The fat guy talks. And talks and talks…

I was briefly watching Chris Christie deliver his Sgt. Schulz defense – he knew NUT-ting – and reflected that I’m sure I read somewhere that he had lap-band surgery, and I did. But he doesn’t look like it. I briefly had a boss who had it and became unrecognizable within months, but I guess Christie’s on the slow-diet plan. Good thing, because his fat actually a) looks OK on him, in the sense that he  seems to be one of those born-to-be-fat guys; and b) it makes him more believable, for those who do that trust-your-gut thing.

Not that I believe him. I mean, come on.

Of course, heads are rolling, and the first is Bridget Anne Kelly, the aide who first called for traffic problems in Fort Lee. She’ll be fine in the end. The Tracy Flicks of the world always seem to land on their feet. I won’t speculate on how Christie will end up. Republicans don’t trust him, and anyone who would punish an entire city because its mayor wouldn’t endorse a guy with a more than 20-point lead is not going to be beloved by Democrats.

Tough break. I don’t know if a two-hour apology will do it, but we’ll see.

Spent part of the evening at a two-beer confab with a friend, working on a piece of writing. Came outside to discover, hoo-boy, it’s snowing again. It won’t last. Because this weekend it will rain. Character feels fully built right about now.

I don’t have any links today; do you? If so, post them in the comments. I’m going to bed and hoping next week, nobody dies. Happy weekend, all.

UPDATE: Please don’t miss the note from Prospero’s brother, which he left in a previous thread.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' |
 

109 responses to “The fat guy talks. And talks and talks…”

  1. Dexter said on January 10, 2014 at 12:47 am

    After years of character acting, Steve Buscemi landed the lead in “Boardwalk Empire”. This fall, it all ends as the show is concluding. It made it five great seasons, spectacular settings, especially the mock-up boardwalk they built in Brooklyn for the show. Such great casting, such wonderful old music…another masterpiece is almost over.
    http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/television/article/HBO-Boardwalk-Empire-ending-in-fall-5129553.php

  2. Dexter said on January 10, 2014 at 12:59 am

    I don’t think I have ever killed anyone, but I ain’t dead yet, either, and we never know where the grim reaper lurks.
    http://www.ranker.com/list/celebrities-who-have-killed-people/celebrity-lists?format=SLIDESHOW&page=1

  3. Sherri said on January 10, 2014 at 1:48 am

    My husband and I have fallen in love with Borgen. It’s like a Danish version of The West Wing. We binge-watched season 1 over Christmas and New Year’s, and now have the DVDs for season 2 waiting for us. The downside is that the only way to watch it is to buy the DVDs; it’s not available for streaming anywhere. Well, that’s mostly true; it’s broadcast in the US by something called LinkTV, and their web site has each episode online for two weeks after broadcast. I happened to catch the first episode in that two week window, and decided to spring for the DVDs.

    It’s in Danish with English subtitles, and is centered around a moderate politician who becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister.

  4. annie said on January 10, 2014 at 1:57 am

    I usually don’t get to read this blog until after work or sometimes after dinner and by that time there are many, many comments so I seldom comment myself. But last night when I saw for the first time the news about Prospero I said “oh no!” so loudly my husband came running from the other room to see what was wrong. I guess only we commenters here can understand why his death is so upsetting(and I admit I often skipped over his lengthy posts, especially the 8-10 he seemed to leave at the end of a day’s comment section. Who will take over the “what a maroon” term for us?

  5. Dexter said on January 10, 2014 at 4:31 am

    annie, I think the maddest prospero ever got at me was when I brought up the time in the 1980s when Jack Daniels Sour Mash Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey changed their recipe, and the result to me, who only drank Jack when the Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey ran out, and my pals who drank Jack religiously was that they had made a huge mistake, for the new stuff tasted no better than Early Times or Echo Springs, much cheaper booze.
    Prospero called me a liar in so many ways, as he drank the stuff all the time and swore there had never been a change. So I researched it, and the websites and brand-fan sites indeed all said the stuff had remained uniformly unchanged all throughout the decades. But they lied. It was a big deal at my local tavern, all the bitching…one guy went to the pay phone (see how long ago it was?) and called down to Lynchburg and of course got a recording and therefore no answer to the question: “Why did you go messing with the damn recipe?” Then, about 12 years after that deal, Jack Daniels DID become just like the cheapo bourbons, and this is just plain documented fact.
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2004-09-29-jack-daniels_x.htm

  6. ROGirl said on January 10, 2014 at 5:50 am

    I read the Roger Ailes book excerpt last night and I couldn’t get over how petty, vindictive, and combative he is, how he makes everything personal, and most importantly, how so many people just devour it all up like contestants at a pie eating contest. Why would anyone work for the guy after being around him for a very short time, or stay working for him after being subjected to his tactics just once?

  7. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 10, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Well, I’ve seen about sixteen publishers go thru this Gannett outpost, and at least twelve of them were… hmmm, wonder who does lurk here? Wait, they don’t pay me. (Haven’t since 2007.) At least twelve of them were appalling people, with character traits or tics or compulsions not dissimilar to what Ailes has on display. I’ve never known if it’s because they all have watched “Citizen Kane” too many times, if they think it makes the suits in Alexandria happy and will get them the next move to a bigger market (Cedar Rapids, here I come!), or if there’s something about the job that brings out this kind of smell-me sort of pompo-clue-free-arrogan-ity, but you can usually see it in the photo that gets sent on ahead when the game of musical chairs cycles again.

    OTOH, I’ve had at least a dozen editors in that time, and all but a couple were good writers, careful reviewers of copy, and generally decent people. Same company, same general structure, but the gap between editors and publishers is so vast I realize I’ve not really thought about it before, I just assume and expect it. Presumably editors are about writing & journalism, and publishers are about business & revenue, and the latter tend to be more MBA & biz school products (quod erat demonstrandum).

  8. Pam (the sister) said on January 10, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Dexter, I love this quote in the article you linked to:

    “We don’t think it’s appropriate to have a magazine called Modern Drunkard dictate how we make our whiskey,” Lynch said.

    Regarding Biggie Jersey, I don’t think that most Americans would be comfortable voting for a guy like Christie. One of my good friends worked for Verizon when it was still GTE and Bell Atlantic. She characterized their merging as “Bubba meets Vinny” and it wasn’t pretty. Christie is a massive Vinny. The bridge thing, I think, has done him in – especially since he tried to distance himself from it. He may not have had first hand knowledge of it (yeah, right), but the leader dictates how things will be done and Bridget surely thought that messing with the bridge would please her boss. It was just such a dick move, so petty.

  9. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 10, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Dexter, I’ve probably forced three or four friends over the last ten years to do a blind test of Evan Williams & Maker’s Mark. A couple times we threw Heaven Hill in. Without the red wax bottle, Maker’s Mark does not do well at all. Evan Williams is the same or better for less than half the price. I’ve been told MM used to be better, but my experience isn’t all that extensive. Plus I drank mainly Bushmills in the late 70s/early 80s, then stopped drinking hard liquor for purely economic reasons; missed out on growth of the apparently huge popularity of bourbons today.

  10. beb said on January 10, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Christie was all over the blogoverse last night. But of all the blathering the guy argued, I think it was either Booman or nomoremrniceblog, who argued that nothing will come of the Bridge-gate because conservatives love them some thuggery when it’s their guy standing up to a bunch of god-damned liberals. That is some breath-taking cynicism but history seems to prove it true. I think his chances of winning the 2016 Republican primary have increased greatly. I think his campaign will be like Romney’s — a brutal fight against a lot of charismatic light-weights but Christie will have the money from the Koch Brothers, Et. al, to see him through. Wether he can win the national election is far more dicey. There his thuggishness and history of abuse of office will play a big factor.

  11. coozledad said on January 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Why would anyone work for the guy after being around him for a very short time, or stay working for him after being subjected to his tactics just once?

    Zappa outtake.

    She aint our hussy, cept when she is
    When you makin’ her cry, she’s makin’ us jizz
    She’s a victim of all that liberal invectum
    Our lady of sand fleas trapped interregnum
    She suffers, so not one of us has to checktum
    And saveth us all with a healthcare deflectum.

    He ain’t my governor, ‘cept when I vote
    But he ain’t when you catch him rimming a goat
    Or in the funeral parlor humping a stiff.
    It’s not like he’d ever legalize spliff
    I ain’t want my young’uns to school with no blacks
    I ain’t care if he chop someone up with a axe.

    I ain’t care if old Roger can’t get him no quim
    If he can afford him some, good for him.
    Go ahead with your stories. That dog won’t hunt.
    If I had a pisspot, I’d find me some count-
    try girl with a sense of humor to type
    And show me her tits when we’re talkin’ on skype.

  12. brian stouder said on January 10, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Cooze – you have brightened my day, once again!

  13. Dave said on January 10, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I’ve always been hesitant to say what I did for work because it really seemed trivial compared to what some of you do or did but I was a railroad locomotive engineer for years, worked for the railroad for nearly forty years. In all that time, I was involved in only one fatality, where a man chose to end his life by sitting on the track and waiting for the first train to come along. That, unfortunately, happened to be us. So, I guess, viewing the celebrities in involved in deaths and how they determined it, I would make a list like that. Jimmy Stewart? Oliver Stone? Both were military.

    The man was only 28, he was living in a halfway house, we were at fault in no way, and although I looked for weeks, I never found so much as a obituary or funeral notice for the man. He was (apparently) completely alone. It was upsetting and I confess to also being upset because I was only about 15 months from retirement and thought I was going to get through an entire railroad career without being involved in a fatality. Didn’t quite make it. Almost everyone who works out there for years has at least one, many had multiple incidents. Sooner or later, you’re going to be involved in a car/train accident.

    I think of him sometimes, someone so alone that he thought all he could do is sit on a railroad track and do himself in. I have little ability to understand how it would be to be that despondent. Yet, I know of at least four suicides-by-train stories.

    Christie didn’t know it? It went on for four days, if I read it correctly. Who would believe him. Contrary to what I usually do, I was in the car and more or less listened to the heavy local lip flapper, as Brian always calls him, and I thought he sounded more or less elated because he knows Christie could never be elected president because real tea party people would never vote for him. Now, they can get a real candidate who can beat Hillary. Oh, and that was what he personally told Ann Coulter when she was here a few months ago.

  14. Peter said on January 10, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Beb, I’m not so sure about your analysis. First off, I think I’ll wait and see if the other shoe drops- this could get worse before it gets better, and that may be the iceberg that sinks Governor Titanic.

    If it doesn’t get worse, he may do better in the general election. When gubernatorial candidate (pre saint, don’t you know) Ronald Reagan said if a hippie laid in front of his car it would be the last car the hippie would lay in front of, well, it was political paydirt – “gold Jerry, that’s just gold!”

  15. nancy said on January 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

    All: Prospero’s brother left us all a nice note in a previous thread, here.

  16. BigHank53 said on January 10, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Christie was still moronically trying to cling to the “There was a traffic study” excuse, which is a lead balloon if I’ve ever seen one. I know some folks who’ve done work on interstates, and if you want to close lanes you need to have DOT approval and state police approval and usually a state trooper or two onsite. For an actual research project…there’s need to be a proposal on file, with a researcher’s name, and an institution, and a transfer of money, because nobody at the DOT is volunteering to spend a couple hours on I-95 putting up cones and barricades for fun.

    There’s been four months for the paperwork authorizing a study to be produced, and it hasn’t been. It doesn’t exist, and Christie’s still trying to hide behind it.

  17. brian stouder said on January 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Nancy – thanks for the pointer back to the end of the last thread.

    And now, my eyes are watering and an icy cold Diet Pepsi might address the knot in my throat

  18. Minnie said on January 10, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Just after I read Mark Johnson’s post the phone rang. Thank goodness, it was a recorded message from the drugstore, so there was no need to explain my cracking voice.

  19. Scout said on January 10, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I’m so grateful you directed us to the comment Mark Johnson left. It was perfection, and I am crying again.

  20. alex said on January 10, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Nancy, re: your comments on bariatric surgery, I’ve known a few people who had it done and still didn’t slim down appreciably because they weren’t committed to making the lifestyle changes that are necessary. A stomach the size of a golf ball can still be stretched back to the size of a house.

    When I saw “The fat guy talks” at the top of the page, I thought for sure this was going to be about Citizen Ailes going on the defensive, not Vinnie the Kneecapper. Guess it must be a bad week for bloated megalomaniacs generally.

    A while back there was an interesting piece on the 2012 election by a Republican insider who said that Romney was greatly enamored of Christie and wanted him as a running mate, not the Granny Starver. His handlers were having a hard time driving home the message that two blue state Republicans on the ticket would be suicide and that he needed someone with teabagger creds if he wanted to win. Unconvinced, Romney was insistent on Christie until information was brought forth about a number of potential Christie scandals that could sink the entire campaign and Romney backed away quickly. It was the writer’s opinion that Christie’s closet is way too dirty for him to ever win a place on a presidential ticket.

  21. Kirk said on January 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Dave @ 13: Trivial? Of course not. In fact, one of the coolest jobs ever.

  22. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for the pointer to Mark Johnson’s comments. I hope, after the funeral, someone from the family will tell us a little more about Prospeo.

    Has definitely been a soggy week at NN.com.

  23. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Nancy invited links, so here’s one contribution: a list of movies to be released in 2014 that are based on books. Looks like lots of good films to look forward to. If you’re the sort of person who likes to read the book first, this list will give you some lead time.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/books-to-read-before-they-hit-theaters-this-year

    Also, after this sad week, we all need a few things to look forward to.

  24. Bitter Scribe said on January 10, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Dave, I’m sorry to be morbidly curious, but I have to ask…

    In an article about suicide by train, I read that the suicides almost always make eye contact with the engineer in the last moment, just to have that last human contact. Was that true in your case?

  25. coozledad said on January 10, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Heeee.
    http://politicalwire.com/archives/2014/01/10/an_alternate_theory_of_the_christie_scandal.html

  26. Sue said on January 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I’ve spent the week managing my feelings about Prospero by balancing the understanding of what must have been going on at his core with his frequent behavior here. In other words, speculatively understanding the reason we all accepted him here, for behavior that would have gotten him banned elsewhere.
    Then one sentence from his brother, “Thank you all for being friends to my brother”, threw me right off the beam. It’s Moe all over again for me.

  27. Sue said on January 10, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Re the Christie thing:
    Did they really do the traffic thing on September 11?
    Also, that sounds a lot like some of the stuff Mike Royko wrote about Da Mare doing in Chicago back in the day. I think this means Bridgegate is Obama’s fault.

  28. Charlotte said on January 10, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I’ve got some really problematic family members, and one of my hopes is always that they will be taken in by other people in the way Prospero was taken in here. And yes, Mark Johnson’s note has me all welled up again … funny. I just can’t believe he’s really dead.

    Dave — railroad engineer! Livingston’s a railroad town, but even I don’t know any engineers — a former caboose guy though. That suicide story is heartbreaking.

    And Dexter — I’ve become a Bulleit Bourbon fan — not too pricey, nice bottle, tastes good. Winter demands a drop of brown once in a while …

    No news here. Hoping the weather cell that they were predicting would bring 100mph gusts has passed over in the night …

  29. Judybusy said on January 10, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for linking to Prospero’s brother’s note. I think it’s just so interesting how Michael got through to our hearts, even though he could be such a pain! I’m glad Nancy never banned him, and I hope he knew he did have friends here.

    We got other sad news yesterday: the mother of a good friend died on Tuesday after suffering a stroke on Sunday. We’d had the friend and his partner over on NYE, and talked about his mom, and how it’s so important to him to spend time with her, “because you never know.” She was only 70. We can go to the funeral, a couple hours away tomorrow. We’ve always been pretty good about going to funerals, but after my partner’s dad died in 2008, I got it on a whole different level. There is a moving piece on the NPR site titled “Always go to the funeral” that talks about this. Melissa also always goes into a power mode of making food, which people did for us in 2008. Never doubt you’re intruding by showing up with food. It was just so wonderful to open up the fridge and be able to eat during those horrible 2 weeks after his death. If Michael’s funeral were within reasonable distance, I’d be there.

    Dave, I’ll echo the earlier comment: cool job. It takes all of us to run this country. I got that sentiment drilled into me by my farmer father: “Without farmers, there’d be nothing!”

  30. LAMary said on January 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I have a sister in law in New Jersey who looks like Chris Christie. Every time I see the guy it strikes me. Put that man in polyester pants and a bedazzled tunic top and we’re related.

  31. Bitter Scribe said on January 10, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Oh thanks, LAMary. Now I can’t get that picture out of my head.

  32. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    First offMark Johnson’s comment got the lump back in my throat too.

    Dave, why in the world would you think a railroad engineer was a trivial job. I think it’s fascinating. Please tell us more about it. It’s sad to think that poor guy resorted to such a horrendous way to off himself. There are a number of those kinds of suicides in the Chicago area. But Dave, there isn’t anything you could have done to stop him. Sorry it had to beo your watch, especially when you were socloseto retirement.

    And LA Mary, that’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in comments.

  33. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    “Be on” not “beo”

  34. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Something is wrong with my space bar, that should be “so close to”

  35. Kirk said on January 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    When I was about 4, my grandfather knew a guy who was a train engineer in town, and the guy let him take me up in the cab while the engine was at the local station. Don’t think we were in it while the train actually moved, but it’s something I’ve certainly never forgotten. It’s on the same level as the first time I entered a major-league baseball park.

  36. Kaye said on January 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I am astounded how deeply I felt Prospero’s loss considering we never met, never spoke on the phone, never exchanged an email or a text. He wouldn’t even know my name as I rarely comment. Yet, I knew him and I miss him. I admired the way he seemed to live out loud, participating fully in life, and am surprised, and saddened, to hear him described as reclusive.

    Unrelated: every time I hear the name Chris Christie I will picture him in a bedazzled tunic. I hope he is in the news for a long time, because that will make me smile every time and there is little to smile about in the news.

  37. Julie Robinson said on January 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    If anyone else has the winter blues and feels like a good cry, here’s a video of two elephants being reunited in a sanctuary. Aside from their quiet dignity, I found the remarks of an African-American keeper are particularly moving: http://www.wimp.com/elephantsreunited/

  38. Judybusy said on January 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Any Spalding Gray fans here? Today is the tenth anniversary of his disappearance. They found him two months later. There’s a short NPR piece, with remembrances by his wife and step-daughter. I always found him so funny; I’ve read everything by him and watched several of his monologues when they would play at the Walker Art Center.

  39. LAMary said on January 10, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hey, welcome to my world. I can’t see Chris Christie without thinking of my sister in law hitting the buffets in Atlantic City.

  40. Dexter said on January 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Dave, as a child I always wanted to be either a pro baseball player, a basketball pro, or a railroad engineer. I was fascinated watching the railroaders as we came into Garrett in the new Ford car in the 1950s, even desiring to be the “little man” in the booth/shack that was mounted off the ground…I think the gates were closed by that guy pushing a button when a train was near. Alas…the B & O was never hiring when I needed work, and when they were hiring, I was working overtime in a factory or foundry lab somewhere. ( I do not claim to be a “real” foundry worker, as I had a cushy lab job in that foundry). I did , however, work manual, hard jobs in many factories and warehouses which was really my career. I was a factory rat, more than basically. Oh, it catches up here on this blog. Like you hint, Dave, we’re in the midst of some pretty damn-smart people here, degrees posted on their walls, travel and life experiences to draw from…but it takes a village to make an interesting blog, and nance has assembled this crew of us ranging from Vanity Fair subscribers to guys like me, who for a while made a living sweeping the factory floor with a broom. Yeah, sometimes, like Sheriff Ed Tom in “No Country for Old Men”,”I feel over-matched, Ellis” . But So what. What I mean, Dave, is for you to never feel like the stuff you post is lacking in any way…you write well, and I enjoy your posts. So there. :)

  41. 4dbirds said on January 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Just read about Prospero. So sad, especially for his family. My condolences to you Judybusy. 2013 was such a shitty year for me with my son, uncle, sister-in-law and brother-in-law dying, I’d hope 2014 would be blissfully uneventfull. I think those happy days are over.

  42. Judybusy said on January 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    4dbirds, oh, I do hope 2014 is not full of sorrow for you. Thank you for your kindness in the aftermath of all your own loss. Unlike some of my friends’ parents, I never knew this woman personally, so I really am grieving for my friend. But god, the parents I did know: those are especially hard.

  43. Basset said on January 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    My railroad work experience is limited to not quite a month laying ties on the C&O (Chessie System at the time) St. Louis to Cincinnati line one summer in the mid 70s, right around Medora, Indiana. You can break a good sweat doin’ that.

    Would sure be interesting to know something of Prospero’s story, maybe one of the family members will share that with us.

  44. Charlotte said on January 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    JudyBusy — I’m with you. Always Go To The Funeral. I’d only been in Livingston a year when my brother died, and that people took the time, I can remember nearly every one of them (and noted those who didn’t show). We have a little crew of women who have become the defacto “church ladies” for funerals in our group — we all have our dishes. I make mac and cheese — the biggest foil pans I can find. Someone always brings a ham. Robin makes her Chinese chicken salad. And we bustle, probably to fight off the sads, but it feels good to have something to do.

    And 4dbirds. My heart goes out to you. So many losses in one year. Here’s to closing the calendar on that one. I can imagine, but the magnitude of your losses just breaks my heart.

  45. alex said on January 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/10/new-yorker-chris-christie-cover_n_4576375.html

  46. LAMary said on January 10, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Deborah, this store just opened here in LA and I plan to check it out this weekend. I thought it looked like your sort of place.
    http://www.muji.us/

  47. Sherri said on January 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Dave, let me join the chorus that thinks that railroad engineer is far from a trivial job. I’m so sorry your tenure ended with a fatality. I used to live near Caltrain, the commuter train that went up the peninsula to San Francisco. Most of the crossings (and there were many) were at grade level, and there were an average of 10 fatalities a year, some accidental, some suicides. The worst time was a suicide cluster of high school students. Parents took to monitoring the crossing of choice in hopes of discouraging further attempts.

  48. DellaDash said on January 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    “Sufflaminandus erat” from Prospero’s brother, Mark, has me blubbering again…

  49. Joe K said on January 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Dave, I did over 30 yrs at Dana on state street in Fort Wayne before retiring and went off to fly, when I graduated it was the B&O or Dana, sometimes I wish I would have chosen the R.R. One Grandfather was a engineer on steam, and the other a conductor on the Capitol limited, both crewing out of Garrett, along with uncles and cousins.
    Always wish I could take a ride up front.
    Pilot Joe

  50. Bitter Scribe said on January 10, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    One of the most recent notorious suicides by train happened in the Chicago area. The poor guy was the head of the commuter rail agency that ran the trains. He killed himself because he had just been caught stealing from the agency (taking vacation pay he wasn’t entitled to).

  51. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I second–or maybe, by now, it’s third or fourth–the “always go to the funeral” and “always take food to the family” rules.

    The deaths that have touched me most directly were those of my elderly parents, and, even in those relatively non-tragic circumstances, the presence of their (and our) neighbors and friends was a comfort, and the tinfoil pans of lasagne were a practical asset that made the exhausting days immediately after their deaths much easier.

    In my mother’s generation, we’d have called those lasagne-bringers the church ladies, though it’s unlikely the actual church ladies would have brought anything so exotic. In our generation, they were just our friends, and we were grateful for them.

  52. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    LA Mary, I love Muji. The first Muji store I ever went to was in London. A famous Japanese graphic designer, Kenya Hara was (maybe still is) art director for Muji. I have a book of his work back in Chicago, Designing Design (or something like that).

  53. Connie said on January 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    My number one rule: Always tell them you are sorry. Many many years ago I had a full term stillborn baby. I remembered for a long time who couldn’t look me in the face and say “I’m sorry.”

    I’ve been thinking about Pros. How was it I could dislike him when he was Caliban and like him when he was Pros. Or at least when he was sober Pros. Did he change with the name change? I don’t have it in me to reread those thousand plus comments and figure it out.

  54. LAMary said on January 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Did you already mention Muji here Deborah? Maybe when you went to NYC? I’m either having a senior moment and not realizing we’ve already talked about it or I’m confusing it with some other store.

  55. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned Muji here before.

  56. alex said on January 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Jolene, a friend who’s a caterer was just preparing lasagna today for a funeral tomorrow–huge pans of it. Didn’t know that was a funerary thing.

    And Dave, did you ever work with Bob Herendeen from Huntington? He’s an old buddy (or I should say was–he lost a battle with cancer two years ago this month) and had spent a good many years working for the railroad, though I forget which. He did a lot of back and forth to Chicago.

  57. mark said on January 10, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    I, too, have been thinking a lot about prospero, and the revealing/remarkable comments from his family. I could disagree with him most any time, but the only thing I disliked was the untreated alcoholism that twisted and ultimately, probably, broke him. Addiction destroys so much. In the ‘real world’ it seems to have thoroughly isolated Mike from all but the very closest of family and, meaning no disrespect, their burden may have been very heavy. Alcoholics often disapoint, discourage and damage most the family they love.

    But here, with the filter of the internet, the brilliance and passion and education and even gentleness weren’t totally overshadowed by the frustrating carnage of addictive behavior. Some of the 12 Step literature suggests that addicts want to be judged by their good intentions rather than by their actions. That wears thin pretty quickly in real life. But maybe the internet enabled that, letting us glimpse those very good intentions, for the value that they might provide, without the distracting, frustrating, real life actual alcoholic behavior. When things got too drunken here, I just scrolled on by.

    Forgiveness please, if I’ve judged him too harshly with this over the internet diagnosis. I hope there is no addiction in Heaven and that the good and interesting things we glimpsed (or had beaten into our consciousnes through unrelenting repetition) are, there, whole and clear and sane.

  58. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Mark, that is a lovely comment with some very subtle insights regarding the truths we likely believe, but do not know, about Prospero. Thank you for it.

  59. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Alex, I think it’s just that lasagne is something that can be prepared in large batches, that almost everyone likes, that can be stored for days in the frig, that can be served out in small or large servings, and, perhaps most important, is often associated with communal, as opposed to solitary, meals. In other words, it’s practical and bespeaks warmth.

  60. FDChief said on January 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I have to admit; I didn’t “get” the whole Ft. Lee thing based on the most common explanation of it; that the GuVinnie’s “people” wanted some payback on the mayor of Ft. Lee (who as a Democrat seems on the face of it an unlikely and unneeded endorsement, anyway) – and I come from Chicago; we invented “don’t make no waves, don’t back no losers” – political ratfking is an art form.

    Since then I’ve run across a somewhat better rationale; apparently Da Big Chicken was in a hair-pulling contest with his legislature over some judicial appointments and the seatholder from the district that includes Ft. Lee was the actual target.

    Still, as a connoisseur of fine ratfking this nonsense come across as clumsy, crude, and childish. How the hell can this guy call himself a contendah? When he can’t even execute a simple piece of political revenge that one of Nixon’s people could have managed in his sleep? Honestly, what’s the world coming to when you can expect a Republican to execute a simple bit of venal political chicanery competently?!?

    This little piece of skulduggery is worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.

  61. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 10, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    You can bury me with two pans of it.

  62. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    (Lasagna, not chicanery.)

    As for Christie, it’s a sad sad situation. And it’s getting more and more absurd.

  63. Dave said on January 10, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Bitter Scribe, I’ve been told that many times but that was never my experience. I really don’t believe it, either. First of all, you’re sitting between 10 and 14 feet above the rail, I’ve always thought that people are looking at the engine in disbelief of what is about to happen to them, and the people on the train, looking back at them, think they’re looking them right in their eye. I don’t believe it. I especially don’t believe it with most of today’s locomotives where you can’t really see right in front of you, like you could on the old engines. Some of the noses on the older power were so short that you could almost stand up and look right down into a car. That wouldn’t be a good move because you don’t know what’s going to happen once you make contact. Better to get out of the window, even if it means diving to the dirty floor, depending on what you may be hitting.

    My suicide didn’t look up. He was sitting on the rail with a black nylon jacket over his head. When we first saw him, we thought it was a black plastic garbage bag but when we got closer, he moved. Oh, geesh, that’s a person! He never took the jacket off his head and he made no effort to change his mind.

    Really, I think that it’s a rotten way to kill oneself, why involve others. If one wants to off oneself, don’t do it by giving a lasting memory to others.

    A caboose guy, Charlotte? He must have been a conductor in the days when there were cabooses. Cabooses started disappearing in a big way in 1984.

    Finally, thank you, Deborah, there is nothing you can do, hardly ever, only once was I able to prevent a catastrophe and only because we were already going slow. One evening, a young lady had thought the railroad was a street and made a left turn onto the right-of-way. We could see headlights looking at us and were able to stop. Her license had a “daylight driving only” endorsement on the back, she wasn’t supposed to be driving after dark.

  64. MichaelG said on January 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    I was struck by the comments from Michael’s relatives. They seemed to have had no idea that he was spending time here at nn.c for one thing. For another, they apparently knew that he was tortured and difficult to be with and were delighted to find that he found some measure of happiness and peace commenting here. At least that’s my take. His family seems like a lovely and gracious group. He appears to have been very lucky in that regard as well.

    Dave, railroad engineer is way cool. Look at me: State Employee. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to hang it up for the week.

  65. Dave said on January 10, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Oh, and Alex, didn’t know your friend. I suspect he’d been an Erie Lackawanna man, Huntington was a big terminal for them, and most of them ended up working for Conrail in Elkhart and Toledo, after Fort Wayne was downsized. Today, there’s scarcely a trace of the EL in Huntington.

    Just as I know Brian Stouder has mentioned his brother working for the railroad but I don’t know him, either.

  66. Danny said on January 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Dave, your comment at 65 reminds me of an old “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handy:

    “I bet the hardest thing about being a vampire is always being asked, ‘Oh hey, do you know Dracula?’… ‘No, I don’t know him!'”

    MichaelG at 64, my thoughts too.

  67. nancy said on January 10, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    I had a long-ago friend in Fort Wayne named Doug Wylie, who was a conductor. He mainly rode the FW-Cincinnati route, maybe FW-Chicago. A very funny and strange guy — had a show on public access called the Uncle Ducky Show. Once he tried to travel from New Jersey to Fort Wayne dressed as a nun, for a bet. (This was on a plane, not on the choo-choo.) He gave up halfway through when his flight was delayed and he could feel his beard growing.

    He, too, had experienced an on-track suicide and said it was very rough on the conductors.

  68. Jolene said on January 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Don’t most little boys want to be train engineers? And do they really grow out if it? I don’t think so. Operating (not to mention understanding the operation of) something as massive and consequential as a train is one of the many real-world things involving machines that are beyond my ken. I would love to be able to ride in a train engine one day.

    Dexter, it surprised me that you have given ten seconds thought to what degrees people have on their walls. Nobody here has more interesting and detailed stories–of sports, of military experience, of music, of bicycles, of family, of friendships, and more–than you.

  69. Dave said on January 10, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Doug is also an engineer, not a conductor, I’ve known him forever. He’s well past retirement age now with much more time than he needs but he continues to work. Having been retired for three years now, I cannot imagine why he would keep working there. Strange, well, yeah. . .

  70. ROGirl said on January 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Another OID story:

    a new city councilman was stopped by cops last night (on his way from a strip club). An open liquor bottle and pot were found in the car. He told reporters the bottle was empty and had been sitting in the car for a week, and the pot belonged to his passenger, who was a medical marijuana patient.

    http://www.freep.com/article/20140110/NEWS01/301100157/inspector-general-Cushingberry

  71. LAMary said on January 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Mark, I grew up with an alcoholic parent and as interesting as I found Prospero when he was coherent, I used to shut down when he was otherwise. Not just stop reading. Shut down. Like I didn’t know him. Even after 41 years I have a hard time with drunks. So many brilliant people have destroyed themselves. I think Prospero was a gentleman of the old school and a kind loving soul and I was disappointed every time he went on an incoherent rant as if it had never happened before.

  72. Deborah said on January 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Someone here in Santa Fe made a left turn onto the railway tracks recently. Little bird saw the cops and tow trucks trying to get it off. The train doesn’t run very often here so there was no catastrophe. The train is called the Railrunner and it’s just a commuter between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

  73. Sherri said on January 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Mark, I think we all want to be judged by our good intentions rather than our actions; addicts just raise it to an art form. There’s a willful blindness required that means that every action is unique, rather than part of a disturbing pattern. To look at the pattern means seeing the problem, so we look away from the pattern.

    I felt for Prospero and his problems. I knew that there was nothing I could do, but I wished otherwise.

  74. Minnie said on January 10, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Someone we used to see at our favorite breakfast place was an engineer. Once, shaking his head at a recent accident involving a car trying to scoot across a level crossing in front of an engine, he commented that it takes a train about a mile to stop whether your car is in front of it or not.

  75. brian stouder said on January 10, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Dave – fascinating stuff about the trains.

    I have two brothers that have worked for Norfolk Southern (and before that, Norfolk and Western) forever (35+ years each) – maintenance of way. Rock steady work – plus, if there’s a derailment (like that coal train in Waterloo not very long ago) lots of over-time. They love their jobs, and indeed, railroads have always been something that exemplifies America’s can-do/manifest destiny/industrial strength drive.

    Thinking about it – back when I was a little kiddo (mid-1960’s) our next door neighbor, Joe Loveland, was a conductor for the Pennsylvania Rail Road. He wore a fancy uniform, and gave us little badges in the familiar Pennsylvania Rail Road keystone shape (familiar from seeing it in the Monopoly game). I thought he had the coolest job* – but in the next decade (mid 1970’s, when I was a teenager) my best friend’s dad (name redacted) was an engineer for Norfolk and Western, and pretty much shuttled back and forth to….some town in Ohio……can’t remember the name. But he (the dad) had another woman in the other town, so there’s that.

    From that point, I thought being an engineer would be very, very cool!

    This whole Prospero thing has really been blind-side. I really wanted to rant and carry on about the incredibly provocative Kansas school story, and about the governor of NJ, but – meh. I type three words and give it up. Prospero would whack that shit out of the park. (although Cooze got me laughing, earlier!)

    Just for the record – I love all y’all, and I propose a new rule: you can (if you want) get mad, and/or leave mad, but no more dying.

  76. brian stouder said on January 10, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    *forgot the asterisk! I think the uniform that our neighbor the conductor wore was just immensely cool! And indeed, in that superb book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, I was struck by the black conductor who also got to wear the very cool uniform, and make the (relatively) big wage (although he had to be away from home a lot). The history of railroads is the history of America – and the inclusiveness of it is genuinely heartening. Here in 2014 Indiana, big businesses like Eli Lilly and Cummins Engine are pushing hard for the state legislature to drop their wrong-headed and discriminatory gay-bashing anti-marriage amendment….and I suspect for the same reasons the railroads were ahead of the curve (so to speak) on racial integration: freedom is more profitable than blinkered fear, hatred, and tribalism.

  77. Dave said on January 10, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Brian, Bellevue? Most likely, I knew whoever you redacted. I worked for Norfolk and Western/Norfolk Southern from the time I was 18, off and on. They actually used to hire summer help and I worked three summers for them then, hired back out and stayed.

    Hired back out, a phrase that my wife has always told me sounds so foreign to her ears but, at the railroad, you hired out.

    Dexter, I never worked in a factory but I took a tour of the GM plant once when it was new. They had an open house and all I could think of as I watched those people on the assembly line was, “How do they do this, get me back on that engine”.

    The Warmth of Other Suns is now setting on my bookshelf, I’ll get to it soon.

  78. Kirk said on January 10, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    The Warmth of Other Suns is among the book bonanza I received for Christmas and my recent birthday. I recently finished the first of them, a book about the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

  79. Dexter said on January 11, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Dave, I have written here before about Bert Wolfe of Bellevue, Ohio, the guy I met through my brother who lived there; Bert was the WWI vet who had so many stories and had been in France, working on the railroad there for the US Army, transporting materiel and troops around. He told of his start in Bellevue , always beginning with “I landed in Bellevue in 1929…” and after a short stint as a hod carrier , he got in with the railroad there. In the Mad River Museum there in Bellevue, railroad car 105 resides in retirement. Bert told me that that car was on many trains that were made-up in Bellevue and on which Bert worked on.
    I knew a lot of guys who worked on the railroad systems. Harold Pepple of rural Corunna, late dad of an old friend, worked the B&O for many decades as a conductor. My grandfather Claude J. Meyer, whose 140th birthday was Wednesday (1874-1959) was Chief Mail Clerk for a long time on the NYCentral System, Chicago to Cleveland and back , over and over.
    I remember guys I knew, like Dave Helbert from Garrett, telling how they sometimes got stuck sometimes in Willard, Ohio…an unglamorous life.
    My sister-in-law rode the Chicago Metra Trains for years from the Loop to the Fox Lake station. Until she recently began working at home, she was frequently posting on Facebook how her homeward-bound train was being held-up due to yet another “jumper”. That’s what Metra workers and passengers call track-suicides.

    Jolene, coming from you, who tops the list and travels the crest of Intelligence Hill here at nn dot c., I sincerely thank you for your compliment. But…it’s you who at the top. :)

  80. Dexter said on January 11, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Well…if it stinks THAT bad…
    http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/12/02/woman-with-alone-time-on-an-elevator-does-something-incredibly-unexpected/?utm_source=outbrain&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Native:+outbrain

  81. David C. said on January 11, 2014 at 6:48 am

    To go along with Connie’s always tell them you’re sorry, never tell them it’s for the best. Who on Earth want’s to hear that. I remember hearing someone wonder why people congratulate you for the bad things that happen (it’s for the best), and offer condolences for the good things (you’ll never sleep once the baby is born). I know people, for some reason, think there should be something more profound to say than I’m sorry, but there isn’t.

    My older brother died in a car/train accident. When we were cleaning out my grandparent’s house some years later, I found the newspaper articles about the accident and read them for the first time. The paragraph about the train engineer still breaks my heart when I think of it. Like Dave, he was less than a month from retirement and it was his first accident. The paper said he was despondent. I can’t think of a more helpless feeling than seeing a car crossing the tracks and know there isn’t a thing you can do to stop it. It happened 36 years ago and I presume, if he’s still alive, that it still bothers him.

  82. Connie said on January 11, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Adding to Dave’s comment: Never tell them god has his reasons.

  83. beb said on January 11, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Fromo the department of unappreciated Irony Department — Davif Weigel notes this:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2014/01/10/the_funniest_part_of_robert_gates_s_very_serious_new_memoir.html

  84. brian stouder said on January 11, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Bellevue! That’s it! The name-redacted guy finally, in the fullness of time, decouple from the woman at the other end of the line and patch things with his wife (if memory serves)

    A railroad story that just happened within the last 40 minutes.

    I was headed home, northward on Lindenwood Avenue past the big cemetery and toward the University of Saint Francis, and the red lights began blinking and the cross-bucks at the double railroad track crossing there activated, and I rolled to a stop.

    And, a jogger was coming the other way – possibly a student from the university – and….. yes! Damn it to hell if he jog around the damned cross bucks. The train’s engineer sounded his horns and continued – I’m thinking he was doing 35 or 40 mph – because he had no choice in the world except to continue on.

    I made a point of NOT looking at him; in fact – sitting stone still, and not reacting in any way at all…and it seemed (although who knows?) that he turned his head and stared at me, as he passed. My impulse was to freeze and not do anything that would affect him, because if the guy (for example) stumbled…then what?

    And then I had the old guy thought: if that guy was a student at USF – what the hell are they teaching folks, nowadays?

  85. Deborah said on January 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I think Prospero’s funeral is happening now, or it’s already over. A moment of silence.

  86. Dexter said on January 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Since I was born a couple blocks from the B & O tracks in Garrett and I went to school and lived mere yards from the NYC , Pennsy, Conrail, Norfolk Southern tracks in Waterloo for years, and I ended up less than a half-mile from those same tracks here in Bryan, Ohio, I appreciate all the comments, from remembrances to safety stories. You would think I would curse trains and be really, really sick of them by now. But still I will brew a thermos full of coffee, stop at John’s Son’s Donuts’ drive-through window, and go park alongside the tracks (in a private, legal, safe lot) and watch a few freights roll through. I am good friends with the trainmaster here in town…it’s in my blood.

    What a sloppy mess it is on the sidewalks and streets. Tonight the whole damn mess freezes again. Time to watch a documentary on the South Sea Islands.

  87. Dexter said on January 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Here’s how I am sending prospero off…he would want it this way:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zkq-4rR4dOo

  88. beb said on January 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    I can’t watch youtube at work but I think he would have enjoyed the sendoff the director in “S.O.B.” went, in a burning rowboat with a Viking helmet on his head. Somehow that seems most like Prospero to me.

  89. Dave said on January 11, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Close calls happen all the time, Brian. They happen almost every working day on a freight train.

    Dexter, I recall your previous discussions of your friend, Bert Wolfe, and often wondered what department he worked in. I didn’t know him, either, and can’t say I ever heard his name, other than from you. I go back to 1972 in Bellevue. I worked west out of there, going to Lima, OH, or Peru, IN, most of the time.

    Brian, you know that red-acted name is going to bug me. I will add that behavior like that was not uncommon.

    Yeah, “Kick Out the Jams” seems proper. Then again, the Viking sendoff would work, too.

    Goodness, typing on a Kindle keyboard is a lot of work. Our daughter and SIL are moving to Lake Bluff, IL, north of Chicago, and we’re helping. Sadly, they’re the parents of our only grandchild, a 22 month old delight.

  90. Minnie said on January 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Dexter, Prospero surely would appreciate your salute.

    I never got around to telling him that back in the day I had a white cat named after John Sinclair, then MC5 manager (though he disdained that title), also a founder of the White Panthers, writer and performer.

    All day, I’ve had Prospero and his family on my mind. Imagine that many other here have, too.

  91. Dexter said on January 12, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Dave, Bert was born in 1892. He retired from the railroad in 1957. However, when I would visit him at his home right there on US 20, Main Street, Bellevue, Ohio, just up away from town from “the subway” (rr underpass) we would “make the rounds” to Tina’s Cantina, The Beer Dock, Al’s Downtown Lounge, Johnny’s (for beef sandwiches) , Lou Christmas’ for spaghetti, the VFW, The Moose, and of course to McClain’s for “a sinker and a java”. If we had worked up an appetite, we’d head outside town a little distance to “The Dormitory”. Bert knew a lot of the people there, had kept up with them over the years, and we’d eat there, good grub as you undoubtedly know, fish, meatloaf, hearty meals for railroaders and retirees and travellers like me and Bert. Bert had an old buddy that always seemed to be there by the last name of Montana, a nice older guy who I believe was still working the trains then. This was 1979 to 1981, when Bert passed away from old age.

  92. Dave said on January 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Yes, I know all those places, Dexter. Surprised you missed the Eagles, almost every railroader in Bellevue belonged to the Eagles. There’s a lot of empty storefronts in Bellevue today or, at least there was the last time I was there. By 1979, I was living in Norwalk and the following year, we moved to Lima.

  93. coozledad said on January 12, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Is our West Virginians learning? Perhaps they should refer to some trade publications to reassure themselves they’re not being poisoned for freedom.

    I forgot. Fuckers can’t read.

    http://gawker.com/thirty-two-people-have-sought-treatment-at-west-virgini-1499654729

    We’ve got a bunch of human garbage down here that wants to mine uranium over a major aquifer. The only thing standing between these idiots and clean drinking water is a government with the power to try, convict and jail them. They’re the kind of people who’d shit their own dinnerplate for a dollar.

  94. DellaDash said on January 12, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Excuse my long-windedness…but talk of railroads and grief for Prospero…

    Wouldn’t have seen the dun-colored white-tailed deer, almost invisible in the wooded winterscape that borders the section of the Duck Creek bike path I was attempting to walk along yesterday, if they hadn’t been frolicking…breathtakingly silent and swift. My own, more subdued romp was curtailed by daunting stretches of almost invisible ice; and, ultimately, a concerned teenager who, because he was a rosy-cheeked piece of eye-candy, I allowed to herd me back to my car.
    There’s another section of the Duck Creek Trail that intersects with a stretch of railroad track I knew intimately about 40 years ago…

    It was the summer of ’73 or ’74. I’d drifted back to my hometown with no particular agenda, and was camping out in the basement of my parent’s home (the guest room was too overdone for my taste, and claustrophobic). This was not a childhood home, but inherited from a wealthy great-uncle and located in an old-money part of town near the river known as ‘The Heights’. My baby brother, who was still in high school and had staked out the attic, was into photography. He’d rigged up a darkroom in the basement…fully equipped, with an excellent sound system.

    One day I decided to do a photo shoot on the tracks where my younger sister’s live-in boyfriend was working. It was sure to be picturesque, as the declining railroad had mostly reverted to manual labor by that time. Such a lark, it was, that by the end of the day, when the guys dared me to come work with them, I took it. The foreman, Whitey, didn’t take me seriously when I asked him for a job…just laughed and shook his head. But I held my ground. He finally shrugged and said no skirts allowed…gotta have steel-toed boots.

    When I showed up on time the following Monday , bushy-tailed in my brand new OshKosh overalls and regulation Red Wings, Whitey took me on. He was a ‘lifer’ on the railroad, from the South somewhere…spare, with seamed lips and squinty eyes.

    First of all, I was put on the power jack, a noisy diesel-fueled piece of equipment that squats on the track with claws on either side that grip the rails and repositions them with levers. The foreman gets on his belly and sights a rail, then signals whether it needs to be lifted or lowered to straighten out the track. The operator stands on a little platform and works the levers, facing the crew on either side poised to spring into action and shovel gravel underneath the straightened track. Behind comes the tamper, another noisy machine where the operator is perched high in its open-worked metal filigree surrounded by many moving parts, to tamp down the new gravel bed.
    We were called an ‘extra gang’…pulling an old track out of the Mississippi mud…that ran from the river out to the John Deere plant on the prairie. Can’t quite remember the name of our employer. Was it the Southern Pacific? Or the Milwaukee Pacific? Some permutation of The Rock Island Line…Rock Island being on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities.

    That first morning, we were having a good ole time…joking and flirting and carrying on. Soon I realized, though, that the novelty would wear off, and that I was queening it from a soft spot, for which they all probably took turns under normal conditions. So after lunch, I picked up a shovel…refusing to let Whitey pamper me into resentment oblivion.

    There’s a technique to shoveling gravel. You have to bend double and gently coax the wide blade underneath the unyielding rocks with a level, slightly upward motion. No stabbing or digging. Then you straighten upright with your shovel load, lunge forward on one foot, and toss it on target. Maybe it’s even an art. Grueling, though. But after a few weeks, I could keep up with the best of them.

    The elite of the crew were the spikers, who could spike a hundred ties in a day. They taught me how…correct form is: rest the mallet on the spike, like teeing up with a golf club, then take a full round-the-world overhead swing, and clang! Trouble was, I could only manage 5 or 6 spikes, 7 at the most…before I was done in. However, I found my niche as a ‘nipper’ with the spike crew. I would shove the wedge end of a 35-pound clawbar between a shovel and a tie, then hang on with all my weight to keep the tie nipped to the rail while the spikers spiked…usually double teaming…clang clang…clang clang. I’d also pull out rusted spikes with the claw end of the clawbar.
    One thing I never attempted was to work the giant tongs to pull out the rotten old ax-hewn ties that were being replaced with creosote-soaked ‘black bananas’. That required two men with tongs and serious muscle working in synch.

    The guys were young, fresh Iowa boys. Several were musicians with weekend gigs. We all had nicknames. Mine was ‘Aloontz’. Don’t ask. Maybe because I was a little aloof? MC gave me my mine and I gave him his…MC for Master of Ceremonies. Gangly, with soulful brown eyes and a bobbing adam’s apple, he was a geyser of enthusiastic running commentary about our excellent adventure.
    We all smoked ‘band aids’, named for the tin packed with neatly rolled joints the black kid started bringing every day. Whitey called us the ‘Pepsi Cola kids’ for the liveliness we exhibited once we’d lighted up and passed around a band aid. Whitey, himself, was an alcoholic. Many a post-binge Monday morning we’d leave him sleeping it off in the motor car while we carried on without him…only to get him brushed off and propped up into a semblance of functionality when ‘White Hats’ were spotted coming down the tracks for some kind of inspection. Once Whitey gave into my teasing and tried a few tokes. We were communally stunned…but made sure to instruct him on how to inhale properly. He swore up and down that it didn’t do a thing to him. However, it wasn’t long before he was giggling while peering impotently into the empty powerjack gas tank…and the rest of us were rolling on the ground, sick with laughter.

    We’d pick up our equipment from a Power Company unit by the river early in the morning, then ride the tamper to the section we’d be working on that day. After expiring from the heat of an Indian Summer in late September, we started shivering as the slow tamper trundled us through falling leaves out toward the prairie. Then I’d pack those fit, heartbreaking boys around me and luxuriate in our mutual heat.

    Shortly before the ground froze, and we had to call it quits, my sister called the Quad City Times. They sent out a photographer, after I went in for an interview. One picture was of me spiking. Pure bullshit, but lord knows I was vain! My butt was all pouched out and my back arched in a position that would’ve taken me out of the game with injuries at the jump. The full page puff piece was headlined “That Gandy Dancer is a Girl”. Well I was a dancer in California…though, as in all things, a dilettante. (I’ve danced for Anais Nin, may I say.) Thing is, my motivation might have been frivolous, but I have never worked so hard in my life as I did for those 2 ½ months hard labor on the railroad. I got guns and tight lats that were not comfortable on my limber dancer’s body. I fell into bed, dead to the world every night…and made a conscious decision not to pursue any lustful fantasies about my coworkers during the day. The romance was in the adventure. I had the time of my life!

  95. Kirk said on January 12, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    DD@94: I tend to check out on a lot of the windier posts here, but I started reading yours, stuck with it and enjoyed it very much. Good story, well-told.

  96. brian stouder said on January 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    What Kirk said! Marvelous stuff.

    Today we took down the Christmas lights, and the tree, and all the other flub-dubs; and then Chloe (the 9 year old) and I went to the health food co-op on the corner of Sherman and Spring to get some real honey – so that she can do a science experiment for school (an experiment concerning crystallization); and then on to Science Central (the old city utilities power plant just north of downtown).

    Coming home from there, I think I saw the same damned jogger as yesterday; the guy who jogged right around the lowered cross-bucks and in front of an oncoming N-S freight train. Today, as Chloe and I left Science Central and proceeded west on 4th street (toward Wells) a jogger (or – “the” jogger) ran straight through a 4-way stop right in front of us.

    The jogger was betting his life (or at least his well-being) that I was going to stop – because he clearly was not going to.

    I suppose there will be a third occurrence of some sort, between he and I, as we seem to inhabit the same part of town.

  97. Deborah said on January 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Della, fabulous!

  98. Deborah said on January 12, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Here’s a question Prospero could certainly answer (sorry he’ll always be Prospero to me): is Ginger Baker still alive? This came up in conversation.

    • nancy said on January 12, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Yes, he is. We saw this movie not too long ago.

  99. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    What Kirk said, Della.

  100. Minnie said on January 12, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Della, I do hope you’re compiling your writings. I’ll look forward to your book(s).

  101. basset said on January 12, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Della, I was one of the giant-tongs guys, but only when certain pieces of equipment were broken. Sounds like our crew was set up differently; don’t remember a tamper, it’s been close to forty years, but we did have a scarifier, two cranes, an injector, a hydraulic spike driver and something I never knew the name of which would bite the old ties into three pieces.

    Usually, one of the cranes dropped those pieces into the ditch and another would lift the new tie up to the injector, which would push it under the rails from one side, but whenever a crane broke the two biggest guys on the crew would have to take over and one of them was me. We’d spend the day either picking up the pieces of old tie and throwing them aside – they couldn’t rest on the gravel, had to get ‘em past that – or dragging new ties (they weigh 250 lb and are covered in fresh creosote which gets all over your arms) up to the rail with the tongs.

    A 49-cent quart of Stroh’s tasted pretty good after a day of that.

  102. DellaDash said on January 13, 2014 at 1:30 am

    Wow, Bassett tong-guy…YOU must have had some serious muscle. If the creosote black bananas weighed 250 lbs, then the rotten ax-hewn original ties my guys were ‘tonging’ out manually were probably double that weight…or so they seemed. So that’s what the operation would’ve been like if the railroad up here (or John Deere) had the funds and/or equipment. Never pictured cranes. What’s a scarifier? Of course, my unskilled ass would never have been hired in that case. The two tamper ops (one of which was my sister’s boyfriend) were certified, or licensed…no one else could touch the controls.

  103. Basset said on January 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    The old ones were actually lighter, they’d had years to dry out. The scarifier was used to clean out the tie bed after the old one was removed and to level the ballast, i.e. gravel… think of two big combs perpendicular to the track, rattling back and forth in opposition.

    We didn’t have certified operators, but the union contract divided the equipment into “A machine” (basically anything motorized) and “B machine” (shovel, pry bar, etc.)

    And I was definitely unskilled…

  104. Basset said on January 13, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Now that I think of it, maybe we did have a tamper… It rattled the ballast into place after the tie was set, right?

  105. Mark Johnson said on January 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Minnie said: “I never got around to telling him that back in the day I had a white cat named after John Sinclair, then MC5 manager (though he disdained that title), also a founder of the White Panthers, writer and performer.”

    We had a black cat named Bobby Seale.

  106. Minnie said on January 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Mark Johnson: All Power to the Kitty-Cats!

  107. 4dbirds said on January 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Both my grandfathers were Railroad Conductors for the Santa Fe in North Central Missouri.

  108. DellaDash said on January 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Yep…the tamper rattled away at rattling the gravel//ballast into place

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