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The Iceman Cometh

The Vagabond


When Vag found him, he was sitting at a corner table, staring at a glass of iced tea. "Did you ever wonder about Eskimos?" he asked, after Vag had pulled up a chair. "What I mean is, how they ever stand such a boring life.

"You know," he said, "Eskimos are so dull they fascinate me. I guess I never told you about my Epic of Nanook bit this summer, did I?" He began stirring his ice briskly and his eyes brightened with a nostalgic glaze. "You know how simple most of the people working in the hotel were--these Iowa farm girls and Utah types--really from the sticks. Well, I told them I was majoring in Eskimo Studies at Harvard. They weren't very impressed and I guess they even thought I was queer--there's not much to Eskimos, as I said. But they believed me. Then I told them about the Epic of Nanook. 'They just discovered it,' I'd say. 'It's really exciting. Seven volumes chipped on huge blocks of ice with a primitive axe blade. Then I'd give them this story about the great migration of Nanook's people. All about how they crossed the Bering Strait on rafts into Siberia and built these huge cities with walls of solid ice. What a civilization--and the girls swallowed it all.

"Oh, yes, and the fight against Ghengis Khan. I said that Nanook had to organize a cavalry to meet Ghengis Khan's horsemen. His army rounded up a herd of polar bears and harnessed them to carts. Some of the girls were pretty skeptical about this, so I told them how hard it was to train polar bears. 'Once they got going, though,' I said, 'all hell couldn't stop them.'

"Now all of the girls had been to high school and they knew Ghengis Khan hadn't been defeated by a bunch of Eskimos, so I had to figure out a way for Nanook to lose the battle. 'Well,' I'd tell them, 'You know how much dust there is in China. Nanook's army just couldn't take it and they all got tuberculosis. It was a terrible slaughter from which the Eskimo civilization never recovered.' This satisfied most of them and when I mentioned the names of one or two professors working on the translation they practically worshipped me. Intellectually, you might say I was God around the hotel. I would be sweeping, you know, and some girls would come over and ask me about Nanook, or the polar bear cavalry, or the ice cities. It was great--but then one of them found out that Eskimos couldn't write.

"It was too bad, too, because the story couldn't really hurt anyone. When those girls got back to Utah or Iowa they would have told their mothers about Nanook and the shining cities. After that, their mothers would have told their husbands, and the husbands probably would have told their friends. Just think of what it could have done for the Eskimo's reputation."

He paused to give the tea dregs a final stir. It was an amber slush now, and not worth drinking. "Well, that's life," he said finally. Vag nodded as he turned toward the Kitchen window with his tray.

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