Wednesday, June 28, 2006


My mother was an intelligent, well read women with a good vocabulary, but for some unknown reason, she had trouble saying words with the double “T” consonant in the middle of them. In my mother’s world, a bottle was a bot’l and the word little was pronounced lit’l. Herds of cows were called cat’l and the largest city in Washington was Seat’l. My sister Maureen and I found this very amusing, and we would intentionally ask her questions like:

“What do you call the metal teapot on the stove?”

“You mean the ket'l?” she’d answer.

We would then roll on the ground in laughter, and try to think up more questions to ask.
Occasionally we’d try and make up sentences with all of my mother’s most famous mispronounced words:

“Hey Ma!” we’d say. “Put the cat’l in the ket’l with a lit’l but’r or we’ll have a bat’l.”

“Don’t be fresh,” she’d say.

Some words that didn’t have a double “T” consonant were also a challenge. The word “turtle” comes to mind. She referred to all high-necked sweaters as turt’l necks and to this day I cannot look at one without thinking of my mother.

I came up with the idea for this post over this past weekend. I was at my brother Brian’s house, attending a high school graduation party for his daughter. After pouring myself a cup of coffee, I discovered there was no Splenda (the artificial sweetener) in the house. I knew that my wife (who is always prepared) carries extra packets of the sugar substitute in her pocketbook.

“Do you have any Splenda?” I asked my wife.

Splender!” My ex-sister in law, Monique screamed.

Monique was married to my oldest brother Emmett. She has been part of our family for forever, and we’re all very fond of her. Since their divorce in the mid 80’s, Monique has remarried, become a grandmother and opened her own housekeeping business. She is a very sweet and intelligent woman and is always a load of fun to be around. This is why we still invite her to our family functions.

“Did you know, that if you have sugar ants on your kitchen counter you can kill them with Splender?” Monique said.

“You mean Splenda,” I said.

“That’s what I said,” she answered. “All you have to do is open a little packet of Slender and leave it on the counter. The ants take a few granules back to their nests and it kills the whole colony.”

“No,” I said. “It’s not Splender and it’s not Slender, it’s called Splenda.” I now spelled it, S-P-L-E-N-D-A. “Come on, you can say it,”

Plenda” .

“No Splend-AH,” I said, now trying to emphasize the AH sound.

Slend-AH” She said.

“No! No! No! I was starting to feel like Professor Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle.

My mind wandered back to a day several years ago, when Monique said she was tired. So tired in fact, that she needed "tootpicks" to keep her eyes open.”

“Tootpicks? I asked.

“Yeh,” you know? She said, the little sticks they put in olives.”

Being young, I felt odd correcting her, but I wasn’t going to let it go now. I was a man on a mission. I cupped my fingers around her mouth, and helped her form the word.

SPLENDA,” I said.

PLENDISH” she said.


PLENDA” she said.



Saturday, June 24, 2006

You're so vain

Posted by Picasa A bridge on Amtrak’s Hell Gate branch got stuck in the upright position and our train was instructed to accept all of Amtrak’s passengers. As I stood in the ticket line in Union Station in New Haven, an Amtrak passenger who looked a lot like singer Carly Simon stood behind me. The woman was hidden behind a pair of big sunglasses. She had Simon’s wavy hair, large mouth and those familiar luscious lips that have graced so many album covers. I found it hard to believe that Ms. Simon would be hanging out in New Haven on a Sunday night so I turned around and said:

“Wow, you look just like Carly Simon.”

“Yeah,” she said, “I get that a lot.”

It wasn’t till she and her husband boarded my train that I realized that she was, in fact, Carly Simon. My brother Brian(who happened to be my Engineer that evening) walked back through the cars, checked her out and confirmed my suspicions.

“Aha! I said as I collected her ticket." You are who I thought you were.”

She just smiled and hid her face in a magazine. For the rest of the ride I had to resist the urge to sing, “You’re so vain.”

Monday, June 19, 2006

Raja and Me

I stopped by the local convenience store after dropping my daughters off at school. I poured myself a cup of coffee, picked up the newspaper and decided to order an egg sandwich from the deli counter. While my sandwich was being prepared, I chatted with the Indian family that owns the store. I regularly stop at this store, but I usually only exchange pleasantries with the family patriarch who mans the cash register. This day however, I conversed with his wife.

Me: Hey, I see by the name on your health certificate that your family name is Patel. I work with a woman from India and her name is Patel and her family also owns a convenience store. Come to think of it... almost all the Indian people I know are named Patel.

Indian woman: Yes sir. In our region of India, everyone’s last name is Patel.

Me: That must be confusing?

Raja, the woman’s 24-year old son, now took over the conversation.

Raja: Not really sir.

Me: Well if everyone’s last name is Patel, how do you tell each other’s families apart?

Raja: Sir…we just know.

I should have given up the inquisition here...but I was intrigued.

Me: How do you know?

Raja: Sir…it is just part of our culture. We just know these things. Everyone knows who is related to whom.

Raja then went off on a tangent that didn’t seem related to our conversation.

Raja: Sir… yesterday we had a 16-year old girl hiding out behind our store. She was a runaway. We had to hold this girl in our store till the police and her parents arrived. Now, such a thing might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is very foreign to our culture. No offense… but something like this would never have happened in India.
You see…cultures differ.

I finally got his point.

Me: All I meant to say, is that it must get a little confusing when everyone has the same last name. I didn’t mean to offend you, your family or your culture. I was just saying that it has to get confusing. That’s all.

Raja: Well sir…I did send my friend an Email recently. He had to write me back because he had four different friends named Raja Patel. He didn’t know which Raja Patel had written the Email.”

Me: Ha! So it DOES get confusing!

Raja: Yeh!…a little, sometimes.

Friday, June 16, 2006

aka Tania

A familiar looking woman got on the train in Green’s Farms. She looked like your average Fairfield County wife, decked out in preppy clothes and the mandatory blond bob haircut, but there was something very familiar about her. I collected her ticket and then it hit me. It was Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress and former member of the Simbianese Liberation Army. She looked a far cry from the bereted bank robber that the SLA christened as Tania.

Because my mind is full of useless trivia, I remembered that Ms. Hearst had married her bodyguard, a man whose last name is Shaw. Being the sensitive type, I didn’t want to draw needless attention to her, so I addressed her by her married name.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Shaw," I said.

There was no reply, but the look she gave me spoke volumes.

I momentarily felt embarrassed and continued on to the next passenger.

“Hey,” I later told a co-worker, “it wasn’t like I said, Yo Tania! Let’s go knock off the Bank of America.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I was driving my daughters to school last week, when my daughter C said, we’re going to see “The Movie.”

“What movie is that?” I asked.

“You know?” She said, (now losing her patience with me) THE Movie.”

“WHAT MOVIE?” I asked. I was still half asleep and I just wasn’t getting it.

“Dad,” my older daughter A chimed in. “You know THE Movie. The one they show all the 6th graders in health class?”

“Oh!” I said. THE MOVIE!”

I now understood that C was talking about the movie about puberty that the health teacher shows at the end of the school year-- with both girls and boys present. It is one of the most talked about (and feared) events of the school year.

“Are you nervous about that?” I asked.

"No, not really," she said matter of factly.

When we reached their school, I wished my daughter A luck on her finals and then I wished C luck on watching THE MOVIE.

That night I called home from work and talked to my wife.

“How did the girls' day go?” I asked.

“Good,” my wife said with a chuckle. “Did C tell you she that she was going to see THE MOVIE today?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “How’d that go?”

My wife told me that the girls came home from school and sat down for a snack in the kitchen. Just as any other day, she asked them how their day went. That was when the topic of THE MOVIE came up. My wife nonchalantly asked C if she had learned anything interesting or new from the film.

“YEAH!” C said. “I learned that boys have problems too!” She had previously only heard about the problems that girls face at puberty, so this obviously came as quite a shock.

“Like what?” my wife inquired. (Not having the slightest idea of what answer she might hear, but keeping the conversation open and light.)

C scrunched up her face, eyes half shut...dangled her finger in front of her and then, with a rising whistle sound effect (like a firework shooting up on the Fourth of July) pointed her finger straight out and then skyward.

“Yup!" My wife said with a straight face, "They sure do have that problem...and you thought only girls had to deal with changes."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brian's Song

Posted by Picasa On a Sunday afternoon in 1958, my parents piled their eight kids into their car, (this was before I was born) and drove up to Wallingford to visit my grandmother. After reaching Nana's house, someone noticed that my brother Brian was missing. Being that he was only about four years old at the time, my parents were quite concerned. My father jumped back in the car and sped home to find Brian sitting on his tricycle in the driveway and crying his eyes out.

Ever since that day, Brian has made sure that his presence be known.

When Brian was a teenager (in the early 1970's,) he and his friends used to hang out in a place they named "Flat Rock." Flat Rock was not as bucolic as it sounds, in fact, it was a just a clearing in the brush next to the railroad tracks that ran behind The Armstrong Rubber Factory. Hidden from parents and the local police, the boys would gather here and drink beer (undoubtedly purchased by an older friend or sibling at a minimal profit). With the smell of freshly manufactured tires heavy in the air and their vocals occasionally drowned out by passing trains, each boy would sing their own signature song.

Crow's tune was "Already gone" by the Eagles. All the boys would join in on the chorus:

I'm already gone
And I'm feelin ' strong
I will sing this victory song
Woo hoo hoo
Woo hoo hoo

The boys then sang a misogynist version of the 1950's hit "Duke of Earl":

Puke, Puke, Puke
Puke on girls, girls, girls
Puke on girls, girls, girls
Puke on girls, girls, girls

Soon it was Brian's friend Phil's turn to sing his anthem. He gave new lyrics to the Harry Chapin song "Taxi":

It was raining hard in Flat Rock
I needed one more beer to make my night

But the evening wasn't complete until Brian, or Big Mac as they called him, sang his signature song... "Tobacco Road."

I was born
Bun num! (All bystanders were required to sing this bass line)
In a dump
Bun num!
My mama died
And my daddy got drunk

Although several artists have recorded this song, no one has captured it quite like Edgar Winter did in his 1970 version (click here for sample) . This is the who Big Mac emulated when he sang:

And I love you
Because you're filthy
And I love you cause you're home

The highlight of Brian's song came when he'd hold an impossibly high note for what seemed like an eternity:

And I lo-oo-ooo-oooo-ooooo-ooooo-oooooo-ve you!


When Big Mac held this note, his face turned crimson red and his veins bulged from his temples. Legend has it, that after one such performance he gave himself a hernia and that he had to have surgery shortly afterward.

That's rock and roll baby!

Big Mac performed this song at his high school class night in 1973. At that concert he had all his classmates singing the bun num bass line, and at the end of the song he got a standing ovation. That evening, Brian... and his song, became part of West Haven High School legend.

Shortly after joining the railroad and becoming an engineer, Brian and some friends went on vacation(I forget where). He performed Tobacco Road in a honky tonk bar and the crowd went nuts. Before the night was over, a record executive approached him and gave him his business card. He told Brian that he was a talent agent for a major record label and that he would like to discuss a recording deal. Brian figured that the record executive was as drunk as he was and never made the phone call.

Now that my brother is 52- years old, he finds Tobacco Road's high notes a little too hard to reach. His new signature song is 'Danny Boy."After a few beers and a little prompting (the amount of prompting depends on how many beers he's had) he'll make his way out to the dance floor and sing:

But come ye back when summers in the meadow
Or when the valleys hushed and white with snow
Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Danny boy, Oh Danny boy, I love you so

It's enough to bring smiling Irish eyes to tears.

A couple of years ago, Brian was running a deadhead train (meaning he didn't have passengers on board) from Stamford, CT to Grand Central. (This ride that takes about 45 minutes.) He had no one to keep him company so he kept himself amused by performing a little concert in the engineer's cab. With one hand on the throttle, the other hand was free to pound out a beat on the cab console. Brian sang from Connecticut through Westchester County, The Bronx, and Harlem. When he finally reached the end of the line in Grand Central, Mark, the chief rail traffic controller was waiting for him.

Brian knew something was up so he pulled down the engineer's cab window and asked, "What's up?"

Mark said that he, as well as the rest of the railroad, enjoyed his 45 minute concert but he was going to have to call in the mechanics to repair the stuck "transmit button" on his engineer's cab radio.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Actor/Director Ron Howard is usually on the top of other New Haven Line Conductor’s list of celebrity sightings and it had frustrated me that I had never run into him. I had spent most of my life watching him on TV and it felt as if we had grown up together. I was more than a little jealous that others had seen him before I did. Hadn’t we, I thought, spent many an afternoon skipping stones at the fishin’ pond with Pa and Barney. Oh, I’m sure, that while in high school, I shared fries with him, Potsy and Ralph at Arnold’s Drive In.

Then one fateful day while collecting tickets on the Stamford local, a thin red haired man in a blue baseball cap handed me his ticket. It was my old friend Ron. At first, I must confess, I was annoyed when there was no hint of recognition on his face. As I punched his ticket, I told him of the previous Thanksgiving when I had his brother Clint, (the kid from Gentle Ben,) on my train, but this didn’t seem to impress him much. I put his ticket in my pocket and stood in the vestibule to regroup my thoughts.

After our Port Chester Station stop, Ron gathered his things together and walked towards me. Finally, I thought, he remembers me, but he said nothing. At a loss for words, I noticed the Apollo 13 logo that emblazoned his cap.

"Is that your latest movie?" I asked.

"Yes it is," he said.

"What’s it about?" Asked one of the several pinstriped-clad Wall Street barons who were now standing around the vestibule area with suitcases in hand.

What’s it about? I thought. Isn’t that pretty obvious, but being the nice guy that Ron is, he proceeded to tell the cliff note version of the Apollo 13 story. Just as we crossed the New York/Connecticut state line he said, “Houston we have a problem,” and the movie credits rolled as we slid into Greenwich Station where he got off the train. As he walked down the platform I almost yelled:

“ Hey Ron, let’s meet at Goober’s fillin’ station for a bottle of pop,”

Monday, June 05, 2006

He turned on a dime!

I was collecting tickets on the train one afternoon when I came upon an old Irish gentleman. He perked up when he saw my company ID.

Old Irishman: Cheers Mr. Mac Donough!

Me: Cheers! I can tell by your brogue that you're from Ireland.

Old Irishman: Aye! Sure I am.

Me: Do you live here now?

Old Irishman: No laddie, I'm visiting me relations.

Me: I've never been to Ireland, but I'd love to go someday.

Old Irishman: Oh, laddie you must. In fact I'll meet you in the pub and we'll have a few pints.

Me: That sounds great... but I don't drink.


Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Breaking and Entering

Posted by Picasa While growing up, we never locked the doors to my mother’s house. In fact, none of us even owned a house key. Coming from a big family, it seemed pointless to lock the door, especially when we knew someone would be entering or exiting at any given moment. Guests would marvel at the traffic flow at her front door. It seemed as soon as someone left the house, somebody else would enter. They said that our house reminded them of Grand Central Station and that she should install a revolving door.

Shortly after I’d moved out, somebody broke into my mother's house. Actually more like walked in. Luckily no one was home at the time of the burglary and the burglar, finding little of value, escaped with a jar of coins and some of my mother’s costume jewelry. Her neighbors were in a state of panic. “How could this happen on Union Avenue?” They asked. The telephone lines burned as they called one another with news of the break in at Kay's (my mother) house. With the criminal still on the loose, the neighbors agreed to form a block watch and that everybody should be on the lookout for suspicious looking characters.

A few days after the robbery, I called my mother to check up on her. She said that she was still a little shaken and that she no longer felt the same sense of security. Now living alone for the first time in her life, she decided to start locking the doors. After days of searching junk drawers, she finally found the key to the front door. She then went to the hardware store to had copies made. She told me to drop by and she would give me one of the new keys.

My washing machine was broken, so the next day, I filled a big blue and white striped laundry bag with clothes from our hamper and headed across town to my mother’s house. When I pulled up, I noticed that somebody new had moved in next door in the house that once belonged to my grandfather. I pulled the laundry bag from the back seat of my Honda Civic and headed up the sidewalk to the front door. I instinctively twisted the doorknob and pushed, forgetting that my mother had started locking her doors. I knocked several times but nobody answered. I then remembered that she said she was going to the beauty salon and then morning mass with her friends.

I wouldn't be deterred, so I walked around to the rear of the house, dragging my overstuffed laundry bag, and tried opening the door to the family room. Again the door was locked. Surely, I thought, the cellar hatchway will be open, but pull as I might, it just wouldn’t budge. I then I had a brainstorm. I knew that if locking doors was something new to my mother, she probably hadn’t even begun to think about locking the windows. I congratulated myself for my brilliance, then climbed on top of a row of trash barrels and pushed the family room window open.

I momentarily thought of how my actions might look to my mother’s neighbors but then I figured that they'd known me all my life and that they would probably recognize me.

When I was half way through the window, I thought of the new next-door neighbor. They didn’t know me. Perhaps I should have gone over and introduced myself before climbing in the window. Too late now, I was already in the family room. I next grabbed the pull strings to my laundry bag and walked down to the basement and began doing my laundry.

After pouring the detergent into the machine, I heard the sound of squealing tires sliding on the pavement in front of the house. I walked back upstairs to see what all the commotion was about. As I peered out the front window, I saw what looked like two unmarked police cars parked at strange angles out front. Instantly, there was pounding on the front door.

It was “ The Fuzz!”

I opened the door to find a West Haven detective, his gun drawn and ready. He gave me a hard stare.

“I was afraid this might happen.” I said.

“You were, huh?...What are you doing in here?

“Laundry!” I answered.

I went on to explain that this was my mother’s house, and how we never locked the doors growing up and that I hadn’t gotten my new key yet and . . .I could tell that detective only half believed me. He raised his hand, as if to say STOP, pushed the button on his radio, and said . . .“Jimmy get in here!”

My brother Jimmy (then a West Haven detective) came running into the house from the back door. He also had his gun drawn.

“What the #$&*@ are you doing?!?! He demanded.

“Laundry,” I said. “The doors were all locked, so I climbed in the back window.”

“You’re an #*@$%&!!!” He shouted.

Jimmy then had to radio his desk sergeant with a report. The desk sergeant that day just happened to be my brother John.

“Yeah, it’s Bobby!” Jimmy said. “He wanted to do his laundry and the doors were locked so he climbed in the window out back.”

“What an #*$%@&!” John said.

It turns out that the new next-door neighbor just happened to look out her kitchen window and saw me prowling around outside. She then called Irene, another neighbor. Irene looked out her window and apparently didn't recognize my rump as it climbed through the window. They called the police immediately.

As they say, the rest is history! This story is now Union Avenue legend.