was once asked if he was making things up when he told stories.
“No,” he answered. “Every story I tell happened
just as I tell it. It is only that I tend to repeat myself, so I
feel a responsibility to friends to make a story more interesting
each time I tell it—but it is always the truth.”
Mulligan is a journalist who mostly writes about politics
in Latin America. He is Irish and a fierce liberal. When Daniel
Ortega lost the election for president of Nicaragua, a terrific
blow to the Sandinistas, Mulligan wrote a story about how the CIA
had fixed the election. I knew that Ortega had bowed out gracefully
and had raised no question of fraud. When I read Mulligan’s
piece, I was curious where he had gotten the information, as it
was news to me. I asked him. “I made it up,” he answered.
“I told my editor my sources were confidential, but he still
said he couldn’t print it. Asshole. Every word I wrote in
that article is true, I know it is. I might have got a couple of
details wrong, but I know the CIA rigged the election.”
There was absolutely no doubt in Mulligan’s mind that what
he wrote was the truth, more or less.
Jack Horner died in my corner, painting a painting of a
dead man. The subject of the painting was Don Thomas, a cheerful
old man with a beautiful face. But since Don Thomas was dead, posing
was out of the question. Jack had been a successful photographer
and during his retired years in SMA had taken many beautiful photographs
of the town and its people. He was painting Don Thomas from one
of his photographs. He liked to paint in the garden of the Hotel
Sauto, under the portales, by the entrance to my giant studio.
He complained that he was having trouble with the texture of the
old straw hat Don Thomas always wore on the back of his head. We
stood staring at the painting and photograph of Don Thomas. Jack
took his pocket comb out, brought it to the surface of the painting,
and dragged it through the wet paint. The medications he took to
keep the 20% of his heart that functioned functioning, mixed with
sips form a flask of Jack Daniels, made his hands shake. The trembling
hand and comb had done the trick and the result was a convincing
texture of straw running through the brim of Don Thomas’ hat.
Jack was so pleased with this, and my comment that he had brought
a sense of truth to Don Thomas’ hat brim, that he told me
Jack was a Quaker and had lived much of his life in a Quaker community.
Jack’s neighbor’s son had gone off to college, graduated
and landed a job in advertising straight out of school. When he
came home to visit, he told his mother the good news. His mom looked
at him in silence a moment. And then said, “Thoust makes thy
living by lying.”
Less than an hour later I heard my dog Fanny, who liked to hang
with Jack while he painted, barking in a staccato rhythm I had never
heard before. When I went out to investigate Fanny was sitting next
to Jack’s prone body, her head in the air, barking a song
of lament. Jack died having had a good day of painting and having
told a good story about the truth and lying. I like to think he
is somewhere now where he can be pleased about that.
The Wharf Rats
I was a wharf rat. That was the name the town gave to the
kids that hung around State Street Wharf in Marblehead, Mass, and
worked on fishing boats. Wharf rats lied a lot, especially to tourists.
The locals knew better than to pay attention to anything a wharf
The wharf rats rowed an old monomoy surfboat, big and heavy with
eight twelve foot oars and a sweep oar to steer with, they were
once used to rescue people caught in heavy surf. It looked like
a whaleboat. One day when the boat was tied to the wharf, a tourist
asked if indeed it was a whaleboat. One of the wharf rats, Shadow,
so called because of his dark skin, answered in the affirmative.
Then U-boat, who got his nickname from the fact he could not swim,
asked the tourist if he had heard of Moby Dick. As the tourist nodded,
Shadow looked in the direction of the surfboat and said, “That’s
“The one in the movie, or the one in the book?” Asked
Lobster traps were baited with Red fish, or what was left of them
after Mrs. Morton made her frozen fish sticks. Juicy the bait man
would go to the Mrs. Morton Frozen Fish Stick Factory, and buy the
Red fish, which had been filleted, leaving only the head, skeleton
and tail in tact. The lobsters liked them the same with or without
their fleshy sides. Juicy had just dropped off a dozen bushel baskets
of the filleted fish. A tourist spotted them and asked what had
happened to the fish. “Sharks got ‘em,” answered
Light Foot, who could be heard coming from a considerable distance
away. “But we don’t have that problem anymore,”
piped in Bilow, who was called Bilow for no apparent reason I can
remember. “Why?” asked the tourist. “Alligators
got the sharks” explained Shadow.
Louie and I met in high school and are still friends to
this day. Louie liked making up whoppers and would do so at the
drop of a hat. Once we were on an elevator and a man told him he
looked familiar. When Louie was younger he looked a lot like Mick
Jagger. Without missing a beat he asked the man, “Have you
heard of the Rolling Stones?” The man looked at him hard,
his eyes squinting. “Ed Sullivan Show,” Louie prompted.
The man started shaking his finger at Louie. “Yea, yea, yea,”
he stammered. Louie graciously signed an autograph.
After High School Louie joined the Navy. He was a navigator on a
nuclear submarine, his boat would make long underwater voyages from
New London, Connecticut to Scotland and back. As a result of his
long underwater voyages he got long leaves. I asked him if his Navy
gig didn’t make him an integral part of society. He thought
about this for a while, then burst into a laughter that made his
Louie’s leaves were so long that we often had to remind him
he was in the Navy and had to go back. One time no one remembered
until the last minute, leaving just enough time to get to the Airport
for his flight to New London. My roommates and I tagged along to
see if he would make it. The pretty ticket agent at the airport
told him his flight was sold out. Without missing a beat Louie asked
her if she had ever heard of the Rolling Stones. I doubted she would
think that a guy in a Navy uniform trying to get a flight to New
London was Mick Jagger.
Louie quickly told the young woman that he just had a few days left
in the Navy and not getting back to base on time would delay his
getting out. Nothing in her eyes conveyed any sympathy. Louie forged
ahead, explaining that he had gone on an audition to be the Rolling
Stones new base player and got the job. He had to be back in New
York the day after his discharge for his first rehearsal with the
Stones in Madison Square Garden. He promised her front row seats
and backstage to meet Mick Jagger.
On the way to catch his flight he stared at her telephone number
scribbled on his ticket envelope. “Have to do something really
nice for her.” I was sure he would, but I didn’t think
it would be nice enough to make up for not meeting Mick Jagger.
I told a lie in the Jardín one day by asking a question.
I was standing with a group of people—all of whom were talking
at the same time and none of whom were saying anything of interest.
I asked the guy to my right if he had heard that Monica Lewinski
had bought a house on Aldama. I told him I thought people here would
be nice to her, that I thought she had probably made a good choice
when she decided to move here, and that people wouldn’t hassle
her. The blank expression on his face lasted just long enough to
make me smile and I immediately lost my credibility. I have always
been a terrible liar. Too bad, I’m sure people would still
be wondering which house on Aldama Monica lived in.