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Rapid rise through ranks proves costly

Every time I read about retired Gen. "Bill" Klein, who is challenging David Fischer's try for another term as mayor of St. Petersburg, I remember that, like Gen. Klein, I, too, was once a "general" in Turkey.

Some years ago, after seeing the famous sites in Istanbul, the great city once known as Constantinople, I simply had to see the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Straits of Bosphorus, Russia's only direct access to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas from the Black Sea.

Control of those waterways was very important to NATO, whose forces included our own American servicemen who were keeping a low profile the year I visited that area.

I saw hundreds of tanks but only a few Americans, who were never in uniform. That is how, by accident, I became a "sergeant" and then a "general." Because I was not in the Armed Forces, I, too, was in civilian clothes.

As my wife and I walked down the street of a delightful Turkish city a young lad of about 12 approached my wife, Miriam, and me. Gracefully he placed his shoeshine seat in front of Miriam's feet and said to me, "I'll shine her boots for only 25 cents." (Perfect English but heavily accented.)

I liked the lad instantly, so I replied, "And how much for the two of us?"

"Only a dollar," he replied with a big grin. "A special price for two!" I loved the kid, whom I recognized as a sharp young businessman on his way up. My shoes were awfully big!

After he finished Miriam's boots, he did an equally good job on my battered hiking boots. When he finished, he said, "All done, sergeant! One dollar, please!"

I don't know why I said it, but he'd been "pulling my leg" all through his time with us, so I thought I'd have fun with him.

The minute he said, "All done, sergeant," I replied, "What do you mean "sergeant'? I'm a general!"

As calm as could be, while stroking his chin, he studied my face, my graying hair and made a judgment. Then he replied, "I'm sorry, general. I didn't know!"

Then, looking me straight in the eye, he added," That will be two dollars, please, general!"

"What do you mean?" I replied. "You said it was one dollar for both of us when we made our agreement."

That Turkish shoeshine boy just tilted his head a bit further and, with the most delightful grin, said these words, "But, general, that was when I thought you were only a sergeant!"

I paid the two dollars. I'd been defeated in a fair exchange, bested by that 12-year-old. I was so pleased with him that I took him to lunch with us and hired him to be our guide for the rest of the day. I can still see him waving goodbye to us as we left that city.

Good luck to Gen. Klein in his campaign against our Mayor Fischer; but Gen. Klein must remember that his opponent in this mayoral battle is even sharper than that young Turk whose country Gen. Klein once protected from Russian power.

_ Charles M. Priebe is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Gulfport.