Man on the street

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My fourth entry in the self-portrait marathon

I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets — but it’s what the people want.
–Turkmenbashi

Never read about the Turkmenbashi right before going to bed. While I slept, a bland, doughy face came looking in the window.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Water dripping on a steel roof in the prison yard.

The golden statue revolves on top of its pedestal not in order to follow the sun, as malicious outsiders claim, but in order to keep from falling into shadow. A positive attitude is a powerful potion, chant the people’s deputies.

Tink, tink, tink: spoons on glasses in the golden-domed palace. The blandest of smiles, announcing the abolition of the death penalty. Across the boulevard at the U.S. embassy, it’s like a group orgasm as cellphones in pants pockets all begin to vibrate at once.

I am a bystander in my own dream. Who are all these blue horsemen flourishing their sabers so cinematically? They gallop into the forest in a large, public park just as some demonstrators — Young Turkmens, I guess — lead a mob of military police into the same forest from the other side.

Is it that I have no stomach for gore, or that, fed on a diet of bloodless history, I lack the mental imagery? The trees hide everything. I hear shots and screams, and the winnying of horses.

Half of the horsemen come out, but none of the police. The voice of the omniscient narrator hesitates, then tells the truth. The horsemen were patriotic defenders of Turkmenistan; the police were vile enemies of the people. There will be democratic elections. Tink, tink, tink.

Now I am there in person, and so are you. We bloggers have chosen Ashgabat as our next gathering spot — it’s centrally located, we say. The elections were a smashing success; they have democracy now. The Turkmenbashi’s head smiles blandly from the top of a revolving stake.

The former secret police have new jobs as pimps and pickpockets, thugs and drug runners. They follow us everywhere. Four of them rob us at knifepoint in a crowded restaurant.

Our shouts for help arouse nothing but studied disinterest from the other diners. Then I get an idea. Tap your spoons against your wineglasses, I urge my companions.

Tink. Tink. Tink.

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15 Comments


  1. THis self-portrait is the BEST yet! What strange dreams you have, said Red Riding Hood.

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  2. Very clever. Does this mean that Dave is now the poster-boy of street beggars?

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  3. Funny; I have just been reading a book (The Devil and the Disappearing Sea) in which Turkmenbashi plays a significant role. (For what it’s worth, the book isn’t anywhere near as good as Tom Bissell’s book about Uzbekistan. But I take your point about what reading about that man might do to one’s dreaming.)

    On an unrelated note, I’m really digging your self-portraits.

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  4. What a nightmare. Let’s not have a blogger meetup there. Love the Diogenes portrait – excellent.

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  5. Your self-portraits are an inspiration. Turkmenbashi, on the other hand, is not. That’s one bizarre dream… but could anything be as bizarre as the man?

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  6. Hi y’all – Thanks for the comments.

    What strange dreams you have, said Red Riding Hood.

    Woof.

    Does this mean that Dave is now the poster-boy of street beggars?

    In my dreams!

    I have just been reading a book (The Devil and the Disappearing Sea) in which Turkmenbashi plays a significant role.

    Heck, Saddam wrote his own novels. Turkmenbashi needs to quit slacking off. So far, all he has to his credit is one turgid book of sayings. He should at least get a blog.

    Let’s not have a blogger meetup there.

    Aw, c’mon – where’s your sense of adventure?!

    Actually, I think I’d rather meet in Samarkand. Or somewhere in the region, at any rate. After all, this is Blogistan. We should show solidarity with out fellow Stanis.

    That’s one bizarre dream… but could anything be as bizarre as the man?

    This post definitely doesn’t do him justice. That’s why – just to reiterate – he needs to start his own blog. Qaddafi too, for that matter. Rip-offs of Mao’s Little Red Book are so 20th-century.

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  7. Oh, good. Quite good; I have dreams like this only about temples and their strange dictators, and religion instead of politics.

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  8. Terrific. The interesting and provoking things you can keep doing with the same photo would never have occurred to me.

    I’m so envious of your dreams. Mine (the ones I remember) are always variations on the same theme – the direly predictable anxiety/lateness/pursuit stuff, played out in a rotating set of equally predictable scenarios. You must be so alive, I think, so not shut down, to have such dreams, and to remember them. By which I don’t mean necessarily happy – in fact the two things may be mutually exclusive…

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  9. Isn’t your head in the wrong place (on the man in the street)? :)

    I’ve just read that article on the Turkmenbashi. Extraordinarily jaw-dropping. Megalomaniacs always want their faces dominating the territory and apparently it works in subjugating the people. At least those who are hypnotisable. Even some so-called spiritual leaders use that trick – eg the late Baghwan Rashneesh who had giant posters of his face, with those hypnotic eyes, plastered everywhere his followers went.

    This quote from the article you linked could be applied to certain current world leaders,eh?

    “I think he really believes at some level he’s right and all the others are wrong. And you coming facilitates him giving the world the vision of himself that he thinks is gonna change their mind,â€?

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  10. The best self-portrait yet.

    Gee, thanks! A little over-interpreted, I thought, but I yam what I yam..

    I have dreams like this only about temples and their strange dictators, and religion instead of politics.

    Do tell!

    By which I don’t mean necessarily happy – in fact the two things may be mutually exclusive…

    Hmm, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding my general moroseness. But really, comments like these make me very happy indeed. And I do think that once you start living in a place you love, your dreams may become more interesting, less “direly predictable.”

    Isn’t your head in the wrong place (on the man in the street)?

    Yes! Very good criticism. I should’ve cropped the photo so that the nose would be right where the bum’s penis would be. I was a bit too hasty (but then I always am).

    Megalomaniacs always want their faces dominating the territory and apparently it works in subjugating the people.

    Apparently. Never having been under a spell like that, I find it difficult to imagine – and therefore worthwhile to try to imagine. Especially from the point-of-view of the megalomaniac, who may or may not be susceptible to his own spell. In the end, I think, that’s what does them in, like a drug dealer who becomes addicted to his own product.

    Totalitarianism set to tintinnabulation.

    It almost makes sense when you put it that way!

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  11. Turkmenbashi deserves to die.
    His state army&police directly involved in heroin transportation in huge volumes.

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  12. mehri – Thanks for the comment. I agree he’s an oppressive dictator and a reprehensible human being. But for us who are not gods to say that anyone deserves to die — doesn’t that simply make us little Turkmenbashis? I like what Gandhi said about retribution: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

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