Saturday, November 26, 2011

2 years in Turkey! (NOT as in "gobble-gobble"....)

The 2 worst years of my life! That's how I felt about my 2 years in Turkey, at the time. Sorta still feel that way.
But 2 good things came out of it: My daughter was born there. & I wrote some of the best work of my life.
After 3 years in Wyoming telling every1 I'd stay permanently if they wanted, the Air Force sent me 2 Ankara, Turkey, a city of 4 million people located in a bowl in the middle of hilly Anatolia.
The X-wife & I were Xcited about going. Prices there were CHEAP -- we were told we could take a "luxury" bus from 1 end of the country 2 the other 4 $10. There were lots of ancient ruins 2 crawl around on & "Oooh" & "Ahhh" at, plenty of neat stuff 2 see. All that history! A whole diffrent place! A totally new Xperience! So much 2 learn!
We flew over early in Dec 1989. Practically right after we arrived, the 1st Gulf War started. So most of R plans 4 touring the country went right out the window....
The 2nd big shock was Ankara itself. We landed in the middle of winter, & the Turks use coal 2 heat their homes & the MANY apartment bldgs around the city. & in the winter, the smoke from that coal -- along with the Xhaust from a coupla million cars -- hangs in the air, & stays there until the temperature warms up.
We noticed during R nighttime ride from the airport in2 town that the air was BROWN. In the daytime it was more of a gray-white, but the smog was so thick we couldn't clearly see the apartment bldg NEXT DOOR. At night there'd just B squares of lite from other people's apartment windows, seemingly hanging in the air....
Ankara Air Station itself was tiny -- a few blocks wide by mayB 6 blocks long -- home 2 a couple hundred Americans. Home away from home. We had a grocery store as big as 2 7-11's stuck together -- with great milk from Germany, & my 1st-ever Xperience with bottled water, since the public water supply wasn't considered really safe. We had a small base exchange -- like a tiny WalMart, the 1st place I ever saw CDs.
We also had 1a THE BEST bookstores ever. The Stars and Stripes Bookstore was crammed full of the latest paperbacks & LOTSA newspapers, cos 1 thing most of us DIDN'T get every day was News From Home. Most of us didn't have access 2 the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, which showed lotsa reruns, tape-delayed sports events, & 5 mins of AF-approved news each nite.
So the S&S Bookstore carried the weight. It had LOTS of war-fiction, + TONS of science fiction, horror, mysteries, thrillers, romances, bestsellers, lotsa Tom Clancy & Stephen King. Oh, & lotsa porn, 2. The owners knew who their audience was....
There was also a ton of books from Great Britain -- stuff like the great PENGUIN GUIDE TO POPULAR MUSIC, & M.H. Zool's GOOD READING GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION.
There would B something new & cool on the shelves there every week. It still amazes me how many books we brot back from Turkey. A partial list: Thomas Harris's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS & RED DRAGON, Kathe Koja's THE CIPHER, Gael Baudino's GOSSAMER AXE, Jesse Sublett's ROCK CRITIC MURDERS, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling's YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR, Gardner Dozois's YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, Karl Edward Wagner's YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES, Edward Lee's over-the-top COVEN, & LOTS more....
Books & newspapers & letters were about R only connection with Back Home. After a year, when we got an apartment that had actual TV, the X & I Bcame Major League Baseball fans just so we could see something CURRENT that was actually happening in America!
We didn't know what THE SIMPSONS was 'til late in our 2 years -- when I saw the 1st couple episodes I laffed til I cried, & then I laffed til I about threw up. America was a mystery that was 10,000 miles away 4 us -- Rosanne Barr sang the National Anthem at the World Series?! What the hell is GOING ON Back Home...?
It's hard 2 Dscribe the sense of isolation we felt. All of us who were there felt it, I think. So we tried 2 have some fun with it, have some good times. You never knew when the electricity would go out -- possibly sevral times a day. You never knew when the water would stop running, or if the toilets would flush.
But the work never stopped. 1nce I settled in I was a 1-man-band on the newspaper, which kept me hoppin -- & eventually Xhausted me. I got 1 week off in 2 years.
The paper itself looked like a little magazine, which was cool -- it had photos & cool graphics & everything. & there was room 4 me 2 write personality features & comedy & off-the-wall stuff if I wanted. & somehow I Bcame a sportswriter -- I guess Bcos of the freedom it gave me compared 2 just-the-facts reporting. & base intramural sports were a blast 2 cover. 1 of the 1st big stories I wrote after arriving was on the base basketball championship game -- which went 2 quadruple-overtime!
While doing all the other stuff I could just have fun with sports -- I wrote stories about the base's 2 worst baseball teams, including a team from the British Embassy that went winless all season but laffed all thru it. Their captain assured me they'd B back next season: "We might even know the rules by then."
I also wrote about the base's worst volleyball team -- fielded by the base Clinic: doctors & nurses & paramedics & admin people -- some of whom went on leave rather than face losing another match....
Pieces like this won me U.S. Air Forces in Europe's Sportswriter of the Year Award in 1991, & I was runner-up 4 the command's Journalist of the Year Award. I was thrilled. Speechless. & it was the freedom I got thru sportswriting & comedy that got me that recognition.
Probly my fave story in 2 years was the Dog Bone Awards, about the ways the base's Finance Office kept morale up during tough times. The Dog Bones were presented every Fri 2 the Finance troop who did the most embarrassing thing all week. I attended 1 of these blowing-off-steam sessions, thot it was hilarious, wrote it up 4 the paper -- the story wrote itself, only took about 30 mins -- & the week after the story appeared, the Finance folks gave ME a Dog Bone. & the plaque is still hanging on my wall....
It wasn't all fun & games. Elsewhere in the country Americans were getting shot at by terrorists. Not all Turks thot it was OK that we were bombing Iraq. We were told 2 "dress Turkish" -- wear dark clothes, don't speak English, go without a shower 4 awhile, blend in, take diffrent routes 2 work.
1 morning in late October 1991, a friend of mine -- a computer Xpert who'd bailed me & the paper outta computer problems 100 times -- got blown-up by a car bomb on his way in 2 work. Everybody at the base went in2 shock. The X & I spent R last month in Turkey in a daze. & we left in Dec 1991. I haven't bn back. I don't really miss it that much.
Ankara Air Station was closed a few years back as a cost-saving measure. It feels weird that a base where I spent 2 years of my life isn't really there anymore. I can still see it....
Don't let me give you a bad impression of the Turks, either. Mosta the folks we met were Xtremely nice, & they were especially kind 2 my son & my golden-haired newborn daughter.
& if you were 2 visit Turkey today, you might like it. The southern coast is gorgeous -- the little I saw of it. My daughter was born in Adana, & that place was like Florida with Turkish roadsigns. There were even palmtrees!
It all depends on where you're at, what you see, & yer attitude. In the middle of that 2 years I spent 3 weeks in Athens, Greece, helping close-down another base. The Greeks think Athens is a toilet -- totally polluted. I thot it was so dazzlingly bright I hadta buy a pair of sunglasses.... It was like California only with what looked like Russian roadsigns....
After we left Turkey, the Air Force sent me 2 San Jose, California, 2 the smallest base in the entire AF. Where the biggest building was a 4-story Blue Cube that 1,000's of people drove by every day. & the base had a mission that I Couldn't Talk About....

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