On the River

My friend and former professor, poet Patti White, posted a towboat company’s ad on the Book of Faces a little while ago:


Back in the mid-90s, my brother worked as a deckhand for the barge division of Ingram Industries. (Coincidentally, my cousin Jack, now a pilot for Delta, was a corporate/personal pilot for the Ingrams during the same era.) Mike primarily worked the Ohio and upper Mississippi rivers, working and living on a towboat for multi-week stretches, alternating with weeks at home until the next round began. Sometimes, my parents would drive to a lock on the Ohio to bring him a care package or a fresh set of clothes.

I think Mike held that job the longest of any of his gigs — he was much better at getting jobs than keeping them. In fact, I think some of that is evident in his account of the interview for the job. He told us (my folks, his eventual fiancee, and me) that at one point the interviewer asked him about working to keep the boat not just in good working order, but clean and attractive. Mike said that made sense, because the boat was a sort of floating business card for the company, and paying attention to its appearance was part of representing the company well. The interviewer told him, “You’re either exactly what we’re looking for — or a great bullshitter.” Mike smiled when he told us that story, and in retrospect, I think there was a reason.

It’s a bit of a cliche, but if you met my brother in circumstances other than his current ones, you’d probably like him. He’s bright, funny, and quite ingratiating; as I suggested earlier, he always interviewed well. He’s far more socially adept than I am, really — if I’m not performing (on stage or in front of a classroom), I tend to feel terribly awkward and unhip, and have to be prodded into socializing with folks I don’t know pretty well already. Unfortunately, his particular demons — addiction, and I suspect other, deeper ones as well — mean that even as he ingratiated himself with friends, women, and  family, he would eventually exploit them. I’ve come over the years to think of him as a sort of natural disaster — difficult to predict, harder to avert, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. However, hurricanes and tornadoes don’t typically present themselves as pleasant afternoons, and the news doesn’t usually warn us of the approach of the Mike Moores of the world so that we can take shelter. The difference is important.

Anyway, Michael held the job for a couple of years, and claimed to have received several promotions (but one never knows how accurate those claims were, looking back), leaving it ostensibly to spend more time with his wife (I think they were married by then, but perhaps not) and to begin building a new career as a law enforcement officer. He did well at that, too — for a time. And sometimes, when we were all together at a holiday or something like that, he would say that he probably enjoyed working the rivers more than any job he had held.

I don’t suppose that’s precisely an endorsement of the job, all things considered, but it’s where my thoughts have wandered this afternoon, carried along on the ripples of the splash that I saw online. If you made it this far, thanks for riding along.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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