Of foxes and fur shops: Karagöz negates Ataturk’s brilliant negociating lesson


Ataturk Mosaic

A mosaic image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself – clearly in military macho stance – not negotiating car prices (Image via Wikipedia)

When I last left you, M. and I were sitting in a frigid car dealership in the process of buying a new car.  M. was in the throes of channeling his great Uncle M., the silent and deadly Montenegran refugee who killed 36 people (body count has gone up, you may note) while protecting the family during the journey to Istanbul during the Balkan Wars at the turn of the 20th century.  M. did major battle that evening under the green-orange light of fluorescent cost efficiency – and while he agreed that in the end, the salesman usually gets the better of you – we did do some damage in our favor that day.

Before we had walked into the dealership that day, we had done our homework, googled the heck out of Hondas, and prepared ourselves for battle.  It was during this google-thon on duelling laptops, that the shadow puppets put on a fashion show.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen that before – the last time they hit the fashionista button was during their first trip to our Provincetown place (you can read about that here).  However, there we were, trying to be serious adults about making good decisions about gas mileage and safety features, and those damned puppets were parading across the piano window in – uniform…and not just any uniforms – WWI Turkish uniforms such as the one Ataturk is wearing in the mosaic image placed to the left of these words….covered in drapes of fox-fur.

As if reading what I was seeing in the puppet fashion show, M. piped up.  “OK, I will do the negotiation – I will put on my uniform!”  Pleased with himself, M. did a twirl that was halfway Karagöz and halfway the Fonz from the old Happy Days television show, his fingers pointed in the air much as John Travolta might have in a super-dancy moment in Saturday Night Fever.  “Are you channeling your disco days, canım?” I asked, my eyebrows akimbo with wry skepticism. At this point, the puppets all hopped down off of the piano window and away from the waning light splayed out around the colored glass, and onto the floor around M. where they formed a circle of back-and-forth dancing a la the 1970s at their best.  “Go M! Go M! Go M!” they chanted, knowing he could not hear them in anything but a subliminal way.

M. was feeling feisty – perhaps picking up the verve-ridden atmosphere the puppets were spinning around him invisibly – “you know, Ataturk left a negotiation once when he was displeased with the demands.  He asked to be excused for 5 minutes.  He came back, this time decked out in full military gear – and the message was clear.  They’d have to go to war to get that from him. And so, dear Liz, that’s what I am going to do today, put on my uniform!”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about M. embracing Ataturk’s vim and vigor for negotiation, this is, you see, the Ataturk who famously told his soldiers the following at the battle of Gelibolu (Gallipoli, a bonding topic for M. and I early in our relationship) “I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die!”

The puppets didn’t care, though, the ROARED their delight at this proclamation and set to sewing an invisible uniform onto M.’s massive frame – which was, of course, invisible to all but me.  They just barely finished the final details as we walked out of the door – I’m telling you, they were faster than a swarm of pyrrhanas when it came to sewing that thing together.  I had no idea there was so much olive drab fabric lurking in this house.

So you know the end of the story – we did well in the negotiation.  What of the puppets, you may ask? How did they help in the negotiation?  Uncharacteristically, they were pretty silent during the whole negotiation – watching the words tumble from the salesman’s mouth with increasing anxiety – and looking back and forth to M., as if watching a tennis match.

Kenne, the Queen of Manners and the Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior, was for once, very pleased with me.  I was, you see, shutting my mouth and letting the man do all the work.  Esma the hippie puppet is arguing that it was work not to open my mouth – and much like housewifery – that is work as well.  It is yin to his yang and all that jazz.  Mostly, the puppets just wanted to see what would happen.

As for Karagöz, well, the puppets had in their inimitable knowing-ness roped him up. Karagöz, that impish loudmouth, is known for making scenes that are sometimes counterproductive.  Rope and a bandage in his mouth were employed with care so that he would not create a stir during the process.  Every once in a while, I would hear muffled cries and attempts to do a back flip out of the slithery pocket lining of my black cashmere coat where he was marooned. Clearly, Karagöz was desperate to tell me something.

As we stood up to leave the “options salesman” about $900 lighter in the wallet vicinity (e.g. Lojack in case the car is stolen and rubberized floor mats to protect from beach sand and spring mud, but not much else), Karagöz finally broke free of his bonds.  Clambering up through the hole in my jacket pocket, he ignored the fight of the slippery lining and poked his head out just as I removed my hand to shake the salesman’s hand as M. began muttering under his breath – “so much for our savings…it begins to erode!  It’s inevitable.”

Trying to ignore him, my brain couldn’t resist the effort to interpret his murmured mumbles from the bandana he couldn’t quite un-tie.  It was covering his mouth, and this made him hoppy jumpy with rage.  A bit like hot peppers dancing on an oily skillet over a roaring fire when a bit of water has been left on them inadvertently.  It’s hot stuff flying everywhere.

“Foxes…..fur” Karagöz squeezed out – the words getting muffled along the way made him more frustrated.  I didn’t realize that shadow puppets could blush, but creeping crimson berries spotted themselves across his face and amongst the salt-and-pepper badge of his beard.  “FOXES! FUR!” Karagöz tried again, to no avail.  Why, I wondered, is Karagöz talking about a fox?  Spitting out the words in between sucking in air through the bandana, Karagöz finally got the message across – although it was in Turkish.  “Tilkinin dönüp dolaşıp geleceği yer kürkçü dükkanıdır!”

Not catching it all, I finally stuck him back in my pocket so I could loosen his bandana so I had a fighting chance of understanding what he was so adamant about sharing.  After almost bending my fingernail backwards with one-handed effort of untying that knot, it finally loosened – and Karagöz was able to yell at his loudest “A fox goes anywhere he wishes but he ends up his journey in a fur store!”  It’s true, there is always an inevitable end that deflates the poofy pride of starched up negotiating uniforms, but it was fun while it lasted!

Turkish tough-guy meets comb-over car salesman


Yesterday, the puppets and I celebrated International Women’s Day – focusing on women’s empowerment and how said empowerment can impact hunger and poverty.  I had good talks with my students about that…and I also introduced my students to the fact that there is a vibrant feminist movement in Turkey – which was shocking to many of them.  It is with a bit of glee and also a wee bit of guilt, then, that I move to today’s topic, in which I in many ways idolize macho behavior – and the way that said macho behavior resulted in something very good – namely, a reduced car price as our old car died last week (which you can read about here).

Fidgeting underneath the green-orange glow of the car dealership’s neon lights, I felt my chilly toes protest.  “They must keep it cold in here to unnerve people,” I thought to myself as I watched all of the puppets retreat into the warm confines of the pockets in my cashmere coat.  I was having a somewhat out-of-body experience while M. was engaging in the negotiation for a car price – something we had agreed he would lead ahead of time.  I found it interesting that the salesman (a man with a maroon shirt, caramel-colored tie, a blonde comb-over and as many salesman tricks as you can imagine) kept looking at me, instead of M.  Using all of my best social work skills, I played the ingenue, the lady, not letting on my smarts, and just looked over at M.  And M., well, for his part in things, all I can say was that he was playing it hard and tough.

“Am I confusing you?” the salesman asked M. in a rather demeaning tone, assuming, perhaps, that his English was not so good.  “I would never want to do that, you know.”  M. sat silent for longer than he should – showing he had tactics of his own.  “No, you are not.”  Stone cold response, that was.

I had never heard my story-filled, friendly partner quite so curt and silent.  I knew he was playing it up.  Usually, when M. is in dealings with someone – say a plumber who has come to rescue us from piping disasters, it’s all friendship, tea-offering, stories and camaraderie.  Not so today, this was a different man altogether.  This was the TURKISH TOUGH-GUY persona.  I haven’t seen him much in our years together, but I know that he descends from the infamous M Amca (amca means uncle, and is pronounced “ahm-jah”).

Ottoman empire refugees heading to the relative safety of Istanbul during the Balkan Wars…I imagine M.’s family, led by M Amca, may have looked somewhat like this (although with more family caravans) as they crossed the wintry corn and sunflower fields of what is now Bulgaria… (Image via Wikipedia)

Let me digress a moment, to explain that M Amca was one tough dude.  Faced with the realities of the crumbling Ottoman empire during the Balkan Wars, M.’s family fled Montenegro en masse for the relative safety of Istanbul.  Travelling in a caravan through unstable territory rife with marauding bands, M Amca proclaimed himself the family protector.  He was so tough, M. likes to say, that he didn’t resort to the relative ease of just shooting people, instead, he slit their throats with his knife, and left them to die as he forged the path to safety for the whole family.  Apparently, M Amca did not talk much for the rest of his life, and it is no wonder after engaging in murder.  And not just one person, a total body count that ranges from 13 to 33, depending on M.’s memory that day.  Regardless, this is a story I have heard from more than M., and I do feel it is grounded in significant truth, plus or minus a few body counts.  Can you imagine this being part of your family lore? M. always says it with such matter-of-fact reality.  I am sure it is the same way for many people from Rwanda or the Congo, for example. It is stern, tough stuff indeed.  And it was this stern stuff, this Balkan War-era operant conditioning that has somehow made it through the sands of time into the genetic makeup of my guy, who was sitting before me, the toughest Turk around in that car dealership and environs, I am sure.

Kenne, the Queen of Ladylike Behavior and Manners, is protesting at this moment, I should tell you, saying that this material is NOT AT ALL appropriate for a lady’s blog.  Zenne, the little nervous Nellie puppet, is cowering in the corner, horrified at the thought of all of that blood.  Hacivad Bey and Yehuda Rebbe are praying, thanking God together for watching out over M.’s ancestors so that he is here with me today.  Karagoz was taped up in my purse, to keep him out of trouble, given his impulsive and impish manners.

But back to the awful lighting in the car dealership, and the salesman extraordinaire, who was looking intently at M., who was just staring at him, not saying much at all. “So,” the salesman ventured, “are you a one car or two car family?”

“What’s the difference?” M. said coldly, “tell me the price.”

“Um, ok….” the salesman faltered, deciding on a different tactic.  “So, M. is that a French name?”

Without batting an eyelash, changing his cool-hand-Luke posture or moving a facial muscle other than the immediately necessary, M. said this: “No.”

Shifting in his chair, the salesman cocked his head to the left, doodling with the green pen nervously as he set out on another landing attempt. “Um, Armenian?”

“No.” Still no movement, and an unbroken stare. As ruthless as M Amca was murderous, M. was in it to win it.

“We have another M. here, so, um, I just wondered….” the salesman was left hanging, we were not helping at all.  I felt badly, but knew this was effective.

“Well, then………Elizabeth? Um, who are you named after?” the salesman squeaked out, his voice cracking as he turned to me with hopeful eyes.  Interrupting in the calmest – and toughest – voice  you can imagine, M. said “I just want the price.”

“You just want the price, yes, I see, well, let me tell you about the 24 month and 36 month leasing options…”

“I just want the price.” M. stated again in a flattened monotone that hid his demonic negotiating glee from all but his catching on at ever quicker pace wife.

“Well, if you lease the car, you can get a new one in three years -” the salesman attempted to say..

“What is the price.” M. stared straight into the salesman’s eyes.

“You want the price, as in the price of the car?” the salesman said, nervously? A bead of sweat forming on his overly-pomade-swathed comb-over.

“Yes.”  M. said, not moving any muscle, a macho stance taken in his seat, legs akimbo, leaning back, letting the salesman know he was not to be toyed with.

“Well, then, let me go and talk to my manager,” the salesman said, as he slunk away in a hippo-footed plop-plop of a walk all the way across the room.

Once the salesman was out of earshot, M. turned to me ever so slightly.  “If my father were here, you can bet this guy would be sweating an awful lot.  This is nothing, Liz. “

We sat in some sort of secretly buzzy silence, the game of M channeling M Amca known only to us.

Returning with a price, M. continued the long negotiation with flair, ending up with a very good deal for us and a whole lotta sweat for the comb-over salesman extraordinaire who told us his boss would thereafter refer to him as a “yellow-bellied flat fish and a 220 pound weakling.” M. didn’t even crack an iota of a smile at that one, and I played along.

After the paperwork was done, the salesman turned to M., saying “I’d never play poker with you, man!” to which M. did not respond, just looked on with what the rappers refer to as “the thousand mile stare” before standing up, shaking the man’s hand, offering a manly “thank you” as the quivery salesman led us to meet the “options salesman” who had no idea what was coming down the pike.   Settling in for the next wave of tough-guy Turk, M. settled in for M Amca, redux.  And surface he did.