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Sixty Second Romance

Howard writes most of what appears in this blog about Agincourt. After all, he lives there; I don’t. But now and then he doesn’t mind a mouse in the corner.

A sixty second romance

Marge opened the Koffee Kup at eight that morning, a sleepy Saturday shift that should have ended two hours ago. But her replacement, Brenda, was late; waiting for a babysitter, trapped at her farm when the storm last night washed out some county roads. Maybe the sitter should take her shift! Until then, Marge is on overtime.

The lunch crowd was average—for a Saturday in October—a handful of regulars, a few new faces, a couple of travellers who had asked specifically for the rhubarb pie they’d heard about from friends. But by four, the “long, dark tea-time of the soul” had set in; Marge and her two customers were each lost in private thought.

The most recent arrival had taken his glasses off at the door, fogged from the cold, and felt his way to the counter, perched on a stool and buried his head in the menu. It was only when Marge had taken his order and stepped back to the kitchen that he noticed someone sitting on the other side of the “U”: another guy, buried in a book, lazily stirring a cup of something warm. He wondered: Isn’t that what’s-his-name’s new book, the guy who was born in Spain but lived most of his adult life in Columbia or Argentina, where he got jailed for insurrection—one of the friggin’ ‘disappeared” or “invisibles” or I don’t know—but they must have starved him, ’cause there was a picture in Time and a feature on CBS ‘Sunday Morning’ when international pressure forced his release and he’d lost fifty pounds, for krisake, and then he died six months later, when a lot of his work got translated into English for the first time and now he sells more books than when he was alive, so it doesn’t surprise me to see a copy in here, of all places; and this guy’s really into it, isn’t he, kinda cute too, a little like my old college roommate, only older, of course, and a little taller, I think, but won’t be able to tell unless he goes to the rest room or leaves, which I hope he doesn’t do soon, until I’ve had a chance to say ‘hello’ at least and maybe introduce myself, ’cause he’s not from around here, maybe just passing through (dammit) unless he’s new in town, which would be fantastic, ’cause I could show him around and introduce him to some of my friends and get to know one another. But all he could find the strength to say was “Good book?” 

At the other side of the counter, the guy looked up, surprised that someone else had come into the restaurant—so engrossed in this new book—grinned and answered “Really good! Do you know Nuñez? He’s fantastic or at least his translator is,” and thought, Nice smile.

Half an hour later, Brenda arrived cold and breathless, but the restaurant was empty. The two guys had walked out together, wrapped in conversation about some Mexican author.

…and nightmares, too.

There are dreams. Dr King had one. And then there are the bad ones—nightmares. We’re living through one of these in the Mid-East is I write this.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Someone in Los Angeles produced a movie which mocks Muhammed, Prophet to the third “People of the Book.” A fourteen-minute trailer for the film found its way onto You Tube, where it has been seen by millions of Muhammed’s faithful followers around the world, but especially in the Middle East. And groups of those those highly offended Muslims have taken their anger to the streets and taken aim at some of the available symbols of the United States—which, of course, had nothing to do with the creation of said film, but which also can do little to suppress it. Places where democracy is nascent may be unfamiliar with the concept of freedom of speech; it’s been a long time since they’ve enjoyed it. It may surprise us that something we take for granted (though I’m beginning to question that short list in my own mind) may be foreign—literally—to those frustrated that the Arab Spring has moved so slowly.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is faced with a crime committed in a sealed environment. In characteristic Christie style, Poirot assembles all aboard the train car trapped in a deep snowfall on its way from Istanbul toward Belgrade. It behooves him to solve the crime before arrival at Belgrade, however, whose police force will unreasonably complicate the lives of all aboard and delay their arrival in Paris. If you’ve not seen the 1974 movie adaptation, there is, as Poirot observes, “…the simple answer,” and adds after a pregnant pause, “There is also the more…complex one.”

The simple answer prevails. The simple answer satisfies. The simple answer will move everyone along toward their destinations more expeditiously. 

Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist—at least I don’t think so. So thinking about the anti-Islam film that has fired the current situation in the Middle East, I’d welcome a Hercule Poirot to delineate the possible answers. For example…

Recent news coveerage suggests that this much may be true: A “cattle call” went out for actors in a projected romantic film set somewhere in the Arab World. The script—pages of which have flickered briefly on your T.V. screen—is innocuous and the cast dutifully delivered them under the direction of someone whose identity seems cloudy. Some time later editors dubbed an Arabic language sound track presenting a completely different dialogue, the presentation of Muhammed found so offensive in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. The actors are shocked at what had been done to their craft and the director is nowhere to be found. Clearly there is more here than meets the eye and ear.

The Simple Answer

Those with an intent to goad the Muslim world into a rage can be found aplenty on the fringe of the religious Right—the likes of bufoons like Rev Terry Jones, who publicly burned copies of the Koran in a Florida parking lot a year or so ago, or more sophisiticated bigots like Pat Robertson. Jerry Falwell would be among them if he were alive. I wonder where the Westboro Baptist Church stands on this issue? The money trail is likely to lead in that direction. Perhaps hastily, that’s a bandwagon I’ve been inclined to join. But there are certainly other more complex—complicated and even devious—answers.

…and more complex ones

Suppose, for example, disgruntled participants in the Arab Spring—perhaps a minority group that lost power in the shell game of Democracy 101—decided to stir the pot. They might themselves be Muslim culturally, but less than Muslim religiously. Why shouldn’t the Muslim world be as diverse as the Christian one, I ask naively. 

Suppose the money trail leads well beyond U.S. borders, through Swiss Banks to who knows where. Is it simplistic to apply Ockam’s Razor and choose the easy but embarrassing domestic answer, one drawn from our own discomfort with the “other” in a polarized political environment? Or is it cynical to seek answers elsewhere; more complicated explanations that may cast us as unwitting boobs in a twisted international conspiracy?

Where is Hercule Poirot when we need him?

What dreams may come…

It was Dave Pence’s 60th birthday this weekend and several of his extended family and friends gathered at a resort on Gull Lake to celebrate. I knew some of the people in attendance, so my energy Saturday evening was divided between 1) delightful home movies made by Dave’s parents when he was very young and 2) trying to remember all those new names. The cocktail hour and dinner began at 5:30, so four hours later I was exhausted. It was a busy day. By 10:30 I was ready for a good night’s sleep. Fat chance.

Some time after 3 o’clock—when I got up to use the toilet—there was a vivid dream still fresh in my mind when the rising sun woke me. I thought it worth passing along.

The night was still, the clouds dark, and the full moon was the only source of illumination.

City streets were dark and silent. No one was about; the streets devoid of cars. It was as though someone had draped a power pall over the tops of houses and trees, draining energy from everything mechanical and sapping our animal strength.

Milton and I had been tasked to go door-to-door, checking on people’s welfare and inspecting power meters in doubly dark basements and utility rooms. We were the only ones out. Some doors remained unanswered, the residents either home and hiding or away at other homes, seeking safety in numbers greater than two or three.

I knocked at one house while Milton went to the next, both of them dark and silent. An elderly woman in a threadbare housecoat opened her door a careful crack and invited me in to inspect her meters. (I don’t know that we spoke.) Threading our way through darkened rooms, she opened a door that led up to her basement. Yes, up. Dreams exist in their own reality; we accept everything in them without question or hesitation. Up is down; in is out. I can fly. No problem. So up I went.

Plain wood steps took us past the exposed framework of wood walls; studs pierced with more than enough holes for old fashioned electrical wiring that drooped and followed the stairs like hand-holds—though I didn’t dare for fear of pulling them free of their moorings.



But though it was even darker in this windowless pasage than it had been outside, I saw may way from a soft glow that eminated from the house itself. The old woman, silent but reassuring, moved ahead of me, knowing the way by heart. And though she did not herself glow, it was as if the house knew her and warmed to her passing. Her very presence seemed to excite its molecules and their vibration lit our way.

I wondered if she were not a Douglas Adams character, my own encounter with the Ruler of the Universe. In the “Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” series, Adams’ characters make a brief side trip to an innocuous planet, there to meet our Creator and guide, an elderly man living in a shack with his cat, totally unaware of his role. Asked bluntly if he ruled the Universe, while they dripped on his doorstap a from torrential downpout outside, he replied:

“I try not to,” he said. “Are you wet?” Zaphod looked at him in astonishment. “Wet?” he cried. “Doesn’t it look as if we’re wet?”
“That’s how it looks to me,” said the man, “but how you feel about it might be an 
altogether different matter. If you find warmth makes you dry, you’d better come in.”

That conversation came to mind while the old woman guided me to her electrical panel—where I would do something but I knew not what. Could she be the Ruler of the Universe and I had happened on her home by pure chance? I almost thought to ask. But just as I might have, I saw my situation for what it had become: She was my litmus test. My acceptance of her simple being was the test of my humanity by the Universal Ruler, perhaps the very one imagined by Douglas Adams.

Just as we reached the top of the stairs and were about to enter the basement, morning light woke me and I sat down to write these recollections. The dream was so vivid that, given the chance to return to sleep, I’m sure it would have continued and satisfied my curiosity—especially what the hell had happened to Milton.


Posts here at the Agincourt blog have trickled to a halt. There are reasons for that but I can’t discuss them right now. Truth be told, I can barely admit them myself. It turns out I’m a fragile, high-maintenance guy who’s easily discouraged. And that’s the good stuff!

“Paper”—the title of the June 23rd entry—tempts me to explore the childhood trinity of Paper-Scissors-Stone. Stone (or Rock, where I come from) breaks Scissors. Fair enough. And Scissors cuts Paper. Too true; it’s supposed to. But Paper also covers Stone, a distant echo perhaps of the meek inheriting the earth.

I wondered if “Scissors” and “Stone” might join “Paper” in a trilogy of pieces by my friend Howard Tabor. Let’s send him good wishes and hope for inspiration.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor


Folks at fine art auction houses like Sotheby’s are obsessed with the idea of provenance

Provenance in the world of art is equivalent to a chain of evidence in law or a chain of command in war. When that chain of evidence is interrupted—when a continuous thread linking a smoking gun from the scene of a crime to the courtroom prosecution of that crime months later is broken—the accused go free; their guilt or innocence cannot be proved beyond the obligatory shadow of doubt. Justice is unsatisfied. By contrast, provenance seems like a sleazy commercial ploy to increase the hammer price of an antique or a work of art.

If you purchase the contents of an abandoned storage locker [sounds like a cable TV reality show, doesn’t it] and discover an unknown painting looking suspiciously like the work of Vincent van Gogh, don’t quit your day job. To achieve that seven- or eight-figure auction price, you and your auctioneer will have to establish an unbroken link between that undocumented work and van Gogh himself or his immediate family or his dealer. Your multi-million dollar windfall stands or falls on the authenticity of its provenance.

Sure, anonymous objects pass through our hands each day—a five dollar bill that bought your lunch; a book borrowed from the public library; a pen found in a parking lot—and we give not a thought to their provenance or our place along its tenuous thread. So, I offer the following with caution—not because it may lack Truth (as I see it), but because I want even the most ordinary object to tell its extraordinary tale. I offer the provenance of a pair of sheers.



Scissors don’t just cut; they can also kill.

I sat in the back row of Courtroom A at the Fennimore County Courthouse last week. My press credentials got me a coveted seat in what may be our trial of the century: the trial for murder of local person by someone just passing through. You’ve read their names in the Plantagenet; you’ve heard their names over pie at the Koffee Kup, so I won’t repeat them here. But as I sat in that back row, I wondered about a piece of evidence—perhaps the key piece of evidence—waved at us by the State’s Attorney: a pair of scissors, the purported weapon in a crime of passion. The prosecutor could show a chain of evidence to the accused, but I wondered how much farther back the links in that chain might reach.


The courtroom was full that day. Standing room only—except they didn’t allow standing. But of one hundred-plus people who won the spectator lottery on Friday, how many looked at those sheers and felt they’d seen them before? I did.

It was the summer of 1952, I think, and I was seven years old. My mother had hired Larth Munro to mow our lawn. He was thirteen. But in August, just before the end of summer recess, Larth’s appendix burst and he was hospitalized for several days. When he was allowed home, mother and I went to the Munro house to wish him well; I brought him some of my baseball cards.

Larth and his mother Elie lived on Lilac Lane in one of its Arts & Crafts four-plexes now a National Register historic district. Mom was interested to learn about Miss Munro’s experience as an apprentice archaeologist in Italy many year earlier. They poured over her photo albums while Larth and I talked about the World Series. I liked him.

<a work in progress>