Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Free Man

Sixty-two years ago, Jimmy Hoffa, head of the Teamsters Union, walked out of prison a free man. 

He had vegetated in the Big House for almost five years of his eight-year sentence for bribery and fraud. 

So who released him? 

Tricky Dick, i.e. President Nixon signed him out. 


No one knows. Could it have been in return for that huge chunk of cash the Teamsters gave Nixon to help him run for president again?


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

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Thursday, December 22, 2016

It’s Vegtable

"You're wrong," cried Roger Furse, my grade-school classmate. He shook his spelling test.

"What's wrong?" Our teacher plucked his paper and read it. "No, Roger, you're wrong. That's not how you spell 'vegetable.' It has two 'e's,' not just one."

When Roger insisted he was right, the teacher went to the board, picked a piece of chalk from the tray, and wrote in large letters: vegetable. "That's how you spell vegetable, Roger."

"No you don't!" Roger pounded his desk. "I know how to spell vegetable and it's v-e-g-t-a-b-l-e. Just the way it sounds. Veg - table."

The two argued for a few more rounds, but Roger refused to back down.

"Here." The teacher picked up a dictionary. "Look it up. The dictionary knows how to spell words correctly." 

Roger looked, but when he found the word, he declared, "The dictionary's wrong."

The dictionary wrong? I could scarcely believe my ears. But Roger never backed down. He left grade school believing, against knowledge-based evidence, that vegetable is spelled the way it sounds to him. 

Roger's method of "reasoning" reminds me of the "reasoning" used by people who don't believe in climate change. So the temperature at the North Pole is—again—fifty degrees warmer than normal, approaching the melting point. "So what!" the disbelievers cry. "That doesn't mean it's caused by humans."

I prefer the logic of Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian photographer known for images of industrial projects and their environmental effects. He says,

"What took out the dinosaurs was a meteor impact. We, the human species, are now that impact. Humans are shifting the balance of the planet, and the choice rests within us to destroy it all, or not. It's a huge, complex thing to solve. We are a predator species run amok."

This JoLt is in memory of Jack Loscutoff

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jimmy Hoffa as Santa Claus

After awhile, Joe Franco, Hoffa's whipping boy, learned how to spot if Jimmy Hoffa were really mad or just faking. When his ears turned red, Franco knew Jimmy's anger was real. However, if his ears didn't turn red, then Jimmy was just blowing off steam. 
To many Teamsters who knocked on Jimmy's door in the early 1950s, Jimmy didn't rage, he acted: he passed out favors, jobs, and gifts. 
He turned into Santa Claus at Christmas, passing out cash in wads, up to a hundred dollars to those who asked. This way, to the dismay of the Local 299 treasurer, Jimmy gave away $48,000 dollars in cash with no accounting for it.


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

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Thursday, December 15, 2016


THAT PUNK JIMMY HOFFA opens during World War II.

When the war ends in 1945, Dad is 38, Jimmy Hoffa is 32, Bobby Kennedy is 20, 
and I'm 8, ringing my mama's school bell to celebrate our victory.

In thirty-two years, they'll all be dead but me.

I Watched My Dad Beat Him
  a father-daughter memoir
    by Marilyn June Coffey

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Sunday, December 11, 2016


"At my age it is unseemly to be pessimistic," said Arabic writer Naguib Mahfouz. He was 83, and had been stabbed twice in his neck (but not fatally) for writing Children of the Alley, considered blasphemous.

I'm not quite as old as Mahfouz, but I shun pessimism, too. The instant I think, "I'm getting old," I lickety-split substitute, "I'm alive! alive! alive! alive! alive!"  

Life. What a windfall!

P. S. I plan to die sitting at my desk writing out my next book, as writer Jim Harrison did. 

* I thank Garrison Keillor and his December 11, 2016 "The Writer's Almanac" for inspiring this little blog of mine.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I laughed till I cried

I suspect most writers, like me, are delighted whenever they learn what a reader thinks of their writing. 

NetGalley did me just such a favor when it sent me a couple of its recent reviews. 

Here's one by Bonnye Reed Fry who lives in New Mexico.

THIEVES, RASCALS & SORE LOSERS is an honest, intimate, enlightening review of the folks who settled and populated that part of the Louisiana Purchase that became the great state of Nebraska. I laughed till I cried, it is in places that funny. And, truthfully, it is joyous to read of an American state population who can top New Mexico in the fiercely independent populous and dirty tricks government men. I now feel a kinship with the cornhusker state.

Librarian Aric Monkman gave THIEVES five stars with a promise to recommend my book to book clubs, Readers' Advisory, and her own library.

And Kristine Fisher notes: While not necessarily taking on a "gosh darn varmit" tone, its story-length chapters feel almost like they're verbally transcribed.

Nice, huh.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dad Woke Like a Rooster

The day that Jimmy Hoffa came after Dad in May 1946 started like any other day. Mama still slept in their big double bed, as usual. She hated it when Dad woke like a rooster, crowing at dawn, but she just grumbled and went back to sleep.

 "Some day, I swear," she told me, "I'm going to fill a cattle trough with ice water and put it alongside your father while he sleeps." Her laughter sound light and giddy. "We'll see how cheerful he is when he leaps out of bed crowing." 

But she hadn't yet.

More to come in Marilyn June Coffey's THAT PUNK JIMMY HOFFA.

In 1956, my father, Tom Coffey, knuckled under Jimmy Hoffa's six-month-long Teamsters strike. He sold his twenty-seven-year-old truck line, Coffey's Transfer Company, rather than sign Hoffa's contract. And he swore he'd get back at THAT PUNK JIMMY HOFFA.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Her Conversational Nature

Nicole Overmoyer, a book reviewer for NetGalley, just wrote about my book,  THIEVES, RASCALS AND SORE LOSERS. Here's what she says.

I am not from Nebraska. I have never been to Nebraska. I've never been particularly interested in Nebraska, especially the particular counties of the state. So you might wonder why I requested a copy of Marilyn Coffey's THIEVES, RASCALS AND SORE LOSERS and read it. 

It's because I'm a history nerd.

And, as Coffey's detailed history of Harlan County, Nebraska made clear to me, I knew a lot more about the state than I thought I did. This is, no doubt, thanks to a fascination with the Old West. Reading this book made me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Willa Cather, of the novelization I've read of Tiana Rogers, of documentaries about the Wild West and the colorful figures then and there, and even of the Dog Soldiers and Cheyenne on the television show "Longmire." 

Coffey proves, with amazing success, that even the most minute details of history can be related to the larger picture that everyone knows just from... existing.

One of the best things about Coffey's book, though, is the conversational nature of it. There are facts and figures, dates and details, minutiae and momentous occasions - all as any history book has - but Coffey tells the story of Harlan County, of her county, in a voice that is relatable to laymen and, rare for books like this, highly entertaining. Imagined conversations between the colorful figures in the county, who might seem dour and dusty in an ordinary book, bring to life a time and a place that must have been daunting and frightening and still a hopeful place to begin life. 

I kind of want Coffey to tell me her interpretation of all my history now.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Something was wrong, I knew that.

My boss had sent me to a big impersonal testing place, and they'd referred me to a psychoanalyst.

I'd gone to his office, laid on his couch, and talked for several years. Then I hallucinated again.

On a New York City bus, I sat across from the double doors in the back. I looked up, expecting to see myself reflected in the door's glass. Instead, I saw the Buddha, serene in his orange robes. I understood that we were one, because when I looked away and then looked back, he still sat there.

I told my doctor. "It's your choice," he said. "You can live with hallucinations or without them. You decide."

After a while, my hallucinations stopped, and I finished a "successful" psychoanalysis, but I knew something wasn't right.  

For one thing, I couldn't stop screwing. If anyone, male or female, wanted to go to bed with me, I hopped right in. 

I banged my psychoanalyst. Three of his patients. My new therapist. Colleagues. Folks I bumped into on the street.

I liked it, but I did notice that none of my girl friends acted that way.

Occasionally I experienced long stretches of gloom. Once I donned dirty torn clothes and tousled my unwashed hair. Then I sat on the curb of a New York City street, crying, waiting to see who'd pick me up. An old guy did, took me to a hotel room, put cash on the bureau, and I stripped down.

Months later, at a boy friend's apartment after he'd left for work, I started writing about death. Words poured out. I didn't know I had so much to say. I began shouting and stomping on the floor. I couldn't stop. I heard knocking on the door, I heard somebody shout, "Police! Open up!" but I kept on writing. They broke the door down, surrounded me, put me in the paddy wagon, and took me to the psychiatric ward in New York's Bellevue Hospital. My current therapist released me.

So something felt definitely wrong. No one, including me, seemed to know what. I lived like this for twenty-five years, sometimes sane but often not.

It's the summer of 1986. I'm in Saint Louis, in a drug store, nosing around. I see this yellow paperback on a metal shelf, bragging about diagnosing mental illnesses. I bought it, what-the-hell, it was cheap.  

Then I drove myself, my dog and my trailer on what would be a summer-long journey across Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South and North Dakota, Montana chasing the Astorians, the first group of explorers to follow the Lewis and Clark trail.

Along the way, I read the yellow book. One day I saw myself in it. The book introduced me to a new term: "manic-depression." (Now we call it "bipolar disorder.")

Astonished, I read about extreme mood swings.

On the up side, being "high" for long stretches of time, thoughts racing, little need for sleep, and engaging in risky behavior, like impulsive sex.

On the down side, sleeping 10 or 12 hours, losing interest in once likable activities, thinking about suicide, or being preoccupied with death.

There I was.


That autumn, I returned to New York and showed the book to my current therapist. She agreed that the description seemed apt. 

"Then why did nobody recognize it?"

"Manic depression is difficult to diagnose. It runs in cycles. Some cycles are short, occurring within a day, a week, a month. But from what you say, yours ran more than a year apart. I suspect that none of your therapists saw both sides of your cycle."

I nodded. That made sense. 

She sent me to a Park Avenue psychiatric for my lithium, "the drug of choice" for manic-depression.

There in a shiny modern office sat the pricy psychiatrist, a slender middle-aged man whose taste in clothes ran to blue. He wrote a prescription and handed it to me. "Now you can't drink any alcohol with this."

"No alcohol!" I squeaked. "I can't do that."

The way he smiled at me, I felt like a small child. 

"Well, if you must have a drink," he lifted an eyebrow, "you may have one a day. At mealtime."

I walked down Park Avenue, uncomfortable with my daily drinking habit. Each night, I drank wine at supper and continued until I "went to sleep." 

As I walked, I considered which of my favorite restaurants served the largest wine glass. I went there for supper.

I downed a lithium pill and sipped the wine. When I noticed no negative effects, I thought, "what the hell," and ordered a second glass.

As I rose to leave, my head spun. I sat down and waited. Then I rose again and, ever so gingerly, glided home.

When I flopped on my bed, the room whirled and I knew I would need help. 

I never considered dropping lithium. I believed that I stood to profit greatly from those pills, and I did. 

However, choosing to take lithium forced me to "cure" my boozing. 

I stumbled into Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where I insisted, 
"I'm not an alcoholic. I just have a drinking problem."
"What's your problem?" the leader asked.
"I can't stop drinking."
But on October 24, 1986, I did stop drinking. 

I was forty-nine. 

I have stayed sober, popping lithium pills twice daily—for thirty years.

And am I deliriously happy I made both decisions.