|Issue 30||June 1998||Volume 3 - Number 7|
Welcome to the CANDOER News. Suggestions as to what you would like to see in the CANDOER are welcome. Letters to the editor, articles consisting of general information, feature articles, G-rated jokes, or poems, written/submitted by retirees or OC/IM employees, past or present, will be published, unedited. Material may be submitted on a 3.5" floppy disk (disk will be returned) using WordPerfect Version 6.1 or earlier (if it contains graphics), on a plain sheet of paper (if it has no graphics) or via e-mail. The deadline for submitting material is no later than the 25th of each month. Material received after that date will be published in the next issue of the CANDOER, space allowing. Please, restrict articles/submissions to two single spaced, typed pages. No hand written submissions, please.
The snail-mail address for submissions or letters to the editor is:
Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
Publisher/Editor CANDOER News
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062
There was a lot of vegetation around our house in Herzlya Pituach, one of the suburbs of Tel Aviv. There were several big trees, hedge all around the house, a frangi-pangi tree (that had giant blossoms, one of which would fill a glass and fragrant a room) oleana, grass and, of course, several varieties of cactus. It was, therefore, pretty natural that we would have lizards which seldom came into the house even though the sliding glass doors to the two patios were usually open most of the year. We didn't have a lot of chameleon's though, or at least I didn't notice them very often, but one day one was exposed within eyesight and I thought it would be interesting to show my girls, who were about 1-1/2 and 3 years of age. It was a cute little critter and we all took turns letting it crawl up an arm - a journey that took 2 or 3 minutes and watching it swivel each eye independently of the other. All the while we sort of played with the chameleon, Samson was very interested but made no effort to interfere. When we'd had enough and I figured the little fellow might be stressed out, I made sure that my wife kept Samson while I took the chameleon outside, way to the back yard, and let it crawl on to a bush. Only when I got back inside was Samson released and we felt confident that he wouldn't try to find it. We certainly underrated that crazy dog. It took hours but he eventually either found it or another one and, after munching on it to the point it looked like a well chewed gummy bear, did he proudly come to our bedroom and drop it on my wife while she slept. A prize she certainly could have done without.
At the April luncheon, one of the members suggested that I include the duty assignments of retirees in the Directory of Members. I am willing to do this. If you would like to have ALL your duty stations listed in the Directory, please snail-mail or e-mail them to me. I will not make them a part of the Pen and Ink section in future issues, but I will include them in the December 1998 Directory of Members. Please include the date of the assignment, e.g., 72-75 Paris, 75-78 Niamey, 78-80 Montevideo, 80-83 OC/SP, 83-87 SA-21, 87-88 London; if you wish, also include any military time ... this is your call.
The following people were in attendance at the May 12 luncheon: Bob Berger, Bob Catlin, Paul Del Giudice, Don Denault, Charlie Ditmeyer, Charlie Hoffman, Don and Sally Lachman, Graham Lobb, Mel Maples, Will Naeher and last, but not least, Jim and Mary Prosser and Mary’s mother, Lila Lamurey.
I would like to extend a big CANDOER WELCOME to Sally Lachman and Lila Lamurey. I hope you both get a chance to attend future luncheons. You are both always welcome.
The following SSA Publication was furnished by George Solomon.
A Pension From Work Not Covered By Social Security
How it affects your Social Security or Disability Benefits
If you work for an employer who doesn’t withhold Social Security taxes, such as a government agency or an employer in another country, the pension you get based on that work may reduce your Social Security benefits.
Your benefit can be reduced in one of two ways. One is called the "government pension offset," and applies only if you receive a government pension and are eligible for Social Security benefits as a spouse or widow(er). For more information on the offset, ask Social Security for the fact sheet, Government Pension Offset (Publication No. 05-10007).
The other way--called the "windfall elimination provision"--affects how your retirement or disability benefits are figured if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security. The formula used to figure your benefit amount is modified, giving you a lower Social Security benefit. This fact sheet explains the computation formula.
Who Is Affected?
This provision primarily affects people who earned a pension from working for a government agency, and also worked at other jobs where they paid Social Security taxes long enough to qualify for retirement or disability benefits. It also may affect you if you earned a pension in any job where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as in a foreign country.
The modified formula applies to you if you reach 62 or become disabled after 1985 and first become eligible after 1985 for a monthly pension based in whole or in part on work where you did not pay Social Security taxes. You are considered eligible to receive a pension if you meet the requirements of the pension, even if you continue to work.
The modified formula is used to figure your Social Security benefits beginning with the first month you get both a Social Security benefit and the other pension.
Why Is a Different Formula Used?
Social Security benefits replace a percentage of a worker’s pre-retirement earnings. The formula used to compute benefits includes factors that ensure lower-paid workers get a higher return than highly paid workers. For example, lower-paid workers could get a Social Security benefit that equals about 60 percent of their pre-retirement earnings. The average replacement rate for highly paid workers is about 25 percent.
Before 1983, benefits for people who spent time in jobs not covered by Social Security were computed as if they were long-term low-wage workers. They received the advantage of the higher percentage benefits in addition to their other pension. The modified formula eliminates this windfall.
How Does It Work?
Social Security benefits are based on the worker’s average monthly earnings adjusted for inflation. When we figure your benefits, we separate your average earnings into three amounts and multiply the amounts using three different factors. For example, for a worker who turns 62 in 1998, the first $477 of average monthly earning is multiplied by 90 percent; the next $2,398 is multiplied by 32 percent; and the remainder by 15 percent.
The 90 percent factor is reduced in the modified formula and phased in for workers who reached age 62 or became disabled between 1986 and 1989. For those who reach 62 or become disabled in 1990 or later, the 90 percent factor is reduced to 40 percent.
There are exceptions to this rule. For example, the 90 percent factor is not reduced if you have 30 or more years of "substantial" earnings in a job where you paid Social Security taxes. The first table below lists the amount of earnings we consider "substantial" for each year.
If you have 21-29 years of substantial earnings, the 90 percent factor is reduced to somewhere between 45 and 85 percent. The second table shows the percentage used depending on the number of years of "substantial" earnings.
*Total credited earnings from 1937-50 are divided by $900 to get the number of years of coverage (maximum of 14 years).
|Years of Sub-|
|30 or more||90|
|20 or less||40|
The modified formula does not apply to survivors benefits. It also does not apply to you if:
you are a federal worker hired after December 31, 1983;
you were employed on December 31, 1983, by a nonprofit organization that was exempt from Social Security and it became mandatorily covered under Social Security on that date;
your only pension is based on railroad employment;
your only work where you did not pay Social Security taxes was before 1957; or
you have 30 more years of substantial earnings under Social Security (as explained earlier).
Workers with relatively low pensions are protected because the reduction in Social Security benefit under the modified formula cannot be more than one-half of that part of the pension attributed to earnings after 1956 not covered by Social Security.
For More Information
You can get recorded information 24-hours a day, including weekends and holidays, by calling Social Security’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. You can speak to a service representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so, if your business can wait, it’s best to call at other times. Whenever you call, have your Social Security number handy.
You may also reach us on the Internet. Type http:/www.ssa.gov to access Social Security information.
The Social Security Administration treats all calls confidentially --- whether they’re made to our toll-free numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That’s why we have a second Social Security representative monitor incoming and outgoing telephone calls.
(SSA Pub. 05-10045, January 1998)
Jim Gansel has a new e-mail address. It may be found in the Pen and Ink section and on the last page of this issue.
On April 23, I had the distinct fortune to be invited to participate in the Spring 1998 Golf Outing at Myrtle Beach, SC.
In attendance, this year, were the following 32 people: John D’alexander, Jerry Bailey, Bob Berger, Carmen Bevacqua, Bill Bies, Gary Bobbitt, Stu Branch, Ed Braun, Del Bullis, Bob Caffrey, Bob Catlin, Leo Duncan, Sam Fennell, Ken French, Dick Hoffer, Hal Hutson, Ron Johnston, John Kennedy, Bill Kinnick, Frank Meyers, Larry Miller, Paul Nugnes, Chuck Ohinhausen, Tom Paolozzi, Brad Rosendahl, Ray Russell, Russ Senia, Tom Schuh, Tom Thounhurst, Jack Torok, Ed Wilson, and George Younts.
I am sorry to say that Tom Paolozzi had to leave two days early because his father-in-law passed away. I believe I can speak for all the CANDOERs when I extend our sincere condolences to Tina and Tom in their loss.
A great time was had by all during the four days of golf, party time, and comradery.
One of the retirees, and a CANDOER who lives in the Myrtle Beach area, Charles Grainger, took time out of his busy schedule to spend some time with us and to have dinner with several of us at his favorite restaurant. Thanks to Charles for a very pleasant evening and a great meal.
On May 5, I received a generous donation and a note from Norris Watts. Norris stated that he and Sadie are doing fine and keeping busy. Norris informed me that I had failed to put Babe Martin’s new address in the CANDOER. Thanks Norris, I goofed on that one. You will find Babe’s new address in the Pen and Ink section of this issue.
On May 13, in a personal letter from Lyle Rosdahl, he asked that I please "pass along my regards to all."
On May 15, I received an e-mail from Will Naeher with the address of two retirees who may be interested in joining the CANDOERs, John Thomas and Roy Hylaman. I sent information about the group to both.
On May 17, I received an e-mail message from Gerry Gendron with the address of another retiree, Joe Talbot, who has expressed an interest in the CANDOERs. I sent Joe information about the group.
On May 20, I received an e-mail from Will Naeher furnishing the name of another retiree who has expressed a wish to get information about the CANDOERs, Ernie Fields. I sent Ernie a letter furnishing information about the organization.
On May 21, I received an e-mail message from Brad Ham. Brad retired in July 1997, while assigned to Madrid, and is living in southern Maine. I sent him information about the CANDOERs. Brad said he read about our organization in the last issue of the AFSA Journal. I sent information to him via e-mail.
One of the requirements of the ATS contract was that any telegram previously transmitted or received could be retrieved within three seconds. The telegram could be retrieved either by message reference number (MRN), message continuity number (MCN), or channel number. The analysts retrieved a message received or transmitted during the last 30 days by MRN. The system supervisor retrieved by channel number or by MCN to respond to service messages requesting a retransmission of the message that did not reach its destination or arrived garbled.
At the time of the development of the ATS, other mass memory devices were slow or very expensive. The RCA 3488 RACE units were used by the California State Police and were reputed to be reliable. Therefore, the Department stipulated that these units would be provided for the ATS by any contractor successful in the procurement.
The units consisted of 4" by 13½" plastic electronic cards. The cards were installed in an edgewise position in trays. Each card had a distinctive index tab. The RACE software was written to accommodate three indexes for retrieval by the MRN, MCN or channel number.
These cards, when selected, were quickly transferred along a channel and wrapped around a capstan to become in effect a small magnetic drum. The data was transferred quickly to a large magnetic drum, which was used for intermediate storage of the telegram during processing. From there the data was sent to the source of the retrieval request.
The RACE did not fully comply with the terms of the specification concerning the three second retrieval time. The best time was about nine seconds. However, it was faster than anything on the market at that time and was very reliable, so we accepted them.
There were two RACE units for redundancy. The requirements for retrieval placed considerable stress on the equipment and they were used far beyond their design capacity and capability.
Graham Lobb's story, a few months back (April 1998), about his harrowing exploits getting to his first Foreign Service post brought to mind my own similar experience.
I, too, had just gotten out of military service. But I had never been overseas. Joining the Foreign Service certainly helped me realize that ambition. After eight weeks of cryptographic training, Elsie Crim assigned me to Saigon of then French-Indo China. I was very pleased.
Like Graham, for making travel arrangements to post, I had to go through the Department's famous Mrs. Eleanor Sanford. I think she did not like dealing with Pan American World Airways. That day she was promoting Northwest Orient Airlines.
I must have come to her on a good day, for she gave me everything I wanted in routing, especially the stopovers en route. Perhaps it was because I wanted most of my flights on Northwest Orient Airlines. That way I could get, at no extra cost, a few days stopover at home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but then had to fly on to Seattle, Anchorage, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and eventually Saigon.
Flying across the U.S. in DC-3 and DC-4 planes was a time-consuming adventure. In Seattle I changed to a Lockheed Constellation which took me all the way to Tokyo. (But that's a separate story.)
It was my first time out of the country. We didn't have "jet-lag" then, for no one ever thought up a name for this disruption of a person's circadian rhythm. But nonetheless by the time I arrived at my stopover hotel in Tokyo I had a very bad case of whatever one wished to call it in 1955. I was so disoriented (in the orient) that I wasn't sure if I was more exhausted or hungry.
Mrs. Sanford's advice for the Tokyo stopover was really appreciated, for it let me get rested for the next segment of the journey, which was to Hong Kong. There I left Northwest Orient Airlines, stayed overnight to catch the next Air France flight to Saigon (also a Lockheed Constellation).
Now in those days, Saigon was in the news almost daily, and it wasn't good news, because the French Foreign Legion was getting beaten badly not only by the Viet Minh (predecessors of the Viet Cong), but also by a number of less well organized sects conducting guerilla warfare not only amongst themselves, but with the French, too.
The flight left Hong Kong in the late afternoon, and by the time we were coming over Saigon it has been dark a couple hours. Looking down, I could see flashes of white light which obviously came from the mouths of howitzers or other artillery pieces.
Air France was not put off by what I thought to be a rather dangerous situation. We landed and as soon as the plane was on the runway, the tarmac lights were turned off.
In quick order, the plane pulled up in front of the airport terminal, left off about a dozen passengers and their luggage, closed the doors and taxied away, never even stopping their engines! The plane took off with the white flashes visible in the distance and booms of shells exploding, falling quite far of their mark if they were intended for the airport.
The airport is total darkness. Everyone is disappearing. No one was there to meet me! I didn't speak French and all of a sudden I realize I am in what appears to be a zone of conflict.
No customs or other formalities. No airline personnel anywhere. All is darkness with exploding shells in the distance. And I'm alone. What am I doing here?
Finally, I found a Frenchman, who luckily spoke a very little English. I explained my predicament and asked where I could get a taxi to the American Consulate General. He explained, "No taxi! Shooting! Bang, bang! Come, I take you!"
Then the Frenchman with a flashlight takes me into the airport bar (he must have been the bartender). He went behind the bar and grabbed a case of "33", the local beer. We then went over to his car parked around the corner from the terminal and started driving off towards downtown Saigon.
We are driving with no lights! At the airport perimeter our car is stopped by a French Foreign Legion machine gun post. The Frenchman throws the occupants about five bottles of "33" and off we go! The same procedure is repeated two more times on the road into Saigon, which turned out to be an otherwise uneventful journey.
Eventually, we found the Consulate General and he dropped me off. I thanked him profusely.
Marine guards had just recently been assigned to Saigon. The one on duty this Saturday night let me in the lobby, and called the duty officer who happened to be in the building. The duty officer was stunned when I related my story. He said "The city is under complete curfew! Air France should never have landed, but with Air France, I'm not surprised! Control of the airport changes almost every night."
The duty officer then told me the Consulate General was not expecting anyone to arrive that day. He telephoned the Personnel Officer, who was even more flabbergasted because she was never advised I had even been assigned to Saigon!
My first night at my first Foreign Service post was spent sleeping in the lobby of the Consulate General.
The next morning, Eric Baxter, the code room supervisor, came in to incredibly find a newly arrived code clerk he never knew was coming!
My reception at the post was the talk of everyone for days. Apparently the Operations Memorandum notifying Saigon of my assignment was in a delayed or missing air pouch.
In those days, personnel assignments and movements were NEVER made telegraphically. And telephone calls (if you could ever get through) were strictly "life or death" matters.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea; and the U.S. and its Allies rushed troops for a long, bloody, conflict which has not officially ended, as of this writing!
Harry Payne was then the USIA radio operator who took down the Daily Wireless File, by radio and head phones, relayed from USIA at Tangier, Morocco.
Harry had been an old Reading Railroad telegraph operator from Philly. He also worked on Wall Street in a brokerage house and could recall a bombing in the 1920's. Harry was up for long hours, or until he was knocked off the air by poor atmospherics. I can still see him working in an underwear shirt, slumped in a chair with headphones. Harry copied best with a dish of ice cream in his lap! He took the Bulletin on a stencil in final form! Then, USIA distributed it to the Foreign Office and friendly diplomatic missions.
Harry also served in Greece during the unrest following WW II.
After he left post, we lost contact.
Dave Miller replaced Harry. Dave had served with the OSS in Yunan Province attached to Mao’s forces.
Personnel began to change and Bob Dressen became Administrative Officer. Bob was a legend in the Service! He served in Sinkiang Province at Urmichi or Tihawa after the war. Then the Chinese Communists took over and Bob, along with Consul J. Paxton Hall and some Consulate local employees escaped over the Himalayas into India. He came to post from Bombay.
Later in the year James Moffett, and his wife Beverly, arrived from Liverpool and he became the Administrative Officer.
Mr. Jandrey, and his wife Clem, left and the new DCM was Jack Horner, who previously served in Moscow. Mr. Horner was "gung-ho," and he started to send cables like mad! Soon he exhausted the Post telegram funds. But, Dan O’Connell cabled the Bureau and got funding increased.
Mr. Horner recognized how close Kabul was to the Oxus and Communist Russia. He picked up on reporting by his staff.
Joseph "Joe" Lemming arrived as PAO from Rangoon. "Uncle Joe," as we called him, looked like a British Army Colonel! Joe was a former Madison Avenue advertising elective who had authored children books. He immediately began to write a book on Afghanistan! We both lived at the Hotel Kaboul, until I moved into "The Morgue!"
Government housing near the Pakistan Embassy had been dubbed The Morgue, because of a previous murder of money lenders by servants when the occupants were out. The bodies were dumped into a well on the property! A big scandal came up and the two former occupants resigned and returned to the States. It appears money-lenders were coming by to exchange Afganis for Yankee dollar checks.
On my arrival, I was warned about cashing bank checks at other than the official rate in the Embassy Disbursing Office.
Summers were of ideal days and cool nights at 5,000 feet above sea level, with little or no rain until the fall.
Embassy staff members visited nearby villages and the Royal Palace at Paghman. There were baseball and basketball games on Afghan Independence time. Then we built a tennis court in the Embassy compound. We used coke bottles to roll out the top layer of sod. Many hours of leave were spent playing tennis, in preparation for the championship matches at the Pakistani Embassy. My appearance against Prince Wali Khan did not go well, as Wali was a longtime player who had attended college in Southern California. I returned to the Embassy court from more practice!
Elizabeth Lickert replaced Henrietta Humphries. She arrived from Peshawar with a cello. Then Betty Ribble, who married James Sommerhauser, Marine Security Guard, came to Kabul. I am still in touch with Betty and Jim, who are find people.
Van Reynolds came as Budget Clerk. It turned out he had previously known Dan O’Connell in California.
By now the post was expanding as Point Four of the Marshall Plan reached remote Afghanistan. New mud building were constructed in the compound, to house new personnel sent to administer this program.
Periodically, a crisis broke out between Afghanistan and Pakistan; over tribal lands bordering the Khyber Pass near the old British Durand Line. However, cooler heads prevailed and only a few tribesmen got into some firing of their old imitation Enfield rifles.
One time, the British Embassy Courier was robbed near Sarobi! The Queen’s pouch was tossed in the rushing Kabul River. The robbers were never caught, as they escaped back over the border into Pakistan.
Russian activity at this time was very low key! The roads were poor to the North and the Russians had other problems in Eastern Europe.
There was a larger American presence, with Morrison-Knudson building dams, creating farm lands, and constructing roads from Kandahar in the south to Chaman on the border of Pakistan.
Afghanistan ranked then as now, the only country in the world lacking a railroad, outside of Tibet.
In 1951, the Marine Security Guard detachment became a fixture. A house was rented and furnished for the Marines. An Afghan cook was hired and he tried to make pies, hamburgers, etc.
I became Administrative Assistant to the Administrative Officer, issuing Visas, amending passports, and other duties including General Service. Jack McVeigh replaced me in the File-Code Room.
A commissary was established and things began to get better as 1952 arrived.
The Embassy social life remained active with side trips to Baiman, in Central Afghanistan, and the village of Istaliff, near Kabul. Other staffers went to Kashmir or New Delhi on leave. I ventured into remote Swat, above the Malakand Pass, written about in Winston Churchill’s memoirs.
The following was received from John Kennedy.
|BACKUP||What you do when you run across a skunk in the woods|
|BAR CODE||Them's the fight rules down at the local bar|
|BUG||The reason you give for calling in sick|
|BYTE||What your pit bull dun to cousin Jethro|
|CACHE||Needed when you run out of food stamps|
|CHIP||Pasture muffins that you try not to step in|
|TERMINAL||Time to call the undertaker|
|CRASH||When you go to Junior's party uninvited|
|DIGITAL||The art of counting on your fingers|
|DISKETTE||Female disco dancer|
|FAX||What you lie about to the IRS|
|HACKER||Uncle Leroy after 32 years of smoking|
|HARD COPY||Picture looked at when selecting tattoos|
|INTERNET||Where cafeteria workers put their hair|
|KEYBOARD||Where you hang the keys to the John Deere|
|MAC||Big Bubba's favorite fast food|
|MEGAHERTZ||How your head feels after 17 beers|
|MODEM||What ya did when the grass and weeds got too tall|
|MOUSE PAD||Where Mickey and Minnie live|
|NETWORK||Scoop'n up a big fish before it breaks the line|
|ONLINE||Where to stay when taking the sobriety test|
|ROM||Where the pope lives|
|SCREEN||Helps keep the skeeters off the porch|
|SERIAL PORT||A red wine you drink with breakfast|
|SCSI||What you call your week-old underwear|
|SUPERCONDUCTOR||Amtrak's Employee of the Year|
|WORD PROCESSOR||Cousin Jake who finished 6th grade|
|HARD DRIVE||180 yards over water|
On this rainy day, I am passing the time reviewing a couple of past CANDOERs. Two items triggered some memories. Once triggered, I decided to take keyboard in hand and take a shot at writing something for the CANDOER.
Graham Lobb’s article "Travel to Kabul in 1950" (April 1998 Issue) caused me to think about my first assignment and how I got there. Graham’s reference to Mrs. Sanford also brought back some memories, I’ll not labor the subject other than to say ditto to Graham’s comments.
The first time I had heard of the Department of State was as a Navy communicator; and the words "Foreign Service" were yet to become part of my vocabulary. It was around 1949 while serving with the Sixth fleet; we were operating in the Dardanelles and nearly had a head on with a Soviet freighter, it appeared the Soviet was trying for an incident. We had to send a reporting message back to Navy headquarters in the U.S. and the Department was one of the addees, we couldn’t find a call sign for State and had the Navy communications center in Norfolk relay. Speaking of call signs, I think NHY was Norfolk, or maybe it was Port Lyautey, memory lane is not always crystal clear.
A few years later, in 1954, while working in the private sector, one of my co-workers applied for the Foreign Service. I asked him about it, he told me about it and I tried for it. Like magic August 1995 I was in training in one of the temporary buildings by the Reflecting Pool. Mel Roane, Gene Lindberg, Roy Long and Randy Goodnight pouring the smarts to me. Little did I realize, at the time, that years later I would become an instructor doing similar things.
Then came assignment time. I remember Elsie Crim saying to me, guess you want to go to Rome or Paris. My reply, nope I want one of those 25% posts, want to see if this life is for me or not. My answer was also influenced by the fact that I still owed money on my 1954 Ford. That was a great car, white top from the door handles up, a green body and an automatic transmission stick on the wheel. About a week later, Ms. Crim advised me that I was being assigned to Phnom Penh. I guess she could deduce from the blank expression that I didn’t have a clue in the world as to where Phnom Penh was. She then added, the capital of Cambodia. My expression remained blank, so she added how about Indo-China. My face changed, showed signs of intelligence, a light lit and I knew where I was going; me and my 1954 Ford.
On top of all this, I was going to Phnom Penh by airplane, first time I ever flew. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the Navy it was the first time I was to live outside of New Jersey. I had the world on a string, flying, a Ford with an automatic shift on the wheel, 25% differential, making almost a $100 a week counting overtime (when they could pay it) and money in my pocket thanks to the easy to get State Department Credit Union loan.
I mentioned two items triggered me to write this little story. The second was Jim Prosser’s article "Geckos in the Congo" (April 1998 Issue).
My real introduction to the Foreign Service was the Hotel Luxor in Phnom Penh, one room, mosquito netted covered bed in one corner, table and chair in the middle of the room and head and shower in the other corner. Head, that’s a nautical term for toilet. Beneath the window were water buffalo and mud, plenty of mud.
Geckos. The hotel room shower was a social place, always a couple of geckos in there. I almost lost it the first time one fell on my back. After that we coexisted. We had to become room mates, they had free run of the room and I spent several months in those "temporary" quarters.
Phnom Penh turned out to be a pleasant experience, and caused me to realize that the Foreign Service was for me, so I decided to stay. This was a decision, that most of the time, I never regretted.
Note: I paid off the 1954 green and white Ford, with the automatic transmission stick on the wheel. Wonder if that car is still in Cambodia.
In Israel, a strange weather event occurs about twice a year - in summer. It is called "The hamsin" (a word that is both Hebrew and Arabic), and, in English, it is a two syllable word, the first of which is pronounced as though you would spit up a clam....."ggghhhhh"...., and the second syllable is like "I done SEEN the light." All together now, and don't face anyone directly as you try it, "HAMSIN". Not "ham" as in ham and eggs. Ham, as in "I didn't mean to HARM you" but without the "r". Oh well, that's close enough. Now clean up your mess and read on.
The hamsin is a weather phenomenon wherein the bugs which naturally inhabit every square inch of Israel and most other countries learn, a full twenty-four hours in advance, that the prevailing winds which normally blow in from the Mediterranean is going to change for about a day, and blow in from the desert. It's considerably hotter than the normal sea breeze.
What you first notice is (a) there are creepy-crawly things you haven't seen in many months; (b) doors on cabinets and picture frames warp so much that doors don't even come close to closing and two opposing corners of a picture frame will be perhaps two inches from the wall; and the temperature rises into the 90's.
When the hamsin has blown for about twenty-four hours - and it's not a very strong breeze either - it stops and the normal direction of the breeze, from the sea, is restored.
In another twenty-four hours, picture frames and doors are back to their original shapes and the bugs - well, the ones you haven't stomped - return to their normal habitat.
Once upon a time, in an embassy far away, three communications centers were on the same floor. The last person to leave each evening was supposed to switch off common area hallway lights. State’s Communicator was usually the last to depart because of all the has-to-go telegrams delivered around 1700.
One of the next door chaps (we’ll call Joe) had an irritating habit of tossing snide remarks as he strolled out around 1730. Some examples: Should I tell your wife you’ll be home by 9?" "How much do they pay you to do unclassified work?"
Once in a blue moon, State’s guy would be the first to leave. And he’d relish pounding on Joe’s door to remind him to be sure and switch off the lights. Upon one such pounding, it was discovered Joe had already left.
On the way home, State’s guy noticed Joe driving back to the embassy. Thinking it was a NIACT call-in, he mentioned it to Joe the next day. Joe mumbled something about a malfunction with their new intrusion alarm system. Who could imagine a simple door knock causing such an inconvenience?
That intrusion system alarmed so often, Joe’s boss questioned if he knew how to set it properly. But doubts cleared when others also had to occasionally return after hours and reset the system. A team of technicians flew in from Frankfurt to run tests. Unstable electricity seemed to be the culprit.
Afterwards, Joe didn’t get as many false call-backs-but he had some. Eventually, the technicians returned and replaced some parts. Months later, they were still trying to resolve that intermittent intrusion alarm problem. Shame!