May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
“God would never let me be successful! He’ll kill me first!”
“I thought you don’t believe in God.”
“I do for the bad things.”
Seinfeld’s George Costanza is both the most painfully realistic and painfully hilarious character to appear on a modern sitcom. He poisoned his boss, moved back to his parents’ duplex in Queens, fabricated elaborate false identities and webs of lies to prop up those personae, got fired from the Yankees, cheated on an IQ test, pushed over an old woman and children to escape from a fire, double-dipped his chip, got punched by Marisa Tomei, ruined his hand modeling career in a freak hot-iron incident, got swindled and robbed on the way to a job interview, inadvertently killed his long-suffering fiancée with toxic wedding envelope glue, and got caught masturbating by his mother, who then threw her back out. And these are just a few of the Astonishing Tales of Costanza.
What could possibly be realistic about such ridiculous stories? Perhaps it’s not so much what happened as the underlying personality characteristics that allow a person to act in such a way to give birth to such incidents. Wikipedia describes George as exhibiting “a number of negative character traits, among them stinginess, selfishness, dishonesty, insecurity, and neurosis.” Who among us (neurotic Northeastern jews, I’m looking at you) does this not describe? In the brilliantly and awkwardly funny Curb Your Enthusiasm, we find that George’s character and exploits were based on Larry David’s, Seinfeld’s co-creator and the true brains behind the show (you know it’s true) life. These bizarre combinations of and terrifying interactions with humanity, these unfortunate situations–with the right friends, the right circumstances, and the right neuroses, any of these stories could happen to you. And that’s the premise of Curb Your Enthusiasm—this is your reality, slightly exaggerated (read here for an interesting debate between the stylized George and the stylized Larry)
In Seinfeld’s Season 4’s ‘sitcom about nothing within a sitcom about nothing’ arc, Jerry and George’s TV pilot gets picked up by NBC. Unemployed, without hope, and without a girlfriend, this is the single greatest thing to happen to George in years. Yet he’s overcome with staggering doubt. In his therapist’s office, he relates the confession that starts this entry: “God would never let me be successful. He’ll kill me first.” George is the perpetual loser—he won’t admit it, but deep inside, he knows it. While auditioning actors to play the ‘George’ role on the new pilot (the self-reflexive post-modernity of the whole show is overwhelming), one actor asks, “What are we looking at here? Is this guy a real loser?” George responds sharply and dismissively, “ No, not a loser!” A bit too sharply and dismissively. We know you’re lying, George. The universe simply doesn’t work in your favor.
Most of my life has unintentionally come to resemble George’s. An encyclopedia of painfully awkward and hilarious situations, false identities (you don’t think I’ll tell you my fake e-mail addresses, do you?), and the knowledge that when something goes too well, disaster is right around the corner, no matter how many evil eyes you have in your house.
Since the depths of the previous fall’s discontent, my life in Turkey has substantially improved: better grip of teaching, better understanding of the country and the language, better relationships. I was looking forward to a triumphant last month of class parties, travel, Istanbul, farewells to friends, a long-awaited return to the US, and then an exciting move to Vienna. With this general satisfaction in mind, Alex and I headed to the unofficial Fulbright farewell weekend at an all-inclusive Mediterranean seaside resort in Antalya, on Turkey’s southern coast. Things were perfect! Killer buffets, two pools, saunas, a Turkish bath, a beach with cool, clear water. I should’ve been on the lookout. Mid-afternoon on Saturday I suffered a blatantly ridiculous pool-based accident and broke a bone in my left knee. Alex has summed up the hospital visit and wincingly hilarious Sunday trip back to T.dag on her blog.
I’m now home, safely ensconced on my orange corduroy couch, surrounded by books, satellite TV, and a fickle Internet connection. I’m glad I’m comfortable because, well, I’m not leaving for a good long while. While I’m lucky enough to live on the ground floor of our building, the building itself is down several steps from the curb, at the bottom of a steep and uneven hill. And to access anything from our apartment block wasteland of a neighborhood, I need to climb several steps to board the minibus/dolmus. It just ain’t gonna happen. The next foreseeable exit date is Tuesday, when I head to T.dag’s finest English-speaking orthopedist (when I locate him/her) for a 10-day check-up and hopeful cast removal.
Things aren’t so bad! If someone buys and prepares my food for me, I can transport it in my backpack or in my mouth like a dog and eat. I managed to put my own socks on this morning. I even somewhat bathed myself.
Since I’ve got a hell of a lot of time on my hands now, I hope to update this blog daily with thoughts and stories I’ve been too neglectful to write about this year. I’ve got the rest of today to ponder exactly why the universe has it in for me, and prepare myself for some visitors and Sinema Lojman’s (aka my laptop’s) showing of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
In case you’re wondering, the Seinfeld pilot does get cancelled when NBC’s president joins Greenpeace to impress Elaine and the new head axes the sitcom. Sad trombone. But in perhaps the strangest ‘art imitates life imitates art’ moment of my life and Seinfeld, I leave you with the Season 8 finale, in which George, surprised by 3 months’ severance pay after being fired from the Yankees, plans the Summer of George, a hedonistic zenith of relaxation and frisbee golf. Until he slips on an invitation he previously dropped on the steps and breaks both his legs. Sound familiar?
skip to 4:47 and live what I feel
Yarina gorusuruz! (see you tomorrow!)
September 25, 2010 § 1 Comment
This blog has been a long time coming, and I’m not going to lie, it’s because I couldn’t think of a name. How clever a pun could I make? Should it reflect only my time in Turkey? But what if I want to continue writing after I leave? I considered various names–some funny, some boring, some too vulgar to be forever linked online to my name. I can’t say I’m in love with this name, but I like it.
For those I haven’t told or who’ve forgotten, I’m spending the year in Turkey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Namik Kemal University in Tekirdag (not nearly enough links). I arrived yesterday in my host city after spending two weeks at an orientation in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, where we were bombarded with lectures, lessons, books, and materials stating our Fulbright association. I many hours staring at J. William Fulbright’s shining face on my shiny new folder and reading his statement about the grant program: “…a modest program with an immodest aim…” A bit of Googling reveals the quote’s origin: The Price of Empire, a collection of Fulbright’s reflective essays on American foreign policy.
Some more Googling reveals two definitions for ‘immodest’:
–shameless; offending against sexual mores; indecent
–not modest in assertion or pretension; forward
Draw your own conclusions about which definition Fulbright’s quote invokes.
But seriously: this is going to be a difficult year. I’ve never taught English before, I don’t speak Turkish, and the country is extremely unfamiliar to me. My entire existence here is immodest: I am forward, I assert myself, I push myself in new and often uncomfortable directions. I take risks going to the supermarket and trying to buy bananas (‘risk’ meaning being yelled at 3 times for not knowing about the produce weighing procedure, but still). I do all of those things in Philadelphia, of course (I hope), but being in Turkey turns even the smallest of actions and reactions into conscious, deliberative decisions. I haven’t lived more “in the moment” in a while. It’s a shame that it takes moving to a new country for me to act this way, but I’m looking forward to a more assertive, pretention-full, immodest year.
I’ve had a pretty spotty blogging history, but I have a hopeful feeling this one will be different. I intend not only to catalog my experiences teaching and traveling, but also analyze my impressions of the classroom, university culture, and life in Tekirdag, and explain to you more about Turkey and the opportunities and challenges the nation faces.
I start teaching tomorrow morning–who and what I’m teaching remains to be seen, but I’ve got a lesson plan, a suit, and lots of butterflies in my stomach. Wish me luck!