Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hoffa in Love

Jimmy Hoffa, to help out a laundry on strike that March 1936, stepped in the picket line and fell in love. 

"I was looking," he recalled, "into the brightest damn pair of blue eyes I'd ever seen. Geez, but they crinkled in the corners when she smiled back at me. Her goddam hair was shining blond and although she was small and looked frail she walked erect and proud. I felt like I'd been fuckin' hit on the chest with a blackjack."

Jimmy jumped in line behind her.


"Better watch out." he warned her. "There's a man on your heels." 

And there was.

  I Watched My Dad Beat the Teamsters
             A Daughter's Memoir
              by Marilyn June Coffey

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Forever Books

"The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever," writes Sid Fleischman.

How true!

My mother filled my childhood home with books, once spending so much money on them that she angered my father. And she read to my sisters and me, by day and before bedtime. She read our favorites over and over. 

We knew MOTHER GOOSE rhymes by the dozens:  "Dickory, dickory, dock" or "Rub a dub dub" or "Simple Simon met a pieman."

We graduated to Lewis Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND with its disappearing Cheshire cat, its argumentative Caterpillar with a hookah, and its Duchess who beat her little boy when he sneezed.

Add to that Irish folk tales by the dozens, plus SIBBY BOTHERBOX, and THE SECRET GARDEN, and FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW, novels whose appealing characters and carefully crafted adventures gripped us.

But the book that stayed with us was A. A. Milne's WINNIE-THE-POOH. 

Christopher Robin didn't move us, nor Pooh or Piglet or Owl or Kanga and her baby Roo. 

The Old Grey Donkey, gloomy Eeyore, did. 

When he sighed and said things like "Pathetic. That's what it is. Pathetic" or  "Somebody must have taken my tail. How Like Them," we recognized him. 

He was our bleak, glum, melancholy mother, Zelma Theola Kemper Coffey.

We promptly dubbed her "Eeyore," a nickname that fit her even to the end of her life.   

Thirty-three years ago this month, when she was seventy-eight years old, my mother decided, Eeyore-like, that her weak-boned life—fall, break bones, hospital, therapy, home, fall—was no longer viable. 

She refused to eat, and on March 20, 1984, she died of starvation.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On His Way to Prison

In Washington D.C. on a gloomy drizzly March day, Chuckie O'Brien drove his step-father, Jimmy Hoffa, to the federal building to surrender to the U.S. marshals.

 "There's going to be a mob of media folk at the front door," Chuckie warned. "Let me drive you around back." 

Jimmy refused. "I never ran away from anybody and I'll be damned if I'm gonna start now. Drive this son of a bitch right up to the front door."

There March 7, 1967, Jimmy faced microphones and cameras. 

Afterwards, marshals prepared him for his 192-mile trip to the federal penitentiary. 

They handcuffed his wrists, put him in the back seat of a dark blue Pontiac, and chained his legs to the floor. 

Jimmy tucked his raincoat over his chained hands and legs, to conceal his humiliation.

  I Watched My Dad Beat the Teamsters
             A Daughter's Memoir
              by Marilyn June Coffey

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Most days I don't think about the 30 years I lived in New York City, but some days I do. Like today, when flying through my mailbox came HOWL, 2016! containing poems, rants, and essays on the election of Donald Trump.

I'm not sure that the 65 contributors that editor Trish MacEnulty pulled together for this amazing book are New Yorkers. Some I know aren't. But the book reeks of sharp big city talk from its opening entry by Elisa Albo, an avalanche listing of sexual traumas, to its last entry by Ron Yrabedra and his memory of a burned child. 

My favorite, of course, is the piece written by Carole Rosenthal, and not just because we've been friends since the Sixties when we both taught at Pratt Institute. Even then, I admired Carole's imaginative writing. 

Her HOWL piece has the longest title in the book: "IN DREAMS BEGIN RESPONSIBILITIES: POST-ELECTION SEQUEL 2016 (thanks for the reminder, Delmore Schwartz)". Why does Carole mention Schwartz? A gifted New York writer, Schwartz is known for his famous story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities."  

Carole's story opens one evening "lolling on a nubby sofa with friends." It sounds realistic, but not for long. She forgets where she is, "After the Presidential election, it's been hard to locate myself." And we tumble with her into a dream that conveys the confusion and conflicts she feels, as she tries to solve the mystery of where she is and why there are strangers living in her New York apartment now.

At the end of her dream, she finds herself in her apartment, her husband lying "open-mouthed, a fleck of spittle on the corner of his lips." 

A bright full moon almost sinks into the cliffs of the Palisades outside her window. "Yet I'm terrified," she writes. "I cannot un-dream reality." 

Reality, in this case, being the Trump world we now occupy. 

Outside, "the moon keeps sinking."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Get-Hoffa Squad

A Chattanooga jury deliberated for five hours after government prosecutors tried Jimmy Hoffa and five-codefendants for fixing a jury. 
For weeks, a web of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers had entangled the trial. But Jimmy, never singled out by the prosecutor, concluded he was innocent.

Even so, Jimmy's lawyers worked hard. One hurled thirty pieces of silver at the prosecutors. Another cried, "The government's case is a foul and filthy frame-up designed by the 'Get-Hoffa Squad.'" 
Bobby Kennedy and his chief FBI investigator, Walter Sheridan, belonged to the Get-Hoffa Squad, located in Washington, D.C. 

Then on March 4, 1964, the jury found Jimmy guilty of two counts. When he heard, the color drained from his face.
Sheridan bolted out of the courtroom, located a phone, and called Bobby.
"Guilty—two counts! We made it!" Sheridan reported.
"Nice work," Bobby said. And invited Sheridan to a victory party at the Kennedy home.

  I Watched My Dad Beat the Teamsters
             A Daughter's Memoir
              by Marilyn June Coffey

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Spent the weekend in Chadron, Nebraska, a town pushing 6,000 located way up in the northwest corner of the state. It's so far from Omaha that its clocks move by Mountain Time. 


Traveling by car, I enjoyed the way picturesque stripes of white snow decorated the brown hills. Our oxygen level thinned as the elevation rose higher and higher, all the way to 3,400 feet. For a moment I thought we'd detoured into Colorado.

Sold a few books, spoke a few lines at the Nebraska Writers' Guild's 6 Corners of Nebraska held in the local library. Dropped into a noisy restaurant called The Ridge, and there I ate the best 8-ounce sirloin I've ever tasted. Superbly cooked medium rare, its bright pink center pushed to the edge of red. Cutting that steak felt like cutting butter.

Early the next morning, I set out by foot, surrounded by dozens of churches, hundreds of houses, many big, almost all tidy. And heard thousands of voices trilling in the morning air. Some I recognized, the raucous bluejays, cantankerous crows, hard working woodpeckers, plus a swarm of sparrows, a peck of pigeons, gaggle of geese—and a solitary rooster!

Packing up the SUV at dusk, I stopped to watch a solid gold sunset, the blaze at its core lifting into long slices of pink and purple. Standing sentinel, spindly lines of winter trees raised their skinny arms and bony fingers stiff in the night air, as though they waited only a breeze to cast circles in the night for their coven.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

City Folks

In 1929, my twenty-two-year-old Dad sat on Joe Howard's farm house porch with a half-dozen neighbors shucking corn. Joe turned to a neighbor. "I know its a bumper crop, but how we going to get it from here to Omaha?"
"Beats me, Joe. Didn't you take it last year?"
"I did." Husks rattled as Joe tore them off. "But I can't spare the time this year. Get up before dawn, drive until dusk, get to that burg at night, city folks crawling all around. Take a hotel for safety, get up before dawn, drive until dusk." 
Dad tilted his head to one side. "Did you see city folks everywhere you looked?"
"Ain't you ever been to Omaha?" Joe's face lit up. 
Dad shook his head and grabbed another ear of corn.
"Tell you what," Joe said, "I'll loan you my truck if you haul this corn to Omaha for us."
Dad beamed, grabbed Joe's hand and shook it.
He didn't know it,of course, but that hand shake took Dad one move closer to squaring off with Jimmy Hoffa.

  I Watched My Dad Beat the Teamsters
             A Daughter's Memoir
              by Marilyn June Coffey

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared