The Turkish Loser

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The university’s only campus at the time was smack dab in the middle of one of the most notorious shantytowns of Istanbul. The first time I saw it, the image of a giant expensive building screaming modern architecture in the middle of a sea of decrepit homes that looked that they were made out of cardboard was startling. The campus consisted of two boxy, tall buildings covered with tall glass and an immaculately trimmed backyard that connected them.

The disparity between the two worlds could always be observed within the same frame of view. It wasn’t unusual to see rich kids driving their shiny new BMWs to school having to brake for half-naked poor children playing soccer in the mud with a cheaper-than-dirt mesh ball. This is what Elvis was describing when he sang “In The Ghetto” while eating deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

The borough that led to the shantytown was pretty central to the European side of Istanbul and was fairly modern and comparatively attractive. While going to school, it took about two to three blocks before you realized you might be headed into the wrong part of town.

The first time I walked to school for the first day of registration, I gradually went from feeling mildly worried about my well-being to clutching onto my wallet for dear life while I burrowed deeper and deeper into Istanbul’s seedy underbelly.

Once I saw the clean and modern entrance of the university constructed entirely out of thick, hopefully bulletproof glass, which made it look like a portal opened up into the 21st century in comparison to the buildings that surrounded it, I was more relieved than an obese Mid-western American man who found a McDonald’s in a third world country.

Later on, we found out that even though the area looked, and was, really poor, the crime rate decreased significantly due to the police constantly patrolling the area to make sure none of the rich kids would be forcefully separated from their daddy’s precious trust fund cash.

Also, the residents of the slums were very excited to have this private university built in their backyard since it meant job opportunities for them, serving food and drinks to students in overpriced cafes and parking expensive cars while fucking around with their top-of-the-line car stereos. Therefore I think it was in their best interest not to scare us off. In time, the ignorance in me was washed away and I would casually walk to and from school, even in the middle of the night.

When I marched into campus for registration, I was amazed by the hordes of beautiful girls strolling by a mere two inches away from me. I didn’t even have a clue people this gorgeous even existed.

It might have been because this was my first school experience where every member of the female gender wasn’t wearing the same uniform, but I think the fact that rich girls could afford better make-up and hair products might have had something to do with their looks.

Of course I was persona-non-grata as far as they were concerned. The pretty, well-dressed, well-groomed rich girls usually were not very artistic and chose majors like economy and walking for ten blocks on the uneven sidewalks of the shantytown in twelve-inch heels without snapping their legs like a twig.

Besides, they only hung out with their own kind: Obnoxious, self-entitled rich boys with slick-back hair and five o’clock shadows who worshipped at the altar of Tommy Hilfiger. There was a term we used to describe these people and it was “Tiki”. No, not the bars where you’re served exotic blue drinks with eleven cocktail umbrellas inside them.

Tiki was the slang term used to describe creatively bankrupt anti-intellectuals who only cared about their looks, expensive brand-name clothes, driving expensive cars and hitting the expensive clubs with other Tikis. The closest term in American slang would probably be “Airhead”.

Even during the first day of registration, I knew that I didn’t have a chance in hell with any of the Tikis. I didn’t think any of them would sign up as an art major, let alone study film. But there must have been some sexy, artsy girls who aspired to become the next, uhhh, Kathryn Bigelow?

Yet as I approached the registration table, I was met with a veritable sausage party. Even worse, it was a sausage party full of nerds like me. Yes, I was finally with my own kind, but a couple of girls could have spiced things up. As I walked up to the table to pick up my registration forms, I could see similar looks of disappointment among other students as if they were thinking “Oh great, another one.”

My first interaction with a fellow nerd was in the form of a pasty, lanky, tall kid who kept asking to borrow my pencil. His name was Adnan (Pronounced Ad-none). Adnan was a big fan of action films and loved the oeuvre of James Cameron, Michael Mann and Tony Scott. His favorite film at the time was Michael Bay’s seminal masterpiece about man’s own prison within his soul and shit blown up real good, The Rock.

He used to invite us to his place to showcase his state-of-the-art Dolby Prologic sound system on his VHS (Don’t laugh, this was 1997) and play the fifteen-minute gunfight in the middle of Heat while constantly rewinding to pinpoint the genius behind the loud mixing on some of the glass breaking sounds.

After the registration was complete, I was disappointed not only by the apparent lack of females in our new department, but also by the fact that we were given only a single film class during the entire first year, Film History. The rest were the typical, useless freshman year general studies classes like media and culture, Turkish language skills and European history.

During our freshman year, Professor Derya (Pronounced Deer-yah), a middle-aged blonde who apparently was a bombshell during the early eighties was the head of the film department.

She thought The French New Wave was the best thing to ever happen to cinema, which meant that she was obviously delusional. She even wrote her doctorate thesis on the subject and she was going to be our teaching our film history class. Great, this was my first year of film school and I was solely in the hands of someone who thought Godard was another way to spell God.

The film history class was divided into two sections each week: The film screening and the class that would follow the day after. Going into our first screening, I had no idea what to expect.

Were we going to be shown one of the most infamous first films ever made? It simply depicted a train approaching a station in France, which caused the audience to freak out thinking the train was going to run them over. Or were we going to watch Super 8 footage of Francois Truffaut’s birth?

The truth was worse than anything we could imagine as we were subjected to a shameless glorification of despicable racism and bigotry (The kind you can find these days only every four years during the Republican National Convention) in the form of D.W. “Redneck Prick” Griffith’s more-boring-than-watching-paint-dry “epic masterpiece” Birth of a Nation.

The offensive dullness of long shots of white people acting like buffoons in blackface was thankfully broken up by Adnan, who was sitting next to me, whispering things like “What the fuck is this!?” and “How come there’s no action?”

I met another male classmate before the screening, Oguz (Pronounced Oooz, like The Wizard of Oz read by someone who suffers from cerebral palsy).

At first glance, Oguz looked like a smug asshole, wearing John Lennon glasses and sporting an artsy-fartsy ponytail. He not only rubbed me the wrong way by his appearance alone but he also barely said a word to me for weeks even though we were constantly within the same group of students.

However, he turned out to be a good soul. The son of a diplomat father, he was transferred with his family from one country to the next every four years during his entire childhood. This meant that he could speak French, English, Russian and Turkish, but none of them fluently. It was hard to understand what he was talking about half the time, even while he was employing three different languages in a single sentence.

He could also be extremely shy, which was why he didn’t talk to me much at first. He explained to me how shy he really was after I asked him why he acted like such a dick the first time I met him. Knowing Oguz, I totally believed his excuse.

Looking behind me during the screening out of sheer boredom, I noticed something spectacular: Girls, actual living breathing girls, were walking in one by one to watch the film. Since no one is masochistic enough to subject themselves to The Birth of a Nation when they aren’t required to watch it as part of film class, these girls must have actually been enrolled into our department. Oh, happy day!

Later on I found out that a chunk of those girls were students from other departments who wanted to check out the brand-new film class. They of course disappeared within a couple of weeks as they each found out the boring shit we were constantly subjected to. But some of them were in it for the long haul. They were film geeks like me and I could finally see the promise of a golden land full of some form of coupling in the horizon.

During intermission, while we were transported back into the real world where not all black people eat fried chicken while voting for president, Adnan, Oguz and I were huddled together with some of the other boys in our department, trying to get to know each other better.

What we were really doing was praying that one of the boys in our group grew some balls for a brief second in order to approach the group of girls who were actually interested in getting to know each other better.

Adnan and Oguz were obviously too shy. As for me, I knew this was my first moment to stop being such a pussy and act like a man for a change, but these were girls with whom I would spend the next four years of my life with and I was always destined to start things off on the wrong foot.

That’s what happened time and time again and I was going to take it easier this time and carry out a cooler, more patient approach. In other words, I was too scared to talk to them because girls still intimidated me.

For about a week thereafter, we kept attending bullshit general studies classes without even introducing ourselves to any of the girls. It got to a point when finally four of the girls actually took it upon themselves to approach us, which is a rare occurrence in Turkey.

While Adnan, Oguz and I were eating lunch at the giant cafeteria covering the entire bottom floor, Oguz and I were pretending to enjoy each other’s presence while trying to figure out a way to get over our low self-esteem in order to walk over to the girls’ table across the hall. But then suddenly, something wonderful happened. In the words of Forrest Gump, “Miracles happen every day. Some people don’t think so, but they do.”

Four girls from the film department got up from their table and actually started walking towards us. I’m sure all of us were certain that this was going to turn into one of those scenes in bad comedies where a hapless loser thinks a hot girl is going to hug her only for it to turn out that she was running for her hunky boyfriend.

If you’re stupid enough to believe any woman you’ve never met is going to actually welcome you with such glee, you deserve what’s coming to you. Also, even if that woman is actually so happy to see you, she obviously has some severe mental issues because she’s throwing herself to a man she doesn’t even know at a random train station. Why enable such psychotic behavior by reciprocating?

Anyway, it turned out that the girls were actually walking over to talk to us. Before Oguz and I could gasp in shock, one of the girls said “Hi, you guys are from the film department, right?”

While I gulped in fear, Adnan said “Yeah. So are you, right?”

Another girl answered “Yeah. Do you mind if we joined you?”

Yes! This was really happening.

Our entire film department consisted of about twenty-seven students during the freshman year. About a third of them were female, but I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t get the cream of the crop, both in terms of physicality and a basic level of sanity. Still, it was better than nothing.

The four girls who sat around us introduced themselves. They were:

Nazan (Pronounced Nasal with an N at the end instead of an L) was a darker skinned, voluptuous girl with perfectly rounded boobs. Yes, these were the first things I noticed about her. The second thing I noticed was that she had almost as much hair on her arms as Robin Williams did.

Nazan was the eldest of a rich family who moved to Istanbul from the eastern part of Turkey. People from that part of the country do tend to have browner skin and usually have issues with excess body hair.

But Nazan’s was an especially hairy problem (You see what I did there?), which, in all fairness, she was working hard to remedy by frequently subjecting herself to long and painful waxing sessions and laser hair removal. Who was I to judge? I didn’t even bother to take two minutes to cut my fingernails until it reached a length somewhere between Flamenco Guitar Player and The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Nazan was three years older than most of us. Before you even met her, you could tell that she had more confidence and exuded a more assured presence than the other girls. She was definitely more experienced in every way, including sexually. We would find out a lot more about her sexual life later on, whether we wanted to or not.

Deniz (Pronounced like Denise), was a pale-skinned, slightly overweight shy girl who exuded the essence of uncomfortable laughter. She always had a slight smile on her face. You could never tell when she was smiling because she was genuinely happy or interested in the conversation and when she was using her smile as a defense mechanism because she felt extremely uncomfortable by any given situation. She always laughed with an infectious, high-pitched giggle whenever anyone said something remotely funny or offensive.

She was dressed in a kind of Turkish style modern hippie fashion. She hardly wore any make-up and her black scraggly hair was almost always accentuated with some sort of a colorful ribbon or a fake feather of some kind. None of us, including her, ever had a clue regarding the specific ethnicity these ribbons were supposed to represent, they could be South American, Native American, Swedish (Probably not Swedish), etc…

Zeynep 1, pronounced Zay-Nap, was an average-looking girl who turned herself into an instant man repellant with her pseudo-punk look. She sported a green Mohawk and her jeans were covered with chains. Her pale white face was a connect-the-dots of various piercing, a couple of lip rings, a thick nose ring and both of her ears had enough rings attached to them to hang a shower curtain on. It doesn’t sound much compared to an average tattoo enthusiast you bump into every day in The US but she definitely turned heads in even the most progressive parts of Turkey.

Despite her rugged exterior, Zeynep 1 was a really friendly and courteous girl and didn’t showcase any of the psycho bitch qualities you’d expect from someone who looked the way she did. In fact, a great number of “normal” looking girls in our school were a lot more imbalanced than she ever could be. I don’t wanna say anything obviously clichéd as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but I guess I just did.

Finally Zeynep 2, who was widely known among guys in our class as “the cute one”, had long red hair and a skinny yet undeniably sexy demeanor. She was definitely everyone’s pick of the litter, even though she occasionally looked like a badly drawn cartoon character when she smiled.

She was kind of a smug and reserved girl and I think she knew she was slightly hotter than the other girls in class, which I believe fueled her somewhat egocentric behavior. She was definitely the big sexy fish in a small pond and I always wondered if she would act as high and mighty if she majored in economics or sociology, where she would be average at best compared to the bona fide babes in those departments.

While we were pretending to get to know each other better and bitch about our one film class, I’m sure all of us were secretly evaluating one another as possible material for a future mate, about which I had a feeling us guys were not faring really well. I wish I could see subtitles showing what they were really thinking about while engaging in casual conversation, like the famous scene from Annie Hall.

Nazan: “So, what do you think about the film department so far?” (God, is this really all we get? A fatty bum-bum with terrible fashion sense, a delusional nerd who thinks he’ll become a Hollywood director one day and an pretentious intellectual pussy? Aren’t there any real men in this class?)

Me: “I like it. Although I’m not really thrilled that we only have one film class, even though we’re supposed to be majoring in film.” (Man, she has really nice boobs. Maybe she’s wearing like a special bra or something that shapes them this was but who cares? What to do about all of that hair on her arms? It’s more hair than I got on my arms. Aggh, what the hell is wrong with me, nitpicking as if I’m so irresistible? Any girl breathing my way is perfect for me, end of story.)

Nazan: “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m kind of frustrated that we have to take these bullshit general studies classes. I mean, a couple of them is fine, but we got so much that there’s only room for one film class?” (He does have nice eyes. Maybe if he lost some weight, who are we kidding, a lot of weight, and stopped looking like a hobo, and not in a cool, hippie way? I can’t wait that long. I’ll keep talking to him; maybe he has some cute friends.)

Me: “I think it’s because we’re the first students of the film department, and they don’t know what to do with us yet. I hope next year, they’ll have a better plan than this.” (She looks older and more experienced. Maybe if I play my cards right…)

Deniz: “I hope so. But I do appreciate that we get to know more about film history. Even though that movie was racist, it’s so amazing to see where the most basic filmmaking techniques come from.” (I hope that made me sound intellectual and cultured, so maybe people will pay more attention to me.)

Oguz: “Yeah, I can’t wait ’till we get to Eisenstein and his revolutionary theories on film editing. That’s where the genius starts.” (I hope that made me sound intellectual and cultured so I can maybe convince one of these girls to suck on my dong.)

Zeynep 1: (Maybe I should say something rebellious, making them think how much of a badass I really am.) “The whole thing with our department, it, it sucks!”

Nazan: “Yeah, I don’t even know if they will be ready to train us for actual film production. I visited the so-called equipment room, and they only had a couple of mini-DV cameras.” (I hope I said that right, these nerds are probably obsessed with this technical stuff. I wouldn’t want to look inadequate, even though I have no desire to impress any of them.)

Me: “Only a couple of Mini-DV cameras? That sucks!” (What the hell is a Mini-DV camera?)

Nazan: “Yeah, they don’t even have any 35 millimeter cameras. How are we supposed to learn about filmmaking if we’re not going to touch any actual film? I was studying under (A semi-famous filmmaker) before I came here and over there we always worked with celluloid” (Nice going with the name drop, it makes me look like I have more experience than anyone else.)

Me: “(A semi-famous filmmaker), huh? That’s cool.” (I wonder what she meant by studying under him? Did she sleep with him to get ahead? Ha ha, I said to get ahead. Get a-head, get it? Oh shit, am I grinning visibly? Better get back into the conversation.)

Oguz: “Yes, I saw his recent effort. Not bad, but a little too didactic for my taste.” (Yes, I am very deep and insightful. Which one of you will be first in line for the proverbial dong sucking?)

Deniz: “Yes, I would agree with that.” (I’ve never ever seen that movie. When did it come out? Nevertheless, the skinny cute one with the glasses seems to be the best option so far. All of the other girls who are definitely cuter than me, except maybe the crazy punk one, are making me feel more and more insecure about myself. But it doesn’t look like they are interested in him or in any of the other boys for that matter. I should compensate for my insecurities by looking more artsy than they are. So maybe if I agree with Oguz, it’ll make me look knowledgeable about this stuff too. At least he looks like he knows what he’s talking about.)

Oguz: “Didn’t you think the subject matter was a bit too heavy for what was obviously supposed to be a comedy?” (I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

And so it went, Oguz and I were desperately trying to impress the girls while Adnan desperately tried to play it cool, the girls wanted to make sure we took them seriously as potential fellow artists and not just pieces of ass. All parties failed in their mission.

I think that day we realized that we were kind of stuck with each other. The unavoidable social separation of class measured by money (How rich your dad is), looks (How handsome your dad is), coolness (How much of an asshole your dad is) and rebellious fervor (How much you hate your rich, handsome, asshole dad) had already taken place.

The cool, anti-culture, good-looking hipsters had already formed their own alliance. That left the rest of us, the betas, to do what we’re always forced to do, which was to make due with each other’s presence.

Zeynep 1 and Zeynep 2 were of course a bit too cool for us. Zeynep 1 was a punk chick with style and Zeynep 2 knew she was too pretty to hang out with us nerds. After a while, they ditched us and began spending more time with the cool, artsy kids, the kind that looked a hell of a lot more creative and artistically daring than they actually were.

This exodus left Oguz and I with Nazan and Deniz. The possibility of us hooking up with them got equally complicated and depressing really fast but we will get to that story later.

For now, let’s take our focus back on Zeynep 2 and my first kiss. No, it was nowhere near as cool and impressive as you might imagine it to be. Yes, I did get to kiss the prettiest girl in class, but the circumstances within which the smooching took place were rather pathetic.

During the first semester of our freshman year, Professor Derya began setting up meetings outside of class in order for the fresh faced department to produce their first short film.

It was a “jump into the water and learn to swim” kind of an experiment, getting us inexperienced yet eager troupe of future dwellers of the unemployment line to live and breathe the excitements and the frustrations of filmmaking firsthand.

The plan for these meetings was for students to pitch their ideas for a short film, about 5 to 10 minutes in length. A lot of the ideas were dismal and predictable, the kind of idealistic ramblings that swim around in a young artist’s mind which he or she thinks is groundbreaking stuff, not realizing thousands of people his or her age are thinking of the exact same story at that exact same moment, also believing it to be groundbreaking. We heard a bunch of thrilling ideas like “Let’s make a movie about nothing! A man sits on a couch for 10 minutes and farts!”

Which brings us to my pitch, a story I’m sure had been done before, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. To be fair, it at least supported some kind of a philosophical idea regarding the nature and appeal of cinema. It was deep, yet apparently not deep enough for me to earn a reputation as the “deep, artistic guy” who gets laid in the process. Sigh.

It was supposed to be a dialogue-free project, kind of a silent movie, about a lonely, awkward film geek who goes to the movies by himself. I wonder who inspired me to come up with that character?

We see him watch and react to an array of genres like action, comedy, romance and horror. My plan was to never see what movies our geek protagonist was watching and to use generic music signifying each genre. That way the audience could fill in the blanks by inserting their own favorite films, instead of being limited by specific movies and scenes.

At the end of the film we would zoom into the nerd’s eye and finally see the screen through his mind, which showed a cool, more sophisticated version of himself, making out with a gorgeous girl in an expensive and exotic house.

For those of you who don’t get it, it was supposed to be a commentary on the escapism of movies, which mostly shows us better, more fulfilled and happier versions of ourselves. At least versions that got good looking women.

Think about it. In Hollywood movies, even the actresses who are supposed to play the ugly high school nerds are hot! How’s that fair? If Alyson Hannigan went to my high school, boys would be stabbing each other for a date with her. Yet in the American Pie series, she’s supposed to be the ugly band geek. I never got that discrepancy.

Anyway, the pitch got a lot of attention from some of the students and more importantly from Professor Derya, it probably reminded her of the obvious symbolism disguised as layered intellectual musings found in her favorite Godard films. After a couple of weeks of more pitches, my story got picked because it looked like it was the most popular one and it fit the short and simple format of this kind of a beginner’s project fairly well. So I set out to make it happen somehow.

Here’s how inexperienced we were with filmmaking at the time: We couldn’t think of how many members we’d need in the crew and in which positions. So we ended up asking Professor Derya for a complete list of the crewmembers we might need.

Considering the supposed modesty of this tiny little freshman project, I think we went a little overboard with the crew list. In hindsight, I think we would have sufficed with a director, a camera operator and an ad/ac combo (A combination of an assistant director and an assistant cameraman, someone who could set up the lights and get everyone coffee).

We got all of that and two producers, a script supervisor, an art director, a production designer, two casting supervisors, a line producer, two gaffers and a director of photography who was a frustrated cinematographer in charge of the a/v room.

This idiot somehow got it in his head that my film would be his way out of having to spend his days renting 2K lights to kids who thought it was the name of a mountain in the Himalayas and into achieving DP glory! DP stands for Director of Photography, not Double Penetration by the way.

Because of that idiot’s blind ambitions, I suffered through a frustrating shoot full of needless waiting while he was trying to set up the perfect lighting for a shot that was going to be recorded with a consumer MiniDV camera. I didn’t say “to be filmed” mind you, because “filmed” implies, well, shooting on film.

While I was waiting for hours for him to get the perfect angle for a fill light, because I wasn’t experienced enough and didn’t have enough courage to stand up to him, I couldn’t remind him that he wasn’t working for Stanley Kubrick and that since this was merely a beginner film student’s project, he could easily move this shit along a lot faster than he did.

Nowadays I probably would have shot that project in a couple hours. Back then we shot for two weekends straight and still didn’t end up with enough footage to finish the damn thing.

Anyway, back to the kiss. Zeynep 2, the hot one, decided that she would like to be one of the crewmembers in charge of casting. At the time it felt like having two casting supervisors was a bit much but if I knew both of them would fail miserably and basically would not do their simple jobs, I would have found a third one. I mean, their jobs were easy: Find a nerd, a cute girl who’d be willing to kiss that nerd on camera and 5-6 extras as other moviegoers in the theatre.

After weeks of so-called searching, they could not find anyone willing to take on the role of the nerd. I’m partially to blame for this, since I did not create a very pleasant and attractive picture in my description of the character.

None of us knew any professional actors and we were oblivious to the simple yet effective method of auditioning. So the casting people’s job consisted of pointing at random ugly nerds in school and telling them “You look like wholly unappealing, would you like to act in our movie?” I wonder why we couldn’t find anyone willing to take on the role?

The same method was used to cast the cute girl: “You look presentable, would you like to be in our movie and make out with an ugly dude?” Alas, no luck finding the female lead either.

Finally, the other casting director came up with a brilliant idea. She approached me and said “You seem to have a fairly good grasp on the character. Why don’t you play him?”, which is code for “You’re the biggest nerd we know. The kind of fat, ugly, hapless, lonely loser you depicted in your story. Who better than you to play that loser!?”

I don’t quite remember who the other casting director was. If I did, I’d find out where she lives now and throw a bomb through her window. Of course my ego was as much to blame for this colossally disastrous decision.

“Hmm, I have absolutely no directing or acting experience, why don’t I find a way to combine these two grave responsibilities in my very first film!? I’ll have everyone paying attention to me and maybe I’ll finally find a girlfriend who can’t have enough of my awesome multi-tasking skills”. Of course I’d be lying if I said the prospect of finally kissing a girl, no matter how much acting would be involved, wasn’t a grand incentive for me to take on the part.

So the perfect nerd was finally cast in the role of the perfect nerd. It was time to find a girl who’d be willing to kiss me on camera. When the news started floating around about the casting people’s troubles with finding a suitable kissee, some of the boys came to me with the idea of casting Zeynep 2 in the role, since she was the only girl in class who could pass for over-average.

Before you call me or those people shallow bastards, there were a lot of girls in our class who thought this was a good idea as well, so they must have known this to be a fact deep down in their hearts. Either that, or I might have been making that last part up and it was only the guys who came up with that brilliant casting decision.

Since nobody would sack up and offer the part to Zeynep 2 personally, I had to be the one to break the sad news that I wanted to make out with her on camera. I clearly remember the scene, I found Zeynep 1 and Zeynep 2 chatting behind the giant glass school entrance.

While Zeynep 1 was probably telling Zeynep 2 which Ramones song she’d most love to O.D. to, I approached them with the assuredness and emotional strength of a wounded puppy.

“How’s the search going”, I asked, doing anything to avoid eye contact with Zeynep 2.

“Not good. We asked a couple of girls but they’re afraid because they don’t have any acting experience”, Zeynep 1 responded.

“Acting experience!?”, I blurted, “What acting experience do you need to sit on a couch and look hot!?”

“I know, right?”, Zeynep 1 agreed (Or maybe I remember her agreeing with me).

“Well, there’s also the kissing”, Zeynep 2 reminded everyone, as if anyone asked, “Lots of girls aren’t willing to make out with a dude they don’t know in front of the camera.”

At this point I’d like to interject with another small lesson on Turkish culture. Don’t bail on me yet, this’ll be brief: For those of you who think Turkey is one of them countries full of A-rabs who live in caves and marry their camels, I have two things to say:

One: Fuck you, you racist asshole.

Two: With strict laws regarding the separation of church (or mosque in this instance) and state, Turkey is the most secular Muslim country in the world, so suck it.

But even though a majority of girls, especially in western Turkey, don’t practice Islam, don’t cover their hair and are able to wear skin-tight jeans, they are still remnants of an ancient Muslim society and are raised to be careful about their sexuality.

In other words, just because they’re wearing the uniform, doesn’t mean they’re gonna play. That makes it harder and takes way more cunning and tenacity for guys to bag dates and just get to first base, forget about second or third bases. Scoring a home run is like winning the lottery.

For fuck’s sake, I didn’t even see couples casually making out in public until I was in college. While other boys were working their asses off to get to even smell their girlfriends’ hair, I was fat, lazy and unlucky, otherwise known as the Eternal Masturbator Trifecta, so I ended up with a big bowl of fuck-all.

Now that you have a better idea why it wasn’t easy to get Turkish girls, no matter how westernized and open-minded they might have been, you can see why it was tough to find any girl willing to have their parents watch their precious daughter make out with a fat, egomaniac writer/director/star on the big screen.

“We honestly don’t know what to do at this point”, Zeynep 1 sighed.

That’s when I started looking around anywhere but their eye lines, as if I became a bad Stevie Wonder impersonator all of a sudden. I blurted out, “Well, me and the guys, we, think we might have someone in mind.”

“Oh yeah, who’s that?”, Zeynep 2 asked with actual excitement, not having a clue on what was about to come next.

I gathered my strength, jerked my head in a spine crushing velocity to look into her eyes and without missing a beat I said, “You.”

My sudden rush of confidence was met with a couple of seconds of silence. It was now the two Zeyneps that were in bad Stevie Wonder impressionist mode. Zeynep 2 looked at Zeynep 1 as if she was saying, “You believe this shit?” Zeynep 1 couldn’t do anything but shrug.

Zeynep 2 turned back to me, making sure to avoid eye contact and faintly squeezed out a “Yeah, sure.” That was it, the gist of the treaty that got me my first kiss.

The kissing scene was the first one shot during production. The location we secured for that scene was the home of the university’s owner. The house was only available to us on a Friday and we had booked the university’s theatre for that weekend in order to shoot, you guessed it, the theatre scenes.

We got to shoot there because an older girl named Vivian, a gorgeous Jewish chick every male entity in the university was head over heels in love with, was able to convince the university owner to let us use his house as part of our first film experiment.

The place was a four-storey mansion with classic wooden Turkish architecture. That’s as much as I can visualize regarding the specifics of the building. If you need a lesson in old Turkish/Ottoman home building, I’m sure there are various books written on the subject. Yet how many of them incessantly repeat the word masturbation with childish glee?

I remember being offered strawberry flavored coffee by the owner before we began shooting, which felt so luxurious and rich to me. This was before I discovered Starbucks and the simple beauties of the glorified coffee/milkshakes any hipster dick with $3.50 in his pocket could buy so he could have something to suck in lieu of Wes Anderson’s dick.

The scene was shot on the top floor/attic where we painstakingly dragged up the nicest looking couch in the house. Why the attic? Because we weren’t allowed to shoot anywhere else.

My plan for this fantasy sequence, where we finally see the epitome of coolness projected on the big screen through our loser’s psyche, was to have the “cool” version of the loser sipping champagne in front of a fireplace in a swanky pad with a hot girl around his arm.

There was no fireplace and the attic didn’t really give us the impression of a giant, swanky pad. It looked more like the cluttered workspace of a horny artist. We could have shot the damn thing in my room.

The background consisted solely of a giant glass wall, because you know, nothing says cozy like a giant glass wall behind you. So in short, we jumped through hoops to use a location where the only two things the camera saw were a couch and a glass background. I guess all of this trouble was so I could taste my first strawberry coffee and my first kiss, which didn’t taste like strawberries.

The ambitious lighting set up by our Conrad Hall wannabe A/V guy didn’t help matters much. With a lush red/pinkish light setup, the shot didn’t look like we were in a swanky bachelor pad, but like a 1960s film student version of a kitschy brothel. Of course for the role to be semi-believable, I needed to look suave, which was something I never really tried before. The sad thing was that I didn’t even have any classy clothes. So I had to ask my Oguz to bring a suit that might make me look cool.

Oguz had brought some khaki pants and a cashmere sweater, both of which were about ten sizes too small for me. He also brought a razor so I could look smooth and clean-shaven for the camera.

I didn’t have that much experience or luck with shaving at that time, so I was taking things very slowly and carefully, praying that I didn’t cut into an artery. That would have been a hoot, shooting a geyser of blood from my neck into Zeynep 2’s mouth right before our lips met.

While I was shaving at the rate of one hair per hour, Zeynep 2 was uncomfortably changing into her “sexy dress”, a one-piece red nightie that exposed her legs. Yet the top didn’t say “I can’t wait to make out with you.” It said “I’m ready to hit the hay with the latest issue of Cosmo and a hot cup of cocoa.”

At the corner of my eye I saw her changing behind a row of clothes. She looked like the exact opposite of someone who should be in a romantic mood in thirty minutes. I’d have hedged my bets on the transitive power of acting for the performance to work, yet she wasn’t actually an actress.

We showed up at the location at 7:30 in the morning. It was now 6:30 PM and the setup was finally done. With the time it took us to set up a single medium shot of what looked like a Korean massage parlor from hell, Woody Allen would have written, shot and finished two of those movies that take place in a world where 20-year-old supermodels can’t get enough of a 70-year-old wrinkly New Yorker.

I sat on the couch, practicing my cool, which wasn’t easy with my gross belly being an inch away from sticking out of the ridiculously tight cashmere sweater and the tight pants about to split at the seams.

Huffing and puffing as audibly as she can, Zeynep 2 perched her big-for-her-figure ass on the armrest of the couch, crossing her exposed legs right at my eye level. Curiously, the first thought that got stuck in my mind was, “Wow, she has hairy legs! I wonder if that’ll show on camera?”

That was a downer. I mean, I had not imagined such a good looking creature to have such glaring imperfections on her body. Me, of course, I was as far from perfect as you could get, but her? That was my first step into that long and arduous road to understanding the vast difference between female fantasy and female reality.

I don’t think she gave me any ultimatums about touching her legs but I think I was too afraid and uncomfortable by that point anyway so I hid my hand behind her ass, making it look like I was groping her. Much more subtle.

There wasn’t any dialogue or much action to speak of. Each take would consist of me looking nonchalantly into the camera, which I interpreted as employing a douchy, shit-eating grin, kiss the hot red-nightie girl and go back to douche mode. Since I was the male lead, our cinematographer Sven Nykvist Jr. was in charge of calling action and cut.

Here it was, the moment of truth. Everything was ready, or as ready as they could be. Sven called “Action!” and I grinned into the camera for ten seconds.

“Alright and…”, Sven said, “Kiss.”

I pushed by head up to Zeynep 2 as she leaned down, then I felt a faint smack”. That was it. My first kiss, with a girl who didn’t particularly want to kiss me, on tape, for a bad student film. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted longer than a second. To say that it felt wet and soft would be an unforgivable cliché, I know, but that’s exactly what it felt like. A shot of endorphin and adrenalin immediately ran through my body but my conscience knew the whole thing was fake so it told my hormones to calm the fuck down at haste.

Sven yelled, “Cut! How was that?”

“Great!” I exclaimed, trying to hold back my excitement, “Did it look decent on your end?”

Zeynep 2 was somberly silent.

Sven lied, “Yeah, it was fine. Do you wanna go again?”

In a split second I conducted an entire inner deliberation about how many takes I could get away with. Ten would make me look like the horny director wasting everybody’s time. One would mean I was unprofessional. Who films only one take?

Even if the first take was perfect, you’re still supposed to do at least a couple more for security. The first take was far from perfect yet I had a distinct feeling things weren’t going to improve much in later takes. So I decided on three takes. Three was universal, three was safe and three meant two more kisses. I could live with that.

So we did two more takes, both of which were exactly the same as the first, cold and soulless. That was a wrap for the day. Eventually everyone packed up and we all headed to our respective homes.

I thought I was going to feel the reassuring accomplishment of knocking down an important developmental milestone, yet at the end of the day I just felt tired and mildly depressed.

The fact that during the ride back home Vivian and Oguz were listening to U2’s “Faraway, So Close” at top volume while belching it out at the top of their lungs didn’t help my mood. I went to sleep that night thinking one thing: “Where can I get a ‘Bono Sucks!’ T-Shirt?”

The weekend was completely spent in the university’s screening room reacting to the four different genres of film the loser character was supposed to be watching. My idea was to never show exactly what he was looking at so that the audience could fill in their favorite movies of that genre themselves.

If I would be shown reacting to an action movie and we saw on the reverse angle that I was watching The French Connection, then the universal theme of the project would be lost.

After two sixteen-hour days, what we ended up with was an hour of footage of me making ridiculously exaggerated faces to the kinds of films I was supposed to be enjoying. The funniest and most shameful part of this experience was when I asked Oguz to provide the mood for the emotions I’d be feeling towards each genre while I felt I wasn’t conveying them clearly enough, being the seasoned thespian that I was.

He’d whisper lines from The Shining in a cheesy campfire tone for horror, make car chase and explosion sounds for action and, my favorite, would cluck like a chicken when I was supposed to be watching comedy. During one take while he was clucking away, I laughed so hard that I started crying. That footage could have been used for my reactions to the romance genre.

We got so tired at around 4 AM that we couldn’t film the final money shot where it was revealed that I was indeed watching a better-looking version of myself on the screen. You know, where I imagined myself living in a brothel from the 60s, wearing comically tight clothes while kissing a hot girl with the intimacy and the sexuality of a rotting mackerel. We decided to call it a day, to be reunited a week later to shoot the final shot. The film was never finished.

That Monday, I showed up to class completely and utterly exhausted. I could barely keep my head up and my eyes open. With the blurry vision of someone suffering from an extreme hangover, I made out a blob that looked like Zeynep 2. As she walked closer and became clearer to my eyes, I couldn’t believe what I saw: She had completely changed her hair over the weekend, from a long red to a short black.

Granted that I might have been paranoid and that she might have already been planning on changing her looks but for her to do so practically the day after she shot her big kissing scene was odd at best.

She found a way to look so different just by altering her hair that she might as well have had on one of those Mission Impossible masks. It’s amazing how much women can alter their looks through a simple change in hair or make-up. I could’ve had long hair with blue and pink streaks and would still look like a fat geek, only lamer.

While she was walking to the classroom, I was standing at the entrance. As she came closer, I smiled and said “Hi.” She walked right past me without saying anything or even acknowledging my presence.

She looked pissed. I remember thinking, “Excuse me, but all I did was to kiss you three times. It’s not like I ran over your dyslexic orphan puppy or anything.” She didn’t speak to me for a couple of weeks.

Because of sheer laziness, a complete lack of organizational skills, slowly coming to the realization of just how bad the film was going to be while watching the abysmal footage, or all of the above, the crew kept postponing shooting the big final shot and the whole thing just evaporated over time. During the freshman year, it was occasionally referred to as “That movie about the loser that that loser never finished.”

About a month or so after the kissing incident, I heard from friends that Zeynep 2 was bitching about the fact that the film wasn’t finished, and that “She went through all of that terrible anguish over nothing.” Years later I found out that her fiancée died of a heroin overdose. No comment.

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