News From Home 24, Part I
8/29/2006 (updated 8/29/2006)

The Governor was in a tip-top mood when he arrived for his elocution lesson, and I noticed a change of wardrobe. Gone was the paramilitary look, and instead he was sporting a blazer, slacks, and a cravat. 

“I’ve been hanging out with your man, Tony”, he said. “You know, the Prime Minister! We hit it off right away”.

I said I’d read in the papers how he’d been doing deals with Blair on behalf of the State of California, bypassing the Federal Government. He nodded. 

“But that wasn’t the best part”, he said. “I tried my English accent on Tony – and he nearly fell over! I completely fooled him. I said, ‘Do you fancy Arsenal for the Cup, old boy’ and ‘Looks a bit cloudy, but it’s supposed to brighten up later’, and all those other phrases you taught me, and he was stunned! He said I could pass for an Englishman any day. You” – here he poked me firmly and rather painfully in the ribs – “are a GENIUS language coach! I give you present.” He handed me a box of Romeo y Juliettas – I still haven’t summoned the nerve to tell him I don’t smoke the darned things. Or that he still sounds as Austrian as ever. Georgio, an old friend of Arnold’s from bodybuilding days, came by to say hello, and stopped dead in his tracks at the door. When he recovered the power of speech, he said that he hardly recognized his old friend in his new, smart English clothes, and assumed that Errol Flynn had risen from the grave, and was standing in our living room. Georgio drew on one of his fine old Slovakian agricultural expressions to explain the phenomenon…these always leave something to be desired in the translation: he said that a goose will peck off its own feet to prove to the farmer that it isn’t a tractor.

Akbar and his boys have been hired to spruce up the house next door, and it is good to see them back in the neighbourhood. Besides painting the house, which they are doing in their efficient if surly fashion, they are also handling the yard work, re-installing the sprinklers, and relaying the turf. 

“There won’t be any turf”, said Hashimoto. “They make Zen dirt garden. Add few rocks, rake dirt – dirt garden! Nobody got turf now, big turf shortage, maybe three month…so good for meditation, ho ho, very Zen!”

Hashimoto said all this while working on the front hedge. His topiary is growing in nicely, and I’m sure I can now identify it as a chicken being followed by six baby chicks. I congratulated Hashimoto on his rural theme, but he said I wasn’t even close. “You in for big surprise!” he said.

McSweeney was also a little dismissive of Akbar’s painting skills. I put this down to professional jealousy.

“He is a fine fellow, right enough’, he said, “but does he commune with the paint? Does he shove his hand in the tin up to the very elbow to get the feel of it in his fingers?  Can he smell out red from green in a blindfold test? And of course you don’t truly know paint until you’ve made it yourself – like the time I was in India.” Here he paused. “Did I tell you of the time I was in the British Army, of all things?’ I nodded my head, to no effect. “I was stationed in the hill country, Nan-I-Tal, up by the lake. We had no paint and no pigment to make any, so we used what was to hand, which was, conveniently, the dung and urine of the sacred cow.” He broke off to attend to his pipe, and resumed with a chuckle. “When mixed together, this makes perfect army khaki , and adheres like the devil – indeed, the origin of all military painting, and how every damned thing ends up the same infuriatingly uniform colour, is the economic necessity of having to use animal excreta for pigment whilst in the field.” I ventured the opinion that surely camouflage was the intent in using the khaki? He tut-tutted. “As any military brain can tell you, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, the best camouflage colour is bright red.”

“Bright red?” said I, “How so?”

“Why, is it not obvious? When the enemy sees a bright red object in the distance, it immediately assumes it to be a letterbox, or basket of strawberries. If the object is moving, the enemy lookout might say to himself, ‘Look, someone is relocating a letterbox, probably to a more suitable spot. No point in firing on unarmed post office employees.’ Or he might think ‘There is a handsome basket of strawberries coming towards me at great speed. Someone must be in a hurry to get to the market.’ That the red object is a tank is the farthest thing from his mind – why, what raving eejit, thinks he, would paint a tank red?”