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The Rug that Changed Color
Watch Toby Read This Story
Kip and I tell a story about our visit to a carpet store named Lapis in Istanbul.
We were on an RSVP Cruise in 1993 on a ship called the Stella Solaris.
The cruise started in Athens, then to Istanbul, then down the coast to
Kusadasi and Ephesus, then across to the Greeks Isles of Rhodes,
Santorini, and Mykonos, then back to Athens.
In Istanbul, the tour guide took us to the Blue Mosque, Hajia Sophia,
an ancient cemetery, the Topkapi Palace, the Bazaar, and then to Lapis,
an upscale carpet store, where we were taken to a private viewing room.
We sat around this large room on straight back chairs, sipping on apple
tea, while a bevy of young, dark and handsome Turkish carpet salesmen
brought out rug after rug, throwing them to the floor with dramatic
flourish and urging us to come over and look closer. Well, the carpets
were very expensive. Kip and I had no need for a carpet, nor money in
the budget for such an extravagance, though other guys on the cruise
were shopping enthusiastically.
As the ship was departing later than evening, a message was received
from Lapis, the carpet store, that that had been their best day in a
season, and they were grateful to RSVP for our patronage. I hope they
understood they’d made their windfall on a shipload of gay men!
Well, we tried to slip out to escape the sales pitches, and found a
staircase going down at the back of the building. We figured we could
leave through the alley and then wait for the group in front. When we
got to the next floor down, we were enthusiastically welcomed—that is,
accosted—by yet another salesman, this one older and wiser looking and
even better dressed than all the others. He declared that we must be
looking for something special!
He promised he had it. He took us back into the secret rooms where they
sold the really good stuff. The basis of judging the value of these
carpets seemed to be the number of women who had gone blind
weaving them. It started with 3, then 5, then 9. The knots were getting
finer and finer and the silk shinier and shinier and the carpets more
expensive and dear, and Kip and me more and more embarrassed and
chagrined with our decision to try to slip out. What had we gotten
Well, we kept saying no, and finally, the old man let us go. And then
we were out on the street, relieved. The rest of the group was coming
out of Lapis about that time too, so we were able to rejoin the tour
which was straggling down to the bottom of the hill where the bus was
We were again accosted by a carpet salesman, but now though not a
purveyor of carpets so dear and not dressed so elegantly. This little
guy was selling throw rugs that he carried in a pile stacked over his
shoulder. He was a short, stocky, burly fellow with a big mustache. His
gimmick was that the carpets were woven in such a way that when you
looked at them from one direction they were one color, but from the
other direction a different color, blue this way, red that way. The
little man demonstrated by throwing a rug onto the ground, then running
over to pick it up, spin it around and throw it back down, now changing
We kept walking. He kept following. We’d gotten slightly separated by
about 15 feet. I was in front, he was pursuing me. At first the rugs
were expensive. Maybe a $100 for this one or that one. There was one he
kept throwing out, and dropping the price with each offer. It had
gotten down to $25 when I got so exasperated I shoo’d him off and
swiftly walked away.
He fell back a little and started in on Kip. The same routine, with the
price dropping and dropping. But then a new offer got added. “I be your
lady,” he announced. And sort of pointed to an alley way we were
passing. He stopped and pressed his hands against the crotch of his
pants to outline what indeed looked like a very big and very thick male
member. Kip brushed him aside, embarrassed but sort of excited by the
suggestion, but also repulsed by the offerer. “$15,” he announced,
“$15. I be your lady,” throwing the rug down and running after it.
Kip picked up the pace and caught up with me, “What do you think of the
rug?” he asked. “Well, ok, that’s pretty cheap; it would be a good
souvenir." As the little rug salesman caught up with us, I said, “OK,
I’ll take it. You said $25,” as I pulled the money out of my wallet and
handed it to him. So the blue and red rug was ours for 25. And the
salesman dropped back and started his spiel with the people behind us.
As we looked over our purchase, Kip reported that he’d been offered an
even better bargain at $15, but then he would have had to look at the
man’s penis. We decided the $10 was a worthy cost for not having to
have had that experience—and in that alley back there.
We have since cut the carpet in half and used it to upholster two side
chairs we bring out for extra seating at Thanksgiving. We always get to
tell the story, and laugh about the rug salesman who got away. Or whom
we got away from.
Toby Johnson, PhD is
author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of
teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and
religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual
issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's
spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor
of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth
of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the
real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual
qualities of gay male consciousness.