Railroading Identity… Or, Lent is for Fuckers.

“So. What do you see there, what will affect our trip?” probed Clint as we scanned track condition documents before one of my first duty tours on a train.

“When the shit hits the fan out there, it does so in a hurry, got to know where each maintenance crew is working, where we tip-toe by and where we go through on top of them. Can’t be cutting anyone in half today with 4000 horse and 200 ton!”

As he speaks, light glints off the gold in his mouth and his dancerly stance cuts the air in more planes than most people’s bland way of taking up space , not projected every direction like Clint, whose pelvis, shoulders and head twist like he’s about to stomp a two step and whisk his girl away any minute. Clint’s chiseled profile flashes constantly as if he always expects photographs, though he also looks you in the eye, with an authority lacking in most managers.

I call him Clint Chronkefeller because he’s chiseled of chin like actor Clint Eastwood, articulate like broadcaster Walter Chronkite and larger than life like oil baron John D. Rockefeller! Most just call him “the old head” because he’s been hostling and hogging trains for four decades now. When he learned that my family name was “Greenhagen,” immediately he christianed me “O Fucking Greenhagen.”

This is no incidental cuss; everyone is so ritually addressed and with the same lilting command of profanity. Everyone’s a “Fucker” To Clint—longtime friends or enemies in management; maintenance crews blocking his passage or the next job over. He views humanity—as most railroaders do—from a common denominator, leveling stratification, alluding to the elemental act that sparked each of our existence in this world and to the desire that drives us all.

What of the “O”? It is not insignificant, and—as Shakespeare says, “ciphers much in little space.” “O” alludes to the Irish who stand for the fact that becoming a railroader means being re-born into a new particular group. Figuratively, one must brave flaming red pussy to go womb-ward again and get pressed and prodded by another primal passage in order to be taken up into the scrappy and pugnacious grit and weathered grime of being a railroader, a great many of whom were Irish in the industry’s infant-hood.

Identity discourse, railroaded! When railroading frees me of “who am I” brooding and my soul travels in my body like this woman in a hopper car, I’ll run into Ash Wednesday Mass and shout, cheerfully “Hey everybody, Lent is for Fuckers!” Then, into the hallowed halls of a University campus to yell “Fuck the debates, today we’re all Irish and the Guinness is on me!”


All images from the series A Period Of Juvenile Prosperity 2006-2009 © Mike Brodie, Courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery / Yossi Milo Gallery



About Lemsford

Literary dilettante. Swamp dwelling Railroader.