The Bag Man

They took off for Buenos Aires from Kennedy at dusk of a perfect late October day. Sixty-nine year old Jeremiah Sapir had breakfasted on black coffee and strawberries that sparkled like rubies in cream in his room at the Essex House overlooking the autumnal splendor of Central Park. He had lunched among the fronds in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel with his daughter Sonia. They had had a nice visit. Sonia, nearing forty-five, was displeased with this and that. She tried to hide it from her father. But it glimmered through and roused him to indignation. It charged him with energy and made him feel young again. For an hour or so, she was once more his. He had given her a check for five thousand dollars. That was modest. Did his mind play tricks on him? Or did she look now exactly as Estelle had once looked? If Sam didn’t like it that he gave her money, then she didn’t need to tell him. Truth was always a relative matter. Where his daughter was concerned a father had ineradicable privileges. He’d paid for them. Magnificently awkward as Noah’s ark reincarnate in steel and aluminum, the 747 quivered and shook as it started down the runway. Yet it managed to lift itself up into the air, to become a shining snub-nosed creature of the ether. Jeremiah Sapir loved to fly. Jonah had never known the belly of a whale like this one. Jeremiah was of the generation for whom flying could never become matter of fact. Although he’d flown in his lifetime more than a million miles,... read more


Marinka’s voice on the phone was high and strained, like a collar caught cat struggling against strangling. Katerina knew immediately something was terribly wrong. Katerina lived in Delaware in sight of the ocean. The wind had been blowing in from the sea for three days. When it gusted it made whistling noises through the trees and against the houses. Katerina flew out to Michigan the next morning. He thought he had the flu, wouldn’t go to see the doctor. Now Ned, her daughter’s husband was in the ground under the oak up on the hill by the pond where the geese were. The sun was dazzling bright for the funeral. November wind blew and sculpted hollows in the water.† A few late leaves, brown and crisp, whirled down, hit and scuttled along the ground until they stuck.† Ned had died of a heart attack in the night, the same way his father had died at the same age, fifty-one. He left four daughters. Only Veronica, the second was married.† A short broad shouldered white-haired woman in a black dress, Katerina stood shoeless in the middle of the brick red linoleoum of the kitchen. She held her arms crossed, hugging her chest just below her bosom. The neighbors had brought food in pots and pans of all different shapes and colors. Crowding the counter top by the sink and spilling over onto the stove, they made a bright variegated society of their own. Marinka was upstairs in the bedroom, maybe resting, maybe not. Katerina knew Marinka needed to be alone. Her own husband, Marinka’s father, had died eighteen months earlier.... read more

Znarf Akfak

When Znarf Akfak awakened the first orange morning on Meta-4 everything around him seemed familiar and, for that reason, unsettling. He had no memory of how he had arrived at this particular location, but that was not unusual. Znarf was one of the more experienced agents in a little known department of the confederation bureaucracy called the Office of Peripheral Anomalies. The appropriation which supported it did not even appear openly in the budget of the confederation. A different line with a different bland title concealed it each quadrennium. As part of his work, which had no specified value either to himself or to others, Znarf travelled often by the method of transcendental displacement. When you went this way, there was no retracing your steps. Even if you were convinced that you had made your journey in a distinct sequence, it could be demonstrated that your account suffered from all sorts of gaps, peculiar shadings and even glaring contradictions. All who travelled by transcendental displacement developed a taste for trying to give an account of how they had reached their destinations. The question had been investigated with customary thoroughness by the Office of Central Anomalies, which had concluded that these testimonials of the travellers themselves were no more reliable than any other data concerning the peculiar method. Although the matter had not been resolved once and for all, it did seem to be the case that it was of the essence of the method that no complete and consistent account of its workings could be given. One intriguing correlation had emerged from the longitudinal study by the Office of... read more

The Abominable Snowman

This is a story of the far-off Kingdom of Para. Few people from Africa, Europe or the Americas have ever visited Para, for it is located in a wild mountainous region at the base of the towering Himalayas. There are no roads into the country. In order to reach even the capital city, one must march for three weeks along narrow paths winding through dark jungles of dense bamboo. These jungles are among the most beautiful in the world, but they are the domain of the wily and cruel leopard, and he is jealous of intruders. Because it is so hard to get to, Para receives few visitors. There is nothing to disturb the peaceful, isolated life of the Paraese. Although their forefathers were fierce warriors, the people of Para no longer remember their ways. The last Paraese maker of poisoned arrows and lances died over a century ago, poor and unhonored, without even a son to follow him in his craft. The events of our story took place long ago, soon after the fierce forefathers of the Paraese, driven from the South by even fiercer warriors, had come to settle in the fertile valley of Xhatmand, at the base of the great Gauri Shankar glacier. By now, they have long since been forgotten. When they took place, during the sixth year of the reign of Ahir Gupta, one of the strongest and wisest of Paraese kings, Rana Doti was a young herd boy. Each morning, after he drank his bowl of curd, he would gather his father’s flock of sheep and goats together and climb with them to... read more

Elmer Greengold

Greengold’s Folly “Elmer Greengold is a throwback to the days when people tookhousekeeping seriously and political economy meant something.” “Elmer Greengold is a pain in the ass.” “Both are right,” laughs Elmer Greengold, himself, “I have a fewsimple notions, which really aren’t so simple and I speak my mind. We’re the world’s leading producer of consumer goods. We’re alsothe world’s leading producer of consumer bads, not to mention badconsumers. We emphasize the first and pretend the second doesn’texist. That’s really why we produce so many bad consumers, becausewe have no good way of talking about consumer bads. We measure theGross National Product (GNP), but we don’t measure the GrossNational Problem (GNP). We need some sort of numbers for the GrossNational Numbness (GNN), that is, what we all feel, but won’t letourselves know we feel. I’m really talking about what I’ve come tocall the ‘shadow economy’. I can only tell you that it is ordersof magnitude greater than the barter economy. We don’t know what’sgoing on in most of it. We need to get it on the books. It’s asimple fact of life in a country as bureaucratized as ours thataccountability gets reduced to countability. Narrative justdoesn’t cut it any more. I’m just trying to count some thingswe’ve never wanted to count or let count before. Of course it’scrude, but so is any new kind of measurement. They laughed at me when I first talked about this in Pittsburgh in 1967, but I wasjust a graduate student then. I don’t think they’re laughing anymore. They’re not making steel and they don’t know what to make,just what they want to buy,... read more
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