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”).
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.