essays from J.A. McCarroll for EFD begins today: “Grand, Bizarre: Adventures in Istanbul

Grand, Bizarre: Adventures in Istanbul

by J.A. McCarroll


Notes from the many adventures of your narrator, an unemployed American writer living in Istanbul, the world?s sixth largest and 109th most livable city.  Adventures are highly unlikely to involve carpets, the phrase ?bridge between East and West?, or where to find a hotel with a Blue Mosque view.


#1 Notes on my new thermos, its uses, and why it is ruining my life

Sept 3: 4 37 P.M.

?I?d like my present now,? I say this as if I?m joking, but I?m not. I?ve been looking forward to this for a year. She laughs, which is good, because she?s my girlfriend?s friend from college and things will go much more smoothly if she takes most of my statements as jokes.  ?Ha, Ha, Ha? I say, and then, ?Now.? She gives me a weird look that suggests that perhaps I?ve overplayed my hand, but I?m assuming that this entire day is going to seem dreamlike to her on account of the jetlag. ?Ha ha ha? she echoes and presents me with a twenty four ounce silver thermos.

It is around a foot long and as thick as my wrist. Undeniably phallic. It looks like the kind of gear an astronaut would use, both to keep a space-martini cool and also to quell a space mutiny by bludgeoning to death the conspirators. When I hold it, I have an unexpected urge to take a photo with it.  ?Welcome to Istanbul,? I say to her for the third time. It is the first time I?ve meant it.

Before you get a weird idea about Istanbul being the kind of place where thermoses are unavailable, let me clarify; they have them here. However, they are kind of expensive  and always found in places I would not expect, like hardware stores or at KFC. Moreover, because of my innate thriftiness (read ?joblessness?) I have been committed to only buying a hypothetical thermos that is less than ten dollars (17.50TL). This is, as far as my limited experience of trying for a year straight suggests, impossible.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I?ve never had a thermos before, nor have I ever purchased one for anyone else. I still stand by ten dollars as a good price for one, however.

Sept 3: 5 02 P.M.

Thankfully, my girlfriend and the guest are catching up, leaving me alone. I?m taking the opportunity to hide in the kitchen and lovingly inspect my thermos. It is circumnavigated by a thin plastic band that highlights the thermos? many accomplishments. ?No Spills!? I notice. Also: ?Drink Directly from 24-ounce container or pour into 10-ounce drinking cup.? Wow. Two modes. One more and it?s a mega man final boss.

Sept 5: 9 12 A.M.

Uses for my thermos in the past 40.5 hours: ?paperweight?, ?watering can for my dying poinsettia? and ?briefly considered (but deemed impractical due to tapered shape) rolling pin.? Please note, I haven?t once taken advantage of the thermos? most unique selling point: ?One handed, One click activation!? It has also not held any beverages for human consumption. Just poinsettias.

On her way out of the house today, my girlfriend reminded me to ?wash that thing out before you drink from it,? because, ?you know, they make those with chemicals.? I try to give her a withering glance, but I think I might accidentally have looked pathetic. I hope I didn?t kill the poinsettia.

Sept 5: 10 07 A.M.

For a few months last year, having a thermos would have really kicked ass. I could have carried it with my own personal beverage to the school where I worked, and been saved from Nescafe (which sucks) or Turkish Tea (strictly verboten for me. I suffer from kidney stones). There?s no real take-away beverage culture here, so a thermos was my only hope, unless I wanted to be one of those people who went to Starbucks each day. (In the interest of truth, I?m forced to admit that by pretty much every imaginable metric, I look a lot like one of those people.)

Obviously, I?m operating on an obsolete paradigm. I haven?t had a ?job? for around 10 months now. I?m an artist – writer, journalist, gym-goer, thinker, etc. I haven?t been out of my house before noon on a weekday since May. I spend probably 90% of my time within 17 feet of both my refrigerator and coffee maker, meaning that there is no great need in my life to transport beverages (of any temperature).  This thermos is wasted on me.

I wonder if it?s too early for a beer.

Sept 5: 10 32 A.M.

Have you ever read the Bearenstain Bears Get the Gimmies?  It?s the one where the two little bears, the cute ones with identical faces and different hair styles (the girl has a pink bow, the boy just regular bear hair), discover the power of having tantrums and demanding stuff from their parents. This is termed ?Getting the Gimmies? and is presented as the worst thing a Small Child can do, worse even then Telling a Lie or Biting Its Twin Sister. My parents would read that book gleefully each night for what seems, in retrospect, quite a long time during my development.

The feelings of guilt I have right now are indescribable. I want to punch myself in the eye for forcing my girlfriend?s friend to go to the store, which she did duringHurricane Irene, and spending probably, like 26 dollars (I have still not confirmed the price with anyone), on a god damn cup that I won?t even use. At this point, it?s clear I was suffering from a terrible case of the Gimmies, which of course, are always followed by the Regreties (my own term) and sometimes even the crippling Depressionies (again, mine).

Sept 5: 10 35 A.M.

Regreties/Depressionies averted. Currently boiling water for coffee.

This thermos is going to change my life. Instead of whining about how I have no use for it, I?m going to become the kind of person who has and needs a thermos. I have to go put on a shirt, probably also deodorant.

Sept 5: 10 59 A.M.

Baby Steps for today. I live on a really steep hill, which rises up from the Bosophorus directly to the throbbing heart of Taksim, an area of Istanbul that is described by everyone as ?Bustling? and also, ?Modern.? (For the record, I describe it as ?kooky? and just leave it at that.)  I choose to walk downhill, towards a minuscule patch of green bordering the water. This is my local park, and I have been meaning to come here and watch the boats (ships, really) for inspiration since I moved in. This will be my first time.

In my left hand, I carry my thermos. To be honest, I?m continually nervous it will grow hot- despite the sticker?s claim of ? Double-Walled Construction,? I instinctively consider anything to be metallic-colored and full of boiling coffee to be a good heat conductor. I am prepared to drop it should it become dire.

Sept 5: 11 12 A.M.

I have been at the park for ten minutes. I was lucky to get a bench free of urine, homeless men, and smooching teens. It is not facing the water, but whatever. I am in a modified yoga pose. All of my body is on the bench  and my head is over my left shoulder.

So far I?ve seen seven boats. Three of them are the little ferries between the Asian and European sides of the city (arguably the most romantic way to commute ever) and four are massive ships. I?d say they are ?saurian?, which is a word I really like, but I suppose ?cetacean? is more fitting, even though they aren?t, technically, swimming. They communicate with each other using massive foghorns, the blasts of which are frankly biological-sounding, but also have an uncanny resemblance to the call to prayer. I?m entirely certain that I am the only one in this park to make that connection, and also that it would be unwise to express it out loud at this juncture.

Sept 5: 11 13 A.M.

Bored. More boats.

Sept 5: 11 15 A.M.

I decide to take a sip of my coffee. Despite the much touted claims of one-handed use, it requires both of my hands and very nearly my teeth to open the thermos.  From the spigot wafts undeniably inferno-esque air. I take a sip.

Way too hot. If I weren?t in public, I would totally spit it out.

Sept 5: 11 16 A.M.

My tongue is probably burned. Return of Regretfullies and Depressionies.

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