Archive for the 2008 Category


From time to time I find myself pondering about events of long-forgotten years. Perhaps this is the mark of an aged mind but I tend to view it in a positive sense in that I apparently still have a mind that is capable of pondering.

One of my recent essays had to do with ponderings of the sort that I am attempting to wrestle with today. And so here are some subsequent ponderings that are absolutely innocent in purpose and which will not affect the outcome of world events.

For example, I often wonder about what has happened to words in the English language which have tended to fall into disuse. One word in particular comes to mind, which is “hussy.” As far as I know, “hussies” refers to females and is usually accompanied by an adjective called old or brazen. I don’t believe that in my study of the English language I have ever heard somebody refer to another female as a young hussy but perhaps Ann Coulter would qualify. Generally speaking, it seems to me that all hussies are old or brazen. They are not desirable people who seem to be poking their fingers into other people’s business. On the other hand, I have heard some people refer to other women as hussies who don’t deserve that appellation. But that is really beside the point. My question is why the term hussy is falling into disuse these days. It may be a case where the world has moved on and has found new terms to define females who have objectionable traits. But my question is innocent. I simply want to know whatever happened to the word hussy.

As you can tell, none of these ponderings are connected one with another. They are all independent ponderings. In that spirit, I now turn to the sport of badminton. My foggy memory tells me that at one time the Olympic games included competition for badminton metals.

During the 1930s and 40s and even into the 50s, many homes were equipped to play badminton with a set of small rackets together with a shuttlecock. The shuttlecock looks like half a small rubber ball with feathers attached to the flat part. When the ball was struck, the shuttlecock would fly quickly until it lost its momentum, with which it would then attempt to float to the ground, using the feathers that it came equipped with. Aside from the rackets and the shuttlecock, there was a small net and in many cases people would simply bat the shuttlecock back and forth without worrying about who was ahead or behind. But again if my memory serves me correctly, Asian players such as the Japanese excelled at badminton. Again I am left to ponder whatever happened to the game of badminton. It was a game that could be played by young and old, and I still remember the joy of watching the shuttlecock when, struck firmly with the racket, it went floating into the sky and then floated gently to the ground.

There is a further matter of pondering about why dentists and barbers traditionally take Wednesdays off. I know that they have demanding jobs but people would like to get their teeth fixed on a Wednesday just as people would to get their hair cut as well. It seems to me that the dentists and the barbers could operate short-handed on that particular day, simply to cover the office. But that is not the case. When barbers attend barber’s college and dentists attend dentistry schools, are they instructed that they should take Wednesdays off? I have no idea why barbers and dentists take a day off on Wednesdays. If any of you can help me with my work on this monumental subject, I will appreciate your assistance.

Now we come to my ponderings on male facial hair. Specifically, my pondering leads me to wonder how men decide what kind of a mustache they will produce. One of the most famous mustaches in the world was the one worn by Adolph Hitler, which was sort of a rectangle beneath his nostrils. I did not care for Adolph Hitler, and I cared even less for his mustache. But my pondering leads me to wonder why a man would have this small block of hair below his nostrils on his upper lip.

If I could grow a mustache, which I can’t, I think I would favor a small line above my upper lip. That used to be favored by Spanish movie actors. I stand in awe of how the razor is manipulated on the upper lip to avoid cutting the nose and the mouth and yet produce a nice-looking mustache. But the Carr family was always fair haired and could produce no mustaches of any kind, and so I let that subject pass out of my realm
of thought.

Why men grow muttonchops and handlebar mustaches is something that I really do not understand. Neither do I understand men such as my Uncle George Carr, who grew a brush mustache on his upper lip which was untrimmed. When a liquid is drunk, the hairs on the mustache become soaked and must be dried by putting the lower lip over the top lip to suck them dry. This is a fascinating sight for children to watch but I am now of the belief that it is unsanitary and not very pretty.

A pondering that goes back to World War II has to do with the use by GIs of addressing each other as “Joe” or alternatively as “Mac.” When a GI would approach another person to whom he had not been introduced, but to whom he needed to speak, he would almost inevitably address him as “Joe” or “Mac.” For example, if I were working on an airplane, particularly in a location foreign to my home field, and I needed to borrow a tool from the tool-crib, I would address the GI who ran the tool-crib as “Joe” or “Mac.” I have no idea where these names came from, nor do I know where the term “tool-crib” came from either, but those terms were in common usage during the 1940s when World War II took place. I want to emphasize that there was no hint of condescension when a man referred to another GI as “Joe” or “Mac”; it just meant that the two had not been introduced. In any case, it seems to me considerably better than “Hey you.” A GI who would say “Hey you” might soon find himself flat on the floor with some of his teeth missing. But again if there are any lexicographers out there in this vast audience of mine who recall the words “Joe” or “Mac” or “tool-crib,” I would be glad to hear from them.

My ponderings have led me to wonder about why women wear black dresses on festive occasions as well as in a time of gloom. When I worked, if one woman saw another woman wearing a black dress during the daytime, she would often say something like, “Do you have a heavy date tonight?” At perhaps 70 or 80% of the cocktail parties I ever attended, the women usually showed up in black dresses, which they would describe as “simple.” Cocktail parties were happy occasions.

At the same time, when a woman would attend a wake or a funeral, she would find that the black dress was a requirement. Perhaps there are those who will argue that the black dress that could be worn to the cocktail party as well as to the funeral parlor was a matter of good economics. On the other hand, I can understand a black dress at a funeral or the viewing, as it is sometimes called, but on a joyous occasion such as a cocktail party, I am at a loss to know why the women appear in black dresses.

Finally, whatever happened to women’s hats? There was a time when any woman who wished to go to a function of one kind or another in the evening would wear a hat. Some were very small bonnets that had to be held on with hairpins and there were others that were wide brimmed in the fashion worn by Mexican bolero players. Ordinarily when women came to work, at least with AT&T, they tended not to wear a hat but when evening came, if they had a date or if there were a cocktail party to be attended, the women would retire to their lockers and don their hats. I wonder about whether that custom still exists. But like it or not, that does not keep me from pondering.

There is one additional final thought that I wish to ponder about. That is: when people who live absolutely alone and visit their own bathrooms, do they always close the door? As far as I can tell, there has never been a survey of this subject and I suspect that perhaps there will never be such a survey. But that fact does not keep me from pondering about it.

Well, there you have my set of ponderings for the moment. All of them are innocent ponderings and will not have any effect whatsoever on the fortunes of this once great country. There are those who would argue that ponderings such as the foregoing ones are evidence of advancing age and perhaps losing one’s mind to dementia. On the other hand, I would argue with some vehemence that they are the products of a curious mind which has a period to go before the closing bell is rung. I have been pondering such as those reflected in this essay for most of my life, and unfortunately it has turned out that my ponderings have produced very few answers. But if my current ponderings form the basis for an essay here and there, I would conclude that that is a reward in itself.

November 29, 2008


This is probably one of my favorite multi-essays on the site. I enjoy how much it reveals about how things were, and how they changed.

Anyway, now for some answers based off of a few minutes of internet research:
First, the “closing on Wednesday” thing seems to have a number of causes. Apparently in much of the South, for instance, Wednesdays were popular days for Bible study and big community events like auctions. More broadly, many merchants worked very long days on Saturdays, so they all chose to take half-days on Wednesdays to even out the work week, which makes sense. It’s kind of like just transferring your Saturday afternoon to a more financially appropriate part of the week. That said, in a town of 3 dentists, if two 2 dentists takes Wendesdays off, the third becomes very incentivized to stay open on Wednesdays. Unless you have some sort of collusive agreement, it seems like the market has evened out this trend quite a bit — I’ve actually never encountered a doctor or dentist closed on a Wednesday in my life, as fas as I know.

Second, badminton is definitely still a thing. It’s an Olympic sport!

Third, I think black dresses are reliable and always acceptable, so they’re a good default in the same way that men default to suits. We wear suits to both funerals and cocktail parties, too!

Fourth, I for one don’t see the point in closing the bathroom door if you’re home alone. Why bother?


These days I get my news via my ears. My wife reads the headlines and stories from The New York Times, as well as from the New Jersey Star Ledger and Newsweek. Then I listen to an audio version of the Times. Today is August 4, which marks a milestone in my lifetime, as it is my birthday. The birthday news in The New York Times this year is uniformly glum.

There is a story about the subprime mortgage business only being the tip of the iceberg. It appears that not only are General Motors and Ford suffering from lack of sales, but even the Japanese cars are suffering the same fate to a lesser degree. There are home foreclosures in record numbers and Starbucks has identified more stores to close. I do not pretend to be an economist but it seems clear to me, having survived the Depression of the 1930s, that we are again in a depressed state in our economy. Anyone who tells you that this is only a mild recession is misleading you and is also very much wide of the mark. We are suffering from a depressed economy and there is no gainsaying that conclusion.

On top of all the glum news about the rest of the economy, we find that gasoline prices have more or less stabilized around $4 per gallon. Motorists have responded by driving less and by trading downward. With the economic news being such as it is, there are fewer sales of cars which means that those of us with automobiles of more ancient vintage are holding on to see if they will last one more year. The point I am attempting to make is that in these difficult times, people respond by spending less rather than making commitments to spend more for mortgages, jewelry, casinos etc. If I may have the temerity to make a suggestion to the Honorable George Bush, it would be for the United States government to spend a hell of a lot less than is now being squandered on our efforts in Iraq.

Iraq is costing us, every single month, on the order of $12 billion. At the same time, the Iraqis are building enormous bank accounts from their sale of oil, but we seem to realize none of those profits. We are supporting a force of more than 130,000 men and women in Iraq, which is an enormously costly venture. Simply put, after five years of squandering away our manpower and our resources, we cannot afford the luxury of trying to impose our will on the Iraqi people. That war should never have been started in the first place and when we end it, there will be inevitable consequences to this country, most of them being unpleasant.

On the other hand, if that $12 billion per month were spent here at home, the bridge in Minneapolis might be repaired and the states, which have been deprived of revenue, would now offer full service. In California, the Governor, in response to depleted resources, is threatening to pay his workers only the federal minimum wage. In New Jersey, the state government is examining the question of whether it would be feasible to turn over our roads to individual entrepreneurs.

I know that the Bush administration is completely paralyzed with respect to offering any hope to the bad news that pervades us. But I will try to offer you one shred of hope. During the darkest days of the Depression, when the rich men had all the money and the poor people had none, we pinned our hopes on the election of Franklin Roosevelt. He promised us at the beginning that he would lift the restriction on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, which was then called Prohibition. From that point on, there came the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as well as Social Security. Even with the obstruction of Robert Taft, the leader of the Republican party in the United States Senate, Roosevelt fashioned programs that overcame obstructionists and prepared us for the entry into the Second World War. Roosevelt was an aristocrat but he understood the feelings and the agonies of the working class who had no work to do.

My thought is that the expenditure in lives and money in Iraq is the root cause of our economic problems here at home. I am a realist, and I know that the George Bush administration is thoroughly paralyzed with respect to any constructive suggestions. I hope that the election that will take place this November will provide us with the 21st century version of Franklin Roosevelt. If the new president and the congress have the will to do it, many changes can be made to right the American economy. But the first move has to be to stop the squandering of our resources in Iraq to the tune of $12 billion per month.

I know that the recovery may take a painfully long time but it must be done. The idea of “staying the course” should be obliterated from the American discourse. In all likelihood, I will not be around when there is a happier day in the fortunes of this country. But I remind my fellow Americans that we pinned our hopes on the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and eventually those hopes were realized. Perhaps in ten years or so the news will be much more favorable than it is today and, if that is the case, I can assure you that my ghost will be pleased.

August 4, 2008


Well, in August 2016 I think it’s a good bet that Pop’s ghost was pleased. Obama wasn’t a silver bullet but the country came a hell of a long way in three years. We of course have an enormous deficit now, which only becomes a problem if there’s a massive crisis of trust with regard to how dependable the US is when it comes to paying back debts. If we lose that, I think a lot of other things will come crashing down. Good thing our current leader is an emotionally unstable manchild! He’ll really inspire confidence in the future of the country, I bet.


Readers of this essay should be warned that the author is completely at sea when it comes to understanding what is taking place in Washington on the so-called bailout or now called the rescue package. I have no clue as to how the bailout package should work but there is consolation in the fact that neither does anyone else. That of course includes the President of the United States who long ago has taken his hands off the wheel as this country is proceeding down the freeway at breakneck speeds. Be that as it may, perhaps it is well to recite a few facts that have to do with the financial stability of all of us.

Henry Paulson is alleged to be the Secretary of the Treasury in this formerly grand country of ours. We can hardly call it a grand country anymore with the till in the back room showing zero and the ledger sheets showing minus zero. Mr. Paulson came to be Secretary of the Treasury after he had served as Chairman of Goldman Sachs, the mammoth investment firm. It is alleged that Paulson’s private fortune comes to somewhere in excess of five hundred million dollars. That is substantially more than essayists’ bank accounts reflect.

Sometime around September 15, Secretary Paulson’s hair caught on fire and he ran to the Congress to warn that the banking system in this country was about to be bankrupt. There was a great urgency in what Secretary Paulson had to say to the leaders of the Congress as well as to members of the Bush Cabinet, for whom Paulson produced a three-page memo that he wished to turn into a bill from Congress. That bill said that Secretary Paulson should be given $700 billion of your tax dollars and, interestingly, one provision in the little memo stated that there should be no oversight whatsoever. In effect, Secretary Paulson was to be given $700 billion to use as he saw fit. You may recall that the memo was turned into a bill of several hundred pages which was initially turned down. After adding some pork to the bill, it was passed.

The theory in Secretary Paulson’s view was that there were mortgages which he called toxic, which were clogging the system. His theory was that once these mortgages were removed, using his $700 billion kitty, the financial system would return quickly to normal, with the banks being able to lend to each other as well as to grant loans to individual borrowers and businesses. The key to Secretary Paulson’s idea was to remove these toxic mortgages, which were poisoning the whole system.

To help Secretary Paulson with his work, he brought in young man from Goldman Sachs named Neel Kashkari, who would do the financial wheeling and dealing. Mr. Kashkari may be a brilliant fellow as far as Mr. Paulson is concerned, but no one else has yet to find that out. In any case, we are told that Mr. Kashkari, who is in his early 30s and has the grand total of six years’ experience in the financial business, was given the direction to use the $700 billion to buy these toxic mortgages. This is an extraordinarily heavy responsibility for a man who has only six years experience in the financial community.

When the so-called toxic mortgages stayed in place and presumably continued to block the drainage system in our financial structure, Mr. Kashkari and Mr. Paulson seemed to turn to other devices to work their magic. Apparently the toxic mortgages were forgotten. Somewhere along the line, nine favored banks were given something like $50 billion on the theory that they would then begin to make loans not only to other banks but also to consumers. As it turns out, the banks took the billions of dollars and promptly refused to lend to other banks or consumers but instead set out to buy other banks. At this point, Secretary Paulson,
Mr. Kashkari, and President Bush should have said, “What the hell is going on here?” It is not clear in my mind that the favored banks, who were given the billions of dollars, even thanked the administration and Secretary Paulson.

It is now about two months since Secretary Paulson sounded the frantic alarm about the banking system and, if anything, we stand infinitely poorer than we were when Mr. Paulson’s hair was on fire. The stock market is down some 3,000 points and the joke is being heard that the 401(k)s are now 201(k)s. There is no humor in this situation in that lifetime savings are evaporating on a daily basis.

On Friday, November 14th, Mr. Paulson changed his mind about the toxic mortgages and announced a new proposition where he would loan money to various entities such as the credit card companies. He conceded under questioning that he apparently no longer wishes to deal with the so-called toxic mortgages but instead is casting about for some other means of solving this crisis. Mr. Kashkari appeared before the House committee and was totally eviscerated by such stalwarts as Dennis Kucinich, the former Mayor of Cleveland and former Presidential contender. Mr. Kashkari was told by Dennis Kucinich that it was clear that he knew nothing about what was going on. Neel Kashkari did not join in that assessment but objective observers agree that Kucinich’s view was precisely on point.

At the same time Secretary Paulson appeared on Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour program and was so fouled up in what he was trying to enunciate that even Jim Lehrer, the most moderate of questioners, became impatient with Paulson. Those who know Lehrer will tell you that his questioning of the Secretary would lead to the belief that he was telling the Secretary that he [Paulson] was out in left field and knew nothing about what was taking place.

It is at this point that I am attempting to dictate this essay and I hope that you are as confused as I am in trying to figure what our bailout package is supposed to do. I am told that the word “bailout” is out of style and should be replaced by the phrase “rescue package.” That really makes no difference because it is so confusing because Secretary Paulson and Mr. Kashkari simply are, as we used to say, “lost balls in tall grass.”

There is one other parallel that might fit this situation. During the Second World War, the term “snafu” came into general use. That was an acronym and it signified “Situation Normal All Fouled Up.” As you may imagine, soldiers such as myself used the “f” word instead of “fouled” but my seminary training would not permit me to put that horrid word in print. In assessing where we stand at this moment, I would say that snafu is much too mild a term. There was a second acronym that, in the latter stages of the war, was used not only by American troops but also by our British friends. That term was “fubar.” It stands for “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.” My case rests on the belief that with respect to our financial condition, fubar clearly applies. I can think of no other word that aptly describes where we are.

And so it is that Paulson’s follies really have turned into a burlesque. The crowning act in that burlesque has to do with twenty nations from around the world coming to Washington this weekend to have a dinner with George Bush and get the word directly from him as to how this is to be fixed. Anyone who believes that George Bush knows how to fix this financial situation is on a fool’s errand. In a speech earlier this week, our beloved President told us that the problem was not in government oversight of the market but that, in effect, the market should be ready to operate as it saw fit and would become self-correcting. This is a lot like his view on the war in Iraq, where we are told that the only way to attack that problem is to “stay the course.”

I know that this has been a confusing essay to read, just as it has been a confusing essay to write. But the facts are the facts and, as an old soldier, I am forced to tell you that the only applicable term for the follies of Secretary Paulson is fubar a thousand times over.

November 15, 2008


Yeah, I dunno. Seems like an okay initial thought with some poor follow-through. Normally the idea with stimulus packages is that if the government spends a lot of money, that money goes into the pockets of the citizenry, who turn around and spend it or save it or whatever. If they spend it, it’s going into the pockets of other citizens, and if they save it then banks get to lend it out to people. This sort of primes the pump for the normal cycle of spending and lending which keeps the economy growing but in 2008 that wasn’t really enough.


The title to this essay, “Disparate Ponderings,” may well reflect the influence of the New York Times editorial pages upon my brain. The ponderings in question really have to do with remembrances of years past. There are six thoughts in this essay and I hope that some of them will remind old-timers of the days before television and e-mail ever existed.

One of my recent ponderings had to do with female girdles. It seems to me that in years past whenever a female reached the age of puberty, she was obliged to buy herself a girdle. The Sears Roebuck catalogue, published annually each fall, was avidly read by the females as well as the males in our household. I can assure you that Sears had girdles galore. There were long ones and short ones, as well as black ones and flesh-colored ones. What baffled me then in the old days was why a young woman weighing no more than 110 pounds would need a girdle. Yet it seems to me with my faulty memory as a guide that every young woman looked forward to the day when she could order a girdle. In those days, women wore silk stockings with a seam up the back. It is hard to believe but there was a time in this country when there were no panty hose. I suspect that girdles were worn for the sake of keeping the silk stockings anchored so that they did not fall down around the ankles.

But the Second World War seemed to have altered everything. There was a shortage of rubber, and silk stockings were a thing of the past. Your old essayist cannot say that he misses girdles or silk stockings, but it is pleasant to ponder the fact that in the age before television came along there were such things. Sears Roebuck has fallen on hard times and, as an economist, I would suggest that it has much to do with the demise of the practice of women wearing girdles.

Now that we have settled the issue of girdles, another question arises about “Do you remember?” There was a time during the 1930s when athlete’s foot was a matter of serious medical concern. During my years in high school, when the boys would take showers following the gym classes, athlete’s foot was a common occurrence. It is not clear to me what causes athlete’s foot but I can tell you that it existed and that once someone had acquired it, it was difficult to rid oneself of it. During my high school years, I had at least two or three cases of athlete’s foot, which had to be treated with a liquid I remember as Camphophenique. Athlete’s foot was so common that advertisements for its cure appeared in almost every newspaper in a small ad at the foot of the newspaper. The pictures in those ads showed athlete’s foot at its worst, with cracking and peeling of the skin around the toes.

I am not here to proclaim that athlete’s foot was an ailment affecting only youngsters but as I also recall there seemed to be no athlete’s foot in the United States Army, where men traipsed in and out of showers at all hours of the day. This of course assumes that one saw service in a location where there were showers. There were occasions when men did not remove their shoes and socks for a few days at a time, yet my recollection is that no one ever seemed to complain of athlete’s foot. I suspect that athlete’s foot went the way of rheumatism, which has now been replaced by the more upscale term of arthritis.

Now that we have disposed of girdles and athlete’s foot, we must turn our attention to Charles Atlas, a gentleman who promised to turn “98-pound” weaklings into 210-pound behemoths. During the years of the Depression, many magazines were adorned with the advertisements of Charles Atlas. There were half pages and full pages, and each one of them showed a man with bulging muscles who contended that he used to be a 98-pound weakling. I never knew anyone who was taken in by the Charles Atlas advertising, but it was good entertainment during the Depression when there was no television or email.

I suspect that Charles Atlas was a man who sold barbells and other weightlifting equipment. That statement is totally unsupported by fact and it flows only from my memory that some of the people who posed for Charles Atlas advertising seemed to be carrying barbells. How it was that he changed a 98-pound weakling into a 210-pound behemoth never was clear while I was reading those magazines, and it remains unclear to this day. Yet there is a certain nostalgia about recalling Mr. Atlas because his advertisements were so widely printed that almost everyone in this country knew who he was. Perhaps your preacher might not have known who Mr. Atlas was, but I suspect that 95% of his congregation would know a good bit about Charles Atlas. I never heard Mr. Atlas being interviewed on radio and it is clear that no one ever referred to him as Charlie Atlas. And so it is up to us old-timers to remember that
Mr. Charles Atlas ever existed.

Now we turn to another pondering that took place during the Depression years. During those years, there was a great drought that settled all over the Mid West and into the plains states, so that the skies were virtually cloudless. From time to time, I assume wealthy advertisers would hire small aircraft to write their messages in the sky. The messages were brief, but they were quite effective, judging by the number of people who seemed entranced by them as the skywriter went about his work.

Skywriters always flew single-engine airplanes, which were of course propeller driven. They must have carried a tube of white exhaust that, when released, could linger in the sky for several minutes. Naturally, I was entranced by skywriting. It seems to me that letters such as “e,” “f,” and “t” should have been the easiest to write. The more difficult letters would be the letters “s” and “b.” My memory is that it would take perhaps ten to fifteen minutes for a skywriter to write his message in the sky. They only wrote the name of the product, and there was great excitement among the viewers after the first letter or two appeared as to what the message would eventually read.

My last exposure to skywriting came, I believe, in the early 1960s, when my family accompanied me to the New Jersey shore. On a cloudless day, a skywriter would appear and would write a message for the benefit of weekend viewers. There was even a romantic occasion when a skywriter wrote “love U” for the benefit of some love-struck youngsters.

No matter how you cut it, I was a draftsman who had a great interest in the formation of letters, here on the earth as well as in the sky. My regret is that I never had the opportunity to ride aloft while the letters were being written. One of my companions as a child always hoped that the skywriter would misspell a word. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened. All the words were correctly spelled and I regret to this day that skywriting is a function of a long-forgotten era.

Now that we have disposed of my pondering about skywriting, let us turn to a pondering about a wonderful entertainer named Burl Ives. Ives was a singer of folk songs who, like many other singers of folk songs, played a guitar. He was the son of a farming family from Jasper County, Illinois. Jasper County is far removed from the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other environs. But in the end, Ives eventually made it to New York where, in 1940, he was given his own radio program. His voice was absolutely distinctive. Fortunately, my ponderings have been helped along because I have several recordings which I have made into compact discs which offer such selections as “Blue-Tail Fly” and “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I am happy to report that folk singing is a vibrant art that has survived the assaults of rock music, hip hop, and other attacks on mankind.

Ives died a few years back at the age of nearly 90. I suspect that a good many of my older readers will recall him fondly. I certainly recall him fondly and my ponderings take me to the point of inquiring, “Where will the future Burl Ives come from?”

There is one other pondering that takes me into the field of religion where I am usually reluctant to go. In this case, however, it is a matter of economic circumstances having overtaken the teachings of a church.

For many years, the Roman Catholic faith has taught the evils of artificial contraception. Simply put, they dislike every form of birth control. The only exception came during recent years when the Vatican reluctantly approved the use of “natural birth control,” which seems to exist only during the time of the infertility of the female. I suspect that there are thousands of unplanned pregnancies that happened with the use of the so-called “natural planning.” My belief is that natural planning worked perfectly if one or both parties were sterile. But be that as it may, it appears that the economic circumstances of the 21st century generally require those who engage in sexual intercourse to use birth control. When one thinks about the cost of raising a child and putting him through college, sometimes at the expense of $50,000 per year, most people will conclude that fewer children are better than many.

Perhaps these economic circumstances came along a little late because your old essayist is the seventh child of an eight child family. But I was born in 1922 and today things are much different. There is a medical group that we patronize that has many nurses who have graduated from Catholic schools. As a general principle, it seems to me that those nurses are producing only one or two children per couple. One nurse had her second child not long ago and proclaimed that “This is it!” These are healthy young women who, I suspect, are not going to live the rest of their married life in celibacy. And so it is that the Popes over the years who have denounced the evil effects of birth control now find their parishioners practicing that art. With the cost of raising a child, particularly for those who plan to send their children to college, I can only say that this is a logical improvement.

Well, there you have six cases of disparate ponderings. Perhaps it can be argued that my ponderings reflect a wandering mind. Naturally, I would not agree with that conclusion but I would argue on the other hand that my ponderings recall an era when life was simpler and perhaps more rewarding. Any man who contends that my pondering about girdles for example is evidence of a disturbed mind will most likely never recall the use of girdles. Whatever my ponderings reveal about my inner soul is probably irrelevant. At my age I am very happy that I have enough cerebral power left to think about things such as girdles, athlete’s foot, Charles Atlas, skywriting, Burl Ives, and birth control. I would argue that men who have those kinds of ponderings ought to be celebrated with caviar, foie gras, and the clinking of champagne glasses.

August 16, 2008


These type of essays do a number on my search history. In one tab I have a whole set of pretty horrible images of Trench Foot (they definitely had that in war, even if athlete’s foot wasn’t a thing), and in the next there are all these hokey old ads for a bodybuilder man. Incidentally the Charles Atlas company, insofar as it still exists, seems to have not updated their advertising since the campaign that made them so famous. It’s a pretty incredible throwback to go to his site.

Girdles and skywriting are both common, too. Skywriting is pretty typical at big events like airshows, and girdles go by “Spanx” now but it’s the same deal. Another fun set of search terms, by the way, is “Spanx” followed by “Burl Ives.” I like to think that somewhere out there is a VERY confused advertising robot who very much would like to figure out what I’m trying to buy, but can’t at all piece together what these terms have to do with one another.


When George W. Bush, our current President, ran for the White House in the year 2000, he announced that his campaign was in conformance with the will of God. No one knows how Bush came into this knowledge, but apparently Bush prevailed and became our 43rd President.

I do not wish to court disaster by a derogatory statement about religion but I would say that George Bush’s election in the year 2000 had much more to do with the predilections of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia than with some deity. Non-religious observers such as myself are left to conclude that George Bush and the eminent Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. Scalia, were both motivated by God and acted in his or her best wishes.

Not long after Mr. Bush assumed the Presidency, he launched the war to invade Iraq. If you remember, that war is still going on and there have been countless casualties and it has contributed heavily to the demise of the American economy. When Bush was told that the former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and Bush’s own father, George H. W. Bush, thought it was folly to try to occupy Baghdad, Bush replied that his father could say whatever he wanted but in a matter such as this, George W. relied on a “higher father.” Because men have only one father, objective observers must be left to conclude that in this case Bush was referring again to God.

Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq shows no sign of coming to a conclusion in the immediate future. The only conclusion that some of us can draw is that apparently God makes mistakes also. I would prefer to believe that this was Mr. Bush’s mistake and that God had very little to do with that war or any other turmoil.

Now we have Sarah Palin, who is the Governor of Alaska and was the recent Vice Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News, Governor Palin had a unique request of God. She apparently believes that there are doors of opportunity to higher office and has implored God to not let her pass up some such door. She has said that if God identifies a viable objective, she will “plow” through such doors. An objective observer such as myself is given to wonderment at what Governor Palin has in mind. Was such a door of opportunity provided when Ms. Palin went on her shopping spree at the expensive stores in the lower 48? I have no idea but clearly the Governor of Alaska must be dressed appropriately when she knocks on these doors that God controls.

In the recent campaign for the Presidential nomination, none of the Democrats said that they were being guided by the divine hand of God, nor did Senator McCain. For that, they are to be commended and it is my guess that it is quite likely that the doors that Governor Palin forgot to open will remain locked tight when she pursues the Presidential nomination in 2012.

But no matter how you cut it, it seems that the Republicans have a lock on God’s thoughts and earthlings such as myself are left to wonder whether the Democrats are infidels. Your old essayist hardly believes that such is the case. And he hopes also that whatever gods there are will respond favorably to Mr. Obama as he takes over this badly tattered economy as its steward for the next four years. I don’t presume to know what is on God’s mind but I fervently hope that his or her thoughts and actions are favorable.

November 16, 2008


God was pretty cool with Obama from ’08-’12, I guess. We’ll see how he feels about Trump. As far as I can tell, Trump isn’t even particularly about paying lip service to the godly crowd. The closest that he’s gotten (relying purely on my memory), is a common soundbite about how his two favorite books are the bible, and ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I’m sure that Trump feels that god should consider Himself lucky that the bible made it into such a prestigious list.


According to the Bible, Methuselah was a gentleman who lived 969 years.
I know this for a fact because it is mentioned on five separate occasions in Genesis 5, in First Chronicles, and in Luke, Chapter 3 Verse 37. So there is no debate about Methuselah’s age. In 1935, George Gershwin wrote an opera called Porgy and Bess. In that opera there is an aria called “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Methuselah is mentioned in this aria where the verse is cited as:

Methus’lah lived 900 years,
Methus’lah lived 900 years,
But who calls dat livin’
When no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s 900 years.

So you see, it is quite clear that the Bible, George Gershwin and the two lyricists, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward, fully confirm my contention that Methuselah was real and once walked among us all.

On December 22, I had my semi-annual visit with Andrew Beamer, my cardiologist. I did not have the courage to bring up Methuselah, but I did ask him, in view of the favorable result of his examination, how long I might be expected to last, given that I would like to outlive the depression that is now occurring in financial circles. Dr. Beamer seemed to support the idea that perhaps I could outlive the depression but I know that in all likelihood, my life span will not approach that of Methuselah. However, it is quite clear that I am in the late innings of my life. And so I wish to take this occasion to remind my descendants about how they may commemorate my passing. Who knows when the passing will take place if Dr. Beamer refuses to speculate on it? But if Methuselah moved on at 969 years, I am reasonably certain that at some point I will move on as well. Nobody knows the cause of Methuselah’s death because the Bible, nor George and Ira Gershwin nor DuBose Hayward have cited it.

Twelve years ago my wife and I visited Paul Ippolito, the local undertaker, and made arrangements with him for our prepaid funeral expenses. At the appropriate time, Ippolito will see to it that a cremation is carried out and that the residue will be finely ground into cremains. That is simply a wedding of the words cremation and remains and will probably not be found in most standard dictionaries. But once the finely-ground cremains are in the hands of my descendants, I have a wish for their disposal.

My parents were the descendants of Irish immigrants, most likely from County Donegal. During her lifetime, Lillie, my mother, stoutly asserted her Irishness. She had never been to Ireland and when, later in her life, I could afford to support such a trip, she was too frail to undertake that journey. My parents knew only that their ancestors had come from Ireland and my guess is that they were probably farmers. Those early ancestors did not have the ability to read and to write, so wound up when they came to this country as sharecroppers or tenant farmers. But Lillie and her sisters were always quick to flail anything of the British and to cheer anything Irish.

When I was a small child, my Aunt Nora used to question me, asking, “Boy, what would you be if you were not Irish?” I soon learned that the answer to that question was, “I would be ashamed.” During World War II when Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, came to this country, my mother read about it in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. One way or another, she assumed that the Prime Minister must be a big shot in the English church. Her question was, “What gives that Englishman any reason to come here to lecture us about our religion?” As you can see, Lillie and Nora and their sisters gave the English no quarter at all.

Given this set of circumstances, I hope that my passing will provide an opportunity to complete the circle. I believe the ghosts of my parents and their ancestors would be pleased to know that among my final wishes was the desire to return to the place that they had left around the year 1850. They did not leave Ireland voluntarily but rather they were forced to leave because of the famine that overtook Ireland during that period of time. I have two daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren, to whom this message is addressed. These, then, are my descendants. There will come a time when the hand wringing will be completed and those descendants are ready to move on. At some point, I would like for one or more or all of those descendants to consider a return trip to County Donegal, the place where it all started. I realize that this is all symbolism but I hold the unshakable view that a return trip to Donegal would be appreciated by the ghosts of my ancestors.

Specifically, it is my hope that a handful or a small cellophane bag, which would hold a few of the cremains, would accompany my descendants on their trip to Ireland. The international airport in Ireland is located at Shannon, on the Atlantic shore. Once the plane has landed there, I would hope that they would transfer to a Ryanair flight for the trip north to Donegal. Ireland is a small country so the trip would take only half an hour or maybe an hour at most. Once in the city of Donegal, they should locate a good hotel, which the county administrators assure me exist in some profusion.

And then there are two things that I would like to have happen. I am assuming that a car would be rented which would convey my descendants around County Donegal until a likely farm could be found. Scattering my cremains on such a farm would be pleasing, I suspect, to the ghosts of my father, my mother and their parents.

Secondly, it is my hope that my descendants who make this trip would find the last likely spot in Donegal from which our ancestors would have left. Perhaps it would be a train or even a boat. As in the case of the farmland, it would be appreciated if a few of my cremains would be deposited on the spot where our ancestors last left their footprints on Donegal soil.

After this work is done, I hope that my descendants will then turn eastward to a town called Howth, located north of Dublin on the Irish Sea. There they will find accommodations provided by the King Sitric Hotel and by its marvelous restaurant. I have enjoyed many glorious meals in that restaurant, so a handful of cremains might be saved to be used somewhere in the town of Howth.

Once the meals have been consumed, it is hoped that there would be a walk up the hill to the Abbey Tavern, where Irish folk music is played to the delight of its visitors. So you see that I have given my descendants light work in spreading cremains on a farm, on the last spot that our ancestors touched, and on the grounds of the King Sitric Hotel.

The remaining cremains should be spread on the waters of the Hudson River at Hoboken. Primarily because I used that ferry landing for perhaps thousands of occasions on my way to and from my place of employment. The remaining cremains can be deposited on the muddy Mississippi River near the site of the MacArthur Bridge in St. Louis, which I crossed on dozens of occasions – successfully.

I am quite aware that the trip to Ireland is an exercise in symbolism. But symbols are a matter of hope and the makers of memories. Beyond that, it should give pleasure to our ancestors to know that the circle has finally been completed after 158 plus years. Anything that achieves all of these objectives can’t be all bad.

Now, as for Methuselah, who was the inspiration for this essay, there is this much to say. He was not an Irish citizen nor an emigrant from that country. But I suspect that his ghost would also be pleased to know that my descendants could return to Donegal in a symbolic trip and enjoy the magnificent meals provided by the King Sitric Restaurant and the fine dining in Donegal. Any trip, symbolic or otherwise, that accomplishes all of these objectives has to be viewed as meritorious in every possible respect. My only regret is that I will not be around to enjoy the trip and the dining. But I guess that in this case you have to play the hand that you have been dealt. It gives me adequate pleasure to know that my descendants will have specific directions and that they will not be stuck with a small barrelful of cremains.

December 26, 2008
Essay 356
Kevin’s commentary: Hell of a list. I wonder if any other stops would be considered now, five years later. Presumably at least some ashes should be left or scattered on Long Hill Drive, yes? Seems like that might be a humble start to an incredible trip that I incidentally do not want to take quite yet. Maybe in another 800-something years.


In ancient times when one king died or was deposed and there was a period before the new king was crowned, it was called an interregnum. Scholars have told me that this term comes from Latin sources. As I attempt to compose this modest essay today on November 25, the American public wants the interregnum to hurry to an end so that the people who drove us into this monumental ditch will be gone and a new administration with fresh faces will take its place.

As bad as things are at the moment, the burden of this essay is to say that it could be worse. To those whose life savings have gone up in smoke with the stock market, I suppose that there will be a challenge to my thought that maybe things could be worse. But as a survivor of the first Depression of 1929, I try to be philosophical about my lost fortune and will try to tell you that it is possible that things could be worse.

Barack Obama was elected on November 4, 2008. He will have to wait 77 days until he is sworn in on January 20, 2009. Contrast that with the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected early in November and was not sworn into office until March 4, 1933. In that case, there were 116 days that composed the interregnum. During that time, Herbert Hoover, intent upon enforcing the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, pursued moonlighters with fervor until he formally gave up the office. In the case at hand today, Mr. Bush seems anxious to get out of town and before he leaves, he wishes to impress upon all of us that government oversight of the markets and financial dealings is not the answer to all our problems. But it was in fact the absence of government oversight during the past administration that contributed heavily to the problem we find ourselves in at this moment. But soon Bush and his cronies will depart the scene, much later than I would have liked, and will in time be confined to the likes of Herbert Hoover and Millard Fillmore.

So at the outset we are confronted by an interregnum of 77 days instead of 116 days, which will tell you that things could have been worse. On that same theme, can you imagine what this crisis would have amounted to if it had occurred perhaps a year or more ago, when George Bush was in full flower? The Bush team is filled with ideologues who have no concept of how the markets operate. The ideologues are given to simplistic solutions, such as “stay the course” in the Iraq war which has resulted in further casualties.

The ideologues are obsessed with the idea of preventing same-sex marriages as well as the morning after pill. Their obsession with sex and religion does nothing to fix our economic problems. Contrast that with the team that Barack Obama has assembled which is short on ideologues but long on brains and logic. If we are going to fix this problem in our economy, it will come about through brain power, not through obsessions with sex and religion.

So there is one more reason that we should be thankful that the crisis is no worse than it is at the moment. I know that this doesn’t make things all right, but at least it goes to my point that things could have been somewhat worse.

Again as a philosopher, I tell myself that I had no job to lose as those in the financial community did in recent weeks and months. The unemployment rate among white collar workers must be staggering. I cannot help but try to think about where those men and women will turn to find new employment, realizing that thousands of their compatriots are looking for work as well. So I had no job to lose, which I suppose is a benefit in and of itself.

When jobs are lost, generally speaking, health care goes with them. If I had no job to lose, in my case health care is still reasonably well taken care of by Medicare insurance. I know that every increase in Social Security benefits is gobbled up by increases in Medicare premiums but be that as it may, it could have been somewhat worse had I lost medical care and my job as well.

Further on the theme of “things could be worse” is the thought that not having a job to lose means that my mortgage on this house is taken care of. As a matter of fact, I have lived in this house for forty years and the mortgage was retired a good many years ago. So I am not fearful that my loss of a job will lead to foreclosure on this house. That in and of itself is a large relief.

Finally, we come to the thought about educating children, particularly in college. As life has worked out for me, my children are beyond the age of fifty and both have been college educated. So that thought no longer troubles me, which makes it clear that, at least in my case, things could have been worse.

Well, there are four or five thoughts which pursue the burden of this essay, that things could have been worse. I fully realize that offering a philosophical thought that things could be worse does not restore your account at the broker’s office. The same is true in my case as well. But as a survivor of the first Depression, it is the duty of every ancient essayist to point out that there may be other considerations that might make one feel a bit better. But having said that, I am chewing my fingernails down to the white knuckles on my fingers in the hope that Treasury Secretary Paulson will soon get out of town, perhaps, in my hope, immediately. This morning Paulson was attempting to explain how his new stimulus package would work. This man is terribly confused and when he started talking the market was up 130 some points. Shortly after his message was delivered, the market was in minus territory by 60 points. How this man ever became the chairman of Goldman Sachs is a mystery to me, just as it is a mystery why George Bush picked him to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Perhaps the explanation for the Bush action was that he was an old crony who is a rich man. But when Paulson sets out to explain a situation to the financial community and to observers such as myself, his thoughts are thoroughly mangled.

But look at it this way. If we had 116 days to deal with Paulson and Bush during the interregnum, we would still have five days left in November, 31 days in December, 31 days in January, 28 days in February, and four days in March. Boys and girls, as bad as the news is, I am here to tell you that things could have been worse. In the parliamentary system of government, when an election takes place, the newly elected appointee assumes office the following day. I intend to devote whatever is left of my great fortune to promoting the parliamentary means of government as an effort to save the citizens of this great country from the interregnums that have taken place in recent years.

November 25, 2008
Essay 349
Kevin’s commentary: It’s always nice to learn new words. Interregnum is one that I was missing. Now, it’s worth noting that this essay is nominally about how things could be worse, but much of it is spent covering how things could be worse for Pop specifically. I remember having similar thoughts back in 2008, mainly along the lines of “gee, I’m glad I don’t have to look for a job for four years.”

Still, though, even if Pop and I skirted by largely unscathed, 2008 was ultimately not comparable to a 30’s-era depression for many people at all. It was bad, of course, but nowhere near that bad. Unless you were making unfortunate investment decisions, anyway.


This essay on sounds has had a delay in reaching the delivery room. It has remained in the womb of my alleged brain because of a fear that some readers might interpret it as a cry for pity. My thoughts on my non-sightedness were distributed in an essay called “Sing No Sad Songs for This Old Geezer.” That essay was circulated more than thirty months ago. The essay that you are holding in your hand is not a cry for pity in any sense. It is in keeping with the desire on my part that no one should ever sing any sad songs for what glaucoma has done to my eyesight.

It is impossible to write an essay about sounds without referring to the immutable fact that sounds now play an important part in substituting for sightedness. I hope this essay will be an exercise in clinical facts, rather than expressing a desire for sympathy or pity. Speaking of clinical facts, this essay was delivered by a C-section performed by Dr. Ezra, the famed surgeon of Carl Schroth’s Mobile Gas Filling Station in Clayton, Missouri. This may be the first C-section ever performed on one’s own self. So if you are inclined to do so, please read this essay and try to see if some of the thoughts expressed herein match your own.

Last week in the early morning hours, I felt a need to visit la or le latrine. I sleep on a brass bed with large posts on each of the four corners. I took my white cane, which is always at my side, and I tapped it against one of the four posts. The brass bed returned a metallic sound. Following the foot of the bed, I made my way to the bathroom, where the white cane was tapped repeatedly on the tiles of the bathroom floor. A dull sound emanated therefrom. So here in the early morning hours I had experienced two sounds. At that point, I located my talking clock, which told me that the time was 4:01 AM, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. The window was open and I could hear a dog barking. So this makes a total of four sounds in this short nocturnal visit to the bathroom. Dogs do not care about such goofiness’s as Daylight Savings Time, but in any case in this short trip, I had encountered four different sounds. It was at this point that I decided there would be some merit in composing an essay having to do with sounds.

Natural law has provided that dogs are allowed to bark, to whine, and to whimper. They may also lick your hand or bite your leg. On the other hand, Shannon, our wonderful cat of 14 years, rarely had anything to say except when he was stepped on. From time to time, Shannon would purr, but that was about it. Those of us who know a little bit about farming know that cows moo, horses neigh, mules and donkeys say “hee haw,” and hamsters tend to squeak. This is all in accordance with natural law. Professor Doctor James Reese, who has a degree in animal husbandry from the Moody Bible Institute, plans to write a book interpreting these sounds. The proposed book is listed in the New York Times as a mystery.

Leaving the animals with four feet, we find that natural law also provides that two-footed animals enjoy the right to make sounds. The bird feeder in our back yard is swarmed by all kinds of birds who twitter and tweet.
The male cardinal, who is, in my estimation the most beautiful of birds, puts out a grunt as he approaches the bird feeder to enjoy an evening meal at dusk. The woodpecker has his own song, in addition to the sound of peck, peck, pecking. It has always been my great pleasure to hear the songs of the mocking bird. I am aware that mocking birds have a limited repertoire, and there is redundancy in the songs that they sing. Nonetheless, I take great pleasure in their singing from a telephone wire or from the trees.

Speaking of singing, a sound that pleases me endlessly, there is also the sound of the human voice. Opera tenors and sopranos try to hit high Cs; basses try to hit low Cs, and crooners such as the late Bing Crosby and Perry Como croon their musical messages. The juvenile screeching that attempts to pass as rock and roll music is not singing at all. It is an abomination and should be banned from the airwaves and from CDs. If I were asked to name the musical sounds of the human voice that please me most, I would probably choose the magnificent music of Umberto Giordano, who wrote “André Chénier” and a second opera called “Fedora.” The themes and melodies in both those operas are nothing short of gorgeous, which is a term that I am using for the first time in 343 essays.

For reasons unknown to me, I believe that tenors in the opera world are not very tall. To increase their height and to make them appear more manly, some of them wear shoes with two or three inches in the heel. Those build-ups are made of leather, and persons who use leather in the heels of their shoes often make a clicking sound when they walk. Sopranos find this clicking sound entirely seductive, or so I am told.

Our industrial base in this country, including the shoe industry, barely exists now. Shoe making has been farmed out to other nations with low wages. As a consequence, leather heels no longer offer sounds of their own, because they are now made of a composite substance sort of like rubber. Cobblers who used to repair shoes and sing with mouthfuls of tacks may be found only in the unemployment lines. As a younger man, I was a devotee of leather heels and from time to time, I would have taps attached to those heels not to attract attention but rather to absorb some of the wear and tear on the heels themselves. But those days are gone and now I wear shoes from Portugal, Korea, China, and Siam.

Before leaving the sounds of heels, I have an admission to make. When women wear what I believe are called Cuban heels with leather as the main component, and walk on surfaces inside, such as hallways, the tap tap tap of those heels proves very seductive to me. Unhappily and unfortunately, I don’t hear the sound of leather heels much these days. But I am glad that my views on their seductiveness have been made public, which tends to put my soul and gall bladder to rest with great peace.

In addition to operas, there are beautiful sounds that are made by our orchestras, symphonies, and philharmonics as well as by choirs and folk singers. The sounds that come from these sources can keep me entranced for hours and are captivating.

Turning from the world of music, there is a word or two to be said about the construction industry. On this street, there is a lovely house being torn down to make way for a much bigger and lovelier house in its place. The men who scoop up the bricks use a front loader, which has a big broad shovel in the front. From time to time, the driver of the front loader drops the shovel on the street, which causes a sound which is not musical but is impressive. The trucks that trundle up and down the street to haul the debris away have sounds of their own that tell you that they are not to be trifled with.

Next door there is a remodeling project being undertaken where circular saws as well as hand saws are being used. The circular saw has a whine of its own and one can tell when the workers are using hand saws. I am unable to tell you whether the hand saws are cross-cut or whether they are rip saws. But the sound of men sawing wood is pleasant. The whine of the circular saw also tends to remind me of dentists who use the newer high-speed drills. They whine much like the circular saw but they get the job done promptly, whereas the older drills have no whine to them at all but their burring sounds carry into the waiting room and cause apprehension there.

The hammers on the remodeling project have a sound of their own. When the claw hammers hit their target, there is a sharp retort. When the sledge hammers are swung, there is a firm retort. When ball pean hammers are used, a ping emanates.

I have no hope whatsoever of recording all of the sounds that come to mind. But before we go further, there is the cacophony of sounds that come from children playing at recess or at lunch hours. The Saint Rose of Lima School and Church has a playground that abuts the sidewalk which is only a few feet from one of the main streets in our town. When the children play there, they make all kinds of sounds, most of them of a joyous nature. They are having a brief respite from their scholarly duties and are sent by their teachers to the playground to “let off steam”. It has always been my pleasure to go by that corner when the children are playing because it makes me feel inspired.

Three or four blocks from the place where the children of Saint Rose of Lima play, there is a railroad track. Across from the Short Hills Train Station are the post office and the pharmacy. On many occasions when there is a need to go to the post office or the pharmacy, my wife tends to those duties while I sit in the car with the window down. The window is down to better hear the sounds of trains pulling into and leaving the station. Sometimes they ring bells and from time to time they blow their whistles. When a work train passes by, it often uses a whistle whose sounds are in the lower registers of the scale. The sound of the work train whistle is loud and insistent, and tells you that it is important to get off the tracks promptly.

I am quite certain that I have only scratched the surface of the sounds that exist in this world. There must be trillions of them every minute of the day. I cannot hope to list them all. There are sounds of pleasure and sounds of agony. There are sounds of satisfaction just as there are sounds of dissatisfaction. But in the end, I am pleased that the world of sounds exists. The sounds that I hear are basically pleasurable.

We made the decision to buy the four post brass bed years before the scourge of glaucoma took its final bite. Perhaps that was prescient, but I am here to tell you that the sound of the brass bed is now music to my ears. And as for the dog who inspired this essay on sounds to be written, if he can be located, I will give him a copy of this monumental work called “Sounds” for his own pleasure. In the future it is to be hoped that instead of barking at 4:00 AM, he will read this essay and know that the early morning hours are to be reserved for dreams of tranquility.

When I set out to write this little essay about sounds, I clearly bit off more than I could chew. As I said earlier, there are trillions of sounds every second of the day throughout the world. Of the trillions of sounds, my own mind treasures the sound of the ringing of a locomotive’s bell and its whistles and by the sound of children playing. So you see, it does not take much to put me into a pleasant state of mind.

May 22, 2008
Essay 313
Kevin’s commentary: An easy favorite. To me, this essay was an aural version of the phrase “stop and smell the roses.” I depend on sound all the time, but rarely do I just stop and listen. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go up to the roof of my office and give it a shot.


For intellectuals who have no desire to know about sports, perhaps I should explain that the title has to do with a post-season football game. I was baffled myself until I looked into this matter and found that Papa John was a pizza maker serving the tastes of the citizens of such states as Alabama. As I write this on December 27th, the game will be played on Monday at 3 PM on December 29th in Birmingham, Alabama. The fact that the game will be played on a Monday afternoon at 3 PM will tell you that only a handful of the media, including television will be interested in the proceedings.

The opposing teams have records slightly above the 500 mark. North Carolina State, with its seven and five record, must be considered the favorite over Rutgers, the representative of the great state of New Jersey, which has a six and five record. In my own case, I spend about ten minutes over the span of a long season thinking about college football. The games have no interest to me, even though I am a sports fan. But when I found out that Rutgers, a local college team, would be in the Papa Bowl game, my interest perked up.

The major thing that intrigued me was that the purveyor of pizzas, in this case, called himself “Papa John.” Because pizzas have an Italian background, it would seem logical for the people who offer them for sale to call themselves such names as La Strada or La Fortza. But Papa John has no truck with foreign languages. He simply calls his concoctions the Papa John pizza.

A few years back, before pro-football gained a hold on the American sporting public, there was great interest in determining the leading college football team. In those days, the college season ended around December 1st and a selection process followed until there were two contenders. The game that decided the college champion was played on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. But then other promoters got into the act. There was the Cotton Bowl game, played in Texas, and it was soon followed by the Orange Bowl game, played in Florida. In the last several years, post-season bowl games have proliferated. I gather that Meineke, who makes automotive equipment such as mufflers for automobiles, now decided to have his own game. And so I suspect that it is logical that a pizza maker from Alabama would want to get into the act. Clearly, this is a cross-cultural event of the greatest magnitude.

For many years, Rutgers had been tempted by the idea of becoming a major football powerhouse. They have recruited players from all over the country rather than concentrating on New Jersey kids. Rutgers has now built an enormous new stadium, which attracts much less than a capacity crowd. The coach of the team, a Mr. Schiano, is paid a handsome salary, but in a side deal he also has collected a payment of more than $200,000 from the deposed athletic director to keep him contented. A few weeks before the Papa John Bowl game was announced, the athletic director was fired. Now the state legislature, which regards Rutgers football as its own toy, has demanded that the President of Rutgers be fired as well. The two men are Mulcahy and McCormick, and I hesitate to take sides because they are both proper Irishmen.

I have lived in New Jersey since the fall of 1955. It seems to me that every year Rutgers has promised to turn out a football powerhouse, and every year they have limped into obscurity at the end of the season with a record of 500 or less. My thought has been that rather than wasting their money on recruiting football players and building a new stadium, Rutgers should put their resources into building an outstanding educational institution.

Obviously, I have no influence whatsoever on Rutgers and it seems that they are determined to pour wheelbarrows full of cash into their football program. But a curious thought enters my mind at this point. Suppose that an entrepreneur in Milan decided to test chitlins and gravy on his customers. Is it possible that the Milanese restaurant owner would sponsor a soccer bowl game called the La Scala Chitlins and Gravy Bowl? And then let us suppose someone in Rome took the idea of offering po’ boy sandwiches to his clientele. Suppose he were to offer a bowl game of some sort. He might call it the Benito Mussolini Po’ Boy Spectacle. Perhaps the equivalent of the Super Bowl game could be played in Piza. Conceivably, there could be the “Leaning Tower of Piza Hambone and Grits Bowl.” This only seems as fair play to me. If Papa John can offer pizzas to his southern American customers, I see no reason why the Milanese, the Romans and the peasants of Piza could not enjoy the finest products of American cuisine and culture.

My guess is that the Papa John Pizza Bowl contest will pass into obscurity where it truly belongs. But as it makes its passage through history, I wanted the readers of Ezra’s essays to know of its existence. I don’t eat many pizzas but never again will I consume one without thinking of Papa John and his bowl game to be played this coming Monday.

December 27, 2008
Essay 357
Kevin’s commentary: I think Pop would be interested to hear about a Japanese baseball team called the Nippon Ham-Fighters. He may already know of this team, being quite the baseball fan. For the uninformed, Nippon ham is a food processing company over in the land of the rising sun, which bought a team from Tokyo called the Fighters.
When I think of Japanese food, I certainly don’t think of Ham, so maybe these guys are taking steps in the right direction. Maybe someday the Ham Fighters can play in that Po’ Boy Spectacle, and it would be the tastiest game of all time.


I first became acquainted with jelly beans more than 80 years ago from a grocer in Brentwood, Missouri who served our family. His name was John Gualdoni, who kept a store where all of the merchandise was stacked on counters behind clerks’ heads. As each item was purchased, it was put on a counter in front of the patron. When all of the merchandise was in front of the clerk, he would put the totals near each other on a brown paper bag and then add them. This was in the days before there were such things as computers or adding machines.

I came to learn that Mr. Gualdoni kept two large jars, one of which contained jaw breakers and the other one contained jelly beans. Those were essentially the deserts that Mr. Gualdoni had to offer. And so it was that I began my love affair with jelly beans a long time ago.

A year or so ago, our drug store began to carry a line of jelly beans called Jelly Belly Beans. They are delicious and I give credit to the jelly bean industry. Shortly thereafter, a Whole Foods opened a large store in our neighborhood and provided jelly beans called “Jolly Beans.” Jolly Beans are not as delicious as Jelly Belly Beans but I find both of them very pleasant. Whole Foods concentrates on serving organic products. I have no idea whether Jolly Beans are an organic product, but they taste quite well and I am not interested in finding out whether they are organic or not.

In looking up the history of jelly beans, we are told by Mr. Google that their history goes back to biblical times where they were originally called “Turkish Delights.” I am forced to conclude that any product that has satisfied the taste buds of consumers for more than 2,000 years must be meritorious in all respects. If they have any deficiencies, I am unaware of them, and after 80 years of eating jelly beans, it is my intention not to stop at this point. I hope to be eating jelly beans when the undertaker comes to carry me away.

Now we turn to a totally unrelated subject. That is blue jeans, which have no relation whatsoever to jelly beans. While my love affair with jelly beans goes back to the mid 1920s, I came lately to the wearing of blue jeans. Perhaps it was a prejudice, in that I saw teenagers who had deliberately torn the knees of their blue jeans apart to expose that part of their bodies, which maybe was a sex symbol to other teenagers. For all the years that I worked around the house and cut the grass and climbed on the roof, I tended to wear what were known as “work pants” or old khakis. Then about ten years ago, my wife produced a pair of blue jeans which she had bought over the internet. In the years since that purchase, I have found that blue jeans are a very useful accessory to be worn when doing chores around the house. But they have a drawback or two that must be accounted for.

In the first place, blue jeans have no button or zipper on the rear pockets. Men usually place their wallets in their left rear pockets. When this is done, absent a button or a zipper to give them a permanence to that location, it is an open invitation for pickpockets to lift the wallet. It is for this reason that when I go to the grocery store I must use a shirt with a pocket in it to hold my wallet so that if I meet a pick pocket he will not be rewarded.

Blue jeans are cut in a fashion that requires the front pockets to be entered from the top rather than, as in regular trousers, from the side. In an ordinary pair of pants, change and bills can be retrieved from the front pockets even while seated. However when blue jeans are worn, it is necessary for the wearer to stand up while he retrieves bills and change from his front pockets.

These are minor inconveniences because blue jeans provide the wearer with long service. They are made of cotton which does not necessarily provide much warmth but their thickness seems to give comfort to those of us who wear them now and then.

Well, there you have my thoughts about jelly beans and blue jeans, which is a relief from thinking about what is happening in the stock market and the antics of politicians who are vying to provide us with buyouts, bailouts, and/or rescue packages. As in the case of jelly beans, which I said I would like to be eating until I am taken away by Ippolito, the undertaker, I hope that when that occasion happens he might find me in my well-worn blue jeans. Blue jeans may not be the best trousers in the world, but until something better comes along, I must say that blue jeans fill the bill quite adequately. I know that an essay about jelly beans and blue jeans will not alter the course of the world, but from time to time it is pleasant to think of the mundane in place of cosmic things.

December 7, 2008
Essay 353
Kevin’s commentary: Growing up both a) in the nineties and b) in Austin meant that unless I was wearing shorts, I was pretty much expected to be wearing blue jeans all the time. They were simply the default pants for kids in the 90s. I mention that I grew up in Austin because it is famous for being “low key” — you can wear blue jeans out to almost any restaurant, for instance, and nobody is going to be upset with you for not wearing sufficiently fancy clothing.

The only job I’ve ever had where blue jeans were not permitted in the office lasted only ten weeks. While the dress code wasn’t the reason I left, it was one of the earliest warning signs.