The News Butcher


News Butcher



  • A seller of newspapers, sweets, etc., on a train.

When I was a kid a family vacation meant a two week visit with my grandparents and that meant a train trip to western Nebraska.  The fastest route from Chicago was via The Milwaukee Road/Union Pacific but because we traveled on my dad’s Santa Fe pass for one trip we took the Santa Fe from Chicago to La Junta, Colorado then a Santa Fe local to Denver and an overnight CB&Q train north.

We didn’t travel on the Super Chief or Chief or El Capitan, we took a secondary transcontinental train which, during the summer travel months, had a mixture of lightweight and heavyweight cars—the Grand Canyon.

“Where to, folks?”

“La Junta”, said my dad.

“To the left, any seats except the facing seats in the back”, the attendant said as he pointed up the stairs and to the left.

My mom, dad, two sisters, brother and I lugged our suitcases and a shopping bag up the stairs, through the door, around the ladies’ lounge, past the facing seats and down the aisle about half way to the front.  When we decided on our seats my dad tossed our bags onto the luggage rack as we fought over the window seats.

It wasn’t long before you could tell from the commotion outside the train that we were about ready to leave and then we heard a bang, a thud, another bang, another thud and a moan as a man followed our tracks into the car carrying a trunk out in front of him like a bass drummer in a marching band.  He threw the trunk on the rear facing seat at the rear of the car, sighed and then walked to the front of the car and announced, “I’ll be open after the conductor picks up tickets.  I’ve got newspapers, magazines, candy, mints, crackers, cookies, nuts, apples and soft drinks.  I also have tooth paste, tooth brushes, combs and aspirin.  I’ll be open in a few minutes, folks” and every kid had his eyes on him but then he went to the next car forward to, I guess, make the same announcement.

“Can I go back just to see what he has?”

“Not yet.  Wait until the conductor is done.”

“How about now?” I said five seconds after the conductor was done picking up tickets and my dad said okay, he’d go back and get a newspaper.

I looked at the display sitting in an open trunk on the seat and saw Life Savers, M&Ms and Clark Bars.  I don’t know what I thought I was going to see but somehow M&Ms in a trunk on a train traveling over seventy miles an hour across the Illinois prairie seemed pretty exciting. My dad talked with the guy for a little while and I stared at the M&Ms.  When he noticed me he picked up a pack and waved them slowly in his hand as my dad and he kept talking.

Dad said, “You can get something later” as we got back to our seats and he told my mom, “That guy goes from LA to Chicago back to LA back to Chicago and then back to LA before he has five days off.”

“What a life”, she said.

“Yeah, what a life”, my dad repeated.

“Yeah, what a life”, I thought as I imagined nothing better than riding the trains.

I looked back every so often and when he caught me he held up the M&Ms like bait.  I saw another kid look back and when the bag was raised and waved the kid had a look of longing that still haunts me.

We ate our picnic dinner out of the shopping bag late in the afternoon with the scripted lecture from my mom that eating in the diner was just too expensive. “I don’t know how they expect people to live” she said in the same tone she had used the year before.  Dad said that maybe we’d get off in Kansas City for ice cream if the train is on time.

It got into Kansas City a little early so that meant ice cream if the Kansas City station sandwich shop was still open which it was.  While we ate our ice cream we saw him picking up a stack of newspapers and some more candy.  “What a life”, I thought.

When we left Kansas City he made the announcement that he’d be closing-up because the coach lights were going to be turned off shortly.

“I’ll be open about six with coffee and doughnuts.”

“I’ve got coffee and doughnuts”, he said in a soft voice as he walked down the aisle and the sun streamed through the windows onto the sleeping and dozing passengers but my mom already had her shopping bag open with apples and doughnuts and “you can drink water” as the train passed from Kansas into Colorado.

Even at six in the morning he was working the young passengers with the M&MS.  They’d make eye contact, he’d wave the M&Ms and point toward the adult head next to the kid, the kid would drop down and then pop up shaking his head “no” in unison with the adult head next to him shaking “no” and the kid would have that look.

After we passed Las Animas, Colorado the attendant came in, picked up the seat checks above our seats and said that we’d be in La Junta in about twenty-five minutes.

“You’ll get off from the rear of the car.”

My dad told us to pick up our stuff, got our suitcases down and took them to the rear vestibule.  When the train started to slow down and we walked to the rear of the car he smiled and said, “Bye, folks.”

We stood in the vestibule looking out at the box cars sitting on sidings whiz by and then at the streets of La Junta. When the train stopped the conductor opened the door, popped open the floor plate, wiped the hand rails and stepped off with his step box.

“Watch your step.”

My dad was the first one off and helped us down with our suitcases. When we were all on the ground he made a check of the suitcases like there were hundreds rather than six plus the shopping bag.

“That’s everything” he said and pointed to the depot. “Let’s get a couple lockers and we can go to breakfast” and I looked and saw my mom getting ready with another lecture.

As I picked up my suitcase I glanced up and saw him in the window with a look on his face like I was waving M&Ms.


The Break

“… the big picture.”

I glanced at my watch and it was 11:26 when my boss, Bob, said, “the big picture” and Annie came unglued.

“What big picture do we need to know that our support systems don’t work, that too much of the data is old, incomplete or just wrong and that the people who should be maintaining the systems don’t seem to care?”

“Hold on, let’s keep on track”, Bob, said as Annie, one of my co-workers, read off a list of the issues which were preventing her from hitting the sales goals he had put out for the team. “We are talking about hitting goals not…”

“And that’s what I am talking about”, Annie said, “the support systems we have in place are not working, they’re not supporting us.  We’re the ones using the systems, we’re the ones who find that the systems are a liability.  I’m not sure that management knows how bad the systems are or that management understands the sales process at all.”

Annie was sailing now and you could see that it made Bob quite uncomfortable.  Now usually when challenged he would perform an encore of the clichés he had already used at the meeting about “focus”, “teamwork”, “team players”, “there’s no “I” in team” and “we hear you” before he would say something about staying positive but today here he was at our monthly regional sales team meeting and it wasn’t getting through to the group, especially Annie who got up and left the room saying that she needed to get some fresh air.

“Why don’t we stop here, bring in lunch (deli sandwiches brought in on a platter so we can keep working through lunch—get the ham and cheese) and wait for Mike Turner who should be joining us at any moment. Let’s hear what Mike has to say about the systems and management’s perspective”.

The room was cooling off as the food was brought in along with Mike Turner from headquarters in Dallas.

“Mike Turner”, Bob boomed out until he saw that Mike was on the phone and then he shushed everyone as if they had called out Mike’s name.

Mike gave the little finger wave with the hand holding the phone and placed his top-grain leather laptop carrying case on the table next to the sandwich (ham and cheese), chips, cookie and bottled water that Bob’s secretary had brought over.

Bob scrunched up his nose and wiggled his finger toward the sandwiches to tell everyone to grab their lunch.

“It’s looking good for the third quarter”, Mike said into the phone, “let’s get on this first thing Monday morning” and with that he opened the water, took a gulp and held up one finger to Bob as he started to talk to someone else.

I could tell that everyone was impressed and hearing that it’s looking good for the third quarter was sure what we needed.

When Mike finally put down his phone Bob jumped up and said, “Mike Turner, welcome.  Everyone, we’re really lucky to have Mike with us today. I know that he’s got things to tell us which may just answer a lot of our questions so why don’t we all finish our lunch and then we can hear what he has to say.”

Mike and Bob sat down and started to talk about some guy named Pete who they had both known years ago who had died when Mike said, “Darn, I forgot about the time difference.  What time is our dinner tonight?”

“Six”, Bob said.

“I wish I had remembered about the time difference.  I’ve got to get over to the hotel to get ready”.

Who needs six hours to get ready for dinner?

With that Mike got up and said something about the company growing fast and hoping to meet everyone and then something about the third quarter and everyone was sitting back waiting to see whether or not this was the guy we had been waiting for and then as he made his way around the tables that were shaped like the letter U it was almost as if the clouds had parted and the sun could finally peak through.

There was something (confidence?) that Mike seemed to have that made you feel good about the company and your job and yourself.  You couldn’t quite put your finger on it but he had it and then suddenly as he walked between the tables you knew what it was.  His pants, his trousers, his slacks were displaying the right break (quarter break? half break?) where the pant leg meets the shoe.  The break was meeting his stylish loafer at the right angle to show off just a hint of his argyle sock.  Superb.  Just right. What a guy.

Here was someone we could count on and as he talked about ‘focus” and “team work” and “team players” and no “I” in team and how headquarters “hears you” you couldn’t help but feel a little better and think that it was no wonder that the third quarter was looking good.”

A couple of more points from Mike and a couple more glances at that break and then he said, “I gotta go” and headed for the door.

As he reached for the door and said how nice it was to see everyone and how he was looking forward to spending more time with our group the door opened and in came Annie who was noticeably calmer.  Mike introduced himself and slipped past her while he waved to the group.

“Sure good to see Mike. I just wish he had more time for the group today”.  Bob quickly summarized what Mike had just said about staying focused, and teamwork and team players and that there is no “I” in team and then he sat down and ate the sandwich, chips and cookie that Mike hadn’t touched.

Bob smiled at Annie and said that he wished she had been here to hear Mike.

“What did I miss?” she asked.



What would Mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie do?

My son, Timmy, will be six on Friday and Emily, Cathy’s girl, will be eight on Saturday.  So many kids in the family and that means way too many birthday parties and that means my wife and her sisters are doing the same thing that my mom and aunts used to do with all the kids’ birthdays: they group the birthday parties. It’s easier for the family and a whole lot cheaper, too.

Cleveland is having a good year.  The Cavaliers are in the playoffs and if you’re in the playoffs you have a shot at making the finals and the championship.  The Indians are also playing pretty well so far and staying healthy. With a better start than last year they might make the playoffs this year and again, if you’re in the playoffs you’ve got a chance to play in the World Series and win the championship.

Two contending sports teams and the city is also hosting the Republican National Convention  this summer so Republican delegates and Black Lives Matter and Occupy youngsters will be coming in from out of town.  Possibly two sports championships and a national convention and that means three potential riots.

I’ve sent a letter to the mayor about how my mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie consolidated birthday parties and have asked him what he thinks about waiting until after we know if the Indians make the playoffs to plan a big riot/looting extravaganza for Cleveland.  You know, thinking about it if the Indians do get into the World Series and win that will be close to the Presidential election in November and that means another riot if Donald Trump wins. Four possible riots in one year, wow.  Help, Aunt Ruthie.

I know what mom, Aunt Helen and Aunt Ruthie would do, they’d plan one big event and that could be what the mayor might want to explore.  Fewer riots and less mounted police overtime cost for the city and a chance for Black Lives Matter and Occupy to tear up Cleveland and then go home with a big screen TV.  Seems like a sensible idea to me.

The only down side is if the Black Lives Matter and Occupy kids come in for the convention in July and then postpone their rioting and looting until later in the year, possibly in November, will they be able to get off work in order to come back for the riot and looting activities?

Welcoming in 1986

“The amount of money that this company will spend on our new computer systems next year is more than the total sales of the company just twenty years ago. Wow”, said company president E. Walter Craghouse as he turned and pointed at a screen behind him with the logos of all the IT vendors which are involved in the various projects.
“I don’t really understand all of the details of how it works but what I do know is that we have to be an industry leader, we have to use the latest technology and link up with our customers and create true twenty first century electronic partnerships going forward. I’ll let our experts Bob, Charlotte, Martin and Ellen go over their vision, give you the details and open the conference to questions.”
The rest of the morning was much the same with commitments from all the presenters to make the company the best and brightest by developing the best and newest and describing our future with the best and greatest clichés. One after another we heard, “new, best, cutting edge, ground breaking, future, user friendly, powerful” and they just kept coming.
Did I tell you that we’re the best and the brightest and ready for to go forward as we move through the twenty first century?
Finally you could see the end coming if for no other reason than the presenters on stage were squirming in their chairs just like the rest of us.
Mr. Craghouse stood up and took the microphone from Ellen who had just finished telling us about new and better and greatest, “I want to thank all of our presenters today who have done a fabulous job of showing us the company’s vision for the future. We are new, we are now and we are marching into the future. I hope you are as excited as I am” and with that the lights came up, everyone stood and clapped and started to do their waddle out of the room.
“Oh, oh. Wait everyone, hold on, one more thing.”
Helen, the president’s secretary, took the microphone and nervously said, “I want to remind everyone that I need an address list of your customers who you want us to mail them our 2016 desk calendar and planner. Our customers really love them so let’s all be sure we get them out early this year.”
“Thanks, Helen, said E. Walter. Let’s make sure we do it, folks, real important.”
I wonder if that desk calendar/planner is for 2016 or 1986?

Pretty great

There is no doubt from watching the various protests which have taken place over the last year that there are Americans who hate their country. As the TV news reports showed businesses being looted, buildings being burned, police cars being set on fire, police being attacked with rocks and gun fire coming from those rioting in the streets we heard their chants calling for dead cops, heard their foul language, saw their obscene gestures and read their signs which condemned America as a terrible nation. The rioters spit on the flag, burned the flag, stomped on the flag and one bright light even demonstrated how to use the American flag as toilet paper.
It’s funny though that as we watch these anti-American demonstrations and riots we never see any of the America haters pull out a pair of scissors and cut up their EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card. I guess we can all agree that free groceries are pretty great.

Weight loss stress

When I was six or seven and we’d visit my grandparents every summer one of our rituals was to open the closet door in the living room and mark my height on the back of the door. Then we’d all march into the bathroom where I’d get on the scale and then back to the closet door to write my weight and the date next to my height.
“Look how much you’ve grown since last year” and “You’ll be as tall as your dad soon” and “Your mother sure must be a good cook” and “I learned it all from you, Mom” and everyone would laugh and then they’d put the script away until next year.
I can’t remember when that stopped, maybe when I was eleven or twelve. I know I stopped growing taller when I was about seventeen and my weight held steady for a number of years. Then up it went. I’ve always thought that I just needed to put on height. I think 7’2” would be about right on the charts.
As the years pass it gets harder and harder. You know what you should do and you think about what you can do. Are weight loss shakes right for me? How about a low-carb diet where all you eat is bacon and cheese? I always seem to fall back on the old reliable, reduced portions.
“Thank you, that German chocolate cake does look delicious. Just a sliver, please.”
You can’t start a weight loss regimen though without knowing just where the scale says you are now so I’ve made a decision to start in the morning. Before I take my shower I’ll step on the old scale to see where I am but then when I went into the bathroom the next morning I found myself in the shower before I remembered the scale.
“Golly gee, I forgot to weigh myself. I’ll do it when I get out”, but then I thought better of it what with my wet feet and the tiles which can get pretty darn slippery. Better safe than sorry.
After I got dressed and the slipping danger was no longer an issue I went back into the bathroom and made a mental note of the approximate weight of the clothes I was wearing—shoes, 5 lbs; socks, 1 lb; pants, 4 lbs; belt, 1 lb; underwear, 1 lb; shirt, 2 lbs; hat, 2 lbs; watch, 3 lbs; my wallet, 4 lbs and keys, 7 lbs for a total of thirty pounds. Then I stepped on the scale but not before remembering that the 9-volt battery which powers the digital scale might be getting old and from what I have always heard, older batteries have a tendency to “excite” a readout and increase the display number. It’s all about the gigabytes or wifi or roaming charges or something.
I decided that subtracting 30 or more pounds daily (or whatever the number which will depend on my wardrobe that day) from an unreliable number displayed on the scale was no way to start an effective weight loss program.
As I walked out of the bathroom and was thinking about how to accurately kick off my weight loss journey I remembered something that just might help me get on the right track and real quick. Why was I going through all of this stressful calculation activity when the information I needed was right there in my wallet? All I had to do was look at my driver’s license (an official state document so it has to be accurate) and there it was, my weight: 177 lbs. Alright. Just where it should be.
I wonder if that other German chocolate cake sliver is still in the refrigerator?