Power lunch








By Steve Korver  


Weird story, really… I cruised across Serbia in a ‘devil illegal’ Citroen Duckling to end up having mixed grill with a war criminalish General (retired).

The Ladyfriend had to interview him for a noble, scholarly and responsible cause that alas involves talking to despicable assholes, and I had come along for the ride and to keep our hip young driver friend company. So we drove to an “undisclosed location”. OK, it was actually a quite scenic hunting resort/restaurant in the heart of the once imagined Greater Serbia. Once we entered the folksy establishment, Drivingbuddy and I sat our intimidated asses as far away as possible from where the Ladyfriend was settling down to begin her official business with the obviously dwarfish General (ret.).

A waiter soon comes up to say that it’s “the General’s orders” that I as the non-driver must drink a local rakija (firewater) compliments of the General (ret.). I took this as a cue to also order some coffee and breakfast. The firewater came first and I zhiveli (go cheers) in his direction and say so that only Drivingbuddy can hear me: “Thank you Mister War Criminal”. Hey, it was early and I could still get cheap giggles out of cheap shots. Actually I got a bonafide bellylaugh out of Drivingbuddy so it was worthwhile. Also, as I understood it at that time, the General (ret.) was more on-the-fine-line of war criminaldom. What this fine-line exactly was, I was too tired to care about just yet.

But anyway, as soon as Ladyfriend took a toilet break from her noble endeavours as interviewer, the General (ret.) took the opportunity to come over and introduce himself and insist that I drink another firewater. He had the whole Mladic persona down – but then with an eerie elf-like edge. Our conversation was short since he could only speak basic Rambo English and I have a learning disability with that whole Serbian language thing, but I did find that he was rather quick in getting a tad too homo-erotic with my hair. And get this straight: I’ve cuddled with more than enough Balkan men to know the score. In his defence, my hair was looking particularly enticing that morning, but still the sort of hair twirling he was doing I had only previously experienced accompanied with a post-coital cigarette.

But anyway, the Ladyfriend returns and they get back to business soon enough and I’m left to goose bump my way through the other firewater and revel in the absurdity of the situation. Later as I was fantasizing about raising the absurdity quotient by picking a fight with the General (ret.) under the pretext that he was flirting with Ladyfriend, the waiter comes with another “General’s order” that dictated that we join them. I sit beside Ladyfriend and quickly move closer to her for more of a sense of protection when I notice the girlish nature of his purse – I guess you could have called it a leather satchel.

[With the Ladyfriend being a local, I had already long become comfortable with taking on a more wifey persona. Admittingly, this particular persona got a tad overblown a couple of nights before when we had a dinner with some rather highly statured government folk and I hung with the wives (species: official) and within moments was promising them that I would help break down barriers by joining all their 'spouse groups' if I returned to Belgrade for another extended stay...].


But anyway, the General (ret.) took command and ordered mixed grill for us all before proceeding to rave and flail his arms about in a General (ret.) sort of way and occasionally telling the Ladyfriend to translate things for me. First, he demanded to be at our wedding. (Wedding? I must have missed that order but my inner-wifey immediately made a mental note to buy some bridal mags.) He then even offered to supply the honey for the big event. Yes folks, honey was his hobby and protective netting was for blue-helmeted UN wimps. He claimed that getting stung just made you stronger. I slid yet closer to Ladyfriend in case he decided to make me stronger.

His ensuing speech about the arbitrary nature of defining “war criminaldom”, was interrupted with the arrival of cow-sized plates of mixed grill, a meal that can only be considered balanced in a land where sausage is regarded as a vegetable. I had just finished an epic meal to gel my belly together after the firewater, so my appetite was limited. And any saliva I did have turned to paste as I watched the General (ret.) methodically eat – two chews per grenade-sized bite – through his plate meat-type by meat-type.

A tad horrified, I tried to exchange a reassuring glance of ‘holy  shit are you checking this out?’ with Drivingbuddy but he was too busy as a Serb wisely obeying the commands of a SerbGeneral (ret.) to notice my twitching entreaties or to worry about the fact that he had just finished eating twice as much as me just moments before. But I did feel proud for getting half-way through my plate, especially since throughout the whole eating process I felt like the bookish Lover in the The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover when he was getting murdered with a broom handle ramming antiquarian paper down his throat.

Naturally, the General (ret.) noticed my leftovers and had to say something along the lines of “maybe I’m an army boy but I was taught to finish what was on my plate”. I then wanted to say that my Mom had taught me the same thing but she had also taught me that there are other  food groups than just meat. I wanted to launch into my whole shtick about how NATO should have showered Serbia with dieticians instead of guided missiles. But then I figured he had already long typecast me as a spoiled brat WesternBoy anyway and since that is a role that I’m remarkably comfortable with, I just smiled and kept my mouth shut. And there certainly didn’t seem to be any real love lost since he was now calling me son-in-law and seemed to be still demanding the wedding invitation.

As we were saying our goodbyes that thankfully stopped just short of him slipping me the tongue, some folks stopped to pay the General (ret.) their respect. One turned out to be a nephew of another general currently on trial for war crimes at the Hague Tribunal. Both the General (ret.) and I enjoyed the flash of fear in their eyes as he introduced me as being Dutch. The General (ret.) probably enjoyed it because he is a sadist, and I enjoyed it because I like being regarded, albeit even for a brief moment, as a potential avenging angel of international justice.

The next morning back in Belgrade I told this tale to a knowledgeable sort who erased any sense of “ish” from war criminalish. But at the same, he suggested that the General (ret.) was in fact too much of a drunk to deal with the logistics of genocide. It also turns out that the General (ret.)’s obsession with our wedding was probably just a test to see if we knew anything about his daughter’s wedding of two weeks previous which had as guest of honor another retired general: Mladic, the Most Wanted.

I immediately cancelled my wedding dress fitting I had booked for that afternoon.

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