbul anyway.
Of course I expected a more traditional and heartfelt goodbye. Maybe we would stop for a second, both of us panting and out of breath. She would take a minute to hug me with a kind of genuine sincerity, which could end up making me feel sexually intrigued even if that wouldn’t be the intention.
Then she would whisper in my ear something akin to “Thank you. I had a great time tonight.” I would answer with a hearthy “Me too”, and we would separate. While climbing the stairs of the bus, she could turn around to give me one last look, smile and wave. I would wave back and watch her with a goofy smile on my face until her bus disappeared into the horizon.
But in real life she had to run inside the bus as fast as she could in order to make sure she made it, so all she could mutter was a quick “Bye!” without even looking at me. Before I knew it, she disappeared into the crowded bus. I stopped and whispered to myself, “Bye.”