CHAPTER 5 – THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
After I moved to Istanbul with my mother, I didn’t have to hear another word of French if I didn’t feel like it. I still have issues with that damn language, including not speaking it well enough when I could have impressed some cute French girls later on in life.
My first months as a high school student were full of hope for the future. Here was a place where I could reinvent myself, where people didn’t know I used to wet my pants and got shit on by the class asshole. But of course that didn’t last long as I became part of a small group of outcasts. Geeks who were really into cool music without being cool themselves.
The high school I went to in Istanbul, I later found out, was in the more conservative part of town, with an overwhelming amount of staff and students supporting right-wing religious political views.
The Turkish constitution is very strict about the separation of church and state. But, like some other countries (Cough… USA… Cough), politicians cleverly use loopholes in the system and find ways of exploiting the public’s emotional connection with religion to their advantage. Anyway, enough with today’s lesson in politics, my point about the school’s right-wing disposition was that I had a hard time fitting in since I wasn’t particularly religious.
I wasn’t asked to pray five times a day like a good Muslim, and nobody I knew in my class even did that anyway, but I made it perfectly clear how much of a person of non-faith I really was. Maybe I should have faked being a true believer with hopes of scoring more with the religious girls. Would that make me a bad person?
I remember participating in endless conversations that seemed to be stuck on a loop of self-repeating insanity, most of them about the impossibility of proving the existence of god, which was always met with “You don’t know god, you FEEL god.”
I always wanted to respond with “I also feel it when I need to take an huge dump. Is that god?”, but I didn’t really feel like being beaten to a pulp and therefore becoming a martyr to the agnostic god who, according to his job description, might or might not exist.
So once again I wasn’t very popular with my peers in my new life and found myself ostracized and dateless presumably for another three years. The one thing that really made me mad about not being allowed inside the Muslim morality bandwagon was that the students with presumably a lot of faith in their religion were not very moral to begin with. In fact, a good chunk of them were flat-out perverts.
For example, they had developed an intricate communication system during class in order to let every boy know when one of the girls was sitting in a revealing position. High schools in Turkey enforce dress codes. Boys have to wear suits, complete with a white button-up shirt, a black jacket and tie that makes them look like rejects from a dinner theater production of Glengarry Glen Ross.
The rules for girls are not as strict, they can accessorize as long as they wear a similar white shirt, a blue sweatshirt and a skirt that has to run below the kneecaps. They don’t even have to wear pantyhose to cover their legs. Most of the boys’ prime targets sported bare legs.
Even with the skirts that were supposed to cover a lot, the ones worn by some of the especially fidgety girls in class constantly changing positions due to sheer boredom would eventually ride up to the thighs, giving the boys a front seat view of legville.
The system usually worked like a silent version of the telephone game. The first boy to notice the legs would point them to the boy closest to him, who did the same to the boy sitting closest to him and so on… Within a minute, every boy in class would stare at one girl’s exposed thigh with the subtlety and tactfulness of a hyena with Tourette’s.
If the girl finally figured out what was going on, the boys had a perfect excuse. The boy who got caught would rat out a poor orphan kid in our class who lived on school grounds and had a much-understood affinity for staring at girls. He just wasn’t as careful as the other boys and therefore was the perfect scapegoat.
There were two things most of the boys in class always talked about: How much they loved Allah and his prophet Mohammed’s teachings, praise be upon him, and how much they would love to fuck the shit of the girls in class who sport the biggest heinie. They always talked about how to use the sleaziest methods imaginable in order to trick girls into sex, yet thought that any girl who would have sex before marriage was a giant whore.
Sometimes my pure confusion as a response to their hypocrisy was unbearable. They would spend all of their time chasing after girls with the strict intention of boning them or at least score a blowie or a handie. When the girl didn’t put out after a couple of tries and actually turned out to be chaste, they would call her a dead fish and dumped her on the spot.
If any of the girls did comply after hours of intense pressure, which would make even Jack Bauer cringe, and even touched their filthy, lying-ass dicks, they would finally provide them with their much-needed sexual release but would henceforth be known as the class whore who was not “marriage material”.
You can bet your sweet ass that whichever boy was lucky enough to have their Muslim jimmies waxed made sure to climb the highest tower and announce to the world at the top of their lungs every little seedy detail of his encounter with the newly-minted slut.
Needless to point out, after the raging waves of gossip died down, that girl in question would become as popular as a Trekkie leper at a Star Wars convention and would live the rest of her high school days as an outcast from the “good” girls, as well as a source of mockery and harassment from the boys, who would think of ways for copping a quick feel of her ass and getting away with it.
Yet here I was, dateless once again, because most of the girls in class were people of faith, and did not see me as dating material because I wasn’t a “moral person” since I wasn’t a believer of Allah. The Muslim boys lied, cheated and manipulated their way into getting into girls’ skirts and unfairly branded them as morality-deprived women of the night and I was the immoral one. Figure that shit out.
I was the one kid who wasn’t going to judge them on their behavior in relation to a dogmatic religious moral code but was going to respect them on their own personal choices as human beings. And if one of those choices happened to be to sleep with me, who was I to judge that decision? I certainly wasn’t going to call them whores. Like George Carlin once said, “Giving someone an orgasm is hardly the worst thing you can do a person.”
Therefore, I didn’t have even close to Close Encounters with The Female Kind during all three years of high school. Forget about dates, I didn’t experience a single lead, hope, crush, interest to and from, or even a conversation with a member of the opposite sex that insinuated anything romantic or sexual. Wow, castrated Tibetan Monks got more action than this.
What can I say? Apart from the religious incompatibility, I was still fat, with kind of an abrasive personality mixed with entirely too low of a self-esteem. I would listen to “Loser” by Beck and think “I bet the person he describes in the lyrics had at least a date or two.”
But at least I found some friends who were just as hapless as I was, which brings me to my short-lived gangsta rap and hardcore metal career. As a way of completely contradicting the right-wing religious majority of the school, the rebellious left-wing minority took it upon themselves to overcompensate for their low numbers by acting like full-on communists who sported at least twenty piercings in their left earlobe alone and listening to every kind of music that would annoy the shit out of the crappy Turkish pop-listening “moral kids”.
To me, counteracting one type of fanaticism with another was not really the way to go. Although, on second thought, if I was willing to pretend that I loved opening more holes on my face than an innocent drive-by victim and lied about spending most of my free time jerking off to a gold-framed picture of Karl Marx, I could have bagged myself a kinky commie.
But I decided to keep it real, for whatever that was worth, which was nothing. I dressed very plainly and did not think for a second that participating in self-mutilation in order to show the world how rebellious I was would be such a swell idea. So I couldn’t really make it into the leftie kids’ club either.
However, a couple of the kids who kind of didn’t belong to either party got wind of my similarly ambiguous world view and approached me to join their group of outcasts. They had very liberal tendencies, yet some of them still believed in Allah and some of the teachings of Islam, apparently not enough to be accepted by the true believers.
We also shared another common ground since none of them were, like me, were semi-finalists in the looks department. They were zit-faced, awkward-looking, gangly kids who didn’t have a chance in hell of getting any girl to go out with them. That was why we decided to form a band.
Pretty much the only reason we wanted to create a band was so we could get some girls, which never happened because we could never find a venue to play in and more importantly, none of us really knew how to play an instrument, we didn’t have any musical talent and we could not even hold a rhythm.
Whenever there was a guitar lying around, someone would pick it up to play “Something in the Way” by Nirvana, which only has two chords where all you need to do is slide your middle finger to the third fret and then to the second every 4 seconds. A chimp could have played that song, with more feeling.
Our chosen genre, rap/metal hardcore, rapping in bad English I might add, did not help us much either. One of the kids in our posse had recently moved with his family from Germany. You see, a giant wave of immigration by the Turkish working class in the seventies and eighties had turned us into the Mexicans of Germany.
Decades after factory workers first immigrated to Deutschland, a lot of them decided to come back to Turkey with enough savings and work experience to become middle-class citizens.
Germany, as opposed to Turkey where most of the foreign music you could find was Caucasian rock and metal, was very big into gangsta rap during the early nineties. So this friend opened up our minds to the ridiculously violent and shamelessly misogynistic glory of Dr. Dre, 2Pac and Cypress Hill.
We didn’t really care that much that the content was vile and inexcusable, except for some of 2Pac’s more socially conscious songs. Most of us didn’t understand at least half of the lyrics anyway. It was only after a decade or so when I started realizing “Bitches ain’t shit but hos and tricks” might be a bit anti-woman.
Listening to this music was a form of counter culture activism for us. No one else had access to it or even heard of it. Hip-hop wasn’t as universally mainstream as it is now and that made us feel unique and cool while others looked at us like we were a crazy cult who spent their days listening to angry black men ceaselessly spitting out gibberish intercut with words like “Fuck” and “Bitch” every ten seconds.
Some of us were also major metal heads, so we came up with the genius idea of mixing rap with metal and forming a hardcore rap/metal band. Since I obviously had the best handle on the English language as someone who studied deep immersion French for the previous four years, I was mostly in charge of writing the rap lyrics, which mostly consisted of rhyming the words “Fuck” with “Duck”. This rhyming scheme forced me to write a number of songs that implied the joys of water bird bestiality.
Our guitarist did not know any chords and usually free-styled, playing random notes on the highest two strings on his decrepit acoustic guitar. His improvising made it really hard to maintain any level of consistency with any given song since, even though I was supposed to be rapping; my rhymes were accompanied by endless riffs of random strumming that didn’t even come close to matching the rhythm of the rap. But hey, it looked like everyone was having fun.
We even hired a studio once for a total of two hours, after which one of us said he felt bad that we didn’t record the session. I thank the god I don’t believe every day that we didn’t.
The session was two hours of off-beat drivel, with our “drummer” pounding on the drums without any concern for holding any kind of rhythm or beat, our “guitar player” free styling on the electric guitar while cranking all the levels to eleven, making the distortion blaring out of the amps sound like the hounds of hell suffering from the stomach flu.
I, on the other hand, was busy rapping lyrics that seemed to be written by a six-year-old sailor while trying to incorporate “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” as a clever hook. You see, the rap lyrics were full of obscenities and Old MacDonald was a wholesome song, which allowed me to accentuate the irony between… Ah, whatever.
It probably won’t be shocking to read that our band never really went anywhere and we didn’t score a single gig, or a single groupie. The vast space between reality and our wholly unrealistic expectations for the future of the band was so huge that when I brought up the idea of writing a hardcore rap song based on the traditional English tune Greensleeves, the guitar player actually said without a hint of irony, “That’s a great idea! We’ll do our first concert in England!”
After three years of unintentionally trying my hardest to become a social pariah once again, it was time to throw in the towel and hope that maybe things would change when I got to college. Why not, college was where anyone could reinvent himself or herself, right? It’s where young, virile boys and girls experiment emotionally and sexually with each other as they take their first steps into adulthood.
Well, the extent of experimenting probably didn’t reach as far as the endless unlimited anal lube orgies and public lesbian gangbangs American college students participate in on a daily basis while attending college. My facts on this might be a little muddy, since my sole research into American university life consists of videos I downloaded from Collegebangfest.com.
I wasn’t asking to partake in a five-hour fifty-lesbian train extravaganza, I just wanted to see if maybe, maybe I could date one girl who might eventually touch my penis for two seconds.
I’ve been nothing but lowbrow so far, so here’s a highbrow quote from a classic, highbrow film, Citizan Kane: It goes “It’s no trick to make a lot of money… If all you want is to do is to make a lot of money”. Well, all I wanted to do was to get laid in college. What went wrong?
Before I could even think about liberal college girls who hopefully took off their panties liberally, I had to first get into a university, which is no picnic in Turkey, even though the education itself is way cheaper compared to the lifetime debt traps you call universities in the US.
The way it worked, or pretended to work back then, was that you had to take two tests. First came a generic university aptitude test, kind of like the SATs, in order to see if you were true college material or Sloth from The Goonies’ long lost cousin.
If you passed that test, you had to take the college placement exam, which automatically and clinically inserted you into the university and major that would shape the rest of your future.
Out of the five universities and majors you picked on your exam application form, the system would place you into one of them depending on how well you did. Of course everyone would pick their dream school as their first choice and their safety school as their last, with a whole bunch of “Whatever, who gives a shit” schools in the middle.
So if your dream was to study electrical engineering and wrote down livestock farming as an option for your safe school, there was a good chance you might have ended up knee deep in cow guts for the rest of your days. I actually wouldn’t really know much firsthand about the second exam, since I never had to take it.
Passing the first test the first time around was a giant fluke to begin with. Despite vast contrary opinion, not studying for a single minute for an important, four-hour-long college aptitude test usually meant that you would fail said test.
Well, I didn’t study for the test because I was busy catching up to the classes I couldn’t get credit for since I lost the first semester of high school due to the unfortunate meeting between two car bumpers and my body. Also, I didn’t have much interest in studying anything that wasn’t directly linked to a movie directed or at least executive produced by Steven Spielberg.
So I took the test as a form of exercise, a way of getting to know it better so I could tackle it for real the following year. Yet I passed it by sheer, dumb fuck luck. You see, I had no idea, as opposed to every single other person who ever took, or ever will take that test, that four wrong answers would delete one right answer.
This rule was instituted as a way to discourage students from trying to pass the test by simply guessing the multiple-choice answers. I, on the other hand, wasn’t discouraged from picking random options for all of the questions whose answers I didn’t have a single clue about, of which there were many, because, well, ignorance is bliss.
The gamble I didn’t know I partook in paid off big time and I passed the test by a margin of a single point. I think the minimum right answers required to pass was a hundred and twenty and I got a score of a hundred and twenty-one.
Passing with such a low score usually was not such great news, since it also affected the overall score of the second test. But since I didn’t have any intention of taking the second test in the first place, that fact didn’t matter much for me. Hey, the god I didn’t believe in had done me a major solid already, I wasn’t about to test my chances a second time, especially knowing how unlucky I can usually be. As reference, I give you the entire rest of this book.
How can you get into a university in Turkey without taking the second test, you ask? Why, that’s where private universities designed to make dumb upper middle-class to upper-class kids feel more intelligent, creative and special come into play.
Back then, if your parents had the moolah to actually pay for your education, you merely had to pass the first college aptitude test and then take your chosen private university’s own exam in place of the national university placement test.
The biggest advantage to this option was that you could actually apply for a major of your own choice, instead of being handed one by a less compassionate equivalent of HAL 9000. As far as I was concerned, the private education way was my only option since I only had a single major in mind: Criminal Psychology. Just kidding, of course I wanted to study film.
The amount of public universities that offered a major in Film and Television were very sparse and most of them focused on the technical aspects of TV production. Since Turkish television at the time was a jumbled mess of endless partisan political rhetoric and sketch comedy that perpetuated awful gender and racial stereotypes (Imagine every single channel in The US being run by The Fox Network), I wasn’t very interested in pursuing a career in falling asleep behind a camera while some right-wing religious nitwit tried to jump hoops around Turkey’s strict secularist laws.
I wanted to tell stories, hopefully engaging, interesting and entertaining stories, stories that inspired people, made them laugh, made them cry, or throw stones at the screen in pure rage. Whatever reaction they had would be fine by me, as long as they knew who I was.
During the screening of his highly controversial film The Rules of The Game, director Jean Renoir said that he noticed a man so enraged with his film, he tried to burn the theater down by lighting up a newspaper. Decades later during an interview, he said that “If anyone is willing to burn down a theater in order to stop your film from being shown, that means you’ve done your job as an artist.” In short, this was the kind of idealism I harbored and pursued instead of thinking a single minute about future career options. What was I going to do? Make actual money? Give me a break.
So, realizing my lack of options in choosing a film and television major within a public university that would allow me to grow artistically beyond learning how to push a couple of buttons on the camera, I began looking into private universities.
Most private colleges at the time were focused mostly on practical majors like engineering and economy. You know, stuff that leads to actual careers. I was starting to lose hope of ever finding a school that would indulge my self-destructive artistic whims, when my mother showed me a newspaper ad promoting the brand new film department within a semi-respectable, relatively new private university.
If I was to apply for the first ever film department of this school, it would mean that I would become a voluntary guinea pig who would also have to pay a hefty sum for the privilege. Not the best deal around, I know, but I didn’t have many other options.
Speaking of a hefty sum, I bet you’re thinking the annual tuition for this esteemed private school was somewhere around $100.000 a year. In fact, the tuition was roughly five thousand dollars a year. Yes, attending an elitist private university cost about as much as an unsharpened pencil at NYU.
Plus, the ad promised that one of the most prominent directors of Turkish cinema, one who revitalized the industry by releasing the highest grossing Turkish film ever made only two years prior would be our teacher. This turned out to be bullshit as he only ended up giving a single seminar to our department and disappeared henceforth, but it was still a chance for me to study something I actually gave a shit about.
The admission procedure for the school was pretty simple. First, they gave me an IQ test in order to confirm that I wasn’t entirely mentally challenged. Once I passed that, they called me in for an interview a couple of weeks later, exactly as if I was applying for a job.
The interview was supposed to be conducted by a panel of the new department’s soon-to-be teachers, who were respected film scholars who worshipped The French New Wave of Truffaut, Godard and –Insert pretentious asshole-. I was feeling very nervous and intimidated before walking in to the interview. If I knew anything about The French New Wave and how retarded it really is back then, I would have probably beeen a lot more relaxed.
The interview room was set up like a death sentence trial from one of Kafka’s more than usually disturbed dreams. The teachers were sitting on high chairs, lit from below as if they were starring in a bad Bela Lugosi lookalike competition and I was told to sit on a creaky desk.
I had a five-kilowatt interrogation light directed to my face, blinding me and casually giving me third degree burns. On second thought, I might be exaggerating a little and we might have all been sitting across from each other on same-level chairs in a brightly lit and benign setting.
They asked me to introduce myself and tell them why I wanted to study film. Of course I didn’t tell them that I was so obsessed with movies that I gladly let them rob me of a healthy, social childhood and an adolescence full of romantic and sexual experiences with the opposite sex. I told them that I really, really loved films and that I was obsessed with becoming a filmmaker, while assuring them repeatedly that I was an average, social kid who in no way was a giant nerd.
Near the end of the interview, one of the teachers asked me what the last Turkish-produced film I watched was and what I thought of it, since I only talked about Spielberg and Lucas the entire time and they probably wanted to make sure I was aware of which country I was currently a citizen of.
The last Turkish film I saw in theaters was Eskiya (The Bandit), the drama that recently broke box-office records, directed by the man I mentioned earlier who was promised to become our teacher. I told the panel that I like the first and second acts of the film just fine.
But for some reason, instead of kissing the ass that I thought would soon become my sensei, I proceeded to shit on the last thirty minutes of the movie for shamelessly promoting bland and blatant melodrama that always crippled Turkish filmmaking and made damn sure that we would continue to not be taken seriously in the world stage. I told them that it might have made a lot of money domestically, but that it was still a piece of shit in universal filmmaking standards.
It would be a gross understatement to say that I was a bit worried that my application would be rejected. Even my mother, who never curses, said “You’re fucked” when I gave her the play-by-play.
Yet a week or so later I got an excited call from mom, informing me that not only did I get in, I got a hundred percent score from my oral interview.
Wow, I never had a hundred percent grade on anything before. I was worried that I might have offended their idol but perhaps I made that frustrated failed filmmakers battalion think I had a genuine future in aimless film snobbery. Regardless of why and how, I was now a college student, and a brand new future full of new and exciting erotic experiences with hot college girls was just around the corner. Right?