Screamin' goddamn cowboys interrupt the melancholy drunks and the war of succession begins over the body of Jaw Harp Mehmet, former strongman of the Shitface Turks. A kazoo cuts the air over faux Flamenco strumming, but the cowboys can't hold their piggyback long enough to take the steps of the old Venetian whorehouse and fade downhill towards the sea and no-mo-cowboy freedom. Hayrosh the Dealer is deep into his own product around the corner, betting on the wrong horse again, and is not involved in the Suzerainty Issue on Jurnal Sokak, Marco Polo's old neighborhood. Anybody can get involved, if they want - it's a public street - even your humble reporter has occasionally made a noise with his stiff-backed and sleepless banjo technique, but this evening's battle has been won already, and not by me, who am left at the mercy of the drunk contingent until such time as they choose to desist from their sonic terrorism, possibly until the coming winter. Tuesday night, midsummer, Istanbul backstreet. It's not pretty and it's not home, but it's what I'm borrowing too much to pay for, so it'll have to do.
Many mistakes eager to ride the first waves of enthusiasm have been wisely averted by an invisible protective force (like in religion, or that Star Wars series); a debut-blushed recording of Jaw Harp Mehmet, now beyond us, the appreciation-sweet call down from one above-average guitarist to another... these actions, conceived as responses to the spontaneous and ephemeral, could have exacerbated what now appears to be a permanent state of noise in the neighborly summer night. Don't get involved with that. The larger mistake may be taking this apartment in the first place, but that is a done deal, tonight, and every night until December. That is: August, September, October, November, December, of which you may have heard.
All I have to do is get in, scoop up the goods and get back out alive and in one piece within the next hundred days.
The drunks have abated again. Even their perennial jazzman is done and gone. Mercy is sweet; 10:48 pm.
12:10 am, officially the next day but that's some kind of bureaucratic trick for dealing with it...
it's the same night, alright. The singing drunks are back, but quieter. They have found a silencer, a fearful
and randomly violent animal that cannot be stopped once it goes on a jag. It is The Neighborhood Dog, and it
has found the Street of the Drunks. They hurry to shush it when it explodes, suddenly realizing that Noise
May Be a Problem for Some. Too late for me though, and for the drunks. I'm into the midnight coffee already,
and the dog's kung fu cannot be extinguished by soft, mournful urban folk tunes. And where are the cowboys of
yesterhour, their bright "yee-haws" a cracking whip in the dark, moldering soundscape? Now, not far, Euro-disco
and a cat in great peril. Now Buena Vista - Ibrahim Ferrer is dead; long live Ibrahim Ferrer. Another cigarette
butt to decorate my ashtray, another beefy fart to grace the still, hot air. The mosquitoes have come despite
the light and wakefulness. It cannot last, for I am an Ethnomusicology Graduate Student, and I must needs
Contact People and Interview Them Responsibly, and Write About It. I must forget my art and remember the
Theory Lords who sent me on this Mission. Deconstruct, reconstruct in my own image, lather, rinse, repeat.
Forget the dogs and the drunks and the cowboys full of overpriced pot and foreign-tasting booze, riding each
other gracelessly through the backstreets of Beyo
glu. They are as nothing to my Mission (unfortunately for
which, I appear to be the only cümbüs player in town).
Midnight becomes one, the drunks and I become one, the invisible force; won. Aum Namu Shivaya Aum. Allahu Akbar. We are beyond your Theory 'til the hard morning crashes, until the saxophone ends its come-hither-cosmo blues, until I feel guilty for not Calling all those People who are Here to Help, until I know the vacation's over, until Constantinople falls again and there is only crowded Istanbul in its place, until these cheap cigarettes run out, or the power, hot water, the will to relax. It cometh, but not tonight.
Yet hedging, I spit out the last mouthful of coffee and turn out the light.
(P.S. from next day: above does not include the post-one a.m. extreme drama scream fest/bottle throwing contest or the door slamming stairwell race, or the Japanese giggling competition. The Special Olympics of Noise triathlon.)
Days, weeks fall like rain
Washing down what's left exposed
All made new made old
So it's months later, the hard work is done and I'm waiting for a 'plane to catch; three weeks worth. Got to my apartment around one a.m. tonight and the main street, two blocks off, was still hopping - raining, Sunday, and hopping. The same potheads, drunks, Kurdish communists and junkie-painter-poets are out there below my window, soaking up the bad weather and collecting each other's stories in the hope they'll make a 'good old days' family album for when they turn ancient and toothless, begging in this same alley, wondering what ever happened to that crazy dog and the Kurdish national anthem.
But the long walk down that long street, Istiklal Caddesi, at midnight, that's something else; keep a smile in your back pocket, but cover your face with a stale looking Fuck You 'til you know what the next turn is. We're talking City, pumpkin. Whole neighborhood, in fact, has been torn to shreds by "renewal" - long ditches of mud and rubble, 24-hour bulldozers, holes full of exposed pipe and wire, piled bags of restaurant garbage under stray cats thick as summer flies. Saw a picture in the paper today, of the street this summer, just a few weeks ago - trees, all the way down. It was beautiful. I'd seen the men in dirty orange vests tearing them out with chainsaws and backhoes but hadn't realized 'til I saw that picture how open and barren and grey the joint is now, especially come winter with the freezing wind zooming down the Bosphorus off the Black Sea and everything up to the ass in mud and loose cobblestones.
But keep that thing over your face, I'm telling you. One guy walks up, asks for the time. You tell him. You're not thinking about it yet, but now he knows your accent, where your watch is. He's weighing you. "I'm Ali. I am a student at English University, won't you like to help me with my English? Just half an hour. We'll have a beer." No, Ali, we won't. I like my leather jacket, I like my watch, I like my cash, and I'm not interested in waking up naked in the rain with a bad headache without them. Here's some English for you. "Mark." It means a fool who'd follow you into a back-alley bar at midnight. But I'm not one of those, Ali. And you mustn't get it mixed up with "narc," which is short for Narcotics Officer, a certain kind of undercover cop. You don't want to confuse the two of those, Ali. "Ali" moves away, a little. "Maybe another time, then." He'll probably find someone later, some dumb tourist who thinks one a.m. is a good time to make new friends on a dark foreign street in the rain. Or maybe he's just renting out his asshole. That happens, too.
Another kid walks by, says, "excuse me, don't I know you?" Just flick your head back a little and keep walking. No, jackass. People who know me say, "hi." More than half of them know my name, even, these "people who know me." Fucking jackass. You half want to tell him all this, but you know you'd blow it for the next mark. By making this guy smarter, I mean - let evolution do its work, is my Istiklal-at-midnight-Fuck-You policy. But if you did, you'd explain that you're on to him, that he's either a half-assed thief or a cheap prostitute or pusher hanging out his shingle, but think about this, boy: if I know your game and I'm still here giving you a clear No on it, what should you be thinking? What kind of interesting follow-up does this hairy two hundred pound foreigner have for you? If you're not scared right now, you're not smart right now. And I guarantee, you need to be smart right now. Why don't you say, "sorry, I mistook you for someone else," and if you see me again, remember right away - but really... right away - that you don't know me.
But here's another piece of the street (and this is as true for you and me as it is for him and Ali): there's always someone smarter than you out there. That's why you just keep walking, watch your feet dodge holes in the mud, and keep a sharp I'm Holding a Live Rattlesnake by the Jawbone in My Pocket slung over your face.