• Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Hot Job for a Cold Warrior


[This satire was originally published in The Guardian on Sunday 29 January 1989 when I was Editorial Page Editor & Chairman of the Editorial Board. It is a spoof on international politics of the day as well as on Columbia College (Columbia University in New York), Columbia Soccer, and my graduating Class of 1963. It is offered here in celebration of both the 50th Anniversary of the Class of ’63 and the All-Ivy League Soccer Eleven of 1962-63 which featured three Nigerians: Onwuchekwa Jemie & Donatus Anyanwu of Columbia, and the great Nigerian international, the late Chris Ohiri, of Harvard.]

I got a surprise phone call last Christmas Day from my old soccer team-mate Zero Podulovski. He and I led the Varsity squad’s attack that won the Ivy League that year, he on the right flank and I on the left. Two extremists who agreed on nothing but goals.

“Hello! Hello!” I shouted into the receiver. “Who’s this interrupting my Christmas dinner without permission?”

“Merry Xmas, you Red Leaguer!”

“Who the hell is this?”

“Roar, Lion, Roar!”

“Ah, it’s you, Mr. Zed, the End of Things, the Anti-Christ.”

“Not anti-Christ, just anti-communist.”

“You old haters are all the same. From the bottom of which ocean are you calling?”

“From old Washington, of course, the capital of the world.”

“Damned hegemonist!”

Zero was a first-generation American, and like all new converts to a religious or national cause he was more American than the American Nazi Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Ku Klux Klan combined. In class he was a bore, so predictable was his line on all things. Whenever he opened his mouth an opponent fell. When he asked a question or made a comment, everyone, the instructor included, ducked for cover—so fierce were the dragon-flames streaming from his tongue. That was Zero in his freshman year. By his senior year he had mellowed considerably—the “Great Books,” the “Humanities” and Sigmund Freud had done their liberal laundry on his soul, and the football that bounced between us kept us friends, in spite of everything.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“Easy. The CIA has all the dope on you.”

“Oh, that? That’s no news.”

“It says in your file you always have Christmas dinner with your aunt in Umuahia, you turkey-gorging bastard.”

“We don’t eat turkey here, we eat rice.”

“When did you turn vegetarian? You never were non-violent.”

“We eat chicken. Turkey costs N500.”

“That’s like 10 dollars, isn’t it?”

“Shut up, you imperialist turkey!”

“Please don’t call me imperialist. You always like to call me imperialist. My parents migrated from Latvia during the war when I was only two.” He spoke in a mock-baby voice, sniveling and feigning tears.

“Oh yes, oh yes. I remember. Well, you must be calling from Moscow, then. All things do come to an end, don’t they? You went back to the country of your birth. I went back to mine.”

“Never! I can’t go back to Latvia. And Russia is not my home.”

“My friend, things have changed, haven’t you heard? It’s a new era, an age of amity and universal understanding. Peace! It’s truly wonderful! Just as Father Divine prophesied.”

After graduation, Zero had gone on to the Institute of East-European Studies, and from there into government. He was rabidly anti-Soviet. Hatred for Russia was for him a family affair: the Soviets drove his family into exile, and no refugee worth his shelter could forgive that. He built his career on sustaining the Cold War. He understudied Henry Kissinger, and schemed to succeed him as Foreign Secretary and Shuttle Diplomat. His colleagues took to calling him Henry the Second.

“What am I going to do, O.J.?” he asked. He seemed genuinely lost.

“You don’t like peace? You prefer war?”

“Not war, but cold war.”

“And now the Cold War is over.”

“The State Department has declared me redundant”.

“But it’s happened before. My favorite furniture salesman of those days was an aero-space engineer. When the space program was cut he found himself in the street. And surely you can’t have forgotten Steven De-Rien, our old classmate. Bright chap. He kept bumming around with hippies and dropouts. By the time he finally woke up and got his Ph.D. it was too late, there were no jobs. He became a taxi driver . . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember Steve,” he cut in. “The City of New York listed him among its tourist attractions.” Even the Atlantic could not submerge the anxiety in Zero’s voice. “Damn you and your esoterica!” he screamed. “I’m talking about me, man. What am I gonna do?”

“Return to Latvia! Turn coat! Join the Soviets.”


“Okay, stay in America and roast.”

“There must be an alternative. There’s got to be a third choice.”

“Third choice? What third choice?”

“I mean, what of Nigeria?”

“What of it?”

“Isn’t there something I can do in Nigeria?”

“Don’t insult me! Idiot! We’re busy exporting our best brains and earning foreign exchange, and now you turn around and suggest we accept an American reject!”

“Don’t get so uptight, O.J. You always were hypersensitive and paranoid, especially when the name of your country is mentioned. You stand too stiffly on your national honor.”

“That you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you,” I quoted from some poster-quipster.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. And now you’ll tell me all about the CIA, the IMF and the World Bank and how they’re out to get your country.”

‘’That’s right. So under which of those banners do you now propose to come to Nigeria?”

“Look, it really makes no difference . . .”

“I didn’t think it did,” I cut in.

“I mean . . . look . . . I just don’t want to become a furniture salesman, or a taxi-driver in New York City.”

“Why not try New Orleans?”

“That’s a Cuban colony.”

“Castro in control? I thought he only took over Florida!”

“The whole South! The communist threat is all over the South.”

“The communist threat? Yes, the communist threat! . . . Man, with your Cold War

obsession I don’t see how you could ever fear for a living. After all, America is still America. Jesse Jackson didn’t win the election . . . .”

“Dukakis . . .”

“Forget Dukakis. History has already forgotten him. In 30 days George Bush will be president. With half the nuclear warheads disconnected, the submarines beached, the fighters and AWACS grounded, and the star wars script returned to the Hollywood movie studios, what do you figure George Bush will be needing the Hot-Line telephone for? Simple: to invite Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa to dinner at the White House every Sunday.”

“An abomination!”

“Indeed. And you know they’ll accept. Those two are absolutely in love with capitalist goodies, especially pig’s feet and hominy grits.”

“Hominy grits? In the White House?” Zero was genuinely surprised.

“Of course. Bush has to eat grits in the White House, or I swear he’ll never get another black vote!”

“Okay, okay! Sorry I asked.” Zero knows I’m ready for war when it comes to soul food. “But—where do I come in?” he asked meekly.

“Well, you see,” I resumed in a voice of utter sweet-reasonableness, “Bush is no Reagan. He is so taken with Gorbachev he’ll say yes to anything Gorbachev proposes. Especially over dinner. He will need a few prompters to shake their heads in unison whenever they think he should say no. You can be the head-prompter.”

“You think I can do that?”

“Of course you can. Moreover, you know the Russians love to hug. They hug you gently when they like you. But when you’re their secret enemy they try to choke you. Bush will need at least five hefty men to stop him getting squeezed to death by that polar bear of a Gorbachev. So you see, as a former prize-fighter you have your job cut out for you—right there in Washington!”

You could hear the tides of relief streaming from Zero’s voice in billions of little waves over the 6,000 miles of earth, water, wind and fire separating Washington from Umuahia.

“Oh boy, oh boy!” he gasped, “you really saved my life, O.J.”

“You knew I would, you simpleton, that’s why you called, isn’t it?”

“Thanks a million! I’m so glad I called. Happy New Year! . . .” 


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