Not All The Smart Folks Are In The City


There aren't very many places I've ever been where a New Year's Eve party could be held out of doors, but in 1960 I found myself in one. That year, the staff of the American Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan, held their New Year's Eve celebration out of doors under a large, low-roofed tent call a shamiana.

Along with Lolly, my fiancee then and now my wife of 46 years, I shared a table with Colonel Frank Guelich, my boss, and his wife Marion.

Web McGuire, an Air Force Attaché code clerk, and his wife Ann, joined us. Web and I were good friends. He was a Midwesterner with simple tastes like my own and we saw eye to eye on just about everything.

Colonel Frank Guelich was beyond a doubt the most deceptively uncomplicated appearing person I've ever met.

Off duty, in a pair of casual slacks, a knit shirt, and a baseball cap, with a corncob pipe clamped between a set of large teeth, and speaking in a North Texas, Red River accent, he could easily have been taken for a construction worker flown in by the Corps of Engineers to work on some bridge building project.

Underneath that country boy facade lurked one of the most agile and convoluted minds I have ever known.

Frank Guelich fooled me completely when I first arrived in Karachi and went to work for him. With that doggone Red River, almost-in-Oklahoma, accent of his, the big toothy smile that went with it, and the easy manner he tossed off comments, I took him at face value -- as a simple country boy. And it wasn't that he was trying to fool anyone either; he really was what he seemed to be -- a big, warmhearted country boy.

He just happened to be a big, warmhearted country boy with a cutting-edge mind.

I'd only been in Karachi for 50-some-odd days when New Year's Eve arrived, and I had yet to learn just how sharp my new boss's mind was. I was drinking scotch and water that night in the open-sided tent, and Lolly was drinking some kind of mixed drink, exactly what I don't remember.

I wouldn't remember what I was drinking either except for the fact that scotch was then, and is now, pretty much all I drink except for beer or an occasional glass of tangy, red sangria wine (for my heart, of course).

The point is not what I was drinking, but what I wasn't drinking. Karachi is as hot as Hades in the summer, but this was their version of winter, and as mild as it may have been compared to some winters I've endured, I would have preferred drinking hot coffee, and lots of it. Let me tell you, it was cold that night in that open-sided tent, even dressed in one of the three-piece suits I wore because I was not allowed to wear a military uniform (that's another story).

I drank my scotch without ice that night, and tried to just sip it, but it was a long night and I suppose I sipped my way through a lot of scotch, trying to get a fire going in my innards.

I noticed that Frank Guelich, although he himself didn't drink much, did his best to stoke up the fire I got started down there.

Midnight grew close. Waiters began to circulate among the tables with bottles of champagne, two varieties, one cheap and one expensive, a bottle of each per table.

That was the first time I ever saw Frank Guelich in action. A waiter came by and dropped off a bottle of the cheap stuff. He took it, smiled, and in the most innocent tone I have ever heard in my life, he said, "Just one bottle? There're six of us."

The waiter shrugged.

It wasn't his champagne.

He handed over a second bottle.

Another waiter came by with more of the cheap stuff. Frank Guelich, cradling two bottles on the ground between his lanky legs, repeated his act. We now had four bottles.

A third waiter came by and dropped off a bottle of expensive stuff. I waited to see if Frank Guelich would try the same act, but he just smiled and took the bottle.

But when another waiter passed by with a tray of the expensive stuff, he called him over.

"Hey, weren't we supposed to get a bottle of the good stuff?"

The waiter looked surprised, but he handed over a bottle.

We now had six bottles of champagne for six people.

Midnight came. Corks popped. Toasts were made. Champagne was drunk--a lot of champagne. Somehow or other, despite my best efforts to drain my glass, it stayed stubbornly full.

I have been told, that at three-thirty in the morning, of the first day of the year nineteen-hundred-and-sixty-one, I was transported back to the staff house and poured into bed, having first seen Lolly home. I do not remember those events.

What I do remember, however, is Colonel Guelich's driver hauling me out of the sack at six-thirty that morning, leading me to my jeep, and pointing me toward Mauripur Air Base,14 miles outside the city.

There, I and said driver unloaded 11,500 pounds of mail, including two diplomatic pouches containing classified information.

I remember lying atop an eight-foot high pile of mail bags on the ramp, with my hands clutching said pouches to my breast, until the Air Attaché mail truck arrived three hours later and relieved me of my burden.

Oh...and I also remember the worst hangover of my--or any other--life.

Why did Frank Guelich do it?

"Well, Garrett," he told me, grinning that country boy grin of his. "I got the inbound aircraft notification just before I left for the party.

"I knew it would ruin your evening if I told you about it. Knowing the way you are, I knew you'd stay sober and spoil a chance for a good time with your bride-to-be.

"So I just kept it under my hat and saw to it that the minute the hot air in Web McGuire's car hit, you went out like a light, but that you slept long enough to be sober when it came time to offload that mail.

"Took a little calculating, and I had to guess your body weight," he said, grinning again, "but it worked didn't it?" Uh-huh.

Beware of Texas boys bearing a friendly grin.

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