Late Friday afternoon, as I was crunching some numbers for the Federal Reserve, Gretchen politely interrupted me. “Mr. Collins,” she announced, her blonde head poked discreetly into my office between the heavy oak doors separating me from the reception area, “Khus Dihugami Dadamizo, Special International Policy Emissary of His Excellency President Hamid Karzai for the Embassy of Afghanistan to the United States of America, has just nodded out and keeled over onto the floor out here. Shall I dial 911?”
“Give it a few minutes,” I suggested. “If he comes around, we’re cool – whereas if we panic and he gets carried out of here on a gurney down to the George Washington University Hospital emergency room, it’s going to be an international incident; and you know how I hate adverse publicity, investigations and talking to the media.”
“As long,” she insisted with an annoyed shake of her golden mane, “as I don’t have to explain anything to anyone.”
“You have my word,” I assured her. “Go into the bathroom – my private one, mind you, and obtain four one thousand milligram tablets of vitamin C from the medicine cabinet. Pulverize them in the blender you will find in our office galley…”
“I know,” she interrupted, “where the blender is!”
“Okay,” I continued, “then make eight shots of espresso, please. Put them in an extra large cappuccino cup, which you will find…”
“Do you think,” she indignantly challenged, “that after more than one thousand late nights working the insane problems of the world here in this office, that I don’t know where the extra large cappuccino cups are?”
“No, of course not,” I conceded. “Sorry. Mix the coffee with twelve ounces of steamed whole milk and six packets of white sugar. Then add the powdered vitamin C and stir vigorously.”
“And then what?” Gretchen protested.
“Just do it,” I shot back, as I rose from my desk and made for the reception area. “And, by the way – hurry!”
The first order of business when reviving a narcotics overdose is to get the subject moving. Consequently, I immediately picked Special International Policy Emissary Dadamizo, who was still breathing, I should note, albeit rather shallowly – up off the reception area floor, slung his left arm over my right shoulder (that’s the best arm to elevate, given the structure of the human heart and respiratory system) and frog marched him into my office. Fortunately there was nobody around at the time but me, Gretchen and Mr. Dadamizo – which was consistent with this Friday’s booking schedule, thank God – as it happened, no persons desperate for advice had requested to wait in the reception area until a cancellation made it possible for them to speak with me.
I patiently walked Mr. Dadamizo around my office in the largest clockwise circle I could manage for six minutes and forty-eight seconds – an interval which I carefully observed on the wall clock – until Gretchen arrived with a monstrous cappuccino cup that, incredibly, she had taken the time to top with a very competently made and visually impressive froth of steamed organic grass-fed Vermont whole milk and dust with a dash of prime Indonesian Korintje Cassia cinnamon.
“Mr. Dadamizo,” I prodded at the virtual corpse I was lugging around the room, his eyes rolled back in his head – real horrowshow like, me droogs, I guarantee – “would you care for some coffee?”
“Mm’hm?” he mumbled.
“Warm, steaming cappuccino, good buddy,” I chided, pumping him up and down as I walked, to get his circulation going, “the best – and, I might add, it’s very, very sweet.”
“Sweet?” Dadamizo’s eyes rolled back to look at me as his lips responded with the junkie’s morbid rictus of a smile. “Yes, yes, by all means.”
So I sat him down in a chair – not on the couch, because sitting there would compress his lungs, which, under the circumstances, was the last thing he needed – and while Gretchen held him upright, I helped him drink about half the coffee right away, making sure that he didn’t get any of it down his windpipe. Sure enough, in another five minutes, he was able to drink the rest of the cappuccino by himself, even, apparently, being capable of tasting the last third or so, and, evidently, enjoying it.
So – all well and good. But if any of my loyal readers are in a similar situation, however, please be advised that this approach, obviously, won’t work on diabetic junkies. Giving them that much sugar in one whack is bound to be worse than a narcotics overdose. Therefore, be advised – if a diabetic junkie collapses from an overdose in your office, don’t shilly-shally around. Call 911 immediately. This concludes my public service announcement.
“So,” I opened, as Dadamizo attempted to focus on me, his pupils still decidedly pinpointed, his head wagging back and forth like a watermelon, “how may I help the people of Afghanistan this afternoon?”
“Oh, yeah,” he breathed in a slightly amazed tone, “them. Um… I was sent here to… uh… obtain your analysis of the current situation… er… with respect to… um… President Karzai’s… uh… problem.”
“President Hamid Karzai has a problem?” I inquired. “What might that be?”
“I guess,” Dadamizo sighed, “I might be getting ahead of myself. It started last Sunday, you see, when President Karzai made some, ah… controversial… remarks.”
“You are referring,” I sought to confirm, “to when he met with our new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, last Sunday in Kabul, and uttered a series of statements which implied that the American military is engaged in a conspiracy with the Taliban to provoke violence in Afghanistan so as to justify our continued presence in your country and, furthermore, charged that foreign troops were harassing Afghan university students?”
“Uh… yeah… that,” Dadamizo acknowledged as he drained his cup. “Um… may I have some more?”
“Gretchen,” I quietly requested, “would you please provide Special International Policy Emissary Dadamizo with another of your superlative cappuccinos?”
“Certainly, Mr. Collins,” she responded, her voice dripping with irony as thick as black-strap molasses in January as she quickly vanished from the room with obvious relief.
“Well,” I observed, “President Karzai’s proclamations were hardly well received. The United States armed forces commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Junior, was nonplussed, to say the least. Our State Department is, frankly, dumfounded, and President Obama has told his key aides that he doesn’t even want to think about it.”
“Neither do the members of Karzai’s government,” Dadamizo confided, “nor, for that matter, do I or my colleagues in the diplomatic corps.”
“Really?” I challenged. “Isn’t it a fact that a senior Afghan official recently said that Karzai has opted to take the Americans to task in public because he feels Western officials don’t take him seriously and fail to listen to him during private meetings?”
“That’s all – what do you call it?” Dadamizo pondered, “Yes, I remember now – window dressing, that’s the American term. All window dressing, that’s what it is.”
“You mean,” I sought to confirm, “that components of the Afghan government are – concocting ersatz explanations for President Karzai’s statements because they don’t actually know what he’s talking about?”
“That’s why I’m here today,” Dadamizo confessed. “Nobody knows what Hamid Karzai is talking about – not even him.”
“You mean,” I pressed, “he’s… ah… lost his marbles?”
“His… marbles?” Dadamizo muttered, perplexed. “No, as far as I am aware, President Karzai still has a pair of…”
“Mr. Collins!” Gretchen interrupted as she returned with a second huge cup of extremely strong, sweet and well decorated cappuccino, “I have a family emergency and need to leave work immediately.”
“No problem,” I assured her. “I hope you can resolve the situation.”
“Me, too,” she huffed as she stormed out.
“What in the world,” Dadamizo wondered as he tucked into his second cup of extremely strong, sweet and well decorated cappuccino, “is the matter with that woman?”
“’La donna è mobile’” I quipped, “as the Italian, Giuseppe Verdi once so insightfully observed.”
“And what does that mean?” Dadamizo wondered as his gaze alternated around the room between cross- and wall-eyed.
“Ah, you know,” I improvised, “’Women – you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them’ – something like that. Do you… have any visibility into… what’s up with President Karzai, by any chance?”
“Yes,” Dadamizo confessed, “I do. It’s about his gaboozh.”
“His gaboozh!” I exclaimed, astounded. “You are referring to the traditional rural Afghan gentleman’s morning smoke, a mixture of tobacco, opium and hashish?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, “that’s the one. A couple of years ago, Karzai took up the gaboozh smoke as a gesture of solidarity with the peasantry. He said it would help give him the common peoples’ outlook.”
“And the common peoples’ outlook,” I asked, flabbergasted, “is that the United States of America is in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban?”
“No, no, no,” he snickered, evidently somewhat amused, “that is not what I meant at all. No, not in the least. You misunderstand, Tom, my friend, who has just saved me from a very embarrassing misadventure, and whom I would trust with my life, as a man of honor. Everyone in the Afghan government is presently very worried about President Karzai, his gaboozh pipe and… his civet cat.”
“His civet cat?” I repeated, not quite sure I had heard correctly.
“Yes,” Dadamizo sighed, “his civet cat. It is the kopi luwak animal, yes?”
“You mean,” I inquired, incredulous, “that President Karzai owns a pet Asian palm civet, otherwise known as Paradoxurus hermaphroditus?”
“This scientific name,” Dadamizo confessed, “I have never heard before. But yes, it is a cute little furry thing, which looks like a cross between a cat and weasel. President Karzai is quite fond of it. He named it ‘Bush 43,’ as a matter of fact.”
“Well,” I conceded, “the president of Afghanistan can have whatever he wants, that goes without saying. But what in blue blazes does he want with a palm civet?”
“We are both well aware,” Dadamizo pointed out, lifting his cup, “of the pleasures associated with good coffee. And this animal, of course, we also know, eats coffee, then… um… how shall we say… excretes the beans after digestion, yes?”
“Sure,” I agreed, “that’s the basis for palm civet coffee – the most expensive coffee in the world. It’s made from the… ah… droppings of a palm civet which has fed on fresh Indonesian coffee cherries. The beans thus… processed… have a flavor unique among all coffees obtainable anywhere, at any price whatsoever.”
“Exactly,” Dadamizo confirmed, “and what President Karzai realized was that while the Indonesian palm civet eats fresh coffee cherries, those coffee cherries are far from the best available. So, several years ago, President Karzai arranged for a greenhouse in Kabul to raise the finest coffee in the world – arabica beans of the Hawaiian Kona cultivar – and then feed those coffee cherries to Bush 43.”
“And so Bush 43 poops out the best kopi luwak on the planet,” I concluded. “A cup of that must go down quite well after His Excellency’s snacks on Beluga caviar and Cristal champagne. But pardon me for asking – so what?”
“One would assume so, but unfortunately,” Dadamizo explained, “the story does not end there. You see, the same greenhouse in Kabul which houses the exotic coffee bushes also has other plants, among them, the nightshade flower.”
“Atropa belladonna?” I gasped. “Surely, you aren’t saying that…”
“Yes,” he interjected, “I am saying exactly that – one of the new workers at the greenhouse collected the berries of the nightshade plant and fed those to the civet cat.”
“What?” I demanded, “Are you telling me that the berries didn’t kill it?”
“According to most accounts,” he shrugged, “it becomes somewhat – lethargic, but no, it does not die. And after drinking a cup of the kopi luwak thus produced, President Karzai became – well, let us say, curious. Within a few days, he had determined that the… feces… surrounding the beans was the source of the new and unusual… um… experiences he had had, and within a week we was mixing the… um… droppings… in his morning gaboozh.”
“Holy smokes!” I shouted with such surprise I scarcely realized what a terrible pun I had made. “You’re telling me that President Hamid Karzai has gone bat-spit crazy from puffing on a cocktail of tobacco, opium, hashish and civet cat belladonna metabolites every morning before breakfast!”
“Yes,” Dadamizo confirmed.
“You mean,” I yelled back, “that all these elegant excuses – that he’s simultaneously playing to Afghan public and world opinion in a masterful game of realpolitik; that he’s adroitly seeking leverage in ongoing negotiations for the release of prisoners held at the Bagram compound; that he’s pursuing détente with Pakistan; and so on and so forth – that all of those stories are nothing but, you will pardon the expression, a pile of belladonna-contaminated animal crap?”
“Correct,” Dadamizo slurped as he drained his second cup. “And what my colleagues have sent me here to you for today is, a solution to our dilemma. How do we get our beloved President to shape up, stop smoking belladonna laced civet cat dung, and start thinking straight again?”
I will not pretend that this didn’t require several minutes of deep thought on my part. Nevertheless, on the other hand, afterward, I delivered the goods – that’s what I do, after all.
“Go buy a God-damned Belgian hare,” I advised.
“A rabbit?” Dadamizo’s face betrayed frank puzzlement.
“No,” I clarified, “not a rabbit. A Belgian hare. Close to a rabbit, but different. A rabbit’s… fecal pellets… are comparable to those of a palm civet, but not an exact match. The droppings of a Belgian hare, on the other hand, are nearly indistinguishable.”
“Okay,” he nodded, “we get some Belgian hares. Then what?”
“Collect your finger and toenail clippings,” I continued. “Dry them in an oven at 95 degrees Celsius for an hour, then pulverize them to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Next, mix the powdered nail clippings with the hare’s food at a rate of fifteen percent, collect the animal’s fecal pellets and substitute them for the ones Karzai is putting in his pipes of gaboozh.”
“He’s not going to notice the difference?” Dadamizo fretted.
“Between your toenails and belladonna berries pinched out of a cute furry little animal’s keister?” I implored. “We already know the man can’t tell the difference between Dick Cheney and Shinola.”
“True,” Dadamizo smiled as he rose to leave. “Okay, makes sense to me. Worth a try, anyway.”
“Let’s hope so,” I vouched as he stumbled away.