As part of the business of our moving into a “Retirement Condo Community” (It is mid-April 2012 as I write this) we have been taking inventory of the tangible “driftwood” that has piled up on the shores of our lives over the years and disposing of things that were once useful or significant but are now trivial or useless. While going through a dusty cardboard box labeled “Memorabilia,” brushing aside a few mummified brown spiders and hoping I didn’t encounter a live one, I came across a letter written on now-yellowed paper dated March 6, 1967.
In the spring of 1967 my wife and I had been married a little over ten years and had given the world four bright and healthy children. When I began teaching in the fall of 1957 I had set a career goal: “Within 10 years I will be the band director of a high school with at least a thousand students and have a band of 100 or more kids.” I reached that goal in the fall of 1966 when I began my duties as band director of the Haysville Campus High School in suburban Wichita KS. I was 34 years old. My personality being what it was and as it had been affected by a growing alcoholism; I found myself feeling the sentiments singer Peggy Lee expressed so passionately in her song, “Is That All There Is?” (If you’ve never heard that song you owe it to yourself to “Google” those words and read them.) Their essence is repeated several times in a refrain with these words:
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is
In this state of mind, while reading the Sunday paper one day I came across a classified ad telling me that Trans-World Airlines (TWA) wanted to hire a band director for the “American School” in Saudi Arabia. Hmm, Saudi Arabia. . . mysterious ladies in veils, swarthy men wearing flowing robes, the sounds of an Arabian market, the smell and taste of strong coffee in dark café’s. . . Yes, I had read “Arabian Nights” and enjoyed playing and listening to the music of Rimsky Korsakov’s exotically enticing “Scheherazade.” I had been seduced.
It took all of 30 seconds after reading that ad for my romanticism to kick into turbocharged overdrive. Saudi Arabia! Escape from the humdrum! Life can once again be an adventure. I knew what I had to do.
The following morning during my “planning period,” I pulled out my resume, cranked nice clean paper into my IBM Selectric and prepared an application for TWA that glowed. My wife, ever the epitome of the biblical “Ruth,” didn’t express any objection. Actually in this case I believe she was somewhat excited at the prospects. Within 48 hours after reading that classified ad my application was on the way to a “Mr. Fergus,” who had been identified as the Personnel Director I should contact at TWA headquarters in Kansas City.
My skill in application-making paid off. Within a few days there came a letter from TWA Headquarters. Mr. Fergus allowed as how he was impressed by my qualifications and wanted both my wife and I to come to his office for an interview. Enclosed in the envelope were two round trip tickets from Wichita to Kansas City. Alakazam! Not a flying carpet but one of those new-fangled “jet” airplanes, a Boeing 727, would whisk us to our appointment with destiny.
“Flying,” in 1967, was still an upper-class way to travel. Jimmy Carter’s “deregulation” had not yet created the “Third World” kind of torment we endure today in those aluminum tubes. I had flown in DC-3’s that were equipped with military seating (web “lawn chair” affairs) while in the Army, but neither my wife nor I had ever had ever enjoyed the lushness that was air travel of that day. (Gentlemen wore suits. Most ladies wore hats and gloves, seats were ample and soft and passengers were “spoiled’ by “Playboy-Bunny” class unmarried young females who were called “Stewardesses.”) All of that luxury did nothing to dispel the fear my wife felt as she strapped her attractive derriere into one of the seats. As the pilot applied takeoff power to those wonderful jet engines we were pushed back into our seats. For the next several minutes Anne clutched my hand so powerfully that my fingers were “falling asleep.” The flight took little more than a half an hour. We took off, we climbed, we soared at some altitude just long enough for our gorgeous stewardesses to ply us with drinks and then it was time to descend into the old downtown Kansas City airport.
We were met at the terminal by a TWA limousine which whisked us across the airport to that airline’s headquarters building. Inside the building we were led to the Personnel Director’s office where “Mr.Fergus” greeted us warmly. After a few warm-up pleasantries he had someone take Anne somewhere while he interviewed me. I remember nothing of that interview but I obviously impressed him, for after I spent an hour or so with him he asked someone to “Bring Mrs. Carriker” in so that he could talk with both of us. When Anne arrived he told her that he was rather impressed with “her husband” but that it was important that the wives of candidates know what they were getting into.
He went on to tell us about life for Americans in Saudi Arabia. We learned that when we were walking in public my wife would be expected to walk three paces behind –not alongside- me. Coca Cola was a forbidden beverage in Saudi Arabia because that company was controlled by Jews. Alcohol was absolutely forbidden and in no case would my wife EVER be allowed to drive a car! That was Saudi Arabia in1967. Then he began asking Anne some questions. . One of the more interesting questions he asked her was: “What would you do if you suddenly had a million dollars?” She responded brilliantly. I could almost smell the Arabian marketplace and taste that strong Arabian coffee as we sat in Mr. Fergus’ office.
Until . . . . He asked Anne, “And what do YOU teach?” I knew what her answer would be and I knew what it would mean: My fantasy came crashing down and lay in shambles at my feet. Ali Baba disappeared. Exotic dancers faded into oblivion. There would be no camel rides, no afternoons in dark coffee houses. No pungent smelling marketplaces. Mr. Fergus looked as crestfallen as I did. After a few moments of silence he explained that TWA could not hire husband/wife “teams” unless both of them taught in the American school. There was simply nothing for a "housewife wife" to do when kids were in school and hubby was working. He had assumed that we both taught and apologized profusely for having not checked that before inviting us for an interview. As a “consolation prize” he treated us to a nice dinner before it was time for us to board our flight home.
Our short parabolic flight home was made mostly in silence with both of us digesting what had happened and how we felt about it. We were both disappointed but Anne, of course, had to deal with her unnecessary feelings of guilt for having been the stumbling block which ended one of her husband’s fantasy adventures. As for me, I was trying to be gallant and accepting but I must admit that my narcissistic nature made that difficult for me.
The “real” consolation prize came a few weeks later. Our interview had been in April or May, 1967. On June 5th, 1967 all hell broke loose in the Middle East as Israel launched a proactive war against her Arab neighbors in which conflict she humiliated some awesome Arabic forces aligned against her. It came to be called “The Six Day War.”
I never heard, nor have I learned since what happened to the Saudi Arabian “American” school as a consequence of that conflict. I don’t know that I want to know. In my mind my not being chosen as its band director was another instance of “Ralph,” my personal guardian angel, looking out for me.
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So well written! What a remarkable story about your family, and a wonderful glimpse of life in that age - can you imagine what generations after you will glean from your words? Thanks for sharing - elizabeth.
My vanity hopes you are right in saying that some of those who follow me glean something from what I write. I think my inspiration for writing such things was the author William Saroyan. Two of his early books: "The Human Comedy" and "My Name is Aram," were wonderful examples of what TRY to convey. Thanks for your comments Elizabeth.
What a fantastic story Don!!! So well written and enjoyable. I'm not so sure much has changed in that area of the past few decades. When will we humans begin to grow up? Thanks for this.
Yeah, it's almost funny the way the human race just "keeps on keepin' on." I don't necessarily expect anyone to "learn" from what I write. At best, I hope someone reads it and either gets a chuckle nods their head in empathy. I SO wish that other people my age would open up and write.
Don, your prose is brilliantly laid out! Your story really tells much of the legacy of the 20th century through personal experience. It fascinates me how you are able to craft the words to convey the feelings that you do. Thanks again. And I agree that I wish more people who lived in your era would share their stories.
Thanks again,Golden. Whatever talent I have with words is a gift from God for which I give thanks. Of course I've tried to honor His gift by practice, but it remains His gift. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing what He wants me to do with it - but until I get some clear "direction" I'll just keep on doing what I'm doing. It is a wonderful creative outlet for me in my dotage.
Don, I do have your sense of adventure and lived vicariously, reading about your seeing the ad, preparing for the interview and imagining the future. Thanks for sharing that exceptional story.
You are very welcome Patricia. Keep that sense of adventure alive. There may come a day when "age" limits the things into which you can (or want to) venture but if it does you'll have a "passel" of adventures to re-live in your mind. And hopefully some folks will be interested in your sharing of them.
Don, if I may be so bold to refer to you by that name.... You indeed have made an impression; have caused me to chuckle; and have inspired me to push forward. I was saving the Scherherazade Disappeared story until I was prepared to savor it slowly. It was worth it. Not only is Scherherazade one of my favorites as a Rimsky-Korsakov classical composition, but I treasure the Broadway soundtrack of the musical comedy Kismet, based on Rimsky-Korsakov's work. As you well know...fate is but a puzzle...never understood...and man proceeds where he is led...unguaranteed of bad or good...
High praise from you, Dick. And you certainly can call me "Don." I rarely use my first name but since I have a "Millard Don, Jr." I sometimes use it so that he doesn't get blamed for my foibles. Have you ever read Ernest Gann's book "Fate is the Hunter?" An excellent novel dealing with the subject in a fictional story.
I'll put a search for Fate is the Hunter on my list of things to do. In case you are unaware, both Google Books and Amazon.com let you preview a dozen or more pages of the books among their holdings. Of course, if they don't stock it, that technique might not work. The previews are READ ONLY files, I think; but getting a taste of various books is a great way to stimulate sales.
Please delight us with additional stories, Don. Some people are diffident when it comes to writing; so much so that they never make a serious effort. And we know that everybody has numerous stories within them. You are good at it, thus people like me like to read something by a good story teller who can hold my interest. Just sayin'
Have you discovered "Abebooks.com" for buying older and really OLD books? Abebooks is actually a network of used book dealers all over the world. I've bought some great books from them at a very low price. I'll bet you could get "Fate is the Hunter" for less than five bucks. I intend to keep writing - but not all "my babies" are beautiful. Some please better than others. But that's the nature of the game.