In the film “Guys and Dolls” one of the actors is trying to get another one to make a bet so he can win some money. He makes what appears to be a sucker bet, one you would swear he had no chance of winning, but the other actor refuses to take it.
“How come?” the first actor asks.
“Friend,” the second actor says, “my father, having nothing else to leave me, left me this: ‘Son,’ he said, ‘someday a man is going to come to you and bet that a clam in your bowl is going to squirt soup in your ear. Do not take that bet, because if you do you are going to end up with a wet ear.’”
I never thought much of that advice until I began traveling around to foreign countries, but now that I’ve been around a bit, and have seen some of the things I’ve seen, I know just what the man’s father was talking about.
I’ve mentioned a few of the crazy things I’ve seen and heard, but there’s a group of them, not a large group but definitely an odd one, that I can’t put into any category, so I’m just going to tell you about a couple of them here to get them off my mind.
Suppose, for example, somebody came to you with an idea for “saving electricity” that was the most atrociously dumb thing you had ever heard. And suppose he swore up and down that there was a whole nation that thought it was true. Would you believe him?
Well, believe this....
In the third week of my assignment to the embassy in Karachi, Pakistan, I was driving my jeep out to Mauripur Air Base. It was my first drive out there at night and I was tootling along happily when Ed Doolie, the man I was replacing, looked up from the jump seat, where he had been sound asleep. “Holy mackerel!” he said. “I didn’t know you were this far out already!”
“What’s the big deal?” I asked. I couldn’t understand why he was so worried. We were on the way out to the Pakistani air base to offload an aircraft.
So we were a little early? So what?
“Slow down!” Doolie said, sounding dead scared.
In the first place I did not like Ed Doolie. Neither did any of the other men stationed in the embassy. It was all we could do to keep from either (a) strangling him, or (b) turning him in for the black marketing we had just found out about. We hated the guy.
Well, by and large the enlisted men I served with were not angels, but there were certain things we did not do. And high up on that list, for anyone who served in an embassy, was dealing in the black market. It’s a different thing for sharpies stationed at some base or other to bend the rules, but when you are stationed in an embassy you represent your government. And you act like it.
But not Doolie, and the only reason he didn’t have finger marks on his throat was because he was leaving in two days and the guys in the staff house hadn’t found out what he was doing until about a week earlier.
“Slow down!” Doolie told me.
“Because there are big old trucks that come roaring down this road at night.”
“So? What’s the big deal? I’ll see them coming.”
“Uh-uh!” he said, staring out the windshield. “They drive with their lights off.”
“Are you nuts? Nobody drives at night with his lights off.”
I swear I have never seen anyone so close to wetting his pants. “I’m tellin you! They drive with their lights off!”
I laughed. “For crying out loud, why?”
“To save electricity.”
It was THE dumbest thing I had ever heard, and coming from Ed Doolie there was no way I would have believed it. Except for one thing — I looked through the windshield. There, coming right at me, was one big old Pakistani truck, with no lights on.
Thank God I was fast in my younger days! I just had time to swerve out into the desert and save myself from becoming a hood ornament on a gravel truck.
After I got the jeep back on the road again — and my heart restarted — Doolie and I talked. And yes, he was right. They actually believed that turning their headlights off at night saved electricity. And in a goofy way, I guess they were right.
How many of them ever got where they were going at night I didn’t know.
What I knew were two things. If I had an aircraft to meet at night I was driving out to the base in daylight. And if it was still night when I finished work, I was staying right there.
Want proof of that?
I’m alive and writing this, ain’t I Johnny? Proof enough!
Another thing over there in Karachi that I absolutely did not believe at first was a sign on a beach out by the air base that said, DO NOT ENTER THIS WATER OVER YOUR KNEES BETWEEN AUGUST 1 AND APRIL 15. IF YOU DO YOU WILL BE SWEPT AWAY AND DROWNED.
It was winter and as much as I doubted what it said I was smart enough to wait to test it. And even then I dredged up a handy volunteer. I remember the day well. Colonel Guelich, had gone on vacation and a fuzzy cheeked second lieutenant was sent in by headquarters to replace him. Lieutenant Fuzz had an interest in something which came in handy — swimming in the Arabian Sea.
Seems he had always wanted to do that. Well, what could I do? It’s not nice to disappoint a guy. Know what I mean?
So, it being the first of May I drove him to the beach, and in he went. I was standing on the shore talking to him when I saw something odd. He was about a hundred feet out on the tidal flats and seemed to be standing in water up to his ribs, but he was moving steadily to my left. And going rather fast too.
“Hey...uh, lieutenant?” I called out. “Are you floating?”
“Uh-uh. Standing up.”
“Well, I think you maybe might want to get back on shore.”
Big rip tide you see. Caused by the Indus River or something.
Didn’t want to be charged with mislaying a second lieutenant. The Air Force frowns on that. Takes 90 days to make a new one.