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October 27, 2004 - 3:07 pm


When I first arrived in Istanbul it was late and cold and I was exhausted, so I checked into this really cheap hotel right by the water. It had the look of one of those places that was probably once very posh (or Pasha, as the locals say) but had fallen on hard times, like much of Istanbul itself, with its buildings covered in coal soot and its streets dark at night because there is no money to power the street lights. I realized almost immediately that I was possibly the only guest in the hotel that night. The floors were covered in this richly patterned, cheap, red carpet which I imagine was meant to emulate fine Turkish rugs of old, but instead succeeded only in trapping the smell of countless Camel cigarettes, raki stains, and god knows what else. I literally fell into the huge bed in my room and lay motionless in the dark for some twenty minutes listening to the sound of my own breathing, until I heard men’s voices outside my door laughing and whispering in Turkish, and the very real potential danger of my current situation flashed graphically through my mind. I turned on the overhead light and hurriedly began to pile on clothes in an attempt both at keeping warm (since it was December and there was no heat) and maintaining the illusion of bodily protection. I sat in bed with the light on, reading and trying to ignore the smell, when out comes this little grey mouse from some unseen hole in the wall. He walked right up to the edge of the bed, stood on his hind legs, and looked me straight in the eyes as if to say, "Excuse me, but what are you doing in my room?" My heart was pounding because, although I’d seen rats on the tracks of subways all over Europe, I’d never had a mouse walk up to me in full light that way before. As beat as I was, I didn’t sleep much that night, partly because I couldn't bring myself to turn off the light, but mostly because I was more scared of that mouse than I was of the thugs running the hotel. In fact, I woke up in a panic several times during the night, certain there was a mouse in my hair. I checked out – without the complimentary breakfast – at first light the next morning.

Since most people pay professionals to remove rodents from their places of residence, what would possess a person to bring one or two of these vile creatures willingly into her home? I’ll tell you: a disciplined, determined six-year-old with an iron will, that’s what…or rather who, I guess. For weeks, the Girl had asked me for a guinea pig; so, being the reasonable person I am, before I said "Not on your life!" I did some research on them. I found that although they do make great pets in that they are mostly diurnal, don’t mind being held, and are robust enough to survive the inevitable three foot drop from a kid’s tenuous grasp, they also smell really bad and produce mass quantities of excrement. When I informed the Girl of this, she made an "icky" face and began to pester me for a gerbil instead. I asked around and found that these guys do make better pets than guinea pigs (read: less poo), and I conceded that if she fed and watered our two cats every day without fail and without complaining, we would consider getting her a gerbil for her seventh birthday – six months away. Naturally I assumed her enthusiasm would wane at some point before her birthday. Can I just tell you? Other than a subtle reminder from me once in a while, that girl did not fail in six months. And just for good measure, she began to write and illustrate books about gerbils. Every picture she drew at home and at school included at least one gerbil somewhere in its composition. Well, the Girl’s birthday was last month, and the little shits’ names are Salt and Pepper. And after a month of even poorer sleep than usual due to their obsessive running on the gerbil treadmill all night long, I think I have finally succeeded in devising a method of fixing that accursed squeaky wheel at night. But I can’t divulge it to you right now because I’m thinking of having it patented.

And speaking of darling rodents, the squirrels are going berserk around my neighborhood lately. It must be the cooler weather and the beginning of the annual gluttonous nut fest that’s bringing them out. Apparently this nut-gathering survival instinct is stronger right now than the avoid-cars instinct, because they’re dashing out all over the place like small, psychotic madmen and brazenly standing in the middle of the road, daring me not to stop for them. I keep saying to myself, “Okay, fuckers, that’s IT. Next time you’re asphalt jerky!” But of course I never have the heart to go through with it. I’ll probably end up running the car off the road headlong into a duck pond one of these days trying not to hit them.

Tom Waits says that road-kill has its seasons just like anything – it's possums in the autumn, and it's farm cats in the spring. Well, I can confirm that we always had a greater number of possums on our back porch in the fall than any other time of the year. Man, those things are creepy. One time, my friend Tim and I were out really late playing pool when we were both home from college for a weekend. We’d had numerous beers over the course of ten or twelve games of 8-ball and by the time we were on our way home we were having one of those giggling fits like you get when you’re a kid in church trying not to laugh which, as you know, makes everything just riotously hilarious. But when we turned onto my street, Tim had to swerve to miss a freshly squished possum oozing guts in the middle of the road. I immediately stopped laughing and froze, trying to decide whether to cry or vomit. So Tim says, "Don’t worry. He’s not really dead…he’s just playing possum!" And then we both laughed so hard we had to pull the car over.

Playing possum. Heh, heh. It still gets me.


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