Milestones! and Strippers! and the Daily Muslim Prayer song

Yesterday, IronNotWood.com passed 1,000 unique visitors to the website! Surprising, considering that I only got the site up in late February with the tentative release of my first draft but never told people about it, except a dozen or so folks. In late May I finally finished the book and started more work on the webpage.  But even then not too many were told about the site.

About half of the visitors are from America, while the remaining  portion is literally from all around the world, especially places or near places I have visited. But I only VERY selectively tell people I meet about my book and website. There are dozens and dozens of countries, and even more cities represented in the list of visitors to the site.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the many people who have read the entire book and those who have sent me such positive feedback! Thank you, with heartfelt gratitude.

Now onto more interesting things…like prayer and strippers!

Each morning I awake to the sound of the high pitched Islamic music, foreboding the daily ritual of the Muslim prayer. This is my alarm clock. I can see the practical element of the religion now! Below is a view of Istanbul from my apartment. To the far left you can see the peak of the Mosque, where the loudspeaker rings out with indiscrimating persistence.

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This morning I awoke to the feeling of what the f* happened last night? Hardly comforted by the unsoothing Muslim song.

Nightlife in Istanbul

I decided it was time to really discover the nightlife in Istanbul last night. So I headed to the city center of Taksim region, intent on raging the night away like an out of flavor rock star reminiscing of his glory days (only months ago when I used to be able to party every night, all night long, like a perpetual motion clock.)  My favorite way to discover the nightlife is to wander around looking and occasionally asking people for recommendations. I found a small club on a side street named Roxy, casually had a smoke and observed the crowd going in and out of the club. It wasn’t impressive. But I decided I might as well take a look inside. The bouncer informed me that I cannot enter alone unless accompanied by a female. Hmmmm. Outisde there were a few girls and some of them offered to go in with me, but by this time I was completely turned off from this club. I asked a young Turkish man outside, who admittedly was quite good looking but looked more European than Turkish. He spoke perfect English. I asked him where is a hot spot that would be full of hot girls. He nonchalantly told me Istanbul doesn’t really have many beautiful girls. To which I readily agreed having observed for the past few days. But he recommended I go to a place called Istanbul 360, on the top floor of a building in the center with great views. It was about a 20 minute walk and not far.  So I proceeded to head in the direction he instructed.

As I was walking toward 360, I ran into a man from Cyprus. He was friendly and in his mid thirties. I invited him to join me so we continued to walk and talk.

We finally found the building and proceeded up the elevator to the top level. In the elevator we met a big group of girls from Finland. Very friendly tourists. But not beautiful.

At the entrance the lady attendant informed us it cost 50 lira (about $20) for cover to get in. We grumbled a bit but finally my Cyprus friend and I decided to go in. The lady informs us we cannot go in alone as two men! F* again! The Finish girls were willing to accompany us if we wanted to go in together. But again, this pissed me off so we said lets go elsewhere. Apparently all the clubs are this way! I was quickly becoming disgruntled with Istanbul nightlife.

My friend suggested we go to a bar/restaurant and just have a beer or two and then go somewhere else. It seemed like a good plan. It was pouring rain so we hopped into a taxi to go a few blocks.

At the bar, we sat and drank our beer and observed the girls as they walked by. It felt even worse than Man-Jose, as the men outnumbered the women by about 10 to 1. Even worse, the occasional beautiful girl was inevitably not a local! The man from Cyprus had traveled quite a bit and was an  architect. He conceded Istanbul girls are simply not very beautiful, generally speaking. Although occasionally you do notice an incredibly beautiful Turkish girl with light eyes, fair skin and beautiful face.

After finishing the beer, my friend paid for my beer, graciously, and we hopped into a taxi to a club he said was next to his very nice hotel. And he had been there the previous night and told me the women are beautiful. So we made our way to this supposed Garden of Eden.

When we arrived and walked inside, I realized it was kind of a strip club. But the girls don’t take their clothes off or even do lap dances. All the girls are dressed well in skirts or dresses. There was a belly dancer performance and occasionally we would all dance on the small stage together. So it seemed more like a hybrid disco club and strip club, but without stripping. LOL.

Two girls came sat next to us. My friend ordered a bottle of whisky and we enjoyed the loud music. The girls that worked at the club were from all over, including some Turkish girls. The girl that sat next to me wasn’t Turkish. She was from Odessa, Ukraine, where I had just been recently on the Black Sea. She was unsurprisingly gorgeous. She spoke perfect, unaccented English. I told her she looked like the movie star Julia Stiles, from the Bourne Identity movies. She had never heard of her or seen the movies. I told her she must watch the movies because they’re just awesome. She was actually much better looking than Julia Stiles, with a prettier face and much more incredible body.

To provide some background, my girlfriend Marina and I still talk every day, but when I left Kiev about a month and a half ago, I told her I wouldn’t be coming back anymore. We would never meet again. I still love Marina and I know she loves me too, but as I’ve always told her since the start, we simply could never be together long term. It’s something we both understood. But even still, since leaving her, and despite meeting many beautiful girls, I always chose to not get involved sexually with anyone else. I remain faithful to Marina, strangely, despite knowing I will never see her again. But nonetheless, I still meet girls; and while others may not understand my behavior, it’s within the comfort of my moral limits.

Anyway, back to the stripper story. So this girl, Masha, seemed to really connect. We danced, talked and joked, and drank a lot. I got pretty obliterated from the bottle of whisky. Towards the end of the night, Masha told me she wanted to meet with me the next day and we could hang out together.

Around the same time, we finally got our bill for the evening. When it came I nearly shit my pants. It was 7,900 lira (more than $3,000)! Holy fucking shit!! My Cyprus friend suggested we split it 50-50. I couldn’t believe how much it was since I had never been to such a club in Istanbul and generally stay away from strip clubs while traveling, since I just don’t trust these establishments and how they treat foreigners. They’re often unscrupulous.

Before I had left my apartment for the night out, I intentionally had left my bank card in my hotel and removed some cash – for practical reasons, in case I lost my wallet or whatever. I only had about 250 lira left in my wallet for the night, expecting to spend somewhere between 100-200 for the night. It wasn’t nearly enough to pay my half of the bill. So I told the manager of the club I can’t pay the bill. He suggested I give all the cash I have and then someone could go with me to my apartment to get the remaining payment. There was no way I was gonna let someone go to my apartment with me. After some time with this pissing contest, I simply told him the bill amount was ridiculous and not expected; if he wanted to call the police he should do so and I would be happy to go to jail if necessary. So initially he proceeded to call the police and I sat down waiting, my friend standing next to me, offering to pay a larger portion if needed (another 1000 lira).

After some contemplating the manager finally said “Ok I’m not going to call the police. You can just go. But don’t ever come back here…You’re very lucky because some other club they would probably just beat the shit out of you or have the police lock you up in jail.” I also realized this assessment was probably true. Then, with a stern look on his face, regretting the fact he was forgiving a $1500 bill, he said “you’re a clever man.” I looked him strongly in the eyes and replied, “I’m not lying to you or manipulating you. But thank you for letting me go.”

I proceeded to walk outside and walk the handful of blocks to my apartment, as the rain gently splashed the concrete sidewalk, thinking how stupid it was to allow myself to be in that situation. I should have known and asked about the prices before hand. My Cyprus friend never meant any ill but I should never have made assumptions about anything. In the end, I once again couldn’t help but to be amazed at the shockingly good fortune in life, constantly. No matter what kind of trouble I ever got into my entire life, things always somehow turned out pretty well. It never made any sense to me. It still doesn’t.

One time when I was on a business trip to Tokyo, many years ago early in my career, I had accidentally gone into a club and did something similar. I ended up with a large bill I didn’t expect. I had to pay as the heavy bouncers came up, trying to intimate and non-verbally threaten. So I had to give all the cash I had in my wallet. When I went to the ATM to get more cash, I discovered most ATMs didn’t work with foreign bank cards. This was in the 1990s. I had no money, no access to money, no phone (this was before mobile phones), and no way to get to my hotel in a completely new and foreign city. It was my first time in Tokyo. It was overwhelming. Confused and not knowing what to do, I hopelessly wandered the streets of Roppongi Tokyo just to think. It was very late in the night. For some reason, I decided to just walk along a very small and dark side street. I made my way up the stairs of a very narrow and virtually pitch black staircase, thinking there was a bar upstairs in one of the tall buildings, and maybe I could hang there for a bit (surely someone would buy me a drink as often happened and perhaps they could help me get home). As I stumbled upstairs, looking down at my feet, dejected and filled with hopelessness, I suddenly notice a wad of paper at my feet. As I looked down, it turned out to be more than 700 yen. This was nearly $800 or more just laying on the ground. I couldn’t believe it! It had been nearly the exact amount that I had been cheated out of earlier in the night at the club.

It’s difficult to imagine this story could be true I know. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. But considering all the strange things that have happened to me over the course of my life (and this is just the tip of the iceberg), and the incredible good fortune, it’s hard not to wonder, is this by accident or is there really a guardian angel in my life?

I stumbled home, alone. Still quite drunk. The cold streets of Istanbul seemed impersonal and lonely now somehow, the complete opposite of everything that I had experienced in the prior days. When I got home, I ended up throwing up in the bathroom as my head began to spin when I laid my head down on the pillow.

And when the morning came (actually early afternoon), I wondered inside, “what the f* happened last night?!”

Another random day in my life.