‘On the floor, [the omelet] looked like what the Greeks call acheiropoietoi’ —Ask The Parrot by Richard Stark

He had bumped into the wrong desk, causing the breakfast to flip over and hit the floor facedown. Lindahl stooped to pick up the plate, but the omelet stuck to the black linoleum, which was now a black ocean, and that omelet the sandy desert island, with the solitary strip of bacon sticking up from it, slightly slumped but brave, the perfect representation of the stranded sailor, alone and waiting for his cartoon caption. On the floor, it looked like what the Greeks call acheiropoietoi, a pictorial image not made by a human hand.

Ask The Parrot, Part Two, Chapter 1, Richard Stark (a k a Donald E. Westlake)

I read Ask The Parrot on Monday, less than a day after a 16-hour transcontinental flight from the last secret town on my itinerary to New Jersey. I read the first 98 pages between three and four in the morning as an antidote to jet lag, then put it down and got another hour of sleep. When I picked up the book again, this particular paragraph was the first one I read.


Westlake, who just passed away in recent months, is hardly a hard-boiled writer, though he does write about hard-boiled topics. Ask The Parrot is one of his Parker novels, about a bank robber on the lam who plans a racetrack robbery. A more typical paragraph is this one, from the first chapter:

Seen up close, there was a tension in the man that seemed to be a part of him, not something caused by running into a fugitive in the woods. His hands were clenched on the rifle, and his eyes were bitter, as though something had harmed him at some point and he was determined not to let it happen again.

But the sheer transport of joy involved in describing a tipped-over stale breakfast as acheiropoietoi obviously caught my attention and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. It goes to the heart of figurative writing. Digressing as the first quote, about the omelet, does, allows the tension of the scene to dissipate in the reader’s mind while the characters still labor within its constraints. It’s not Parker or Lindahl, the two characters in the scene, who are describing the omelet one to another, but the author describing it to the reader. It breaks the scene open and allows the reader, for the space of a breath, to perceive the book as a text, rather than as a story.

Strong coffee indeed!

All the food has these calorie-and-salt labels at the refectory, but
it’s hard to believe them after seeing this one.
Somehow I’m not so thirsty anymore.

Dawn was great, but sandstorm kicked up again shortly after

I got up at six, the usual time, and snapped this panorama on the way
out of the refectory after breakfast, around seven-ten. Back then, the
air was fresh and clean and almost sweet-smelling, but between eight
and ten, the dust started blowing again, worse at moments than
yesterday’s storm.

Out once again, chasing the dawn

Another brisk morning, although it’s been getting slightly warmer. Since I moved to the tent, I’ve been on the asleep at 10:30, up at six schedule that everyone inside more or less shares. That plus the cold I’m shaking off has kept me off the piste in the mornings. Instead I get up, wash up, dress, clean off the bike’s brake pads (I used to check the tire inflation too, but with the short valve stem of the current rear tube, it’s a little more difficult to use the gauge), and ride the 400 meters distance to breakfast, then over here to the internet cafe to catch up on whatever emails I’ve received during the night.

I finished JackVance’s “To Live Forever” last night and was dumbfounded by how good it was. I’ll write more about it later.

Fifty-nine hours of waiting so far!

I’ve been here at secret village no. 3 waiting for a flight back to
the secret city for nearly three full days, and Thursday, Friday, and
Saturday nights. I went to sleep last night before the overnight
flight schedule was fully updated, so I set the alarm for four a.m. to
see whether an early morning flight had been added (I’d have to be
there for standby roll-call at 6:30 to stay on the list anyway). Good
news! There was a flight, with a couple of standby seats.

 Sadly, by the time I got a couple bowls of cereal to go and brushed my
teeth and walked back to the airport lounge, there was only one seat.
The others had been reassigned to some other, higher priority. Some
other guy who’d been waiting a little longer than me got that one, and
now I am first on the list.

 I gots to get a reservation out of here. This waking up at all hours
and waiting for seats that never open up is getting old. At least when
I called the office this morning to share the bad news they said that
they missed me, too.

 While I wait, here’s a Hanne Hukkelberg
video you can watch. I just discovered this one and it has all those
good Hanne tics you remember from her two albums:


Lunch is better as breakfast

Honestly, a plate of beef curry over rice, vegetables, and dal, with some fresh fruit on the side. Can you beat that for a breakfast dish? Got up at noon (!), went for a quick run (10% off ordinary predawn time, call it Daylight Savings), then caught this repast on the tail end of the chow hour.