American Consulate General | Late October 1977
Al’s Thai girlfriend Sue made Thai food for dinner that evening after work at the Clifton Apartments. Sue, quiet and pleasant, called the noodle dish Pad Thai. After I commented how delicious the noodles were she immediately asked me if I was single or married. Al laughed it off, commenting that Sue could arrange a meeting at the Thai Consulate here. He said they had some nice poo-yings (young Thai girls) working there.
<feature photo by amazon.com
Sue brought out a big bowl of fruit after dinner. It included mangos, bananas, a papaya, and red prickly lychees.
Al brought out two large bottles of Thai Singha beer that he had gotten at the Thai Consulate here. After a few swigs he got more talkative than I’d seen him before. He told me a war story about his assignment at Sattahip, Thailand in the US Army during the Viet Nam War. His father, a career diplomat, helped bring Al aboard the Foreign Service. I sensed that he and his father hadn’t been that close, though. Thailand had been the highlight of his life.
During a lag in the conversation I said, “Al, what happened to my predecessor here?”
My cohort gathered his thoughts before he replied.
“Charlie and R.P.R. didn’t get along at all. Watch out about Bob. He’ll keep piling bullshit on you if you don’t resist. While Charlie was in Cairo he and Bob traded nasty messages. Charlie got pissed. He jumped on a plane and returned to Washington. Word was he took a taxi to SECSTATE and submitted his resignation.”
I said, “It was strange that no one back at OC/PE had ever mentioned Charles A. It was like the guy never existed.”
He shrugged as if the weight of my question was too heavy for his shoulders. “The whole affair with Charlie was… complicated.”
While I tried to digest Al’s enigmatic reply he added, “I wouldn’t bring it up around R.P.R. Charlie was a real sore spot with him.”
Although I suspected there was a lot more to the Charles A. matter and that Al must have had direct involvement I nodded a tacit agreement to drop the subject for now.
The Six Million Dollar Man
We watched an old episode of The Six Million Dollar Man on Pakistani TV. The reception through an antenna sitting on the cabinet next to the TV was poor. Al got up continually to adjust the “rabbit ears.” It was basic radio tuning.
In “The Moon and the Desert” episode, hero Colonel Steve Austin is “damaged goods” when his government test plane crashes in the desert. To save his life, the government rebuilds the scientific wonder with spare bionic parts. Depressed and having difficulty adjusting to his new “parts” Steve is given an assignment in the Middle East.
Al opened another Singha beer. My cohort joked that Steve’s assignment was in Karachi. We voiced over some of the Six Million Dollar Man’s lines. Al added Bob’s “phony French accent” to Steve Austin’s superior, Oscar Goldman. Goldman (Al) complained that Steve’s new bionic parts were “WAY OVER BUDGET.”
Sue sat on a comfortable chair and smiled along with our shenanigans. I had the feeling she missed her family back home in Thailand.
In our version of “The Moon and the Desert” episode General Zia al-Huq had single-handedly sliced off Steve’s artificial hand with a Khyber saber in combat. I said, “We can rebuild him; we have the technology,” repeating Oscar Goldman’s statement.
Al and I couldn’t control our laughter.
After The Six Million Dollar Man ended I said good night and stumbled up the two flights of stairs. I found my apartment was empty—Basheer had left. The quiet haunted me. I considered that to be alone would be one of the worst fates in life. For some reason this made me think of Charles A. Al said Charlie stayed in this apartment. Perhaps he had stuffed some secret documents behind a bookcase.
What was Charlie doing now? Did he get a job with the CIA?
Before I fell asleep I decided that Norm Bates’ 60/40 Hypothesis was too simple. Our job was more than just 60% technical and 40% miscellaneous Foreign Service bullshit. I would create a formula and input values, giving weight to important variables such as loneliness…