UNITED STATES—Career diplomat Roy Renaud was sent to posting in Guatemala. Shortly after Roy Renaud landed in Guatemala, President Augusto Jacob Gascón invited the new Ambassador and his wife Rosemary to dinner in the presidential palace. The dinner started with cocktails, an old-fashioned for the Ambassador and a negroni for Rosemary. They arrived at eight, by the time they left, it was already three in the morning. Gascón did most of the talking. Rosario Murillo wore a mink stole which was inappropriate for the Tropics.

The First Lady of Guatemala and the ambassador’s wife traded small talk over the dinner of turtle soup and albondigas and then cast sidelong glances as the men went at it. Appalling silences filled the long gaps, filled by the manic talking of President Gascón. He eschewed the presence of official translators. Feeling giddy and confident of his English, he chattered away, in a charming but mono-maniacal way. No matter what the subject was, hi-fi records, sailboats, French wines, he would always return to the fruit company and its evils.

Ambassador Renaud objected, refuted, argued, fumed, and bickered with the president and the president’s wife as Rosemary sat quietly.

“I like American cars,” said Gascón, like a schoolboy confessing a crush he had. “I like the Thunderbird.”

“It is a beauty, Mr. President,” said the ambassador. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been eyeing one myself.”

He had been, unbeknownst to himself, subtly influenced to want to possess a Thunderbird, a car successfully promoted by Bernard Lukasey, utilizing subliminal wolf imagery, speeding behind the wheel, hair flying. Then the wolf turns on to a perfect husband, says honey I’m home and she gives him a knowing wink. All that in 30 seconds. Thunderbird sales shot through the roof.

Renaud had one mission toward which end he deftly turned down refills of the Chateau Margeaux vintage 1921 from the presidential server, meanwhile Gascón continued to imbibe. Renaud was supposed to figure out whether Gascón was in league with the Communists or was he just a sucker. By the end of the evening, with the black sky glowering over the spires of the capital, he was more certain than ever. “Renaud came away convinced that, far from being an unwilling and unwitting tool of the Communists, Gascón was firmly established as the determined leader, not the follower of developments in Guatemala.”

Renaud got back to the embassy at 3 a.m. By 3:30 he was at his desk, writing his report. Addressed to John Cabot Dewey. It could be passed from the State Dept. to his brother at CIA to the White House. “The President cited that the problem in this country is one between the Fruit Company and the Government,” wrote Renaud.

“He went into a long dissertation giving the history of the Fruit Company from 1904; and since then, he complains, they have paid no taxes to the Government. He said that today, when the government has a budget of $70 million to meet, the Fruit Company contributes approximately $150,000. This is derived solely from the one-penny tax applied to each stem of bananas to be exported…

“If Gascón is not a Communist, he will certainly do until one comes along.”

“I have the very best Hi-Fi; I recognize American superiority. The records drop down and I don’t have to lift a finger,” said Gascón, El Presidente. “That’s the beauty of Yankee ingenuity. The fruit company it’s another story altogether. You have exported your plantations. And my plan has given land back to the people. For the first time they feel the growth and the power of the soil. These people are dirt poor. With a bit of land, there are possibilities.”

Ambassador Gascon who truly bit his tongue, his heart skipped a beat. Actually, a syllable had escaped his mouth. Fortunately, the son of a German pharmacist, who made up with emphatical English pronunciation what he lacked in fluency, was touting his policy so loudly that it masked Ambassador Renaud’s inexcusable gaffe. The first commandment of diplomacy is listen, listen, listen.

The boxes being unloaded in Puerto Barrios carried equipment; however, it was reported that after one of the boxes fell and broke upon, it was revealed to contain a machine gun (in a detailed report by Latin American field agent John Watts) the box split open, and it revealed a cargo of machine guns. The Guatemala soldiers quickly swooped down and tied it together with manila line, before the heavy weapons could spill out, and spirited off into the jungle.

At last coffee was served. President Gascón continued talking as he alternated sips of coffee and more highballs. He said a bit too much, alright. He was like a villain who, confident of his unassailable position gave too much detail about the plot. Like a poker player holding two aces, Gascón thought he had the upper hand. He kept coming back to the fruit company.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)