Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Scenes from a Terminal
In Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, a Madison Avenue adman played by the dashing Cary Grant is mistaken for a government agent and pursued across the country by a gang of spies. He makes his escape from New York City in an exciting sequence filmed at night inside the real station. This is one of Hitchcock's most masterful and entertaining films. It has everything -- comedy, suspense, and Cary Grant (sigh).
This 1988 movie features Robert DeNiro as a bounty hunter who has to transport Charles Grodin from New York to L.A. before he can collect his fee. Grodin is afraid of flying, so DeNiro drags him through Grand Central to catch a train to Los Angeles. This is just the beginning of their long, strange journey. This is one of the best road-trip/buddy movies ever made.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
It’s Christmas morning and my mother is standing in the kitchen in front of a bronze colored electric range. She is mashing a big metal pot full of boiled potatoes, still dressed in her bathrobe, her head is wrapped in a toilet paper turban which protects a head full of pin curls that she set the night before while watching The Carol Burnett Show. A Virginia Slim cigarette droops from her lips with a 1-½ inch ash hanging from its tip. “Watch your cigarette…” I call out, but it’s too late, and the ash surrenders to the laws of gravity and collapses into the pot of spuds. My mother makes a half-hearted attempt to separate the ash from the potatoes and then continues mashing.
It’s 1975, and against the protests of my sister Maureen and I, my mother has again invited two mentally challenged coworkers to join us (her nine children, and four of their spouses) for Christmas dinner. Being teenagers, Maureen and I are totally embarrassed by our mother's charity, and compassion. We say things like… “What, are we a soup kitchen?” and “Why can’t we just have a normal Christmas like other families?”
Our mother becomes angry with us, and says that we’re being selfish and missing the whole point of the holiday. “If it weren’t for us,” she says, “these people would be spending Christmas alone."
“Alright,” we bargain. “You can invite Crazy Ann, but can’t Screwy Louie stay home.”
“Too late,” my mother says, “Jimmy (my brother) already went to pick him up.”
“Great,” Maureen says sarcastically. “Remember last year? Louie kept staring at Eileen’s (my sister) chest and yelling, Headlights! Headlights!
Then he spent the rest of the day telling her how much she looked like Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched.”
Now I pipe in; “Every year it’s the same thing. Louie walks in screaming Kaymadunna... Kaymadunna. Doesn’t he know your name is Kay McDonough? He says it like it’s all one word. Next, he’ll see me and ask; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Last year, just to get him off my back, I told him I wanted to be a garbage man. That really set him off. He spent the rest of the day counseling me, saying I should be a doctor or a lawyer, anything but a garbage man. “But I really like trash,” I told him.
We hear the front door shut and soon “Crazy Ann” is standing in the kitchen. She looks as if she has just returned from a series of shock treatment sessions. Her eyebrows are thick and severe looking. Her lipstick is bright red, and smeared across her face. I remember thinking she looked like a cross between Joan Crawford in “Whatever happened to Baby Jane,” and Lady Elaine Fairchild from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
If truth be told, Ann really wasn’t crazy, but rather a woman who had a hard life and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. Each year she sits silently at our Christmas dinner table, doing her best to deflect my mother’s attempts to engage her in conversation with “yes” and “no” answers.
“Ann,” my mother asks. “Do you have a Christmas tree in your apartment?”
“No,” Ann answers. “I’m Jewish.”
Maureen and I glare at our mother.
By noon, with the exception of Jimmy and Louie, all the guest have arrived. It is snowing and my mother is getting nervous. She jumps out of her chair whenever the phone rings and finally, one of those calls is from Jimmy.
Jimmy says that Louie isn’t at his apartment. He rang his bell several times and even circled the neighborhood. Louie is nowhere to be found. My mother is upset by this news, but she tries to stay calm. Maybe, she thinks, Louie got a ride from a friend or perhaps he took a cab to our house and just hasn’t arrived yet. She tells Jimmy to circle the block one more time and then come home. I can tell her nerves are on edge as I watch her stir the gravy,
“Watch out for your cig…” I call, but again I'm too late, and another 1 ½” ash falls into the gravy boat.
While the family gathers round the table, my mother makes a series of phone calls to the New Haven Police Department. Each time she gives a description of Louie to the desk sergeant, explaining that he is a mentally disabled man and that he should have been to our house hours ago. The sergeant says that it's too soon to file a missing person’s report, but that he's sure Louie will show up eventually. We all take turns reassuring our mother the police are right, and then ask her to lead us in prayer by saying "Grace" before our meal. She begins:
Forgive me Father
For I have sinned
It has been…
We all burst out laughing.
As her act of contrition, she runs back to the phone and tracks down Louie’s friends and neighbors. She asks each of them if they know where Louie is. Nobody does. Different scenarios are now racing through her head. Did he forget? Did he get another invitation? Is he lying dead on the side of the road? Her questions are soon answered when Louie finally calls and says that he had gotten another dinner offer, and simply forgot to tell my mother about it. He apologizes profusely.
My mother is furious.
That was the last time Louie spent a holiday with our family. He eventually found a girl, got married, and now eats (nicotine free) holiday meals with a saner group of people. He still thinks I’m hauling garbage somewhere.
I don’t know what became of “Crazy Ann.”
My mother passed away on December 23, 1996 and now the Christmas season is bittersweet for my family and me. We're no longer embarrassed by our mother’s charity and compassion. In fact...we’re quite proud of it.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Rebel without a clue
Recently, I heard that the toilet snif...oops! I mean, "The Operation Service Managers," were instructed to to temporarily "look the other way" if they see a conductor wearing a holiday themed tie. So today, when I got dressed for work, I put on my "snowman tie." (Did I just hear a collective gasp from my readers?) Wait... it gets better... it even plays a medley of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas,"...over and over again. If that doesn't put my passengers in the holiday spirit, I don't what does.
When I got to work, I proudly displayed my tie. It made me feel like "a loner...a rebel", and maybe a little bit dangerous. I was a regular James Dean in blue polyester. I walked into the conductors lounge in Grand Central, with my chest puffed out. I wanted the boys to see just how "wild and crazy" I was. That's when Kevin, a Hudson Line conductor, walked in:
For the past few days, Kevin has been wearing this outfit while working his train. His tie is much louder than mine and his jacket is covered with strings of blinking Christmas lights. If you look closely, you can see that he is wearing the official Metro North conductor's badge on the fur trim of his hat. Huh, I guess he's not much of a rebel after all.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007
Yesterday, Dan Fogelberg passed away at age 56 from prostate cancer. He takes with him a big part of my youth.
In the holiday spirit, I give you "Another Auld Lang Syne."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Listening to Christmas Carols with my daughters
of a White Christmas
Just like the ones
I used to know...
Hey girls, that's Bing Crosby... He's dead.
Chestnuts roasting on an
Jack Frost nipping
At your nose...
You know who that is? That's Nat King Cole...he's been dead for a long time now. Lung cancer....I think?
Have yourself a
Merry little Christmas
God rest ye
Let nothing you dismay...
That's Robert Goulet, and guess what?
Yeah, we know. He's dead.
Correct!... So recent too!
Dad...Can you please turn off the radio? You're depressing us.
Monday, November 05, 2007
About a month ago, I stumbled across an excellent blog called "Trainjotting." It's described as, "a site that covers the picayune details about commuting to Manhattan, and back again."
In this forum, passengers are free to vent about such things as; Messy trains, late trains, crowded trains, fellow passengers, and, if you can believe it... rude conductors.
Mike, the author of Trainjotting, recently asked me to answer five questions for one of his posts. I've reprinted the interview here, with his permission:
1. What’s the craziest thing you ever saw after 21 years on the job?
I once caught two couples having a mini-orgy on one of the late night trains. Passengers having sex on the train is more common than you might think, but this is the only time I caught two couples in action (I was more embarrassed than they were).
The craziest rider award goes to “Rocky,” a 6′4″ cross dresser who regularly rides our rails (all three lines). He usually boards the train as a man, but like a sexually ambiguous Superman, he’ll run into a nearby train lavatory and come out dressed in pink hot pants (with the words “BOY TOY” emblazoned on the back), a halter-top, a feather boa, black platform leather boots and a Tina Turner wig. You should see the look on the other passengers’ faces. It’s priceless.
On a more serious note, the days following 9/11 were definitely the strangest. Read my post about it here:
2. Riders give Metro-North conductors high approval ratings. What grade do you give riders?
My knee-jerk reaction was to give riders poor grades, but that’s because I usually work late night trains when everybody’s drunk and obnoxious. Outside of this demographic, I’d give our passengers a “B.” Most people merely ask us to get them from Point A, to Point B, in a safe, considerate and timely manner. When we don’t meet these expectations, they get a little upset …I can’t fault them for that.
If they’d only clean up after themselves, they’d get a B+.
3. Does the MTA know about your conductor blog? Do they care?
“Derailed” was mentioned in the “Commuters Journal” section of the New York Times last year, and The New Haven Register recently did an article on me.
Both of these articles are posted on the MTA ’s company website, so I guess they’re vaguely aware of me and my blog. I try to be careful and not write anything that would embarrass, or in any way damage the company.
4. If I could implement one rule for Metro-North, it would be…
Communicate…communicate…communicate. I have seen some progress in this area over the past few years, but when the #@%* hits the fan, communication between company and passengers breaks down. I agree that conductors could do a better job communicating as well, but we’re usually left as clueless as the passengers.
5. Which stop has the best riders? The worst?
When my wife was a child, she’d ask her mother, “Which one of us kids do you like best?” Her mother would answer… “I dislike you all equally.”
That’s kind of the way I feel about our stations. Each one has its own unique personality, some good qualities, some not so good. For example, riders from wealthy towns are usually bright and interesting people, but they also tend to be demanding…Some are downright arrogant, (the phrases “I’ll have your job” and “You work for me” come to mind.)
Stations in urban areas are full of hard-working, “salt of the earth” type of people, but it’s here that we find most of our fare evasion problems.
Conductors say that Harlem Line passengers are by far the nicest, most polite people on Metro-North territory. Hudson Line passengers, they say, are a close second. Rumor has it that they say “please” and “thank you” over there. When we New Haven Line conductors hear these stories, we stand with mouths agape in disbelief.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Senator McDonough and The Haunted House
"You're 13 now." I told her. I would hope that by now you've realized, these places aren't real, they're fake. The scenery is fake, screams are recorded and the monsters and zombies are merely townsfolk dressed in costumes and Halloween masks."
"I don't care," she said. "I'm not going... and you can't make me go!"
"But all of your friends are going!" (Yeah, I know, this is counter to the standard parent's "jumping off of a bridge" argument, but I was desperate.) "Besides, you're missing out on a big part of your childhood. Why, when I was your age, I loved going to haunted houses."
"Fine...then YOU go!"
"Well it's your own fault," she said. "You and Mom should have taken me to haunted houses when I was younger, then maybe I wouldn't be soooo afraid of them now."
"What?? We've tried for years, but you've always refused to go!"
"Well, you should have tried harder! You should have made me go!"
"Okay then, how about this: We'll make you go to a haunted house this year, and then you won't be soooo afraid of them in the future."
"Nope! Sorry Daddy...too late."
My daughter's "Catch 22" logic confounds me, but, something tells me that someday . . . she'll make a fine politician.
Monday, October 22, 2007
I KNOW WE'RE COOL
I was sitting on a park bench at The Water Conservatory Pond in Central Park this afternoon, when a slim, attractive, blonde haired women walked by. She was followed by her toddler son and the boy's Mexican nanny. The three of them stopped in front of me, as the toddler reached to pet two passing dogs.
"Oh, isn't he adorable," said a group of white haired senior citizens that were seated on the park bench next to me. The mom smiled a toothy grin and thanked the women for the compliments. "C'mon Cheech," she said, now trying to pull her son away from the dogs.
Oh, you really need to get him a dog," offered one of the seniors.
"Yeah," the mom said politely," we plan to."
Wow, I thought, this mom looks just like Gwen Stefani. I again looked at the toddler and suddenly recognized him as Kingston, Stefani's 18 month-old son. I had seen their picture in People Magazine numerous times.
Dare I approach her?
Of course I do...I'm the "Conductor to the Stars."
They started to walk away, but I followed close behind. "Excuse me...Are you Gwen Stefani?"
"Yes I am." She said.
Kingston made a b-line for the pond but Gwen quickly grabbed his arm. I was slightly embarrassed by my intrusion, but I continued on. "I'm sorry to bother you, but my wife and daughters are big fans of yours, and they saw you in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena, and I'm a railroad conductor from Connecticut and I'm on my swing time, and...
"Okay," she said calmly. "Maybe I could sign something for them. Do you have a pen?"
"No,"I said, now patting the pockets of my gym shorts.
"Neither do I." She said.
"I'm really sorry to bother you," I blabbered,"but would you be willing to pose for a picture with me?
"Sure," she said.
I handed my cell phone to the nanny and showed her how to take a picture. I then stood next to Gwen, as a crowd of teenage girls looked and pointed in our direction.
"You are so nice to this for me," I said. Thank you for your time.
"No problem," she said.
After our photo shoot, I ran to a park bench on 5th Avenue and immediately text messaged the photo to my wife and two daughters. The accompanying message read: Guess who I met in Central Park today?
Though they were still at school, my daughters returned the message a few minutes later: R U serious? Is that Gwen Stefani? OMG!!!
When I came home tonight, I ran through the door singing "Hollaback Girl." I half expected to be greeted like a conquering hero. Instead, my younger daughter met me with a scowl on her face.
"Next time," she said, "CARRY A PEN!"
Friday, October 12, 2007
The Absent-Minded Conductor
On the way out the door this morning, my wife stopped me and said:
"Hey, mister...stop taking the razor out of the shower. That's my razor, and you're not to use it. You have your own razor. STOP USING MINE!!!
I ignored the small bits of bloodied toilet paper that spotted her legs and said:
"I'd love to use my razor...if I could ever find it."
"Ugh!!!" She said. "What do you mean, if you could ever find it? You just put a new blade on it yesterday."
I was going to defend myself, but I didn't have time. I was late for work...again. I quickly grabbed my company ID, railroad keys, and wallet from the kitchen counter and reached for my cell phone...but it wasn't there. My first instinct was to ask my wife if she'd seen it, but seeing her mood this morning...I didn't dare ask.
I must have left the phone in the car, I thought. I ran out to my '92 Acura and began searching, first looking under the seats, then through the glove compartment and finally in the trunk. After several minutes, I decided that the phone must be in the house. I ran back to the front door and knocked. My wife opened the door.
"Where are your keys? She asked.
"In the ignition...I think."
The good thing about cell phones, is that when you misplace them, you can always call from another phone and they'll ring and give up their hiding place. It's almost as if they're saying: "Yoohoo, I'm over heeere! With this in mind, I quickly punched my cell phone number into the kitchen phone...(RING-RING-RING) The sound was loud and clear...and...coming from my pants pocket.
My wife just shook her head.
It was now 6:34 a.m., and I was officially late for work. I jumped back in the car and raced down the street. As I was ready to turn the corner, a coyote came out of the woods and darted in front of my car. We lost one of our cats to a coyote some years back, so I wanted to report this sighting to my wife before she let Brenna, our cocker spaniel, outside.
When I opened my cell phone, I saw that there was a "missed call" message displayed on the screen. After pushing several buttons, I discovered that the call came from home at 6:33 a.m. I just left the house a minute ago, I thought... What could she possibly want? Before I became too indignant though, I remembered...I had made the call just minutes ago (you know, the one to find my cell phone...). Now it was my turn to shake my head.
As I drove on, the events of the morning made me think of a program I'd just watched on PBS the night before. Actor/comedian, Steve Martin, was given The Mark Twain Award and several of his peers were in attendance to honor him. Actress Claire Danes told some personal anecdotes, then showed a short film that Martin had made several years ago. It's titled, "The Absent Minded Waiter." The film made me laugh, but it also made me feel a little uncomfortable...you see, Martin's character hit a little too close to home.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
It was my first train of the day. We had just left New Haven Station and I began collecting tickets. I was half way through the last car when I heard the loud whoosh sound of the train's emergency brakes "dumping." You've probably heard this sound before in action films. It usually occurs when a bad guy, is chased by a good guy onto a passing train. The two protagonists run through the cars, when one or the other invariably pulls the train's emergency brake cord "whoosh! " The camera then pans to the train's squealing wheels as they seize up and slide across the iron rails. Sparks fly.
To the best of my knowledge, we had neither cop nor robber on board. No cowboys. No Indians. Not even a fugitive chasing a one armed man. What we did have, however, was a "pull apart."
For reasons that are still unclear, the head two cars of my eight car train separated from the rear six cars. Luckily, the train was only going about 15 mph at the time and no one was injured. The engineer, still not realizing what had happened, recharged the air brakes and continued west toward New York. Luckily, an assistant conductor was in the third head car and saw the head two cars pulling away. He immediately got on his radio and called for the engineer to stop the train. The head two cars now rested about 100 ft away from rest of the train.
When the engineer called the Rail Traffic Controller and told him what had happened, the RTC could not believe it. Neither could the Line Superintendent, the Mechanical Foreman, Operations Manager or the rest of the crew. I knew my passengers would have a hard time believing it as well. My initial announcement to them sounded like this:
"Folks...You're not gonna believe this, but..."
After several minutes we hitched our train back together, and brought it back to New Haven Station where we transferred our passengers to another train.
It was quite an interesting day.
After work I went to my daughter's field hockey game. On the drive there, I thought of how I'd tell the story to the regular group of parents that attend these games. Should I come right out and say: "My train pulled apart on the main line today." No, I thought; Instead of blurting it out, I'll slowly reveal my story, starting with the whoosh of the emergency brake and slowly work my way up to the "pull apart."
When I got to the game, each of the parents greeted me and asked how my day went. Normally I would just say "good," and leave it at that. But yesterday....yesterday I had a story to tell. I began as I had planned, starting slowly working my way up to the climax i.e: "my train pulled apart." After I finished, I waited to bask in the glow of their amazement. It was then that Joe, the father of a two year old, spoke: "Ya know" he said. "That very same thing happened on Thomas the Tank Engine this morning."
Everyone burst out laughing.
Some people are hard to impress.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Lost in Translation
Here, a Russian blogger named Mat Art wrote this post:
про...традицииЧасто в фильмах показывают, что при рождении ребенка, счастливый родитель угощает знакомых и родственников сигарой. Откуда пошел такой обычай, и что он означает?Искал в сообществе, результатов нет.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Those crazy Russians… they really crack me up.
Okay…I really didn’t know what it said, but I was bound and determined to find out, so like a CIA operative (Oops...bad analogy), I cut and pasted the above paragraph onto a Russian to English online translator site.
Here’s the result:
About... Traditions it is frequent in films show, that at a birth of the child, the happy parent treats friends and relatives with a cigar. Such custom whence has gone, and what it means? Searched in community, results are not present.
Obviously something was lost in the translation, but I got the gist. I still wondered, however, what this post had to do with my humble, little blog, so I decided to translate several more sentences from the “comments section.”
It turns out that my new Russian friends are totally perplexed about the American custom of handing out cigars after the birth of a child. For the life of them, they can’t seem figure out what a long, wrapped, tobacco leaf tube has to do with childbirth. One guy went so far as to suggest that cigars are phallic, and represent fertility.
Mat Art thought that perhaps the cigar is for the stork when he delivers the baby. Or according to the translator:
Type at the out of breath stork a smoke break after delivery?
Someone answered this question with another, hoping to shed a little more light on this curious custom:
Only when the son so do.. why so?
Mat Art then basically gives up and says:
Yes?? Sorry, concept then I have no especially
Finally, one of the readers shares some information he learned from an American blog called "Derailed":
It is the American custom. Earlier in Staffs, as well as everywhere, women gave birth to houses. If the child was born before term - it put in a box from under cigars, and then transferred on kitchen, is closer to an oven that at it was more chances to survive. The father to released a box from under cigars and distributed them. And it was led. It is possible to esteem here, for example: http: // bobbyderailed.blogspot.com //2006/10/smoke-in-wood-pile.html
Now I understood what the connection was. This comment is referring to a post I wrote last October. It was called “Smoke In The Wood Pile.” It was a story my mother once told me about the birth of her twin baby brothers. She said that the boys were both pre-term and were, of course, very small. They could barely breathe, so in an attempt to keep them alive, a quick thinking midwife (an early MacGyver), placed the babies in cigar boxes near the kitchen stove. The heat from the oven turned the cigar boxes into make-shift incubators, and saved one of the babies' lives. Somewhere in this story I kiddingly suggested that the custom of fathers handing out cigars, stemmed from a midwife needing an empty cigar box. It was a joke, but I guess it got lost in their translation.
Still, I do like to think of my mother's "half baked" story making its way around Russia. I think she'd be proud.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sandi Kahn Shelton
Several years back, Sandi wrote a regular column in The New Haven Register. It was a humorous look at motherhood, and the trials and tribulations of raising a family. She told funny stories about her husband and children, and life in suburbia…similar to Erma Bombeck…but funnier. When Sandi’s children reached their teen years, they began to take umbrage to their mother making their private lives public and they basically told her to cease and desist. To her credit, she retired the popular column and turned her attention to writing novels.
Sandi was on my train last week, (I recognized her from one of her book covers.) When I collected her ticket, I introduced myself as “The Conductor to the Stars.” The funny thing is, she instantly recognized the name. You see, her husband- Jim Shelton- was the author of the, “Yes, celebrities do ride the train” article that ran in last December’s New Haven Register.
I spoke with Sandi as we walked down the platform in Grand Central. I told her how much I enjoyed her work and how talented she is. I then gave her the address to this blog and asked her to visit. She, in turn, gave me her blog address, and suggested that we “link up” with one another’s sites.
I think you’ll find Sandi’s blog quite entertaining (be sure to take the “Yankee or Dixie” quiz.) I wish I could visit it again, but my daughter has to decipher an Elizabethan Sonnet and she’s pushing me off of the computer chair…again.
Monday, September 10, 2007
As he led us through his home, I asked him why they were moving. He said that he worked for a clothing manufacturer and was being transferred to Massachusetts. He said that his wife was a flight attendant for American Airlines and could easily transfer from Bradley Airport in Hartford to either Green Airport in Providence or Logan Airport in Boston.
My wife and I really liked the house, but it basically had no backyard and we weren't crazy about the street location either. We thanked the man and his wife for their time, and moved on to the next open house.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, our local ABC affiliate ran a story about the many Connecticut people who had died in the terrorist attacks. One story was about a flight attendant who had recently moved from the Connecticut shoreline to southeastern Massachusetts. A chill went down my spine when they showed her picture...it was the woman from the open house. She was on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the Trade Centers.
When it was learned that the terrorists had slit the throats of the flight crew, the same news station rushed back to the flight attendant's sister's home to get her reaction to the news. I still remember how the cameraman zoomed in on her tear-streaked face, a face consumed in grief. As they say in journalism..."If it bleeds, it leads."
I often wonder: If her husband hadn't been transferred, would she still be alive today?
Was this her destiny? Was it fate?
Steve, a fellow conductor, told me that his wife worked in The Trade Centers in Tower Two. When the first plane hit Tower One, she and her co-workers were ordered to evacuate. They were half way down the stairs when the "all clear" was sounded and an announcement was made to return to their offices. One of Steve's wife's coworkers grabbed her by the arm and said ,"Bullshit! I was here for the bombing in '93 and I'm not going back up there." They made it outside just in time to see the second plane hit their offices.
Another coworker of mine lived in a tight-knit neighborhood in Brooklyn. His next door neighbors were an elderly couple whose granddaughter died that day in the Trade Center. The day after the attacks, the wind shifted and the smoke and debris that filled the city skyline blew into their neighborhood. A lone piece of paper fluttered through the air and landed on this elderly couple's front porch. The paper was a memo from Cantor Fitzgerald, the brokerage firm where the granddaughter worked.
Fate? Destiny? Coincidence?
For more on 9/11, please read last year's post: http://bobbyderailed.blogspot.com/2006/09/september-13th-2001.html
Monday, August 27, 2007
The Warmth of the Sun
I stopped home, changed into my bathing suit, threw my beach chair in the car and headed to Subway to pick up some subs. When I got to the beach we had our impromptu picnic dinner on our blanket and then my wife and I settled in with our books, while the girls finished their summer reading assignments (better late than never--procrastination runs in the family!). We each took turns wading in the surf as schools of tiny fish swam around our legs. It was so nice out, my wife suggested that we stay and watch the sunset. The girls were dancing on the sand as the sun sank behind them. I wished I had a camera, then I remembered I did...on my cell phone. I snapped this shot.
Once the sun had set, we packed up our belongings and then slowly walked to the parking lot...each wishing to hold on to the moment just a little longer. I started thinking about how quickly the summer was slipping away and Brian Wilson's heartbreaking falsetto began playing in the back of my head:
What good is the dawn
That grows into day
The sunset at night
Or living this way
Still I have the warmth of the sun
(Warmth of the sun)
Within me at night
(Within me at night)
Saturday, August 25, 2007
“Does this train go to Harrison, New York?” she asked.
“Yes it does… It’s our last stop.” I answered in a polite tone.
“You don’t got no express train or nothin’?” She seemed impatient.
“Not at this hour,” I said, “but Harrison is only six stops away.”
“Well, I don’t know!” She acted as if I had somehow insulted her. “ I ain’t from around here.”
When I came around to collect their tickets, she handed me two “Off Peak” fares. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But you have off-peak tickets here, and you’re on a peak train. That means it’s rush hour, so you owe me $2.25 more per ticket. The woman was incensed. “They consider this rush hour?” (It was 6:18 pm) “Well they should have told us that when we bought these here tickets.”
I explained that if the ticket agent had sold them a peak ticket, they would have been charged $2.25 more then, instead of me charging it now. “It all evens out in the end,” I said.
“Well that’s just ridiculous,” she protested. She was really starting to make a scene now. The biker dude again pulled on his metal chain and pulled out his oversized wallet and handed me $2.25.
“I’m sorry, I said. But it’s $4.50… $2.25 per ticket.”
“What? She screamed. “First it’s $2.25, now it’s $4.50. What are you trying to pull here! Her voice grew louder and louder and people started to look up from their newspapers. “Well mister,” she said. “I demand receipts and I want those little stubby things back.”
“You mean your tickets?”
She obviously thought I was trying to scam her and biker boy and she was practically calling me a thief. I felt a little insulted by this, and I could feel my Irish temper starting to rise. I wanted to say something snappy like: “Honey, I’m not going to risk my job over $4.50, or “If $4.50 means that much to you…you can keep it.” Instead, I bit my tongue, collected their fares, handed them their receipts and walked away.
It is part of my job to stick my head out the train’s cab window and inspect the platform before opening and closing the doors, and when we reached Harrison Station, our last stop, I did just that. I remembered that this was where my biker friends were getting off, so I kept an eye out for them just in case they tried to:
A. Punch me. (This has happened twice in the past. The first time the punks broke my nose.)
B. Spit on me. (This also has happened twice before.)
C. Kick me. (Merely once)
D. Give me the finger. (Numerous times…and I’m a nice guy.)
When the “uneasy riders” got off the train, Motorcycle Mama walked up to my window. “Here we go,” I thought. “Can I get a picture with you?” She asked as sweet as could be. She then handed her camera over to Biker Boy. “We’re visiting from San Diego,” she explained, “and we ain’t never been to New York before. Hell, we ain’t never been on no train before either.”
Most conductors would have told her to get lost, and slammed the cab window in her face. Others would have called her a few choice names and given her the finger. I, on the other hand, said... “Sure.” (I told you I was a nice guy.) She stood next to me and we smiled together like two old chums while Biker Dude fumbled with the camera and took several snapshots.
Later I thought…I wonder if they’re going to send these pictures to the railroad with a complaint letter. It will say something like… “Here’s the #%$* conductor that overcharged us.”
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
D'OH!!! I've been Simpsonized
My lip gloss is poppin
My lip gloss is cool
My lip gloss is poppin
They tried to make me go to rehab
When my co-workers hear me singing, they stand there amazed and say things like:
"How did you know that song?"
I"ll say something like:
"I'm just one hip dude," (ironically, using the term "dude" automatically negates this statement.")
Last week we took our daughters to see "The Simpsons Movie." When we got home, the girls got on the computer and downloaded a picture of me onto a Simpson/Burger King website. Miraculously, this site somehow converts photos into "Simpsons" characters, (see my picture above.)
Click on this link: http://simpsonizeme.com/ and you can become a Simpsons' character too.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
“If it should rain today,” she said, “I’ll give you a bell and you can come and retrieve your daughter.”
“A what? I asked.”
“A bell.” She repeated.
“Are you from England?” I asked (it was quite obvious.)
“What part?” I asked as if I were some sort of expert on the country.
“Near the Isle of Wight… Have you heard of it?”
“Just in the Beatle’s song…you know…When I’m 64?”
I began to sing:
“Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight
If it’s not too dear.”
“Right then,” She said, now looking down... as if she were embarrassed for me.
Before I left, Lou handed me the required paper work and told me that on Friday there would be a graduation game: the girls vs. the parents. She said she would love for me to join them. I usually work nights and miss these parent/child activities, but I was on vacation this week and was excited to say I’d attend.
When Friday arrived, I started to get pumped up for the big game. I didn’t want to act like one of those super-competitive, macho middle-aged men, who try and relive their high school glory days, especially at the expense of small children. On the other hand, I didn’t want to look like an old, out of shape has-been either.
When we got to the field Lou split us into two groups. The parents were dubbed “Team UK” and the girls were named “Team Gambia.” Before the face-off, Lou explained the rules and emphasized that there would be “no checking.” I took this to mean, “checking”… like in hockey. I showed my ignorance on the very first play of the game. It happened when a little Gambian sped past me. I swung into action, thrusting my stick under hers and knocking the ball free. Lou blew her whistle and shook her head in disgust.
“NO CHECKING BOB!!!” she yelled.
“That’s checking? I asked incredulously.
“It is, and Team Gambia gets the ball. Now stand back four meters.”
The parents on the sidelines began to heckle and boo me.
Shortly after this embarrassment, a little freckled-faced seven-year-old girl named “Riley” came charging down the field. I wanted to show the fans just how athletic a 45- year- old man could be and I started running backward. I had underestimated Riley’s speed, tripped on a tuft of grass and did a triple backward somersault. My glasses flew one way and my hat went the other. Sometime during my second rotation I heard the spectators in the bleachers burst into laughter. “That’s showin’em,” my friend Art shouted from the sideline.
I had something to prove now. On the very next play I intercepted a pass mid-air. I cradled the ball in the webbing of my stick, now running down the field at full speed toward the opposing goalie net. Past one Gambian- past two Gambians-I was now all alone. I cocked my arm back, and catapulted my stick forward at the open side of the net. Whoosh! went the stick as it whizzed past my ear. Plop! went the ball as it fell out of the netting and landed at my feet.
Suddenly, I was transported back in time. I’m 17- years old and running down the soccer field at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven. Mark, the team all-star, and I are on a break away. We pass one defender-two defenders-I’m now in front of an open goalie’s net. Mark makes a perfect pass. The balls right in front of me, (this is my big moment.) I cock my leg back, swing my leg forward and... miss the ball completely.
Glory days my eye!
At the end of the lacrosse game, my friend Art patted me on the back and said, “At least you did a great triple back flip.”
I smirked, shook my head and said, “And I would have gotten a perfect “10” if it wasn’t for the Russian judge.”
The instructors gathered Team Gambia together and began handing out awards. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get one. Soon, pizzas were delivered onto the field and we had a little impromptu picnic. Lou came over and congratulated me on a good game. "Wow," she said, "You must have run four kilometers going up and down that field." I did a quick metric conversion in my head and stuck my chest out. I then told Lou that it was "no big deal." Somewhere in my brain a Springsteen tune began to play:
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Of Mice and Men
About an hour ago, I went to cook up some burgers on my gas grill. When I opened the lid, two beady little eyes looked up from the under the grates. It seems a mouse has built a nest under the burners and is now raising her three tiny, hairless, babies there. Part of me wanted to jab them with a broomstick, part of me wanted to turn the propane jets on high, light a match and incinerate them. In the end I did what any other self-respecting man would do…I ran and got my wife to take care of it. (After all, it is Father’s Day, you know!)
If truth be told, I suffer from a debilitating condition known as “Musophobia” or fear of mice; a fact that my wife discovered very early on in our relationship. One night, when we were watching TV at my mother’s house, she fell asleep on the couch. Being the gentleman that I am, I covered her with a blanket, and then sat down on an adjoining love seat. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a mouse scurrying across the shag carpet and then leap onto the blanket that was covering my wife (then girlfriend).
“MOUSE!!!” I screamed, now standing on the love seat, much like a cliché sitcom housewife.
“WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” My freshly awoken love screamed back, now following my lead and dancing on the couch, but not sure why.
“A MOUSE!!!” I screamed again.
“You’re flipping out over a mouse?” She asked.
“Well yeah,” I said, now climbing down from my perch atop the love seat, trying to salvage any bit of manhood I had left.
“You almost gave me a heart attack!” She said.
“But it was A MOUSE!!!”
To understand the roots of my anxieties, we must revisit my childhood.
I grew up in an old, drafty house, just steps away from the railroad tracks that I now travel on every day. My mother’s house was built sometime during the Lincoln administration, long before the advent of electricity and home insulation. I believe Edison himself wired the house, but no one ever thought to insulate the walls. This, in turn, made the home a haven for mice trying to escape the wrath of cold New England winters.
After my father died, his mother (my “Nana”) came to live with us for a short period of time. She was close to 80 years old, walked with a cane and was then suffering from the early stages of dementia. I was only about four years old, but I do remember her living with us. It was also about this time that my first encounter with a mouse home invasion occurred.
We were all sitting around the TV room watching Ed Sullivan, when one of my sisters spotted a mouse. “MOUSE!” She cried. Everyone in the house jumped up on the nearest chair, table, couch etc. The rodent was undoubtedly as frightened as we were and scurried along the baseboard and finally disappeared into the kitchen. My Nana, enlivened by my sister’s screams, somehow got out of her chair, grabbed a broomstick and chased the rodent around the kitchen until she had it cornered. She then mercilessly beat it to a bloody pulp. To add insult to injury, she picked the mouse up by its tail, turned the hot tap water on and slowly scalded it to death. It was as if she were torturing it to set an example for other mice in the house. She wasn’t done yet. As a final insult, she took the mouse and flushed it down the toilet. I can still picture its furry little body, spinning counter-clock wise into the porcelain abyss. I don’t know who was more traumatized…the mouse or me. I’m guessing it was me!
My brother Jimmy said he once saw my Nana snatch a mouse that was hanging from curtain and then squish it in her bare hands until the blood spurted from it's eyes. The woman was a true mouse-nazi.
When my kids were little, my wife and I took them to Story Land Amusement Park in Glen, New Hampshire. We stayed in the local Story Land Best Western Motel. Sometime during the night I heard the sound of gnashing coming from the motel room closet. It was there that we stored the kid’s snacks, so we knew it was a mouse. My wife must have forgotten the lesson she learned early in our courtship, because she wanted me to go investigate. I called the front desk instead.
Me: Yeah, um hi! This is the family in room 212. I hear noises coming from inside the closet and I think we might have a mouse. Um… I was wondering…could you send someone over?
Manager: Sir, you’re in the country now. These things are to be expected. We’ll send somebody over in the morning.
Me: Um, ah, hold on. Is it possible that you could move us to another room?
Manager: Sir, it’s 3AM on a holiday weekend. We don’t have any more rooms available.
My wife called me a few choice names, opened the closet door, found the mouse hanging from my favorite fleece jacket, opened the motel room door, threw my jacket (with mouse attached) out into the parking lot and slammed the door shut.
“You want your jacket,” she said. “Go get it!
Back to the gas grill incident. I really tried to be a man today…honest! I poked the cast iron grill housing with a broomstick in hopes that the mouse would fear me, as much as I feared it, and maybe it would run for safety. I even removed one of the grates, but then the mouse looked me straight in the eye and that was it…I was done. I ran inside.
My wife came out and began to disassemble the grill and found three little hairless babies inside the nest. She said she tried to put herself in the place of mama mouse and pictured a Giant lifting the roof of our house and poking us with a broomstick (sounds like spooky Twilight Zone stuff to me). She then left the mice where they were and closed the lid.
“Don’t stay too long mama,” she said. “Summers here and we have some grilling to do.”
I say let them keep the grill. I don’t think I can stomach using it again anyway.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Brett Somers: Hi Gene! (something we should all practice). I said (pulls out card)....Dead!
(audience burst out in canned laughter)
It's true. I read today that actor/Match Game panelist, Charles Nelson Reilly passed away Friday at the age of 76. Hearing this news brought back memories of my brother Brian and I, watching Match Game '76 and yelling out double-entendre answers to Gene Rayburn's dubious questions.
It was an innocent time.
I never had a chance to meet Charles, but I did meet Rayburn (Match Game emcee) several times. He used to ride my train to and from Pelham Station in Westchester County. The first time I saw him (about 12 years ago), I was shocked by how old he looked. His face hadn't changed much from his television heyday, but his back was now hunched over and he shuffled when he walked.
The last time I saw him, I told him that Brett Somers (one of the celebrity panelist) frequently rode my train. He complained that Brett never called him, and if he didn't make the effort to call her, he would never hear from her. I offered to tell Brett to call him. "You do that," he said. Gene passed away a few months later. I haven't seen Brett since.
I once had occasional panelist/actress Anita Gillette on my train. She was returning to New York after attending her son's graduation from Yale. I remembered her name after racking my brain for several minutes. She was impressed that I remembered. So was I.
Doesn't it seem that celebrities are dropping like flies lately?
Maybe I'm just getting old.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Leisure Suit Larry Rides Again
When I was a kid, I used to be pretty good at the old McDonald’s jingle: “Twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsona
sesameseedbun,” so I thought it would be fun to learn the words to “Sweet Escape.” With the help of my daughter, I pretty much got it down.
A few weeks back, I was chauffeuring ‘C’ and her two friends around, when “Sweet Escape” came on the radio. I seized the opportunity to showcase just how hip and happenin’ I was.
I looked in the rear view mirror, expecting to see the look of amazement on three teenage faces. My own reflection, however, sent me back in time, kind of like "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
My 16-year old sister Maureen and I, (age 12,) are seated in the back seat of a brown, 1974 GTO. ‘Larry,’ the man whose child we just babysat for, is in the driver’s seat, twisting the car’s radio dials, looking for just the right song to impress my sister and me. The radio’s red needle stops on 1300AM-WAVZ. He knows he’s found the perfect song… “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valle and The Four Seasons.
He turns the volume up and croons along:
My J’eyes J’a J’ored J’ou
Though I never laid a hand on you
My J’eyes J’a J’ored J’ou
The blue dashboard lights reflect in Larry’s black, plastic-rimmed glasses, matching his powder blue leisure suit perfectly. His pencil neck is lost in his silk shirt's over sized collar.
Like a million miles away from me
You couldn’t see how I
J’a J’ored J’ou
He is intentionally bastardizing the lyrics, almost as if to say, “I’m not only hip...I’m funny too.” My sister and I roll our eyes and try to stifle our laughter.
And yet so far
What a dork!
This is what the girls in the backseat are thinking; I can see it on their faces. One of the girls leans over and whispers in my daughter’s ear, “You poor thing…you must really be embarrassed.” It was then I knew... I am “Leisure Suit Larry.”
Monday, May 07, 2007
Watch 'The Gap!'
"Oh, it's great," he said, "I love it."
"I bet you don't miss dealing with the passengers?" I asked.
"Oh I'm still dealing with them," he said. "Wait till you hear this one..." .
Ron went on to to tell me about a drunk woman that was on his train the previous evening. He said that she spent the better part of the ride pacing, barefoot, up and down the aisle of the head car and talking to herself. When the train pulled into New Haven (the last stop) she staggered up to the head end of the train and pounded on the the engineer's cab door.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
Ron opened the door...
"Are you the conductor or the engineer?"
"I'm the engineer."
"Well then...Why didn't you stop the train on the platform?"
"M'am, we have a 10 car train tonight, and this is an eight car platform. If you had listened to the announcements, you would have known that you have to walk back two cars to exit."
Now the woman seemed stumped, not sure of what to complain about next....
"Why is the floor on this train so filthy?"
"Well m'am, It's late in the day and the car cleaners haven't had a chance to mop the floors in a while. And besides... it isn't very sanitary for you to walk these floors barefoot."
Ron walked off the train and down the platform, but the woman was right on his heels.
"Hey, who taught you how to drive?"
When Ron turned around, the woman was pointing to the gap between the train and the platform.
"Look how far the train is from the curb!...I'm going to write a letter to the railroad and complain about this!"
Somehow Ron kept his compusure...
"You do that m'am, and, whatever you do, don't forget the part about the train being too far from the curb."
Friday, May 04, 2007
It seems the rumors of Sarah's demise are greatly exaggerated.
While searching through my "archives"tonight, I found this recent comment on the "Sarah Smiles" post. I can't be 100% certain that Sarah is its author, but my gut tells me she is:
1:03 AM, April 21, 2007
Bob- i remember your gesture of kindness and giving me that ride. I am amazed people still wonder what happened to me. i am doing fine and raising my 2 children. The path that hollywood put me on was a most destructive one. I wanted to let you know i am doing well and have found ways of dealing with my personal issues that are not self-destructive. Take care and god bless!
That's great news! God bless you too.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
It's Not Easy Being Me
Please look around
I lost my knapsack
And it can't be found
Please help me find it
Grand Central Terminal, Monday, April 23, 2007, 4:15 PM
There it sat, an abandoned navy blue knapsack, planted smack dab in the middle of the Hudson News emporium.
The store is huge. In addition to newspapers, it sells almost every magazine in print, paperback books, warm soda and snacks.
A candy-laden cashier’s booth sits at the hub of the store. Here, no less than four Pakistani cashiers impatiently scream out… “Next!”.
Red dots form into headlines, then scrawl across the “Fox News Channel” ticker tape that circumnavigates the store’s wood paneled ceiling.
Television sets hang in the room's four corners, blaring Bill O’Reilly's “fair and balanced” opinions in surround sound. He's interrupted by a Special Report...another insurgent bombing in Iraq.
I eye the cashiers suspiciously.
A bomb-sniffing German Shepard is now upon the knapsack. He stands on his hind legs, poking his long nose inside the zipper of the bag.
SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF!
“That’s it boy,” says a Metro North Police officer, now pulling up on the leash with one hand, while dragging the bag across the floor with the other.
SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF!
The harried commuters seem oblivious to the dramatic scene that is unfolding before their eyes. I know what they’re thinking; I can see it on their faces… “What kind of idiot would leave a bag in the middle of Grand Central?”
SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF!
I step forward.
“Ah, excuse me officers…that bag …it’s mine.”
The German Shepard lifts his snout from the bag, looks up at me and tilts his head.
“Yours?” The officer seems incredulous at first, and then, with a slight smirk on his face again asks, “YOURS?”
“Yeah, Yeah, I know,” I said, “I was in here about 10 minutes ago buying a soda. I was carrying my briefcase and this knapsack and I guess I just forgot…”
“It’s just kind of ironic,” said the officer. “Of all the people to leave a bag behind, (like Vanna White, he runs an outstretched hand up and down the length of my uniform) it’s a conductor. Ha! Ha!”
“Yeah, I know… I’m a knucklehead.”
I could feel my face turning red from embarrassment. I quickly grabbed my bag and tried to make a hasty exit. I almost made it out the door when I heard the officer shout…
Hey! Conductor! I need your name and employee number for my report!
So much for the quick exits.
This was the third time in as many weeks that I left my gym bag behind. Two weeks previous to this experience, I left my bag on the train in New Haven. Luckily, a mechanic found it and turned it into “Lost and Found.” The same day I recovered the bag, I left it on the train again.
My wife often asks, “How is it that you can remember the most trivial of trivia, but you can never remember where you put your stuff?”
“It not easy being me,” I say with a sigh. “It not easy being me.”
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Jon Anderson + The School of Rock = Earth Day
Jon's was backed by a group of kids from "The Paul Green School of Rock." They're an incredibly talented group of kids, aged 13-16, who weren't even born when the songs they were playing were originally recorded. They were so good, that if you closed your eyes, you would swear you were listening to "Yes."
After the show, Brian and I went backstage where I asked Jon Anderson to take a picture with me. He told me to make it quick because they had to go to lunch. He reminded me of a kindly, elfin, college professor.