Jorge R. 35, the administrative director of one of Nicaragua's largest argricultural federations, has not been to work for a month.
Since the war between the guerrillas and the government began in late May, followed by a nationwide strike and now heavy fighting in Managua itself, Jorge has observed the conflict from the back terrace of his surburban hillside home.
Although there has been little combat in his middle-class neighborhood, most of the women and children have left to stay with friends and relatives in the United States.
Even th servants, whom all but the poorest here can afford, have gone back to their villages. The men of the neighborhood rattle around in empty houses among growing piles of dirty dishes and laundry.
Each afternoon, a half-dozen show up at Jorge's since this view of the city is best, and they settle down with binoculars and tall glasses of Scotch.
From the terrace, the war is like a movie complete with sound effects. They can see the bombs drop from government planes. They have carefully timed the average 34 seconds it takes before the big boom, followed by a rising column of black smoke.
During the day, Jorge listens to a sophisticated police radio scanner for internal messages from National Guard combat units reporting to Managua headquarters. In this way, he can plot the course of the war throughout the country.
Most of the radio messages are boring, transmitted in a gibberish of combined U.S. and Nicaraguan military code. Bomds are called "pills," and when a pilot lets one drop, he radios back that "the bird has taken a shit."
One day last week, a hysterical commander from the guerrilla-besieged National Guard garrison in Matagalpa broke security and pleaded in clear language over the radio for reinforcements. "I beg you, I beseech you," he cried to headquarters, "don't trick me.Don't tell me they're coming if they're not." From Diriamba, a town 30 miles south of here, a commander threatened to "talk turkey" with advancing Sandinista guerrillas if government support did not arrive.
The National Guard has been stretched thin by wide-ranging guerrilla attacks. With heavy government troop concentration in Managua, commanders are aware that outnumbered posts outside the capital often are left to fend for themselves.
Jorge says he admires the courage of the Sandinista National Liberation Front guerrillas, whom he calls "the boys." Like most people in Nicaragua, he's willing to support nearly anyone who can get rid of President Anastasio Somoza.
Besides occasionally driving down into the city to help transport Red Cross supplies or carry refugees to the airport, however, he feels there is little he can do until the war is over.
Several days ago, he drove by what used to be his office and found it had been sacked. "They took the typewriters, the files, the chairs and the desks. I don't understand it . . . they even ripped the Telex machine out of the wall."
On a trip to the airport earlier this week, Jorge was pleasantly surprised to find a friend in Guatemala had sent him some emergency supplies. He loaded the case of Scotch into his car and drove home to resume position on the terrace, watching the planes and quietly getting drunk.
MOST OF NICARAGUA'S population is in the far western third of the country, in agricultural villages or in cities strung along north-south highways near the Pacific shore.
For a month now, each of those cities has been an isolated war zone, cut off from the others by the danger of movement and lack of transport. Friends and families have lost contact with each other. Many are now resigned to the fact that few will know for sure, until the fighting is over, who all the victims were.
Thousands of poor Nicaraguans have moved to church and Red Cross refugee centers to escape the fighting. There one hears countless stories of tiny slum homes demolished by government bombs, and infants torn to pieces by fragmentation rockets.
In a tiny sweltering office at International Red Cross headquarters - where there is no air conditioning but also no air because its modern windows do not open - Ulrich Bedert, a Swiss who runs the emergency program, talks of dwindling food stocks, unreachable wounded and hysterical Nicaraguans. "Close the door," he tells a foreign visitor despite the lack of air inside. "There are some things I don't want them to hear," Bedert says, referring to the Nicaraguan workers in the outer office. "They get very upset."
Normal life has come to a virtual standstill. All atention is riveted on the war. What little commerce exists, primarily in makeshift roadside stalls, is the barter of looted goods. Banks are closed, and there is practically no money in circulation.
Yet human beings are remarkably adaptable, and the war has developed its own depressing rhythm. By upspoken agreement, there is little fighting in Managua in the mornings, while people in the slums circulate looking for food, chatting, and burying their dead. Often, as if by punch clock, the bombing begins around 1 p.m. and continues until nightfall.
Most explosions are ignored by those outside the combat zones, but a particularly loud one brings, like "gesundheit" after a sneeze, an automatic "sons of bitches" before conversation resumes.
THE SAME EXPLETIVE is often used to refer to Somoza, whose Sunday speech to the national was sandwiched on television between the rerun of a U.S. rodeo competition and a Three Stooges movie. Perhaps in honor of the other-worldiness of life in Nicaragua today, programming on the government radio and television often seems specially selected to be as bizarre as possible.
The radio has stopped playing its usual assortment of U.S. pop tunes, and broadcasts primarily Sousa marches, old Latin love songs and military announcements.
The announcements usually denounce what the government calls the "international brigade of Sandino-communist mercenaries" as murders and drug and sex fiends, and calls for new National Guard recruits. No one seems to pay attention to any of it, and even government officials sometimes roll their eyes in embarrassment at particularly outrageous items.
Even time has become confused here. Several months ago, the government inexplicably decreed that Nicaraguans set their clocks one hour ahead of the rest of Central America. Some people never did.
"That's Somoza time," one man in Masaya told a reporter who noticed the discrepancies on their watches. He pointed to his wrist. "This is the people's time."
Last weekend, it was just as inexplicably decreed that Nicaragua would return to the old system.
BECAUSE NICARAGUA is a small country, many of its 2.3 million people are related in one way or the other. In certain economic classes, even those with no blood relationship all seem to know each other.
As in the U.S. Civil War, families are often split, with one member joining the guerrillas and another staying at home. The commanding general in Leon, a National Guard major confided in casual conversation has a brother who is a top Sandinista.
Most of the leading guerrillas intimately know people in the government and the Guard. There is great status attached in government circles to claiming onetime friendship with a rebel chief, particularly the top Sandinista military leader Eden Pastora, known here as Commander Zero.
There is a growing perception of the government as a sinking ship, and many officials acknowledge that one-time friendships with guerrillas will be of little use to them. In late night conversations among themselves, Cabinet members and Somoza aides talk about their fears of revolutionary tribunals and firing squads, as in Iran.
Many privately admit they see no solution other than Somoza's resignation, but talk with a hopeless sort of awe of the president's stubbornness and their habitual response to what is described as his hypnotic power.
Increasingly, these men appear trapped in a macabre drama whose plot, all the way to the bitter end, is already committed to memory and whose lines, for reasons they seem unable to explain, they are powerless to rewrite.
"FIFTEEN-THOUSAND AND four people in this country support Somoza," a U.S. embassy official remarked early this week. The 15,000 represent the National Guard, "and the other four don't even include all members of his family."
Yesterday, the embassy dispatched its 16the evacuation flight in the past two week. The earlier U.S. Air Force flights to Panama were filled with American residents here and their families.Now, in what the embassy staff calls "Nicaragua's largest airline" the flights take out citizens from many other countries.
The camouflaged C130 transports pick up their passengers at Montelimar, Somoza's country home on the coast. The airstrip lies in the middle of a flat expanse of sugar cane, one of the Somoza family farm products.
Tuesday's plane was several hours late and as weary families sat in the hot dusty fields waiting, a truckful of National Guard soldiers drove across the runway and stopped. Like departing tourists desperate for one last photograph, the evacuees grabbed their cameras.
As the driver looked on proudly, the troops remained expressionless. Sitting in two benches the length of the open truck, their feet barely touched its floor. Their olive green helmets hung large over their ears and their fingers barely reached around the barrels of the rifles in their laps.
He was 13 years old, one of the soliders answered, as were most of his comrades. He had been in the National Guard for three weeks and tomorrow would go into combat. CAPTION: Picture 1, Nicaraguan Guardsmen direct Managua residents away from tank's line of fire in recent fighting, AP; Picture 2, a family in the city's eastern sector pulls out after packing belongings in a cart. AP; Picture 3, A Sandinista woman guarding barricade in Managua shares lunch brought by her squad leader during a lull in battle for control of slum neighborhoods. UPI; Picture 4, Sandinista carrying World War I rifle runs along a Managua street. UPI