Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. A Saudi medical attaché (who is ethnically only half-Arab and was born in Canada) is in the northeast U.S. as the personal ear-nose-throat consultant to Prince Q——, the Saudi Minister of Home Entertainment. The attaché is usually based between Montreal and Rub’ al Kahli. Prince Q—— only eats Toblerone chocolate bars and thus suffers from “yeasty sores and sinal impactions” that need to be drained almost every day. A devout Sufi Muslim, he does not drink or take drugs. At the end of each day, he relaxes by eating a hot dinner while sitting in a recliner and watching entertainment cartridges, while his wife attends to him.
While the medical attaché and presumably also Prince Q—— do not consume drugs or alcohol due to their Muslim faith, they both compulsively use other substances. In Prince Q——‘s case, this is his debilitating addiction to Toblerone chocolate. In the case of the attaché, it is his nightly habit of eating dinner while watching entertainment cartridges (cartridges are the method by which people watch movies or TV in the world of the novel), which—although different to drug-taking—has the same soothing, stupefying effect of certain drugs.
On Wednesday nights, the attaché’s wife plays in an Arab Women’s tennis league at the Mount Auburn Club in Watertown. On April 1, the attaché is dismissed by Prince Q—— for doing a bad job and goes home to an empty house, no dinner, and no entertainment. He angrily searches the house for entertainment cartridges and finds only the ones that arrived that night. Normally, his wife scans them to see if he’ll like them before giving them to him.
The medical attaché’s surprise and anger at finding himself alone in the house after coming home early from work highlights his dependence on his wife. He is not used to taking care of himself but rather prefers to be passively taken care of.
Searching through the new cartridges, the attaché finds a medical film and a women’s magazine for his wife. He also finds a mysterious package that has been sent from Phoenix, AZ, with the words “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!” where the return address should be. The attaché and his wife’s anniversary is months away, and he almost throws the unmarked cartridge in the trash. However, he is so desperate for entertainment that he decides to watch the cartridge before switching over to the news. When he inserts it, it is 7:27 p.m.
While it might be an exaggeration to say that the attaché is addicted to entertainment, he certainly seems to be craving a “fix” in the same way as someone addicted to drugs. The Phoenix address is a hint that the package has been sent by Orin Incandenza, who (as we will soon learn) lives there. “Happy Anniversary” is then perhaps a snide comment about the attaché’s past affair with Avril, Orin’s mother.