readers first encountered the surname "Farrar" by reading about Jay Farrar, a local musician famous for his cryptic songs and infamous for his extreme shyness. So to hear that a Farrar -- James Paul "Pops" Farrar, Jay's father -- is our best local raconteur may come as a shock. But only until you spend some time in the old man's company and realize that he is no block from which his youngest son was chipped, at least not when it comes to the fluid production of openly understandable and socially massaging language. Pops has stories like nobody has stories, and he tells them with comfort and ease. As a merchant marine, he set foot on every continent and visited both the North and the South poles; as a dredge-boat captain on American rivers he saw the heart of this country in a way that few people ever will again. Along the way, he listened and observed intently, and over the years this worldliness interacted with the down-home texture of a guy bred in the Depression-era Ozarks to create an inexhaustibly interesting character -- and one who, in the words of Tom Waits, "spills over the side to anyone who will listen." But like any great raconteur, Pop is no solipsistic showman, no solo act. His gifts for observation and listening remain strong. He will listen to you intently, and ask you good questions, and then, on the basis of what you say and where you're at, he will tell you a story about a Victrola in a bombed-out farmhouse on the North Sea, or the Korean who taught him songs in Inchon Harbor, or the ruins of a shack he found in the Arctic, or the best way to scavenge for parts to keep alive an old station wagon -- and if you have any sense, you will listen and observe, intently, and ask good questions, and remember what he says.