CHAPTER 16 – THE SWEATY PALMS OF DEATH
John Lennon once said “The dream is over.” Technically, he wrote it and then sang it but let’s not get lost in semantics. Anyway, in my case, the nightmare was just getting started.
Not only were my prospects of finding a mate to have sex with or even go out on a single date with as dry as a straight-to-DVD post-apocalyptic landscape, I also had to deal with spending considerable amount of hours every day with someone I found to be irredeemably repulsive just because she happened to be sucking face with one of my best friends.
But what was I supposed to do? Leave my circle of friends and find a new one? Have you been paying attention to how unlikable I was as a person or as any other carbon-based life form?
As anti-social, awkward, physically and emotionally uncomfortable, ugly, fat and excessively sweaty as I was, willing to spew useless movie trivia at the drop of a hat on unsuspecting victims who actually had lives, how much of a chance did I have of finding anyone willing to spend any time and energy on me if I severed my ties with the handful of people who had the courage and willpower necessary to do just that?
No, the short story was that I was stuck, and Neval was just a parasite in a system that I had to live with. A skinny, ear-grating, obnoxious, proudly ignorant, manipulative cancer hiding in the form of a bloodsucking anemic elf. This was my life now, and it was going to last for almost another two years.
The problems started a week after the fateful weekend that ended with Oguz being congratulated by the entire class for actually convincing a barely human female to date him.
I spent the following week trying my best to avoid any interaction with Oguz as much as possible during school days while burying my sorrow into baskets of KFC hot wings at home at night. While stuffing my face with deliciously self-destructive junk food, I was re-watching the same movies over and over again, hoping the endless loop of drudgery would finally force me to dive headfirst into a psychotic breakdown, closely followed by the eternal bliss that would have eventually came with self-unaware insanity.
Of course I could do my best to ignore everyone around me and go on with my empty vessel of a life, but Oguz and Neval’s as well as other couples’ constant blatant displays of affection didn’t make life any easier on me. Oguz and Neval especially got on my nerves, possibly because I had to endure their presence a hell of a lot more than other couples who happened to pass by my line of sight long enough for me to wish I had Micheal Ironside’s power from Scanners.
The fact that Oguz and Neval’s so-called affection towards each other looked more like an embarrassingly desperate way for either of them to prove that they were resilient and patient enough to bag any mate made every moment spent with them that much more uncomfortable.
I remember the exact time and place when the beginning of the end of our common dignity as a group of friends took place. About a week after Oguz and Neval officially began dating, The Istanbul International Film Festival began.
I was never a big fan of the Turkish art-house scene. This dislike had something to do with the lack of will to grow a pompous beard and worship at the altar of Godard and Truffaut by encouraging their hipster copycats to further pollute the global artistic consciousness via their vapid celluloid filth. This is a short way of saying I wasn’t passionate about the subject in one way or the other.
Every year, The Istanbul Film Festival separated these posers from their parents’ hard-earned cash in order to present them with the same two hundred films that rallied against the rampant disgusting materialism of the film industry.
I never understood the concept brought on at the time by many of my fellow film people that art-house and European cinema were somehow automatically more original and groundbreaking than American films. For them, this rule applied to any American film, not just the ones coming out of the Hollywood system, when we all know that any type or genre of film comes with their own set of clichés and tropes.
It’s up to the filmmaker to take those established rules and turn them into something new and refreshing. The very few manage to pull that off, while a vast majority trot out the same crap we’ve already seen a thousand times before. This is the name of the game. A film director who happens to come out of a vagina in Krakow instead of South Dakota is not automatically predisposed to become more “artistic” and “innovative”.
So to cut an overlong, snobby cinema lecture short, I never bought a single ticket to any film festival screening during high school, even though I was probably a much bigger movie nerd than the average festival hound.
That is, until I got into film school and peer pressure kicked in. After all, how was I supposed to maintain my credibility as the insane fat kid who’ll watch anything anyone will project on a screen or play on a DVD if I refused to join in the daily quadruple-feature marathon that would either end after two weeks or when we started to bleed profusely out of our exhausted eyeballs?
Later during the same day as Oguz’s initial induction into the “Managed to find a girlfriend” hall of fame, the gang put together a complex chart of the films we were supposed to attend during the festival.
The chart came complete with a hand-drawn calendar that contained the screening times and theater locations of each film. It also came with a makeshift map that calculated the estimated bus travel time between theaters so we could figure out whether or not we could make it from one screening to the next in under twenty minutes through a city that was notorious for having one of the worst traffics in the world. Of course I didn’t care about any of this and was there to occasionally nod my head and give them whatever amount of money they needed for the tickets.
After wasting two hours of our lives on this schematic, Nazan finally said, “I think we got it. Now all that’s left is to pool our money and buy the tickets.”
Before we could pull out our cash, Oguz interjected with “One more thing. Can we buy tickets for Neval as well?”
Everyone stopped what they were doing to give Oguz an extremely skeptical look, as if saying “Are you sure your philistine girlfriend who could not bother to give two shits about even the most Hollywoodized mainstream movies will be willing to sit through four boring art-house movies in a row every day for two weeks and not get on our last fucking nerves?”
Of course Nazan cut that down to “Are you sure?”
Oguz nervously looked around the room, gauging everyone’s bullshit detection meters and responded with the most determination he could have physically mustered to fake, “Of course! She loves films just as much as any of us.” If he were taking a polygraph test at the time, the needle would have exploded.
So not to be rude, we all rolled our eyes in unison and Nazan added Neval’s name to the bottom of the list of ticket buyers. “Make sure she pays me by the end of the day”, Nazan said, annoyed and understandably tired.
There it was, this was Neval’s unofficial induction into our gang of betas. Look, I don’t want it to sound like I was some kind of a proud snob who could not wait to lay eyes on these sure to be timeless masterpieces of self-indulgence. I knew I was going to be bored out of my mind most of the time.
The thing I was most looking forward to weren’t the films themselves but actually spending some carefree time with my friends in between the screenings, grabbing lunch, dinner, or the occasional snack. In fact, while Nazan was pinpointing the theater locations for each screening, I was taking mental notes as to the fast food joints that were in the same vicinity of each of the theaters.
The one in Kadikoy on the European side was across from a Pizza Hut, the two theaters in Taksim were each two blocks away from both a McDonald’s and a Burger King. In between them was a Doner place that made pretty decent fast food-style Iskender.
I wasn’t familiar with one theater in Bakirkoy, the one where we were supposed to watch all eight hours of Lars Von-Trier’s The Kingdom, so I wasn’t sure where we could find some comfort food around there, but I was sure I’d bump into at least one place that served some artery-clogging goodness.
The big difference between my hidden contempt for these festival films and Neval’s all too obvious disinterest in them was that I knew that as bored as I could get, I would also be able to keep my friggin’ mouth shut. Dragging Neval to these screenings, on the other hand, was like forcing a baby calf to take an interactive tour through a Romanian slaughterhouse. The whole experience was bound to be ear grating, soul crushing and ultimately very, very sad.
So of course, exactly as predicted, Neval pretty much ruined our first film festival experience. I’m sure she was even a bigger pain in the ass for those who actually gave a shit about whatever film they were watching. For me, it shifted back and forth between sheer annoyance and the type of detached entertainment one could get from a group of witless Mystery Science Theater 3000 impersonators.
The first film on our proudly pretentious chopping block was a Saturday noon screening of Fellini’s bizarre Ancient Rome period epic Satyricon, which he made during his well-documented bat-shit crazy period. It involves orgies from hell, public defecations and full-frontal hermaphrodite nudity. I’m sure that when it was first released in 1969, the many fans of the “Ancient Roman chicks-with-dicks” genre rejoiced all around the world.
This was the typical freshman year of film school that anyone who’s been through the film school experience could relate to, that is, if they still hadn’t blown their brains out after realizing they just got into a hundred thousand dollars in debt in order to pursue a hobby that has less chance of paying off than hitting the Powerball jackpot three times in a row.
Freshman year film students are like eager movie sponges, willing to soak up anything from any source that looks remotely artistically credible. They mostly know the names of the top-tier directors of film history, your Kurosawas, Eisensteins, Fellinis, Langs, Bergmans, Wilders, Scorseses, while not being entirely too familiar with their work.
So when there’s any opportunity to watch any film from any of the directors that causes their film professors and their favorite critics to instantly cream in their pants upon the mere whisper of their name, they jump on it, regardless of the title and significance of the work.
So in true freshman film student fashion, as soon as we found out that the festival was putting together a Fellini retrospective that year, we bought tickets to as many of his films as we could.
Since most of us didn’t have the background to know which of his works were supposed to be actually good and which ones were self-indulgent crap, we ended up with a bunch of his Italian art-house shit while missing out on the good stuff that could have genuinely guided us and inspired us on our artistic journey as potential filmmakers.
We randomly selected his inconsequential works like Satyricon and Variety Lights instead of masterpieces like Eight and a Half and Nights of Cabiria (La Dolce Vita is overrated. Nights of Cabiria is way better. There, I said it). This is how we ended up watching a two-hour hermaphrodite poop-fest. But hey, I was still determined to keep my mouth shut and not complain about the film no matter what.
I couldn’t say the same for Neval. The first thirty minutes passed with relatively harmless huffing and puffing emanating from her tiny slim mouth, her passive-aggressive way of letting her beau know that she wasn’t interested in whatever debauchery was transpiring on screen. Her occasional yet rhythmic sighing made me confused as to whether or not she was bored or if she was practicing an incredibly controlled and extremely slow-paced form of meditation.
When she found out that the first phase of Operation Distract Oguz and Make Him Realize She’s Supposed to be The Focal Point of His Entire Existence failed, she moved onto Plan B: She leaned over to Oguz’s ear and whispered, “What the hell is this crap?”
Oguz had a fairly pussy-whipped personality but like any film geek, he would never compromise on theater behavior etiquette, even for his girlfriend. The movie theater was where any of us had the courage to stand for our core beliefs against all odds.
If we were ever bullied by an alpha male who was physically a lot more intimidating than us, which was practically any other life form with a pulse, we might have winced and turned the other way. That is, if the altercation took place anywhere outside of a movie theatre.
However, if we were partaking in our one holy duty in life, watching a movie in a dark theatre, no matter what that movie might be, art-house or pure Hollywood, whether or not we loved it or hated it so far, if that same intimidating presence talked to his dumbass friend or partner at full volume or checked the messages on his cell phone, we would not hesitate putting him in his place with a well-placed and loud “Shhhhhh!”.
If they’d continue with their abject disrespect to the Movie Gods, we would not think twice about turning our heads a hundred degrees or so in order to give them the stinkiest of stink eye.
And if it came down to telling them to actually shut the fuck up, risking getting our asses beat and more importantly, missing the rest of the movie, so be it. The theatre was where we were the masters of our domain.
Therefore Neval wasn’t about to become the sole exception to this rule. Oguz merely acknowledged her presence with a quick “Shhhhh!” and resumed watching the film with utmost concentration.
Neval was shocked at Oguz suddenly growing a pair of testicles. How dared he defy her anemic vampire goddess? I had seen snippets of The Jerry Springer Show during my brief visits to The States, so her reaction made me imagine as if she was about to say “Oh no you di’int!”
After a couple more minutes of huffing and puffing, she turned to Oguz and once more whispered “I don’t understand why you’re so uptight about this. I’m just trying to…”
Oguz cut her off with a more pronounced “Shhhh!!”
Neval stared him down with a piercing gaze of murderous rage and whispered “Are you fucking kidding me!?”
This time, both Nazan and Oguz whispered “Shhhhh!”
I could see the despair in Nazan’s eyes even in the dark theater, probably pondering on how much the next two weeks of screenings with Neval in attendance were going to suck. Oguz, on the other hand, didn’t look like he was worried. I guess he still held hope that he could convert Neval to his level of respect for the art of the moving picture. I’m sure we all wished him good luck on his impossible quest but we didn’t hold out much hope for success either.
Finally, Neval didn’t have a choice but to turn to me in order to alleviate some of her boredom by bitching about her newfound boytoy. I think she was starting to realize in an ethereal sense that I wasn’t very fond of her and wasn’t eager to fake the bare minimum of affection towards her for Oguz’s sake, at least as much as his other friends were. I felt that she was also starting to foster some ill will towards me, based on an argument that took place a couple of days before the Fellini screening:
It was a Wednesday or Thursday, lunchtime at the university cafeteria. Adnan, Oguz, Neval, Nazan and I sat around a table eating our overpriced cheeseburgers. I was once again bragging about my previous summer spent at the almighty USC Film School as part of a summer directing program. As usual I would mostly focus on how historic and elegant the campus looked, especially in contrast to the L.A. ghetto that surrounded it.
I would brag about meeting the various directors, production designers and boom mike operators, who actually once worked on big Hollywood films, who instructed us after probably getting paid a hefty sum to be worshipped all summer by zit-faced movie nerds.
Of course I’d edit out the parts about how everyone there ignored me, how I could not make any friends to save my life and how I spent most of my free time watching the black and white TV one of my roommates brought with him and playing Minesweeper on that same roommate’s computer, which had Windows 3.1 on it, in 1997.
I never told anyone about my lack of social life there and if they were to assume that I was the life of every party and left USC with a cool nickname like “The Turkish Dynamo”, who was I to stop them?
In the middle of my story about the time our class met John Woo a week before Face/Off was going to be released, Adnan asked, “Did you meet any Turkish girls there?”
The truth was that I heard of the existence of a Turkish girl in the program but I hadn’t met her. Hell, I actually didn’t even see her and had no idea what she looked like. During the roll call of a hundred or so students on the first day of the summer film school, the head of the program had great trouble pronouncing two names, mine and another girl’s.
That’s how you know there’s another Turk in the vicinity when you’re in The States, when a Caucasian individual mangles the pronunciation of another name as badly as he or she destroyed yours. I don’t remember her name but I do remember that she went through the usual “Correction of the horrid pronunciation”, followed by the obligatory “It’s all good” and “Don’t worry about it, it happens to me all the time”, wrapped around a polite giggle.
I turned my head around to find out who she was or if she was even cute (Like I had a chance if she was), but she was seated too far away so I couldn’t even see her. Later on, I was too busy doing nothing and being treated like a ghost to actually seek her out.
But of course Adnan and the rest of the gang didn’t know any of that, so I answered Adnan’s question with “Oh yeah, I met a Turkish girl there. She was cute too!”
I don’t remember exactly why I added the following sentence, but it might have had something to do with wanting to impress Adnan’s basest wannabe alpha male sensibilities. Either that, or I really wanted to push the NOS button on my inevitable ride towards social suicide: I added, “I would have loved to bang her”.
The rest of the gang were used to my sudden bursts of inappropriate pervy brain farts. By that time, they must have figured I was either really dumb enough to talk like that around Turkish women, or I had a rare combination of Tourette and Asperger syndromes.
They definitely didn’t think I was too cool for school or too much of a rebel to care what the square society thought about me. Those kinds of sexy excuses were reserved for the kinds of assholes who were good-looking enough to get away with them.
But Neval wasn’t initiated to my antics as much as the rest were. So her eyes opened in a flash and she turned to me with a look of utter shock. I could easily see her white pale skin tense up and her heartbeat increase through the rapid pulsating on the gross blue vein on her neck. “How could you say that!?”, she blew up.
“Say what?”, I asked, completely clueless.
She began breathing through her nose. Her skin immediately took on a red hue. She looked around her for support but all she could get were looks of indifference from friends who were gradually indoctrinated into ignoring what a filthy-minded dick I really was.
She looked straight into Oguz’s eyes with fury, obviously asking him to step up and put me in my place. Oguz was frozen, his wires overheated by being pulled every which way. He was in a convenient shutdown mode. Neval was by herself.
She turned back to me and her cheeks turned redder for a completely different reason: She now had to find a way to repeat what I had just said without using some of the key language. She stumbled through “You know, that you would have loved to, do that, to her?”
I leaned back on my chair and with my best Ferris Bueller impersonation, said, “So?”
“So!? So!?”, Neval blew up, “So, you can’t talk like that around me. I’m a woman!” She could have had me and the rest of us fooled. “How dare you talk that way around me!?”, she went on and on with her outrage.
Oguz tried to whisper “Honey, calm down” while inconspicuously pushing his glass of water towards her as if it was full of liquid Xanax, “Have some water”.
It didn’t work, she just ignored him and kept going, “Do you not have any manners!? What the hell is wrong with you!?” That was a good question, actually. Although not one I could have answered right then and there.
Before I could lodge my foot further into my mouth, Nazan came to my rescue. She calmly faced Neval and with the certainty and drive of an Evolutionary Sciences teacher stuck teaching at an Evangelical high school in the American Bible belt, she explained the following:
“Neval, you know that there is such a thing called fucking, right?” Neval gasped at Nazan’s use of the F-word. Nazan couldn’t care less about Neval’s plastic outrage, she continued without missing a beat:
“People fuck all the time, everywhere around the world. In fact, I bet you that there are thousands of people all around the world fucking their hearts out as we speak. Sometimes people make love to someone they’re in love with, sometimes they have sex with people they have lustful feelings towards, and sometimes they fuck because they simply want to fuck. You’re a grown woman, or at least you attempt to act like one. Either case, grow up and deal with it.”
I don’t know what stopped me from reaching over the table and kissing her right then and there. It would have definitely made for a great movie climax, she would passionately kiss me back as I pulled her on the table, we would keep making out as friends and onlookers around us would burst into a cornucopia of applause and whistles.
Of course this image could only come true inside my insane mind. My brain must have known this to be a fact at that moment and that’s why I think that move hadn’t even crossed my mind until years later. Nevertheless, I was proud of my friend and touched by her willingness to stand up for my right to say I would have loved to bang a girl I had never even seen.
Having been subdued from both sides and her boyfriend still rebooting, Neval didn’t have a choice but to shut up and comfort herself in the knowledge that the least she could do at the time would be to create an uncomfortable mood for the following ten minutes before we had to head to the next class. Anyway, I suspected that this was the beginning of Neval’s dislike of yours truly, which was going to increase over time to almost the same intensity of disgust I felt towards her.
However, while being subjected to Satyricon in the air-condition-lacking art-house theatre, she didn’t have any other choice but to turn to me as a final Hail Mary pass towards hopefully alleviating some of her ever-expanding boredom, past arguments over who I wanted or did not want to bang notwithstanding. She whispered in my ear, “I hate it when Oguz becomes so involved with a movie that he won’t even acknowledge my presence”.
I guess this was my opportunity to apologize for my previous crass behavior by taking her side of the argument and sympathizing with her. But instead, I simply chose to turn to her and whisper, “Shhhhhh!!”
The betrayal was delicious. She had no choice but to sit back and continue her passive-aggressive scorn through her well timed, semi-meditational huffing and puffing. She would occasionally eyeball me, as if saying, “I’ll show you asshole. You think you have any power over him? I’m the one with the almighty pussy. The almighty pussy trumps all!”
Who was I to argue against that airtight philosophy I imagined she was telekinetically uploading into my brain? And yet, it didn’t detract me from reveling in her misery for the two hours that followed.
After the screening, we all went to the Pizza Hut across the theater, meaning the screening must have been held at the theatre in Kadikoy, on the European side of Istanbul. As the rest of the gang were taking turns sucking Fellini’s dick after seeing their first film made by him, I was sitting at the head of the table, contemplating the sheer emptiness of my existence.
By the way, my sitting at the head of the table had nothing to do with the others’ respect or admiration towards me as a possible leader of the pack. The god I don’t believe in knows how little to no respect and admiration they already felt towards me and probably kept me around out of a sense of pity unlike one feels for a ragged, blind and confused mutt left out in the pouring rain on Christmas.
Either that, or they let me hang out with them out of the slight suspicion that leaving me alone to my own devices and letting my deranged mind marinate in a dark pool of loneliness, self-loathing, envy and hatred might one day lead me to open fire in the university cafeteria with a semi-automatic, pumping every random poor sucker full of lead until life and blood left their smug bodies suddenly and violently.
I would of course start with those who I once called friends, the very ones who once left me high and dry. That’s enough fear to coerce any group of people into continuing to hang out with someone they can’t stand. Anyway, the point of all this was to explain to you that I was too fat to sit anywhere but at the head of the table, and that it didn’t have anything to with my social status.
The simple fact was that the Pizza Hut at that location only had booths and my fat fucking belly was too rotund to fit into them. Therefore some poor high school student getting paid below minimum wage had to procure a plastic table to pull next to the booth so they could accommodate my globular ass.
So there I was, with a clear view of everyone seated around me. For some reason, Oguz and Neval sat opposite from each other instead of side-by-side. This might have had something to do with the fact that they had only begun dating a little over a week ago. Perhaps they were still too shy or awkward to figure out the specifics of how they were going to go about proving to the public that they were indeed a bona fide couple.
Was holding hands while walking down the street enough? Or did they need to sit next to each other and keep cuddling while using their free hands to eat? In this case, they must have telepathically decided that the best way to keep showing the rest of the world that they were in fact an item was to sit across from each other while relentlessly rubbing one another’s hands as if they each believed the other’s palm sweated pure gold.
So there it was, right in front of my field of vision, the lamest form of non-competitive arm wrestling I had ever seen. They kept rubbing each other’s hands while staring into each other’s eyes as if that was the answer to all of life’s problems. Maybe it was at that point in time, but why did it have to happen around me?
The others didn’t have as much of a problem ignoring them and went about their deep conversation about Fellini’s vast oeuvre. I’d like to remind you once again that Satyricon was the only Fellini film most of them had seen up until that point, yet that didn’t stop any of them from acting like they were all a bunch of Fexperts.
Why would they not ignore them? After all, that was the normal and healthy thing to do as a young person.
After your friend finds someone dumb enough to date him or her, the sensible approach while hanging out with that couple is to understand that they’re probably going to occasionally touch each other in an amorous yet publicly acceptable fashion and to go about your day as if nothing unusual is happening.
In order to cope with the nuisance that comes with being one of the single ones in your group without anyone to exchange saliva with, you fantasize about the time you will meet up with your significant other at some point during the week, who couldn’t make it in that day for whatever lame fucking reason.
Or, if you don’t have that special someone in your life, you comfort yourself in the knowledge that you also once found someone dumb enough to date you, and that hopefully you will find the right person sometime in the future. At that point, the tables will turn and your friends will be left in a place of utter discomfort, as they will have to watch you rub sweaty palms with your boyfriend or girlfriend while sucking face.
But the difference there was that the others in our group had dated before or at least knew what it felt like to be in Oguz and Neval’s position. Some of them even went beyond a single date and had actual relationships with all of the predictable drama that followed, ending with painful yet inevitable break-ups. I had none of those experiences up until that point and I had already given up on ever finding someone after all of the painful disappointments I had to endure during my freshman year of college.
As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t any hope for me on the horizon. My turn for making my friends uncomfortable with my very own public displays of affection with my very own girlfriend was not going to come, ever, and I had to deal with that.
So that was why Oguz and Neval’s constant hand holding in Pizza Hut was harder for me to swallow than it was for the others sitting around that anti-fat-person booth. It had nothing to do with Oguz or Neval specifically as a couple and I definitely didn’t want Neval as a girlfriend. At this point, I wished I lived in an American police procedural TV show so I could easily acquire a ten-mile restraining order against her.
This was as far away as we could get from a Jessie’s Girl situation. In fact, I was less than thrilled to have Neval in our circle, as a girlfriend to any one of us or simply as a friend. It was just worse that she was Oguz’s girlfriend now and we had to be polite and cater to her dumbassery. If we were simply auditioning her as a friend, we would have kicked her out as soon as she said that she didn’t like watching black and white films.
The point is, it could have been any other couple I had to spend extensive amounts of time with every week, who could not keep their hands off of each other while in my presence, and that exhausting feeling of defeat and hopelessness would still eat through my heart like a clew of worms.
I guess the sudden anxiety attack I felt while watching them stare into each other’s eyes while holding hands had to do with the fact that this was the first time I was eating out with them and hadn’t seen them in this fashion under bright lights.
Suddenly, a depressing thought made its way through my body and I got the shivers: This scene was representing how I was going to spend the next couple of years of my life and there wasn’t any escape from it. I was trapped in this amateur watercolor painting about the westernization of middle-class Turkish youth. I was playing the part of the sexually frustrated fat kid at the head of the booth.
I was the version of Dorian Gray stuck in the painting, hidden behind a dirty curtain, getting old while not being able to change my position in life, rotting over time while the other version of me, that selfish dickhole, fucked, drank, ate whatever he wanted and did whatever he desired without fear of getting old or fat.
I wondered if there was a version of me in a parallel dimension somewhere who actually had one of those things other people called “a life” and I had to pay for his excessive sexual fulfillment and exuberant happiness with my pure misery in the name of keeping the universal balance? If that was the case, then fuck the universe.
There I was, pouting and being uncharacteristically silent during a discussion that involved film. I don’t think anyone noticed, otherwise they would have checked my vitals to make sure I wasn’t having a stroke. I was hypnotically focused on the hands holding, wondering how I was going to stop myself from committing suicide during the next years, when something even more baffling happened.
Oguz was in the middle of one of his endless lectures on the genius of his favorite music, which means he was either talking about David Bowie or Brian Eno, not that I gave a fuck or even ever paid attention. This is why I can’t lead this scene with a more specific piece of dialogue, simply because I wasn’t listening. If I gave two shits about what Oguz was talking about, I would have definitely included some gems here concerning revolutionary new age shit Brian Eno once pulled in the early 80s or something to that effect.
Anyway, after Oguz was done with his boring lesson and adopted the usual smug smile on his face, Neval, who probably still didn’t know who Brian Eno was and as far as she knew, every single word that just came out of Oguz’s mouth was pure and utter bullshit, and a lot of it probably was, looked impressed beyond belief.
“You’re so smart!”, she declared to the other patrons stuffing their faces full of delicious cheese and carbohydrates and jumped up out of her seat. Before any of us could mutter “Why the fuck…”, Oguz jumped up almost in unison and exclaimed with a smile, “I like you so much.” What transpired right after was the most awkward hug ever attempted between two human beings.
There aren’t any photos available of Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens after Owens’ black ass destroyed Hitler’s Aryan supermen on the running track during the 1936 Olympics. That picture apparently exists somewhere. But imagine how that must have looked and then crank the awkward-o-meter another eleven points.
They just stood there hugging each other for a good three seconds, forming the most unstable-looking human tent ever created while inadvertently pushing everyone’s plates and glasses to the middle of the table. In fact, I remember Nazan having to call upon her reflexes in order to save her glass of Coke from becoming a martyr to The Battle of Weird Hugging.
At least this time I wasn’t the only one who was annoyed at their obvious gloating. Holding hands was one thing, but this was taking things too far. Nazan looked at me, mouthing “What the fuck?” while others simply stared anywhere other than where Neval and Oguz were until the uncomfortable and rather sad proof of coupling was over.
Finally, after five seconds, which felt like a lifetime, Neval and Oguz returned to their seats and resumed munching on their slices with goofy smiles plastered on their faces.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the end of such uncomfortable moments, this was just the beginning. Oguz and Neval continued their gauche shows of affection that might or might not have actually been genuine. That was beside the point.
During the following couple of weeks, as the film festival progressed, we had to be spectators to more frequent hand rubbing, palm squeezing, hugging that was as sexually charged as pictures of dead babies and expressions of true love through lines like “I like you” and “I think you’re sweet.” The most crotch moistening romance novel had nothing on these two.
Either way, I think they bothered us for different reasons. To some, it was merely annoying. To others like me, or to just me if I had to be more honest, it was off-putting to the point of being somewhat repulsive yet surprisingly, it made me feel envious.
The conflicting feelings fighting inside me made it so much harder to get through the weeks of the festival. How was it possible that I could envy a position held by two people while finding pretty much everything they did to be childish, painfully obvious, corny as hell and almost stomach churning at the same time?
At this point I probably harbored a subconscious hatred for my hormones, the ones that allowed me to pine for feelings that I always thought were obtuse and below my high standards of sophistication.
I guess public displays of affection and whatever affection was displayed in private were parts of human nature but why was I fighting my natural instincts so much? A dog doesn’t go through years of inner soul searching before deciding that what he really needs to do is to casually sniff the other dog’s butt to see if he has permission to hump her or not.
And if that dog barks back in protest, he doesn’t retreat back into his doghouse full of DVDs and mopes over the rejection for months, analyzing what exactly he did wrong with a constant play-by-play running ad nauseum inside his mind until he comes to the inevitable conclusion that he’s not worth the dirt under the shoe (Or paw) of any female and that he might as well just gradually kill himself by eating five times the recommended amount of dog food every day.
No, he merely shrugs the rejection off and moves on, not even thinking about how much time will pass until he gets to sniff another female butt. Because a dog lives in the moment, doesn’t know that he will die one day, and can lick his own penis. And women wonder why men envy their dogs.
There are some human men who are like that: They live in the moment, they don’t think twice about making fools of themselves while in search of vaginal possibilities and if their “sleek” moves on women don’t work, they move on to the next female without thinking twice about it.
Those men, no matter how ugly or dickish they might be, eventually find someone desperate enough to fuck them. Then why were some of us made to overthink the things that should come perfectly natural to us? Why wasn’t I naturally spending my every day sniffing female butts until one female agreed to let me hump her?
Why did I have to be the one who had to psych himself up through years of battling forced regression due to insurmountable inner-conflict just to gather up enough courage to sniff one butt and had to crawl back into his doghouse after getting rejected just once?
Anyway, I guess my point is that all of us felt weird around Neval and Oguz during the film festival and none of us stepped up to the plate to tell Oguz anything about it. And why should we have?
Yes, they were going about it in the oddest and most disingenuous way possible, but it was their right as a couple to do whatever they wanted with each other’s bodies. It’s an unwritten social rule to respect whatever coupling your friends become a part of and shut your mouth accordingly. However, I just wouldn’t have been true to myself if I didn’t attempt to obliterate every single established social rule and bring myself that much closer to social suicide at least once a month.
There wasn’t any explicit talk between Nazan, Adnan, I or anyone else in our group about Oguz and Neval that went beyond how annoying Neval could be as a separate human being/elf at any given time.
Yet I still took it upon myself to talk to Oguz about the way they acted as a couple around us, because I could clearly see the discomfort in everyone’s body language. Either that, or I just felt like doing it because it was better to stir up shit for no discernible reason than to disappear into the social background as a non-entity.
It was right before another film history screening. We were all waiting in dread to sit through three hours of yet another atrociously boring silent film about the woes of cooking borscht in 1920s Russia. That was when I decided to approach Oguz.
“Hey man”, I walked up to him casually.
“Hey man, what’s up?”, he said, in English no less, followed by an authentic laugh and our signature American “What’s up bro?” handshake. Ever since we met, we both always tried to act as if we were a couple of red, white and blue-blooded American kids.
Having lived most of his life in other countries like Belgium and Russia because his diplomat father had to switch spots every four years, Oguz never felt entirely comfortable living in Turkey, nor was he entirely competent when it came to speaking what was supposed to be his native language and conforming to Turkish culture.
Speaking in English and acting like he belonged in a culture he never directly faced (He’d never been to The States) must have made him feel better when faced with the anxiety he must have felt every time he had to act like native Turkish man.
I felt almost the same way, even though I’d only been to The States for two summers at that point. I felt closer to that culture, as much as I had seen in movies and TV shows, than I did to my own. So as inaccurate and pedantic as it might have been, this was our way to create our own comfortable way of relating to each other while alienating the rest of the square society.
As opposed to saying “Merhaba” (“Hello” in Turkish) to one another in a perfectly stoic fashion and kissing each other on both cheeks, we obnoxiously yelled “What’s up!?” not unlike the Budweiser commercials from the 90s and performed a complicated urban handshake, which was culturally inaccurate in all probability.
The handshake was us trying desperately to replicate whatever we observed in American movies about white high school kids, African-American or Latino gangbangers and socially conscious comedies about white high school kids acting like African-American or Latino gangbangers. It started with a regular handshake, switched to a classic arm wrestling position, and then we quickly slid our palms out so it wouldn’t be mistaken for sudden sensual handholding. Finally, we ended with a quick snap of the fingers.
After the awkward “American” handshake, I said, in English, “I’m doin’ alright, I guess, you know how shit is.”
“Fuckin’ A man, fuckin’ A!”, he responded in English with his best American accent, which was laced with a Belgian slant.
It was time to switch to Turkish, other students who already didn’t think so highly of us were already giving us weird looks.
“What do you think Professor Derya’s going to show us this time?”, I asked, “I’m not looking forward to the next three hours.”
“You never know”, Oguz said, “It might be something interesting.”
“Yeah, right”, I said and then switched to English for a second, “And monkeys might fly out of my butt.” What can I say? I grew up watching Wayne’s World.
I switched back to Turkish, “Can I talk to you about something for a second?”, I asked with as much of a serious and professional look I could muster while wearing a Star Wars T-shirt I bought during my visit to Disneyland. The painting on the shirt depicted Lando and his crew’s surge on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
“Of course man”, Oguz responded with genuine interest. I hated whenever he started acting all nice and reasonable before I was about to show my true colors as an entitled asshole.
This wasn’t going to be easy. I scrambled my brain to come up with the best possible course of action, and the only answer I could come up with on such short notice was to beat around the bush for as long as possible.
“How are things with Neval?”, I asked.
“Pretty good, we’re doing okay, I hope”, he answered with the tone of a bored politician. I could tell that he didn’t care about going into too many details about his newly formed relationship, especially with me. So all of a sudden he adopted a distanced stance, not unlike how I imagined his diplomat father did when discussing delicate politics with diplomats from other countries.
“Everything going good with you two?”, I pushed, trying to extract a modicum of real, usable information. I didn’t know what I would have done even if he all of a sudden decided to be open and honest with me about Neval and said something shocking about her, like she had an unusually engorged clitoris.
Who am I kidding, none of us had seen a clitoris in person before anyway, how would he know anything about oversized clitori? By the way, I know full well that the plural for clitoris is clitorises, but doesn’t clitori sound more interesting? It sounds like the name of a proud alien warrior tribe in a trashy space opera.
Or what if he confessed that he found her to be as repulsive as I did, perhaps even more, and that the only reason he let her suck on her face with her vampire teeth was because he was desperate enough to do so and was convinced that he would never find anyone else if he conjured up the balls to brake up with her?
What would I have done with that kind of information short of searching “engorged clitoris” on the Internet as soon as I got home that day? I guess this was just an extended part of the beating around the bush strategy.
However, I believed my persistence was working on him, at least as far as making his guard go down due to simple and straightforward confusion, so we could talk like two open and honest friends as opposed to two reserved colleagues. “Why do you keep asking me that?”, Oguz asked while taking a step back with a smile that was equally friendly and annoyed.
“I’m just asking”, I said, “Because, you know, we care about your well-being. I care about your well-being and we wanna make sure you’re happy.”
“Why?”, he took on a defensive tone, “I don’t look happy?”
“Yes, you do”, I answered with my best convincing voice. And here it went: “In fact, sometimes you look a little too happy.”
Oguz looked baffled, he obviously had no idea where this already bizarre conversation was headed. “What do you mean?”, he asked.
I leaned over to whisper, as if we were suddenly two made men from Goodfellas, afraid to speak to each other about delicate matters in public because we suspected that those fucko feds might have been spying on us: “I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but you guys are acting a little too, how can I say, enamored, with each other.”
Oguz was now truly lost, “What do you mean by ‘enamored’?”
“I mean like a little bit overzealous, a little childish even”, I started reaching for even more asinine adjectives, “Showy, tacky, disingenuous?”
“Disingenuous?”, Oguz bounced forward, obviously becoming irritated. For a guy who was as mellow as Oguz was, it was like laying eyes on a four-leaf clover or even an extremely rare orchid when he actually lost his temper. You didn’t want to do anything to subdue his anger simply because of how rare and beautiful an occurrence it was to see him lose his cool. No, you wanted to savor that moment as long as possible, like one would when witnessing a total lunar eclipse.
Even when he obviously got piping-hot mad, he never out-and-out expressed his deep anger. His focus would intensify, his gaze would become slightly cross-eyed and his voice would go up a single decibel. The only way to find out how upset he was becoming was to observe how red his face got during the course of any argument.
If his normally pale white visage gradually turned light pink, you didn’t have much to worry about. If it ended up on the redder side of crimson, well, it wasn’t like he was going to kick your ass, but your friendship might certainly have been in jeopardy. It’s probably not surprising when I confess that I’ve seen Oguz looking at me with red cheeks many times during our friendship.
Oguz’s face was already turning red when he retaliated with “What do you mean by disingenuous? Like our relationship is not real?”
“No, nothing like that”, I tried to interfere.
“And so what if you or anyone else thinks that way?”, Oguz cut me off, “This is my affair, it doesn’t concern any of you.” He paused for a second and leaned in to whisper, “Does anyone else think this way?”
“Frankly, yeah, as far as I can see. Look, maybe I couldn’t fully explain myself. We don’t think you’re being fake or anything. It’s just that, you guys are all over each other so often that it starts looking a bit, desperate, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. And what do you mean by ‘as far as I can see’?”
I was cornered. The only way to get out of it was to be honest. “I mean, they didn’t talk to me about it per se, but, you know, you can tell these things… Body language and stuff.”
Oguz let out a sigh of annoyance, “So it’s just you”, he calmly responded with an air of relief.
I didn’t really have anywhere else to go with this, so I simply said “Maybe, but maybe not. All I’m saying is, just tone it down a little bit, okay? It’s embarrassing.”
Oguz thought for a minute, in complete silence. He was probably going through a heavy debate in his mind over whether or not this was the best time to throw his first punch to another human being. Eventually, he merely exhaled a “Whatever man”, and walked off.
At this point, the only analogy I could think of was one I heard on Eddie Murphy’s stand-up film Raw. In it, Murphy talks about how desperately men act when they finally get to have sex with an otherwise plain or even ugly woman after said woman withholds sex from them for as long as humanly possible.
He compares it to being starved for days before being given a plain cracker. If you didn’t eat anything for days, a cracker would surely taste like the best meal of your life. So the man in the bit acts like it was the most delicious food anyone’s ever eaten, eventually coming to the realization that he’s given “regular-ass crackers” after being served a regular supply of them from that point on.
Now unless Oguz was as lucky as he wished he was, and he wasn’t, there was no way he had sex with Neval yet. After all, this is Turkish culture we’re talking about. Even if you were talking about a liberal, open-minded relationship, there was still a waiting period of at least a couple of months, maybe even a year before you can “get all up in them guts”, as The Bard once so eloquently wrote in one of his plays.
We’re talking about a country where even the proudly non-conformist girl you meet at a punk bar in Taksim with ten nose rings on each nostril and a tramp stamp that could end all tramp stamps might just be the type that doesn’t give it up until after you put a ring on her boney finger and say “I do”, no matter how much you thought of her to be a sure thing. I could have bet my entire DVD collection that Oguz and Neval hadn’t gone beyond first base after a month of dating. Maybe, maybe second base, if you really want to twist my arm.
Anyway, the cracker analogy still stood strong if you realized that for a lot of Turkish men, getting to first or second base was the equivalent of sex for the Western male.
So, charged with that analogy, I turned to Oguz on his way into the screening room and yelled, “You act like you got gold-covered crackers or something! All you got are regular-ass crackers!”
Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and turned to me with complete confusion. I don’t think it would have helped even if they had any contextual information pertaining to the argument. Even Oguz turned around to give me a totally perplexed look. He lifted his arms in the air as if to say “The fuck, man?” and resumed walking into the location of our next silent celluloid mind-torture session.