Not For Sale


He was thin, the black coat so stiff it might have been snipped from tin. Wiry like her uncles, but with bright bird eyes. He stood staring at the clocks, always coming back to her favorite, the one with all the faces and figures.

“How long you say it took to carve?” the man asked Uncle Frank.

“We don’t keep track,” said Uncle Frank. “We finish when we finish.”

“Well, I like the craftsmanship. I’d like to buy it.”

“Not for sale, Mr. Ford.”

“How about a million dollars?”

Uncle Frank smiled. “What would I do with a million dollars?”


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Note: This photo was taken at the Bily Clock Museum in Spillville, Iowa. The museum building was the residence of Antonín Dvořák during the summer of 1893 where he composed his String Quartet in F (also known as the “American Quartet”) and his String Quintet in E-Flat.

Lau Lum


“Lau Lum,” Mrs. Gia greeted me. Long time. 

She smiled and set a dish of banh cuon on the counter, my favorite lunch in the old days.

I laughed.  “How did you know?”

“People don’t change much,” she said in her excellent English.

It felt like it was only yesterday when I’d come to say goodbye, but it had been six years since I left Hanoi for the Philippines. Mrs. Gia looked just as she had then, merry eyes twinkling beneath a shock of black hair.

I’d heard her story in bits and pieces from her daughter Mei. “Mom is Laotian,” she’d said, “but she came here after the war. She was one of the women who worked on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Every day the Americans would bomb hell out of it, and every night she and three thousand friends would rebuild it by hand.”


What Pegman Saw: Hanoi


American expat Pam Scott wrote a wonderful book on life in Hanoi, one of the world’s great cities. A different Mrs. Gia appears in that book, but the banh cuon (a dish of finely chopped pork, mushroom, and onion wrapped in a gossamer rice sheet and served with dipping sauce) is the same.

Circus Fire


Wednesday, July 5th 1944

The kids were out windows
shimmied down drainspouts
hurled down alleyways

since today was the day
the circus train rolled into town.

No music played
– war trains caused delays

but no war talk today, boys. No time
because look at that we’re late.
Late is unlucky and it’s all good news these days anyway.

The profession demands professionals
The circus parade always rolls
from railyard into town.

A real bully circus

with only a few of the town’s old hens
talking sideways about young circus men
who weren’t strewn limbless on the beaches
but instead juggled bright red pins
as they marched in clown suits
to bully circus music

Thursday July 6th 1944

The Flying Wallendas
had the crowd on the edge of their seats.

When the band played Stars and Stripes Forever.
circus people knew it meant danger, panic
looked around, and soon spotted the licks

of fire racing up the big top
canvas waxed with two tons of paraffin,
a rain of flaming teardrops

bombing the crowd, burning them alive
making them run ablaze through the sawdust
screaming horror, setting all alight
as the fire raced up the greased walls,
roaring as the gaily striped tent
collapsed on them, pressed them to coals

Photographers on their soft stateside duty
snapped clowns with firebuckets
as the big top cindered down in just eight minutes
the ashy dead a harbinger

of cities yet to burn



By the middle of our second year it was down to us and two other teams.

Five continents, sixty-odd cities and countless towns, villages, hamlets and burgs.

Every step another piece in the puzzle, every discovery a link in the chain.

The journey changed us. Who we thought we were.

It’s hard to explain.

When we’d set out, we had concrete ideas.

How each of us fit into the world.

How we fitted one another.

When we started it seemed simple but not easy.

Now it is the other way around.

We keep going because onward is the only direction.


Friday Fictioneers



“Lieutenant Hanks? Sorry to disturb.”

Flédong was indeed sorry, for he knew  Hanks, like the rest of his garrison, was down with griping guts. The culprit was a cask of Royal Navy salt beef purchased from a salvage brig that had fished it up from the wreck of HMS Speedy. The men had been living on biscuit and fish since the Indians all vanished many months before, so they fell upon the meat with a fanatic zeal that soon betrayed them with cramp and fever.

But this was an emergency. A British captain with a company of soldiers and twoscore Indians had arrived under a flag of truce to discuss terms shortly after a cannonball was fired into into the fort’s wall.

Hanks looked ghastly as he stepped onto the ramparts. “But we are not at war, sir,” he said to the captain.

“Your information is outdated,” replied the officer. “And I cannot answer for what these Indians will do now that they are within your walls.”


What Pegman Saw: Mackinac Island

The Siege of Fort of Mackinac was one of the first engagements of the War of 1812. The British commander in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, learned of the outbreak of the war and sent a canoe to the commander of the British Army post at St. Joseph Island, Captain Charles Roberts, with orders to immediately capture Mackinac to secure the trade route of the upper peninsula.

Having learned that the Americans at Mackinac were unaware of the outbreak of war, Robert’s force dragged a 6-pounder cannon through the woods to a ridge above the fort and fired a single round before sending a message under a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the fort.

Fearing a massacre by the Natives, Mackinac commander Lieutenant Hanks capitulated without a fight.



It took Mama a while to notice, becuase that’s how Mama was. She mostly noticed how she felt about things, and was quick to tell you. The house is too cold. The stew is too salty.  It was always something else wrong, not her.  She paid attention to the world around like it was a movie she was watching.

I don’t think Jessie was trying to prove a point or anything.  After all, she was only five when she stopped talking and she hasn’t said a single word to anyone since. It’s been six years.

I wonder if something happened.


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Far North


Dimwitty knew right away that he wasn’t cut out for the military, but he wasn’t cut out for much else either. His Uncle James was a rear admiral and pulled some strings to get him in to the Coast Guard.

Basic was a cakewalk and next thing he knew he was on the USCGC Burton Island cruising around the Arctic Circle installing radar stations.

He’d been granted shore leave at Resolute Bay one day in early July and was awed by its vast emptiness. He couldn’t say why he loved it. It just felt right.

This opinion was not shared by any other members of the crew. They called it “toilet,” “ass-end of the universe,” and similar. Dimwitty was strangely insulted.

That September the Burton Island was ordered back to Oakland and that was that. In Oakland, Dimwitty got a 72 hour pass and went AWOL.

He knew where he was going.

What Pegman Saw



Derrick was down in the gulch below Twenty-Mile when he saw it, a wall of flames cresting the draw. He cursed the lack of a radio, but they never worked that well up here anyway.

The wind roared up the gorge, the inferno drawing air like a well-built fireplace. No way to fight it now that it was crowning.

He looked at the fireline he’d been digging all morning. It looked pathetically small. A Pulaski was a good enough tool, but no match for a blaze like this one.

He wiped the sweat from his face and made his decision.


Friday Fictioneers



I met Gregor in 1989, when the Sun assigned me to Ukraine to cover the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

I’d arrived at Donetsk at two in the morning. A gaping hole in the airport roof resulted in six inches of brown slush on the floor as we sorted through the pile of luggage the ground crew had dumped without comment.

I’d gone to the bank of phone booths to call a taxi, but the few ancient bakelite telephones that still functioned only took Soviet rubles, and the coins had been discontinued months before.

I was almost in tears when Gregor arrived in his taxi. He became my lifeline, and one of my best friends.

When I’d come back in 2012 to cover the football championship, Gregor was again my guide. He was bursting with pride at the many improvements to his beloved Ukraine, especially the Donetsk Airport.

Now as I wait for his plane to arrive at LaGuardia, I decide I will not ask him about it.


What Pegman Saw: Ukraine



JAN 27, 2015

DONETSK, Ukraine — Built for almost $1 billion dollars ahead of the Euro 2012 football championship, Donetsk airport — once a shining gem of the regional capital — has been the focus of intense fighting during the conflict in eastern Ukraine since May, as Russian-backed separatist rebels battle Kiev’s government forces for control over its grounds.

After nearly nine months of close-quarters combat that included fierce tank battles, the rebels this week managed to dislodge Ukrainian fighters from their positions inside one of the terminals, and from the underground tunnel network they used to move in and out without taking fire.

The airport is strategic because it could potentially be used to airlift supplies from Russia to the rebels and important because it gives them control over the entire regional capital.

It had also become an important symbol of the broader conflict. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that at Donetsk airport “I am sure that we are defending there the whole of Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian fighters defending it had been called “cyborgs” for their endurance in holding onto the complex for as long as they did. Countless numbers of them, as well as rebel fighters, died fighting for control over the airport. Now there is little left other than the wrecked carcasses of jetliners and twisted bird’s nest of steel and rebar.

Losing Tuesday


I wait at Jack’s for my client, glad he’s late because I can have one or two more doubles before we get to business. The shakes were bad this morning, so it took more than usual for me to feel like myself.

I see him come in, shake his hand.  I suggest a drink before the menus. He orders a light beer, so I do too.

Then I excuse myself and stop at the bar on the way to the restroom.

Suddenly I’m staring at this filthy coffee table, no recollection of where I am or how I got here.


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