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Paul.Ford

Who has perpetrated this monstrosity?

He wanted for nothing. On this morning in July of 1848, his green-eyed father, the privateer whose name, never spoken aloud but always whispered, brought chest-clutching fear to the residents of the coastal cities on 4 continents, led him along the docks of the verdant island of their mutual birth and, waving a two-fingered hand (the other two fingers and thumb wrenched away by the oaken shards of a main-sail felled by hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic) at the activities of the locale, expressed to his son the sentiment of prideful hereditary ownership.

This red-bearded man, the father who would so soon, in the story that the world knows too well, lash his sole offspring to the bow of his galleon, The Uncomfortable, for safety, under siege during a hurricane, and then, as his rope-bound loin-fruit stared with wide eyes, would be tossed to the tempest and torn asunder by the feasting urgencies of sharks, those erasmobrach carnivores dividing his brave and muscular frame into giblets and sweetbreads, his paternal frame entering the domain of Neptune and descending within the inky swell only moments before the raging of the British fleet reduced the ship to timbers, this father whose speech was punctuated by the rhythmic stamping of his whale-bone peg-leg in those same pauses between individual words where the grammatical expert would insert periods and commas, that slave-trader who possessed a library of books on frogs and a fondness for all things flavored of peach, on that morning at the port, said to the young Paul, whose smooth, shorn child's head glistened with auk fat rubbed there by the household slave Relabrucho (for it was she, when she heard that the young master was to be taken to the docks for the afternoon, who insisted on shearing his straight brown tresses with a sharp, granite-rubbed clamshell and smearing the podicipitiform seabird's greasy lubricating fluids upon his temples, with the totemistic goal of keeping Aghrag, the most vicious of the sea spirits of her primal faith, from entering the boys testicles), 'I have captured all of this for you (stamp) my only son (stamp). This is your house (stamp) your boat (stamp) your tribe of captured slaves (stamp) your group of halberd-wearing savage mercenaries prepared to disembowel all from vicious Hussars to the red-trousered French at your merest squeaked command (stamp). Remember child (stamp) that this is what I have made for you by the exigencies of pillaging (stamp) plundering (stamp) and copious (stamp) copious (stamp) copious raping (stamp).'

Such, as was later recalled, was the introduction of young Paul Ford to his destiny of wealth and violence; such was the incidental, propitious dignity of the child, who heard not a word of this speech, his ears filled with auk gristle, yet still, as if sensing the demands of the moment, looked up at his father and said, 'may I have a sea biscuit?', his innocent request, delivered in a high-pitched voice, met by a paternal, indulgent smile, and followed by the inevitably consequent cracking of a whip over a slave's back and a shout, 'a sea biscuit, dog, for my son', and the rapid departure of the currish indentured creature, who returned moments later, in a cloud of the sandy dust that layers upon the banks of that port, with a presentation of that infernally dry staple of the sailor's diet, handed into the child's open palm.

When we review this scene, we must wonder, how could this child, this child which sat gnawing on a sea biscuit under the tropical sun, in a country of inverted seasons, whose wet-nurse pumped her savage breast into a golden bottle and mixed the milk with an elixir of crushed emeralds; who, as a young man, was encouraged to garrote his servants for sneezing and coughing, who, expanding to the weight of 900 pounds by age 14, received saffron colonics from buxom Siberians while sipping costly wine made of the squeezings of French maidens into which pearls had been dropped for flavor (an expensive process that the maidens protested, finding the pearls irritating), how did this sum of accidents and intentions, this unintended child of a privateer and a bucktoothed Danish princess, become the man that walked among us during those perilous years where his intervention was to cost so many millions their lives?

-- The Scarlet Peasant, a Story of My Father, Onoff Ford, p 188.

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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

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Recent

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