ANGRY BIRDS SING
ANGRY BIRDS SING
A Correspondence between Angry Birds Sasha Marianna Salzmann and Deniz Utlu
we’re just two lost soulsswimming in a fish bowl year after year
running over the same old ground and how we found
the same old fears wish you were here
After all, everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but is really there.
My phone’s dead.
I’d downloaded a pacemaker app and slipped the phone into my shirt pocket—just in case, you know? In times like these, anyone’s heart can stop. Skip a beat. Stand still.
Now it’s beating again. Either side of me there are kids, killing aliens. These kids are six or seven years old, eight, maybe ten. They bite their lower lips as they choose their weapons—shotgun or axe. They laugh, a bright, choppy laugh, when the blood spurts.
I can’t call you, you should be here by now. It’s dark in here. Not much sun coming in at the narrow windows under the ceiling. The only light is the spatter of alien blood on the screens, on a kid’s thick-rimmed glasses.
Where are you?
I tried to get out just now to wait outside the shop for you. But the door was locked.
I overslept. I wanted to come and pick you up, but I couldn’t—after days and then weeks of sleeplessness, I fell into this deep sleep, like falling out of myself. And I had this dream that went on and on.
I went out with huge headphones over my ears and my hands in my pyjama trousers. I was in New York. The yellow cars were honking. I walked towards them, felt them drive past, close by—the rush of wind made me laugh. I wanted to learn to fly.
I climbed onto the guardrail of the bridge I was crossing, and my eyes seemed to zoom in on the water—I think it’s a shot Hitchcock invented for Vertigo: the lens swoops down and then up again. I felt dizzy. I laughed at the thought of feeling dizzy in a dream and looked down again, holding tight, so as not to fall. I felt sick and screamed. But I didn’t wake up.
Now I’m awake. Not asleep. I woke up today and out there was New York.
I climbed down off the guardrail and went home, embarrassed because the cars were honking at me. I was walking along the pavement and they were honking because I was wearing pyjamas.
Okay, I gave it a try too. I closed my eyes, counted dead aliens and actually managed to get to sleep.
But when I woke up, I wasn’t in New York and I still hadn’t worked out where I wanted to go. The kid in the thick-rimmed glasses was sitting next to me, grinning broadly in the lightless room.
I got up and went looking for the owner of the internet café.
I walked to the front of the shop where you can buy cigarettes, alcohol, wine gums, liquorice, börek, vending-machine coffee, chewing gum, football stickers, newspapers and sunglasses. The owner was gone. The door opened and a bent old man walked in. He had only three hairs, but they were very long ones—two sprouting from his left temple and one from his right ear—and he threw coins into the saucer on the counter. I didn’t react at first, but when the man still hadn’t moved five minutes later, I went to the fridge and opened a beer for him. He snatched it from my hand, pushed me aside and left the shop. I was about to head back to the computer room when the alien boy appeared in front of me and said: ‘Number nineteen.’ I told him I was sure the owner would be back soon. He came round the counter and showed me how to activate PC number nineteen.
‘Now you know for next time,’ he said and returned to the computer room.
Listen, my vanisher, my fading flaking one, something’s going on here, in this city—this hole. I don’t know how it got there, but there’s a toothpick sticking out from between my teeth. If you’re asleep, wake up. I’m here. If you’re awake—awake and far away—I’ve heard about this door. It’s in a fast-food joint in New York; you go through it and you’re in Berlin, in the middle of Neukölln.
Are you sure the door’s in New York? I thought it was in Paris. I once saw a film about it. But never mind—maybe there’s more than one.
So now you’re the owner of an internet café. But I wonder—do we have to submit to our fate? Can’t we sometimes choose not to? The toothpick might be the thin end of the wedge—keep an eye out for any other changes, please. Don’t listen to the old people; listen to the children. Anyone who gets lost in a computer game could be me. Treat every one of them as if I might leap out of them at any time—as if they might be my door.
I went out—fully dressed this time—to find the door that leads out of this game. And again I felt myself being drawn somewhere, as if I knew where I was going.
I walked to a house—it’s a museum these days. An old woman who came up to my belly button took me by the hand and pulled me up the wooden stairs. She told me about two families who’d lived there. One in 1890 before the Tenement House Act and one in 1910, after the law had been passed. Both Jewish. One not too bothered about being Jewish, the other without any choice in the matter because their six children had to work in the factories and the factories don’t keep Shabbes.
She told me about sixteen-year-old Clara, the leader of a strike. The strike was followed by twelve thousand women and the women were followed by almost as many men. Clara had her ribs broken, every one of them.
The woman told me about cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and tuberculosis—part of everyday life because the drinking water was contaminated—and she explained that the labour movement didn’t get going until after the factory fire when the fire brigade didn’t have enough ladders to rescue the girls from the burning buildings. Hundreds of girls stepped hand-in-hand out of the windows. That was in New York City, Lower East Side, the most densely populated part of America, where most of the newly arrived immigrants went to live—five thousand a day. The immigrants watched the factory burn and the next day they had to send their children to work in other factories that were no safer than the one that had caught fire.
She kept saying, I’m telling you this so you’ll understand.
I don’t think I do—in fact, I know I don’t. I can’t. I belong to the generation that pays through the nose to move into the areas their great-great-great-great-grandparents were desperate to leave.
She kept on whispering these stories into my belly button and I took it all in, without knowing what to answer. She didn’t ask for an answer anyway.
But I suddenly didn’t feel like leaving through a door in the usual way. Maybe I ought to stay a little. Maybe there’s something here I need to do. Something I need to understand. Does that make sense to you?
When the world becomes a wall and puts up walls around you,
when every run-up you take ends up running you into that wall,
when you ask thousands of times and every time the answer is no,
when you want to sleep but sleep isn’t granted you,
the Turkish expression is: They’ve breathed tuberculosis into me.
This city, this country have breathed tuberculosis into me.
You’ve breathed tuberculosis into me.
My mother was always saying that.
My father was the one who got TB.
The Turkish for tuberculosis doesn’t sound like a medical term. The Turkish word sounds like damnation. When I hear it, I see mothers making fists and beating them against their heads.
You must stay where you are. You must ask lots of questions and, more important, you must listen.
The images that grow out of our words have a history that goes back further than ours. You had to travel ten thousand miles to work out where the lack of feeling here comes from.
The alien-killing kids in the internet café laugh a lot. So do the workman who come here in their lunchbreak for dry börek and bitter tea. But behind their laughter—behind their raised glasses and nods and calls—I sense something else, something that isn’t funny at all. I hear the snap of a sixteen-year-old’s ribs, the breath of a worker sick with tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis, the crackle of burning factories. The crackle of burning cars. They laugh, but their laughter contains its own death.
Maybe I should stay put for a little longer too. Or maybe I’ve already been here too long—maybe I’m the one who should be looking for that door.
Maybe it’s all the same in the end.
I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s all the same in the end. We get tired, that’s all, because it’s so different every time—but hey, baby, what can we do? Hide? Chicken out? No, we keep going, in at the deep end every time, running into walls, because the kids have chalked doors and windows on them and we think they’re real, we think we can walk through them. The chalk’s come off on my forehead. People think I’m pale because I don’t sleep. And it’s true, I don’t. But the white on my face is chalk that’s rubbed off the wall.
I whizzed through the city, round and round in circles like a spinning top. Do you know where the K-word for Jews comes from? From kikel, the Yiddish word for circle. That’s the story anyway. They say that when the Jews came to America they were told to mark their entry papers with a cross. The Jews refused, because only Christians made crosses. They made circles instead—kikes. Anyway, I was doing my rounds and bumped into a woman I know. You know her too. The one with the fiery red hair. The one with the accordion, do you remember, who drove us all mad in Berlin. Yes, that one. She’s here in New York now, singing and playing again. She said I should come…her address…and something about a few songs she was going to play. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her hair’s white now. As white as the chalk doors on the wall. She told me it happened quite suddenly, when she came back to America. She got off the ship and pouf! Her hair was white.
The waiters all wore tailcoats and masks. The MC was a drag queen who gave me a long lecture about why she hated white people. When the show began, girls charged onto the stage. It was right by my head; they almost touched my ears when they kicked their legs in the air. One of them bent down and gave me a quick kiss before taking a flying leap onto the disco ball overhead and doing a snake dance, swinging from the ceiling.
By the time my accordionist came on stage, I was covered with roses and burst balloons and glitter. They stuck to my sweat like feathers sticking to tar.
I stared at the stage. The accordion squeezed out twenties sounds and the red lips shrieked Edith Piaf songs beneath white, white hair. I wondered if the same would have happened to me if I’d entered the country legally. Maybe it’s the price you have to pay. You have to leave something behind. If you’re unlucky, that something is the fire that makes you who you are.
I wondered whether she was a spinning top like me. I know she was born and grew up here, but what difference does that make to a spinning top? They never stop turning. On and on. They can’t stop, no matter where they’re going. Even if they put down roots, the centrifugal force rips them out again.
We’re all turning—around our own axes, of course, but along a path, too, lashing about us with our earthy roots, as if they were whips.
After the show, I gave the white-haired woman the crystals that had fallen off the chandelier into my lap. Then I left the club.
Yesterday the little alien killer came to the shop earlier than usual. He didn’t come to play, though. I was about to activate a computer for him, the way he’d shown me, but he shook his head. He said: ‘It’s time to go.’ He pressed a paper cone into my hand, like German children have on their first day of school. ‘You have to school me in,’ he said.
I told him I’d never done anything like that before. He said it was easy, he’d schooled in his big brother the year before. But today his big brother was sick.
I hadn’t left the shop for days. I can’t sleep anyway. For a moment, I thought I was locked in, but then the old man with the three hairs came breezing through the door.
At first I didn’t want to leave the shop unattended, then I wanted to, but didn’t dare. I don’t know why. I had the impression I was doing my job well. I give the guy his beer and he’s happy. He doesn’t smile, but he’s happy. I activate the computers for the kids and they don’t say thank you, but they can escape—leave the world behind. I never wanted to run an internet café. I don’t know how it happened.
‘The shop,’ I said to the boy.
He said I took this shop thing too far.
Speaking more to myself than to him, I told him what you’d written to me: Anyone who gets lost in a computer game could be me. Treat every one of them as if I might leap out of them at any time—as if they might be my door.
I looked at the boy. ‘Maybe you’re her door.’
He gave me a withering look.
We filled the cone with sweets from the counter. I added a couple of Jägermeister miniatures; alcohol can have a soothing effect in times of upheaval.
As we left the shop, I grew wistful. I switched out the light and turned over the OPEN sign. The boy tugged at my sleeve.
I schooled him in in Schöneberg because he said he didn’t want to go to the same school as his big brother. Parents had dressed their children in suits and frocks and they videoed and snapped photos non-stop. When at last we found the school hall, a teacher came up to us with a list, but I didn’t know the boy’s name. The teacher shook her head in disgust. She said it was no wonder; of course people couldn’t remember the names of their children when they churned them out like a factory production line. ‘And we’re expected to integrate them.’
The boy tore the list from her hands, and a pen, and placed a tick next to his name. Then he pulled me into the hall. His name was Dilay Ergün.
Inside, the second graders performed a chicken dance and chanted the alphabet. After that, the headmistress told the parents that firstly they should become Friends of the School and secondly they shouldn’t send their children to school on bikes—although exercise and a nutritious diet were, of course, essential to their children’s learning skills. She added that the children were taught to interact with other children—there was a Communication and Social Behaviour Class twice a week. I glanced at Dilay. He said that meant he’d have to do a chicken dance next year.
Dilay explained that next, the headmistress would call the kids onto the stage, one class at a time. When his name was called, he would give me a sad look and pretend he was scared and didn’t want to leave me. He might even cry a little. He told me to take him in my arms and pretend to comfort him, then send him tenderly off to the stage. That way, they wouldn’t suspect us of being integration refuseniks.
He really did cry. And then, at last, the teacher who had shaken her head with such disgust gave him an encouraging nod and took him by the hand. Dilay winked at me.
Dilay’s a spinning top like you. They’ll try to stamp him into the ground.
Will they succeed?
I like the term integration refusenik. It’s a term I associate with only the most sympathetic people, or let’s say with all my friends and all their friends—in fact with everyone I know. I’ve no idea what the opposite of an integration refusenik is. Is there a word for it?
Here’s an example from my own experience as an integration refusenik—which I hereby declare the expression of the day.
The handle on my front door fell off—on the outside, on the landing. I was on my way out and when I rattled it, I heard it drop to the floor on the other side. So I went and lay on the sofa and tried to sleep. That was a few days ago. I’d stopped counting the nights I had lain there, hypnotised by the fan on the ceiling above me. When I looked in the mirror, I could see the shadows around my eyes growing darker and darker. The blades of the fan beat deep rings into the middle of my face and it was getting more and more painful to keep my eyes open, but I couldn’t close them. I counted the blades. I knew there were three when it was still, but everything was moving so fast. The propeller spun around my hot head at 180 blades a minute.
Today, though—I don’t know why—maybe because I was in a good mood or because it was my birthday, I leapt up off the sofa, tugged at the door and it opened. I was astonished. I’d thought I would never get out.
I spent a long time wondering how to spend the day, but in the end I decided it would let me know soon enough, and I went into the bathroom to have a shower. There was a cockroach sitting in the bath. Again. Nearly every day I find this cockroach in my bath and kill it, but it must have seriously fucked up in life because it keeps reincarnating as a cockroach in my bathtub. Either that or my bathtub is a kind of incarnation pool and I’ve been chosen to help lost souls.
I wondered who the cockroach might be. Being in America, the only people I could come up with were presidents. Maybe Kennedy. I asked it, but it didn’t reply. I asked if it would mind leaving, because I wanted to have a shower. But it didn’t move. I asked if it had come to be helped to a higher stage of life and it started to scuttle about like mad. I took that as a yes.
After assassinating Kennedy, I had a shower and went to the kiosk on the corner where I picked out a pair of shades. I didn’t want people seeing all the furrows where my eyes used to be. The kiosk man took the shades out of my hand and placed a nectarine in my open palm. I looked first at the nectarine, then at the man. For a second, I thought it might be you. Then he asked me where I was from and I knew it wasn’t you. I said Germany. He frowned.
—Why? he asked.
—What do you mean, why? Why am I here? That’s a long—
—No. Why Germany?
Oh. I wondered what to say, then shrugged.
We both laughed.
—Stay, he said.
Is that all? I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud. Is that all you can say on the matter?
—I did, he said. I stayed.
I put the nectarine in my mouth, whole, and walked to Grand Central. I don’t know why I chose to go there—maybe because I was in a good mood or because it was my birthday. I walked against the flow of the crowd. Everyone came streaming towards me. I had the impression there was nobody—not a single person on the planet—who wasn’t walking towards me. Above us was a green starry sky. I couldn’t distinguish it from the real sky. And maybe because I was under that starry sky or because I was in a good mood or—well, at any rate, I began to dance. I imagined that the crowds of people surging past me were waves of music and I was dancing to them. I danced because I didn’t know what else to do. I danced because I didn’t know where to go.
The Yankees say the Germans wear ‘don’t-kiss-me’ badges. I kissed everyone who drifted past me.
Outside it grew dark and began to rain. My train wasn’t running. The rain came on so hard that the taxis wouldn’t stop. I had no ticket for the game and went on foot, knowing more than ever that I was a guest in my own dreams. Sometimes they kick me out; sometimes they don’t even let me in. Sometimes they piss rain into my whisky, while Leonard Cohen sings me home in my head.
I drink with Leonard to integration refuseniks like us.
‘At twenty-six,’ Ionesco says in Le Solitaire, ‘it’s time to get out of the rat race. If there is a rat race.’ The age is different in Ionesco, but not by much.
After Dilay’s schooling-in, I didn’t feel like going home or back to the shop—which comes to pretty much the same thing these days. I went out to walk the streets instead. Maybe I was still processing the idea that my new friend was going to be turned into a chicken. Or maybe it was because it was one of the only evenings without rain that summer—or because it was your birthday.
I stopped at an internet café—not mine—and wrote you the schooling-in email. When I went to pay, the man at the till waved me away. They can tell you’re one of them from the way you carry yourself. On the shelves behind the till there was only bad whisky and I stopped drinking beer a long time ago, so I went out sober. After I’d gone a few steps, I realised that my hands were in my trouser pockets, pushing the skirt of my blue raincoat into a kind of tail behind my elbows. That wouldn’t have been possible with a bottle in my hand and the thought gave me some small satisfaction.
I walked and walked, not too slowly, not too fast. It was a Saturday evening and the further into Kreuzberg I went, the more people flooded out onto the streets. At Schlesisches Tor, I went to the loo in a kebab shop called Bagdad. The loo door led onto a backyard; it was dark out there, but hundreds of people were dancing. A DJ was spinning techno. A girl kissed the barman for giving her a free shot. The barman’s girlfriend slapped him in the face and stalked off into the kebab shop. I thought of ordering sparkling wine to clink glasses with her, but it wasn’t the right place and sparkling wine wasn’t the right drink, so I asked the barman for a nectarine. Since reading your last email I know why.
—What’ll you do with it? he asked
—Put it in my mouth.
He had no nectarines. At Schlesisches Tor underground station a skinhead was playing the cello. On Oberbaum Bridge I stopped between the pillars and looked out over the water to the television tower and the city lights. As I set off again I saw that there was someone standing at every pillar, looking out over the water to the television tower. One person at every pillar, standing, staring.
Who were all these people? When had this happened? How long had I been holed up in my shop? I’d become a stranger in my own city. I felt like the solitary man in Ionesco’s novel who withdraws from life and spends the rest of his days drinking Beaujolais. While he lives this reclusive life, revolutions are fought and wars waged. Houses are bombed to pieces, roads are destroyed—but his house remains and so does he. By the end, the city around him has disappeared, but he hasn’t budged an inch.
I came to an open gateway on Boxhagener Strasse. It was dark; I walked into the darkness. In the backyard was a small garden and beyond it was a second backyard. I tried the yard door and it opened. Voices and music drifted out. Two men and a woman came out of the house and said: ‘Fourth floor.’
‘Okay,’ I said.
On the fourth-floor door it said Free State of Bavaria in big letters. The music stopped for a moment and I knocked. A girl in a dirndl came to the door, smiled and drawled ‘Hi!’ at me, as if we were actors in the same soap. Who knows, maybe we were. Then she said: ‘Have you come from the Fuckparade?’
Her: Yeah, the Fuck-the-Loveparade Parade.
Me: The Loveparade doesn’t exist any more.
Her: Now there’s the Fuckparade.
Me: I’ve heard there’s this door. You walk through it and you come out in New York.
Her: Yeah, come along.
We went into a room at the end of the passage. Glenn Miller’s ‘Chatanooga Choo Choo’ ground out of broken speakers, and besuited men in patent-leather shoes and women in dresses were dancing swing. A pair of antlers hung from a chandelier. The girl pushed me through the room. We climbed a ladder onto a loft bed and kept crawling. Next to a bookcase, a small door led into a room you could enter only on all fours. It was dark and I said nothing but I could feel something soft underneath me—a mattress. I reached the wall and leant against it. She sat on my lap. It was hot. I said: ‘This isn’t New York.’
She said: ‘Yes, it is. In New York, it would have been just like this.’
I said: ‘Okay.’
She gave me three wishes.
I wished for:
- a kiss
- a whisky
- ‘So Long, Marianne’ by Leonard Cohen
She gave me a kiss. She flicked on her lighter and said: ‘There’s the whisky.’ It was a Talisker. Fifty-six per cent. She opened the bottle and poured a swig into the dirty, lipstick-stained glass beside it. Then she left, closing the door behind her.
It was dark and quiet. I could smell the spicy scent of the Talisker. I thought of Dilay, my alien-killer friend. There must have been speakers in the room because I could hear ‘So Long, Marianne’.
I took a slug of whisky and held it in my mouth for a long time. Then I said into the whisky glass: ‘So long, Marianne. Happy birthday.’
I was in New York.
I fell asleep.
Tr. Imogen Taylor