Prepare to be astonished by the scholar's acute hearing and flawless stenography. Here's his original post:
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
Sitting on the train on the way back from New York after Christmas I overheard the woman behind me talking to the man next to her. I noticed them first when I was putting my bag on the overhead rack, before we pulled out of Penn Station. They obviously didn't know each other but struck up a conversation, the way you do in such situations. She was about forty, he was maybe fifty. They were both African American. Pretty soon the conversation turned to Iraq. I was sitting in front of them so couldn't see their expressions; could only hear the matter-of-fact tone of (mainly) her voice.
"My boyfriend is serving," the woman said. "He's a Sergeant. His original tour was for a year and then it was increased to eighteen months and then two years."
That's the sort of atmospheric, on-the-spot reporting -- complete with the appropriate iPod tune at just the right and most poignant moment -- that gets a fellow invited to the Melbourne Writers Festival. If a poor Bunyip had those sort of skills an invitation to speak would by now be on the mantelpiece. Sadly, none of the literary luvvies spending Ted the Twerp's money appreciate a constructive critic, so the Professor has been spurned, quite possibly for holding specific doubts about Tim's account. Also from the attic:She said that there were seven other people from her street currently serving in the Army in Iraq. "Four of them have been killed," she added. "The most recent was a boy of twenty-three. Just married. His mamma's only child. She lives next door to me.""Where you from?" the man asked."Boston. Part of Boston where you used to get beaten up if your suntan made you too dark. But that was a long time ago."There was a bit of giggling between them then. Then she said words to the effect of, don't give me any of this Red-State/Blue-State nonsense. "Four boys from my street are dead."Her cell phone rang and when she finished the call she told man that that was her son. "He wants to join up," she said. "He's young. I beg him not to. But I'm from a long line of men who have served. My father. Grandfather. But I don't want him to go.""Can you stop him?" the man asked. I guess she might have shrugged, but she didn't say anything."My boyfriend has sensitive skin so we sent him a box of Dove Soap," she said picking up the conversation. "We've organised a bunch of money at different times, the people on my street. We do collections or sell things. We take it in turns to send a big package to each one of the boys.""When was the last time you saw your boyfriend?" the man asked."January. He was sent back because he was shot through the shoulder. Nasty it was too. They were in a patrol and the van in front them was attacked. He got hit when he got out. He was out at Walter Reed in Washington D.C.. But they patched him up and sent him back over.""I hear that's happening a lot," the man said.They were silent for quite a while after that, as the train pulled through Newark and then onto Metropark and eventually Trenton. During that part of the journey I had my headphones on, listening to I Dream A Highway.Oh I dream a highway back to you loveA winding ribbon with a band of gold
A silver vision come and rest my soul
I dream a highway back to youWhen I took them off I heard the man and the woman again."Who's that Teddy Bear for?" the man asked."My boyfriend.""Your boyfriend?" he asked, incredulous."Yes," she said, only a little defensive."What's your boyfriend going to do with a big Teddy Bear like that in I-Raq?" the man wanted to know."He likes them," she said."Can't you send him something useful?""We did that already. This is for fun. He really likes them. He collects them.""Sheesh. Can't see what a Sergeant is going to do with a big Teddy Bear over there in Iraq," he continued. "What will the other men say?""He's a Sergeant," she said. "They probably won't be saying anything.""Not to his face," the man suggested.There was a silence again. Then they both laughed.
Jan 5, 2005: Tim Dunlop must be about ready to pack his bags, flee George Bush's tyranny and embrace an academic career in one of Australia's fine institutes of higher learning, where levels of credulity are such that he will fit right in. But there might be a better career option for a fellow of his bent and talents: understudy to the Silly's Paul McGeough, who needs to hear a dubious story only once to deem it worth repeating -- so long, of course, as it reflects badly on George W. Bush, the liberation or Iraq or that country's Iyad Allawi. As we know from McGeough's breathless reports of interim Prime Minister Two Gun's prisoner-management policies, a couple of unnamed witnesses will do just fine. In recounting a recent choo-choo ride from New York to Washington, Tim also displays a genuinely journalistic talent for seizing on the improbable quote.The offer of a link was extended in 2005. It remains in effect today.
"My boyfriend is serving," records Tim, who was eavesdropping like a demon stenographer on the black couple behind him, in between listening to snatches of popular music that, as if by arrangement with a celestial accompanist, are aptly resonant with his subjects' tragic tidings.
... she said that there were seven other people from her street currently serving in the Army in Iraq. "Four of them have been killed," she added. "The most recent was a boy of twenty-three. Just married. His mamma's only child. She lives next door to me."
"Where you from?" the man asked.
"Boston. Part of Boston where you used to get beaten up if your suntan made you too dark. But that was a long time ago."
This information tickled the Professor's interest. Four dead on a single street! Surely this must have caught the eye of at least one American reporter? If so, a quick Google failed to turn up a single corroborative report.
Now this was a mystery, so it was on to the list of casualties that CNN maintains at its website. Since it assembles the names of some 1,400-plus Americans, Brits and Poles who have given their lives for a better world, including many of their pictures, it's quite a list, although easy enough to search, thanks to the wonders of "CTRL + F".
Hmmmm. Only a couple from Boston, and neither from the same street.
Well, perhaps Tim's informant was simply being imprecise. Perhaps she actually hails from some other locality. So the next search was on the broader "Massachusetts".
No luck there, either. The state's fallen hail in single numbers from (in no particular order) Dighton, Lynn, Methven, Chelmsford, North Egremont, Rehoboth, Pembroke, Raynham, Springfield, South Dartmouth, Townsend, Groton, Middleboro, Plymouth, Pittsfield, Randolph, Wakefield, and Dracut.
Several towns have seen multiple casualties -- two in Bedford and another from New Bedford, for example, but it turns out that those towns are some distance apart, the latter being quite near Harvard and the former deep in the interior.
If Tim takes issue with this analysis, the Professor will be only too happy to link to his defence.