The Man in the Background

 

As the New Year begins, I decided to take another look at the past. We lived in India for two years after my dad left the Submarine Service. He was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence and was an Assistant Naval Attache in the US Embassy in New Delhi.

My dad spoke fluent Italian and was taking French language lessons during his time in Intelligence School, in addition to code work and spy craft. My mom was probably hoping for a posting in Rome or Paris, but New Delhi was the Navy’s choice.

In the first photo, my mom is the third person from your left and my dad is in uniform. The man behind my dad is holding his nose. My mom wrote a note on the back of the photo about diplomatic duty.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I like it. I suspect he was just caught at a bad moment. Your mother’s take is funny, though.

    • #1
  2. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Doug Watt: My mom wrote a note on the back of photo about diplomatic duty.  

    Jaime Retief might agree.

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My mom had a subtle sense of humor. Her observations included the wives of officers that thought they had the same rank as their husbands. She called it tripping over your husband’s sword.

    My brother Brian tells the story, better than I can of attending a Guy Fawkes Day celebration at the British compound in New Delhi. The wife of a senior British officer who made sure the British wives of lower ranked officers knew their place asked my mom if there were similar fireworks displays in the States.

    My mom’s reply was, we do. It’s on the day that we declared our independence from you.   

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    As I said to Speedicut, “it’s hell in the diplomatic.”

    — Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE (George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman on the March)

    • #4
  5. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    The man in the background looks like Richard Nixon.

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Juliana (View Comment):

    The man in the background looks like Richard Nixon.

    “Do you know the naval attache? A good man. The Agency put him on one of my trips to Russia. Now I find him here in India. (laughs) Allen Dulles never misses a trick, does he? I asked Foster once, “Does your brother have your phone tapped, too?” And he said, “I don’t ask him because I don’t want to know”. 

    “When I met Nehru he said, “I’m from the land of misery and meditation”. How’s that for self-appraisal? You know, the Indians can be very stiff necked. Not like the Paks.”

    • #6
  7. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Doug Watt: My mom wrote a note on the back of photo about diplomatic duty.

    Jaime Retief might agree.

    It’s been a long time, but my recollection is that Retief thought he was performing a valuable function by trying to hold civilization together no matter how incompetent the higher-ups were.

    Sort of a take-off from Idiocracy, I suppose.

    I preferred Laumer’s “Bolo” stories overall, but I remember at least one that included both Retief and Bolo elements.

    • #7
  8. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Doug Watt: My mom wrote a note on the back of photo about diplomatic duty.

    Jaime Retief might agree.

    It’s been a long time, but my recollection is that Retief thought he was performing a valuable function by trying to hold civilization together no matter how incompetent the higher-ups were.

    Sort of a take-off from Idiocracy, I suppose.

    I preferred Laumer’s “Bolo” stories overall, but I remember at least one that included both Retief and Bolo elements.

    Yes about Retief. My meaning was that Retief was constantly fighting the entrenched, careerist, foolish, and largely useless diplomatic corps.

    It’s been a long time, but my impression was that the Retief novels tended to suffer from padding: They seemed to be longer than they should have been, especially since the point of each novel was satire. Didn’t Laumer write more Bolo short stories than Retief short stories? Cannot remember that at all.

    • #8
  9. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Another sf satirist who came out of the federal government is Alexis Gilliland. I haven’t read any of his stories, but his cartoons fit that description. See the collections “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy” and “Who Says Paranoia Isn’t In Anymore?”

    • #9
  10. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Doug Watt: My mom wrote a note on the back of photo about diplomatic duty.

    Jaime Retief might agree.

    It’s been a long time, but my recollection is that Retief thought he was performing a valuable function by trying to hold civilization together no matter how incompetent the higher-ups were.

    Sort of a take-off from Idiocracy, I suppose.

    I preferred Laumer’s “Bolo” stories overall, but I remember at least one that included both Retief and Bolo elements.

    Yes about Retief. My meaning was that Retief was constantly fighting the entrenched, careerist, foolish, and largely useless diplomatic corps.

    It’s been a long time, but my impression was that the Retief novels tended to suffer from padding: They seemed to be longer than they should have been, especially since the point of each novel was satire. Didn’t Laumer write more Bolo short stories than Retief short stories? Cannot remember that at all.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Retief “novels” started out as one or more short stories, then combined and padded to make a “novel.”

    Don’t remember details about numbers of stories, but wiki probably has all of that.

    Another thing I remember from Retief was his concern about the coming of “The Long Night” of (human, at least) civilizational collapse largely because of the incompetence and venality etc of his “superiors,” but he was determined to delay it as much as he personally could, so he could enjoy the fine meals and so forth that civilization offered.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Another sf satirist who came out of the federal government is Alexis Gilliland. I haven’t read any of his stories, but his cartoons fit that description. See the collections “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy” and “Who Says Paranoia Isn’t In Anymore?”

    Also Ron Goulart.  Well, he may not have been in government himself, but his writing sure followed similar paths.

    • #11
  12. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Just found this.  Good stuff.

    Damn good stuff.

     

    https://www.you-books.com/book/K-Laumer/The-Compleat-Bolo

     

    And the Bolo/Retief story that I remembered, is in there.  It’s the second story, “Courier.”

    • #12
  13. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Another thing I remember from Retief was his concern about the coming of “The Long Night” of (human, at least) civilizational collapse largely because of the incompetence and venality etc of his “superiors,” but he was determined to delay it as much as he personally could, so he could enjoy the fine meals and so forth that civilization offered.

    That sounds more like Poul Anderson’s Ensign Flandry, who is explicitly described in your terms. I have read only a smattering of Laumer, but I do not recall anything like what you describe–the Retief novels are much lighter satires than would support such a mood.

    • #13
  14. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    kedavis (View Comment):
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Retief “novels” started out as one or more short stories, then combined and padded to make a “novel.”

    Unnecessary padding is a common problem, both when short stories are expanded or combined into novels and when novelists become so successful that they can ignore their editors’ advice.

    But sometimes it works quite well: Gregory Benford’s superb In the Ocean of Night was originally written and published over a number of years as individual shorter works. (See fix-up novel.)

    • #14
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Retief “novels” started out as one or more short stories, then combined and padded to make a “novel.”

    Unnecessary padding is a common problem, both when short stories are expanded or combined into novels and when novelists become so successful that they can ignore their editors’ advice.

    But sometimes it works quite well: Gregory Benford’s superb In the Ocean of Night was originally written and published over a number of years as individual shorter works. (See fix-up novel.)

    Sometimes it’s brilliant, despite the occasional plot hole. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep was cannibalized (Chandler’s term) from short stories originally published in Black Mask Magazine. One of the most famous plot holes in history is the identity of the killer of the Sternwood’s chauffeur. The screenwriters for the movie version didn’t know, so they sent Chandler a telegram. He confessed he didn’t know either.

    • #15
  16. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Fascinating story  – your dad had quite a life!

    • #16
  17. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    My mom had a subtle sense of humor. Her observations included the wives of officers that thought they had the same rank as their husbands. She called it tripping over your husband’s sword.

    My brother Brian tells the story, better than I can of attending a Guy Fawkes Day celebration at the British compound in New Delhi. The wife of a senior British officer who made sure the British wives of lower ranked officers knew their place asked my mom if there were similar fireworks displays in the States.

    My mom’s reply was, we do. It’s on the day that we declared our independence from you.

    I watched The Lost City of Z yesterday.  Early in the movie an aristocrat suggests inviting the protagonist to dinner.  He is saved from this social faux pas by a fellow aristo who warns “He had the misfortune to choose the wrong ancestors.”

    During my AF service I had the good fortune to be involving in planning entertainment for a social event centered around the wing commander (O6 or O7).  I was invited to wing king’s home by his wife where an E9 and I (E6) stood at the kitchen table while the wife presented a bunch of photographs to be shown.

    • #17
  18. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Another thing I remember from Retief was his concern about the coming of “The Long Night” of (human, at least) civilizational collapse largely because of the incompetence and venality etc of his “superiors,” but he was determined to delay it as much as he personally could, so he could enjoy the fine meals and so forth that civilization offered.

    That sounds more like Poul Anderson’s Ensign Flandry, who is explicitly described in your terms. I have read only a smattering of Laumer, but I do not recall anything like what you describe–the Retief novels are much lighter satires than would support such a mood.

    You may be right.  I read a lot of the Flandry stuff too, back in the day.   Not too difficult to mix them up a little.  Flandry would be the “Long Night” one, and Retief was just doing better than all of his “superiors.”  Including basically saving several planets and perhaps humanity itself in the long run, in the story noted above.

    • #18
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