"Every gal in Constantinople,
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople.
So if you've a date in Constantinople,
She'll be waiting in Istanbul."
-They Might Be Giants
After I returned from Cancun, I had a few days to get reacquainted with New York before I was on a plane to Turkey to spend a month with my Father and his wife.
Let me give you a little background on the area we were staying in before I get to the story.
We were staying in the Asian part of Istanbul. The village we were in was on the eastern side of a large lake. The Bosphorus is to the west, and further west is Istanbul proper. To the north a bit is the Black Sea (just to give you an idea of where we were). We were in a small town called Yalova. A community of villas right on the water. Behind the villas, out of view from the water is a small mountain range blocking the way to the east. Beyond the mountains is a Turkish Air Force base.
The base would occasionally test their pilots by putting them in surplus World-War II fighter planes, having them fly over the water, cut the engines and coast for thirty seconds. They then re-start the engines and fly home. I couldn't even tell you how many times I wished for some sort of anti-aircraft weapon. Those planes were quite annoying. Every time I heard one of the engines cut out, I would sit and wait for the sound of the plane crashing into the water.
Supposedly, once a plane did crash, but I wasn't there to witness it.
Another fun thing to do in the village was watching helicopters from the base fly over the beach.
The first time it happened to me, I heard copters going by and didn't think much of it. I hear copters all the time in New York, so I didn't even notice it. At least, until it started getting louder and louder. I looked up from where I was laying on the beach to see a copter flying over the sand about twenty-five feet off the ground. It was a Huey gunship, and there were troops leaning over the weapons looking down at the girls on the beach. At first I thought it was kind of funny. A way to check things out from the air. I gave the guys credit. It was something I would probably do if I had a helicopter myself. Then I noticed the cloud of kicked-up sand that was following the copter. As soon as the copter flew over me, I was engulfed in a mini sandstorm. So maybe it's not that funny.
Thankfully, this only happened twice the entire time I was there. Someone must have complained to the base.
Another thing to pass the time is watching Soviet submarines cruise by.
The Black Sea is one of Russia's only port areas, and the Bosphorus is the only way out. It's also not very deep, so the subs have to surface to get through it. It's actually really cool to see. Unfortunately, it wasn't very common, and I never had my camera with me when I saw one going by. Another fun pastime is waiting for the electricity and water to turn back on. As we were in a small village, we ran our power from a small local generator that would occasionally (at least once a night) cut out. It was actually beautiful to watch all the stars. Remember, we were in a very rural area, and when the power went out, you could see more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Literally, shooting star after shooting star, all night long.
The water also would turn off every so often, usually when I was in the shower, or brushing my teeth.
The last pastime in Yalova is drinking. Now Turkey is a Moslem country, and alcohol is a no-no to Muslims. But they also don't have any regulations governing alcohol. No age requirement, or laws of any sort involving the distribution of it. So any one of any age can go into a bar and get a drink. I think the rule is, if you can reach the bar, they'll serve you. Of course, if you are a teenager, and your father finds out you've been drinking, he'll beat the hell out of you, probably while drunk himself.
This is really all you have to look forward to while in Yalova.
When I got off the plane, my dad was waiting for me in the airport. In the car on the way to Yalova (a two hour ride at least) he told me that he had arranged my marriage to a girl that was staying in the village. He told me I'd like her; she was exactly my type.
Now, I had two thoughts in my mind at the time:
1: He's completely making this up. There is no girl; it's just a joke. Or,
2: There is a girl in the village that is hideous, and my father is going to play it off like she and I are engaged.
Those were really the only two options.
That night we were sitting on the patio having drinks (and remember, I just started drinking for the first time in my life a few weeks ago. As far as my father knew, I was not a drinker. It was very difficult not to drink myself silly anytime there was a drink in front of me.) with a few of my father's friends. There were two girls at the table with us. One older woman who had not kept well and one young, HOT girl. Allow me to describe her in detail; she had long auburn hair, greenish-brown eyes, smooth olive skin, and a very nice tan. Of course the hot one was sitting with this other young preppy guy. So I figured that my suspicion was right. My dad is going to pretend that the old lady is my fiancé.
We left the patio and went to the local café/nightclub to continue the conversation. The hot girl held the preppy guys hand during the whole walk over.
When we finally left the café, my dad asked what I thought of the hot girl (who, by the way, said about three words the whole night). I said she was pretty, but seemed taken.
"Taken by who?" he asked.
"The guy whose hand she was holding all night."
"No, that's her brother. You're not in New York. There are different customs over here," he told me.
"Whatever, it really doesn't matter, does it?"
"Yes it does," he told me.
"That's your fiancé."
My father had talked to her parents and somehow set me up with her before I had met either her or them.
What do you do in a situation like this? My father assured me that we didn't have to get married, this was more of a way for the families to get closer. He gave me some information about her. Her name was Handé, she was in high school in Istanbul, and was about seventeen.
So, the next day when I was walking around reacquainting myself with the village, I bumped into her. I then discovered that she spoke about twelve words in English. Actually, she spoke a little more, but was very shy about using it.
It's funny, when I'm over there, I meet some people who love to try out their English with me, no matter how bad it is. They also usually want me to teach them American slang. Some people (like Handé) refuse to even try for fear of sounding stupid. Of course, this is also the reason that I don't speak much Turkish when I'm over there. I know a lot of words, but I am lousy at putting them together to form coherent sentences. (I'm not much better at doing it in English, either.) Of all the Turkish that I actually do know, more than half of it is the worst gutter slang you could ever hear. That's what people teach me, so that's what I know.
Where was I? Oh yeah, she didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak much Turkish. A match made in heaven.
Now, don't get me wrong, I had no interest in marrying this girl, or being engaged to her either. She may have been pretty, but she was a little too young for me. I was about twenty at the time, and a seventeen year old…well, it's illegal in some states. Besides, I had resigned myself to getting back together with my high school sweetheart when I got home. But….every guy in the village was soooo jealous that I was walking around with her.
The way the culture is over there, you really can't walk around with a girl unless her father gives you permission, and none of them could get it. I had permission. A license to look cool. So I decided to have fun anyway.
My father had a friend of his staying with us in Yalova. Mujdat Gezen. Apparently, he's one of the most famous people in all of Turkey. An actor, musician, comedian, writer, director, playwright. You name any job in the entertainment business that there is, he does it. He's the Steve Allen of Turkey. At least he spoke English well, so I had someone to talk to. For the first week in Turkey, I did nothing. A lot of my old friends had not come by for the summer, and there weren't too many new people around. My tan from Club Med had already started to fade, and compared to the water in Cancun, the water in Yalova was like raw sewage. Not as bad as Jones beach here in New York, but not quite the Caribbean.
For two weeks, I would spend a small part of my day with Handé, a small part with my family, and the rest in the café relaxing.
One day, at the end of my second week in Yalova, Handé and I were out in the boat together cruising around when I decided to ask for a kiss. I don't know why I did, I just did. She said no. In her broken English, and my understanding in broken Turkish, she explained that she couldn't. If anyone saw, they would tell her father, and she would get in trouble. I told her I understood and dropped the subject.
She asked me how old I was, and I told her. She giggled. I asked her how old she was, and she told me. My jaw dropped. About seventeen my eye. She was fifteen.
I drove the boat back to the shore, said good-bye, and walked home. Mind you, I didn't do it in a bad way, I did it as though nothing was wrong. I was very casual.
When I got home I asked my dad how fifteen is "about" seventeen. He just smiled. Oh well.
I had another two weeks in Turkey, I could avoid her until it was time to leave. No reason to be rude, I'd just lay low until it was time to leave.
The next day I bumped into Handé at the café. She told me that she had to go back to Istanbul tomorrow to re-take a test that she had failed during the year, but would be back in a week.
The next morning I woke up to someone knocking on the door to my room. I yelled, "Come in," and there was Handé. She walked over to me, said good-bye, and gave me a little kiss on the lips. She left, and I never saw her again. It seems she failed the make-up test and ended up in summer school.
My father reminded me later how improper it is for a girl to ever go up to a boy's room in Turkey, and how much trouble she could have gotten into for it. He told me that I should have been impressed by how much she liked me. Yeah, but she's fifteen!!
Anyway. So we're having lunch in the house one day. It's me, my father, his wife, Mujdat, and this other friend of my fathers. He's a reporter for a very big Turkish newspaper. While talking, I mention that I'm an Auxiliary Police Officer in New York. Of course, they have absolutely no understanding of Auxiliary, so as far as he's concerned, I'm a Cop. He asks if he can interview me for his newspaper. I tell him to go right ahead.
He asks me about things that have happened to me while on duty and about how dangerous New York really is. I play it down and tell him that it's really not as bad as everyone thinks. He takes a picture of Mujdat, my father and me standing together, and takes a picture that I brought with me of me in my Police uniform. I ask when this will be printed, and he says probably some time next week.
A few days later, my stepmother leaves to go back to New York so she can register for classes. She was taking ESL courses at Queens College.
As soon as she left, everything changed. My father got friendlier, and we decided to leave the next day and stay in Istanbul with Mujdat until our return flight.
I have about four days until I fly home, and now my tan is almost completely gone. So I take the boat out, drop the anchor, crank up the music and take a nap.
I can hear one of the planes going by, but think nothing of it. It starts to sink in that the plane has been flying for a while without cutting the engine, and in fact, the sound of the engine is getting louder.
I open my eyes to see where the plane is, but really don't need to look too hard. It's on a strafing run towards my boat, maybe ten feet over my head. That is quite the scary experience. He overflew me, and the sound of the engine that close to my head, and in that high of a rev almost deafened me, but I can almost swear that I could hear him laughing. He almost capsized me. I was able to keep the boat up, but I was now standing in a few inches of water. I don't for sure know that the guns on that plane don't work, and I'm having a really tough time keeping the boat from tipping. Waves are churning the water white, and I can see the plane looping around for another run.
I swear I thought I was in a movie. One part of my brain knew that this guy was just having fun and had no intention of opening up the guns on me, but another, smaller part of my brain knew that when he came into range, those twin 50's were going to shred me and my little outboard.
So I did what any good movie hero would do. As soon as he was level with the boat (I could actually see the guy now), and about to press the trigger, I jumped overboard to safety as he cruised over me (even lower than he was last time).
When I popped my head out of the water, I saw him flying off to continue his maneuvers. I crawled back in the boat when it had stopped rocking, pulled anchor, and puttered home.
The next morning we left Yalova for Istanbul. As I left, I promised myself I would never come back.
And so far, I haven't.
In Istanbul, we were guests of Mujdat's, and as such, were taken to the best restaurants and night clubs, and always had a table reserved for us. We also always entered the clubs through the back door, never the front (once again, like being in a movie).
One night we got to the restaurant late, and I was hungry. I asked the waiter for a menu, and he told me that the kitchen was closed and the chef had gone home. I said okay, and a few minutes later, the Maitre'd came over and asked if I was still hungry. I told him I was, and he said they had called the chef at home and had him come back in to cook for me. What did I want?
The next night my father and I went to a night club. When we walked in (through the back door), the band actually stopped in mid-song and said hello to us. When we sat down, they played the only song they knew in English, "My Way."
The next night was our last night in Istanbul, so we decided to see a performance of Mujdat's new play. We watched it, but since it was in Turkish, I had no idea what was going on. So I just watched the dancers. Since it was a Turkish play, there were plenty of scantily clad female dancers all over the stage.
During the intermission I went back stage to talk to Mujdat. He showed me today's newspaper with a picture of me on the front page.
As I couldn't read it myself, I asked him to translate. He laughed and said okay.
According to the article, the last time Mujdat was in New York, he got jumped by three guys, and I was the Police officer that saved his life. When he found out that I was Turkish, he invited my father and me to be his guests in Istanbul as a reward. Apparently, yellow journalism runs rampant over there. Of course, everyone that reads the paper believes it, so I became somewhat of a minor celebrity that night.
After the show, Mujdat introduced us to the dancers. My father invited two of the girls to come to dinner with us.
We drove to a place called "Club 21." It's on a small Island, and so you need to take a boat to get there. This is one of the premiere night clubs in Istanbul.
After dinner and three bottles of wine, we all started dancing. Because these are professional dancers that we are with, and they were famous throughout Europe, people actually stood back from the dance floor to watch us dance.
Two more bottles of wine, and it's now about three in the morning. We got in the boat, got in the car, and drove the first girl home.
She got out of the car, and it's now me and the other dancer in the back-seat and my father driving. Of course, I know I'm wasted, but figure that my father must be sober. I start kissing the girl, and my father is watching in the mirror. In fact, he was watching so intently that he rammed into a taxi.
Now, there's no such thing as insurance in Turkey. If you get into an accident that is not your fault, you are responsible for getting payment out of the guy that hit you yourself. If you don't, too bad.
We jump out of the car and start yelling at the cabbie. All I really know how to say in Turkish are curses, and they seemed to fit the bill. So my father is arguing, and I'm cussin' like a Turkish sailor while the girl is falling asleep in the back-seat.
We brush the cabbie off, get back in the car and drive away.
By about 5 a.m. we drop this girl off and head back towards the center of Istanbul. All the while, the passenger side door keeps flying open from where we swiped the cabbie.
We pull up in front of Mujdat's house at about 6, wake him up, grab our luggage, climb into his car, and drive to the airport.
By 8 a.m. we're on a plane and still drunk. My father was in first class, while I was for some reason in coach. About fifteen minutes after takeoff I walked into first class, and had a seat next to my dad. We both passed out.
Thirteen hours later we landed in JFK, and as we were going through customs I asked my father who was picking us up. He told me it was my step-mother, and that was when I remembered that last night (or whenever it was) he had taken off his wedding ring before we went to the club.
So while we're walking towards the exit that will bring us into the arrivals area, my father is searching his pockets for his ring. He finds it just as we open the doors and see his wife up ahead waving at us.
We said hello, and my step-mother said, "Mujdat called and wanted me to tell you that the car would be fixed by Tuesday. What happened to the car?"
My father and I looked at each other, and I told her that someone had side swiped it when it was parked.
My father and I shook our heads, "Damn Turkish drivers," he said.
"Probably a taxi," I added.
We fell into the car, went home, and never talked about that night again.
Until my step-mother found the pictures from the night in the club. There was quite the huge fight, but since technically he didn't do anything, all was finally forgiven.
I should add that in another story about my father, I told some of the bad stories about him. I guess I was in a nagging mood. There are some good stories about him, not all along the lines of this one, and I may one day get around to writing them up. I don't take back anything that I wrote last time, but Dad, if you're reading this one, you are the greatest, and one day I'll write some nice stories about you. If you're lucky.
If you have any questions, E-Mail me. Spat@spat-nospam-cave.com