Even Up

As part of my job as as the Assistant Planning and Estimating Superintendent for the construction and modernization of ships in the Boston Naval Shipyard I had to frequently travel to the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. and occaisionally to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Traveling up and down the east coast in the 1950s could sometimes be eventful. When Apples, the Boston Naval Shipyard’s chief planner was with me, it always was.

During a flight from Boston to Philadelphia in a twin-engine plane, Nolan, one of Apples’ myrmidons, had a window seat immediately abreast of the starboard engine. In the row behind, Apples was next to the window and I was in the aisle seat alongside of him. As if the other passengers had a premonition of what the garrulous chief planner could be like, the seats around us were empty.

Apples and I were preoccupied with our favorite pastime, jousting verbally, when Nolan interrupted without saying anything. His eyes were a little wider than usual and he was pointing out of the window.
What seemed to be a considerable amount of oil was pouring from the front of the starboard engine. A wide streak was flowing along the nacelle toward where four hot exhaust pipes were clustered. Always-in-character Apples said, “Wow! When it hits the exhaust it will really blaze!”

I didn’t like what I was seeing and covered up my concern by saying, “You’re a big help. Nolan is about to pee himself and you had to say that.”

Never at a loss for a response, Apples growled, “When your time is up, your time is up. What can you do about it?”

Now back in my role as one of Apples’ verbal sparring partners, I countered with, “Because you cause people to be miserable, your time is up and I don’t like sitting next to you when your time is up. I’m going to ask the stewardess to notify the pilot.”

The pilot confirmed our observation, unloaded the starboard engine, tilted the plane so that the starboard wing was a bit higher, flew over New York City and landed in Philly per schedule. Apparently the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed to be, but the experience was enough for me to occasionally remind Apples that because my time wasn’t up, his life was spared.

On another occasion when Apples and two of his involuntary servile dependents had to go to with me to Washington, D.C.; Logan Airport was closed due to a snowstorm. We had to go by the night train. When I arrived at Boston’s South Station, the three of them seemed to be having a reunion with someone who was wearing a black homburg and a fitted black coat with velvet lapels. They explained that their friend, also Irish and from East Boston, started out with them as an apprentice in the Boston Navy Yard during the early thirties. I learned that my new acquaintance left the Yard to work in some capacity for the Teamsters and later married the widow of Dan Tobin, a former Teamsters’ president. In order to impress the Apples’ delegation, the connected ex-apprentice bought the club car. All drinks were on him all night.

Not being of Irish descent I was culturally unprepared for the event. Since I was out of my class among drinkers I was the first to quit. Regardless, in the morning when the train glided into Union Station, I was the one who was most in need of black coffee.

The train’s arrival was coordinated with the start of business in Washington, D.C. Many passengers jammed the station’s small coffee shop for a hasty breakfast. A line formed behind each of the stools at the serving counter. Apples was in the line to the left of mine; we were gradually moving ahead shoulder to shoulder.

When the stool vacated in front of me I didn’t move as fast as I would have ordinarily and a little well-dressed man in the line to my right zipped in front of me and took the seat I expected. I reached to grab him by both shoulders and pull him off, when Apples quickly shoved me aside. Since his momentum caused him to brush against the interloper, Apples smiled and said, “Good morning Commissioner.”

Quick-witted Apples thus prevented an evening news headline that might have said, “Navy officer clobbers President Eisenhower’s Commissioner of Highways, John Volpe.”


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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