Posted on June 13, 2011


“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
— Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

The Head

If I ever saw her face again – oh that painful face – even for a fleeting moment as she rounded a corner and quickly passed by, even if I couldn’t muster the courage to turn around for a second look, I would know it was her. My unmistakable ex-neighbor has the hollow eyes of a hateful goldfish peering out from her face which is unsuccessfully pancaked with make-up.  Our relationship had been too awkward from the onset. The day we moved into Üzümcü (Grapemaker) apartment, my wife and I issued a few cheerful ‘Merhaba!’s. She strangely and slowly walked passed us without saying a word or moving a muscle in her face. Perhaps that is why I’ve never been able to look at her long enough to fully understand her hair. I have a Van Gogh impression of it in my mind:  replace Medusa’s snakes with unwashed, dyed-blonde tendrils of dry “hair.”

The Voice

Eventually, she would speak. But what noise would she make? I facilitated the first occasion by walking around my uncarpeted apartment wearing cowboy boots as I’m sure many people do here in Turkey. They were a Christmas present from my wife. Although they were custom made, the process of taking them off involved two people. It took all of Cari’s strength. Plus, I had to find something to hold onto that was either bolted down or part of the building’s structure. After you factored in all the hassle and Cari’s recovery time, it was just easier to not take them off when I came home. Our neighbor came up to let us know just how loud cowboy shoes are, and we heard the voice for the first time. She talked with the high-pitched and unrelenting prattle of a badgering gypsy trying to sell you roses.

The Smell

Early in the morning, after a night of rain, the end of my street looks like a glittery Jackson Pollock painting – if Jackson Pollock had painted only with slug mucus. The rising sun catches the slime trails making them appear to be melted glass. According to Wikipedia, the slime trail serves many different purposes for the gastropod mollusks. One of those effects being that “other slugs coming across a slime trail can recognize the slime trail as produced by one of the same species.” Like a trail of mucus lingers long after a slug has passed, so lingers my neighbor’s identifying odor long after she has entered or exited her apartment. Perhaps, it is the years of chain-smoking that have destroyed her ability to know what she or her house smells like. Or, it could be a calculated effort on her part to keep others and the world at bay just as the slug protects itself with its own body mucus making “it harder to pick up” and “distasteful.”

The Shoes

They were old, white, and falling apart. Biodegrading before your very eyes. We saw them four times a day every day. They were once heeled slip-ons but had long ceased to be shoes. Ahab’s whale would be a worthy symbol for what these objects eventually became for my wife. Before anyone visited our apartment, they had to pass these tacky and reeking sentinels. We were walking down the stairs one day, which is what we had to do in order to get from our sixth floor apartment to the ground below, and she opened the door to start yelling at us. Apparently, the combined sound of our feet and the marble stairs was simply unbearable. However, amid all of her screams, she never offered up an alternative solution for us to accomplish our goal of getting to the street. So, my wife took this opportunity to convey our feelings about her “shoes” and how badly they smelled and would she please throw them away or keep them inside. And thus began the war of the shoes. From then on, we opened the public window every time we passed her floor. This was to let oxygen in and toxic fumes out. The neighbor would close the window every time she passed. The conflict continued this way until things suddenly escalated.

We reached to open the window to find that there was no handle. She had actually unscrewed the latch permanently locking the window shut.

Immediately, my wife hatched a cunning plan. She removed the latch from our floor’s window and kept it in her purse. Now, whenever she passed by the adversary’s floor, she fit the latch into the window like a puzzle piece and opened the window. The neighbor no longer had the ability to open or close her own window unless she too used her own latch. My wife’s skeleton key essentially made us masters of the stairwell windows.

This phase of the war lasted until the day we finally moved out. We were leaving Turkey for a summer to work in Alaska. Throughout our conflict with the Medusa, Cari pleaded with me to approve her use of the nuclear option. I resisted, but finally relented at the very last moment.

The Taxi arrived and we hauled four heavy pieces of luggage down six flights of stairs.  I was physically exhausted and mentally weakened. On our last descent to the taxi, Cari struck the final blow. She reached in her purse, pulled out the latch, grabbed the “shoes” with HER BARE HANDS, and flung them out the window. As the objects hit the cement, I heard our Christian witness shatter across the back alley.

The taxi sped us away to the airport, and I thought to myself, “would this be our final act in Turkey?”

If you are a fan of ‘cunning plans,’ here is a great one:

Posted in: Istanbul, Neighbors