A Football Game
The next morning, I met with my own staff. Odie had taken for us a rather attractive set of offices overlooking the main street. He had also installed a middle-aged secretary who looked the very soul of restrained good taste and reliability. I nevertheless suspected that she and Odie gossiped shamelessly when no one else was around. An office, far beyond my deserts, had been set aside for me, even though it would remain empty most of the time.
By this time, I had divided the responsibilities, and promoted both Odie and Speed to full colonel. Odie was in direct charge of administration, recruitment, and training for both guards and spies. Speed was in charge of agents in the field. When Speed was in the field himself, as now, the agents with whom he was not in direct touch reported in to the secretary, Mrs. Brumm, who typed up the reports and relayed messages back and forth. A copy of everything also went to Odie, so that he could provide Mac and myself with the latest information.
We first dealt with security. We had adopted most of the suggestions I had gotten from Atwater up in Dundee, and had sent out directives to that effect. Even though we were not exercising day-to-day command of any security platoons, they were getting mail and general instructions from us. As Odie said,
"When the trouble starts, and we begin moving them around, they'll at least know who we are."
We then turned to intelligence. At the moment, we had nine agents. A team of four, including Cindy and Dave and led by Speed himself, was on the Wabash. Another was on the Maryland & Pennsylvania, and the others were spread over the Western Circle. Copies of all reports from the latter went immediately to D. H. P. Davis, and he had been kind enough to tell me, the day before, that he found them useful.
The upshot of the news from the Wabash was that we had replaced the engineers and track gangs without precipitating a strike by the other unions. Speed reported the other men to be very fearful and suspicious, and advised making no further moves for the time being. Odie said to me,
"We weren't about to anyway. We don't have the personnel to replace the other unions."
"The C&G is better at producing engineers than anything else. That's really what the recruits all want to be. It produces members of track gangs in quantity only because it takes so little time to train them."
Odie rocked back in his swivel chair enough to cause it to groan and replied,
"That's fine for now when we're adding yards at practically every division point, but, once they're completed, most of the track people will have to be re-trained as switchmen, engine house mechanics, and so on. Are we going to do that on the job or send them back to the C&G?"
"I don't think there's any doctrine on that yet."
"Should I get out a little memo setting out the pros and cons?"
Odie asked the question without the suggestion of a wink, but I knew that it was loaded. If we expanded our mission of collecting and disseminating intelligence to the analysis of outstanding problems and the making of recommendations concerning them, we would be doing something that is often called empire building. Indeed, I could imagine Mac, on the receipt of such a memo, saying to me,
"Those are problems for me to worry about, son. All I want from you is the dirt."
On the other hand, I had just been handed a task which was ninety per cent pure research. That could certainly be taken as a precedent, and I told Odie to go ahead with his memo. I then explained to him, in some detail, the question concerning the N&W. He asked,
"How long do we have to make a recommendation?"
"Just a month. We need information fast."
"Speed's just about to leave the Wabash and check into things in Chicago. In the circumstances, I'm sure he'll want to go to the N&W instead."
Odie was careful not to sound as if he wanted to give Speed orders. I could, but I judged it much better to inform both Speed and Odie of what needed to be done, and then let them make their own arrangements. That, of course, still allowed me to make suggestions. Odie knew Cindy and Dave by this time, and I said,
"When Speed next calls in, you might ask him if he thinks Cindy could work herself into an office job at the N&W headquarters in Roanoke."
"If she can't actually infiltrate the headquarters, she could still find out where the N&W secretaries hang out after work and join them. If they drink, she can stand them drinks. If they're church-going, she can join the choir. If some do one and some the other, she can do both."
Later that day, Odie was able to raise Speed, and had him call me. When he came on the line, he said,
"How are ya, captain. Odie said you wanted me to set fire to N&W headquarters in Roanoke."
It seemed that Speed was rather in his element. At the rate he was going, it was hard to remember that his given name hadn't been intended to be descriptive. It was a family name, derived from the people who gave the money for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. I wondered briefly, as I explained the situation, what those other Speeds would think of him now. At the end, he said,
"So you want to know to what extent and in what way those people are going to go beserk if we turn their lives upside down."
"Yes. That's it exactly."
I didn't myself head for Roanoke. I wanted to get a feel for daily operations out on the line, and I chose the town of Waverley, Ohio, a little north of Portsmouth on the main line to the terminal point at Columbus. Since I was going sub rosa, I had to leave my cars and stewards at Huntington, and make my way by a succession of ordinary trains.
I arrived in Waverley on one of the few passenger trains of the Detroit, Toledo, and Ironton, a little railway that we controlled, and which would become part of the Eastern Circle if we went through with the plan. On leaving the train, I quickly discovered that the main street was actually a canal, part of the old system linking Lake Erie with the Ohio River.
There was a street on each side of the canal with frequent bridges across. Walking up the right side with my salesman's valise, I soon came upon a fairly large hotel which was really an accumulation of several rather picturesque brick buildings, each with a different roof-line.
This time, my persona was that of a travelling life insurance salesman, almost on his beam ends, but desperately trying to find customers. As I checked in, I made no secret of my hopes. The clerk replied,
"Well, mister, there's damn few people around here with money to buy life insurance or anything else."
"I often sell to the railroad men. The ones who still have jobs ain't so bad off."
I had begun, experimentally, to modify my speech in a downward direction, and I looked to see if I sounded plausible to the clerk. He didn't look particularly pleased, but it might have been only because he didn't want a salesman button-holing his customers and disturbing their relaxation. He did admit that the railroad men came in, but added, in a meaningful tone,
"They like to keep to themselves."
I had no doubt of it, but, of course, a good salesman doesn't let that stop him. He does whatever it takes to join the group.
The room upstairs was far short of my railway car in terms of both cleanliness and comfort, but I was happy enough to fling myself on the bed.
I had been reflecting off and on all day on Vignis' version of Kierkegaard. I wasn't curious enough to search out the original, which I suspected that she had distorted with Mac in mind. But, still, the issues raised had piqued my curiosity.
Of one thing I was certain. I wouldn't stop thinking about myself and categorizing myself. On the other hand, it did seem likely that the judgments in which one felt the most unquestioned confidence were, in fact, the bad ones. They might not always be false, but they would, at least, be superficial and misleading. One would have to dig for the truth, and a state of wonder and doubt would be the best mark of it that one would ever have. The proper conclusion of such an enquiry would be, not, "I am an X", but, "I wonder whether or not I am an X."
I began immediately. I decided what I was without giving myself a chance to think.
1. I am a railway executive.
2. I am a sexual deviant, what most people call a pervert.
3. I love Vignis.
I actually wrote down these propositions on a sheet of notepaper the hotel had, rather surprisingly, provided. I then scrutinized them.
How could I not be a railway executive? I wasn't prepared to question such things as my own existence, or whether the sun would rise the next day. But, short of that, how could I be in error?
First off, Atwater was a railway executive. During his whole military career he had made decisions and given orders. He had always been an executive, and his move from the army to the GER had instantly made him a railway executive.
I then examined my own past, in particular my presidency of the Lackawanna. I had generally assembled my chief subordinates and said, literally or otherwise,
"What about doing so-and-so?"
Of course, since I was the boss, they had most often agreed. But not always. I had never over-ruled the consensus, and I had always announced decisions in such a way as to make it clear that they were not mine alone.
Some executives may behave in that way in order to seem democratic, but with me, it had been quite genuine. I had always been afraid of running rough-shod over subordinates for the simple reason that, if they hated me, they might be able to get me. I had suggested decisions, but never made them. I had hardly ever given what could be considered to be an order.
There was, then, at least some doubt about the first proposition.
I next wondered about Mac. He had planned and set up a vast railway empire, something I would never have dreamed of doing. But he had conducted that meeting at Huntington in a low-key and loose-jointed way, the way I might have done it myself. Was he a railway executive? Perhaps not. It looked as if he was going to let other people give the orders. And, most important, he didn't have to be an executive. He had the ideas, and other people executed them. However, there was another difference between Mac and myself which made all others merely academic. Mac was a hero, and I was not.
It looked as if I had arrived at another proposition, this time by means of reflection. I wasn't sure quite where to put it, but added it experimentally to the end of the list.
1. I am a railway executive.
2. I am a sexual deviant, what most people call a pervert.
3. I love Vignis.
4. I am not a hero.
I wouldn't worry whether Mac was really a hero, but, of course, I wasn't. I even giggled at the idea. No one had ever suggested to me that I was a hero, and I could hardly imagine what the people in the courtroom at Scranton would have made of such a thought. But, still, I was setting out to question all that seemed most obvious. I would, later on, give the matter some thought.
The second proposition turned out to be related. Heroes were not, it would seem, sexual deviants.
In addition to this side of my behavior, which had become public, there was another kind of deviance, this one known only to Marcia and, probably, Cindy Lee. I had never done anything with a woman which might have resulted in her pregnancy. From the sheer number of people producing children, I knew that I was in the small minority. What, then, could be said of a man who did what he ought not and failed to do what he ought? Surely, it was hard to avoid concluding that he was a deviant and a pervert.
I then scrutinized the second proposition more closely. Did I feel like a deviant and pervert? Certainly not! Moreover, it wasn't the unanimous position of others. Neither Vignis nor Cindy Lee would have let me be put down in that way without at least raising some objections.
There were, indeed, some things to be said. I liked to shock, but not shock badly. In this connection, it delighted me to make a pretty girl give a little cry and cover her face with her hands while nevertheless peeking between her fingers. On one such occasion, a young lady had screamed to her friend,
"Mavis, come here and look quick! You won't believe this!"
Other men, I believe, often shock pretty girls in more conventional ways. Many tell off-color stories and jokes, the reward being an embarrassed blush. More yet hint at their own amorous adventures with the same intention. I don't condone these practices. The men who engage in them are pushy and vulgar, and are certainly not gentlemen. There are some of us who would never do these things, but who occasionally revert to what must have been an earlier epoch in human history, one in which feeling ran free and clear.
I dare say, for example, that a Mesopotamian gentleman, out for a stroll, might, on meeting an attractive lady, act the part of a brightly colored male bird on a comparable occasion. The lady would then be free to ignore his display, to slap him lightly in a roguish manner, or even to curl her lip in disapproval. The gentleman, having momentarily freed himself of encumbrence, might then proceed about his business with his heart a little lighter and his step a little brisker.
Matters haven't worked out quite that way in our society, but, taking a long view, it seemed extremely difficult to say what sexual perversion might consist in. Once again, a feeling of virtual certainty had been replaced by a state of doubt. I might still not be relating myself to myself in the right way, but it was no longer certain that I was doing it in the wrong way.
The third proposition seemed even harder to doubt than the first two, but for a trivial reason. Love has so many meanings, that it might be true to say of most people that, in some sense, they love Attila the Hun. Certainly, that gentleman has stimulated more than his share of curiosity and strong feeling, and one might argue that, where there is fascination, there is love of a sort.
I decided, however, not to quibble. I knew what I meant when I wrote that I loved Vignis, but was it true? Could I really love her, and yet not try to get her away from Mac? I told myself that I believed it to be impossible for me to do that. But perhaps I didn't even want to so very much. Or, more likely, I loved to be in a certain relation to Vignis, one that involved some distance. I didn't love her in the standard way in which most men loved their women. But was that only because I was perverted? Perhaps I loved her in the only way that a pervert could love a woman. But, then, what if I weren't perverted? I would then have no excuse.
In the midst of the confusion generated by these questions, I asked myself another.
"What, James, would you think, feel, and do if Vignis walked in the door at this moment and said that she'd left Mac and wanted to be yours?"
I was engaged in trying to answer this question when I heard a commotion below the window. Looking out, I saw a group of young men in the empty lot next to the hotel. They seemed to have just arrived, and, as some tossed a football around, others sat on the benches to remove their shoes. While we were much nearer baseball season than football season, this group evidently preferred football. I wondered if they had been playing all winter.
What interested me immediately was that all the young men had bits and pieces of railway clothing, and one had a patch on his shirt with the N&W insignia.
As I went down the stairs, two at a time, I had no definite plan in mind. I wasn't so foolish to think that a young man on the point of playing football could be detained for a quick chat on the subject of his fiduciary duty to his wife and children. Neither did I picture myself racing down the field next to the ball carrier as I gasped out my life insurance spiel.
By the time I reached the street, my idea had partly jelled. I would, for the moment, wander slowly past the vacant lot, and then pause to watch the game. That was the sort of thing a seedy travelling salesman would be likely to do after the long day was done.
When I got downstairs and again came in view of the lot, the young men, instead of playing, were having a discussion at the end of the lot closest to me. After all I had heard, I was rather excited to see what the men of the N&W would look like. These men would mostly be too young to be engineers, but they might be firemen, signalmen, and switchmen. While none had the dispirited look of maintenance-of-way men, they certainly had the muscles. Then, too, even the lowliest of N&W employees might display the pride and confidence that was so evident here.
I was very much surprised when one of the men pointed to me, and several others came running. More extraordinary yet, they wanted me to join their game.
At that time, I was forty three, but did look younger, perhaps as little as thirty five. Even then, I hardly looked like an athlete. Anxious as the young men were to find another player to even the sides, I think I appealed to their collective sense of humor. The three who surrounded me were good-humored, full of gay laughter, and very forceful. I was assured that I could easily play with bare feet in the mud, as they did themselves. When I expostulated that I could hardly play in my suit, poor as it was, one of them replied,
"Put your jacket and shirt over there on the bench. Your pants need to go to the cleaner anyway."
"I'll get cold with just my undershirt."
"You'll get warm. We'll get started right away."
My general demeanor was sufficiently indecisive so that I found two of them removing my jacket and shoes while a third undid the knot of my tie. I was then summarily lined up on the receiving team for the kick-off.
It had been a good twenty-five years since I had played football, and that in the era before the forward pass. But I did have a basic understanding of the game. The teams were six men on a side, and I was morally certain that I would be placed in the line, probably a four man line with two backs.
The ball was punted far over my head, and I knew that my mission was to block. I selected one of the smaller of the men rushing toward me, moved myself in front of him, and drew my fists in to my chest with my elbows out. As I lowered myself to receive the shock, I must have closed my eyes. There was no shock. The man had avoided me so neatly that I made no contact, even with an elbow. By the time that I followed the play, our ball carrier had already been tackled. As we formed our huddle, no one seemed to have noticed my missed block. I found myself being abruptly asked,
"Can you center?"
I allowed as how I probably could. I was an obvious choice. Since I could do nothing else, it would be helpful for me to center, thus freeing others for more critical duties.
The man who seemed to be our leader and tailback was large, young, and red-haired. He looked competent and somewhat dangerous. He said only,
"Formation right, slant right, to me on three."
I understood that much. Since we had a four man line, it had to be unbalanced either to the right or the left. I was to center to him on the count of three, and he would run a bit off to my right. When I arrived up at the ball, our tailback announced to the other team that we were having a practice center. No one objected, and I flung the ball back to him between my legs. It wasn't a bad center, and he said only,
"Get it up a little higher."
Then, before he began to count, I noticed that a stocky young man was lined up right opposite me. Since our play was going to the right, I should try to impede my opponent's progress in that direction.
I might have been a little hesitant in centering the ball, but I got it back adequately. Then, before I began to think about blocking, my immediate opponent rushed past to my left, barely brushing me. Since our play was going to the right, our tailback was under way before the rush got to him. He hit the line with a full head of steam and got some five yards before being dropped. Again, I didn't reach the scene of action in time to do anything. Indeed, it was beginning to look as if I would simply center the ball, and then be ignored by everyone on the field.
There was in the huddle a comraderie which made me realize that this team ordinarily played as a unit, as opposed to being assembled randomly for the occasion. Someone was missing, not necessarily the center, and it was tacitly understood by the other five that they would have to do more than usual to make the plays succeed. I suppose they must have thought that the odds were against them. In any case, the tailback spoke with a special intensity.
"Formation right, fake spinner, up the middle on two."
He then spoke to me in particular.
"Center it to Joe, quick and hard, and then, whatever happens, drive straight ahead. Break!"
As per instructions, I centered it to the other back, and then tried to run straight ahead. The man opposite me retreated a step, his hands against my body controlling me. Then, suddenly, he drove forward, virtually lifting me and flinging me backward. I then received a tremendous hit to my back as our fullback, having faked the ball to the tailback, slammed into me. There were then some more concussions from the sides, and I ended up gasping on my hands and knees as our fullback was tackled for a loss. I was helped back to our next huddle by the end next to me. The tailback looked at me, and asked,
"Are you all right?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, he spoke to the others.
"That won't work. We got to keep outside. Formation left, end around right, on four."
I was still very shaky when I next arrived at the ball, but I understood that I was to center it to the tailback unless instructed otherwise. I again got away an adequate snap, and was thankful when the man in front of me, content with pushing me into a sitting position with one large hand, rushed off to my left. Then, unfortunately, he came rushing back. However, I remained sitting, and the play was resolved somewhere off to my right.
Not having made a first down, we punted. The ball rolled on to the gravel drive that served as the right sideline, and the other team took over.
As we trotted down the field, I noticed several young female spectators gathered at the end of the field. It was obvious that they were interested in the game and the young men playing it, rather than myself, but I nevertheless attempted to act the part of an accomplished and competent footballer as I lined up opposite the center.
On offence, except for that one misguided play, the game had flowed around me. My team was inclined to run the ball away from me, so as not to depend on my blocking, and the other team wasn't interested in gratuitously injuring me. On defense, however, the situation was quite different. It was to the advantage of the other team to run right at me.
Where I had centered with one motion, and then attempted to block with another, the opposing center dispatched the ball and sprang at me in one motion. I did manage to keep my feet, but was driven back a good five yards. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that my colleague at right defensive end, while attempting to come to my assistance, was knocked flat by the opposition fullback, running without the ball. Following him was the tailback with the ball. I reached over with one arm to grab him, but made no impression at all. Someone behind me made a tackle to save a long touchdown.
I was still standing at the end of the play, but it would have been more honorable to have been knocked down. I felt ashamed and wondered what the ladies thought.
On the next play, hardly different from the one before, I asserted myself more vigorously against the center. This time, I was actually lifted a little off my feet, and deposited, reeling, off to the side. The charging fullback then hit me painfully with his head against my collarbone. I went down all asplay, his body falling on top of mine and pinning me to the ground. I then experienced the sensation of other bodies on top of us, including that of the tailback, who rolled over the pile and landed on the ground for a good gain. This time, however, I had managed to get enough in the way so that he gained, not fifteen, but five yards. I got up covered with mud and acutely in pain, but was pounded on the shoulder in a congratulatory way by the defensive end who shouted in my ear,
"Way to go, Jimmy!"
I was really rather pleased. I had absorbed the fullback's block this time, enabling the end to make the tackle. The ladies were still watching, and I limped elaborately to my position.
The next play was entirely different. The center left me alone, and I was free to run after the tailback, who started off to his left, my right. I was still chasing him, when he suddenly reversed direction, as if to pass in front of me. I, too, turned to follow, catching just a glimpse of motion to my left out of the corner of my eye. After that, I almost lost consciousness altogether.
I later realized that the play had been cleverly designed. The fullback had been following the tailback, and, as soon as the latter "brought me back", the former hit me at full speed before I really saw him. I was later told that I did a backward somersault. The fullback, however, simply continued around his left end and downfield, where the tailback threw him a pass. He was unguarded and went for a touchdown.
The mishap to my person was evidently so dramatic that the young ladies came on to the field to render aid. One of them was, as it turned out, a nurse. There were tears in my eyes, and I found myself unable to speak. There was intense pain from my shoulder, and I lay on my back, trying to find a position that didn't hurt. Before I knew it, someone was manipulating my arm and pronouncing it not broken. Then, before I really knew what was happening, one of the players, I think the young lout who had dispatched me, was dragging me to my feet. The nurse objected, but someone else said,
"See, he's ok. He'll come around if we just give him a chance to get his breath back."
The pain had diminished somewhat, but, to my amazement and consternation, it seemed to be assumed that I would continue playing. The nurse, a strong-minded young woman, taxed our tailback,
"He can't play with you. He's an older man. You'll half kill him."
I, covered with mud and still shaking, amazed myself by insisting that I could very well go on playing. The nurse, tossing her head prettily, told me that I was crazy. She then retired to the sidelines with her cohorts.
When we resumed play, it seemed that there had been a decision, tacit or otherwise, not to obliterate me. On the next offensive sequence, which was brief, I centered, and was otherwise left alone. On defense, the plays were aimed in other directions, and I actually found myself pursuing and helping drag down ball carriers whose progress had been largely arrested by my team-mates. The opposition did score another touchdown, but this one came slowly a few yards at a time.
During this drive, I began to sort out names and personalities. Our own tailback, Clint, wasn't the decision maker on defense. That function was taken over by one of the ends, who tried to guess where the play was coming, and had us move just as we sensed that the ball was about to be centered.
I noticed that the center cocked his wrists a count before snapping the ball, and thus began my movement, right or left, at that moment. The others, keying on me, were also able to get a jump on the opposition. Clint was even moved to say of me,
"He may not've played a lot of football, but he's smart."
Our headstart did help, particularly when our end guessed right.
After a few more plays, I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted him to guess right. When he was wrong, I was comfortably out of the play, but, when he was right, I was a little too near it for comfort.
On the other team, one of the leading personalities was the tailback, a man almost as broad as he was tall, but who had great quickness and speed. He was variously addressed as "Lumpy," "Lump," and "Lump-man." From what I could see of his bulging muscles, all these designations appeared to be appropriate.
In addition to his physical energy and husky athleticism, there was a pronounced decisiveness about him. I suspected that, if it didn't make him the leader in a given situation, it might make him a rather difficult follower. Whatever his present status with the N&W, we would probably want to make him an engineer.
By contrast to Lumpy, who sounded as if he had had a decent education, the center, Bubba by name, spoke in some sort of backwoods accent with frequent obscenities. Despite these utterances, I was by now convinced that he meant me no harm.
Just as dusk was falling, our team began to do better. Clint gave up running, and started passing to the ends. I wasn't really expected to keep Bubba from rushing Clint as he tried to pass, but the latter spoke to me,
"Let him charge as fast as he wants, and I'll dodge him. Then push him the way he's going and keep him off my back."
It worked. The minute I had centered, Bubba came flying past me to my left. Following him back, I saw Clint dodge to his right. Then, when Bubba tried to turn left, I was there pushing him and using his own momentum against him. By the time he got back past me, Clint had thrown for a long gain. Indeed, he hit three passes in a row, and we had a touchdown.
The game then went on indecisively for a while. I got a good thump from time to time, but I hurt in so many places that it no longer seemed to matter much. Moreover, I became so caught up in the enterprise, and so determined, that I actually tried to block Bubba at the line of scrimmage. I had to guess which side of me he would go, and move accordingly in the act of centering. If I guessed wrong, he blew in on Clint untouched, but I mostly guessed right. In that case, I was generally able to fall in such a way as to entangle Bubba's legs. This sometimes involved having his knees pound into my stomach or side, but it gave Clint a little longer to pass. On one occasion, when I had held out fairly well, Clint completed a short pass to the right end, who then managed to elude all tacklers and go for the tying touchdown.
By this time, it was getting fairly dark, and one of the young ladies called from the sideline,
"It's practically dark. Aren't you guys ever going to stop?"
Indeed, although the lights from the hotel partially illuminated the field, there was hardly enough light to allow a pass to be caught. There was a quick conference with the other team, and it was agreed that we would play another five minutes.
Lumpy moved his team rather well after he got the ball, almost as well as at the beginning of the game. The players used two sticks and a rope to measure first downs. Without lines on the field, the measurements were somewhat arbitrary, but, with some help from the ladies on the sidelines, we agreed that the other team had made two first downs. Lumpy then threw an incomplete pass, and the fullback rushed twice for some five yards. It was fourth down, not too far from our goal, and something like five yards to go. Clint called out behind me,
"Okay gang, suck it up. Here's the big play."
The right end next to me called out the word, "dog", when the other team lined up, which meant that he thought the play would be to our left. Then, when Bubba bent over the ball, he actually glanced to that side. He wasn't a boy capable of much deceit, and, when I saw that he was about to center, I started left.
The instant Lumpy got the ball, he did, indeed, move to his right, apparently with an end run in mind. I was off before Bubba could block me, and I evaded another block as I ran laterally across the field. It had often happened that Lumpy, with a burst of speed, had gotten outside our left end, and then headed down the sideline. This time, our left end had sufficient forewarning, and got out in his way.
With a sudden change of direction and a lowered head, Lumpy came almost at me. In military terms, I was holding a certain segment of the line unaided without the prospect of any immediate help. At that moment, Lumpy's body, so much heavier and more compact than my own, appeared as something that must be stopped.
By this time, I was used to grabbing at ball carriers and having them tear out of my grasp. Lumpy and the fullback had occasionally dodged me entirely, leaving me grasping empty air. I knew that I had to be directly in front of Lumpy, and that I must watch his waist, not his head and shoulders. In my relatively upright posture, it was difficult to see past his hunched upper body to his waist, but I just managed it. Ignoring his quick fakes, I stood my ground and managed to remain directly in front of him.
Lumpy's head hit me right in the stomach. In fact, my body lifted and crumpled over him with my legs asplay. But I did wrap my arms around him. My weight was then sufficient to overbalance him forward.
For some minutes, I lay spread-eagled on my back. It was only after I had been helped up by my jubilant team-mates that I realized that I had actually tackled Lumpy for almost no gain. The ball was ours, but the time was up, and the game ended as a tie.
By this time, we were all completely covered with mud. Some of the freer spirits compounded matters by rolling in it while others picked up gobs and threw them. Lumpy good- humoredly clumped a handfull of mud on my head with the words,
"That's for tackling me like that."
I, in the general spirit of things, reciprocated. We then staggered off the field, partly supporting each other. One of the ladies was good enough to bring my jacket and shirt, which I had forgotten.
I gathered that it had been the custom for the players to go directly from the field to what amounted to an indoor beer garden for boot-legged beer in the basement of the hotel. However, in the face of many complaints, they now went to their rooms to clean up first.
When we did re-assemble, I found myself almost in the position of an honored guest. The others now realized that I was forty three, and thought that I had done very well considering. My last, game-saving, tackle was discussed in detail. While it was allowed not to have been a classic tackle, and had its humorous aspect, it had worked quite effectively. As Clint put it,
"That's how to sacrifice the body, Jimmy. Let him put a hole in you and drag him down."
I was pounded on the back, even by the members of the opposing team, including Lumpy himself.
It was then that it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't clear that I wasn't a hero. Would Mac have played with these young men? Would he have tackled Lumpy on fourth and five? Mac was physically stronger than I, and could have played better, but I really didn't know whether he would have done so.
The gathering became increasingly festive as pitchers of beer were quickly consumed. It wasn't long before the other people were driven from the room, their flight perhaps hastened by the sight of a man of my years and bearing waving both arms and shouting incoherently as he stood and attempted to propose a toast to the other team.
It wasn't long before the young ladies I had seen earlier, joined by others, arrived and were greeted enthusiastically. I had just joined what was, in effect, a male club, a club which played football, but which also worked and did other things together. This was the ladies' auxiliary, comprising the girl friends of the young men.
The ladies had an immediate civilizing effect, which was perhaps re-inforced by the arrival of food. Everyone remained gay and happy, but there began to arise genuine conversations, as opposed to the inchoate shouts and back- thumpings which had heretofore been the rule.
After a while, feeling somewhat more sober myself, I began to talk with Lumpy, whose girl friend wasn't present. He turned out to be the engineer of a switch engine in the N&W's Waverley yards. I explained that I sold insurance, but was, for the moment, taking a vacation. He replied,
"That's a good thing. None of us have any money for anything but bread and beer."
"Well, it's nice to see that you have a job, anyway. So many don't these days."
"Yeah, I guess we're lucky, even if we did take a pay cut."
I allowed that I knew a good many railway men on a variety of railways, adding,
"Just recently, I've been selling to some of the higher ups at the Great Eastern's division points."
Lumpy was quite curious about the GER, and about Mac Garner. He said,
"I've heard that it's a young man's railway, where a young guy like me might get a freight run instead of being stuck on a fucking switcher for the next ten years."
"I guess it is, but it's not supposed to be as good a railway as the N&W."
Lumpy looked at me rather searchingly, and said,
"Well, the N&W is good, but there's a lot of frustration here. For example, the guys here are mostly firemen and brakemen, but they're all capable of doing much more than they are."
The next morning, I experienced intense pain when I tried to get out of bed. I managed it only by slow degrees, and, when I looked at my face in the mirror, I was moved to say out loud,
"Young man, you look as if you were at the Little Big Horn."
Having taken stock of myself, I turned my thoughts to the N&W. I had met quite a few of their employees, and had been impressed with their energy, robustness, and enthusiasm. But, of course, I had expected that. In any case, I had met only a smattering of the younger men. A couple, like Lumpy, were noticeably intelligent.
A little more interesting, I had discovered that Lumpy and a number of others had a definite sense of thwarted ambition. They were sure that they were ready to move up to more responsible positions, but there were too many men with too much seniority stacked in front of them.
It seemed reasonable to assume that the N&W had selected and trained its younger employees as carefully as its older ones. There must consequently be frustrated Lumpys all over the system. This thought suggested another. Instead of essentially breaking up the best and most reliable money- maker we owned, we could siphon off the excess of talented young men and use them to revitalize railways like the Ann Arbor and Wabash.
Of course, the circle still had to be shortened. But, if I reported negatively on the present plan, I was pretty sure that Mac and Atwater would find some other way,