Short Story of the Day – The Man With the Scar

He’s an exile from Nicaragua. He’s a ruffian of course and a bandit, but not a bad fellow.

—–The Man With the Scar, Somerset Maugham

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

Every now and then I like to share a short story that is readable online. I used to do this a month at a time every couple years  ( 2013, Day One 2015, Day One 2017) and may yet this year – but for now… here’s one.

 

Today’s story is The Man With the Scar. You can read a PDF of it here.

 

I was cleaning out the files on a laptop when I stumbled across a PDF entitled The Man With the Scar. It was a short story by Somerset Maugham. Obviously, I had read it before and downloaded it, but I didn’t really remember it. I re-read it and then searched my archives to see if I had written about it before. It was mentioned here – in a review of another Somerset Maugham short story. I had forgotten how much I loved his short stories. I had read the thing in a lending library at a park downtown – Klyde Warren – the park build over a freeway.

Woodall Rogers Freeway, from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

But I had never linked to the story itself.

Which is a shame, it’s a little piece of greatness. What a horrible tale told in such high-falutin’ language. It encapsulates the insane evil that springs forth when human life is held in such little regard.

Is the Man With the Scar a hero or a villain? An evil man… maybe, or an ordinary man caught in a hopeless farrago of wickedness. He does at least take a stand… but it is such a depraved stance. He realizes that beauty has no place in his world – no place for mercy or for sacrifice.

I guess our only reaction to a story like this is to rejoice we don’t live in the same place as these characters do… or to maybe at least hope we don’t.

Go From Dream To Dream

“You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you’ve found life. I’m no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are ‘yours’ and which are ‘mine.’ It’s past sorting out. We’re both being someone new now, someone incredible….”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow, marked for reading goals (one marker per week)

So I sat down with my Penguin Paperback edition of Gravity’s Rainbow and put in little tabs for each week’s worth of reading for the Wild Detectives Reading Challenge that I’m doing now. My bookmark is an old Ten Cordoba Note that I laminated.

 

What I learned this week, December 23, 2017

45 years ago, early this morning

I remember I was opening a drawer to get some paper out to write a letter when the floor moved so violently I fell to the floor. I remember it like it was yesterday. I forgot it was “only” a 6.3 – but because of the volcanic ash soil and such it had much greater ground movement.


If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit


My commuter/cargo bike along the Duck Creek Trail. Taking a break while riding a circuit of grocery stores, looking for Banana Ketchup.

More Dallas Bike Lanes Are On The Way

We lost about half the ride at Lee Harvey’s – but here’s the rest at the Santa Fe Trestle Trail.

The new bridge from the Santa Fe trail into The Lot



I have never been able to do this:

Man’s Guide to Wrapping Christmas Presents


Moebius

Art is the big door, but real life is a lot of small doors that you must pass through to create something new


What I learned this week, June 04, 2017

BIKE COMMUTING’S WORST ENEMY ISN’T WHAT YOU THINK

Many think the ultimate enemy of the bicycle is the car, but the reason cars are so dangerous is simply the false perception that our streets and roads are made for driving and nothing else.  It is the complete dismissal, whether conscious or unconscious, of any other practical way of getting around.  It is the lack of understanding that cars are one of many forms of transit, albeit by far the most popular one.  It is the lack of respect for bikes as a viable vehicle for traveling to where you need to go.

Seeing bikes as transit machines, like cars only slower, is an important mental hurdle for non-cyclists to overcome.  It is no different than choosing a pickup over a sedan, a sub-compact versus an SUV, or a luxury car over a coupe.  It is simply another way to get from point A to point B, with advantages and disadvantages.  The sooner we all accept this fact, the sooner we will begin to open our eyes to a multitude of transit options for our cities that truly benefit everyone.

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans


4 Important Things to Consider When Designing Streets For People, Not Just Cars

When drawing a street on a plan, you start with a centerline and offset it on two sides. It is quite literally a line connecting two places with a certain width. This width is almost always determined by an engineer who is trying to match an algorithm for how many lanes are needed for the cars that will drive down this street, and how many utilities will need to comfortably fit here. Instead, we should think about streets and all their various uses—as places for gathering, finding our way, living more healthfully, with nature, and with each other… and build from there.


Frozen in time: US photographer revisits Nicaraguan village to recreate pictures of rural families 20 years after his first trip

For portrait photographer Robert Kalman, the art form is all about people. He has traveled across continents to document people in their environments – whether the streets of New York and Paris or rural villages in Central America. And one timeless Nicaraguan village has, over the years, continued to draw him back.

Since his first trip to Larreynaga, Kalman has returned at least five times to document the lives of villagers there.

 


Right now, I am really enjoying the new Twin Peaks on Showtime. I am a huge fan of David Lynch – but if you say you hate everything he has done, I can’t argue with you.

Every David Lynch Film, Ranked

It’s not easy to rank every Lynch movie, not least of all because of the director’s cult status. Lynch fans aren’t playing around, and debates can get heated (especially when it comes to Dune or Fire Walk With Me). And then there’s the fact that every movie is so jaw-droppingly different. There are certainly recurring “Lynchian” elements, which David Foster Wallace defined as “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” More obviously, there are certain visuals you look for when watching a Lynch movie: red lips, a hallway, long red curtains, a highway at night, a stage lit by a single light. Then there’s that feeling that comes with certain Lynch movies—and lingers; that unshakable dread of being in someone else’s dream (or nightmare).

 


Downtown Dallas, Texas

I worked downtown in the early 80’s and one of my favorite things was watching the skyscrapers go up. I was surprised at how different the construction methods were for different buildings.

Tall tales and big holes are part of Dallas’ skyscraper lore

The 1980s gave Dallas most of its skyline, with more towers popping up than any time in the city’s history.

Along with the tall buildings came a few tall tales.

Three skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Striking new skyscraper in downtown Dallas will be tallest in decades

“The new Amli tower is significant because it will create a true mixed-use environment at the highest level,” said Johnny Johnson with Cushman & Wakefield, which markets the Fountain Place offices to tenants. “The energy sparked by the pedestrian experience will enhance the complex and everything that surrounds it.

“It will make Fountain Place an even more desirable place to be.”

Downtown Dallas

 


How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

What an interesting idea! Wish I had thought of that.


Dancers, Arts District, Dallas

Arts tycoon on hunt for photographers to document life of Dallas Arts District

Reflecting Pool, Arts District, Dallas, Texas
(Click To Enlarge)

Hall has spearheaded a new endeavor titled “Through the Lens: Dallas Arts District.” It’s a call to action for “professional photographers, emerging photographers, mid-career photographers and students” to start snapping their shutters. The goal is to create a body of work that captures “a glimpse of the life and vibrancy that defines the Dallas Arts District,” whose 20 square blocks will become the photographers’ tableau.

Bethan, Patio Sessions, Arts District, Dallas, Texas


THE BEST ROOFTOP BARS IN DALLAS

I’m a big fan of three of these: The Soda Bar, Bar Belmont, and 32 Degrees. Gonna have to check out the rest.

Dallas Skyline from the Soda Bar on the roof of the NYLO Southside hotel.

The view of Downtown Dallas from the Belmont Hotel

The view of the Belmont from the porch at Smoke – Dallas skyline in the background.

 


 

Iguanas on my Roof

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua - once Somoza's beach house.

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.

I stumbled across a wonderfully interesting book this weekend; Iguanas on my Roof Funny, Sad, and Scary OVERSEAS ADVENTURES of a Foreign Service Family in Third-World Countries during the Vietnam War and Watergate Era. I found it on its Facebook Page and then bought a copy from Amazon for my Kindle.

Say what you want about e-books… but to learn about a publication from the web while riding on a commuter train, have it in my hand seconds later, and instantly start reading it – that’s something amazing.

The book is a slim, simple, heartfelt family memoir written by Nancy Stone, the mother of five. I went to high school with two of her kids in Managua, Nicaragua. One son was my age, a grade below me and in a lot of my classes, and a daughter was my little brother’s age. We all ran around a lot together my senior year (I graduated and left for Kansas University in 1974).

I immediately recognized the title – we had iguanas on our roof. I remember when we first moved to Nicaragua trying to sleep with some tremendous racket overhead. I crept outside and leaned a ladder up to the wall, climbing up to find out what it was. There were a half-dozen huge iguanas and an equal number of cats all chasing each other around on the corrugated galvanized roofing. I couldn’t tell who was chasing who – but it was a mess. After I learned what it was up there – it was easy to ignore the cacophony and sleep.

Although I knew the kids well, I don’t recall ever even meeting their parents and I certainly never knew their story. We were military and they were embassy – that didn’t matter to the young’uns, but there was a difference. Their father, Al Stone, was a railroad brakeman in the late fifties when he was inspired by the harrowing plight of hordes of desperate Mexican immigrants fleeing a drought to try and do something. He spent years in education and effort until he was able to go to work for the Department of State and the USAID program.

So the big family was off on a tour of the disasters of the third world. From living in the Philippines while Al was in Vietnam, to Lagos, to Washington DC, to Managua after the 1972 earthquake (where they crossed paths with your humble narrator), the book describes the shocking, the strange, the scary, and the silly of a long, often difficult trip.

I’ve always said that living in the third world is months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

Most of what was in the book was familiar to me, even the sections from the Philippines and Nigeria. There are certain stock scenes common to life in any poverty-cursed tropical place. Every incident brought back memories of similar episodes and adventures from my own youth.

The crest from the American Nicaraguan School

The crest from the American Nicaraguan School

What was most interesting was seeing these recognizable installments from a different point of view. The book is told by an adult – a person where everything is new and strange. Nancy Stone was from California – thrust by fate, love, and dedication into a bizarre world of giant insects, bad infrastructure, iffy transport, dangerous and incomprehensible societies, and odd food. It was all so… foreign. Cultural and work protocols, manners, and etiquette were consummate challenges. But it all comes to an end. The final chapter is titled, “We Went Back Home.”

Where is home? I don’t understand the concept. People talk to me about being “homesick” – I have no idea what they are talking about.

You see, It felt differently to go through a journey like that as a kid. When you are young… it is simply how things are. You don’t know any better.

A few paragraphs of the story were written by the kids I knew – familiar voices I understand.

For me, for example, the place and time where I had the most trouble adapting was when I went to college in the states. My nickname for a couple years was “Banana Boat” – as in, “Bill, you’re an American like the rest of us, but you act like you just fell off a banana boat.” I was so happy to find four students from Barcelona that I could relate to – though I was bothered by their lispy Spanish and the incredible amounts of wine they drank.

I realize that the youngsters were able to assimilate into the local culture in a way the adults couldn’t even imagine. To this day, I’m ashamed of my terrible Spanish – but I learned that if I simply kept my mouth shut I could move around at will without anyone knowing I was an American. As a matter of fact – nobody would notice me at all. I could become invisible. That’s an amazing thing to be able to do in a place like that.

That even affects the memories I try to hang onto in my incipient dotage. For example, there are a lot of anecdotes like those in the book that I am willing to let go as they fade into the misty cobwebs of my crumbling brain. What I hang onto desperately are some of the ethereal emotions of youth, the colors of the country, and the smells of the culture.

For example (full disclosure – I’ve been writing notes about this recently for a short story I’m working on) there is the smell of the third world. It’s a smell of pork grease and wood fires – of sour sweat and homemade soap, of heat and desperation. A few years ago I walked out onto the deck of a ship as it cruised into Montego Bay at dawn. A fisherman in a tiny wooden skiff was off the port bow and I watched him untangle his nets. As the salmon glow of the sun, still hidden behind the mountains, filled the sky we moved into a thin cobalt mist of the morning cooking fires wafting offshore and there was that third world smell. I had forgotten… but it all came back in a rush.

That is what I am desperate to hold on to.

So, I any of y’all are curious enough to read about what it was like, over there, back then, go to Amazon, load up your ereader or wait for the bound paper, whatever. It’s worth your money and your time, trust me. Thanks for doing the work, Mrs. Stone, for collecting the memories, writing them down, and sending them out into the world.

It’s late, so late. I think I’ll pour a little Flor de Caña (I was so happy when that became available in Dallas), get my writing in, and call it a day.

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

The Trees are in Bloom

When we first lived in Nicaragua, before the earthquake, my brother and I had to catch the bus to school at the entrance to our driveway on Carretera Sur. Since the drive popped out in a narrow space between two walls, one of us had to stand there and wait for the bus – or it wouldn’t see us and wouldn’t stop.

The problem was there was this big tree – right there, splitting our driveway at the entrance to the highway. It would bloom all the time – covered thick with bright yellow blossoms. These would fall and form a carpet under the tree. It looked great- the blossoms a colorful scene of yellow against the green of the leaves, the brown of the bark, and the dark gray tarmac of the drive and highway.

But the blossoms would rot in the tropical heat. The sweet-smelling flowers would decay into a sickly foulness that was impossible to stand. The smell was unbearable. My brother and I would take turns waiting under the tree, watching for the bus while our sibling stood well back up the yard in the fresh air, until we couldn’t stand it any more and then switch places. When it was really rank we would have to hold our breath and would trade off every minute or so until the bus rumbled up.

I thought of that as I sat at the Farmer’s Market. The central passage, around the La Marketa Café, is lined in trees and the trees were in bloom. They were thick with white blossoms which were falling like a dusting of snow. A thin layer covered the ground, stirred up into tiny white flowery tornados whenever the wind circled into miniature cyclones coming around the corners of the building. They were beautiful.

And best of all, they didn’t stink.

Yet.

The trees blooming in the Dallas Farmer's Market

blooms against the sky

the petals fall in front of a mural on a restaurant