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Guns, Booze, Cigars and the One-Armed Man: Shopping in Asia Minor

Friendship in your 30s

“Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” John F. Kennedy

I am not John F. Kennedy, and I do not wish to be. But like Jack, I am a dreamer, an Irishman, and a drug abuser.

On this particular Tuesday, the thing I wanted was frozen broccoli. I had just finished an all-night bender with Freeman, my close friend and musical muse. Freeman was also American, or at least still is. Like me, he has been in Turkey for over a decade and, just like me, still hasn’t gotten used to this wild and wonderful land.

Frozen Broccoli — SRM

“Sh*t! Close the damn window, you demented cockroach, and pass me the cigar!”

Freeman was awake and alive, but at what cost? We had just finished recording a new song, and to celebrate, we decided to get drunk in his kitchen, surrounded by his watch collection of Rolexes and the like.

Photo by Sabrianna on Unsplash

Freeman was rockin' two of them on each wrist as he replayed our work in the dingy kitchen.

Ya! Yass! YA! THAT’S IT!” He was half-naked and dancing among the notes we had created. He was wearing an odd combination of fluorescent yellow and tight orange shorts. I remember needing air. “Man, I’m drifting. I need some broccoli and maybe a cigar if I’m going to continue this. The wife will be back in two days, so God knows when I’ll get this chance again.” Truth be told, I wanted him to tell me to go home, but he just said, “Broccoli. Genius. Yes, let’s go, man. We can boil it and get a beer. Where are my keys?” Keys? This American brute thinks he’s driving. “Key? You filthy yank! We don’t own vehicles. This is Anatolia, and in Anatolia, foreigners walk!"

Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

I love being drunk in the morning, especially when the weather is this fine and I’m fully decked out. You see, today I’m wearing my baby blue Hawaiian shirt and pink shorts. Sure, it’s winter and the mountains are capped with snow, but my knees never get cold, and sandals allow for easy access when entering an Asian home. No tying and untying laces for me. Freeman is wearing odd Ray-Ban sunglasses that are too tall for his western head. His grey hair is styled into a crew cut, making him resemble Major Chip Hazard from Toy Soldiers. At least he was wearing his two 10K Rolexes.

Freeman was born on an airbase in Guam Photo by Martijn Hendrikx on Unsplash

If you were to wake up one Sunday morning and see two oddities like us strolling down the street of a city—oh, let’s just say, New York or LA—you probably wouldn’t give us a second thought. Not in Turkey. Especially not in a Turkish backwater town. Around here, everyone looks, and they hold their stares. “Damn, Turks never seen calves before?” Freeman muttered as we stumbled down the misty morning street as the call to prayer rang out. He was proud of his legs. Hairless but muscular. We were obviously still drunk, and I’m pretty sure I had thrown away my contact lenses sometime during the night, leaving me blind, blurred, and confused. “Let’s just get the cigars and beer, man.” “And the broccoli.” Of, course. The frozen broccoli. Western pleasures.

The market and the one-armed man

Turkey is just like any other Western country, but something always tastes a little off, especially in their Western-styled supermarkets. It’s almost as if they read the manual but misplaced an important screw. For me, it’s usually the lack of quality chocolate croissants. For Freeman, it’s the lack of any vegan options. But today, we were both united in our anger at the sheer lack of frozen food. “Jesus Christ, man, how the hell do people live like this?” Freeman suddenly shouted Ouyt like some sort of wounded demon in the middle of the market. “Jesus man! Relax and put down the cereal, you honeynut bozo! I don’t know how you do things in DC, but Irish people like to blend in.” I held Freeman close as I explained the ways of the world in that Anatolian market dressed in pink shorts and a blue Hawaiian shirt as old women in burqas looked at our exposed calves. I whispered softly into Freeman's ears so the god-fearing woman wouldn’t hear us.

“Meet me at the cashier. No sudden movements.”

Early morning city — SRM

Freeman swiped his tiny sunglasses from his huge, grotesque American face and whispered, “What do you see?” Poor bastard was better off not knowing. “Just meet me at the cashier,” I muttered as I noticed my flip-flops had gone missing.

I was now barefoot in this land.

This domestic jungle.

The Spirits. — SRM

Freeman knew not to get in my way.

Ahead of me, stocking cigarettes, was a young man with one arm. I didn’t want to stare, but I found him to be unique and impressive.

Thank you for your service, now stock those shelves. Photo by Alexander Jawfox on Unsplash

Any man who can stock cigarettes on a ladder with one arm is a man worth knowing.

I approached him gingerly. “Merhaba kardesim! Broccoli! Nerede?” Slowly, he pointed me in the direction of the greenery. He used his stub to point. That made me stare more, and I began to sweat. Shit was getting real, and I could feel the cold embrace of sobriety approaching. Thank God I sent Freeman away. If he had seen this, there would have been trouble. Freeman loved to preach about workers rights as they worked. Surely, the American would have had a problem with the ladder and tested its stability by kicking it over and murdering the poor employee in the process. I had done well. But I felt unwell.

'Not now. Stay limber, Peter. You got this.’

But I didn’t have anything.

I had forgotten where I had sent Freeman and began to question this pursuit of frozen spinach.

‘Was it only beer I had last night? What was in that inhaler Freeman gave me?’

Everyday questions for the soul normally stay tied up in one's mind, and here I am in the middle of a Turkish supermarket, shoeless and trying to break the code of life.

“Why am I here, Freeman!?"

The one-armed man snapped his head toward me like a snapping turtle.

‘Did I just say that?’

The one armed took out a walkie-talkie and began whispering sweet nothings into the static. It was time to go. But where? We still needed beer and cigars. I made my way to the exit and into the dry Turkish light of day. The frozen broccoli would have to wait.

Finding Freeman 2024

Never trust an American. Especially one that values watches above people. Where was the beast? He had everything of mine at his house, but I knew if I returned without the beer and cigars, he’d beat me or at the very least pull the gun on me. I don’t know where he found that gun or who gave it to him, but he had it.

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

My lawyer told me that it was probably not real and he was only using it to keep me in check, but I didn’t want to test that theory. When Freeman had his heart attack, he gave me the keys to his house so I could get his toothbrush and bring it to the hospital.

When I was there, I ransacked the place, looking for the gun, but found nothing. I even contemplated stealing his watches if he died and using the money to move back to Africa with my wife.

I told my therapist this story, and she judged me.

Women don’t understand male friendships, but this is the way of things when you reach a certain age and have burned every other bridge.

Maybe this disappearance was Freeman's revenge for that. Maybe he wanted to lead me into the city on a crisp Sunday morning and set the authorities on me.

I don’t know.

Had he drugged me?

My brain was feeling jittery, and shadowy spiders were biting my spine. I needed beer and cigars. Something cool, fresh, and bitter to take the edge off this odd day. I needed to get off the street. These streets, filled with hazy memories of youth and failed revolutions of the mind.

‘Welcome to Europe, Turkey. Oh wait, never mind.’

Turkey 2013 memory Infiltration

The streets of this small Turkish backwater water are alive with young people. I am one of the 20 foreigners who have come to this city to teach. A lost soul just trying to make an Asian buck. Freeman is somewhere in Istanbul, unmet by me as of yet, but there are others. We are a mishmash of Irish, Welsh, English, American, Australian, and Canadian travelers, dreamers, and weekend teachers just trying to find purpose after the great crash of 2008.

If you don’t know about the economic crash of 2008, then God bless you.

There are many whys to why I am here. 2008 is probably the foundation of all the whys.

Photo by Anna Berdnik on Unsplash

We were alive in the Anatolian streets with our Turkish brothers and sisters, kissing and drinking in the cigar-filled Turkish nights. One dollar beer soaks our chins, and outdoor drinking is the order of the day.

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

Those were the days.

The days before Gezi, ISIS, and the rest.

It seems I fled the trauma of Ireland for a far more sinister trauma.

Freemans Apartment 2024

The withered man — SRM

Now we drink alone in the kitchen.

No longer are we a gang of 20.

Only Freeman and I remain.

We are still in love with Anatolia, but the longer we stay, the poorer we become. We spend our nights on fire, searching for common memories. The booze does that to men who have seen too much. Two brave men who left everything in search of the great Eastern dream but now only want cigars and frozen broccoli. Both of which were unattainable. Grown men unable to find simple pleasure. Men of great past reduced to complaining about the woes of the world in a tiny kitchen above the Asian streets of doom.

Photo by Jocelyn Wong on Unsplash

“Did you find the cigars?” The American asks.

“No. I’m going home.”

He doesn’t seem to mind this time. He knows I’ll be back next month for my monthly fix.

He turns his back and goes back to sleep.

The Walk Home

I don’t live far from Freeman. Just across the park. The city is a mess. A mishmash of refugees and immigrants funded by the EU.

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

The great days of the Turkish economy are nearly two decades gone. I managed to catch, what, a year perhaps? But what a year! I can still see it now, especially in the right company, when the Lira was strong and the country was so sleek.

I don’t even know...

I’m rambling again. I’m tired, and my wife will be home soon. I need to clean up the blood and the fuzzy memories.

I need to forget about it all.

About the bad times.

And especially the good times.

Travel hard and travel far, my friends but make sure you come home

I have been Peter Murphy, and you have just read my stuff.

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