Posts Tagged ‘cats’

Towel Story, Part II

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The driver, Mehmet Bey, drove me to Mahmutköy early the next morning, weaving in and out of traffic with no apparent regard for the incredibly violent bouts of coughing that racked his body every few minutes. I have never seen someone with such a philosophical attitude toward such a terrible cough. All day, whenever he would park and get out of the car, he would immediately lit a cigarette, sometimes only managing two or three drags before we reached whatever building we were headed to and he had to throw it out.

At the central FedEx depot, before I had identified myself in any way, I was greeted by an official as “the writer.” (“Wow, you guys know everything!” I exclaimed in alarm, to which he cryptically replied: “It’s easy when you have the Internet.”)  My job at FedEx was basically to sit in a chair and sign a lot of forms, and then they gave me a huge pile of papers and Mehmet Bey drove us to the airport.  There I signed more forms, paid someone $150, and, having been escorted through a series of increasingly-important looking offices, found myself standing before the desk of a purple-faced official.

“Don’t let him out of your sight!” the purple-faced man was shouting into the telephone. “What he’s doing is clear to no one.  First he says, ‘I’m a businessman.’ Then he says, ‘No, sir, those are my own belongings, I’m an artist, sir, a musician, I play the davul.’  Keep him under the closest observation, from the minute he enters.  What? No, you can’t miss him—a long-haired type.”

He slammed down the telephone, glared at me, opened a dossier that had been placed on his desk and, to my astonishment, produced a piece of paper in my handwriting: the packing form I had filled out back at Jensen’s Mail & Copy in San Francisco. It was strangely touching to see it here, halfway across the world. As it turned out, this document was the source of all my problems: because it contained the text “Commercial Shipping Invoice” and referred to a payment of $550, the purple-faced man had concluded that my suitcase contained commercial goods with a resale value of $550, and was thus subject to $400 import tax and $200 penalties. When I tried to tell him how far it was from my plans to sell anyone my towels, he kept interrupting and pointing at the word “commercial.” “’Commercial’! ‘Commercial’! Why has Jensen written this, if these items aren’t intended for sale?”

Stepping back a moment from the scene, it occurred to me how remarkable it was that fate had brought me face to face in this way with the author of my bureaucratic troubles. All too often, such struggles just wind to an end without you ever finding out what the deal was, or what human interest was concealed in the heart of the machine.  And the nature of such ordeals is that, by the end, you don’t care anymore, anyway. What a rare treat then for me, as a writer, to actually meet my secret opponent, and to thereby be able to contextualize my own particular situation within the broader field of human activity—within, for example, the life-story of a purple-faced man whose mission was to shut down smugglers, and who believed that I was trying to sell my used towels to the Turkish people without paying import taxes.



Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

O readers, dear readers!  where does the time go?  There is so much I wanted to tell you, and the things to write keep on filling up the time to write them in.  My article on the Kafka papers controversy ran in Sunday’s New York Times magazine and, because of the many kind emails I received about the episode set in the heiress’s front yard, and in honor of the proliferation of alternate texts in the world of letters, I am posting a longer draft version of that scene, which includes more cats, more lawyers, more Kafka, more Brod, and more about Avi Steinberg’s hair.

Of the many incredible emails since Sunday (including the tale of Eva Hoffe’s erstwhile teenage cat-sitter, “a story for which,” as Dr. Watson would say, “the world is not yet prepared”), I would like to share two with you tonight.

1. Re: cats, from Jamie C.

My boyfriend, Itai, lives in Tel Aviv (a 10 minute drive from 23 Spinoza). I live in the United States. We meet via Skype during the long periods we aren’t together in the same time zone. During our Skype meet-ups, we find interesting articles to read aloud while simultaneously playing Scrabble. On Thursday of last week, your article was the featured read. Afterward, with your quotations in hand, my thoughtful and sweet Itai headed to Spinoza street to photograph the vignettes beautifully described in your article. I’m inserting the result here.


Common Threads

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Forsaken readers!  Please excuse the long silence of a C-list writer who has spent the past few weeks in a dark, dark place. Not only was I immersed to an Orwellian degree in the life and work of you-know-which master of the Kafkaesque (hint), but there was literally an enormous cloud sitting on top of my house.  Honestly it’s a mystery to me why I still live on this godforsaken mountain.  At least it was a mystery until I realized it was probably so I could convert Friday to Christianity.  Now I can say, with the immortal Crusoe:

when I reflect that, in this solitary life which I have been confined to, I… am now… made an instrument, under Providence, to save the life, and, for aught I know, the soul of a poor savage, and bring him to the true knowledge of religion and of the Christian doctrine, that he might know Christ Jesus, in whom is life eternal… a secret joy runs through every part of My soul, and I frequently rejoice that ever I was brought to this place, which I so often thought the most dreadful of all afflictions that could possibly have befallen me.

Friday, as you can see, was able to find great comfort in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior:

I too am slowly returning to normal life and, as a first step, I am happy and honored to report that I will be a guest tomorrow (Friday) on “Common Threads,” an open-mic show hosted by esteemed reader and San Francisco beat poet sensation Diamond Dave Whitaker.  Those who are in the neighborhood and not gainfully employed should please come at 3pm to the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe, 2781 21st Street (between Florida and Bryant); others are warmly encouraged to stream Pirate Cat Radio live or download the podcast.



Google-Gogol Contest

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Ingenious readers!  I am delighted to announce to you the first ever My Life and Thoughts contest/ book giveaway.  I was inspired by the following devastating critique of The Possessed (sent via Twitter by a valued reader):

Come to think of it, considering Palo Alto’s proximity to Mountain View, Elif really missed the boat on the Google/Gogol puns.

Well, I’m not going to stand here and tell you people that bluefugate isn’t absolutely right, because she is.  In my defense, however, thinking of a good Google/ Gogol pun is not easy.  Either that, or I’m just exceptionally bad at it. I recently devoted a two-hour plane ride to this challenge (big thanks to all the Seattleites who made it out to the University Bookstore on Monday!), and you will get an idea of my success when I tell you that the most promising avenue, by far, involved the factorability of the googol by 0000, Gogol’s early penname.  Subsequently I fell asleep and dreamed that I was searching Petersburg for a nose and got 4.8 million hits.

Can you do better?  I think you can.  Please submit your Google/ Gogol puns by 11:59PM July 2, either in the comments section below, or by writing here.  Don’t forget to include your email.  The winner gets a choice of one of two wonderful prizes:




A Googler with Goggles

Nikolai Gogol


These cats are “sitting” on a goldmine!

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Dear readers!  I am just back from Tel Aviv, where I went to interview some important world literary-historical cats.  They are literally sitting on some invaluable manuscripts!  Neither they nor their caretakers (the daughters of Max Brod’s late secretary) have been especially forthcoming to the press.  But that didn’t stop me and my colleague Avi Steinberg from creepily lurking around their front yard for like an hour.

Because I am a professional and think of everything, I had an artificial mouse in my pocket, with which I was able to attract the attention of one of the archival interns:

Although this “opening gambit” of the mouse enjoyed a certain self-contained success, it failed to spark the lively debate I had been anticipating about the legal and cultural battle surrounding Kafka’s legacy. Rather, the intern seemed somehow unable to move beyond what one might call the pourparlers, so that really all I learned from our encounter was his position on artificial mice.  (pro)