My Boss Was Steve McQueen?
I came back to the Yellow Submarine in SandCityone afternoon to find our area buzzing. My boss [a General Manager for the Vice President of Everything], had been taken away in handcuffs by two baddies from the politically and religiously desiccated capital 360 kilometers [225 miles] west of Sand City. (*) He was in deep shit.
(*) SIDEBAR: Most westerners do not realize that the lofty political arches we see connecting foreign leaders and our President, Secretary of State and other diplomats, often conceal mortal political differences between the host country’s middle-class bureaucrats and American policies, and the attitudes of the American workers in the host country.
For example, during the Iranian hostage crisis, I worked with an experienced and highly educated British-trained Pakistani electrical engineer, who thought that the revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini was the best thing since peanut butter. That’s incomprehensible to educated westerners, but it illustrates the knowledge gap and cultural gap between West and East.
Many bureaucrats and middle-class people in “friendly” countries treasure opportunities to screw Americans for even the most minor infractions. I have seen people in host countries change from solid supporters ofAmericato vehement enemies literally overnight. Why?
The American Congress has long been considered by Middle Easterners [i.e. principally in the Arab East] to be an extension of Israel’s Knesset.
Hey, don’t whale on me.
During 1982 we watchedIsraelon TV systematically destroy Beirut,Lebanon, killing 20,000? 30,000? people in the process, without a peep of protest in or fromAmerica.
Try explaining that foreign policy to your host-country co-workers.
Rumor had it that the Boss and 34 of our American and TCN [Third Country National] staff were scooped up on suspicion of having “done a job” requested by the American Consulate [downtown].
As his Number 2, it would be expected that I would soon be nicked too, but my several letters of commendation from His Royal Majesty on file with the local Amir apparently had insulated me from immediate arrest.
Our Gang of 34 was ensconced in various jails around the region including that forbidding pile of stone west of [the regional capital].
I learned that the Boss was in the VIP prison of [the regional capital], in a residential neighborhood, but nobody seemed to know where, because these are the days of no street name signs and no building or house numbers-—-don’t ask me why. (*)
As usual, the Consulate was no help, but I knew where that ordinary-looking villa and gaol was.
(*) SIDEBAR: (Play a game with a friend. Give directions from their house to your house without reference to street names or numbers: “Go north on the military road past 11 intersections; turn right at the green water tower; drive past 6 intersections; look for the house with the red solid metal gate; that’s ours.” Huh? That’s the way it was. Don’t ask me why.)
Gradually, I got some more gen about the Boss. He was shot down by German anti-aircraft gunners while piloting a B26 on D-Day [6th June 1944], then interned at a POW camp. He hated and feared confinement and may be going ape.
[Supposedly, the character played by Steve McQueen in the movie “The Great Escape” was patterned after the Boss.]
OK. His wife was in country (he was senior staff], so I took her in very prim and proper chauffeur style to check out the Boss. I drove, she sat in the back. We took fruit, newspapers and essentials. I parked the SSB radio-equipped Chevy right in front of the prison gate.
Col Mohammed is the warden. He’s also the local equivalent of the FBI, CIA, State Police, Dog Catcher and Truant Officer. Nobody to fool with.
Which is why I was so lucky.
[Bill, Norma Jean] and I were in the huge group visitor’s room [maj-lis]. I was looking at the beautiful framed gold-leafed Arabic hangings on a wall while they sat on a sofa and talked, when the Col. approached. He told me to sit down with them.
I don’t know why, but I snapped.
“These people are not my family. I don’t want to sit and listen to their love talk [they were both about 60]. I will go outside and smoke my cigarette.” The Col. turned from light brown to bedsheet white in a second. Oh shit!, I guess I will have the cell next to The Boss.
I was very lucky. He was reminded of his manners and the rigid social protocol of his race. “Please come to my office and we will have tea.” Whew. Saved again.
We had tea and more tea and more tea and visited for about 2+ hours amidst a steady stream of his visitors, which is common in Arab societies. On leaving, I thanked him profusely in multiple Arabic.
He stunned me: “I would let [Bill] go home with you, but his file is in [the regional capital].”
After we got back to camp, I took [Norma Jean] to the Mail Center, then home, then recounted the day’s events to the VP of Everything, who appeared slightly pissed that I had not asked permission to go. [So what? My credo is: It is easier to gain forgiveness, than to get permission.]
Forty +/- minutes later, the Consulate called the VPoE to announce that [Bill] was enroute. Another lucky accident.
Time To Go, I Can Hear The Posse Coming
Firm rule in diplomacy: Once you have the Mark of Cain on you, it’s time to saddle up, as I gently reminded [Bill] and the VPoE later. Every clown who comes down the pike now will take a swing at [Bill].
I had been lucky this time, but might not be able to make my magic next time.
I could hear the Sharif’s posse in the distance. Time to go.
Shortly after, [Bill and Norma Jean] each took one suitcase each and their passports and flew to America. [The cops were livid.] I inventoried their household, got a Filipino crew to pack it all and sent 11,000 pounds to their home via airfreight. Hehhehheh—HQ had a shit when they got the invoice.
What happened to the Gang of 34? No idea, my magic had definite limits.
I entered my name on the “surplus” list. The TCN’s [“Pilipinos”, Pakistanis, Hindus, Punjabis, Sri Lankans, et alia] wanted to give me a “goodbye” luncheon in return for having treated them like human beings, rather than slaves, but I declined. There would be tears.
The white people never even offered; They didn’t want to be associated with a leper, since the cops from Capital Citywere looking for new victims. Fuck ‘em!
Mah-sa-lom-uh [goodbye]——-Whoosh. Fee-eh-mon Al-lah [go with God]——Gone.