Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Edith P. Wylder, 1925-2013

In fairy tales the stepmother is almost invariably a wicked woman. And when I first heard of Edith Wylder in the worst of circumstances, I believed she would live up to the stereotype. In the course of some 48 years, I learned differently. So it was with sadness that I learned of her death on July 4 of this year.

 In 1965 my parents divorced. Their marriage had not been a happy one for at least two years and probably longer. It was only after the divorce that I learned of my father's marriage to Edith Perry Stamm. It would be more than a year later, at Thanksgiving in 1966, that I first met my stepmother. By then, my dad and Edith were living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Edith turned out to be a kind, gracious woman, who was quite sympathetic to the situation my brother and I were in.

In the summer of 1967, when I went to stay at Fort Collins, for close to a month, I got to know Edith better, along with her sons Paul and Philip. Though she grew up in a privileged family from the Western Reserve of Ohio and had earned a doctorate in English, she always remained modest. In that summer of 1967, I remember her sitting on the sofa, knitting, and Paul came in and said, “How quaint.” She took it in good humor.

 When Kathleen and I married, Edith welcomed her into the family. Since then, we've had many enjoyable visits with my dad and Edith—first in Marshall, Minnesota, then Murray, Kentucky, and finally in New where they retired. Visiting them meant the long, scenic train ride to Albuquerque, and visits in Rio Rancho and later their little adobe cottage in Corrales, where my dad, Delbert E. “Deb” and Edith lived.

 My dad died December 14, 2005, of leukemia, and Edith told me that not a day goes by that she didn't miss him. During the past few years she had been working on a book to be titled “Talking Between the Rooms,” a study of the influence of John Keats on Emily Dickinson's poetry. She had earlier published “The Last Face,” which analyzed the use of diacritical marks in Dickinson's poetry.

Edith was an inspiration to many students in her long teaching career. But I know her more as a loving stepmother, who always took me seriously.

Edith's ashes will be interred Sunday, October 20 at 11 A.M., in Morrison, Illinois, next to those of Deb Wylder. There was to be a celebration of her life, but there will just be a small family gathering at the Family Chef Restaurant after the interment.

Rest in peace, Edith. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"The Unraveling of America," a book for the Reagan era

Sometimes a history book can tell the reader almost as much about the time it was written as the time it was written about. Such is the case with Allen J. Matusow's The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Harper & Row, 1984).

“It is currently the fashion to pronounce the liberal effort to improve America a failure. Reared in the liberal tradition myself, I take no pleasure in having written a book that, in the main, documents the conventional wisdom.,” writes Matusow in the introduction. (p. xiv—page numbers refer to the Harper Torchbooks edition.) “Currently” means 1983, during the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” when conservatism was triumphant in America, and liberalism was seemingly discredited. One suspects that after the Great Recession discredited the laissez-faire economics of the Ronald Reagan era, even Matusow might reconsider his conclusions.

“The liberal mood of 1960 was largely defined by elite intellectuals residing on the East Coast, principally in New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts,” writes Matusow (p. 3). One hears echoes of Spiro Agnew's “effete corps of impudent snobs.”

Whether or not “elite intellectuals residing on the East Coast” defined the liberal mood of 1960 is debatable. But William O'Neill, writing in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s (New York, Times Books, 1971), points out that while liberal intellectuals John Kenneth Galbraith, Edwin Reischauer, and Adlai Stevenson were made ambassadors in the Kennedy Administration, “ambassadors do not make policy. In Kennedy's administration the men who did were people like Theodore Sorenson, Dean Rusk, McGeorge and William Bundy, Maxwell Taylor, and Walt Whitman Rostow. They were not so much liberals as technocrats, men of power rather than passion.” (I'd make an exception for Sorenson, but I don't see him as a major policymaker, either.)

Matusow  “proves” liberalism's failure with carefully selected examples, primarily mismanaged programs in the War on Poverty. But he goes beyond analysis and into ad hominem attacks. For some reason, one figure in the Kennedy-Johnson administrations comes in for special opprobrium: “Sargent Shriver, director of the the Office of Economic Opportunity, waged fierce warfare with the Labor Department to win control of the Job Corps, hoping that it would yield instant results and cover him with quick glory. He never made a greater mistake.” (p. 237) On p. 248 Matusow refers to “Shriver's long-standing ambition to run for governor of Illinois,” yet all evidence I've found points to a brief consideration of the run in 1960—hardly long-standing.

Even in praise, Matusow manages to get a dig in at Shriver: “A devout Catholic and husband of Eunice Kennedy, Shriver had a patrician's sense of obligation so profound that he was known within the Kennedy family as the 'house Communist.” (p. 243) Yet over and over Matusow portrays Shriver as the crass opportunist.

Matusow's chapter on the economy is entitled “War, Inflation, and Farewell to Keynes,” and asserts that Keynesian economics was thoroughly discredited during the Kennedy-Johnson years. Milton Friedman, darling of the Reagan conservatives, emerges as a prophet in Matusow's analysis. But if Keynesian economics was dead in 1968, what are we to do with Richard Nixon's 1971 proclamation that “I am now a Keynesian in economics” after taking the United States off the gold standard. (The quote is often confused with Milton Friedman's 1965 “We are all Keynesians now” statement, which Friedman later qualified.)

To me his most interesting, and for the most part, the best-written chapters are in the last half of the book. Unlike Ronald Reagan and most of his disciples, Matusow makes a distinction between the 1960s counterculture, the New Left, and the antiwar liberals. He also understands the nuanced differences within the student civil rights movement.
In “Rise and Fall of a Counterculture,” Matusow gives us the evolution of the 1960s Hippie, from the black hipsters of the 1930s, through the Beats of the post-World War II era, and into the psychedelic era pioneered by the likes of Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary. Matusow uses Allen Ginsberg, author of the classic 1955 Beat poem “Howl,” as the focus of the transition from Beat to Hippie: “Ginsberg was a new kind of American hero-saint. He had penetrated far enough into the dark recesses of self to risk sanity, and he had returned purified, with reverence for all living things.” (p. 284) Yet his analysis, written from a Reaganite perspective, seems stereotypically Victorian.

“Few hippies read much, but those who did found their purpose strikingly described and anticipated in the strange books of Norman O. Brown,” writes Masutow. (p.277) His analysis of the philosophy behind the counterculture is is very well stated, but today his conclusions ring true only for the cultural conservative. Brown, a Freudian, promoted the releasing the energy of the id—the creative, sexual impulse of Eros. “Like the hippies, Brown was in revolt against civilized sex—exclusively genital, exclusively heterosexual, exclusively monogamous—affirming instead pan-sexualism...” (p. 279)

But Brown had warned of the opposing principle of Eros—Thanatos, or the death wish. (Ethologist Konrad Lorenz, in his brilliant study On Aggression, takes issue with the Freudian concept of the death wish, but in the context of the Matusow's analysis of the counterculture, Brown's warning advances his argument.) Brown proposed a “Dionysian ego” to counter Thanatos, “overflowing with love, knowing no limits, affirming life... The creation of the Dionysian ego, the ego in service of liberated Eros—this was a project project millions of mothers would soon understand and implicitly and fear with good reason.” (p. 279)

Matusow follows the 1967 “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, from the Human Be-In on January 14 to the “Death of Hippie” in October. (A more thoughtful and more sympathetic view of the counterculture in that year can be found in Derek Taylor's It Was Twenty Years Ago Today. [Fireside, 1987].) And he chronicles the slide from Eros into Thanatos, from the Dionysian revels of Monterey Pop and Woodstock to the nightmarish Altamont Festival.

“For a variety of reasons, after 1970 the counterculture faded,” Matusow writes. (p. 305) Yet he admits that it has a legacy, though he sees nothing good in it: “By the 1970s social discipline was eroding so rapidly that fashion condemned the whole of middle-class culture as 'the culture of narcissism.' Parental discipline declined, sexual promiscuity rose along with the divorce rate, worker productivity fell, ghetto obscenity insinuated itself into standard speech, marijuana became almost commonplace, sexual perversions are no longer deemed so, and traditional institutions like the army, the churches, and the government lost authority... Dionysus has been absorbed into the dominant culture and in the process routed the Protestant ethic.” Matusow's alarmist statement ignores that government lost authority as much as a result of the Reagan revolution as the Sixties. And in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, so if Matusow considers it to be a sexual perversion that is “no longer deemed so, his complaint is with a traditional institution.

Matusow has less dire conclusions about the New Left. In his chapter, “The Rise and Fall of the New Left,” he documents its rise from the beginnings of the Students for a Democratic Society to its descent into the violent Weatherman faction. By the 1981 the radical New Left had virtually disappeared—it posed no threat to the Reaganite worldview Matusow embraces. In a similar fashion he covers the Black Power movement, which had virtually disintegrated by the 1970s. Yet the end of black nationalism did not bring African American voters into the Reagan coalition; they continued to vote for liberal Democrats.

The last two chapters of his book, “War, Liberals, and Overthrow of LBJ, and “Rout of the Liberals,” focus on the election of 1968. And again, it's well-written, but seriously flawed. Of the three major (largely) white youth movements of the 1960s, the “Dump Johnson” movement led by Allard Lowenstein was liberal rather than radical, and inspired thousands of idealistic young men and women to trudge through the snows of New Hampshire and Wisconsin for the quixotic antiwar presidential candidate Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota. They were crusaders not for some neo-Marxian radicalism, but for the kind of liberalism exemplified by Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson.

What Matusow does not discuss is the break within liberalism which led to both the narrow Humphrey defeat of 1968 and the Nixon landslide of 1972. In 1968, many antiwar liberals sat on their hands or voted for a third-party candidate such as Dick Gregory rather than support Hubert Humphrey. And in 1972, George Meany of the AFL-CIO made the decision not to endorse any candidate in the McGovern-Nixon race, effectively endorsing Nixon, and driving a wedge between labor and the antiwar liberals. Meany did not live to see the fruits of his decision when rank-and-file union members deserted the Democrats in 1980 to elect Ronald Reagan, who spent two terms eviscerating the labor movement.

Because Matusow finished the book in 1981, at the very beginning of the Reagan-Bush era, he could not foresee the disastrous consequences of the laissez-faire economics that dominated those decades. “Whether Reagan's victory made permanent the trend away from the liberalism of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, whether his conservative policies could weave together the unraveled fabric of the old America, even whether the old America was something that ought to be recovered—these questions were bound to engage historians far into the nation's future.” Matusow concludes. (p. 439)

Today, as we are still recovering from the Reagan Revolution, the nation is more divided than it was in 1968. While some on the far right will agree with Matusow’s conclusions, from this writer’s perspective, he was too quick to endorse the conclusions of the Reagan Right, even though he must have understood that the neoconservative critique of 1960s was based on oversimplification. The book is worth reading, if only to view a more sophisticated critique of the decade than the one given us by most 1980s neoconservatives.

View">http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/16801367-stephen">View all my reviews

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mary Magdalene: A Mary for our time?

Image: Mary Magdalene by Anthony Frederick Sandys

In the sixth century Pope Gregory I gave a sermon that profoundly changed the the reputation of one of the most significant figures in the New Testament. And in doing so, he may have unwittingly given us a Mary for our time:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.

Mary of Magdala, the first person to declare the resurrection of Jesus, thus became, in Christian art and literature, a reformed prostitute and a symbol of the redeeming power of Christ. Christian writers had been conflating the unnamed sinner in Luke with Mary Magdalene since at least Ephraim the Syrian in the fourth century, but it took a Bishop of Rome, the “first among equals” of the five great metropolitan bishops to cement that connection. While Gregory also conflates the sinner with Mary of Bethany in John's Gospel, the reputation has stuck to Mary Magdalene.

Gregory's sermon also makes the case that Mary, in her earlier life, had been guilty of all seven cardinal sins, thus making her even more a symbol of Christian repentance. But the human obsession with sex was surely there in the sixth century as it is in the twenty-first, and the image of Mary Magdalene has, at least in Western Christianity, been one of a reformed prostitute.

The Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant traditions have until very recently followed Gregory's lead. Until 1969 the Gospel reading for the feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22) in the Roman Catholic Church was Luke 7:36-50 (I'm using the King James Version, though Catholics would have used the Douay Bible or another translation from the Latin Vulgate):

36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat.

37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.

42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

It's a powerful story. While the Pharisee Simon is concerned with legalities of a sinful woman touching a man, Jesus says she showed more hospitality to him than Simon. A sinful woman, perhaps a prostitute, is accorded more grace than a righteous Pharisee. And in the passage, Jesus gives hope to women and men who have sinned greatly. But Luke never gives her a name. And a figure so important in Christian theology deserves a name. She has been accorded the name Mary (Miriam) both in Eastern and Western Christianity.

In the Eastern Orthodox churches she's one of the four Marys, along with Mary the Bearer of God, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. Here in the West, she became identified with Mary Magdalene. And in much of popular culture she still is. “Bad reputations, though, are hard to live down!” writes Carol Ann Morrow in The American Catholic. Popular works on the Gospels including Franco Zeffirelli's TV minseries Jesus of Nazaraeth, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ portray her as a prostitute.

She's been given an exalted title, thanks to Dan Brown's blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code: that of Jesus' wife. Brown bases his contention on the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Ants had eaten parts of the papyrus, so there are some important gaps in the text:

And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her [...]. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness."

A character in Brown's book contends that the Greek word Koinōnos, translated above as “companion,” really meant “wife.” However, Biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman say it means “companion.” Brown's book also fills in one of the gaps, saying that the text likely read “used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

If the historical Mary Magdalene was neither harlot nor literal bride of Christ, who was she? Luke 8:1-3 gives us a clue:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out—and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Most contemporary scholars believe the seven demons, or devils are not a sign of sinfulness, but physical or mental illness. Presbyterian scholar George Buttrick, in his 1962 Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, writes: “She had been cured of a serious illness... The number seven would accentuate the serious nature of her condition or possibly its recurrent nature.”

Luke's comment that the women were “helping to support them [Jesus and his disciples] out of their own means” suggests that Mary and her companions had some wealth. Rather than a reformed prostitute, she was more likely a wealthy widow.

In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), “The Holy Spirit made Magdalene the Apostle of the Apostles.” She not only supported Jesus financially, she was a leader in his ministry. She stayed with with him during his crucifixion, while the men fled. (The men had good reason to flee, as their presence might very well have led to their execution.) And she was the one to proclaim the empty tomb in Mark and the Resurrection in John.

Today the Gospel for the Feast of Mary Magdalene is John 20:11-18:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Yet her “bad reputation” has surely comforted many who could identify with one who has sinned greatly. At least according to the popular image, she's one who's “been there, done that,” as have most of us. The image of Mary the Mother of Jesus as “perpetually virgin,” though perhaps as undeserved as that of Mary Magdalene, is diffuclt for those of us outside Roman Catholic or very high Anglo-Catholic circles to identify with. The reformed sinner might give us a more sympathetic ear. (Maryologists would disagree; I'm suggesting this is the view of someone looking at both Marys only by their popular images.)

It will probably be futile to change the popular image of Mary Magdalene in our lifetime. But perhaps the the Western churches should make a start by taking a page from the Eastern Orthodox churches and honor the woman from Luke 7 as a saint in her own right. Perhaps Mary of the City would be appropriate.

Monday, March 04, 2013

My Dickens Challenge novel is almost here!

Back when I was a much more active blogger, I participated in The Dickens Challenge, begun by mystery writer Tim Hallinan, author of the acclaimed Poke Rafferty novels. The idea was to write a novel the way Dickens did—one chapter a week, with no going back and revising. It was a wonderful exercise, and I read some topnotch writing, including that of Tim himself. My own effort, initially titled Things Done and Left Undone, after more than several revisions, is under contract with Taylor Street Books of San Francisco, under the working title of See You in Chicago.

The idea for the book came as a result of a novel writing contest held by White Wolf Press,h was held to promote two of its popular role-playing games in the World of Darkness series. The vampire world was set in Chicago, so I came up with an idea for a novel that took place during the 1968 Democratic Convention. My novel proposal did not make the first cut, but I couldn't let go of the idea of a story set in the that time and place.

While I still wanted to do paranormal fiction, I was glad to abandon the vampires and set my book in the world of magic. And magical powers are very limited, in this world. As a journeyman mage says to the book's protagonist, “That's the trouble with magic, or maybe its saving grace. We're not gods, even though there are some in the trade who think they are. Sometimes I wish I had unlimited power, but I couldn't trust myself with it. Lord Acton was right: 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'”

The story is set in a dystopian 21st Century, in which the United States has become the fundamentalist Christian Republic of America, but through a complicated series of events, the scene shifts to Chicago, August, 1968.

The protagonist, Thomas Leirmont, an idealistic young reporter, falls in love with a beautiful and mysterious young woman, Helena McKechnie, whose mother was a Zoroastrian Parsi and a descendent of of the Persian magi. Thomas must face a test, and his enemies, aided by Asmodeus, Prince of Lust and King of the Seven Hells, are doing their best to see that he fails. But he has powerful allies in Helena, two journeyman wizards, and benevolent spirits from beyond the grave.

David Dellinger, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, Dick Gregory, Hugh Hefner, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Eugene McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Phil Ochs, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Mary Travers, and Peter Yarrow make cameo appearances.

Once I know the book's publication date, I'll post it here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sex on the trains: anecdotes from Henry Kisor's "Zephyr"

At the conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film, North by Northwest, Americans were shown the romance of making love on a train. (Immediately after the scene pictured above, where Cary Grant hoists Eva Marie Saint onto the upper berth of a Pullman compartment, Hitchcock cuts to the train going through a tunnel, just to make sure the audience knew what would happen next.) In earlier days before private compartments were common, the lore of the Nights Behind the Green Curtains” enticed many young couples to book a Pullman section, where only the heavy curtains separated them from other passengers traversing the train. The Pullman honeymoon was a grand American tradition.

There are still honeymooners who ride the sleeping cars. (The Pullman Company got out of the sleeping car business in the late Sixties, though older passengers sometimes refer to “Pullmans.”) Of course, it's not just honeymooners and other married couples who make love on the train. And not just in the sleeping cars.

Sex on the train has surely been happening ever since there were trains going any distance. A friend, now in her eighties, recalled seeing a couple have sex in the coaches (under blankets) in the 1940s. I've been reading Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America by Henry Kisor (New York: Times Books, 1994), and he has a section about sex on the trains. Here are a a few choice passages:

“Each Superliner sleeper compartment fronts onto the aisle with large glass windows and doors covered by curtains not always drawn completely in the couples' eagerness to get down to business. 'You wouldn't believe the the nonchalance of some of those people!' attendants often say. Casual as they may be about the morality of consenting adults, they're fiercely protective of the sensibilities of the other passengers. To Amtrak crew, sex is not a spectator sport.”

“Very late at night, when the entire train is sleeping except for the conductors huddled in their table far up in the dorm-coach, youngsters for whom nocturnal groping is too tame will tiptoe down to the lower level of their coaches and disport themselves inside the tiny bathrooms. To do so requires an athleticism sometimes defeating to those for whom the bloom of youth has disappeared. A favorite place of assignation therefore is the much larger handicapped bathroom—much to the irritation of wheelchair passengers who need to relieve themselves in the middle of the night.”

(Rather than occupy the accessible restroom, amorous couples could take advantage of the larger dressing room in the lower level of the Superliner coach. It has quite a bit more room than the little cubicle toilet compartments, though not the floor space of the accessible room.--SCW)

...the Starlight had stopped one evening in Sacramento, and [Conductor Glen] Sullivan was offloading passengers from a Superliner coach with a large baggage room on the lower level, separated from the vestibule by a sliding door with a large window. As he helped passengers down onto the stepbox, he said, 'I hear this familiar murmur. People are saying, as they always do when they get off, “Where's my bag, Martha?” and “Joe, have you seen the grip?” But there's a funny gasping in the middle of the murmuring. I didn't think about it at first, but after we got the detraining passengers and we're getting the new ones on, the gasping starts up again. I realize there's something going on here, and look through that window to the baggage room. There they are, completely nude, just having a ball in front of everybody. They were just totally oblivious to what's going on the other side of the door. And I said, “Oh my God.”

'After we hustled everybody upstairs, I went back downstairs and opened the door, and said, “C'mon, folks. You know everyone's been watching you!” The girl said, real enthusiastically and with a big smile, “Yeah.” So I said, “Are you going to be long?” She said, “All night.” I said, “Oh, Jesus.” I went and got one of our plastic trash can liners and taped it over the window on the inside. I don't care what people do so long as nobody sees them. And they said, “Thank you very much.” 'Nice folks,' he added with heavy irony.”

Kisor has several more anecdotes about sex on the trains, and I suspect conductors, trainmen, and on board service personnel on Amtrak and its predecessor railroads can recall thousands more. But such stories surely do not compare with the mystery of Nights Behind the Green Curtains, or the romance of the Pullman honeymoon.

Kisor's book is available as an e-book through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and as a used book in hardback and paperback editions.