Archive for the 2009 Category


Last week when I received a very favorable report as a result of my visit to a physician, I suggested to my wife that we should have lunch at an Italian restaurant here in Millburn called Basilico. Basilico is the Italian word for the herb basil. From that, the events on that day led to this essay being written on Christmas Day, 2009.

When the meal was completed, the co-owner of the restaurant brought us a package of panettone, which is a lovely cake. It is an Italian specialty baked mostly at this time of the year. As Angelo Delbecchi handed me the panettone, he spoke the words, “Buono Natale.” Unfortunately I do not speak Italian, but I understand many of its phrases and “buono natale” is one of them. It means “happy holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” and if you really get down to parsing the words, “buono natale” has to do with the birth of Jesus.

When Angelo Delbecchi said “Buono Natale” to me, the years seemed to fade away. It took me back to December of 1943 when I was in Italy under very trying circumstances. The war was going on and there was much debate about who was winning, ourselves or the Germans? In the end, everything turned out all right, as you may recall.

At that time, Angelo Delbecchi was not even born. But one way or another, the fact that he murmured the words “buono natale” made me feel like I was a young man again.

Automatically I said to Angelo, “Buono natale” and “Molte grazie,” which of course means “many thanks.” Those words came almost automatically and required no effort at all on my part. I was happy, of course, to receive the panettone, but more than anything else, Angelo was treating me as his compatriot in the Italian language. That to me is pretty flattering stuff. To those who want to make everyone speak English in this country, I would say, “Not so fast.” What is wrong with the Spaniards saying “Feliz Navidad?” It is the Spanish way of saying “Merry Christmas.” But I left the Basilico restaurant saying, “Buono Natale” to myself and feeling as though it were 1943 or 1944 once again.

Soon reality sank in, but at this time of year it was flattering for Angelo to use the term “Buono Natale,” and I was more than grateful that the little Italian that I know returned to me almost immediately. So in this Christmas season, I wish you a “Merry Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” and more than anything else “Buono Natale.”

December 25, 2009
Essay 428
Kevin’s commentary: It’s hard to believe that Chistmas 2013 is already more than three weeks behind us. I hope Pop had a good one! My family called up to Short Hills either on or after Christmas; if I recall the weather was not so bad and there was fish on the menu for the night.


Just north of the home where I was raised was a road that ran from St. Louis to Clayton, Missouri. It is naturally called Clayton Road. West of our house was a road that ran north and south; it ran from Clayton, Missouri to Brentwood, Missouri and it was called North and South Road. As you can see, mid-Westerners are not given to fancy titles but tell things as they are. In recent years, however, the North and South Road has been dubbed Brentwood Boulevard. But I regard that as an avant garde designation and I continue to call it North and South Road.

On North and South Road as it approached Brentwood, Missouri, there was a winding curve that was widely known as Dead Man’s Curve. People who used North and South Road knew that they had to approach Dead Man’s Curve with a great deal of caution. If they failed to do that, they would wind up in the leaves after falling down a steep embankment.

I tell you about Dead Man’s Curve and North and South Road to set the stage for an essay about skid chains. Those of you with long memories in the automobile business will recall that as a general principle, in former days, most cars were driven by the two rear wheels. In recent years, since about 1970, front wheel drive has come into vogue. I have nothing against front wheel drive. There are times when I yearn for the drive wheels to be located in the rear. Other people have the same desire which has led manufacturers of high-priced automobiles to have drive wheels in the rear. But in ordinary automobiles the front wheels are the driving force. If you want to get fancy about this subject, these days there are vehicles that have four wheel drive.

So the era on which this essay is based would certainly be pre the 1975 models. The problem seems to be that I have never seen skid chains on front wheel drive automobiles. I suspect somehow or another that it has to do with the ability to turn the car. But that is just my supposition. Let’s go back to the era of this essay when skid chains were attached to the rear wheels in icy weather such as we are now experiencing.

Skid chains were attached to the circumference of the rear wheels which could best be accomplished by jacking the rear wheels up and strapping the skid chains around them. Fastening the inside clamp on the skid chains was a work of art. The outside clamp gave no problem but the inside clamp almost invariably had to be fastened with the workman lying on his back to make the connection.

As the youngest member of the service stations where I worked, it nearly always fell to me to fasten the inside clamp. That was dirty work in that rain and snow drops from the wheels were a constant companion. I can assure you that after nearly four years in the service station business, I hated to see a driver come in asking to have his skid chains attached.

Skid chains were exactly as they are described. They were chains that provided traction to the rear wheels. Because the chains, which were of metal, rubbed against the pavement, they soon wore out. When that happened, you could hear a person driving toward you several blocks away because of the clank clank clank as the worn out chains would strike the fenders. But in the old days of the 1950s and 1960s, nearly every motorist would place a pair of skid chains in his trunk. Tires in those days placed much less of their surface on the road than the tires we now have.

As you can tell from this brief account, skid chains were not a device that could be depended upon. They wore out and drivers were reluctant to install them because of the trouble involved. To alleviate this situation, in the 1950s or thereabouts, we had tire manufacturers introducing snow tires which had large cleats which theoretically would grab the snow and throw it behind the car. Snow tires were fine except that they made a large noise.

Then there was a later development involving studded tires. Tires with metal studs in them were embraced by only a few drivers and were banned not long after they were introduced, as I recall it, because of the damage that they were doing to the streets.

But skid chains have a special place in my memory. I can remember wrestling with the clamps on the inside of the tires while hoping that the chains would last so that the driver would never come back.

Today we are getting some 50,000 miles out of our tires, whereas in those days, the tires would be worn out after 20,000 to 30,000 miles. Tires these days put a lot more of their tire surface on the surface of the road than the old ones did and with the advent of front wheel drive nobody gives a thought to skid chains anymore. But in the weather that we now find inflicted upon us in December of 2009, my thoughts wander back to the days when skid chains were in vogue. I suppose that skid chains probably prevented hundreds of accidents on Dead Man’s Curve on North and South Road. To that extent, I salute skid chains and hope to never see another one in my life.

December 26, 2009
Essay 427
Kevin’s commentary:
I’d wager that Pop indeed has not seen any such chains in the past few years. It seems like a safe bet to me, albeit one that is in poor taste.
Growing up in Austin I didn’t really ever get to see chains on tires, but I thought for some reason that they were used all the time in the north. I thought come November, everybody just slapped on chains for four or so months. Alas, going to school with Northerners taught me that the chains are rarely broken out, and when they are it is for extreme conditions like mountains.


I have lived in this town for a little more than 40 years. The last 11 years have been taken up with essay writing. When I stroll down Main Street, no one nudges anyone else and says, “There goes the philosopher.” For better or worse, philosophy has not been one of the main subjects of my essays. And so in this essay, I will set out to try to remedy that situation. And thus there is a philosophical essay to follow.

In the natural course of things, there has to be a setup before the philosophy is rendered. And that brings us to the audible presentation of The New York Times. For five days of each week there is a service to which we subscribe that provides a spoken digest of the news in The New York Times. There are three articles from the front pages, there is the international section, there are the sports and business sections followed by editorials and op ed pieces. In all it takes about one hour and five minutes for the digest of The New York Times to be presented. In addition, my wife, who presides over things around here, usually adds an article or two from The Washington Post. If there are other items of interest, she also includes those stories.

At the end of the news stories, Miss Chicka usually includes a song. The songs recently have been country and Western songs. I am very fond of opera and choral music and other civilized forms of musical expression. I am not fond of the people who try to present hip hop as a musical form of entertainment. In any event, I find the country and Western songs to be of major significance in that they tell a story. They are very much like folk songs in that they present a situation and carry it to a conclusion, all in the period of perhaps four minutes. That is largely what country and Western songs do.

Two country and Western songs have captured my attention. One is a John Denver piece called “Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stones.” The second is one by Guy Clark whose title is “Some Days You Write the Songs, Some Days the Song Writes You.” The title of this essay is taken from one of Mr. Clark’s contributions and to a large extent it satisfies the philosophical portion of this essay.

If you listen closely to the John Denver piece, he will tell you that “some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” As we grow older, or at least in my case, as time goes on the stones outweigh the diamonds. The music to this song is captivating, but the major reason that I am attracted to it is that he says that “some days are diamonds and some days are stones.”

In the Guy Clark piece, Mr. Clark obviously is a song writer. He says that “some days you write the songs and some days the song writes you.” What he is saying is that some days songs come very easily and on other days the words and music are very obstinate. As an essay writer, I know a little bit about the failure of words to appear on a tape or on a cassette. It is in this context that Mr. Clark says words “have a way of their own.” If the words don’t come, Guy Clark has concluded that “there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.” As in the case of diamonds and stones, in such an instance where the words don’t come, there is not much that can be done about it until some time has passed and a second try takes place.

Now for the philosophy part of this essay. It seems to me that those country and Western songs demonstrate the futility of men trying to control events in their lives. There comes a time when there’s not a damned thing that can be done about it. There also comes a time when the person doesn’t call the shots anymore but events take place without him. This is what Guy Clark was trying to say when he had that line, “Some times the song writes you.”

So the philosophical portion of this essay is that as life goes on, there are more stones than diamonds. Secondly as time takes place, we find ourselves not being able to control events, but that the events control us.

I believe that my efforts at producing a philosophical essay might be enhanced by producing the lyrics to these two country and Western songs. And so the lyrics are included here.

When this essay is circulated, I suspect that no one is going to proclaim me as a philosopher. But that is quite all right. I hope that you will remember that these country and Western songs contain not only a story line, but a bit of philosophy as well.

Now when I walk down Main Street, I know that no one will identify me as the philosopher in residence. But nonetheless the music of John Denver and Guy Clark will resonate in my head and that is all an old philosopher can ask.

The lyrics follow.

Guy Clark – Some Days The Song Writes You

It’s just one of those days you can’t explain
When nothing’s right or wrong
Too much wine or not enough
So you just play along.
There’s no rhyme or reason
Ain’t a damn thing you can do
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Your sure voice and melody
Will sing my soul to sleep
Reaching for some harmony
Deep inside of me
Some days you know just how it goes
Some days you have no clue.
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

You can fall
You can fly
Get low down or get high
You can try or just leave it alone.
You can search for the way
You can curse, you can pray
But the words have a way of their own.

It don’t matter how much it hurts
You’ve got to tell the truth.
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Now you may think I just made this up
But I would not lie, that’s true
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Some Days Are Diamonds
John Denver

When you asked how I’ve been here without you
I’d like to say I’ve been fine and I do.
But we both know the truth is hard to come by
And if I told the truth, that’s not quite true.

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

Now the face that I see in my mirror
More and more is a stranger to me
More and more I can see there’s a danger
In becoming what I never thought I’d be

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

December 25, 2009
Essay 426
Kevin’s commentary: We’re going to go counter-philosophical here. First up is that since diamonds are stones, every day is a stone. But that’s okay because secondly, especially if you’re blind, there is no inherent discernable difference between stones — all that really matters is how they are shaped, polished and presented. If I gave Pop a very nicely cut and polished stone and told him it was a diamond, he would probably believe me. Extrapolating back out we can say that days are neither inherently good nor bad but are rather what you make of them and how you perceive them. In Pop’s case, I’d say that having a wife who compiles over an hour of news, entertainment and music for me on a daily basis constitutes a pretty good presentation. Not to say that everything is always perfect, but rather to say that a stone ain’t so bad sometimes.


Most of you over the years have come to know how I feel about religion. There is one aspect from long ago that you may not know. As is widely known, in smaller and smaller circles, it was my fate to grow up in the suburbs of St. Louis. This would have been in the 1930s. At that moment, St. Louis was a German town, the Germans having succeeded the French by several generations.

Looking back on it from the vantage point of 2009, I wonder how a Catholic custom became entrenched with those Germans. I had thought that they were all the Martin Luther variety which means that they were Protestant to the core. But the fact of the matter was that at least on Fridays nearly every restaurant observed the Catholic custom of serving fish. The further fact is that at that time, St. Louis was a meat-eating place and fish was rarely seen on any menu on other days of the week. But nearly every restauranteur in the St. Louis area served a dish on Friday that may or may not have been in the fish family.

The fish was called jack salmon. It is very difficult to find the meaning of jack salmon. It is not a sword fish or tilapia or anything that we now regard as standard fare in most restaurants. There may be a clue here in that the fish was called “jack” salmon. At that time, a good many people would use the word “jack” to describe something that was unauthentic. My mother always used that term to describe jack-leg preachers, that is, those without theological training. I have no idea whether the “jack” refers to the inauthenticity of the salmon, but that is about the only explanation I can offer.

The fish that was offered on Fridays in St. Louis was always served heavily breaded. One of our most courageous dictionaries defines jack salmon as “sort of a wall-eyed fish.” I assume that the fish came from local waters such as the Missouri River or the Mississippi River.

I often ate at a small restaurant owned by a Greek, Leon Leakopolis who was an uncle to Talis Lockos, my best friend, who did some of the cooking and all of the serving. For all the years that I had worked in the filling station business across the street from this small restaurant, I had been eating hamburgers. At age 16 or 17, I knew nothing about fine dining, but Leon, the owner of the establishment, offered jack salmon on Fridays. I considered it sort of a luxury.

When the jack salmon arrived in front of the eater, the first thing that was done was to attack it from the back. As I recall it, the jack salmon fell apart very easily and fell into three lengthwise portions and, if you could get through the breading, was palatable. I did not feel that I was making a major step toward the Gospel but rather I viewed it as a change in my eating habits once a week.

The fish was consumed on my lunch hour, which was not really an hour at all. It was how much time I could take away from pumping gas at Carl Schroth’s filling station. That might have been accompanied by a soft drink but certainly wine was not served in Leon’s place.

Largely because my memory is such that it may be lost to the memory of man, it should be noted that I ate a fish one day a week. Now at this stage in life I consume a fish on perhaps five days each week. Leon served only hamburgers and after several weeks they could become tiresome. So the jack salmon was a welcome relief, even though it was so heavily breaded that most of the taste was lost.

I recite the eating habits of my fellow St. Louisians, who were not cosmopolitan in any sense of the word, but I suppose they got the job done and here I am in the 11th inning of my life, still plugging along on two or three cylinders. If the truth were to be told that the term “jack” salmon had tended to disappear from my memory over the years, one day it suddenly reappeared. I don’t know whether that is enough to justify an essay as distinguished from the fact that I can recall events of the 1930s. As I recall it, the Catholics patted us on the back for being fellow observers of their religion, which bothered us not at all. It was a matter of stuffing the jack salmon down the same throat that had consumed hamburgers for the rest of the week. The Archbishop of St. Louis was named Glennnon. He was a lovable Irishman and if it made Archbishop Glennon feel better to see us all eating fish on Friday, I had no objection to that at all.

Well, that is the end of my history lesson on the culinary habits of St. Louisians during the Depression period. I know that this disclosure is not earth-shaking, but for old-timers such as myself it is pleasant to see that I can recall memories of 70 years or more in the past. If this essay inspires you to order jack salmon the next time you go out to dinner, I am quite certain that you will be totally disappointed. The waiter will tell you that he never heard of such a dish and only old St. Louisians such as myself could tell the waiter what the diner wanted. I leave you now secure in the knowledge that dementia has not taken over my brain at the moment. For a good many of us, that is a hopeful sign and one to be celebrated.

So jack salmon is really a walleye fish, but consumed with French champagne it goes down quite easily. Perhaps there is one other benefit in this essay in that it might put me in good stead if the Pope ever came to visit me in New Jersey, but that is an unlikely event.

December 14, 2009

Kevin’s commentary: Reason #719 that I’d make a bad Christian: I’ve never actually developed much of a taste for fish, and have consumed beef, chicken, or pork almost daily for the last twentysomething years.
I also wonder if “jack” cheese is, by this logic, an inferior brand of cheese. I can’t think of anything else that uses “jack” as a modifier. In any event, I see it as no big loss that I’ve missed out on jack salmon.


The people who take opinion polls will tell you that the quality of their findings is a function of the questions that are asked. If you ask the wrong question, you will get a misleading answer. This essay has to do with asking the right questions.

In this general vicinity of suburban New York towns, if someone were to ask, “Do you know Anthony Vincendese?” the respondents would answer with blank stares. On the other hand, if those same respondents were asked, “Do you know Lefty?” the answer would be quick, friendly, and perhaps voluminous. People would say that they have not seen him in his hardware store for some months and that they were concerned about that absence. In short, there is a genuine affection for Lefty, who ran Berkeley Hardware for many years.

I came to know Lefty in the spring of 1955 after my employer decided that I should move from Chicago and take a job in New York. I lacked sufficient funds to afford a house and so I was required to rent. One of the answers to my advertisement seeking a rental property was from a fellow in New Providence, New Jersey, who seemed to own a small five-acre farm called The Rickenbacher Place. Apparently he was going to attend a seminary and he wished to rent his property while he was gone. I had grown up on a farm in Missouri during the early part of my life. The property to be rented was within my price range and I thought it might be a pleasant experience to see what farm life would be like now that I had reached the advanced age of 32 or thereabouts. The prospective seminarian was not very good with tools which showed in certain elements of disrepair of the Richenbacher farm. Our next door neighbor, Jesse, became a good friend and told us of a fellow in the neighboring town of Berkeley Heights who had a hardware store.

The fact is that when the Navy released Lefty in 1945 or 1946, he had savings of something on the order of $700. Lefty was not a college man and, for one reason or another, he elected to invest it in a hardware store.

The thing that distinguished Berkeley Hardware, which is what Lefty called his place, was the personal attention given to each shopper. If you had a problem, Lefty would set out to learn what corrective action should be taken to fix the problem. The job consumed him and he worked at least six days a week.

Judging from his birthday in 1927, I concluded that Lefty had either graduated high school at a very early age or that he had dropped out. In any case, he became a crew man on a ship of LSTs which has to do with “landing ship tanks.” During his time in service with the United States Navy, Lefty was involved in the landings at Omaha Beach and in southern France. His tour of duty with the Navy was not a walk in the park.

When Lefty started his hardware store, he provided employment to other members of his family. Jean, a very lovely woman, was a cashier as was Anne, who was vindictive to the core. Lefty also employed Angela, a woman of few words who seemed to spend her time studying books presumably about the hardware business. I knew Lefty for the better part of 50 years and I never figured out what Angela was doing with her time. But in the end, she produced a son, for whom Lefty provided the financial means to get through medical school.

Then in staffing the store Lefty made a fatal mistake. He employed his younger brother, called Chuck, to in effect work with him and to be sort of a partner. I knew the Vincendese brothers reasonably well and I will tell you that Chuck never pulled his own weight. He would take extensive vacations during the winter and he seemed to spend the rest of his time conversing on the telephone to make what he considered “a big deal.” Those big deals never came off. In the end, Chuck more or less stabbed his benefactor, Lefty, in the back.

This is not the happiest of tales but it is not the saddest one either. In the final analysis, there seems to be a moral to this story. We will get to that point in due time.

In the course of time, other things have taken place. I moved from the farm to a house in New Providence and then to a job in Washington for four years, followed by a return to New York. Upon returning to New York, one of my first trips was to Lefty’s place to buy birdseed for the feeder we had outside our kitchen window.

Over this period of time, Jean, Lefty’s sister, was her lovely self and was warm and accommodating. Anne seemed to glorify in nastiness and Angela had very little to say while she studied books about the hardware business. Chuck came and went, and I never asked Chuck for a solution to anything. As far as I can tell, no one else did either. The focal point of the whole effort of the hardware business in Berkeley Heights had to do with Lefty. He was the dynamo who provided the spark for the place and who was available to answer questions and provide solutions at all times of the day.

But in the end, the hiring of his siblings did old Lefty in. Lefty had survived the landings on Omaha Beach and in southern France and the long work day at Berkeley Hardware. But then as Lefty’s age marched toward 80, there was a blockage in his heart and a stent had to be inserted. Curiously, the cardiologist who supplied the stents and installed them was Lefty’s nephew, Angela’s son. Then after a time Lefty came down with Crohn’s disease. I gather that Crohn’s is a debilitating disease with considerable pain.

Lefty took some time off to have his medical problems attended to, which apparently convinced his siblings, mostly Chuck, that he was not fit to run the store anymore. It is true that instead of patrolling the aisles in the store, he took a seat at the entrance where people could tell him of their hardware problems. One way or another, Chuck seemed to sense this as his opportunity to wrest control from Lefty. So a meeting of the five siblings took place and Chuck, Angela, and the vindictive Anne voted in favor of Chuck to run the store from that point forward. Jean and Lefty were in the minority. In the end, Lefty received a relatively small sum of money and he was no longer associated with the store that he had founded.

I know that I have taken you through the travails of the Vincendese family but there is a point which I will call Lefty’s lament. During the period when Lefty was trying to live with Crohn’s disease, one day Judy, my wife, asked him how he was feeling. This was shortly after Lefty’s 80th birthday. Lefty replied, “I will never feel well again.” It seems to me that Lefty’s lament captured a thought that has haunted me. As the veterans of World War II near their 90th birthday, it would be surprising to hear them say that they feel great. More than likely, they would probably say, “I am hanging in there,” or, if they were struck by a moment of candor, they might echo Lefty’s thought and say, “I won’t feel good again for the rest of my life.”

I hate to leave you with the final sentences in this essay being ones of gloom. On the other hand, as men age and contract all of the ailments that age brings, their outlook on life and their health simply have to be affected. Look at what Lefty said. He was asking for no sympathy whatsoever. He was providing an honest answer to the question that had been asked. In this respect, he is very much like the opening sentences of this essay where I spoke of needing to ask the proper question. For the veterans of the Second World War, it would be unlikely for them to be turning handsprings in answer to questions about their health. Good old Lefty had a response that I suspect will be understood by those of us who are closing in on our 90th birthday and at least two of my friends who have already passed this marker. To that extent, perhaps we are all indebted to Lefty for putting his answer into a single sentence.

Now as to the name that Lefty called himself. As a youngster, Lefty was a left-handed baseball player. In those days, which I remember well, left-handers were encountered only occasionally. It would be normal for someone in an opposing club to mention that one of his opponents was a left-handed pitcher, for example.

Now, having settled the origin of Lefty’s name, I will tell you that we had dinner with Lefty a short while back and that his outlook on life is very positive. He knows of his problems and he is intent upon living with them. For me, it was a lucky day back in 1955 when Jesse, my neighbor, sent me to a hardware store in a neighboring town. More than 50 years of friendship have evolved, for which I am very grateful.

November 25, 2009
Essay 421
Kevin’s commentary: I feel pretty bad for what happened to ol’ Lefty. He seemed like a genuinely good guy who got screwed by people close to him. I guess the secondary moral of this story is to always incorporate, issue stock, and retain a controlling founder’s share. Maybe it’s “never hire your family.” Who knows. At the end of the day I’m just impressed that anyone could found anything with $700, even if they were deflated all the way back to that time.


This essay has to do with how men’s clothing is tailored. It does not have to do with the insects that buzz around our heads in the summer time nor does it have to do with fly balls as in the case of baseball. Primarily it has to do with the opening in the front of male clothing that permits discharge of waste material. Men are constructed in such a fashion that they need this opening, and for reasons unknown to me those openings are called flies. Why they are called flies is not a subject of this essay, but in the future it might be well to look into that matter.

I had no reason to discuss flies on male clothing until recently, when American manufacturers elected to go outside of this country to get their clothing made. I use the term recently but in retrospect this has been going on for several years. I suppose that manufacturers, in an effort to save money, elected to have men’s trousers and underclothing constructed in low wage areas. But the point in this whole essay is that those manufacturers have cut down on the length of the fly. Whereas the fly used to extend from the top of the pants down to somewhere near the crotch, now the fly does not approach the crotch area. It is located nearer the navel than it is to the crotch. Having a very short fly on men’s clothing is not necessarily a disaster, but it is uncomfortable. It means that men’s clothing must be pulled down to permit proper use of the fly. This is not the way that it should be.

For all of the years that I was growing up in the era before zippers, men’s flies were adequate and were fastened with buttons. The trouble with buttons is that they often come off. So about 1945, at the end of the Second World War, buttons were replaced with zippers. I suspect that shorter zippers are more cost effective than longer zippers. That is my suspicion even though I have no data to prove it.

It seems to me that on purchases that I have made of men’s clothing in recent years, the men’s flies have become shorter and shorter. So much so is this the case that recently I took delivery of a pair of Dickie blue jeans with a longer zipper and it occasioned me to write a letter to the president of that corporation. Dickie is an old-line manufacturer and while his clothing is probably now constructed outside of the United States, he must understand the problems that men have. The letter was directed to a Mr. Williamson who is not only President and descendant of one of the founders, but also Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of the Williamson-Dickie company. In the letter I commended Mr. Williamson on providing me with trousers that look good, are long-wearing, and mostly have a long fly. He has had the letter only a few days and I hope to hear from him before time runs out here.

I had approached this subject with a certain degree of trepidation because a good number of my readers are of the female gender. However, none of them are in their tender years and I believe they understand how a short fly may cause their male counterparts considerable trouble.

But it seemed to me that a manufacturer who provided me with a pair of trousers that were good-looking, well-fitting, long-lasting, and with a long fly deserved to hear from me with my approval. I suspect that in time Mr. Williamson will reply to my letter, which I will bring to you forthwith. To all the world I must say that having trousers and underpants with short flies is a disturbance to the male temperament. Longer flies, as in the case of the Dickie trousers, contribute to world understanding and peace. Anything that accomplishes these objectives is worthy of great praise that should be recognized, even if it is only a letter from a satisfied customer.

For all these years, when a person does me a favor or contributes to my well-being, I think he is deserving of recognition. In the foregoing case, I believe that Mr. Dickie’s trousers or blue jeans accomplish all of these ends, hence the recognition.

December 14, 2009
Essay 424
Kevin’s commentary: First and most importantly, I would like to know whether Pop ever got a response to his note.
Secondly I think I have spotted the problem here. The problem is that Pop is an old man, and old men generally like to wear their trousers nice and high on their bodies. I believe this is probably Pop’s trouble because he said that his fly approaches his navel rather than his crotch which would indicate that the pants are being worn at at least navel height. Conversely if he were to wear his jeans around his hips instead of his waist, the fly could not possibly go to his navel since the waistband of the pants would be below it. I should probably start a career as a detective.


These are transient thoughts; there is no continuity between one thought and the other. Now one of these transient thoughts has to do with baseball. For many years, Sunday afternoon professional baseball was banned. So you can imagine the thoughts that would go through a believer’s mind as he encountered a team nicknamed the Angels.

As a matter of fact, this year, the team that was defeated by the New York Yankees before they became the top team in the American League was called The Los Angeles Angels. But no one seems to have noticed.

A few years back, certainly within my lifetime, Sunday baseball was banned because of the serious damage to our souls. I can imagine that in those days when Sunday baseball was barred, a team nicknamed The Angels would have drawn condemnation from pulpits throughout this nation. Now we have The Angels playing baseball and we have The Devils playing hockey on a major league level. I can assure you that the end of the world is near and that Hell is our next stop.


A long time ago, I had a friend who worked for AT&T in St. Louis who went by the name of George Knickerbocker. George is the person who insisted that the word “miscellaneous” should be pronounced as “miss-kell-aneous.” He was serious about this stuff and at the end of the baseball season when the World Series was involved, George had an appellation for that series as well. He referred to that as the “world serious.” They don’t make them like George Knickerbocker was and, for all of his mispronunciations, I hope that he is still around.


Now we turn to the Afghans. In the run-off for the Afghan elections, one of the contestants was called Abdullah Abdullah. I have been missing a bet here that I could have run for office using the name of Ezra Ezra. How I could have missed a bet like that I will never know.


These days, I have depended heavily on the advice of preachers and other do-gooders. They have counseled me to quit thinking about girls, shacking up and one night stands. Now that my mind is free of those thoughts, I suggest that in the future, there will be more transient and random thoughts. As they occur to me, I will attempt to write them down so that they are not lost to the memory of man and may be shared with those who are hungry for random and transient thoughts.

November 2, 2009
Essay 419
Kevin’s commentary: I wonder if George has any relation to Bruce Knickerbocker, my Chinese teacher for several years.


My eighth-grade teacher was a plump woman who would have been greatly pleased if someone had mistakenly identified her as an English poet. She wore shoes that went out of style after the First World War and she loved to read from her book of poems by English poets. Beyond that, Miss Maxwell loved the grammar of the English language. As a result of her teaching or failure to teach, I developed a loathing for the various parts of English grammar. If one could read and speak well, it seemed to me that identifying adverbs and pronouns was a secondary consideration. And so it is that at this date it is Miss Chicka, my wife, who from time to time has to tell me whether the word I am using is a verb or a noun. I am fairly well fixed on adjectives but the grammar of the rest of the Anglo-Saxon language is a matter that I still have to master.

A case in point involves television and radio announcers who in reporting on the current controversy on the health situation say that “I have referenced that earlier.” I don’t know whether referenced has become a verb but in any case it strikes me as being an awkward construction. What ever happened to saying that I referred to that previously? It may be that referencing in that construction is perfectly agreeable but it still falls hard on these ears. Rather than the “referenced” construction, my vote still goes to “I referred to that earlier.” As a matter of fact, there is no entry for referenced in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I keep behind my desk.

I much prefer a report that originated with Miss Chicka that in a collision between a truck and a car, the smaller car had to be “flat-bedded out of here.” That tells me the condition of the car and images go through my head of it being flat on the back of a trailer truck. Even Miss Maxwell could not improve upon that construction.

A third construction has to do with the word “gay.” The Irish, who speak the English language eloquently, often refer to events as both “grand and gay.” Those words are often found in Irish songs. They may say that the wedding was “grand and gay,” or that the cocktail hour that followed the meeting of the Dublin City Council was “grand and gay.”

But some time in the last 20 years, “gay” has come to identify male homosexuals. When the Irish sing that they have had a “grand and gay” time, they are not referring to male homosexuals.

Leaving gay people aside, now let me turn to a subject with which I am much more familiar. In 1925 the New York Yankees had a first baseman named Wally Pipp. For one reason or another, Wally Pipp decided that he needed a day off. The manager of the Yankees at that time was Miller Huggins, and he called on a substitute first baseman to fill in for Mr. Pipp. That first baseman was Lou Gehrig, who established a record for games played for the New York Yankees that stood until the 1990s.

As a matter of interest, Lou Gehrig started 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees. Wally Pipp was subsequently traded to the Cincinnati Reds where he was identified as an important contributor to their offence for three years. In the end, I suppose that all is well if it ends well.

Miss Chicka, who is a quick study in the art of baseball terminology, reminded me that this was a noun turned into a verb. To say that somebody is “Wally Pipped” is to say that he never got his job back. I think that is an excellent construction in the language of the Anglo-Saxons and should be enshrined along with flatbedded as examples of elegant speech.

The final entry in this update on the language of the Anglo-Saxons has to do with the word “feckless.” For many years I have read and written about someone making a “feckless” gesture. Now feckless means having no worth or no value. Being a curious sort of person, I wondered where “feckless” came from. Obviously, there had to be word named “feck.” As it turns out, there is such a word and it is spelled “fek.” It means exactly what we thought it would mean in that it has to do with worth or value. According to what I am told, the word “fek” is an ancient Scottish word which I must assume is of Scottish-Gaelic origin. It is a curious thing that the word “fek” or “feck” has not survived to this day but we do have the English language expression “feckless.” It seems to me that this is a reverse “Wally Pipped” occasion. Feckless has survived but the original word “fek” is no longer in use. That is pretty much what happened when Lou Gehrig took over the first base duties for the New York Yankees.

I had not intended for this small essay to be a tour de force in the language spoken by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon race. These are a few simple thoughts that occurred to your old essayist and he finds that they must be recorded or they will be forgotten. In the future when these random thoughts about the language that we speak occur to me, I will try to record them so that history will know that my efforts as an essayist were not feckless.

October 26, 2009
Essay 416
Kevin’s commentary: One of my favorite language essays, primarily for this discussion near the end. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to look up what a “fek” was but it of course makes sense that there should be such a thing. I also feel like my baseball education has been lacking; I’d never encountered the “Wally Pipped” expression before.


There are devices on the market that will turn the written word into the spoken word. Because I have lost the ability to read, I have one of those devices. On Sundays Miss Chicka makes it a point for me to read the op ed pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Last Sunday I noted that the op ed pieces all were dated November 8th. The thought struck me that this was a familiar date but I could not remember why.

After a search of my mind, what is left of it, it developed that in 1945 the United States Army gave me an honorable discharge on that day. I had left my home at 5 AM in anticipation of this great event, with the thought that the ceremony would be completed by about 12 noon or 1 PM. But that is not the way the United States Army saw it. During the meetings with the persons who were supposed to give me my discharge paper, I was harangued about rejoining the Army. When I made it clear that I had no intention of doing that, they then shifted to my joining the Ready Reserve or the National Guard. Again I told them that my answer was no. As a matter of fact, I do not now even belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars or to the American Legion. I had had enough of war and was ready to go home.

Throughout these diatribes, there were references to whether I was a patriot or not. I told the people at the discharge center that they could read my papers and see that I enlisted and that I served honorably. Finally, about 7 or 8 PM, the “ruptured duck” was sewed on my uniform and I was turned loose. The “ruptured duck” is what the soldiers called the symbol sewn above the left chest pocket on the uniform which designates that man as a former soldier. So finally, after a much prolonged session, I was free to go and for the last 64 years, I have been simply a former serviceman.

All of this came into focus now that we are engaged in a prolonged debate about how many troops we should send to Afghanistan. The general in charge of the war in Afghanistan is named McCrystal. He apparently is asking for an additional 40,000 troops to join his forces there. As it now stands, we have 68,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and this would bring us to more than 100,000.

There are other generals who are contending that McCrystal’s demands are reasonable and that we should proceed forthwith to put the 40,000 men on airplanes and send them to Afghanistan. As an old soldier with no particular expertise in fighting guerillas, I must offer the following observation. I have been a student of world affairs for the better part of 80 years. During that time, I have never heard of a general saying that he had too many troops or that only one or two more would be helpful. Generals always talk in terms of large numbers, which I suppose will help them when they go to write their memoirs of the battles they have fought.

But 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan might be more than we can afford. The President has spent four or five weeks considering the proposition here and has been accused of dithering by former Vice President Cheney. The “dithering” charge is of no consequence to me but I simply hope that in the end he makes the proper decision.

If my numbers are correct, that will give us 108,000 people in Afghanistan plus the 125 or 130,000 left in Iraq. Again, this is a tremendous strain not only on the military but also upon our economic system.

Very unfortunately, McCrystal and other generals have been making remarks to the press that are framed to box the President in. If I may say so, those generals ought to be relieved of their responsibility and sent packing immediately. The more that I consider the cost in lives and treasure from the United States government, the less enthusiastic I am about investing one more life or one more dollar in Afghanistan.

The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan is a tribal society. They have never responded to a central government in their capital of Kabul. Even less would the Afghans be expected to respond to their government if they concluded that it was elected by fraud. There are all sorts of reasons to believe that fraud was committed in the recent elections in Afghanistan and that their government is corrupt. According to The New York Times, the President’s brother is hip deep in the drug trade. President Karzai has promised to reform but this is probably the tenth time that he has made that promise.

The generals of the United States Army have had their say and now I believe that it is high time we turn to other voices who may know a good bit more about the situation than the generals do. One of those voices is John Burns, the bureau chief of The New York Times in London. For several years during the height of the hostilities in Iraq, John Burns was the bureau chief in Baghdad. If there is any one man who knows the Arab mind, I would suggest that it is probably John Burns. I would suggest that the President interview John Burns and consider what he has to say. Burns has said that until a government takes over in Afghanistan that is free of fraud and corruption, there is no hope. We are a long way from having an honest administration to head the Afghan people.

Another person that I would suggest the President interview would be Richard Engel of the National Broadcasting Corporation. Engel has spent many years in the Middle East and should know a good bit more than the generals do. Obviously I do not want the President to base his decision with respect to Afghanistan solely on the advice of his generals. Generals can be wrong. When their forecasts turn out to be erroneous, the price paid by our troops is horrendous.

As you can see, I was never a hawk on the war in Afghanistan. If the President were to interview me, I believe I would tell him that Afghanistan is not worth the blood and treasure that it would require to restore stability to that part of the world. An independent observer said recently that he believed it would take perhaps 650 to 700,000 troops to stabilize Afghanistan. Based on our experience in Iraq, I believe that this observer has something there.

Well, as you can see, I have been at liberty to offer opinions on military matters for 64 years. Unfortunately, our Commander-in-Chief has never asked me for my opinions. But that will not prevent me from reaching conclusions that are not always accepted by the general staff of the United States Army. But if I am ever asked about my opinions on Afghanistan, I will tell Mr. Obama to please arrange interviews with John Burns and Richard Engel. I believe that he will find it very rewarding and he can put the charge of dithering to rest. It seems to me that the sooner we wind this war down, the better it will be for this country.

November 18, 2009
Essay 420

Postscript: This essay was composed several weeks in advance of the President’s speech this past week. In that speech, the President attempted to explain the prospects for the war in Afghanistan. I must say that as much as I care for Mr. Obama, his speech has not caused me to change my mind about investing one more life or one more dollar in that tribal society.


Kevin’s commentary: There are times when the United States is needed as the world’s policeman. There are times when it is not needed but fills that role anyway. Afghanistan falls into the latter category. It’s time to leave. I believe the current plan is for the complete removal of all U.S. troops by the end of this year, 2014. Here’s hoping.


On Friday night, the players for the World Series crown were moving from Yankee Stadium to the ball park in Philadelphia. There was not much to listen to on the radio, and so a recording of a work by Franz Schubert was played. I have nothing against serious music but in this case, Herr Schubert’s composition went on for so long that I tried to think of other things. There were movements of all kinds, but in my own mind, I wondered whether it would ever end. Finally, we arrived at the finale and I was spared from further exposure to the works of Franz Schubert. By that time, I had the rough outlines of the following essay that I wanted to dictate.

This essay asks more questions than it answers. I do not know what causes biases or prejudices and I would like to be informed as to why they exist. But exist they do, and that causes them to pique my curiosity, which results in more questions than it answers.

I have been amazed by the continuing prejudices against women. For all of my life I have asked what in the world women did to deserve this kind of treatment. No answer is forthcoming. So I will proceed to list a few of the prejudices against females.


A good part of the world has adopted the Muslim faith. Muslims do not pretend to even suggest they accord equal rights to males and females. Females are relegated to second place or fourth place and they are severely punished if they step out of line. Consider that in Saudi Arabia the Wahhabi sect says that women can’t drive automobiles and cannot be seen outside the house unless they are in the company of a male family member. I am not an expert on the Muslim faith, but my recollection tells me that there are no women in the Muslim clergy. Do they believe that Allah had no mother? As to the rest of the Muslim world, women are often forced to wear chadors which cover them from head to toe so they are not a temptation to men. I do not have a scientific study on horniness, but I would assume that the average Muslim man is about as horny as the average Christian man. But that is a subject for another day.

In the Christian faith, the Anglicans and the Episcopalians are having a monstrous fit over the ordination of women bishops. Some have left the Church of England and have taken up loyalty to a bishop in Nigeria who promises to observe orthodoxy until the end. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has a real major issue on his hands between the ordination of women and the appointment of a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. As most people know, I have no allegiance to any faith of any kind. But if I had such faith, it would seem to me that a blessing from a female or from a gay person would be as efficacious as a blessing from a heterosexual male.

The Jewish faith seems to have no trouble on this score. I understand that there are numbers of female rabbis. This of course is not good enough for the Roman Catholic folk, who will not ordain a priest of the female gender. I suppose the Pope would flinch if he were ever introduced to a gay member of his clergy.

This strikes me as silly stuff. At the end of life, if I were to receive the blessings of a female priest or a homosexual priest, I would be unaware of these proceedings. I know that there is a contention that Jesus surrounded himself with disciples, all of whom were male. On the other hand, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is given such a prominent place that in the Catholic faith they believe that in 1958 she was physically transported from this earth to heaven.

On top of that, there is much to be interested in in the relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus. Scholars have been studying this controversial issue. I am simply struck by the thought that in religious circles, it would seem to me that generosity and understanding of the female condition would be in ample supply. But no, the bar remains and even in the matter of religion, women seem to come in in second place. My question is: Why is this so? The ayatollahs and the popes and the imams and the ordinary preachers all had mothers. A good many of them had sisters and some of them even had daughters. How can a preacher or a pope say that his son is entitled to consideration that is still barred to his daughter? This makes no sense at all to me.

Finally, it is a source of amazement to me how some Christians can worship a Jewish deity on Sunday and resume their dislike and prejudice against Jews on Monday. This makes no sense to me but I am not the one to seek counsel from. I am just a neutral observer with no ax to grind.


So much for asking questions of a religious nature. Let us go on to teaching. As I was growing up, the vast majority of the teachers were female. As far as I could tell, they provided an excellent education. But until about 1942 or 1943, any female, particularly if she worked for the Clayton, Missouri public school system, who married would find that her contract was cancelled. My seventh grade teacher, Miss Dawes, could teach as well when she was single as when she was married. But once she married, she was dropped from her teaching position. I ascribe this to another form of prejudice against women.


Now let us to move to a consideration of prejudices against southpaws. I have no idea about how many such people exist in this world, but I can tell you that when a baseball club owner finds somebody who throws from the left-handed side of the plate at 96 miles an hour, he becomes very interested. So in baseball, left handers are highly prized. But you wouldn’t know that from driving an automobile. Automobiles are arranged so that the important controls are on the right side of the driver. We drive on the right side of the road and passing on the right is usually strictly forbidden. Until about 1950, when automatic transmissions came into wider use, it should be noted that there were three pedals on the floor. One had to do with the clutch, which permitted the driver to shift from one gear to another. But the other two, which I would argue were more important, were the brake and the accelerator. Today in our clutchless cars, only the brake and accelerator remain and they are located to the drivers right. And so we have a case of right-handedness as well as right-footedness.

Our treasured friend Frances Licht, who is left handed, also points out that scissors are right handed. Miss Chicka also says that the mouses that control computer monitors are also right handed.

Before leaving this business about right-handedness, I think it is important to note that men’s clothing is arranged for right-handers. Consider, for example, the fly on men’s trousers. I suppose the zipper could be raised and lowered by a left-handed man but he would be awkward in doing so. There is a prejudice against left-handed men because men’s clothing is arranged for easy entry from the right side. And so I ask why there should not be trousers that are made for left-handed people. I know that this is not as serious as the absence of the female gender from the ranks of the religious orders, but again, this is a question that needs an answer.


Finally we turn to a matter in which I have a decided interest. That has to do with the prejudice in favor of sightedness. There are dozens of examples where sightedness is accommodated but for those with less than 20/20 vision there is a shut-out. For example, when the directions on the side of a prescription bottle are written, the non-sighted person doesn’t have a clue as to whether he is taking an aspirin or a pill that would do him great harm. Unfortunately at this stage the prejudice is so heavily in favor of sightedness that those who are non-sighted have to do the best we can. There are dozens of examples, or perhaps even hundreds. Consider directions. The sighted person may be told to go two blocks in an easterly fashion and then two blocks in a southerly fashion. This means nothing to the non-sighted person.

I realize that in my lifetime or in several lifetimes such as mine, the prejudice for sightedness will continue to exist. I do not know any way around it except for parallel instructions that are spoken. But that day is a long way off. Suffice it to say that the prejudice for sightedness is going to be around perhaps for the next hundred years or so. But in doing this essay, it was a prejudice that I could not overlook. I suppose that when I could see, I was as prejudiced as the next person might be. But that is no longer the case.


Before wrapping up this essay on prejudices, I am reminded that in my youth in the Clayton, Missouri public school system, there existed the Palmer method of handwriting. In that system of handwriting, the slant was toward the right-handed side and it all came from doing the circles before the handwriting started and push ups and downs on paper. I never saw the value in making continuous circles lean to the right or in doing paper push-ups that also leaned to the right. But I was assured that this would make me a better citizen. As it turns out, there were left-handers who couldn’t make the circles or the push-ups and whose natural inclination was to bend the tops of the letters to the left. The handwriting teachers concluded that this was a horrid situation. For a number of years they either tried to change left-handers into right-handers, or they had the left-handers assume a position in handwriting that was thoroughly illogical. But it got the letters leaning to the right, and that was where they should be, according to the handwriting teachers. I imagine that there were a few left-handed children who emerged from these handwriting sessions with scrambled brains. I feel for them, even to this day.


There is also a bias or prejudice against electing Jews and non-believers to the office of President of the United States. I have no idea why a person’s religious beliefs would influence his competency in the president’s office. But as of this writing, which comes 233 years after the American government was formed, there have been no Jews or non-believers elected to the presidency. Perhaps the day will come when a Jew can succeed to the presidency of the United States. But the day when a non-believer can reach that office is further off.

One prejudice that seems to have been overcome recently is the bias against left-handers in that Clinton and Obama are both southpaws. (Those are the only two that I am sure of.) So taking a long view, things are looking up.

Well, I told you at the outset that this essay would ask a lot more questions than it would answer. I suppose that if you are a male heterosexual who does not attend church services and who is right-handed, you are in pretty good shape. Those conditions apply in my case and all I have to work on is trying to fix the prejudice against non-sightedness.

November 2, 2009
Essay 418
Kevin’s commentary: This essay is a heck of a mixed bag. Some of these things are pretty clearly not like the others. For instance, discrimination against women impacts fully one-half of the world’s population. Discrimination against left-handers hits about 10% of people. Visually impaired people account for about 4%. My thought here is that is that if a system works for 90+% of the population, it is logical to have the country cater primarily to serving that system. Of course there should be services in place to help that system accommodate its outliers, whether that means manufacturing a tenth of scissors to operate the other way, or use the Chinese system of modifying sidewalks to aid navigation for the sightless. Whether that accommodation is being executed competently is certainly a question worth asking, but it doesn’t really compare to institutionalized discrimination against women or people of color.

That said my opinions are colored by the fact that “a male heterosexual who does not attend church services and who is right-handed” is a fitting way to describe me, so my commentary on discrimination is going to be a little bit colored by the fact that I take the majority perspective on most things, and might feel differently were I to be in the part that was not constantly catered to.