The Debt Of A Nation

In 2011 Madame Ambassador phoned with the offer to be her ‘unofficial writer in residence’ at her posting in Mittel Europa and she asked, “Do you have an evening suit?”

“Of course,” I replied without hesitation from my apartment in Fort Greene.

“Good, because you’ll be needing it. There will be plenty of balls and galas,” her aristocratic intonations painted a ‘pas encore vu’ vision of black ties and satin gowns.

“I’ll be ready.”

I was looking forward to formal affairs.

In America tuxedos are dragged out of the closet only for weddings.

No one wears them to funerals.

After hanging up on Madame Ambassador, I tried on my fifteen year-old evening suit and discovered my waist wedged into the trousers and the jacket was loose on my upper body. As I stood at the mirror, my roommate/landlord entered the top-floor apartment with a bong and asked, “Where are you going?”

“To Europe.”


I explained about my appointment. AP knew Madame Ambassador. He eyed my trousers.

“Does that hurt?”

“No,” I wasn’t giving him the pleasure of the truth, but the next day my tailor let out the waist an inch. The fit felt much better.

A month later I flew to Europe and unpacked my clothing into a closet atop the residence.

“Where’s the evening suit?” Madame Ambassador smiled upon seeing my formal wear. “You clean up good. Next week is the military ball. I expect you to look your best.”

The evening of the RAF gala I freshly showered, shaved, and shined my shoes to a gleam.

“You clean up good.”

Madame Ambassador was pleased to have a well-attired escort. She was no longer with her husband. The civilian guests conjectured about our relationship. It has been purely platonic for thirty years. The military were more circumspect with their assumptions and I drank with colonels, captains, and naval commanders. The head general of the host nation sat at our table. His glorious dress uniform shamed me, but he was a man used to the admiration of his troops and we spoke about the Civil War and Joshua Chamberlain’s bayonet charge at Gettysburg.

The gala had a raffle to benefit its charity. I bought several tickets. The general discreetly tapped my shoulder and asked for 20 Euros. I slipped a blue bill under the table and he winked his thanks.

Generals like the very wealthy, royalty, and poor people don’t carry money.

None of our tickets were winners and later I told to the UK military attache of my loan to the general.

“How much was it?” The commander pulled out his wallet.

“20 euros.” About $27 and I waved my hand in refusal. “But that’s fine. I like the idea of a general owing me money. Especially the head of the army.”

Madame Ambassador and I joked about this debt and the story became funnier over the next months, for I ran into the general on several occasions without his reaching into his pocket. Once at a military ball, we spoke for several seconds and he held out his hand. I thought that he might be cuffing 20 euros in secret, but his hand was empty.

After he walked away, I scratched my head. I owed money to my friends for a long time. If I have it in my pocket, I pay them. Obviously the military have a different set of rules, then again I never asked for the 20, because I hold the debt of his nation in the palm of my hand.

The missing 20 Euros felt like good luck.

I hope the EEU feels the same about their debt.

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