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Excerpts from "Woody, Cisco and Me:
Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine"

Jim Longhi

From Page 8

Jim is at the National Maritime Union hall in New York City, ready to ship out in mid-1943. He knows several people who have died while in the Merchant Marine, and is feeling a little perplexed. As he is looking around to find Cisco, with whom he has agreed to enlist, he hears music coming from inside the hiring hall. It is Woody singing The Sinking of the Reuben James.

I spotted Cisco in the center of the crowd, his tall blondness towering above the men around him. He must've been sitting down when I had looked for him.

"Cisco!" I shouted. He waved to me. I pushed my way to him, and we embraced. I was proud of him for not allowing his Anglo-Saxon inhibitions to stand in the way of my Italian-American exuberance.

"I'm sure glad to see you." He patted my back.

"Why?" I held him at arm's length. "Did you have any doubts about my coming?"

"No -- not really." His deep-blue eyes searched my face. "Did you?"

"No -- not really."


Cisco didn't talk much, but when he did, you listened to every word of his gentle western drawl. He was twenty-five -- two years younger than I, yet he seemed older and wiser. He had stopped his schooling after high school, but like his hero, Jack London, he educated himself while he crisscrossed the country as a cowboy, fruit picker, union organizer, Hollywood extra, and guitar-playing singer in bars and union halls. He had the richest, sweetest, lonesomest voice I'd ever heard. With his talent and his rangy matinee-idol looks, he might've gone far if he had stayed in Hollywood. And he could've stayed; the Army had rejected him because of his eyes. When I met him, he had already made a couple of trips in the Merchant Marine. Although Cisco's patriotic example made me uneasy -- especially in front of my girl, Gabrielle -- I liked to be with him. We had met the week before at a party given by his girl, Bina Rosenbaum, and I was pleased when, after knowing me for so short a time, he had asked me to ship out with him.

"Tell me, what were their names, tell me what were their names," the loudspeaker continued playing.

"It's going to be a good trip." Cisco pointed to the loudspeaker. "Woody Guthrie's coming too."

"Woody Guthrie?"

"We're buddies. He's meeting us here."

"Why didn't you tell me you knew him?"

"You never asked me."

What interesting coincidences -- the Book of the Dead, the lyrics of "The Reuben James" and now Woody Guthrie himself about to join us.

Everybody in the world knew Woody Guthrie. He was a folk hero, part of the Great Depression -- the Dust Bowl, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, Woody songs. I saw him once at a Madison Square Garden rally for the unemployed. He sang his song "This Land is Your Land," and twenty thousand people stood up to sing it with him as though it were the national anthem.

"Geez, I hope he likes me." I said to Cisco.

"Don't worry, he will. Otherwise I wouldn't have asked you to come. Shipping out is a little like getting married!"

"I'm beginning to feel like I'm on a blind date."

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