Monday, June 22, 2009
A Man, His Wife and a Room Full of Rugs
There are about a million rug shops in Istanbul, and they all look exactly the same, which is why I have no idea why my wife and I were in this particular one. Silk and wool rugs were piled haphazardly, like colorful logs of firewood, all around us. Every 90 seconds or so, a white box on the wall would beep and shoot out little cloud of air freshener. It wasn’t helping very much.
“Where are you from in the America?” the smiling, sweating man asked us.
“Washington, DC,” my wife said. This is the location we’ve chosen to claim, because no one here knows where in the hell Baltimore is.
“Really? My cousin is there. She is studying in the School of the Washington.”
I’ve never heard of the School of the Washington, but it was too hot to challenge him on this. I’m sure his cousin is a lovely girl, wherever she really is. And besides, I was busy marveling to myself at how odd it was that I was even in this situation. A single guy goes to a Super Bowl party with some friends, he meets a lanky girl in an ill-fitting sweater and four and a half years later he’s in a rug shop in some steaming, crazy-assed city in Europe.
The man and his silent assistant had unrolled at least a dozen rugs on the floor and I was going cross eyed. The men stared at us, searching for signs of interest. Sweat was now streaming freely down my back.
“You like the rugs with the abstract shapes, or the ones with the pictures and the symbols?” he asked. Believe it or not, I’ve never given this issue much thought. The last rug I bought was fifteen years ago. It was from Target and I choose it from a plastic bin because it matched the T-shirt I was wearing that day. The cheapest of the rugs my wife and I were looking at now could have purchased multiple Sony Playstations. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, the 18-year-old version of Matt Norman was disgusted.
Over the course of the next twenty agonizing minutes, my wife narrowed the pile down to two rugs. Both were silk and, as far as I could tell, identical.
“What if I make a crazy price?” the man asked. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Will you buy the rug then? We will make the business?”
Now it was my wife’s turn to shrug. It was a meaningless gesture though; everyone in the shop, even the cat sleeping in the corner, knew we weren’t leaving without a rug.
“Which one do you like better?” my wife asked me.
I’ve been married long enough to know that “I don't know, whatever,” is a card you can only play once or twice a year, and so I squinted my eyes and pretended to consider my answer with great care. “That one,” I said, pointing to the rug on the right.
“Why?” she asked, as she always does.
“I like the pictures and the symbols,” I said.