Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For want of a nail

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The above poem is an old English nursery rhyme that warned children of the consequences of one thoughtless act. In this poem, a blacksmith doesn’t make enough horseshoe nails, which in turn results in a domino effect of unfortunate events, until finally the kingdom is lost. Todd Rundgren wrote a great song around this poem, in which the chorus concludes... “The Devil’s in the details.”

Last Wednesday, I had one of those “Devil’s in the details” kind of days. I woke up bright and early (around 5 am) and hopped into the shower. While showering I recalled how th
e fan on my car’s heater stopped working the night before. I knew that this could spell trouble, especially since it was the coldest morning we've had this season. After showering I ran downstairs and looked out the window. It seemed that Old Jack Frost had paid my car a visit overnight. My Acura looked sugar coated, and it glimmered with the reflection of the Christmas lights that hung from the gutters above it.

I threw my coat on and ran outside, hoping to find the ice scraper that I always keep in the trunk of my car. It was about 20 degrees out that morning, and in an attempt to stay warm, I danced around and fumbled through the piles of junk in my trunk (yeah, yeah...I got junk in my trunk.) I couldn’t find the scraper anywhere. Next, I searched the garage, but still …no luck. I ran into the house and asked my wife (the finder of all things) if she knew where I might find an ice scraper.

“You know,” she said,
“It’s not going to jump out and grab you. You really have to take your time and look carefully.”

I told her that I didn’t have the time to look carefully, and that I was running very late. She then suggested that I use a blow dryer and melt the ice off the windshield. This sounded like a great idea.

I ran into the bathroom and grabbed a blow dryer and ran outside again. I unplugged the Christmas lights from the extension cord and plugged in the blow dryer. I then spent the next several minutes melting the beautiful geometric ice patterns that had formed on my windshield. I began to worry about how my actions might look to the neighbors. Here I was, standing in my driveway in the predawn hours, dancing around in a conductor's uniform, plugging and unplugging Christmas lights, while blow drying my car.

“What’s that noise?” A neighbor might ask.

(Now looking out the window)

“Oh, it’s just Bobby blow drying his car.”

“Who knew he owned a blowdryer?


Once the car was defrosted, I jumped in and drove down my winding country road, and the ice crystals began to form again. Somehow I found the highway, and sped down I-95 for the 20-mile ride to New Haven. When I arrived at the train yard, I was about 10 minutes late. As luck would have it, the first person I ran into was the trainmaster (supervisor).

“Running late?” He asked.

“A little,” I said.

I walked out to the train yard and climbed up the ladder into a Genesis Engine and gave my engineer a brake test. I then threw a two track switches and lined our train out of the yard. Once in the station, I boarded the passengers, closed the doors and gave the engineer the signal to proceed. I looked down at my watch…we were two minutes late.

I began collecting tickets, feeling a little exasperated by that mornings events, when a old Jamaican woman stopped me.

"Conductor!" She said,
"I have to tell you something."

I figured she was going to chew me out for the train leaving late.

"Come closer," she said.

I bent down so she could whisper in my ear.

"Your fly is down" she whispered.

I looked down and turned bright red. In all my haste that morning, I forgot to zipper the fly on my pants. Fortunately, unlike some pop stars, I was wearing underwear.

We experienced further delays on our run into the city that day. There were overhead wire problems, a disabled train in front of us, and slippery rail conditions due to the frost. When we finally arrived in Grand Central, we were six minutes late. Although the train was only a few minutes late, I wondered how the commuter’s lives might be affected by my want of an ice scraper. I let my imagination run wild and came up with a nursery rhyme of my own:

For want of an ice scraper, the train conductor was lost.
For want of a train conductor, a timely train was lost.
For want of a timely train, the CEO was lost.
For want of a CEO, a business deal was lost.
For want of a business deal, the merger was lost.
For want of a merger, a company was lost.
For want of a company, the stock market was lost
And all for want of an ice scraper.

The devils in the details.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bobby and The Paper Lion

"Some men see things as they are and say Why? I dream of things that never were and say "Why not?"

Robert Francis Kennedy

There is a renewed interest in the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy since the movie “Bobby” came out. This movie is a semi-fictional account of the events surrounding the murder of RFK at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6th, 1968. I say this movie is semi-fictional because it centers on the lives of 22 people who were supposedly at The Ambassador Hotel that night, but in reality these people never existed. It’s all Hollywood.

About five years ago, I had the author/journalist George Plimpton on my train. I recognized him from his frequent guest appearances on the afternoon talk show circuit in the 70’s and early 80’s. He was what they now call a “participatory journalist” and he always seemed to be pushing a book about his latest exploits on Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas. By the time I met him, he had been out of the public eye for several years, and I was a little surprised by how elderly and frail he looked.

Because I’m somewhat of a Kennedyphile, I remembered that Plimpton was a close friend of RFK, and that he was with him on the night he was assassinated. I was dying to ask him about that evening, but I was a bit intimidated by him. When he appeared with Merv, Mike or Johnny, he always seemed a bit regal. He spoke in the aristocratic accent of a Harvard or Cambridge man (which he was), and I didn’t want to be an insensitive boor and start yapping about his best friends murder. Maybe, I thought, I’d first engage him in small talk and then I’d work my way up to the RFK questions.

Are you related to Martha Plimpton?” I asked.

“Eh?” He answered, now cupping his hand to his ear.

The actress? MARTHA PLIMPTON?"

“Yes?”

“ARE YOU RELATED TO THE ACTRESS MARTHA PLIMPTON?"

Oh, yes, yes. Sorry, I’m a bit hard of hearing. Yes, she’s a distant cousin. I’ve never met her, but I did meet her mother once.”

I now realized that Plimpton was stone deaf, and a long conversation with him would be exhausting for both of us... so I went straight for the kill.

“I’ve read that you were present when Robert Kennedy was assassinated?”

“Eh?”


“ROBERT KENNEDY?”


“Yes?”

“YOU WERE WITH SENATOR KENNEDY ON THE NIGHT HE WAS ASSASSINATED?

“Oh, Oh, yes, yes. In fact that Sirhan fellow pushed right past me to get to Bobby.”


“WOW!!!”

“It was dreadful…simply dreadful.”


I didn’t know what to say next. There was a bit of awkward silence between us, and I finally
decided to move on to the next passenger.

Plimpton died a year or two after our brief conversation, and I’m glad I got the chance to talk to him. It was kind of like being only two degrees of separation away from one of the biggest events of the 20th century.

Sometimes I have a neat job.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Life on the train

A friend sent me this inspirational email today. It's a little slow and maybe a little too deep, but I thought it belonged on a blog called "Derailed."

http://www.inspiringthots.net/movie/life-on-train.php

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Timothy Turkey

Yesterday, I saw my first bald eagle. It was roosting in a tree that stands behind the church parsonage, which in turn stands next to the church where we were attending service. The reverend told the Sunday school kids that he discovered the eagle while raking leaves on Saturday. He then suggested that after service, everybody go next door and investigate the bird which was still sitting sentinel on a tree limb. Being a big kid myself, I was one of the first out the door. I was a little disappointed that the eagle didn’t have a white head and I speculated that it was wearing a toupee, or maybe it was using "Grecian formula" or "Just for Eagles". One of the sixth grade boys seemed disgusted by these comments. “It’s only two years old,” he explained, “its head hasn’t turned white yet.”

When we walked closer to the tree, we noticed that the eagle had a squirrel trapped in its talons. The squirrel’s fuzzy tail swayed in the breeze as the eagle eagerly ripped it to shreds with its enormous beak. The boys watched in amazement as the bird disemboweled its prey. The girls, on the other hand, thought it disgusting. I was with the girls on this one.

Watching this majestic eagle, made me think of how wrong Benjamin Franklin was when he petitioned to have the turkey, not the eagle, be our national symbol. Thoughts of turkey then turned to memories of kindergarten and my beautiful young teacher, Miss Flanagan. This was the song she taught us at Union School, November 1967:

Timothy Turkey
Why do you cry?
Boo Hoo Hoo

Timothy Turkey
I’ll tell you why
Boo Hoo Hoo


Thanksgiving is coming
They’ll Chop off your head
(We emphasized this last line by making a slashing hand movement across our throats)
And if you don’t hide
Then soon you'll be dead

Boo Hoo Hoo

I don’t think I ate much turkey that year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scenes from a Marriage

Act I
Scene I

As the curtain rises, we find a bald man in his mid 40's, dressed casually in a sweat shirt and blue jeans. He is seated in the family room in front of his computer. Stage left, his attractive wife enters the room.

Wife: When you're out running errands today, could you stop at CVS and pick up Ibuprofen, and hair conditioner.

Husband: (typing) Um...Yeah.

Wife: Can you please stop typing and pay attention for a second.

Husband: (still typing) Yeah, yeah, I got it...you want me to pick up aspirin and...

Wife: Aspirin? I said ibupofen.

Husband: (stops typing) That's what I meant. I was just using the generic word for a pain reliever.

Wife: But aspirin isn't ibuprofen. Advil and Motrin are ibuprofen. Tylenol is acetaminophen. Bayer is aspirin.

Husband: What are you a pharmacist?

Wife: No. But if you get rushed to the hospital and tell the doctor that you took aspirin when you really took ibuprofen, there could be consequences.

Husband: Fine!... I'll buy ibuprofen.

Wife: And...what else?

Husband: Umm...oh...um...creme rinse?

Wife: Creme rinse? You mean hair conditioner. They don't call it creme rinse anymore.

Husband: Really?...Since when?

Wife: Since you lost your hair.

Act I
Scene II

Later that day.

Wife: Did you go to CVS?

Husband: Ohhhhh!...I forgot.

Wife: UGH!!!


finis

Post Script: Wife told daughters about above conversation. Now daughters take great delight in asking dad to, "please go to the store and buy creme rinse." They usually then convulse with laughter and fall on the floor.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Soldier's Story

In honor of the men of A co, 2nd of the 3rd inf. 199th light inf bd.

"Is this you?" I asked.

"Yeah, that's me, second from the left...the handsome guy holding the machine gun."

My Engineer, Bobby Tracy, showed me this picture last week. It was taken by a soldier that had an small Instamatic camera tucked up in the band of his helmet. The helmet band was usually used to store cigarettes or a flask of whiskey, so Bobby found it memorable that this photographer had tucked his camera there. The photo shows Bobby and four of his comrades, trudging through a swamp, somewhere in the jungles north of Saigon, not far from the Cambodian border.

I was somewhat surprised that Bobby showed me this picture. Like most veterans, he doesn't like to talk about his military service, and in the past I could never get him to tell me much about his experiences in Vietnam. Since he was being so verbose this day, I decided to press my luck, and ask him some questions.

"What became of these guys?" I asked.

"Well, as they say... a picture's worth a thousand words," Bobby said.

He then looked down at the photo and pointed to the guy bending down in the far left hand side of the photo. "This guy here...the one filling his canteen, that's Jasper McGruder from Elmira, New York. Jasper and I were great friends. We went through basic training together in Fort Dix. From there we went to Fort Benning, Georgia for helicopter and counter insurgency training, then to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for jungle training and finally to Oakland California where we got on a troop ship to Vietnam. That was December, 1966. "

Bobby's face now brightened, "Did I ever tell you about the time when I met up with Jasper in New Haven?"

"No," I said. "I don't think you have."

"It was five, maybe six years ago. I was thumbing through The New Haven Advocate and I came across an ad for a play by Moliere, called School for Wives. Anyway, I'm looking at the ad and it says that it stars a guy named Jasper McGruder. I thought to myself...How many Jasper McGruders could there be? I drove down to The Yale Rep Theatre and picked up a play bill, and there on the second page, was a picture of my old buddy Jasper. He had lost some hair since I had seen him last, but it was definitely Jasper. I asked around and found out which hotel he was staying in and I paid him a surprise visit. Later that week, my wife and I had him over for dinner at the house, and he got to meet the family. It was really great to see him again."
Bobby's face was beaming now. It was as though he'd been reunited with a long lost brother. He pointed again to the photo, picking out the soldier immediately to his right. "This guy here, that's Otto Guhl from Stamford, CT. He was injured in two different fire fights, and earned two separate Purple Hearts. He still lives in Connecticut and we call each other from time to time and get together." Bobby now moved his finger along the photo to a soldier standing in the background. "That's Elmo Reilly. I'm not sure what happened to him, but someone told me that he stayed in the military and made a career out of it."

"And who's this guy in the foreground?" I asked.

"Here lies the signigficance of this picture," he said. "That's the late Sam Arrington. I believe he was from Florida. About a week after this picture was taken, February 5th, 1967, to be exact. Our platoon was ambushed while we were walking through a rice paddie. Sam poked his head up from behind a dike to check the enemy's position, and..."

Bobby's mood now turned sullen, "Well, let's just say that Sam made the ultimate sacrifice for his country."

Bobby nervously rubbed his chin and placed the photo back in it's envelope. I wondered if he felt he'd said too much...but he continued: "Our platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Coachys (not pictured) was standing near me at the time of the ambush. Coachys had been shot twice in the upper thigh and had a piece of his rifle embedded in his stomach. He was bleeding badly, but he still found the strength to get on the radio and call for air support. A few minutes later, we had planes dropping artillery all around us. By the end of the day we had lost two members of our platoon and had about five guys wounded."

What ever happened to Coachys? I asked.

Bobby said that the last time he had seen his Lieutenant, he was recovering from his injuries in a field hospital in Saigon. He went onto say, that a couple of years ago, he was reading a VFW magazine and saw that The 199th was having a reunion in Virginia. One of the people mentioned in the article was Richard Coachys. Unfortunately, the reunion was the same week as Bobby's daughter's wedding, and he was unable to attend. He did, however, track down Coachys' phone number and gave him a call. It turns out that the lieutenant stayed in the military and eventually made it to the rank of Colonel. He retired a few years ago and he now lives in Georgia. He has three sons, all who serve or have served in the army. One of his sons is a West Point grad, and another is now serving in Iraq."

We were pulling into Grand Central, so I thanked Bobby for showing me his picture and telling me his story. I then asked him for his permission to mention his experiences in a Veteran's Day blog. He said that I could use his story, but he didn't want me to make it too "dramatic" or "sappy." I told him that it would be hard to not make the story "dramatic" but I'd try to keep the sappiness at a mimimum. I think he was worried that I'd make the story all "Stars and Stripes" and try to paint he and the members of his platoon as a American heroes.

But aren't they?

This Veteran's Day, take the time to say a prayer for our troops and our veterans. Please thank a veteran for their service and remember to say an extra prayer for Pvt. Sam Arrington, and all the other members of the military who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I rake, Iraq


After careful consideration, I have determined that the trees in my yard are evil-doers. Every year at this time, they dump layer upon layer of leaves in my yard, causing mass destruction to my lawn. I tried to form a coalition of friends to help me route these leaves out, but some of them told me I was rushing in and raking too soon. Other friends told me to, "let the leaves fall where they may." I was especially hurt by the lack of support shown by my friend Pierre. I’m forever helping him out at his house, and you would think that he would return the favor every once in a while. “ Listen Pierre" I said, "You’re either with me or you’re against me.”

This year I decided to use a scorched-yard policy. In addition to my rake, I’m using a leaf blower with a Cheney motor. This baby provides 2000 cfm with 200 mph winds and it really shocks and awes those leaves into submission. The only trouble is, when I get one section of the lawn cleared, insurgent leaves blow in from neighboring yards to take their place. When I clear those leaves, suicidal foliage falls from the branches overhead. It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have my yard cleared. There’s also a Bush in my yard that’s detaining some leaves in it’s lower branches, and no matter how hard I try to release them, it just won’t let them go. It's very frustrating. I thought my lawn would see me as a liberator, not an occupier... I guess I was wrong. It seems the harder I rake, the tighter the grass hangs onto the leaves. This has resulted in me breaking several rakes and truthfully, the price of this venture is becoming too costly.

I think I need an exit strategy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Life" in the fast lane

Do you think you have what it takes to be the "YOUR OCCUPATION HERE to the Stars?"

As has been well documented in the pages of this blog, I have a gift for spotting celebrities on my trains. In fact, as many of you know, I am the self-proclaimed "Conductor to the Stars."
Tonight, I must admit, I even surprised myself. Meet John Gilchrist (photo below.) John is an Advertising Executive with the ESPN Network in Manhattan, and he was a passenger on my 6:07 train home tonight. Because I am gifted in the art of star spotting, I immediately recognized John as his alter-ego.

Can you?

If you can guess where you've seen John before, you just might have what it takes to be the next "________to the Stars!"


Need a hint?

John was a child actor.

Got it now?

Here are a few more hints:


  1. Urban legend claims that John died from mixing Pop Rocks and Coca Cola. (Rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.)

  2. He starred in a TV commercial (with his brothers) in which he didn't even have a speaking part.

  3. He likes "life."

Sorry, but if you don't have the answer by now, you're just not worthy of the "To the stars" title.

Answer:

"He likes it!...Hey Mikey!"


Thanks to John Gilchrist for giving me permission to use his name and likeness in this post.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Masquerade



This picture came from a Halloween party my wife (then girlfriend) and I attended at a friend's house way back in 1983. What made this evening so memorable, was that we kept our identities hidden from our friends for the better part of the evening. We still socialized with other guest, but we talked in coarse, old people voices. We were really surprised when others couldn't figure out who we were. We finally had to give ourselves up when friends started to become alarmed at our absence from the party:

"Where are they?" Asked Frankenstein.

"They definitely said they were coming," said Frankenstein's bride.

"Too bad, I wanted to suck their blood," said Dracula.

It was kind of fun being virtually invisible for a while. We got a rare opportunity to see how our friends acted when they didn't think we were around. Of course this was a dangerous game we were playing, and it could have backfired on us. Our friends might have said:

"Who cares where they are?"

"I never liked them anyway."

"No big loss...they aren't my blood type."

As it turned out, we weren't the only ones playing this game that night. Alone, in the corner stood a red devil pounding down drink after drink. It was assumed that like us, he too would eventually divulge his true identity...but he didn't. At the end of the evening, the party hostess finally asked him who he was.

"Oh, you don't know me," he said. "I was coming from a boring party down the road and saw your lights on. It looked like you guys were having a lot of fun, so I thought I'd drop in. Thanks for a great party."

He then dissappeared as mysteriously as he appeared.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Starburst

My wife and I hadn’t been on a date since the Clinton administration, so she was a little surprised when I called her from work on Saturday afternoon and asked if she wanted to go out to a movie. She is usually only interested in watching romantic comedies of the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks genre, so when I read off a list of latest offerings, she was less than impressed. She deemed the current crop of comedies as too stupid, and the latest war/mobster movies as way too intense. “I go to the movies to relax and be entertained,” she said, “I don’t want to walk out of the theatre with a stress headache.” We finally decided to scrap the movie idea, and it was planned that I would pick up a pizza on my way home from work.

When I got home I discovered that my wife had put a roaring fire in the fireplace and my daughters had set paper plates out on a bedspread that lay before the fire. The TV and computer were turned off and we had a cozy family night, while eating our pizza by firelight.
Our lives have been very busy lately, so we welcomed the chance to reconnect with one another on this chilly October evening. Soon the topic of conversation turned to Halloween, and my wife and I regaled our daughters with stories of Halloweens past. We told them about the costumes we wore when we were little, and we bragged about how far we trekked while trick and treating. I told them that I used to use a pillowcase as I went from door to door, and that I wouldn’t stop till my bag was at least a ¼ of the way full. My daughters faces turned envious when my wife told them how her next-door neighbor always gave out industrial sized Hershey bars. “These were pre-fun sized candy days,” we told them, “a real dentist’s nightmare.” The subject then veered from Halloween to candy in general and my wife told us that her mother always kept pieces of Starburst candy in a milk glass jar that stood on parent's fireplace mantle.

“Stop right there,” I said.

What?” She said.

“Did you say that your mother had Starburst candy?”

“Yeah.”


“You’re telling me, that in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, your mother had Starburst candy?"

“Yes.”


As far as I'm concerned the story was an anachronism, and I just couldn’t let it pass. It was like the famous scene in Shakespeare’s ''Julius Caesar" when the clock strikes twelve. I told my wife that I didn't remember seeing Starburst around till at least the late 70's and my wife’s mother died in 1977. It couldn't have been possible that she could have had Starburst fruit chews in her house in the late 60's/early 70's.

I' m positive that we had Starburst, because my sister Hope (3 years younger) couldn't say Starburst, so she called them 'gooeys.' In fact, my brother and I were always getting in trouble for climbing up on the mantle and trying to reach for the milk glass to get Hope some "gooeys". One time, the milk glass jar tumbled to the ground and smashed into a million pieces. We got in big trouble for that one.”

“That’s a lovely story,” I said, “but your sister’s 'gooeys' were probably 'Now and Laters' or 'Mike and Ikes.”

“No, they were Starburst. You know…just because you didn’t have Starburst around your house when you were a kid, doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist.”

“Listen,” I said. “I have always been a candy connoisseur. I know my candy. Look! (I opened my mouth wide.) I have the fillings to prove it.”

My wife was incensed because she thought I was calling her a liar. She raced to the family room and turned the computer on, (so much for the quality family time.) She quickly typed the word “Starburst” into the search engine address bar. When the official “Starburst” website popped up, she clicked onto the Behind the burst” page. Here they have listed all sorts of Starburst trivia, the most important of which is as follows:

Fact: Starburst first came to the United States in 1976 in the original blend of orange, lemon, lime and strawberry flavors.

I was standing over my wife’s shoulder when she read this, and being the mature adult that I am, I proceeded to do an imitation of an NFL end zone victory dance. I then wet my index finger, and touched her cheek while making a sizzling sound.

“Don’t you feel burnt?” I asked.

My wife did feel burnt… burnt with anger. She was bound and determined to prove me wrong, so she Googled other Starburst sites until she found one in which the author waxed nostalgic about his days growing up in California during the 1960’s. On this site the man went on and on, fondly remembering eating Starburst candy in his school cafeteria.”

“Obviously he’s mistaken,” I said. “They were probably ‘Necco Wafers’ or ‘Good and Plenty,’ but they couldn’t have been Starburst.”

“Ugh!”

"Okay, I think I’ll go to bed now.”

Yesterday, while making sandwiches, I told my wife that I planned on writing a story about the "Starburst incident."

“You just can’t admit you were wrong…can you?” She asked.

We continued our conversation while we piled liverwurst and cheese on two slices of Weight Watchers bread. I prefer to eat my liverwurst by the slice, and up until yesterday had never had a liverwurst sandwich. I asked my wife what kind of condiment one puts on a liverwurst sandwich. She told me that while growing up, she always put Guldens' Spicy Brown mustard on her liverwurst. “In fact” she said, “I never liked French’s yellow mustard.”

“Guldens'?” I said. “I didn’t know that Guldens' was around when we were kids.”

It was then that I got the look.

Uh oh! I thought. Here we go again!


Thursday, October 19, 2006

You are a Conductor

This video does a pretty good job of portraying what life on the spare board (on call) is like, and it reminds me of why I usually work nights.

All coductors have spent at least some time on the spare board, and we all remember getting the dreaded middle of the night phone call from the crew dispatcher. I'm usually half comatose when they call me, and I have to fumble around to find a pen and piece a paper to write down the run number. Sometimes I set the alarm clock and try to sneak in an extra hour sleep before getting out of bed and taking a shower. I then drive to work at some ungodly hour in the pitch dark while the rest of the world is fast asleep.

The conductor in this video works for a freight railroad somewhere in the midwest, but the scenery they show is pretty similar to what we see on Metro North. Thanks to conductor Rich Simon and Tom Finn for bringing this video to my attention.

.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Smoke in the Wood Pile

I recently read a David Sedaris story, about how his mother revived a puppy that was born the runt of the litter by placing it in a casserole dish and putting it in a warm oven. The oven acted as a makeshift incubator, and the heat revived the pup. This story reminded me of a tale my mother once told me.

When I started tracing my family tree some 15 years ago, people advised me to be careful. “Some stones are better left unturned,” they said. Others warned that I might find “horse thieves” while still others cautioned that I might discover “smoke in the wood pile.” I had no idea what this meant, so I started asking around. I found out that “smoke in the wood pile,” is a crude phrase, meaning that a researcher has discovered African ancestors in their family tree.

I never did find African ancestors in my tree, (as anyone who has seen me dance might have guessed), but I delighted in the idea that I might:

In my mind, I envision a St. Patrick’s Day gathering at the local K of C hall, and all of my white-haired, red-faced relatives are there. Everyone is full of drink and dressed in kilts and cable knit sweaters. I interrupt a Riverdance jig with news of my latest genealogical discovery. I pull out an old, yellowed photo of our sharecropper great-grandparents standing wide-eyed in a Mississippi cotton field. I’d point and say: “Here, on the left, is Grandpa Porgy, and, in the kerchief next to him, that’s Grandma Bess.” The party would abruptly end as the EMS workers arrive to administer the oxygen.

Although I never found “smoke" in my genealogical wood pile, it doesn’t mean that my search was free of scandal. After looking up vital records, I discovered that my father was born (February 1915), just two months after his parent’s wedding day, (December of 1914.) My father and paternal grandparents were long dead by this time, leaving my mother to defend her in-laws honor. When I told her about my findings, she was incredulous. “Oh that can’t be!” she said. When I produced birth and marriage certificates to back up my accusations, she said, “Oh, there must have been a clerical error at the town clerk’s office.” When I told her that I had already double-checked the dates with the church my grandparents were married in, she said, “Well, your father was born premature.”

“SEVEN MONTHS premature?” I asked.

“All I know,” she said, “is that when your father was born, he was so tiny that the midwife placed him in a cigar box and then placed it next to the pot belly stove in the kitchen.”

“WHAT?!” I said.

My mother explained that back in the day, everyone was born at home. If a baby was born too small or premature, the doctor or midwife would place it in a cigar box, carry it to the kitchen and place it near the stove. This worked like an incubator, and it saved the life of many a newborn child.

My mother’s story sounded a like something out of a fable written by the Brothers Grimm, and I couldn’t help but picture a haggard looking midwife calling out for boiled water, clean sheets and a box of Dutch Masters. Perhaps, I thought, this is where the tradition of fathers passing out cigars began. Maybe they just wanted an empty box.

“You probably didn’t know this,” my mother said, “but my brother Billy was born a twin. He was much smaller than his brother, and my grandmother, thinking he was a lost cause, put him in a cigar box and slid it under the pot-bellied stove. This way she could turn her attention to the bigger, healthier twin. Unfortunately, the bigger twin didn’t make it, but when they opened the cigar box, Uncle Billy had rallied and was doing just fine.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buy the Uncle Billy story, but even if daddy was conceived on his parent's wedding night, he would have been like . . . seven months premature when he was born! What did they do, slide his cigar box in . . . a microwave!”

This would give a whole new meaning to “smoke in the woodpile.”

Monday, October 02, 2006

Stupid Questions

The only stupid question is the one left unasked…”

Whoever came up with this saying was obviously never a railroad conductor. We get stupid questions all the time. One of our favorite pastimes is to gather in the crewroom in Grand Central and complain about these questions and the passengers who ask them. We usually start our stories with, “You’re never gonna believe this one...” In celebration of “Ask a stupid question day” (September 30th,) I recently surveyed my coworkers and collected a sampling of some of the stupid questions we field on a daily basis.


Which way does the train go?

This is an understandable question when poised at a station where two direction of travel is possible, but this query becomes a stupid question when asked at the bumping block in Grand Central Terminal. Here only one direction of travel is possible, and it should be quite evident to the passenger as he/she is boarding the train. When asked, "Which way does the train go?" a conductor will point to the bumping block at the end of the track, and say something like... “It would be a little difficult to go that way.” The passenger then walks away, leaving the conductor to shake his head and ask... “How stupid can these people be?”


What time does the 4:07 train leave?

Believe it or not, we get this question all the time. The departure time of the train may vary, but the stupidity of the question never does. When I was first asked this question, I thought the commuter was joking.

You’re kidding…right?” I asked.

When the passenger remained stone faced and stoic, I began looking around for a hidden camera, half thinking that maybe Allen Funt or Ashton Kutcher would pop out from behind a curtain. After realizing that I wasn’t being Punk’d, I said something sarcastic like: “Oh, I don’t know…maybe the 4:07 train leaves at 4:07?

The passenger (not seeming the least bit embarrassed) thanked me and walked away.


Timber!

John, a rookie conductor, told me that a few months back his train struck a giant oak tree that had fallen across all four tracks in a fierce mid-summer thunder and lightning storm. Apparently, the train ran over several branches which caused a lot of damage to the train’s undercarriage. When it looked doubtful that they could continue north, John got on the public address system and apprised his passengers of the situation. He announced that they had suffered damage to the train and that there would be an indefinite delay. No sooner had John finished making the announcement, when an angry old woman stopped him and screamed:

“Why would they plant a tree in the middle of the railroad tracks?”

John couldn’t believe his ears. He said he briefly contemplated making up a story…“It’s part of the new rail reforestization program that the railroad started a few years back. Everything was fine when they were saplings, but now they’ve grown and we can’t help but run into them.”

John bit his tonque and walked away from the old woman. He then came across an exasperated businessman whose patience had run out, evidenced by the foam coming from his mouth. “Conductor,” he asked. “How long will the indefinite delay be?”

John said he felt a headache coming on.


No. White Plains

One of the Harlem Line conductors told me the following story: It seems that he was boarding the North White Plains train in Grand Central one day, when a passenger came forward with a question.

Does this train go to White Plains?”

The conductor said that yes, this was the train to White Plains.

The passenger looked confused.

Then why does the sign out front read No White Plains?”

The conductor told the passenger that if he had looked closer at the sign, he would have noticed a period after the No, (as in an abbreviation for North.) The conductor said that amazingly, he has fielded this same question several times over the years.


Confused Stairs

Mark, a Danbury conductor, told me that he once had a woman ask him how to get to the lower level in Grand Central. Mark escorted her to the Terminal's main concourse and he pointed out the two large marble staircases that flank either end of the Terminal.

"Do those stairs go up or down?” She asked.

You can’t make this stuff up folks.


Fuzzy Logic

Conductors aren't the only ones who get stupid questions. Bill, an engineer friend of mine, told me he was making a station stop in Stamford one morning, when a woman pounded on his cab window.

"Why are the head two cars of this train always so crowded?" She screamed.

Bill explained that these cars were crowded because they're closest to the exit in Grand Central and that everyone wants to be the first off the train. He told her that if she wanted a seat, there was plenty of room in the back of the train.

"Well then," said the woman, "you better tell your bosses to add more cars to the front of the train."

Bill said he debated explaining that these cars would then be the front of the train and would still be overcrowded. He ultimately decided that this woman was a lost cause and told her that he'd pass her recommendation along. He then slammed his cab window shut, and shook his head in disgust.

Stupid Answers

I know that a lot of my readers are passengers, and they’re probably thinking: “Ha! What makes these conductors think they're so smart. I should write a blog listing all the stupid answers that they've given me over the years.”

Well if you do decide to write such a blog, here’s a gem of a story for you.

A veteran conductor told me that when he first hired out as a trainman some 30 plus years ago, a passenger asked him for a ticket to Manhattan. Puzzled, he pulled out his crisp schedule and started running his index finger up and down the list of station stops. He finally gave up and told the passenger, “Sorry sir, this train doesn't go to Manhattan. We're headed for New York City."

For some reason, he asked that I not publish his name.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Letting Go

Junk
By Paul McCartney


Motor cars, handle bars
Bicycles for two
Brokenhearted jubilee

Today we had a neighborhood tag sale, and if it’s true that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” …today I sold a treasure trove.

Parachutes, army boots
Sleeping bags for two
Sentimental jamboree

My wife and I spent the better part of the week sifting through pieces of our daughters’ childhood; dusting off highchairs, bagging stuffed animals, even polishing Malibu Barbie’s red corvette. Each item told a story, and it was admittedly a little hard to let some things go.

Buy Buy
Says the sign in the shop window
Why Why
Says the in junk the yard

My older daughter Allie started high school this year and she’s having a little trouble adjusting. She says, “it’s hard being at the bottom of the high school food chain.” She’s also feeling a little overwhelmed. She is taking honors courses, which means that she has four-five hours of homework every night. In addition to this, her childhood friends are now breaking off into little cliques, and she feels as if she’s being left behind. Recently, another “popular girl” moved her lunch bag from “the cool” table in the high school cafeteria. Allie had gotten up from her seat to get a drink, and when she returned her bag was sitting at the far end of the table. She said that she then had to scramble to find another seat. She was very distraught.

My advice to my daughter was to let it go.

I understand that popularity is a big deal in high school," I said,"but in life’s big picture, it doesn’t really matter how popular you were in high school. Allie looked unconvinced. "Ya know," I continued, "I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popularity in high school and... I turned out alright.”
Now she looked really depressed.

My wife consoled her this way: “Someday you’ll see these girls at your high school reunion and you’ll see how things have turned around. The girls with the big boobs who are popular now, will probably be fat and unhappy, while the bookworms will have become beautiful and successful."

I think Allie was starting to feel better.

Candlesticks, building bricks
Something old and new
Memories for you and me

It began to rain at the tag sale and we were forced to move our tables of merchandise into our two-car garage. In my wife’s half of the garage, my daughters piled their games, dance costumes, baby dolls, puzzles, stuffed animals and Barbie dolls. They then took empty boxes and placed them in tiers, with each level of this cardboard high-rise condo displaying dolls in several varied and interesting positions. After doing this, they spent a good part of the afternoon combing out the knots that had formed in all their previously neglected Barbie dolls' hair (“for sale purposes” they told me.)

A middle-aged woman from Oklahoma was our first customer. Shortly after entering the garage, she found a battery-operated cat that belonged to my younger daughter. “Well howdy! The woman greeted the cat as she turned it in her hand. She then asked.. "What do you do?”
Before the cat could reply,  Allie ran over, turned the cat upside down and flipped a switch. At that, the cat began wagging it’s tail and purring loudly. The woman was delighted. She then moved on to the baby doll display; “Wow,” she said. “You girls must really love your dollies. It must be hard to let them go.”

After picking up two armfuls of junk, Uhh! …I mean treasure, the woman piled her merchandise on the card table that served as our checkout counter. I began totaling up her purchases on my calculator and my daughters bagged the goods. I passed the purring cat over to Allie but instead of putting it in the bag, she began petting the fur. The woman asked, “Are you sure you want to let go of that honey?” Allie (now a little flustered) said, “Yeah, no problem. This cat belonged to my sister anyway.”

Buy buy
Says the sign in the shop window
Why why
Says the in junk in the yard

After the tag sale I was exhausted. I was about to lie down on the couch when I found one of  Allie's old dolls sitting crossed legged on a cushion. “Don’t squish mini-Allie!  pleaded Allie. When I picked up the doll, I recognized it as one of the look-alike dolls we bought our daughters when they were younger. At the time, these dolls looked just like them and it was no surprise when my daughters named them Mini Allie and Mini Caitlin. They had the same brown pageboy haircuts, the same porcelain white skin and the same big blue eyes. As I lay down to nap, I placed the doll on my chest, just as I used to do with the girls when they were babies.

“Ahhh! Are you gonna sleep with your wittle dolly?” Allie asked.

“Yes…as a matter of fact I am.” I said.

Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

Buy buy
Says the sign in the shop window
Why why
Says the in junk in the yard

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

September 13th, 2001

It was dusk when my train rolled round the curve in the South Bronx and headed over the blue railroad bridge that traverses the Harlem River into Manhattan. It’s from this vantage point that an engineer gets his first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. Directly ahead he can see The MetLife Building. To the east stands the art-deco crown of the Chrysler Building. The needle of The Empire State Building rises further to the south, and just beyond that stood the twin towers of World Trade Center. But not this day…this day was different. It was September 13th, 2001, and the world had changed forever.

This was my first trip into the city after the terrorist attacks and because of a morbid curiosity; I craned my head out of train’s cab window to see what had become of the city I’ve come to love. The first thing I noticed was an acrid smell that had permeated the September air. A haze had settled over the twilight sky and gave a strange beauty to the sun as it set over the Hudson River. I scanned the horizon, searching for the spot where the towers once stood only to find angry plumes of white and black smoke billowing in the distance.

It had been an easy run from New Haven that day. The train was half full, and the commuters, (normally a loud and boisterous lot) were unusually quiet and subdued. They seemed shocked from the events of the previous days and not their usual selves. When we reached Grand Central everyone was strangely polite and they didn’t push their way off the train as they normally do. It seemed that everyone had slowed down and maybe appreciated just how precious life is.

When I entered the main concourse in Grand Central, I noticed that the building services department had hung a huge American flag from the center of the terminal’s famous teal and gold-leaf ceiling. A random passenger (who obviously had operatic training) put down his briefcase and looked up. He then spontaneously broke out into the most beautiful version of The Star Spangled Banner that I had ever heard. It was like something out of a corny 1930's movie, but I'll never forget it.

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet waveO'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

I gave him a round of applause and wiped a tear from my eye. I continued on to find that a kiosk/bulletin board had been erected in one of the terminal’s corridors. It was covered with flyers and pictures of missing people from the Trade Center Buildings. Most gave a description of the missing person and what floor they work(ed) on in the Trade Center. I noticed that most worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm that suffered a direct hit from one of the hijacked planes. Bouquets of flowers and prayer cards littered the floor beneath the kiosk. Several people stopped to read the heart-breaking messages that were posted there. Nobody walked away dry-eyed. The missing were old and young, rich and poor, black and white and yellow. It seemed the terrorists did not discriminate.

Loud crowds, taxis, car horns and construction, these are the sounds of the city, but that night all was quiet…too quiet. Todd, my engineer, recommended we go the nearest White Castle burger joint for a bite to eat. I had never been to a White Castle before (or since) but their tiny burgers are part of New York legend and I was eager to try them.
The restaurant was on 5th Avenue, across the street from the Empire State Building, and when I looked up I saw that it was illuminated red, white and blue. Along 5th Avenue, the merchants had left burning candles in front of their businesses to pay tribute to those who had lost their lives in the attack. In the distance I could see the same ominous clouds of smoke that I had spotted earlier in Harlem. Now the clouds loomed closer and looked even more threatening. The odor wafting through Midtown now smelled toxic, as if plastic was burning. It was starting to get to me.

After picking up donuts at Krispy Kreme in Penn Station, (we were on a health kick that night) Todd and I headed up to Times Square. If the sound of silence was eerie earlier, here it was down right frightening. The usually festive lights of Times Square now seemed garish and inappropriate in this time of mourning. The crossroads of the World was virtually empty, and the few people who were there were looking up at the Fox News banner that wraps around the building on 42nd Street. Others watched Peter Jennings deliver a special report on the giant TV screen that's displayed on the 1 Times Square building. Nearby, a street peddler sold T-shirts that read: I survived 9-11. Although tacky, in some way it was comforting to see that capitalism was still alive and well. Todd bought a T-shirt for “ posterity sake.”

On the way back to Grand Central we passed several newly installed concrete Jersey barriers that now surrounded the terminal. Vanderbilt Avenue, which served as Grand Central’s taxi stand, was cordoned off and filled with a large variety of police vehicles.
On the way to my train, I passed several camouflaged covered, machine gun toting, National Guard members and police in riot gear. I remember thinking that things would never be the same.

When I set up my train for the way home, I set aside two cars exclusively for the exhausted emergency workers at Ground Zero. These cars were filled with firemen, EMTs, police officers, ironworkers, clergy members, doctors, nurses and Red Cross volunteers. Some of them had been at the site for more than 24 hours, either digging through rubble or offering care and comfort to the rescue workers. Their clothes and shoes were covered with the white powder, which they tracked on the floor of the train. These cars soon filled with the smell of wet plaster and smoke that was imbedded in the clothes of these workers. Most told me that the images on television did not do justice to the immense destruction they encountered. They used the media’s new favorite word: “Surreal.” One ironworker had a new digital camera and he showed me some of the pictures he had taken. It was the first time I had seen a digital camera and I was very impressed

When my assistant John and I began loading the train, a group of five college-aged, bearded Pakistani/Indian looking men walked past us and boarded the rear car. They did not look unlike the photos of the terrorists that graced the cover of the New York Post that day and I must admit that John and I were a little panicked. So were our passengers. As soon as the five men boarded, several people gathered their belongings and got off the train. On the way out they asked us the departure time for the next New Haven train.

One of our company trainmasters (supervisors) stopped by our train to ask how things were going. We told him about the five guys that just boarded and how we had several worried passengers. The trainmaster asked if they had box cutters or in any way acted suspicious. We said that; "no, we hadn't seen box cutters," and "no, they hadn't acted suspicious," but that we still felt uncomfortable. He told us that there was nothing we could do, we were racial profiling.

Almost immediately after pulling away from the block in Grand Central, one of the five guys pulled out a camcorder and started videoing out the window. He was taping the Park Avenue Tunnel that leads out of Grand Central. John asked the guy to please stop taping, especially in view of the events of the past few days. The guy said that it was very important for him to tape and he refused to stop. John came and told me what had happened. I deemed this as “suspicious activity” and called for the police.

The police pulled these guys off the train in Stamford for questioning. I later found out that they were architecture students from India and that they were only interested in the design of Grand Central.

They picked the wrong week to do it.

On the way home I looked out over the sea of cars in each of the station parking lots. I wondered how long these cars had been sitting there, and if their owners would ever return. Unfortunately, many of them never did.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

House of Wax


Wow! What a whirlwind day. This "Derailed" blog thing has really taken off. One of my readers invited me over to her estate on 42nd St. for a dinner party. I wasn't in the door more than two minutes when Larry King accosted me.

"Hey Conductor to the Stars!"

"Hey Larry!"

"What brings you here?"

"The lady who owns this joint reads my blog, I think her name is Madame Tussaud, anyway she says she loves my stuff and she invited me over to hobnob with "the beautiful people. "

"Well we're pleased to have you here. Ya know... I hear good things about 'Derailed.' I hear book deal. I hear movie deal."

"Yeah Larry...From your lips to God's ears."

"No, really! Woody and I were just talking about you. I think he has something in mind. You should go over and talk to him. He's sitting over there in the corner."

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained... I guess. Thanks Larry! Oh, by the way...You need a mint!"



"Woody...Woodman...Woodster! Woody, I love ya babe."

"Well then... you're the only one. Ever since the Soon-Yi thing, I've become a parhia at these parties. Yoko Ono gets a better reception than me!"

"Well then, I guess we'll have plenty of time to talk. Larry King tells me you're thinking of developing a project around "Derailed." Is that true?

"I'm very interested. In fact I was just trying to convince Robin Williams to portray you.

"Woodman, Ya know I love ya, but I really don't think Robin and I look anything alike.



I really have someone else in mind. Someone who can better capture my soul. Someone like...



"No really Sam. I think you'd be perfect for the part!



I wasn't at the party long when I started to hear people muttering things like: "That's HIM!" and "Conductor to the Stars" and "Movie deal." Before I knew it, I was surrounded.




"Julia baby, don't embarrass yourself. I'm a married man!"



"I'M HOT! Oh I bet you say that to all the boys."


"Wow, I must be hot. I even met Baby Suri."



"Baby, I don't know if 'Chicken of The Sea' is chicken or tuna either. What I do know... is that you'd be perfect as my wife (In the movie of course!) Have your girl call my girl. We'll do lunch!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mailbag


Like any service industry, the railroad gets a lot of letters of complaint. Passengers write to complain about late trains, dirty trains, hot trains, cold trains and sometimes they write about rude conductors. A lot of these letters have merit, but sometimes these letters are a bit trivial.

Dave is a fellow conductor who also happens to work as a stand-up comedian. I see him almost every evening in Grand Central. He paces the floor of the conductor’s lounge as if it were center stage at Caroline’s Comedy Club. He looks a little like Paul Reiser, but his delivery is more Richard Lewis. Every night Dave has a gripe. Whether it’s politics, the company, the union or a recent passenger. No one is safe from Dave’s rants.

Dave’s performance on Wednesday night was particularly amusing. It seems that a passenger recently wrote a letter to the railroad to complain about the way he chews his gum. The passenger wasn’t so much offended that Dave was chewing gum; it was more the manner in which the gum was chewed. The letter said something like; “ He chews gum the way a cow chews cud.”

Dave was fired up:

“Can you believe that?” He asked.

“Don’t these people have anything better to do?”

“What? Do they expect the railroad to take disciplinary action if I don’t learn how to chew gum properly?”

Just as I began to wonder if Wrigley’s had a 12-step program for excessive chewers, Pete, another conductor chimed in:

“Yeh. You think that’s bad? A passenger once wrote a letter and complained about the way I smile. She said it was sinister!”

I thought these stories were pretty funny and that they’d make a good story for this blog. I began asking other conductors if they had ever been written up for frivolous reasons. Most conductors said no... and If they had been written up, the passenger had just cause. I was about to give up hope when someone shared the following story.

It seems that a fellow conductor named Evel, (rhymes with level) had a disagreement with a female passenger on his train one night. I’m not sure what the problem was, but the passenger demanded to know what his name was so she could write a letter of complaint. Evel (ever the gentleman) obliged the woman. He even went as far as spelling his name out on a piece of paper:

E-V-E-L M-O-R-A-L-E-S

He politely handed the piece of paper over to the passenger, but this seemed to only infuriate the woman further.

A couple of days later a trainmaster (supervisor) met Evel’s train at the platform in Grand Central. “Okay,” he said, “Which one of you wise guys told a woman that your that your name was Evil Morals?”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hair Today...Gone Tomorrow!


No, the above picture is not me!

David is a mentally challenged man who lives in town. He can be regularly seen pedaling his bicycle up and down Route 1. Almost everyone in town knows him by name, and he spends the better part of the day visiting (and pestering) the merchants up and down Main Street. He speaks in a VERY LOUD VOICE that some people find intimidating. Yesterday morning, he approached me (still wearing his bicycle helmet) in the local convenience store.

David: HEY, DON’T I KNOW YOU?

Me: Yes, David. We’ve met several times before.

David: DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU LOOK LIKE WITH THAT BALD HEAD OF YOURS?

(The people in the store now turn to look our way, waiting for my reply.)

Me: Yeh, Yeh, I know…I know. You think I look like Captain Stubbing from The Love Boat.

(He tells me this every time he sees me.)

David: YES, THAT’S RIGHT!!! CAPTAIN STUBBING, TELLY SAVALAS AND YUL BRENNER…COMBINED!

Me: Wow! That’s quite a list.

David: YOU’RE A VERY HANDSOME MAN!

Me: Thanks, David.

I tried to laugh off David’s left-handed compliment, but it really started to bug me. Gavin MacLeod (a/k/a Captain Stubbing) is like 32 years older than me. I usually don’t let the bald thing get to me, but it was the third time in the past week when somebody thought I was much older than I am.

It all started on Monday when I covered a conductor’s job on the Waterbury Branch. Train service had been canceled due to track work, and the railroad called in busses to shuttle people back and forth between Bridgeport and Waterbury. Whenever the railroad calls in busses, conductors ride along, collecting tickets and generally acting as a liaison between the bus company and the railroad. On this particular day, I worked with a pleasant bus driver named Eva.

Eva told me that she is a recent immigrant from Poland. She said that she’s been working as a bus driver for the past few years, but that she would like to get a job as a conductor. She told me she was afraid to apply because her English is, in her words, “Not so good.” I told Eva that I thought her English was fine, and that she’d make an excellent conductor. She then asked me the dreaded question:

“You retire soon?”

“No, I’m not old enough.”

“How old you?”

“Forty four.”

(She then looked at my bald head)

“OH…You Americans work too hard!”

“Yeah! Well at least I have all my teeth!”

(Okay, I really didn’t really say this…but I thought it.)

On Tuesday, I got a haircut at a barbershop across the street from Grand Central. This barbershop sits atop a Chinese restaurant that proudly displays roasted ducks (hanging by their necks) in their window. Beside the ducks hangs a sign that reads: “All haircuts $11.” (This would be a good deal for most people, but considering the amount of hair I have, it’s a rip off.) Beside the restaurant is a narrow staircase that leads up to a tiny barbershop with about eight chairs. The barbers that work here are of every ethnic background. Palestinians cut hair next to Israelis and Pakistanis in relative tranquility. They could really teach a lesson to the diplomats down the street at the United Nations.

It took my barber, a young Israeli, about two minutes to trim the ring of salt and pepper hair around my head. When he was done with my hair, he began trimming errant nose and ear hair. Before he finished he asked if I would like to have my eyebrows trimmed. “Might as well,” I said. I began to feel a little depressed when I realized that the barber had spent about as much time on my eyebrows, nose and ear hair as he did on my head. I said something like, “So it’s come to this, huh?”

How old you are? The barber asked in broken English.

“Forty four,” I said.

“Really?” he asked incredulously.

“Yep” I said.

“How old you think I am?” He asked.

This guy didn’t look a day over twenty but I wanted to play with him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe thirty?”

His face fell and he said, “No, I only twenty three.”

“Really?” I said.

As I walked out of the barbershop he was staring at himself in the mirror.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Oh What A Night!


Friday 08/04/2006-02:22 a.m. New Haven. Last stop.

If this blog has given you the impression that my job is all glamour and celebrities, this photo should correct that. It's a pretty good representation of what our late night trains are like. My friend emailed it to me. He said that he had to call the police to help him drag this guy's sorry butt off the train.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Joe Lieberman for U. S. Senate

This past weekend, the editorial board at “Derailed” gathered together in our conference room around a ridiculously long oak table. At the head of this table sat Bobby, our Editor and Chief. He called this emergency session because he believes that we should enter the political arena and endorse a candidate in tomorrow’s Connecticut Democratic senate primary race. There was some consternation among members who believed that we should continue this blog’s “no political agenda” policy.

At one point, Mrs. Bobby stood and spoke, saying that she is a proponent of avoiding controversial subjects like politics, race and religion. She fears that stating Bobby’s views, (as correct as they may be) risks alienating this blog’s burgeoning readership.

At the end of the meeting our Editor and Chief spoke. He stated that he would like to break with tradition just this once. “The reasons for this are two-fold” he said:

A. He has no new material.

B. This affords him the opportunity to brag about how he’s met Joe Lieberman.



Op-Ed

When I was in college, I used to work at Sears in the paint/electrical/small appliances and candy departments (divisions 30-34-11and 18 for all you Sears people out there.) One day Joe Lieberman (then a state senator) came up to me and made an odd request. He said his young son was having trouble sleeping and he was looking for a device that would emanate white noise. I was only about 20-years old at the time and I’d never heard of such a thing.

Me: Joe, let me get this straight. You want a machine that makes noise to put your kid to sleep.

Joe: Yeah, we tried it at a friend’s house and the kid went right
out.

Me: Nope, sorry. We don’t carry that product. Try the catalog department (Standard answer for all Sears salespeople.)

Joe: Thanks for your time. (What a mensch!)

Several years later, Joe (now a US senator) was on my train. When I collected his ticket, I reminded him of our past meeting and I asked if he ever found that white noise machine. Joe said that yes, he had found the machine and it had worked wonders. He said his son didn’t need it anymore, seeing that he had recently graduated from college.

Me: Boy! That makes me feel old.

Joe: How do you think it that makes me feel?

Mike, one of my co-workers, recently left a comment on one of my posts:

I was gating the trains in New Haven on New Years eve the year Gore and Lieberman lost in the election vs Bush, some blame the "Chads" in Florida. That night Joe Lieberman was putting his daughter on an Amtrak train. We had to give each person a seat check with a punch in it when we took their ticket. As Joe walked by surrounded by Metro North officials and CT state police, I said to him "Watch your step Joe, there's chads all over the floor and I know you had problems with them in Florida". Everyone laughed and Joe looked at me and said "You son of a." then he looked at one of the officials and said "Fire him". He was a real good sport, he really thought it was funny. I don't think my boss, Mr. Kanel thought it was that funny.

I’m endorsing Joe, not only because I think he’s a great guy but also because he thinks for himself. He doesn’t always tow the party line. People who think in terms of liberal and conservative/ left and right (think Al Franken/ Rush Limbaugh) make me nervous. Issues are rarely black and white; they’re more shades of gray and I think Joe understands that.

Some members of the Democtatic party are punishing Joe for not drinking their ideological Kool-Aid. Other members can’t get past what they viewed as a “Judas kiss” between he and President Bush after the State of the Union speech a few years back.

Personally, I’m having trouble getting past Ned Lamont’s embrace of Al Sharpton.

If he read this blog, I'm sure Joe Lieberman would approve this message.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Penny for your thoughts!

I returned to work on Tuesday after a week's vacation. When I got to the sign-in room in New Haven, I found Bill, my regular engineer, looking a little despondent.

“Why the long face," I asked.

“Ugh!" He said. "While you were on vacation, I inherited a Cockapoo puppy from my aunt.”

“I guess it’s not going too well then?”

“Well, actually, it was going fine till yesterday…and then he swallowed a penny.”

Being a new pet owner, Bill was very concerned. He raced the puppy to the local veterinary hospital where the vet gave the dog medicine to induce vomiting. It didn’t work. He then took X-rays of the dog’s stomach and put a camera probe down the dog's esophagus and into it’s stomach, but try as they might, they still couldn’t find the penny. After several more X-rays they finally spotted Old Abe resting comfortably in the puppy’s intestines.

The vet kept the dog overnight for observation, in hopes that it might pass a penny-laden poop but it never did. When they released the dog, they told Bill that he'd have to check the dog’s stools for the next couple of days. Bill had to work, so he enlisted a friend to stay at his house with the puppy. Her responsiblities were to feed the dog Bill's grandmother's meatballs and then follow it around his backyard until it moved it’s bowels.

As the night progressed, I heard Bill on his cell phone giving her instructions. He was saying things like, “The rubber gloves are on the counter,” and, “It’s getting late, so follow him around with a flashlight.”

“That’s a great friend you got there," I said.

“If we don’t find the penny, it means more tests and maybe surgery.”

“Those tests must cost a bundle.,”

“Thanks for reminding me. I’ve spent 948 freakin’ dollars already.”

“Wow! “That’s one magical pup you got there. He turned a penny into $948 overnight. He’s like the hen that laid the golden egg.”

“I just want it to lay the copper penny.”

“By the way… What did you name this dog?”

“Snickers. My aunt named him.”

“Maybe you should rename him Inflation.”

I could tell that this puppy had already stolen Bill’s heart, but he was sick over the vet bill. He kept complaining that the vet hadn’t even done anything except a few lousy tests. In an attempt to make Bill feel better, I told him about our late cat Casey.

"Casey got into weekly catfights, and he would always come home beaten up. The vet told us if we got him neutered he'd be less aggressive. He had the operation but it just gave him more reason to be ticked off. His fights continued and his ears soon looked like they'd been trimmed with pinking shears. His cuts turned into abscesses, and the abscesses would eventually burst. We were constantly bringing him to the vet for surgery (they would insert a drain), requiring at least an overnight stay. Then there were the stitches and antibiotics, then to top it all off, he got hit by a car and needed his jaw wired. The vet recommended that he have a root canal, but I told him that the cat didn't have dental. Casey lived till he was 18, and in all that time, I figure I must have spent thousands of dollars on him.”

Bill smiled and said, “I'm feeling better already!”

When we rolled into New Haven at the end of the night, Bill finally got the word from his friend. He then got on the PA system and announced to the whole train; The penny has been found!” The passengers had no idea what he was talking about, but the all of the crew members had a good laugh.

When I went to work on Wednesday, I asked Bill how the patient was.

Not bad,” he said, “except that he crapped on my new $2000 rug and then peed on my new couch.” Bill said he was at first angry at the dog, but then Snickers looked up at him with those big puppy dog eyes, and it melted his heart.

I knew exactly how Bill felt. I then told him the story about how my dog Brenna ate my wallet when she was a puppy. I had gone to bed and left my wallet in the back pocket of my uniform pants. Sometime during the night, I heard chomping and when I turned the light on, I found my wallet, license and credit cards strewn around my bedroom. Each of these items had incriminating bite marks in them.

BAD PUPPY!” I shouted. But Brenna just tilted her head and looked up at me with those big cocker spaniel eyes. I just couldn’t be angry anymore.

I collected the contents of my wallet and put it back together. I was going to put it on my nightstand, but my wife told me that the dog would probably grab it again. I figured she was probably right and I hid the wallet under my pillow.

The next day I threw on my uniform pants, completely forgetting that my wallet was under my pillow. As Murphy’s Law would have it, that night a Connecticut State Police trooper pulled me over on I-95 for speeding. When the trooper asked me for my license and registration, I instinctively reached for my back pocket. It then dawned on me where my wallet was. I told the officer, “You’re not going to believe this but… my dog ate my wallet…

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Old Cape Cod


If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod
If you like the taste of a lobster stew
Served by a window with a ocean view
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod
If you spend an evening you’ll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod


My family and I just came back from a mini-vacation on Cape Cod, and the whole time we were there, the above song kept playing in the back of my head. You may recognize it. It’s called “Old Cape Cod,” recorded by Patti Page in 1957. The song speaks of some of the Cape’s charm; the sand dunes, salty air, little villages, great seafood. These are some of the things we love about the Cape, but Patti left out some of my daughters favorite things.

While driving through Providence, Rhode Island, on the way to the Cape, it has become family tradition for my wife and I to point out the giant insect that sits atop the New England Pest Control building. The bug has become a New England landmark, and my daughters can’t wait to see it. Sometimes the pest control people dress it in a Red Sox uniform or a pair of sunglasses. This year it was naked but my girls loved it all the same.

When we arrived at the Wellfleet Motel and Lodge, the first thing my younger daughter did was run and smell the soap. We've stayed at this motel several times before, and to her, the smell of the motel soap harkens back to fond memories of summer vacations past. We all think she's a little strange for sniffing the soap, but she doesn't care what we think. She loves it. This year in fact, she hoarded seven bars to take home with her. She's hoping it will get her through the long Connecticut winter.

After my daughter was done sniffing the soap, we threw on our bathing suits and ran to the motel pool and hot tub for a dip. It's one of our favorite things to do. I keep telling the girls that someday we'll get a hot tub to call our own. That someday hasn't come...yet.

Our days were spent at the Cape Cod National Sea Shore. Here my daughters begged me to go body surfing with them in the icy cold surf. I did my best, trying to be a good father and all, but the ocean was way-way too icy and cold. We all retreated back to our beach blankets where the girls whined that they wanted to go back to the motel pool. I whined because I had spent $15 on beach parking.

At night we went to the Wellfleet Drive-In Movie Theatre. It is conveniently located right across the street from our motel. Going there is like travelling back in a time machine and the girls have a blast. We always bring pillows and blankets and stock up on junk food as we watch the nightly double feature. On Wednesday we watched "Monster House" and "Click." Friday we saw "Pirates of the Caribbean II" and "Shaggy Dog." The girls thought that these movies were pretty good, but they can't compare to their favorite movie... the "Intermission" film:

Intermission Time


Perhaps Ms. Page can update her song:

If you're fond of Insects atop pest control buildings
Quaint intermission movies at the Drive-In
If you like the smell of the soap in your motel bathroom
Afternoon dips in a indoor hot tub
You're sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod