Sunday, December 23, 2012
My Christmas Ghost Story
Back in 1955, I had a Christmas-season job loading and unloading freight trains for Railway Express in the Sunnyside Rail Yards. I have two distinct memories of that experience: one has to do with weather and the other about a soldier’s duffel bag. The weather: My first night on the job, I went dressed for a winter day in New York City. What a shock I got. I was working what amounted to an overnight shift on a very cold early December day. The sunken rail yards must have been 20 degrees colder that the surface streets. It was one of the most brutally cold night I ever went through. Not even a frenzied working pace warmed me. The bowl of thick chicken soup I had for our dinner break in the greasy spoon upstairs from the freight center was one of the best meals of my life. I dressed for subzero weather after that. Now, the soldier’s duffel bag. Part of each shift, I stood next to a conveyer belt from which the baggage was sifted to different locations. A soldier’s duffel bag missing an address came by my station on my second night on the job. As instructed, items without addresses were to be tossed onto a pile to be examined by some higher authority in search of a destination. I tossed the duffel bag. That same duffel bag passed me every night for the four weeks I worked for Railway Express. I told supervisors about the bag. “Throw on the pile, kid,” essentially was their response—and the bag continued its conveyer belt journey. I often wonder at Christmas time if that duffel bag is still wandering along a ghostly conveyer belt in a Railway Express yard that no longer exists.