A "Kid" Named Buchanan

Posted 06/28/04

By Walt Gunn

With the permission of the author, the following is excerpted from "A Life Aloft from DC-3 to 747" (Wings Publications, 1988), the memoirs of retired TWA pilot Walt Gunn.

Post-World War II events in the troubled Middle East contributed to a difficult period of adjustments among the allies. For example, the Suez crisis merely punctuated many long-standing strained relations between the Egyptians and British. Especially in Cairo, containing a truly cosmopolitan conglomerate of ethnic and multinational residents.

With little resolution of the conflict, passive-aggressive behaviors flourished toward British subjects who remained in the region. Locals often dealt with the English intruders with benign neglect and comic results.

The Heliopolis Palace Hotel, now a military officers’ club, was located on the outskirts of Cairo, serving many elite travelers as a sumptuous lodging and sporting club. English businessmen frequented the palatial accommodations, with a particular interest in the cocktail lounge – a favorite oasis.

The large verandah overlooks lavishly landscaped grounds bedecked with multi-colored flower beds, sculpted hedges, and winding walkways, suggesting a royal setting. Once the mid-day sun retreated, social gatherings were held between the verandah, at the bar with its continental atmosphere, and the ornately marbled lobby softened with its couches and oriental carpets.

Bar patrons resembled as cosmopolitan a mix as may be found in a posh Park Avenue emporium. Europeans, Asians and westerners outnumbered the local patrons. A cacophony of chatter enlivened the happy hour; occasional outbreaks of hilarity intruded upon more sedate conversations.

Muslims’ lifestyles differ markedly from those of their foreign counterparts. Social drinking for them means coffee, tea, mineral water, orange presse or Coca Cola. Others, less tethered to the teachings of the Koran, savor alcohol in the manner of western cultures, including occasional abuse.

Asians appear to vary their drinking habits with a preference noted for beers, wines or softer drinks when teas is not their choice. Abuse of alcohol is less common among the eastern cultures.

A drink made famous by Americans, the Sufering Bastard, originated during the Allies’ occupation of Egypt, following Rommel’s retreat from North Africa. A mixture of tropical juices, copious amounts of brandy and rum eased the suffering of those serving in the desolate, wartime setting, hence the name.

Afternoons were the perfect occasion for a more casual gathering on the verandah with a large "Stella" (Egyptian beer) and club sandwiches, or perhaps ample bowls of shelled, brine-crusted peanuts. Thirst was slow to quench, and not because of the desert heat. The temptingly addictive peanuts were the culprit, escalating the need for more Stella. The setting was most pleasant for sharing tales of past adventures with friends and other guests. Wartime and hangar-flying tales abounded in the mixed national and ethnic conglomerate of guests. As the cocktail hour approached, a transition was made to the lobby bar. Demeanors shifted gradually from soft-spoken politeness into a crescendo of conversation as the supper hour neared. Often, guests were reluctant to relinquish their strategic vantage point at the bar , even foregoing the evening’s epicurean affair in favor of the drinking and camaraderie . Imbibing dominated.

On one such evening, a memorable encounter involved Jarvis, an extroverted Britisher, and Hassan, an affluent local patron and son of an Egyptian prince in King Farouk’s regime. Subtle signs of animosity from the Suez disputes unsurprisingly emerged as the two found themselves on adjacent bar stools.

Jarvis entered the bar with a sprightly, black and white nanny goat cuddled under his arm. He had purchased it from a street merchant at the entrance to the hotel. The Brit made certain his entry would not go unnoticed as he held the young kid’s head high and announced in town crier tones, "Meet Buchanan, my guest for the evening!"

Selecting his place at the bar, he placed Buchanan at his feet. Hassan viewed this boisterous display with much disdain, but chose to ignore the intrusion.

After ordering his usual scotch, Black and White with soda, he asked Hassan, "Know why my kid’s named Buchanan?" Hassan only shrugged his negative response. "Because she’s black and white. Get it?"

Hassan, seeing little logic in the comment, continued his silence. Jarvis went on, "Black and White Scotch – distilled by Buchanan’s Limited," he continued. "Clever name for her, I must say!"

Hassan’s expression reflected a combination of disgust and disinterest as he signaled for another gin and tonic from Otto, the Turkish bartender with a shaved head.

Objections to Buchanan’s presence were nil. Otto acknowledged the unusual intruder with a pained expression on his usually poker-faced countenance. A young couple seated at a table found the kid irresistible, petting her soft fur coat while enticing her with a sprig of celery from their hors d’oeuvres. Europeans often frequent bars with their pets, which are mostly dogs, occasionally cats, but never goats!

Drinking and social activities resumed, Jarvis with his usual Black and White Scotch and soda, Hassan savoring his gin and tonic. Buchanan abstained.

An Austrian couple was seated at a nearby table with their dachshund companion resting at their side. Buchanan immediately became the focus of interest of the low-slung canine. He strained on his leash to better examine the new arrival, his barks piercing the otherwise calm atmosphere. In an attempt to quiet his pet, the dog’s owner loosened the leash, allowing the dog to make a closer inspection. His barking stopped as he cautiously stalked his prey. As he neared Buchanan, the Dachshund sprang instinctively into a copulating grasp of the frightened, docile, object of his affection. Amused, his owners led others in a gleeful chorus of laughter as the mounting efforts ensued.

Jarvis was incensed, grasping Buchanana off the floor, he placed her on the bar, a safe distance above the amorous critter. Perturbed, he failed to see any humor in the situation. A brief remark was offered to the Austrian owner, which they chose to ignore.

Hassan reacted differently. Standing, he cajoled Jarvis with, "Let the show go on!" He continued by seeking a consensus among the clients, encouraging an encore.

"You bloody well best control your dog," Jarvis remanded the owner. "And you," he said in censuring tones to Hassan, "had better mind your own damned affairs," revealing a rapid shift from levity to anger.

Meantime, Buchanan responded to the frightening attack by relieving herself first with a trickle, then a full stream. Hassan, noting the flow, slowly waved Jarvis’s half-consumed drink beneath Buchanan’s tail, briefly replenishing the drink. Then, with a magician’s deftness, he returned the glass to the bar.

Hassan’s gesture went unnoticed by Jarvis, largely due to Otto’s frantic scurrying to retrieve Buchanan and attempt to abort her flow. Jarvis reacted with robust laughter, while Hassan merely frowned. His coup, a "fait accompli," provided him with a retaliatory victory over his obnoxious adversary.

Otto tossed Jarvis a bar towel, signaling him to clean up the mess. He handed Buchanan to a busboy and asked that he take her outside. He even considered "86-ing" the pompous Britisher for disrupting the decorum of the evening --- and fouling his workplace.

As calm resumed at the bar, Jarvis returned to his drink, taking a hearty gulp while continuing to regale the aborted matchmaking efforts of the lustful hound. Suddenly, with a furtive expression, he pursed his lips while questioning Otto. "What scotch did you serve me?" Before Otto could reply, Hassan blurted, "Black & White, that’s what you ordered!"

Not refuting the remark Otto raised Jarvis’s glass for examination. Hassan froze, pondering whether to alert Otto lest he sample the urine-diluted drink.

Fortunately, Otto opted to sniff rather than sip the contaminated concoction. With a shrug and puzzled expression, he poured the drink out and served Jarvis his customary Scotch. Meanwhile, Hassan savored his sweet retribution in silence.

In the following few months, the Suez conflict erupted, pitting Her Majesty’s forces against the Egyptian defenders. The "Buchanan Affair" was seen as a humorous prelude to the more serious encounter. Hassan and Jarvis’ confrontation was symptomatic of the underlying conflictive attitudes between the two nations, but with far more humorous consequences!

Walt Gunn (1942-1981) served in Flight Operations and was based at BUR, NYC, CHI and MKC.

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