Second Series.

Bhutan. In the Bhutanese or Dzhonga language, the name “Bhutan” literally means “Land of the People Who Live in Bhutan.”

Are you completely misinformed on all matters related to small South Asian monarchies? If not, then supplement your ignorance with a great big dose of misinformation.

Published in: on May 9, 2012 at 9:55 am  Comments (1)  


Great Cities of the United States Edition.

Boston. Beginning this season, the swan boats on the Lagoon in the Public Gardens will no longer be made from real swans.

Chicago. In Chicago, a “Chicago-style” hot dog is known as a “Fort Wayne frank.”

Los Angeles. Many Southern Californians mistakenly believe that Los Angeles is counted among the great cities of the United States.

New York. Since the borough of Manhattan was sold to Disney last year, much progress has been made in clearing out the undesirable poor; and it is estimated that no one with an annual income of less than $400,000 will be left on the island by 2015.

Philadelphia. The old rule that no structure in the city of Philadelphia may be taller than William Penn’s hat is still in force, but it has been necessary to place the hat itself on an 84-storey pole to accommodate current tastes in architecture.

Pittsburgh. The new subway station beside PNC Park has been deliberately built deeper under the ground than any other station in Pittsburgh so that Pirates fans may sneak away unobserved after a game.

Washington. No one was bold enough to tell the venerable and beloved President Washington that he had made an elementary blunder in surveying; and as a result of the unfortunate reticence of his staff, our capital city ended up being built in a swamp along the Potomac.

Did you know that one book and one book only contains every fact you need to know about every subject ever studied in the history of human endeavor? Get your copy today, and be a better misinformed citizen tomorrow.

Published in: on April 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm  Comments (1)  


No. 4.—At the American Restaurant.

Good morning.
Good afternoon.
Good evening.

My name is Ashley, and I will be your server today.
May I start you off with a beverage?

Yes, Miss Ashley, you may start me off with a beverage.
No, you may not start me off with a beverage, because if I give you a beverage order you will take it and move to Barbados and I shall never see you again.
I am entirely neutral on the question of beverages.
What beverages have you to offer?

We have brown fizzy beverages with sugar, clear fizzy beverages with sugar, and electric-yellow fizzy beverages with sugar. We also have brown fizzy beverages with carcinogenic artificial sweeteners.

Do you serve coffee?
Do you serve tea?

No, we do not serve coffee or tea, because they do not fizz.
We do serve coffee or tea, as long as you do not mind it carbonated.
We used to serve coffee, but the health department confiscated our coffee machine.

I will have a brown fizzy beverage with sugar.
I will have a brown fizzy beverage with carcinogenic artificial sweetener.
I will have nothing to drink, because I am a koala bear.

Shall I bring your beverage now, or are you ready to order?

I am interested in knowing about today’s specials, because I love a bargain.
I am interested in knowing about today’s specials, because the menu says “Ask your server about today’s specials,” and I always follow instructions.

Today we have breaded fried pork chops; breaded fried steak; breaded fried chicken; breaded fried zucchini; breaded fried bread; breaded fried shrimp; breaded fried onions; and poitrine de moulard farcie de girolles et de champignons Nebrodini, risotto de choux fleurs et sa sauce de pignons et huile d’olive, breaded and fried.
We have no specials today, because today is not a very special day.

I will have a hamburger.
I will have a cheeseburger.
I will have a cheeseburger, with ham.

Thank you, and I shall put this order in right away.
Thank you, and I shall put this order in when I am good and ready.

Excuse me, sir, have you seen my server, Miss Ashley?

Miss Ashley had to testify in court, but she should be back soon.
Miss Ashley has moved to Barbados, and you will never see her again.
We have never had a server named “Ashley,” but may I start you off with a beverage?

Is the English language a baffling conundrum to you? Perhaps you have not been reliably misinformed.

Published in: on December 2, 2011 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  


No. 17.—Becalmed in the Doldrums, Part 2.

(Continued from Part 1.)

IT WAS NO use trying to keep the secret from the men for more than a few days. The other ship seemed to be adrift on a current converging with our own; we moved closer inch by inch, until even the dimmest eye among us (Dim-Eye Jim, who had been with me since my first command) could see that there was a ship on the horizon.

At first Higgs, my boatswain, was of the opinion that we were merely seeing our own ship reflected in the polished hollow of the empyrean sphere; and he broadcast that opinion to the men, adducing passages from Dante and other favorite sailors’ rhymes in confirmation. I decided, however, that the time had come to be perfectly forthright with my crew. I told them that the ship on the horizon was a Spanish brig. I reminded them that we were at war with Spain, and I warned them that we ought to be prepared for battle in a week or so when the ship came within range of our guns. In the mean time, I said, it behooved us to redouble our efforts, wherefore I expected every man to put his best effort into the next few games of charades.

I do not mean to boast, but my men have always told me that my little speeches to the crew are very inspiring. At any rate, it was easy to see that the men had taken my words to heart. Over the next three days, their skill at charades steadily improved, until I was confident they could have faced the most eminent professional charadists and acquitted themselves with distinction. Both in acting out the clue and in guessing the meaning, the men improved to such a degree that it took the Beta Team a mere seventeen seconds to guess that Higgs was acting out the transcendental unity of apperception.

Naturally the crew grew more restive as the Spanish ship came within range of our cannon, which necessarily implied that we were within range of the Spanish cannon. I was determined, however, to avoid a confrontation if at all possible, since it would be foolish to provoke a battle under conditions in which the winner might well be doomed to a slow and miserable death on the aimless currents.

As the ships drew closer together, a philosophical argument broke out among the crew as to whether the Spanish brig was approaching us, or we were approaching the Spanish brig. The crew was largely divided along the lines of the teams I had established for our charades exercises, with the Alpha Team taking the position that the Spanish were approaching us, and the Beta Team almost to a man insisting that we were approaching the Spanish. More than a few of my sailors actually came to blows over the question, and I realized that, in my zeal to keep the men occupied and disciplined, I had unwittingly sown the seeds of factionalism among my crew.

In order to ameliorate the ill effects of this division, I hurriedly scribbled a few equations on the ship’s blackboard (in those days, every ship in Her Majesty’s fleet was equipped with a blackboard and a generous supply of colored chalk), demonstrating mathematically that it was possible for both points of view to be correct. Many years later, I saw that a young fellow named Einstein had published my equations, to which he gave the name of his “special theory of relativity”; I, however, had never seen anything particularly “special” about what I regarded as a few blindingly obvious propositions, so I did not begrudge him the honor of taking credit for his theory, which I honestly believe he arrived at independently.

In a few more days, our ships were near enough that we could easily make out the Spanish sailors on the deck of their ship. I tried to hail them, but it was useless: no one could hear me. In the afternoon, however, a movement on the deck of the Spanish ship attracted my attention; and, training my keen eye (which is the left one) on the source of the movement, I discovered the Spanish captain making elaborate gestures in our direction.

It was clear that he was trying to communicate with us; and, as his gestures were extraordinarily clear and precise, I was able at once to determine that he meant to preserve a truce between us, and believed that we should work together to find a way out of our shared predicament. I stood on the rail and made similarly broad gestures, agreeing to the truce, and complimenting him on the clarity of his communication. He replied by signs indicating that, in order to pass the time while they were becalmed in the doldrums, he and his crew had been playing charades for two weeks straight, and had gained some considerable skill.

Over the next few days, as our ships drifted closer together, we exchanged recipes and discussed ideas for extricating ourselves from the difficulties in which we found ourselves. Our shared skill in charades had given us such facility in expressing ideas by gesture, in fact, that we continued to communicate by that means until Higgs, the boatswain, pointed out that, as our ships were now nearly touching stern to stern, it would be quite a simple matter to speak to the Spanish captain in a normal voice. “I’ve been talking to their boatswain all morning,” Higgs added, “although really he’s been doing most of the talking. To hear him talk, you’d think he won every battle he’s ever been in single-handed, but if you ask me he’s just an old blowhard.”

Suddenly I was struck by an idea. The words “blow hard” resonated in my ears. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”: this well-known principle of politics is also sometimes applicable to physics, and it was the reason my men had so miserably failed in their efforts to blow their own ship out of the doldrums. But a second ship opened up an intriguing possibility.

I hurriedly summoned my men to the stern of our vessel, and directed the Spanish captain to do the same. Once I had explained the plan to them, I arrayed the sailors in two lines facing the Spanish; the short sailors in front, and the tall ones in back. On my signal, each sailor drew in the deepest breath he was capable of; and then, again on my signal, they all exhaled with a mighty roar, directing their exhalations into the Spanish sails. At exactly the same time, the Spanish sailors did the same, blowing with all their might into our sails.

With a sudden and surprising violence, the ships lurched forward away from each other, and the momentum carried us rapidly in opposite directions. Soon the Spanish ship was a tiny speck on the horizon; then it dipped out of sight, just as we reached the straight white line that marked the equator. With a brief ceremony, I claimed it for Her Majesty, giving her a very narrow but extremely long possession in the tropics which our country has held to this day.

I like to think that I have done some good in the world, so I am delighted to be able to report that, although it was painfully difficult at the time, our stranding in the doldrums had two permanent effects. First, every ship in Her Majesty’s navy was thenceforth equipped with a giant bellows, and ships were sent through the tropic zones only in pairs. Second, a considerable portion of every young naval officer’s training is now given over to learning the intricate subtleties of the game of charades.

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  


No. 16.—Becalmed in the Doldrums, Part 1.

ALTHOUGH THE LAND-BOUND often imagine that a tempest must be the most terrifying thing a sailor can face, in fact the most terrifying thing a sailor in Her Majesty’s navy ever has to face is the No. 4 Standard Naval Salt Biscuit. Tempests are actually sixteenth on the list of things that terrify sailors, just below maiden aunts.

Second on the list is a tropical calm. Any sailor will tell you that he had rather endure a dozen cyclones laid end to end than one dead calm in the tropics.

It was therefore not without some trepidation that I approached the equator, under strict instructions from the Admiralty to claim it for Her Majesty before the Spanish, with whom we were still at war, could make a prior claim. Not to try your patience with excessive prefatory matter, I shall simply say that my worst fears were realized. The wind died down to a complete calm, and our sails fell lifeless against the masts. We were becalmed in the doldrums. The crew blew and blew into the sails until they hyperventilated themselves, but to no avail, as I could have told them, having tried the same experiment on numerous occasions myself. I did not tell them, however, since their efforts kept the men entertained for several hours, and thus kept them out of the sort of mischief into which a bored crew can easily fall.

Any good sea captain knows that, in a dead calm, the most important thing is to keep the crew occupied. I therefore issued each member of my crew a box of sanitary cotton swabs and set them to work swabbing the deck, which gave them several days of good, wholesome fun. Eventually, however, the cotton swabs ran out, and every corner and crevice of the deck was polished to a crystalline sparkle. Since there was little useful labor to be performed, I divided the crew arbitrarily into several teams and set them to playing charades, which occupied them for several more days while the ship slowly drifted on the lazy, aimless currents.

By the third day, there was some grumbling among the crew, and I was forced to resort to stern naval discipline in order to keep the charades going. Loud indeed were the groans of the men who were sent to bed without supper, but such extreme measures were necessary to save the lives of all the crew, who in such a calm can be preserved only by rigorous obedience.

But the near-mutiny of my crew was not more worrisome than a discovery we made on the morning of our ninth day. Our lookout, who spent nearly every moment of the day scanning the horizon with his spyglass because such employment exempted him from the onerous charade duty to which the other crew members were subject, descried a sail in the distance.

At once he came and reported his discovery to me privately, and I myself confirmed the sighting with my keen eye (which is the left one).

“You will say nothing of this to the rest of the crew,” I told him. “But you will keep your spyglass trained on that sail, even at the cost of missing your turn at charades.”

“It’s all right, cap’n,” replied the honest old salt. “Charades is a young man’s game anyhow.”

He departed for the crow’s nest, which he had agreed to tend to while the mother crow was on a fishing expedition, and resumed his careful watch.

The rest of the crew, whom I saw no point in disturbing for the moment, continued their wholesome games, and toward noon I joined them, as was my wont. But my heart was not in it; cruel care had taken up residence in my mind and would not be evicted. For I had not only seen a sail on the horizon, but I had also made out, with my keen eye (which is the left one), the Spanish colors dangling limp from the mast.

Continues in Part 2.

Published in: on July 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm  Comments (2)  


Pittsburgh. In spite of its reputation, Pittsburgh is actually less susceptible to zombie attacks than Fall River, Massachusetts.

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 5:06 am  Comments (1)  


No. 10.—Atlas of the Noses of Africa, in Comparison with the Pure Nordic Type, by Sir Trismegistus Ashen.

AS ONE OF the chief authorities in nineteenth-century ethnography, Sir Trismegistus Ashen was a figure whose works were much anticipated when they were announced, and often cited once they had appeared in print. There was accordingly much excited murmuring in the intellectual world when Sir Trismegistus declared his intention of traveling to Africa to gather material for a new study to be called An Atlas of the Noses of Africa, in Comparison with the Pure Nordic Type.

Sir Trismegistus was widely regarded, not least by himself, as the foremost authority on noses in the field of ethnography. It was his contention that the distinctive nose of the Northern European proved his superiority to the men of all other races.

“The Nordic or Teutonic nose,” he wrote in the Proceedings of the All-British Philethnographic Society, “taken in its pure form as a distinct type, is conspicuously longer, and correspondingly more sensitive, than the olfactory organs of other racial types. The superior length of the nose renders it a delicate instrument for the detection of subtle odors at a distance, for which reason the degree of development of that organ may be taken as indicative of a given race’s position on the evolutionary scale.” A short nose on an Englishman or Prussian he regarded as indicative of an impure or adulterate ancestry, and therefore a mark of inferiority. It goes without saying that the nose of Sir Trismegistus was positively enormous.

Upon his arrival in George Town, then the administrative capital of the British Protectorate of Northern Southwest East Africa, Sir Trismegistus was provided by the colonial authorities with a large contingent of native bearers, all of whose noses were duly measured, for the carriage of his equipment and supplies. With this train he set out at once into the interior, measuring noses at every stop. A few of the natives objected to having their noses prodded with rulers and squeezed with calipers, and Sir Trismegistus’ letters from the expedition narrate more than one hair’s-breadth escape from an angry native who misunderstood his benign intentions. More often, however, his subjects received him hospitably and patiently endured his measurements.

Contrary to what he had expected when he began his expedition, Sir Trismegistus discovered that Africa was blessed with a wealth of nasal types. “I have discovered,” he wrote in one of his letters, “in addition to the short noses which I had expected to find, whole tribes with noses of the purest Teutonic type, as well as any number of intermediate noses. This variation can only have been produced by an admixture of the African and Teutonic races in prehistoric times. I believe I am the first to have discovered this evidence of these hitherto unsuspected voyages of our remote ancestors, the knowledge of which must add greatly to our appreciation of the superiority of the Nordic race.”

At last, having measured thousands of noses in his more than two years of wandering throughout the interior of Africa, Sir Trismegistus came to a village of the M’numu people, where he was introduced to a local sage or shaman who very politely asked permission to measure his thumb.

“I am compiling a monograph,” the M’numu scholar explained as he took careful measurements of length and circumference, “to be entitled A Compendium of the Thumbs of the European Explorers, with Reference to the Pure African Type. Most Europeans have stubby little thumbs, indicative of their racial inferiority when compared with the long and agile thumb of the African. The thumb, you see, is the organ by which tools are manipulated, for which reason we may regard the comparative development of the thumb as indicative of a given race’s position on the evolutionary scale. Your thumb, I might mention, is quite long, and very nearly of the pure African type, pointing to some admixture of African blood in your ancestry, of which you must be justifiably proud.”

In the evening, Sir Trismegistus announced his intention to terminate the expedition. The next morning, as he was boarding the boat that would take him down to the mouth of the M’numu River, he tripped over one of the many shaggy dogs that wandered free in the village; and, as he pitched forward, the bound folio volume containing all his two years of nasal observations fell into the river. His companions reported later that he made no serious effort to retrieve it.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 5:52 am  Comments (2)  


No. 15.—Falsebeard the Pirate, Part 2.

(Continued from Part 1.)

IMMEDIATELY I ROUNDED up my men, ignoring for the moment the stench of bubble gum on their breath, and brought them all back to the Mary Livingstone as quickly as our launches could carry them. But how would we prepare for an attack by the notorious Falsebeard? With other pirates, it would simply be a matter of manning the cannons and directing the ship’s orchestra to play something lively by Wagner or Liszt. But Falsebeard relied on infiltration rather than overt violence in his depredations. I will not say that my heart sank—the heart of a ship’s captain must necessarily be unsinkable—but it was definitely taking on water as I reflected that, even now, Falsebeard was most probably already aboard my ship, employing one of his devious disguises to conceal himself, perhaps even under the form of one of my own men. Indeed, the more I considered the matter, the more certain I was that one of my crew, no matter how apparently innocuous, must be the crafty pirate Falsebeard.

My first step, therefore, must be to interview every member of my crew. It was a tedious process, but one by one I called each man into my own quarters and asked him a few probing questions, which I had devised expressly for the purpose of unmasking any impostor among us. My first question was quite direct, since there was no time for circumlocution: “Are you Falsebeard the pirate?” A positive answer to this question would, of course, have terminated my investigation; all but one of my crew, however, answered in the negative. Higgs, the boatswain, at first thought he might be Falsebeard, but on some reflection decided that he probably was not, and became quite certain when I attempted to remove his face to see whether it might be a mask.

Since everyone answered the first question in the negative, it was necessary to move on to the second question, viz., “Are you positively certain that you are not Falsebeard the pirate?” Receiving negative answers to this one as well, I was compelled to think up a number of other questions, such as “Are you lying right now?” and “How much are seventeen and twenty-three?” (pirates being notoriously bad at ciphering, a skill at which all true navy men excel). I thoroughly interviewed every man on board until it was well past nightfall. I even interviewed the ship’s cat, whom the men called Maisie; I did not recall her as being ten feet long from nose to tail and standing nearly four feet high at the shoulder, but then it was true that I normally had little interaction with the creature. Finally, to leave no stone unturned, I interviewed myself, standing in front of the full-length mirror in my quarters. My answers, I must confess, were disappointingly evasive. I did nothing but repeat my own questions like a Rogerian therapist; and I was beginning to grow deeply suspicious of myself, when suddenly an alarm was raised outside.

“It’s Falsebeard the pirate!” I heard voices shouting. “We’ve found him!”

I dashed out on the deck, where most of my crew were gathered, shouting and gesticulating in a confused and agitated manner.  At first I was unable to comprehend anything they were saying, but at last my boatswain Higgs managed to silence the rabble and make himself understood.

“Thar he be, Cap’n,” said Higgs in his colorful nautical vernacular. “Bald pate shinin’ like the moon, just like you told us.” He pointed to the horizon, where a nearly full moon had just risen above the scraggy palms of Palmes Jaunes.

Patiently I explained to the men that, in the description we have been given by the Admiralty, the words “a bald pate that shone like the moon” were not to be interpreted in the literal sense, but rather in the allegorical sense, reminding them of the hermeneutical instruction I had given them on previous occasions when questions arose about the meaning of orders from the Admiralty. I commended them for their vigilance, but advised them to limit their search to the terrestrial sphere. Having encouraged them with a few more words of inspiration, I retired once again to my quarters, where my reflection in the full-length mirror greeted me with a few derisive remarks.

That my own reflection should be so ill-bred as to treat a captain of Her Majesty’s fleet with contempt renewed my former suspicions, and I reached into the mirror to grasp the offending image by the lapels. That no glass stood in my way was, upon reflection (so to speak), even more suspicious.

The image fought back manfully as the ship’s orchestra struck up the lively central section of Les préludes, and I was not at all surprised when my moustache and eyebrows—or rather the identical moustache and eyebrows on my reflection—fell away, revealing the hitherto unseen face of Falsebeard the pirate. I soon gained the upper hand in our contest, and with a mighty thrust sent my opponent reeling back into the closet from which he had sprung.

Reduced to desperation and obviously cornered, Falsebeard had recourse to his usual expedient, pelting me with eggs. Here, however, I was truly one step ahead of him: knowing as I did his propensity for resorting to egg-throwing as a last resort, I had taken the precaution of replacing all the eggs in the ship’s larder with egg-shaped stones; so that, instead of covering me with a runny, sticky mess, Falsebeard merely pelted me black and blue.

Even so, I know not what the outcome of our contest might have been, had not Maisie, the ship’s cat, chosen that moment to amble through the door. Seeing Falsebeard moving in a lively and animated manner, her interest was attracted. With one vigorous sweep of her paw, she knocked the wicked pirate senseless; and she might well have done him even more mischief, had I not admonished her severely.

Little remains to be told of Falsebeard the pirate. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a course in Investment Banking for Beginners at the Community College of the Antipodes. Maisie was awarded the Order of the Silver Whisker, the highest com­mendation a ship’s cat can receive in Her Majesty’s navy. I must add, for the benefit of any young captains who may be reading this narration, that the breed of cat found along the Bengali coast, where my crew informed me they had acquired Maisie, is a loyal and useful addition to any ship’s crew; and that, furthermore, the animal’s unusual orange coat, with its striking pattern of vertical black stripes, makes it an ornamental as well as useful acquisition for any ship.

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Comments (3)  


No. 14.—Falsebeard the Pirate, Part 1.

THE SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION of the Spanish war gave Her Majesty’s navy the leisure to address the vexing problem of piracy. With no Spanish warships to distract us, we put our backs into the work, and in quick succession captured Black­beard, Redbeard, Brown­beard, Bluebeard, Blond­beard, Strawberry­blond­beard, Auburn­beard, Flaming­magenta­beard, Herman, and Greybeard, packing them all off to our Antipodean colonies, where I understand they have all reformed and become successful investment bankers. Only one of the pirates remained at large: Falsebeard, the wiliest and most devious buccaneer who ever sailed the seven seas.

My ship, a jolly brig named the Mary Livingstone, was assigned to the difficult job of capturing Falsebeard and bringing him to justice. It was an unenviable task:  every captain who had attempted it so far had ended up with egg on his face—quite literally, since eggs were Falsebeard’s weapon of choice when he was cornered.

I knew little of this Falsebeard, though I was better informed on the subject than most of our officers. This Falsebeard was a crafty fellow who employed a remarkable array of clever disguises. It was said that no one living had seen his real face, and the dead men who had seen it were curiously reticent. No accurate description of the man was to be had. In the Admiralty’s files, to which I was given privileged access before our departure, he was described as a man, or possibly a woman, of a height in the range of three feet six inches to eight feet four inches; missing one or more limbs, or endowed with a number of superfluous limbs; and with flourishing long hair in black, or brown, or gold, or green, or a bald pate that shone like the moon; speaking with a pronounced Lancastrian, or High Dutch, or Milanese, or Punjabi accent. This description, therefore, I gave to my men, so that they would know what to look out for. We then set off for the tiny and lawless Caribbean port of Palmes Jaunes.

Our journey across the Atlantic was uneventful; indeed, I believe the Mary Livingstone still holds the record in the fleet for uneventfulness of an Atlantic crossing, although it is, I regret to say, an unofficial record, since we had no official naval historian aboard to attest to it. When at last we arrived at Palmes Jaunes, I gave my men shore leave, though with a strict admonition to stay far away from bubble gum and other vices to which sailors are notoriously addicted.

We arrived at Palmes Jaunes in the hot and lazy middle of July, when the town was mostly inert; although a good bit of the inertia (I say with pride) might be attributed to the exemplary activity of Her Majesty’s navy, piracy having been formerly the mainstay of the town’s trade. The inhabitants of the town were beginning to feel the pinch, as the boys in the rigging say, and many of them were desperate to find some substitute for the income they had until recently derived from the now-transported pirates. Since the rumor of an expedition to capture Falsebeard had preceded us, the more entrepreneurial citizens had quickly deduced that information on the location of Falsebeard, who was a known frequenter of the port, was their most valuable commodity. As I marched down the dusty main street, I passed numerous scruffy-looking men carrying hand-lettered signs advertising “KNOWN LOCATION OF FALSEBEARD, 3s” or “FALSEBEARD’S LATEST WHEREABOUTS, 2/6.” At last I came to a disreputable-looking tavern or public house, whose owner had hung out a bedsheet painted with the words “YOUR FALSEBEARD INFORMATION SUPERSTORE.” This, I decided, would be my first stop.

I entered the place to find it silent, hot, and still. A few of my sailors were sitting at tables, and from the corner of my eye I could see a few of them discreetly spitting out bubble gum; but I decided not to be severe upon them. Instead I walked straight to the bar, where the master of the house had placed a number of banners reading “BIG FALSEBEARD INFO SALE” and “ONE STEP AHEAD OF FALSEBEARD.”

“I understand you may have information about the whereabouts of Falsebeard the pirate,” I said to the man, who was as scruffy as the rest of the townspeople I’d passed.

“Aye, and better than that,” he affirmed. “I can tell you which ship is next on his list of victims. You’ll be one step ahead of the man, just like the sign says. That’s got to be worth something, hasn’t it?”

“And what will it cost me to find out?”

“Well, let me see. Regular price is five shillings, but of course you get your threepenny discount for officers in uniform, and then there’s the information excise tax and the entertainment tax—it would make Her Majesty very sad if we forgot the taxes, wouldn’t it?—so altogether, in toto, it comes to thirty-eight pounds three shillings tuppence halfpenny.”

I immediately handed over the money in gold specie, which he accepted with alacrity and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

“And now,” I said, “you may tell me which ship is next to be attacked by Falsebeard.”

“Certainly, cap’n. Got it right here.” He produced a little wad of paper from his grubby pocket and unfolded it into quite a broad sheet. “The next ship on Falsebeard’s list—let me see now—yes, here it is—the next ship to be attacked by Falsebeard is a brig, I believe, called the Mary Livingstone.”

Continues in Part 2.

Published in: on November 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm  Comments (2)  


New Jersey Edition.

Atlantic City. In 2007, the mayor of Atlantic City drove off in a city-owned vehicle and disappeared for thirteen days. He was eventually found more than two hours away from the city, and police who searched the vehicle discovered both Boardwalk and Park Place in the trunk.

Delaware Water Gap. The beautiful Delaware Water Gap scenic natural area has now been fully paved for your convenience.

Legislature. A bill to transfer the official capital of New Jersey to the Trenton State Penitentiary for the convenience of the legislators resident there was vetoed by the governor in 1973.

Motto. The official New Jersey tourist motto, “What a Difference a State Makes,” was adopted only after a compromise in which the enabling legislation specifically affirmed that the New Jersey State Legislature took no position on the question of whether the difference was positive or negative.

Nickname. New Jersey’s familiar nickname, “Garden State,” refers to the garden belonging to Ms. Wilma Pickett of South Orange, well known to train travelers as the only garden visible between Newark and Camden.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 10:14 pm  Comments (2)