Elif’s uncle Bilgin went for angioplasty. Bilgin’s already had open-heart surgery several years ago, and he wasn’t too happy to find out that he needed this surgery, but he was extremely lucky: not that the surgery was routine, but in the nature of his complaint – because if he had almost any other life-threatening illness, he, being dirt-poor, would have ended up in the government’s public hospital, which is quite squalorous. The only machines for his type of problem are at the private American Hospital, so the government had to send him there – and it’s clean, quiet, and modern.
When he was admitted, they held him for three hours for some tests before the surgery, and we were allowed to stay with him. There was another man in the room with him, in his 50’s, who was having chest pains and who had also once been through a painful open-heart surgery. He and his family were miserable, and I cheered them up by playing the game of “Let’s compare chest wounds” – I came in last with my lone stab wound, but it was all great fun – Bilgin had three wounds, and the guy had a really impressive zipper scar. Turns out he used to weigh 130 kilograms and he’s about my height! Then the doctor came in and gave his family the news that this time the man’s arteries were clogged in five places and lots of painful surgery and an extended hospital stay would be needed. They all broke out crying and the clowning was over. I left the room, quietly.
Bilgin’s surgery lasted about an hour, and while we waited outside for the operation, we met a guy named Izzy (really Izzet), dressed in black from head to toe, around my age. His sister’s a fashion designer queen (her husband is Turkey’s version of Howard Stern) and she was all decked out in her own designs – godawful black leather pants, half-meter-high black plastic boots – you get the idea. Izzy helps run his father’s textiles business, which has branches in a half-dozen European countries. They were at the hospital for two weeks for their father’s health problems – his father’s been bedridden for three years and his lungs are failing. Izzy looked completely drained and had only gone home a couple of times during the period to shower. But he perked up at hearing me ask Elif in English what a word in the Turkish newspaper meant, and we spent the day talking about movies, Turkey, and Judaism (he’s Sephardic).
Izzy has strongly ambivalent feelings about his father – Izzy’s sister told Sumru that the two are inseparable and that he’s crazy, absolutely crazy about his dad. But to Elif and I he showed a great deal of anger at his father for his illness, which he says was self-inflicted (by stress and smoking). Elif offered up the comment that without his stress and smoking he wouldn’t have been him, wouldn’t have started or ran the business, and that this was his life, but Izzy would have none of it, saying that even though you can’t live forever, spending your last ten years being a horrible burden on your family is incredibly selfish.
Izzy tells me some interesting things about Turkish Jews. First, they don’t intermarry. And second, the father of the bride has to pay a dowry to the groom’s family (exactly the opposite of the Moslem tradition here) where he has to cough up tens of thousands of dollars, a job, a car, whatever the groom’s family wants to get him to marry her. (Finally: just compensation for living with a woman.) Another reason Izzy’s father has such health problems – Izzy’s sister just got married and her father, being famously wealthy, had to cough it up, baby!
Izzy also talked about the OJ Simpson trial and about there being a day of reckoning where it would all be straightened out. I talked about the fruitful results of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology (the Barcuchba revolt; the Essine Cave of Horrors), about the film Crimes and Misdemeanors, about Baptist presidents going to bed with El Salvadorian butchers, about heroic current leaders eviscerating welfare, about an interview I just read with an unrepentant, wealthy doctor of Auschwitz named Munch (who wrote a book about how he was satisfied doing his job of testing diseases on Jews and sending them to the chambers, and how Jews today are dick-sucking pigs cornering the world’s resources, and how happy and healthy he feels being an 87-year-old author). I’m equivocal about many things, but not about the existence of earth’s moral center.
Izzy shocked me when we talked about my favorite show, Baywatch (he didn’t understand why it was the world’s most-watched show), and he said, “Why are the women in the show always running? It’s like they’re afraid of being chased by niggers or something!” I told him that the word was generally considered unacceptable, and about its role in the OJ trial, but I didn’t want to bug him too much about his being a racist, with his father was dying in the other room.
Elif’s aunt Sumru was blown away that I was talking with Izzy, because she recognized him and his sister from the newspapers, and Sumru was asking me if I’ve heard of his family, and do I know how impossibly rich and famous they are, etc. – all while her own husband’s being cut open. (Even Izzy was into the name game: we went downstairs to drink tea while his own father was in intensive care, and we passed the owner of the hospital’s sister; Izzy went on and on about how incredibly rich and famous she was, being a member of the Koc family, and owning half of Turkey, etc. etc.) What I found most impressive is how much information about my family Sumru had stashed in that noggin of hers – in one breath, she mentioned Penn, Wharton, Sikorsky, music business, mechanical engineer, Connecticut. What a memory! What powerful symbols! What currency!