Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No Crocodiles, No . . . Whatever

Another great post from my friend Paul Berg:

Dear Friends:

Life can be cruel.  

You know that my Foreign Service career has been all about adventure.  Crocodiles.  Boxing.  Guerrillas. Tribal wars.  Tsunamis.   Volcanoes.  Kayaking.  Surfing.   Open-sided helicopters leaning out over the coca fields.  Mountain climbing at dawn, strong drink and off-color anecdotes at dusk.  Raw meat.  Military buddies with the occasional spy thrown in.  Nights in impossibly dirty hotels in faraway hellholes.  Joining the mullah for a prayer call. Cops. Premans.  Fast cars, twisting bazaars.  Action.  Hey, baby, that's-a whut ah layk.

I braved a platoon of PDASes this summer begging them for more of the same when I finish at Leatherneck in August.  Please send me out into the bush again, with or without M-4.  Give me another weird language to learn, you know, something with no consonants whatsoever, vowel tones that come off like Gregorian chants mixed with civet cries, grammar derived from chance screams uttered by Genghis Khan's victims while their throats were being cut, declensions following the Fibonacci sequence.   

And give me a team of rough and ready buccaneers to supervise, I insisted.  Don't want no nerds, no dandies, no precocious pre-schoolers, no empty suits.  Don't want any of those metroguppy daffodils who go on about vintages and pedigrees.  I want the real thing, like I have here at Camp Leatherneck, or had in Port Moresby, or in Medan.

I want to work in a city with no culture at all, please, like Medan, like Bombay.  Cheap cement skyscrapers built yesterday with bribes where the mortar should be.   Betel nut juice staining autoclaves, dumbwaiters and negligees alike.  Tattooed tribal women wrapping their feet into live pangolins instead of pumps. Where the werewolves come out and bite three nights before the full moon, where alligators chase the blacksnakes around the altar when they're not chewing limbs off the worshippers.  

And I wanted a place where they eat the food raw, kill it themselves, eat it with their fingers, dab their fingers in the blood and daub it over the fruit.  Where they pull the crabs apart live and grind the pincers between their molars, masticate and spit 'em out onto the table.  If possible, I pleaded, some place so disgusting you would only send Paul Berg there.

And the PDASes nodded and they said, yes, yes, that's where we always send you, diplomatic Devil's Island, the places the rest of the Foreign Service goes only for penance, purgatory and punishment.  You're weird, you're hard, you're vulgar as a longshoreman on a date with a bar girl, you'd scare the bejesus out of the locals in any civilized country.  We know you.  You come off like a one man military coup plus you write cables that sound like Kerouac on a bout of food poisoning, not the tone we expect for economic trends reports.   You can depend on us, they said, we'll send you to some place where they have viruses the size of Norway rats, where scarlet plague is viewed as benign, where the currency is based on green caterpillars, the kind of country we always send you to.  Trust us.

But they're cunning sadists, those PDASes.  Never trust them.  Never.  I waited and waited for my assignment to Barbaria, to Repugnistan, to ConGen Improbable.   I twisted and turned in the cool dry desert wind.  But they let me down, and I think they did it on purpose.  They're so jealous of the life I've survived they want to humiliate me right down to my core.  To take away what hold dearest.  I mean, this has been one helluvan anxious autumn as one inviting pesthole after another on my bid list fell away to somebody else, as I cried myself to sleep under the mortar rounds and sirens of the Leatherneck night.  Those PDASes were looking to do their worst, so they wanted the pain to sink in nice and slow.  And for the first time in my career, I came to know real, pale-knuckled fear.

And I'm afraid my worst nightmare has now indeed occurred.  That band of ingrates and hypocrites is getting even with me by sending me to a place that has absolutely nothing that I crave, no crocodiles, no tribal wars, no tsunamis.  Depriving me of everything I care about.

They're making me Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.  

The bastards.

This will be tough to get over, and I'm going to need your emotional support in the trying days ahead.  Please understand what I face and let me cry on your shoulder now and then.  Empathize.  Everything I care about perverted or gone.  Food.  I'm not sure my stomach will even be able to digest carbs after all these years of pure raw meat.  Clothes.  My doctor tells me I'm allergic to suits, so haven't worn one in five years; only wear muscle Ts or cabana shirts, and where will I find them on the Via Condotti?   Three years sentenced to Caravaggio, Corriere della Sera, Castelnuovo and cavellini.  Dang.  Dang.  I'm already considering a grievance.    

Life can be cruel.