Monday, March 21, 2011

Moose Turd Pie

This morning I woke up remembering that out in the shed, there was a rusted, six-foot, steel bar I had once bought at a tag sale for $2. At one end of the bar, there is a claw that resembles a blunted version of the claw used to pull nails on a claw hammer. The other end is thinner and smoothed to a fare-thee-well -- evidence of a time when a man or men used it over and over again to straighten railroad tracks ... Gandy dancers ... a thing of the past: Hard work performed by Irish, Italian, Chinese and other immigrants and by blacks who may have been responsible for the chants used to unify the efforts of many men doing a job in unison.

Gandy dancers. The combination of words was somehow delightful in my mind, though the work itself was as mundane and hard as a blazing summer sun. Every time a train went around a curve, the centripetal force would drive the rails slightly out of alignment. If this were allowed to continue without correction, the minuscule changes would spell train wreck. Enter the Gandy dancers, who were paid in a range of about $5 per week.

The steel bar in the shed is evidence of straight-forward hard work, the kind of evidence I find attractive...not doing something else, doing this. Of course there were improvements as time went by -- more efficient ways to accomplish the same thing, but I find something encouraging about that 'inefficient' bar smoothed by human hands and mixed with a dollop of delicious sound -- Gandy dancers.

The thought of that bar in the shed led me to look up Gandy dancers. If Wikipedia is any guide, no one is entirely sure where the word "Gandy" originated. Maybe it was the company that made some of the Gand dancers' tools. Maybe it was a spin-off of a Gaelic word, "cinnte," meaning "constant." And there are other theories for the origins of something no internet-savvy, information-age person would probably give a shit about.

But, speaking of shit, I did run across a tale that seemed to fit well in a time when iron bars were smoothed by working hands ... a time of Gandy dancers ... a time of hard, rhythmic work ... but also a time of good laughter: Moose Turd Pie ... a tale told with the pace of a time when people were open to a good tale and willing to listen to the narrator, in this case, someone named Utah Phillips.

I guess everyone is, or likes to think of himself, as a Gandy dancer one way or another. Hard, hard work ... what was once rough steel is now smoothed by an intimate, blister-raising, callous-growing grasp. Self-congratulation plays no role where the sun blazes and people chant in unison and at day's end, there is some moose shit to make a (wo)man smile.

It's honest effort, Gandy dancing. Isn't it nice to find an effort in which there is no room for pretending to be honest? An effort in which nothing is held back. An effort in which analysis or philosophy simply impedes the effort. Hard work ... a little chanting ... all together now! ... a little Moose Turd Pie and ...

Fewer train wrecks.

1 comment:

  1. A favorite folk song--better in the listening (99c at Amazon or iTunes) than the reading.