Because of my inability to convince Mr. Shababian to help start a war, I was no longer considered the guru of all problem solutions. So when I balked when they told that three separate crews had gone to Kermanshah and found the parabolic microwave dishes properly aligned, no one wanted to listen. So I balked louder. I contacted Richard Laine, an old friend from my first job at Lenkurt Electric, a telecom manufacturer in California. As the world’s most prominent expert on microwave radio transmission, he assured me that dish alignment was the most common of all problems. It was like having two 10-feet in diameter flashlights with tiny bulbs 30 miles apart. Each one would have to be pointed exactly at the other to get the maximum power; the slightest bit of misalignment would reduce the signal strength.
After giving me a list of other less common possibilities, he analyzed the specifications of this particular path and gave me a hint that wouldn’t normally appear on other systems. After I tried to explain the hint to the test engineers at Page, they decided to send me to supervise another re-alignment instead of admitting that they had no idea what Mr. Laine was talking about.
I headed off to Kermanshah alone because Felicity had gone to Australia to visit her mother whom she hadn’t seen in four years. Without Felicity, I didn’t need to use the excuse of the dangers-of-driving-at-night to work only in the mornings at Kermanshah. I could work a full day. So I drove straight through from Tehran and arrived at the 200-foot microwave tower in the early afternoon. I found a tower maintenance crew working, but the supervisor, an Englishman, told that he and the three Iranians with him weren’t the crew that would help me align the dish. Because he had no idea when they would arrive, I decided to take an adventurous trip up the tower to the 10-foot dish mounted at the 180-foot level and give it a tweak. I had the meter that I needed to measure the signal and the two adjustable wrenches to move the antenna. But I should use safety belt. I asked the Englishman if he could loan me one, but all of his were in use. He could only loan me a belt with a pouch large enough to hold my equipment. I should have waited, but sometimes I can be a stubborn cuss, especially when a little extra adventure is at stake.
So I started climbing up the ladder mounted in the center of the tower, with what little equipment I had. Once I reached the dish, I realized I was in a place I definitely should not be. I had little experience at that height and, without a belt to support me, needed three hands: one to cling to the tower with a death grip and two to make the adjustments. Yes, the view was superb and the rush was well worth the climb. But I should’ve gone back down with the excuse that I’d only gone up to take a look. But the tools would be a giveaway, so my pride massaged my stubbornness and told me I had to at least try, even though my hands were trembling. So as I was fumbling around with the tools and meter like a drunken monkey, I felt a pressure at the small of my back.
Surprised, I looked around to see the beaming, toothy smile of one of the Iranian tower workers who’d grabbed hold of my belt to keep me from falling. At first I was unsure of his intention, so I put some of my weight against his grip while looking at him and still holding on to the tower. His penetrating dark eyes and firm smile assured me he knew I was scared and embarrassed, but he would be a true friend and keep me safe, even from myself. Seeing his other hand firmly gripping the tower, I leaned out and let go with both hands. He held and nodded his reliability and loyalty. He would be my human safety belt. As I started adjusting the antenna, I realized that if he let go, I would be dead. But the synergy confirmed that my trust in him was warranted. So I kept on working.
The antenna had threaded rods to make the adjustments, and I only had to move it a small amount to see if the signal level on the meter would increase. I moved it left first and the level dropped a noticeable amount. Then I moved it back to the right and the meter arose back to where it was, then moved down again as I went past the position where it had originally been. I moved it back to the peak and tightened it down. I pantomimed to my protector that I needed to do the same to the vertical adjustment and he nodded his understanding. After finishing, I offered him a firm handshake with several animated nods of thanks. Then my new friend went back to the task he’d left.
I got back to the ground just as the Page electronic supervisor who I’ll again call Dick arrived at the site. He wore mirrored sunglasses and a ball cap perched back on his head, a plaid short-sleeved sport shirt, clean pressed Levis and loafers with a good shine; a slender fellow about five foot nine, slightly taller than me but a year of so younger. He knew the Englishman and his crew and, after a bit of small talk about the tasks at hand, I mentioned that one of the Iranians had helped me do the preliminary adjustment of the dish and a reward was in order. We all agreed that it was “beer-thirty,” a term used for “quitting time” by many high-risk workers; and the first shout would be on me. We headed for a bar-and-restaurant next door to the lower-priced hotel where the tower workers were staying, and soon were learning different ways to order “another round” in each others’ language. In a short while, the table and the six jovial revelers were full of beer. As the lights dimmed, the tower crew staggered to their rooms and Dick and I went to the Kermanshah motel in his air-conditioned, luxury Land Rover, the first of its sort that I’d seen on the project.
After a phone call the next morning, Dick told me our antenna alignment crew would not arrive for two more days, giving us plenty of time to do the preliminary checks that Mr. Laine had suggested. After looking at the list, Dick told me that all the previous teams had done everything on it, but since they were named Curly, Moe and Larry, we’d be better off to do them again. I then told him about Mr. Laine’s hint and he agreed that it may be the solution, but we should wait till the tower crew arrived to do it. He thought it inappropriate for an engineer to be on the tower working. Besides, we could use the two days before they arrived to do the other tests comfortably. Dick was not a dick when it came to planning troubleshooting procedures and drinking beer with a tower crew.
The next morning, Dick did another excellent job of planning the activities. We would shop for some groceries for lunch, and then go to the Earth station to finish the checks on that radio by 11:00 am. Then we could take the scenic and adventurous drive to the mountain top site and have a relaxed picnic lunch enjoying the cooler climate and view before doing the tests. We should finish by 5:00, giving us plenty of time to get back to the motel for dinner. We completed the day as planned without incident.
Author’s note: As I just found out my good friend and associate, Richard (Dick) Laine had died, I must clarify my use of “Dick” and “dick.” “Dick” is a man’s name, usually short for Richard. My name is Richard, and sometimes people call me “Dick” when their rush to familiarity supersedes their actual interest in my well-being: tactics often used by used-car salesmen, insurance and real estate agents, investment brokers, pick pockets, prostitutes and other shady characters. But I never use “Dick” as a nickname. I used “Rick.” Richard U. Laine, however, used “Dick,” and in his case, should always be used with the utmost respect. He was a forerunner in the development of microwave radio systems and an extraordinary man.
The term “dick” on the other hand, means a male who doesn’t – for one reason or another – actually qualify as a “man.” Many questionable actions of the dick would give reason for using the term. I’ve sometimes been called a dick on instances both justified and not. Richard U. Laine should always be referred to as “Dick” and never as a “dick.”
In my writings, for the sake of privacy, I often use the name “Dick” to replace the real name of a person who is a dick for the reasons I go on to explain. None of my fictitiously named “Dicks” are dicks all the time, but some of my Dicks are dicks most of the time. The present Dick is mostly not a dick and his dickness only appeared in a situation when he shouldn’t have been a dick. And the situation’s pretty grim.
While we were eating dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, Dick a local policeman approached us and struggled in broken English to tell us about a problem. He carefully enunciated each word showing absolutely no emotion at all. “Your friends… from last night… have small accident. Finish dinner… go to hospital… visit them.” As the message contained no urgency, we took out time discussing the possibilities of what may have happened. It was a small town and our antics of the night before probably started a bit of gossip. Everyone would know that there were three persons from another country in town, and that they’d been drinking beer with the Iranian construction workers who were not from that area, in a manner unlike the Iranian tradition. We assumed this would be quite juicy gossip in a town this size and would spread quickly. And because Iranian friendships are strong and permanent, the workers’ misfortune would certainly be of interest to us. So after dinner, we would go to the hospital to see them and perhaps return to that same restaurant for a nightcap. We agreed it would be only one beer, not another glug fest. But we weren’t taking into consideration the Iranian version of what to do with the bearer of bad news. You don’t kill him; you just don’t be him. Nobody tells bad news in Iran. So when we got to the hospital, it came as a shock to us that our friends were teetering on the edge of death.
They had thought it would be funny for the youngest one… the one with no driver’s license… to get as drunk as he could get and then drive the three-quarter ton four by four pickup truck as fast as it would go. A bridge that was blocked off for construction repairs had no advance warnings, so to avoid smashing into the barricade at the last second, he swerved to the left, hit a gravel pile on the shoulder and flipped the truck end over end, slamming it upside down into the dry creek bed below the bridge. Of the three of who had been in the cab, one could not be sedated because he had the top of his head missing. All he could do was scream incoherently. The other two were also in critical condition with broken bones and internal injuries. The one who’d been in the back had an 18-inch crescent wrench lodged in his chest. Removing it could possibly kill him. After the doctor explained it all, he asked which of us was in charge. Dick said he was.
The doctor spoke perfect English as he looked directly into Dick’s eyes. “These men are dying and we don’t have the facilities here to save them. They need to get to them Tehran, but they may not survive the trip. The drive might kill them. What do you want us to do?”
Dick’s eyes widened and his chin dropped as he stuttered, “Wha… what do you mean, what do I want you to do?”
“You’re their boss, they work for you. They’re in no condition to make the decision for themselves. You have to make it for them.”
“But… but what about their families?” asked Dick.
“Yes,” explained the doctor. “Their families have been told that there’s been a small accident. They wanted to talk to them but we told them they were sleeping.”
Nor would the doctor be the bearer of bad news. “What do you want us to do? I need the decision as soon as possible.” He held his stare into Dick’s eyes.
After a long pause, Dick said, “Just a second,” then grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of earshot. I assumed he wanted to discuss the problem, but I was wrong. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to the luxury Land Rover. “Here,” he said as his trembling hand passed them to me. “This is way too fucked up for me. I’m taking a taxi to the bus terminal and getting the fuck out of here. You’re the fucking genius, you handle it.”
He was gone before I could utter a sound. I was out of breath… frozen. But I knew I had to do something. After taking a few deep breaths for composure, I returned to the doctor who had not budged. “Um… I’m actually the one in charge,” I said as I nodded to the now-closed door. “He… uh… he’s just learning.”
The doctor’s eyes softened and he spoke in a very low voice, “What do you want us to do?” His concerned expression, his well-groomed features and his professional attire gave me the impression he understood my position completely. And the synergy told me we shared the concern for the injured men equally.
“How long do you think they’ll last?” I asked.
He shook his head as he shrugged a hand in slight frustration. “I don’t know; a day or two, maybe three. There’s no way of knowing for sure.”
“Will they last the night?” I asked.
“Most likely they will,” he answered as he nodded his head firmly. “But we don’t have the equipment here to save them. Only Tehran has it, so if they stay here, they’ll surely die.” He didn’t budge as he let me mull it over.
“OK, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” He shook my hand firmly enough to let me know he wouldn’t pressure me, nor would he criticize any decision I made.
When I arrived at the motel, instead of driving up to my room, I went to the office. As I entered, the expression on the face of the charming young woman in the pin-striped business suit behind the desk told me the news had preceded me. “Do you want to talk?” She chugged each word along as if she were in an English class.
The only word I could find was, “Yes.” It was about 1:00 am and I knew I’d have to wait till daybreak to call Page to try to get the company plane to haul the guys back to Tehran. I thought of the excellent PR story, the great and wonderful Americans save the lives of the workers who’d made a foolish mistake. Lassie would be on it!
“I will make some tea,” said the desk clerk as she went into the kitchen and soon returned with the familiar teapot, shot glasses and crystallized sugar lumps.
We talked about the decision of whether to try moving dying men or not, but in her reality, Allah was the one actually making the decision. “You not should worry so much,” she suggested. “Maybe could you pray?”
“I’m not so sure that would help,” I answered.
“Maybe it make you feel better. Allah always help people who ask.”
“Perhaps I’ll try it after I make my calls.” The conversation calmed me considerably.
I changed the subject to family and customs and asked her a few questions. She was not married but her father had suggested several acceptable possibilities for a husband. She wasn’t sure which one she could love, but she would honor her father and not chose anyone he wouldn’t approve. But by no means would she allow her husband to take a second wife, which was allowed by law but only with the first wife’s approval and the husband’s ability to support them both. Hopefully, whoever won her hand would not make much money. But she was fine. After all, Allah would guide her destiny and she would willingly follow.
She knew I was married because she had seen me with Felicity, and beamed when she asked when we would be having children. Then she spoke of her desire to see the world as we could, but shrugged it off as a harmless dream. Soon the sun rose and she suggested breakfast. But neither of us was hungry.
At 7:00 am, I called the office from which I worked and spoke to our secretary who always came in early. She would have the boss call me at the hotel as soon as he came in. At 7:55 he called, and after a brief explanation of the problem, he told me I was on loan to the test engineering department and they would make the decision on what I should do. But when I finally got through to their boss, he told me the crew that had the accident worked for the civil engineering department and I would have to talk to their boss, the one who didn’t like me for letting Mr. Shababian push me around. But when I talked to him, he told me the crew was a subcontractor and I would have to call their company. Fed up, I said, “Look, they’re fucking dying. I need to get the company plane down here to get them to the hospital in Tehran.”
“Well, you don’t need to get snippy about it,” he answered. “But I’ll try and get you to the general manager. Is there a number where he can call you?” I gave him the number to the motel.
At 10:30 the cigar chewer’s secretary called and told me he would call me as soon as he got out of a meeting. It shouldn’t be too long. At 11:00, he called and mouthed words around his cigar. “So just what the fuck’s going on down there, Asmus? What kind of mess have those tower monkeys got themselves into now?” I explained the problem as best I could and he answered, “Well, shit, Asmus, I can’t even get that fucking plane for myself. But you’re in luck. There’s a VP here from DC and maybe I can get you to him. Is there a number where he can call you?” I gave him the number to the motel.
At 11:20 the cigar chewer’s secretary called again and said the VP would talk to me but I would have to call at exactly 11:55 because he would be coming out of a meeting on his way to lunch. So I called at exactly 11:55 and the secretary handed him the phone. I started explaining the problem but he cut me short.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
“Asmus,” I said.
“Well, Asmus,” he said in a slightly mocking voice, “the company plane is reserved for executives on official company business. We can’t start using it as an ambulance to pick up every son of a bitch that gets hurt on the job. So do what you can for the Englishman, Asmus, but don’t worry about those other guys. After all, they’re only Iranians.” He hung up. Lassie stopped to take a shit and the little girl drowned.
I couldn’t think of any man who’d held my life in his hands as “only” anything, let alone forget about him because of his nationality. In fact, I couldn’t think of any company leaving any employee to die without any concern, no matter what stupid mistake they’d made. So if Lassie wasn’t on it, I was. The only trouble was, I didn’t know how to bark in Farsi.
The day shift desk clerk, equally as charming as the night clerk, had kept pace with my conversation and results. After hanging up the phone, she was attentively waiting for my next question. “Do you know how to get an ambulance to go to Tehran?” I asked.
She widened her eyes and spread her hands apart before wrestling with, “I… have no idea but I can call people. I can ask for you.”
“Thank you very much,” I said. “I’m going to the hospital and I’ll be back in an hour or so.” I spoke slowly and waited for her nod of understanding.
At the hospital, a different doctor was attending the emergency section, but he knew who I was when I arrived. He asked if I’d made a decision.
“I’m trying to get an ambulance to take them to Tehran, but I don’t know if I can,” I said. “Do you know how to arrange an ambulance?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t know how to do it myself, but I can ask for you.” His expression became more serious as he added, “But you do know that the drive may kill them?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I can’t just leave them here to die. Can I see them?”
He looked down at the floor and shook his head slowly. “It’s better that you don’t. They’re in very bad condition.”
“Have you called their families?”
“Yes,” he said raising his head. “We told them they’re out in the garden, sitting in the sun and resting so they couldn’t come to the phone.”
“Shouldn’t… shouldn’t you… ” I stuttered.
He cut me short before I could finish. Apparently he knew the differences in out cultures. “Telling them would only make them cry. They would rush to come here and cry even more. It would do no good. Better to let them enjoy these hours knowing nothing. When something is certain, we will surely tell them.” He seemed to be begging me to understand. “Men can only do their tasks, but Allah will decide.”
“What can I do?” I asked.
“Go back to your hotel. I’ll see what I can do about arranging an ambulance. I’ll call you there.” He put his arm on my shoulder as he walked me to the door. “You’ve done well,” he said as I left. “Trust in Allah.”
When I arrived at the hotel, I pulled up to my room, went in and took a shower. I lay down on the bed but couldn’t sleep, so I got up to see if the desk clerk had any news. As I opened the door to the office, she came running around for behind the desk and closed a small piece of paper in my hand, using both of hers. Her wide, dark eyes looked deeply into my eyes. “You call this man. He help you. He governor-general.”
“What?” I said.
She squeezed my hand tighter, still looking in my eyes and urging. “You call. He governor-general. He help.”
She went back behind the desk and pulled out the same phone I’d used all morning. After dialing the number, a woman answered and said something in Farsi I didn’t understand. I said, “Um… hello… I’m,” she cut me short and said something else I didn’t understand but assumed to mean “Please hold.”
But only a few seconds later, a man’s voice said, “Hello? Mr. Asmus?”
“Yes… ” I started but had no time to continue.
“Where are you?” asked the voice.
“I’m at the motel,” I answered.
“Stay there,” said the voice. “I’ll be right over.”
Within minutes a black, late-model sedan with smoked windows stopped in front of the motel. The back door opened and a short, stocky man in an impeccably tailored dark suit opened the back door, got out and approached me. After I fumbled through the customary greeting, he introduced himself as the governor-general of the area as he took the hand that I offered in both of his. “Mr. Asmus,” he said, tilting his head slightly while looking directly into my eyes, “I want you to know that I will take full responsibility for this situation. This is not your country. You don’t know the customs, you don’t know the laws and you don’t know the language. I know you’re concerned about your friends, and I will take care of them as best I can.”
“What are you going to do,” I asked. He still had my hand.
“I’m going to arrange ambulances to take them to Tehran,” he answered.
“But what if…” he didn’t let me finish.
“I’m taking full responsibility for this situation,” he said, again nodding his head for emphasis. “You have nothing to worry about. This is my country and you are a visitor.”
“Thank you, “I said as he released my hand. “Thank you very much,”
“Stay here by the phone; I’ll keep you posted of the progress.” He put his arms at his sides, clicked his heels, bowed his head slightly and turned and left.
The desk clerk brought tea as we waited. Soon the phone rang. “Mr. Asmus,” said the governor-general, “we’re starting to load your friends into the ambulance. If you come now you can wish them farewell.”
I got to the hospital just as they were putting the last man into the ambulances. As I looked into his heavily sedated eyes, I recognized him as the man who’d held my life in his hands two days before. The raised lump in the sheet identified him as the one with the 18-inch Crescent wrench lodged in his chest. Thinking words to be futile, I touched his shoulder for a few seconds. The synergy flowed: our mutual appreciation and concern, our muted friendship and our acceptance of the raw reality. He would be fine; Allah would decide. I stayed until the ambulances drove out of sight.
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