Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dad’s Headline

On the morning of March 7, 1967, Janet Niebruegge, a staff reporter for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, rang my dad in his city manager office.

"Did you know that Jimmy Hoffa's on his way to jail right now?" she asked.

"Yes, I know. I've anticipated this day for a long long time."

Janet's voice sounded bouncy. "And how do you feel about that?"

Dad took a deep breath and proceeded to recite what he'd composed during restless nights. "'I would be less than honest if I were to say that I had not looked forward to today when the prison gates closed behind James Riddle Hoffa.'"

"That's a mouthful." Janet paused. "Maybe something shorter?"

"Okay. How about this?" Dad's voice lightened. "I will sleep a little sounder tonight."

"That's great! Thanks, Tom." 

And his short version became Janet's headline that afternoon. 

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

Publication Date: July 30 
the date Hoffa "disappeared"

Oates Revisited

Who, besides me, loves Joyce Carol Oates? I met her only once, but her physical body stopped me dead. She looked like a ghost, with that pasty white face of hers, she moved like a tiny bird. How could I not love her, she was so special.

Critics consider her one of America's best writers, and she's certainly one of the most prodigious.  In the fifty-four years she's been writing, she's produced more than 100 titles: novels, short stories, poetry, plays, nonfiction works, and even children's books. And she writes them in longhand, working from "8 till 1 every day, then again for two or three hours in the evening." Goodness!

But Joyce Carol Oates also has written "every imaginable form of physical, psychological and sexual violence: rape, incest, murder, molestation, cannibalism, torture and bestiality," leaving me to wonder, how this gentle birdlike woman became fixated with such dark human impulses.

And her fiction wanders beyond fiction's border, becoming creative nonfiction in the way it explores and describes the real world.

Oates' New Yorker story, "Landfill," featured a student forced down a trash chute at a fraternity house and later found dead in a landfill. She had based it so closely on a true story that those still mourning the actual dead student protested.

When she wrote about poet Robert Frost, she was not complimentary. She made him boorish and vainglorious. Readers see Frost asleep on his porch, "his torso sagged against his shirt like a great udder, and his thighs in summer trousers were fleshy, like those of a middle-aged woman."

So I was not surprised when readers of my recent blog, Ms. Oates Regrets, sided with Jack Loscutoff's loathing of Joyce Carol Oates.

Here's what they wrote:

"I kind of half agree with Jack on Oates.  But must admit, I have read a large number of her books with horrified fascination.  I hate them, but can't put them down."  Ruth Firestone, Hays KS

"Jack's parody resonated with me. I've always loathed Oates, and I wish Jack were still around." Anita Feldman, New York NY

"Ah, I do not loath her but she has never been my cup of tea.  Wish I could have spoken to Jack about her since I'm sure he would have put into words better than I what I find off-putting about her stories.  The three of us might have had a great discussion!"  Deirdre Evans, Omaha, NE 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ms. Oates Regrets

I never know when my beloved Jack Loscutoff, dead now a year and a half, will jump out at me.

Today he leaped off the inside cover of Joyce Carol Oates' WILD NIGHTS. There, pasted right inside her book, was Jack's parody of "Miss Otis Regrets."

You remember Miss Otis, unable to come to lunch because she's being strung up by a mob for shooting and killing her lover. That old Cole Porter tune.

Jack twisted it to choke Joyce Carol Oates like this:

   Ms. Oates Regrets

Ms. Oates regrets she is unable to lunch today, madam.
For she's installed another writer in hell today, madam.
But as she pulled the ungrateful bastard down, 
she STOPPED to look around.
"There are so many more to put away," sadly I heard her say.
And so, madam, Ms. Oates regrets she is unable to lunch today.

What did Jack mean, "she's installed another writer in hell today"?

He meant the way Oates, in her WILD NIGHTS, skewers five American writers—Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway—as she gleefully imagines their macabre last days.

Oates' reviewers call her horrifying stories hilarious and harrowing, but Jack loathed both the stories and the author. He often stomped around the dining room, haranguing and fulminating about Oates.

So he wrote his poem, printed it on a piece of paper that he cleverly cut to the size of Oates' book. He pasted it over the book's inside cover so deftly that it looks like an original page.

Did he know I'd be the first to read his parody? Perhaps. He no doubt hoped his poem would do what he couldn't: convert me, a long-time Oates lover.

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"