The Apple, The Tree

Craig glanced sideways. As usual, his father was pacing alongside the pool as he swam, yelling what he probably thought was encouragement. As he dipped his head into the water his father’s words cut in and out like a flickering radio station.

Craig Sr.  had been an NCAA contender, but never quite a champion. He’d groomed his son almost from the time he could walk. Swim clubs, private coaching, an NCAA scholarship to a state school.

Craig focused on his stroke, that old familiar weight of water pushing against his limbs as he swam.

God, how he hated it.

Friday Fictioneers

Aye-Aye Fady

Ilnah lay back on the cot, the blood-spattered handkerchief in her limp hands. Every few minutes her bony body was wracked by shattering coughs that sounded like her lungs were coming apart.

Sister Ignatia stood in the doorway of the hospital hut, running the Rosary through her fingers. After Henintsoa’s death the previous afternoon, Ilnah was the last survivor of her village. It was likely she would not last the day.

Jenny stood behind her holding an enameled basin and clean white towel. “You want I wash her now, Sister?”

“Not now, child. We must let her rest.”

“She the last living one from Antsoa, Sister?”

“Yes, Jenny. Satan’s tuberculosis has done its evil work.”

Jenny shook her head at this ignorant nun in her immaculate white habit.

Everyone knew an aye-aye had been seen in Antsoa the very night the first man died. Everyone knew what that meant.

What Pegman Saw: Madagascar


While many people imagine Madagascar as a wildlife mecca, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, with at least 80 percent of the population living in extreme poverty and half of all children under five years old suffering from chronic malnutrition. The latest estimates of the WHO place the incidence rate of TB at a very high 235 cases for every 100,000 people. However, accurate figures are impossible to come by due a lack of data, as well as inflicted people delaying treatment for a multitude of reasons.

The aye-aye is an endangered species of nocturnal lemur found only on the island of Madagascar off the coast of eastern Africa. Through a combination of bizarre physical features and a naturally secretive lifestyle, aye-ayes have become fady to the people of Madagascar which roughly translates as “taboo.” In some regions of Madagascar, the mere sight of an aye-aye is enough to fill locals with horror and dread, oftentimes leading to the needless slaughter of these peculiar creatures.

According to local renditions of the fady, people are met with ill-fortune if an aye-aye points its long spindly finger at them.

Billy’s Step Up

The office felt small as a cattle stall. Hat in hands, Billy stood peering at the framed paintings of horses and prize bulls. None bore resemblance to any living creature Billy had seen.

“Mr. Groom will see you now,” said the man in the glasses.

B.B. Groom sat small and hunched behind a vast wooden desk in a dim room lit by kerosene lanterns, heavy drapes covering the huge windows.

“Won’t waste your time on preliminaries,” said Mr. Groom. “Mr. Thut’s going back to Switzerland. The foreman job’s yours if you want it.”

“Yessir,” said Billy.

And that was that.

Friday Fictioneers

The Francklyn Land and Cattle Company was an English syndicate chartered in 1881 to invest in the “Beef Bonanza.” It was headed by and named for Charles G. Francklyn, a son-in-law of E. G. Cunard, owner of the Cunard Steamship Line, who helped finance the venture. The syndicate purchased a total of 631,000 acres of land in the Panhandle counties of Carson, Gray, Roberts, and Hutchinson, and also in Greer County, Oklahoma, then considered a part of Texas. The purchase price was $880,000. For a resident manager the syndicate acquired the services of B. B. Groom, a relative of Francklyn, who for several years had bred cattle in Kentucky. The Route 66 stopover of Groom, Texas (pop. 574) is named for him.



After The Surgery

Dr. Soames rinsed his bloody hands in the basin provided for the purpose, then wiped them dry on his smock.

The patient lay back, pale and gasping, his clay-like face mottled and streaked with broken blood vessels. Despite the leather gag, he had done a good deal of screaming as his leg was amputated.

Soames’s assistant unbuckled the heavy straps with which the patient had been seized to the operating table.

“He’ll do well enough,” said Dr. Soames, using the Latin that allowed for medical candor while reassuring the patient he was in the care of the learned.

“What was the time, Doctor?” asked the assistant.

“Not above ten minutes from the first incision to the sutures,” said Soames with some complacency. “We can never be swift enough, but that is not too bad. He may even live, providing the sepsis or gangrene doesn’t carry him off. I’ll leave you to the bandaging.”

What Pegman Saw: Pittsburgh

A Film of Hell Itself

His dark eyes darted from face to face, hollows in his cheeks giving him a death’s head look. His voice was strong, and he spoke good English.

“My friends, I will now to show you something not seen anywhere outside Germany. To the free world, these are only ugly rumors of unspeakable acts. Many deny such things are possible. But I tell you now I have seen them with my own eyes. None would believe it, so we made this movie despite the danger. They would try to kill us who take such films. The Nazis must keep their secrets.”

Friday Fictioneers


The internationally recognized date for Holocaust Remembrance Day corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. When the actual date of Yom Hashoah falls on a Friday, the state of Israel observes it on the preceding Thursday. This year it begins at sundown on May 1st, 2019

Two Sides to Every Story

Ari ordered a Turkish coffee at the counter. The cafe was crowded with men sitting in groups of ones or twos, talking or doing business.

These days it was impossible to tell at a glance the Jews from the Arabs. Young men with dark hair and golden skin, all of them with cellphones in their hands or face-up in front of them. Old men playing chess or dominoes, reading books or the newspaper.

He remembered Uncle Yusef telling him about 1948, how Shmaryahu Gutman had tried to negotiate with the Arabs right up until the Jordanian tanks opened fire, slaughtering women and children in their houses.

He’d believed that story all his life until his friend Mohamed told him a different version, one in which Palestinians were lined up and shot by members of the Palmach Strike Force.

The truth, Ari supposed, lay somewhere in between.

For now, this was peace enough.

What Pegman Saw: Lod


Lod is sometimes called “Murder City” by Israelis – a drug capital dominated by gangs and crippled by poverty.

Located just twenty minutes outside Tel Aviv, this ancient city once knows as  Lydda is one of the few remaining places in Israel that could provide a model for effective Arab-Jewish shared society; it is a microcosm of Israel as a whole, containing mirror images of the country’s diverse populations, history, struggles, and opportunities.

One of Israel’s last cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations (both of which contain a multitude of religious and ethnic sub-groups), Lod is colored by its ancient and modern history, and especially by its experience in the Independence War. Lod suffers from issues found across Israel: crime and corruption, socioeconomic struggle, rapid population growth, religious and economic gentrification, and identity conflict.

But even with all its troubles, Lod has tremendous potential to become a symbol of multiculturalism and coexistence. Shared socioeconomic struggles of its mixed population provide an opportunity to build social cohesion through coordinated efforts towards mutually shared goals.

If Lod can reach its potential, it can provide a way forward for the Israeli society it mirrors to do the same. If it fails, it could represent a symptom, or a cause, of greater societal collapse.

After Gomorrah

We have no name for the people who came before us.

Some call them “The Builders;”  others, “The Destroyers.”

Stories told in ceremony and song, but no definitive history.

There were many, many of them, and everywhere they went they marked the land with roads and bridges.

Many of the elders ponder how they did all this, made these lines straighter than any tree and harder than any stone, but not me.

I see their marks on the land like whipping-scars, their broken houses scattered across every hillside, their still-poison valleys where no man can live and I wonder why.

Friday Fictioneers

La Sangre De Los Reyes

“Where are you going, Tupac?” Marisól asked.

“Out,” he said.

“With whom?”  She stepped in to block him from the door. The combination of her bulk and moral authority were impenetrable.

He sighed. “With Carlitos and Nando.”

“Always those boys with their spray paint and skateboards and slang.”

“They’re good guys, Mamá. Carlitos is at the top of our class in school.”

“They are Spaniards, Tupac. You are Inca. Your great-great-great-grandfather…”

“I know. Pachacuti Inca, king of the whole Andes. Like, five hundred years ago.”

“You must never forget his blood flows in your veins.”

“They’re my friends, Mamá. Can I go now? Please?”

She let out a long sigh, then stepped aside. The boy was out the door and down the street in an instant.

She locked the deadbolt. The neighborhood was not what it had been.

Crime and poverty and, worst of all, the lying Catholic priests.

The only things the Spaniards ever gave us. 


Historical Note:
Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui was the 9th Inca ruler (r. 1438 – 1471 CE) who founded their empire with conquests in the Cuzco Valley and beyond. Pachacuti is also credited with founding the site of Machu Picchu.
His title Pachacuti, which he gave himself on his accession, means ‘Reverser of the World’ or ‘Earth-shaker,’ and the same word was used by the Incas to refer to the epoch-changing event or ‘turning over of time and space’ which they believed occurred regularly through history.
An appropriate enough title, then, for a ruler who set his people on the road to prosperity and the creation of an empire which would eventually be the largest ever seen in the Americas.
 In 1559 AD the Spanish discovered Pachacuti’s mummy, which had been secretly hidden by the Incas following the conquest. It was sent to Lima by Juan Polo de Ondegardo but was lost in transit or perhaps simply destroyed like so many other symbols of Inca culture.

What Pegman Saw: Cusco



About Salvation

“Should be a good turnout, Father. With the snow.”

Father Loris squinted up through the window at the swirling flakes. A gust of wind rattled the glass. “Better add more water to the soup, then.”

Sister Claire placed the bucket in the sink and turned the tap. “What I mean,” she shouted over the thundering water, “is that the Lord may provide more ears to hear the Word. You may want to change things up a little.”

Her back was turned so she could not see his face, the expression of haughty disdain.  He waited for her to turn around.

Friday Fictioneers

Barman Story

Behind the bar at the Irish Bank, Fleet Week 1999

Note on this story: It’s one of the Überhaus Diaries I wrote in Portland during the late 1990s. The photo Karen selected this week is the inside of a bar around the corner from where I lived in Portland. The Überhaus was perhaps the last bandit lofts in the city, a 2000 square foot apartment above The Great Northwest Bookstore. Great Northwest was a hipper, less expensive (and far less organized) version of Powell’s, a wonderful jumble of paperbacks, first editions, art books, and signed photos (including one of Charles Bukowski and Walt Curtis that I have always regretted not buying). It was a magical time to live in that city, just before the wave of gentrification that made it almost as expensive a place to live as San Francisco. So here it is, too long for Pegman, but one of the first stories I ever wrote.

Sleep deprivation is a funny thing. It seems to change the quality of light, throw odd shadows, etch the edges of the world in sharp relief. I started looking at my world in a new way. I started writing it down.

In 1998, I worked as a barman at Kellsgetting home around four AM too amped up by coffee and work to go to sleep. So I wrote stories and poetry, drew comics, often staying up until breakfast time.

Kells required all its barmen to wear ties and a white shirt. Individualist that I am, I always wore bow ties. I had inherited a couple dozen from my grandfather, a professor at Yale and Hunter who was never seen in a straight tie. I liked the bow ties. My grandfather had snazzy taste. The patterns were so garish that they would have been over the top in a regular necktie, but on the small scale of a bow tie they added an interesting splash of color. I had so many that I could go a month or more without repeating the tie.

Another fringe benefit was that the ties stayed clean. Neckties dangle and can drag in the ice or on the bar itself. They are also a fire hazard when a guy is making Portland’s Signature Drink

One night, we had a bit of a slowdown around 11. My buddy Ciaran pointed at my tie, a vulgar red and blue affair that looked like it had been cut out of an art school canvas.

“Nice tie,” he said. He looked down at his own, a badly stained maroon double knit. He tugged it, lurching forward. He pulled himself by the necktie, jolting down the length of the bar, pretending to resist like a recalcitrant dog. It was hilarious.

It got me thinking. Something about it stuck with me. Something about that jolting snap when he tugged it the first time.

When I got home, I wrote this.


Überhaus Diary November 10th, 1998

They treated me differently after the hospital.

I used to crack jokes. Everyone would laugh. It  was cool.

Now it was different.

Before anyone laughed there’d be this little pause, like they were checking to make sure everything was okay before they had any merriment.Their eyes would stay flat and watchful while they ha-ha-ha’d. It was like watching really bad actors laughing on stage, but right up close.That’s how it seemed.

I wasn’t a great judge because I was on so much medication. The doctors were using an impressive arsenal of pharmacopoeia on me and I was so whacked most of the time that I bounced between feeling twenty stories tall and feeling like something  on the sidewalk you’d avoid stepping in.

When they carried me into the hospital I remember somebody screaming and a flurry of activity.  They took me right into the trauma room, no waiting required. My face was hanging off me, slashed into ribbons by the box knife.

It had been a fucked-up night.  The bar was already full when I walked in at 4. Rowdy drunks got rowdier. They gave me a lot of shit.  My mood wasn’t great to start with, and it only got worse. And the tips were bad. The assholes were tipping with coins. I wanted to throw their fucking coins at them. Coins are always insulting.

There comes a time in everybody’s life when they crack. It can happen any time, anywhere. Somebody says or does something you just can’t accept and POW, you pop. When that happens, it’s like your whole universe shifts and everything that was going to happen up to that point isn’t going to happen anymore.

Your life just turned in a new direction and everything is different.

There was a loudmouthed little shit who had been parked next to the well since I walked in. I had cut him off politely and when that didn’t work, insultingly. I got all his buddies laughing at him. When I turned around a minute later he had a fucking drink in front of him. A fresh one.

He must have gotten it from one of his friends at a table behind him, or maybe off the cocktail waitress’ tray when she wasn’t looking.

That’s when I lost it.

I yelled at him, “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU LITTLE SHIT?” I grabbed the glass from his hand and dumped it into the sink, looking him right in his smug little face the whole time. His eyes went dead, and the next thing I know he grabs my necktie and pulls me down onto the bar. In his right hand is a box knife, the razor blade tool that they use to cut open cardboard cases in grocery stores. He starts zipping me across the face with it, hard diagonal hits across my nose, eyes and lips. He won’t let me go, and noboy else is moving. They all just stand there, shocked. Finally two guys pull him off, but by this point I’m a bloody mess and my face looks like ripped-up upholstery.

The doctors did as good as a job as they could, but I’d been cut so many times in so many directions it was all they could do to cover my skull. I had signifigant nerve damage (I can’t smile or raise my eyebrows anymore) and I lost most of the vision in my right eye. It’s coming back, but it’s taking its time. My face looks like a badly made baseball and the scars are still bright red. The doctors say that they’ll fade, but they might just be saying that.

The bar’s insurance paid up handsomely (no pun intended). I got a huge settlement, so I never have to work again. I want to work, though, if for no other reason than to find the asshole who did this to me, the asshole who was never caught, the asshole who is still at large.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’ll do him if I see him.

But it’s not just the thought of revenge that brings me back to work. See, when they removed the bandages it wasn’t so bad. My face was so swollen that it looked like any bad beating, so you couldn’t really tell  the extent of the damage. It was only after the swelling receded that I saw what I’d lost.

Before, when I met somebody new, I had something to do with the opinion they would form about me. I could present myself to them on a level playing field, get to know them a bit before they start thinking “he’s a this” or “he’s a that.”

I was just another guy they got to know. I’ve met lots of people that way, especially across the bar.

But now, that’s gone. See me a block away and you already are forming an opinion: What the hell??

When you talk face to face you either mention it or you don’t. But it’s there, lying between us. There’s no getting around my face.

I guess it’s like being famous. I’m not like anybody else and won’t be ever again. If I ever get a girl it’ll be because she is a freak or a saint.

I think about that night. I think about it a lot.

The little prick tried to steal my life because I poured out his drink? FUCK HIM.

I think if I manage to not blow brains out, it’ll be due to spite.

But I wear a bow tie at work now. I’m known for it.

What Pegman Saw: Portland