Sheepaquins ©Myles Boisen, 2009

Sheepaquins ©Myles Boisen, 2009

A Fragment*

Translators’ note:  We suggest that the most appropriate way to approach this text, whether you are a casual reader or a serious scholar, is to read it twice, once just the fragment of the saga itself to see the majesty of the language and the flow of the story, and only after that those so inclined should proceed to the notes for further elucidation.

This is the tale of the marriage of Peter, son of George The Accountant (see footnote i), and grandson of George TennisElbow (ii). Peter’s mother was Bunnie, daughter of Buford The Mechanic (iii), whose rise from a garage in Ballard to a chain of dealerships in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland is told in other tales. This is the same Peter who became the one we know as Peter PiercedTongue and whose story is told in many sagas.

It happened that when he was eighteen, Peter decided that he would take (iv) a wife. He knew that he would have to marry her first, but then he would take her—somewhere—Victoria or Vancouver, perhaps. Peter’s parents, George and Bunnie, strongly disagreed with this decision. Although he was a man at eighteen, and distinguished himself in many sports, making opponents cry in anguish over his extraordinary feats (v) he was not ready yet to take a wife, not even as far as Pike Place Market, much less to Victoria across the water. His parents exerted their authority, and Peter became unruly and petulant (vi). Thinking there was nothing else to do, they sent him away to the mountains, to the summer home of his uncle, Herbert The Entrepreneur (vii), near Snoqualmie Pass, in the high pastures and resorts.

There Peter passed many days tending his uncle’s flock of antique racing cars (viii) and pondering his fate. Sometimes he would cry out in anguish, “Why can’t I take a wife?” before putting the final polish on a hood ornament. It was nearing mid-summer’s eve when the only friend he had made in the mountains, Ricky the Stupid, Son of William Plumber’s Crack (ix) from North Bend, happened to mention that there was to be a festival at Irenes-On-The-Interstate down the mountain in Issaqua.

“It is said that Tiffani (x), the eldest and fairest and coolest of all the daughters of Waldo BoatSalesman, will be there,” quoth Ricky although he was not aware that he was quothing.
“We thall go, then,” said Peter, for his tongue stud made him lisp. (xi)

The festival, with many musicians playing House and Techno Trance, was one of the greatest ever held in the mountains. Indeed, Tiffani was the fairest one there, and, although light headed from the liquor they call Jaegermeister (xii), she looked demurely at Peter and felt that the wetness of the cotton of her t-shirt showed her nipples to great effect (xiii).

Peter was smitten and that very night vowed to take her: for his wife, to bed, and to Vancouver, but not necessarily in that order. Thus it came to pass that the two great clans of BoatSalesman and Accountant were joined, and all around were invited to witness the troth (“’Troth,’ Ricky,” Peter would say, “not ‘trough.’”) at the fortress/casino Excalibur (xiv) in the southern deserts. There one could see Entrepreneurs, Mechanics, TennisElbows, and Plumber’s Cracks all in complete merriment (xv). And out of the long and happy union of Peter and Tiffani issued many children as well as easy financing on watercraft of all kinds.

* While extant portions of the saga make for slightly longer reading than this piece, they are primarily genealogical (i.e., begat, begat, begat) and bellicose (i.e., whack, whack, whack) in nature, and do nothing to enhance the particular tale of Peter, or Pedar, as he was known.
i. George the Accountant (Gregar Gagnasanson) is a minor figure in the sagas, usually less concerned with fiscal matters than with providing accounts of the actions.
ii. George TennisElbow achieved some fame in earlier sagas, for conquests both on and off the court (here not to be confused with dynastic rituals at the Court), before his forced retirement for medical reasons. He was also known for his pure white outfits and short-shorts.
iii. Buford the Mechanic makes for an interesting aberration in the “flow” of the sagas, primarily because he was a “fixer” rather than a “warrior.”  And once he opened the dealerships, we see a startling transition.  While some see this as an introduction of the mercantile class, we suggest here that it is rather a move backward, to the pastoral or shepherd role.
iv. “Take” presents the careful translator with some interesting choices.  Here we have decided to go with fara, meaning “to cause to accompany on a journey,” rather than the more vulgar inngangskjass, which roughly translates as “screw.”
v. The Sagas remain startlingly unclear about the nature of these feats, and we here presume nothing about them, be they in battle or on the playing field, or even . . .?  We simply take them as a given.
vi. “Unruly and petulant” that is oa a la a andi and pin porskur.
vii. In typical fashion, we learn nothing about “Herbert.”  The Entrepreneur clan is nearly always a place-holder in the Sagas, another way of saying “sent away.”
viii. This is almost certainly a metaphorical reference, although to what exactly remains shrouded in mystery: armor? (hence the reference to “polish”) sailing ships? (hence the reference to “hood ornaments”) or something else entirely?
ix. Although the editors have delved deeply into them, nothing further is known of the Plumber’s Cracks.
x. The introduction of the name “Tiffani” into the Sagas marks a sea-change, the beginning of the so-called “modern era.”  Previously, women bore traditional names—Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Valger a ur Sverrisdóttir, and the like.  This is the first instance in which we see a female character named after a retail establishment (aberrant spelling aside). Some see this as the death-knell of the traditional Saga and the progenitor of the music-video.
xi. The practice of body piercing has a long and colorful history in the Sagas, beginning with simply piercing the enemy with a sword or knife and moving later to various kinds of self-adornment or –mutilation.  It is generally accepted, however, that the piercing of the tongue was the most popular.  There is some fragmentary evidence that metal rings or studs of various kinds in nipples simply got too cold.
xii. A patented alcoholic beverage popular among young people of the era, especially when they attended annual spring rites.
xiii. Although the text clearly states that the festival occurred on Mid-summer’s Eve, the Sagas notoriously play fast-and-loose with temporal locativeness.  The translators use this reference to a wet-cotton t-shirt to unequivocally place the events in the summer months, when the weather would have permitted such a display without frost-bite.
xiv.  We have been able only to make certain assumptions about the location of this place, named of course for the sword of King Arthur, which makes it all the more mysterious.  Problematically, some accounts place it close to Venice, while others claim it is on the same “strip” with Luxor, in Egypt.  Still other claim the vicinity of Paris.  Indeed there are further references to Caesar as well as, intriguingly, pirate ships, which further complicates our understanding.  Of course, not all of these can be accurate, and we await further study for definitive conclusions.
(xv) “Complete merriment” is a bit of a conundrum: the words for “shit-faced drunk” (sau a drukkinn) and “joy” (skemmtan) are etymologically closely tied.

©Steve Tollefson, 2009

Steve Tollefson, BAWP 1978, teaches in the College Writing Programs at UC Berkeley and is Director of the Office of Educational Development. His writing has appeared in Kitchen Sink, California English, Writing on the Edge, Writers’ Forum, the S.F. Chronicle, and the Stanford Magazine. Right now his favorite book is “Out Stealing Horses.”

3 Responses to “The Saga of Peter PiercedTongue by Steve Tollefson”

  1. John Levine Says:

    HA!! I’m still laughing! Don’t know which is funnier–the tale or the footnotes. Will you read this aloud at the CWP reading event we talked about?

    My favorite line: “We thall go, then,” said Peter, for his tongue stud made him lisp. (xi)

  2. stainless kitchen sinks serves me better and they are stain resistant too :;-

  3. jane juska Says:

    I bet you had as much fun writing this as I did reading it. Thanks.

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