Hoppin’ Like a Bunny
One problem that I had with the job at EMD—or, rather, that the job had with me—was that, at 33, I was about ten years older than the other guys. Troublemaker. Malcontent. I was bad news in the same way that a 33-year-old draftee would be bad news in the army even if he was as fit as a twenty-something. A twenty-year-old is gung-ho and malleable; a thirty-year-old is just a tad cynical, a pain in the ass. That was me.
The foreman, the guy who had to deal with my attitude, was ten years younger than I but only in years. Myrrl McBride was a quiet guy who never lost his cool or his temper and who worked just as hard as we poor grunts. A grin was a display of deep emotion for Myrrl McBride. I liked him right off the bat, and he is still a friend these many years later. Whenever I was on the verge of throwing a fit or a tire iron, Myrrl would croon, "Easy money, boys, easy money! Like pickin' it right up off the ground!" My gorge would rise but then I would realize that he had skillfully defused my rage. "Shit," I’d mumble, and grin myself. This occasioned a bitter little ditty that I penned after a particularly bad night. I remember the refrain:
Hoppin’ like a bunny,
Laughin’ all the time.
Son: spend yer life at EMD,
Where workin' is a crime!
I emailed Myrrl the other day (he lives in North Carolina now), and he said that he had just stumbled upon "Easy Money," the whole opus. Must be fate. He is sending it to me. It is all yellowed, he says, like any sacred text, And he says that "easy money" was my phrase, not his. He also—bless him—implies that I was some sort of father figure for the pre-loaders and that my "wit and sense of humor" worked wonders for the crew’s morale.
Frightening, memory loss in one so young.
One of the perks of the job, if you want to call it that, was the quarterly EMD newsletter, which, I suppose, was meant to remind us that we were a family. (The truism that you can’t pick your family springs to mind.) Most of the news was of no great import ("EMD Gaining Foothold in Nepal!"), at least not to me. But then there were the human interest stories. The EMD driver who rescued the kitten up a tree, the one who realized that a woman was going into labor and stayed with her, reassured her, until the paramedics arrived. But sometimes they took a more heroic, albeit darker, tone. A typical account might be of an EMD driver (pre-loaders never got to be heroes and maybe I unconsciously resented that) who smelled smoke in a house he was delivering to. He pounded on the door frantically but to no avail. So he kicked it in and, in the back, through a wall of flame, saw a mother and child (and kitten?) overcome by the smoke. Heedless of his own safety, he raced right through the flames and dragged the victims to the safety of the back yard. Wow. Makes you want to cheer, right? But then came the (sucker)punch line, the real point of the story. With second degree burns on his arms and face, he politely refused the paramedics’ help AND FINISHED HIS ROUTE! I would throw the newsletter down and stomp on it while screaming at Diana, "These people are sick! SICK! Second degree burns and the only frigging thing that matters to EMD is.....!" Well, you can picture me spluttering, a man unmanned.
One summer evening we had a small diversion before the shift. A delivery truck had been wreckered down from Taos. Somehow the driver had lost control on a mountain road and rolled this little Ford Econoline. There it—or what was left of it—was, behind the warehouse, and we were all gawking at it. (I assume that the driver finished his route on foot, hopping along while dragging his broken leg behind.) I noticed right off that any telltale corporate lettering or logo had been spray-painted over, and not very expertly at that.
"Myrrl," I said, "What the hell is that all about?" He explained that any area manager had a standard kit in the trunk of his company car, and the most important item in the kit was a spray can of that trademark brown paint (oops!). The very first thing any manager did was to spray over all incriminating signage.
"But Myrrl, that’s so transparently silly!"
"Of course it is," he replied with a grin, "But the ritual must be honored: EMD drivers, you see, never have accidents."
Such, such were the days. Or, rather, the nights.
Meet Your Macinstructor
Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.