Our American Dream, and

(How Discontentment with the Status Quo Now can lead to even more Contentment later)

Page as of May 3, 2000


1) Our Origins, Discontentment #1, Welcome to USA. We were quite well off in Turkey, part of the jet set in the city, us the children attending private boarding schools, summer camps, parties, etc. But mother, who is a second cousin of father, from a very-well-to-do branch of the family (her father a medical doctor), who had attended American schools, did not quite fit in with father's side of the family, who were from one of the poorest branches of the clan at the time--though I have several medical doctor cousins in that branch now. This discrepancy, mother's American schooling, a degree of inner restlessness and sense of adventure, and the desire to search for wider horizons . . . were factors as to why parents eventually decided to come to USA, as father thought, perhaps for 5-10 years, despite strong warnings by his friends and colleagues that he was being crazy to leave "all this" for the unknown in USA, that he was not the typical immigrant . . .

Father's problem was that since he operated his private clinic, he did not have connections to a university hospital in America, where he imagined himself. At that time, Hollywood movies were the only source of info about the USA, which portrayed a wonderful, colorful, friendly USA, full of breaks and opportunities. Father never even considered he could end up in a dump in prosperous and advanced America. He leased his clinic--and the latest Siemens X-ray machine, the only one in Turkey at the time--to a doctor, sold our home and furniture, took us out of school, and we left. Blame us, but when we arrived in Lakewood, NJ, our nightmare began, made extra difficult due to the glaring contrasts to our previous life. Father had no car; we were stranded in a tiny attic "apartment," hot and humid and full of mosquitos that 1958 summer. But the main problem was his job and circumstances, quite different than the one described to us, also with photos, by the employment agency an American exchange teacher (who at 98 is nevertheless a close family friend now) we met in Turkey had arranged for us upon her return.

2) Rude Awakening. In contrast to YOU who left dire times in your homeland and found a dream-come-true opportunity in USA, our introduction to the USA was the opposite: an ugly rude awakening. Father with 2 medical degrees, and 18 years a medical doctor, had to begin as an intern at a third-rate hospital at age 45. We, who had grown up with maids and a rich social life of almost every night having visitors, going out, etc., did not have a friend, someone saying hello or even showing interest, except for the occasional visits by the exchange teacher who felt guilty and responsible for our situation. We had 2 options: 1) return to Turkey despite considerable costs we had already incurred, 2) endure and hope for better times. If we stayed, father had to prepare for the very arduous exam for foreign doctors, and my sisters and I did not know any English to make sense of our classes. Having attended an Austrian (Jesuit) boarding school in Istanbul, my older sister (3 years) and I (5 years) were fluent in German. Father decided to stay; so Mother brought us to Germany to finish our schooling, while father prepared for the exam and worked. It was against the law in those days to take funds out of Turkey; so we subsisted on father's meager income. After being uprooted for 2 years, father passed his exam and Mother and the girls returned to the USA; I stayed to finish my last year at the Max Planck gymnasium, memorizing, among much else, Goethe's Prolog im Himmel (die Nacht) for the Abitur, knowing that 9 years of schooling and fluency in German and all this work would be out the door when I rejoined the family in USA and again began from scratch, to start university with perhaps 200-300 words in English.

3) Our Americanization. Finally, the worst was over and we became middle class. Father's first job was in Weston, West Virginia (pop. 3,000), a nice and friendly town, but the position did not pay well, why father prepared for the Pennsylvania board exam for better paying positions in that state. His income more than tripled in a few months when we moved to Waynesburg (population 5,000), Pennsylvania, and bought perhaps the nicest home and property in town, alas surrounded by very dull, illiterate, inhospitable, unfriendly, ah-so-religious, and very conservative people. (Some church-going neighbors called their kids home when they saw them speaking to us, this 10 years after we moved there.) I am not sure YOU can envision the environment I am describing, where people are shunned for being different, for not going to the same church, for not going to a church at all. Culturally and socially we were on ice, and we who could blend to just about any environment did not see an opening. My older sister and I were at the University in Morgantown at the time and were not affected by the aura at home, indeed were having fun and loved it there, in the liberal milieu of a university town. But mother and my younger sister had a terrible time with monotony and boredom. A nice and casually sophisticated German-Jewish family from New York, also shunned like us, became our only friends. And we began crossing paths with other families from abroad, scattered in various small towns, also on the lookout for soul mates, all complaining about the inhospitable environment around them, dissimilar people using almost the same words to describe their feelings. 2 years later my younger sister Gigi joined us at the university and isolation became a real problem for mother, which we tried to mollify by coming home (20 miles) every weekend, and even during the week, and bringing along an international assortment--indeed, most of them American--of friends. She called and talked with each of us every day . . .

4) Discontentment 2, American Dream. We lived in Waynesburg for nearly 18 years and could not wait to get out. The years there also became a factor as to why freedom, also to select my own environment, and changing it at my whim, became of utmost importance to me, why now I would live ONLY at the center of 3 or 4 selected cosmopolitan--i.e., not purely American milieu--cities in the USA. Parents shared my feelings. Waynesburg was practically a prison sentence for Mother, but Father had a good income there and having passed one arduous medical state board medical exam, he did not want to prepare for another, just to be out of there. And, of course, we had very many cozy days in Waynesburg over the years. However, in retrospect, I doubt that even with friendlier neighbors our feelings about life in America would have been much different then. Having come from a zestful Mediterranean lifestyle of cafes, clubs, dances, visits, trips, and lots of people arounds us, in my case reinforced by a very vibrant social life in Germany (where I was a celebrity of sorts as the only non-native attending the gymnasium), we could not imagine a duller place to live than small town America, quaint cemetaries for robots and the living dead, we thought. We understood how this lifestyle contributed to American prosperity, but we wondered about the psycological costs, why we surmised loneliness, boredom, routine, and thus alcoholism, drugs, crime, etc. played havoc with lives in America.

By the time father began contemplating our return to Turkey in 1966, first my sister Femsi then I got married. Parents had to reconsider their plans: with and around us, or back in Turkey. They stayed, but with a costly compromise: in 1968, 10 years after our arrival in USA, they decided to stay around their kids, but seek warmth and human touch back in Turkey, why we built our summer villa there in beautiful Tuzla in 1970 and then spent a small fortune to go and be there every summer over the next 22 years. It was a wonderful change of pace and parents really bloomed, but sometime in the 1980s, now also with grandchildren in USA, it began to dawn on us that we had become more American than we were anything else, that Turkey would no longer do. I came back from San Francisco to empty--to Salvation Army--and sell our Waynesburg home on Oct. 21, 1981, and closed that chapter while parents were in Istanbul. They had refused to be rooted anywhere in USA after father's retirement in 1978 and decided not to buy another home here. Instead they began a gypsy life of traveling all over the world, spending long summers in Istanbul, in winter coming to visit with the 3 of us at the 3 corners of the USA, this lifestyle continuing to father's stroke in 1992, when parents had to move to USA for father's dialysis treatments. They continued to share their time between my sisters and I. We sold our villa in 1993 and closed that chapter too. By then, each of us felt the "Man Without a Country" rootlessness inside . . .

Life is a process and evolution, and this is how we eventually evolved into free souls, not rooted anywhere, yet at home everywhere on planet Earth. As is, all of us, but my older sister Femsi, who got acclimated to suburbian life by her 1st husband, whom she finally dumped, still feel this way (in degrees) about life in America. Mother, my younger sister Gigi and I were always the most adventurous, but being alone now only I have the circumstances to implement my whims on an instant, the kind of freedom I strived for since I returned from Germany at age 19, achieved at 38, and retired to enjoy thereafter. Sometimes I travel only to confirm and cherish the fact that I am free to do so, to anywhere, when I want, less my destination . . .

5) Discontentment 3, Washington, DC & American Dream. Now to address your "second thoughts" as to why we might have "really" left Turkey, let me explain this more precisely through 2 examples from my own life. Some people reading the lines I wrote so far may feel "what a (perhaps interesting but) miserable story." They would be missing the point entirely. What I have really tried to underline with this story is that, indeed, DISCONTENTMENT, like luck, is a variable of life and can--though not always--lead to even higher achievement and a more dynamic form of happiness than contentment, though this is not for everyone. Foremost, it has to be IN the person naturally--for otherwise people might initiate changes for the sake of it. Yet discontentment is not an uncommon trait. For example, many marriages break up because one or both partners feel it no longer serves their purposes and they seek happiness with another partner, why relationships have flourished over time. I had mentioned in Paragraph 1 that "inner restlessness" was a factor that made us pack our bags and seek the USA. Apparently parents had it in their genes, as I do. But "inner restlessness" is essentially the same as "unexplained discontentment." It does not necessarily have a discernible cause, but it is a fuel, a force that drives the people who feel it, why, for example, Columbus may have had the urge to see if he could reach the east from the west, when most people then and now can care less about such puzzles. So now 2 most profound examples of this from my life, though I have more of them to cite.

When was I working as a public utility consultant in Washington DC (1972-76), I was moving up at a nice pace, living my American Dream. My job required me to interact also with top-notch lawyers and other consultants, the EPA and various federal and state agencies from around the country, and gas, electric, and telephone companies, working on huge ($250 million, etc.) rate cases. It was an elite environment where I could use all of my 4 degrees and programming collectively as a consultant--why I did not choose engineering, etc. alone for career. I had a very nice apartment near the Dupont Circle, walked 4 blocks to my office on 18th St. (and K/L), lots of women, occasional parties at the Watergate, etc. In 1974, a year after my second divorce (from Gayle, the first one Judy), a young (23) woman joined our firm as an intern and within weeks we grew inseparable. She turned out to be the daughter of one the partners of a major law firm in DC (with whom we interacted) with finishing school background, French fluency, and Georgetown credentials. Her parents accepted our bond and I was asked to join them at their weekend retreat at the Chesapeake. It seemed my future was set; I could only rise, at this the world's capitol. Yet while I did my job meticulously and contemplated our likely marriage, I was also hearing a distant tune, Call of the Wild, I call it. It seemed the more and longer I lived my American Dream the unhappier I became. Because the job was so challenging and the environment so promising, I could see myself robotized, sinking into a hole, partly of greed, and selling my soul, as I had to work long hours, most nights, and many weekends, preparing for strategies and cross-examinations either of our side or the opposing expert witnesses. Even during off hours, projects had a way of entering my mind and interfering with simple joys. I had already proven that I could excel in that arena. So increasingly I felt less motivation for it, more motivation to live my life away from such formula definitions of success and happiness. Although I had dreamed about being in such a setting during my student days, gradually discontentment set in and I began thinking of ways out.

One night, I watched a 45-min. program about Saudi Arabia on WETA, sent a letter to the Saudi embassy, and got a few addresses. I wrote to some and, after delays and mixups, I had a contact on my hands 6 months later on Dec. 19, 1975, from a Saudi development agency (like the World Bank and UN agencies, with whom we collaborated) financing projects around the world. The contract was offering me 3 times my total income in DC, all sorts of fringe benefits, a furnished villa, reimbursement for an auto, 1-month paid leave (transport to USA included), and hints that I would be traveling a lot all over the world, first-class everywhere and daily fees in addition. That the position offered opportunities for worldwide travel and adventure appealed to me the most. I quit that day at noon, to the shock of everyone, myself too, of course, feeling sad about the situation with my companion.

6) Discontentment 4, Saudi Arabia. My discontentment in DC had led to my biggest break in life, to my land of opportunity, and I never looked back. In Arabia, I doubled my income every year, primarily thru travel fees that paid me $350 extra per day when I traveled, like 58 days to 13 countries in Africa, staying (as a guest), for example, at the presidential suite at the Khartoum, Sudan, with a view to the White Nile from the bedroom, the Blue Nile and the confluence of the 2 from my living room, followed by 2 weeks to several countries in Asia, followed by 10 days in Latin America, then attending a strategy meeting at the European headquarters of the World Bank in Paris for 3 weeks, etc. Whatever I touched turned into gold in those days. In late 1978, the Saudis decided put me to work inside Saudi Arabia for SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries) under the Ministry of Industry, working as an analyst (of financial viability) on (each) $1 to 3 billion petrochemical joint ventures with Exxon, Shell, Mitsubishi, etc. and building entire new cities for 250,000 people in the desert, like Yanbu. The 4th and 5th years, I had under-the-table form of payments in the form of fringe benefits, like paying my social security taxes in USA, sending my daughter to a private boarding school, around the world travel for her and me, and other gimmicks, like adding 15 days to my leave for a 3-day stop with Mitsubishi in Tokyo, with 15 days of extra daily premiums, and so on. And, the Saudis also paid my travel to economic conferences around the world--where I presented papers and chaired sessions on 7 occasions over 5 years--once also for my mother, a round-trip ticket Pittsburgh to Hawaii. Of course, there were also lots of working dinners and parties at the Intercontinental, etc. BUT one thing was missing in my life: intimacy with a woman companion. This did not seem important at first, perhaps due to my promiscuity when I traveled, but eventually it became a source of discontentment. And the dinners and parties and "Your Excellency such and such" were getting old. I moved out my villa and began living in the desert to listen to my soul and inner voice. Already after by the 4th year there I had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Actually living in the desert, away from confining structure, gave me enough energy to continue for another year. Some of my greatest joys in Saudi Arabia came about in the company of NOT "Your Excellency this and that" but simple Bedouins I found in the desert, who always invited me to tea in the shade of a tent, sometimes even a roasted sheep or camel.

These simple joys led me to 3 resolutions that I still implement: 1) simplicity of lifestyle (thus also getting rid of some of the artificiality that comes with (forced) social interaction), 2) minimize formula approach to life, as it was clear that was too much of a nonconformist to fit into these norms, 3) enrich my life in mutually-exclusive sequences, where this sequence of lifestyle and environment would have little connection to the previous one, like in Turkey, Germany, WVU Years, Arabia, California, DC & Sharon, and Miami, the 7 major Incarnations of my Life (as I label them), as so depicted now on my web site. So I reinforced my finances for another year, and then again, to the shock of everyone, including myself, QUIT. What I still find so remarkable about this is in that I might have joined one of the joint venture partners, like Exxon, and moved say to Houston or New York on a decent salary. I did not do this; I simply quit, on Oct. 7, 1980, 8 years after I graduated from WVU, to return to USA and live in my own home in La Jolla, California, with no thoughts yet as to what I would do there. Appropriately, my retirement began in Istanbul, the place where I was born, to mark and celebrate this occasion of my rebirth, so to speak. I took a long vacation there to sort out my thoughts of what next. IN RETROSPECT, I OWE MY FREEDOM AND PRESENT CONTENTMENT TO DISCONTENTMENT WITH THE STATUS QUO ALONG THE WAY, which may also induce me to leave Miami Beach some day, though I like it here as long as I am in USA.

7) My Way. Concluding my story, I have been spending 12-16 hours a day designing and redesigning my web pages, our own (presidential) library, so to speak, complete with photos, a 675-page book about our history and assimilation to the USA, family trees, etc. Let me expand on that tip of the iceberg a bit. After I returned from Saudi Arabia in 1981, I did not need to work, and I did not want to. On the other hand, I had been also a very active consultant for 8 years. While in limbo, I had applied to the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, near San Francisco. They made an offer, I accepted, and rented an apt. in San Franciso. I had dreamed about such elite think-tank places while in school. 3 months later I had enough. This was Mickey Mouse compared to Saudi Arabia and I decided I did not like the robot-like work environments in USA. I quit on Sep. 27, 1981, and never again had a full time work here. But I knew that I had to invent personal projects to balance my time and establish some sort of roots in USA after being away for 5 years. I moved into my home in La Jolla and began teaching classes at various universities and colleges, and the US Navy, in San Diego and Los Angeles, also to sample my female students after each semester. It was a wild, promiscuous, and colorful time socially. Then I got into astrology research, which got me into a dull robot state (to which a young woman named Sharon added the only intimacy and human touch for 8 years), which induced me to smoke 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day, which led me to my software business initially in New York, then in Washington, which began to interfere with my freedom, which I then divorced 8 years later to move to Miami, to conclude my other projects that I had invented along the way, still wanting to balance my time, AND to be in USA when father retired, in case parents needed guidance, a root besides my sisters, and to show my gratitude. I bought this condo for them, and father enjoyed it for a month before his death. He died here.

Presently, my only goal is to conclude my projects, stop smoking, and to begin an exercise schedule, of course, all-out, as I do most things. With the background I outlined, I could have evolved many personality traits. I like the ones I have, especially my free spirit, resilliency, dynamism, intensity, and passion, sense of involvement, of fair play, and my courage in calling a spade spade. I will continue to work on facets that need further massaging and will strive to achieve other traits I admire, hopefully always evolving, not merely aging. One thing of which I am certain is that I would not want any segment of my life different than the way it was, because the amalgamation of all the inputs and sequences made my life very rich and me what I am. Indeed, I chose most of them. (I guess this sounds like I like myself.) And, I think I might be fully self-actualized by the time I am ready to jump off a cliff . . .

8) Philosophy.You may think I have been writing these lines about our unhappy introduction to the USA with a "grim" look on my face. Indeed, I am/was smiling all along, in part re-living that curious history, but also mischievously happy that each of us won in the end, despite the remarkable odds and hurdles. Here is the last part, concluding with a bit of personal (macro) philosophy after so much context.

People do not grow up in a vacuum. Experiences and the environment play a role molding us and our values, beliefs, even personalities. My take from the years in Waynesburg was/is a vehement dislike and intolerance for intolerant conservatism that is unique to America (or, at least, I have not encountered such mindset anywhere else), though, of course, we/I do not bundle all conservatives together. These years also reinforced my already Bohemian and outspoken personality. But I have never reserved the latter for the USA alone. In Turkey, I often criticized Turkey to friends and cousins, stating, for example, that apparently the Turks have all but forgotten that they were a world empire for 632 years, that people now used their intelligence for mediocre and short-sighted ends on an individual level, like the easy life, how to bypass rules, etc., rather than collectively invest in progress for the country, that they copied only the most superficial stuff from the west, rather than adopt substantive science and technology . . . In Germany (that I still love, also for treating me very nicely at the time), I used to get into heated debates with classmates and friends (and a few teachers) as to how and why the people of one of world's smartest and most advanced cultures could collectively turn into sheep, make a God out of a mere teacher, and follow him blindly to such ends, the Holocaust merely a sub-chapter . . .

In USA, next to the Vietnam War and our Mid-East policy, that has been decided in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem since the Eisenhower years, I have been always intensely critical, for example, of our Cuban policy, and voiced my reasoning and strong objections on every forum I came across on the Internet, to most congress people, and frequently on all media, to stop this putrid and hypocritical embargo that is against everything noble America claims it stands for, that has harmed only the most needy in Cuba, made the USA a joke around the world, and Castro the most colorful and world-wide respected leader--for having had the guts to stand up and survive against the mighty USA for 4 decades--of the 2nd half of the 20th Century . . . To me, my behavior has nothing to do with bashing, gratitude or ingratitude; it is calling a spade spade, wherever it happens. (Actally, I have paid my dues, not to mention taxes, in USA and feel free to indeed BASH anything that I find consequentially wrong.) And I am not this way to tickle my rebellious genes; I am thinking that if enough voices get together, we might be able to force a change, as we did during the Vietnam War, to which I objected strongly in the company of my American friends, all the way from 1968, in which our blind fixity and arrogance--our determined refusal to even consider that the Domino Theory invented by someone at the State Department, that fueled our mindset and this genocide, could be off totally--killed 3 million people, injured another 3 million, decimated the landscapes of several already poor nations, and sacrificed 1000s our own citizens in this another (i.e., Indians, slavery, Iraq) American Holocaust, against a nation that only wanted self-determination, also from foreign rule, as America did once, as Castro had in mind when he began . . . . Albeit, there are many religions and ways of practicing religion; this kind of caring and involvement for what is decent and American, as claimed on paper, is the way I practice religion and my citizenship.


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