Saturday, March 12, 2016

Turtle Guilt and Bird Murder

The message on my Yogi tea bag just counseled me to “Open up to infinity and become infinity.” I really have no clue what that means. Maybe the teabag is trying to tell me that I am immortal, like Aphrodite, born from sea foam. I don’t feel immortal. Just today I was talking about egg-freezing with a friend, which I’m pretty sure never came up in any of Aphrodite’s conversations, so I’m going to rule out the possibility of immortality. Still, I tore the little saying off the tea string and added it to my collection of tea bag quotes. I used to hoard the little strips of paper once entombed in fortune cookies, just waiting for the currency of fortune-telling paper strips to go up in value, and now I guess I’ve shifted my focus to other little pieces of paper with words on them.

I should probably go into the business of writing tea bag messages myself, but actually give good advice, advice I wish someone had given me, such as, “Don’t even think about buying a baby turtle from the Grand Bazaar.”
I don’t know what propelled me in the direction of the chirping, barking, meowing, squeaking pet quarter of the Grand Bazaar. I don’t know what possessed me to look up the Turkish word for turtle in my pocket dictionary and actually say the word out loud: “kaplumbağa,” sending an eager salesman to the back of his shop to find just the turtle I didn’t know I was looking for. Then I don’t know what kind of irrational state of mind I was in to take one look at this turtle and decide his name should be Alfonzo and that I should take Alfonzo home with me. The teenage mutant ninja turtles have apparently taught me that all turtles must have Italian names.

I paid cash for Alfonzo, his plastic aquarium with a little palm tree, and his food. We took the ferry back to my place and I cleared a space for him on the coffee table. After setting up his new home, I played Pavarotti and took a long nap on my couch. When I woke up, I was thinking more clearly. I took one look at Alfonzo and thought, “What have I done?” I suddenly remembered my upcoming trip to Greece and thought, “Who’s going to feed Alfonzo when I’m gone, especially since his food is dead bugs? I can’t ask anybody to feed him dead bugs.”

I looked up turtles to see how long they could go without food, read about how turtles spread salmonella, went into the bathroom to thoroughly wash my hands, and decided I had no choice but to return Alfonzo to the pet bazaar. When I gave Alfonzo back, the salesman said he couldn’t give me any money, but he could only accept the turtle as a gift, a hediye. “Happy birthday,” I said. I walked away until the pet sounds faded in the distance.

I felt guilty about my failure to be a good turtle mother. But then I told myself that Alfonzo was actually lucky. He is probably telling the other turtles in the pet shop right now about how he rode across the Bosporus and got to go to a Pavarotti concert. That must have been like summer camp for Alfonzo. He will remember that afternoon for his whole life, all two hundred years, or however long his lifespan is.

Today while having breakfast with my friend Eda, I brought up egg-freezing because at this point in my life, I can’t even take care of a turtle for one day, but who knows, maybe in twenty years I’ll be ready and responsible enough to have a human child. We sat outside CookShop on Bağdat Caddesi and Eda broke her bread roll apart and laid out the pieces on the edge of our table to lure over a sweet little bird. “Look,” Eda, said, pointing to the adorable little bird. Just as our friend, Tweety, worked up the courage to hop over to Eda’s bread offering, a street cat leaped up and grabbed the bird it its mouth. To our horror, the cat proceeded to eat the bird in front of us and then looked up at us, as if to say, “Got any more birds for me to eat?” Eda was so angry, she tried unsuccessfully to scare the cat away from our table. Istanbul cats are ruthless hooligans and they’re not afraid of anyone.

For the rest of breakfast, Eda felt guilty and said, “It’s because of me.” All I could say was, “At least he went quickly.”

Now in my turtle-less apartment, I’m listening to The Beach Boys’ "Pet Sounds" album and remembering my old weird neighbor in Portland, Oregon. I got stuck listening to one of her crazy stories once outside her house while taking my dog for a walk, and noticed her recycling bin was filled to the brim with empty bottles of “The Chocolate Lover’s Wine.” As I contemplated the empty bottles and listened to her stories of her nineteen feral cats who slept with her and her gentleman friend who passed out on her living room floor while watching the Super Bowl, I swore I would never be like this woman.

Yes, I definitely need to avoid the pet quarter of the Grand Bazaar.

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