Archive for the December 2008 Category

GOING HOME …. SYMBOLICALLY

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.

E. E. CARR
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.

THE PAPAJOHN.COM BOWL GAME

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 John.com 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.

E. E. CARR
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.

JELLY BEANS AND BLUE JEANS

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.

E. E. CARR
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.

GETTING CALIFORNIA STYLE PRIORITIES RIGHT

Chuck Scarborough has been broadcasting the evening news on NBC in New York City for at least 12 or 15 years. During that time, his sidekick has been a spirited black woman named Sue Simmons. Scarborough’s demeanor comes off as something between sober and dour. When Christmas week arrived this year, Scarborough was to read a promotion for another NBC program. Apparently it was named “Away in a Manger” but a pesky “a” snuck into Scarborough’s script. And so it was that Scarborough announced that the program would be called “Away in a Manager.” He mistook manager for manger on two occasions before he stopped himself and more or less said “What the hell is going on here?” Sue Simmons was beside herself with laughter. Scarborough was not amused and I suspect that some typist or proof reader may find himself in the unemployment line for his mistake.

Another mistake took place in California in the recent elections this fall which has much more significance than Scarborough’s misreading of his script. In the recently completed election in California, there was a so-called Proposition 8 which in effect would bar gay marriages. I believe that it defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, which of course would bar marriages between people of the same sex.

The campaign was financed heavily by evangelical churches and by the Mormons. Rick Warren, who is to deliver the invocation at Obama’s swearing-in ceremony for the Presidency, is an evangelical and he led the fight along with the Mormon Church, which also contributed heavily toward the financial end of the bargain.

With all of the world’s woes hanging like an albatross around our necks, it remains a mystery why same-sex marriages have such a fatal attraction for evangelicals and the Mormon Church, to say nothing of other sects. But when the votes were counted, there were enough tallies to amend the California constitution to add a bar on marriages between people of the same gender. Rick Warren and the Mormons cast this as a great crusade that they will take to other jurisdictions in forthcoming elections.

Now before going forward, I think it is important that you should know that your essayist has always been a straight man. As far as I can recall, no homosexual thoughts have ever crossed my mind. On the other hand, since I was 13 years of age or thereabouts, I was aware of people who were inclined toward the homosexual life. In those times, it was often referred to as being “queer.”

In my enjoyment of life in New York, for example, I was aware that I was being entertained by homosexual people and that many of them were preparing my restaurant food. To put it succinctly, I have always held the view that the homosexual life is different from mine, but that is no reason to bar it. In former years, there were those who were dedicated to the imposition of slavery on their fellow men. But if I lived in those times, I would have seen no reason to join in their effort to stamp on the necks of people who had a different coloration of their skin than mine.

A good many of the evangelicals, or perhaps all of them, as well as the Mormons will contend that man is created in God’s image. For purposes of argument, let us assume that such is the case. If that is true, it must be assumed that God, or some other creator, created homosexual people, because I do not remember the Scriptures that God created everyone except queer people. Are we to conclude that God or some other divine creature made a colossal mistake when he created homosexual men and women? For people of faith, I believe that they will adopt such an attitude with great peril to their own belief system.

But my point goes more specifically to the evangelicals. During the first 13 years of my life, my parents forced me to attend services at a variety of evangelical churches. I hated every minute of it. The last such church I attended was called The Free Will Baptist Church, where organs and pianos were barred from accompanying the hymns. The reason for this ban was that those instruments did not exist when Jesus was alive. When I pointed out to the authorities such as the Sunday school teacher that my father’s Studebaker automobile which brought us to Sunday services at the church, did not exist in the time of Jesus as well, my expression was met with a stony stare.

As you can tell by this time, I assume, I do not hold evangelicals in high regard. Let me go one step further with evangelicals. It is a common fact that some of them grow tobacco. The evangelicals exist in warm climates such as Virginia and the Carolinas where tobacco is grown. When push comes to shove, the medical facts are that tobacco causes all sorts of cancers and other human ailments.

From sometime in 1938 until March of 1956, your old essayist was a heavy smoker. During those years, it was commonplace for him to be felled by chest colds at least two or three times per year. The fact is that there were occasions when I smoked as much as three packs per day. During my hitch in the American Army, the PXs sold cigarettes at five cents per pack which encouraged their use. But in March of 1956, I concluded that I was not going to live for long if I continued smoking. So I quit. Cold turkey.

Two events marked this cessation of smoking. Rita Snedicker, my boss’s secretary, confidently predicted that my quitting would be of short duration. It has gone on now for more than 52 years. The second great event is that shortly after my cessation of smoking, my wife announced that there was a baby on the way. Prior to that occasion, there had been no pregnancies and perhaps that was a miracle of some sort.

But my point is very simple. Evangelicals are hip-deep in the production of tobacco. Ask any Virginian or North Carolinian. Furthermore, ask any medical counselor about whether there is any virtue in smoking cigarettes. If you have the courage to ask such a question, I am sure that the medical counselor will question your sanity. The fact is that tobacco causes all sorts of illnesses including cancer.

But given all these facts, have you seen Rick Warren, the superb pastor of the Saddleback church in California or any of the Mormon leaders attempting to attach a constitutional amendment to any state constitution barring the use of tobacco? The fact is that the church leaders have never attempted to bar an agent that is widely known as an agent of death. Instead they have concentrated their efforts on banning same-sex marriages. Now the question that I have to pose here is whether anyone has ever heard of a fatality resulting from a marriage between people of the same gender. The fact is that gay people get married because they love each other. Heterosexual people do the same thing. Gay people who marry are in the position of prolonging life, not shortening it.

So may I say here that the evangelicals and the Mormons and the other people of faith who voted for Proposition 8 have their priorities significantly screwed up. If they want a constitutional ban, they might start with tobacco rather than same-sex marriages which never killed anyone.

Now as to Chuck Scarborough’s reading of the script that contained the error between manger and manager. A cynic such as myself might say to the person who typed that script that he should go for the cycle, as they say in baseball. As long as he or she is being fired, he might give Scarborough a script that reads:

Away in a manager
No crab for his heap.

As everyone knows, mistakes happen and surely during the season of Christmas they ought to be forgiven, even by a sobersides such as Chuck Scarborough.

E. E. CARR
December 25, 2008
Essay 355
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Merry Christmas, everybody! I’ve never understood the dual fixations of abortions and gay marriage, both of which are almost by definition unable to affect anyone but the people who are getting them. If you don’t like gay marriages, don’t get gay married. If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one. Except that in the latter case, tons of people who are nominally “pro-life” end up getting abortions themselves when they decide that their circumstances are particularly extenuating. For instance, something like 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. There’s no way that about half of those aren’t coming from conservative people who would probably say that they were ‘Pro-life’ when questioned.

Basically the idea that the government should be legislating our sex lives is insane, and even those advocating for it are deeply hypocritical when their own interests are concerned.

EZRA’S CLEAVAGE

The reference to cleavage in the title of this essay is mainly a snare and a delusion. The cleavage reference was used as a titillating device to persuade the reader to wrestle with the rest of the essay. I offer no apologies for the misleading title in that the cleavage reference and the titillation will be explained to all readers presently.

At heart, this essay is a tribute to safety pins and their contribution to worldwide society. I suspect that safety pins have been with us for perhaps the last 200 years, but no one has made an appropriate tribute to their utility and beauty.

I am assuming that everyone knows how the safety pin is contoured and the use for which it is intended. It is the pin with a clasp on one end with a metal rod which has a coil in it being attached to the clasp. The coil serves as a spring and is intended to hold the pin tightly closed when the rod is returned to the clasp. Safety pins come in all sizes and for perhaps hundreds of years have been securing garments and other objects of affection. When such a pin is used to secure a female undergarment, the size is demure and will occupy less than a half inch of space. Those of us with bigger needs and failing eyesight require larger pins in the two and a half to three inch variety.

Those of us with 100,000 miles on the odometer may recall that our first garment after delivery from the womb was a diaper, which was secured on each side by a safety pin. In those days there was no such thing as diaper service. Whenever there was a diaper to be changed, it was a matter of unhooking the clasps on the safety pins, cleaning up the baby’s bottom, and then installing a new diaper, using the same safety pins that had secured the first diaper. Women seemed to have a knack for using safety pins. In the diaper changing operation, I have seen women holding the safety pins in their teeth and continuing their conversations without interruption. I never achieved this level of expertise because I was concerned about sticking the pin in the baby or, alternatively, in my hand. I have never cut and run when there was a diaper to be changed, but the fact is that my level of expertise never approached that of a graduate student.

When I no longer needed diapers, in the 1920s, boys in those days wore knickers. The fly on the knickers was equipped with perhaps four buttons followed by a larger button at the top which held the pants together at the waistband. When the large button came loose, as it often did because of excessive wear at the waist band, the only saving grace was a safety pin which held the pants in place until someone replaced the button. It was during this period that bullies on the playground would sometimes make a vigorous pass at another boy’s fly and tear the buttons loose. On those occasions, the teachers often came to the rescue by having a supply of safety pins in their desks. The teachers who were always females would remind the boys that in repairing the damage to their flies, they should retire to the boys’ room and not perform that operation in full view of the classroom.

My recollection is that zippers on the flies of men’s trousers did not come into full use until sometime after 1945 and the end of World War II. I remember vividly asking my parents to send me a spool of Coats’s Number 9 thread with some buttons and safety pins. At this point of course, I am speaking about military uniforms. When a button came loose on a military uniform or work pants, which were called fatigues, the repair was more or less up to the individual soldier. All during my 28 months overseas, I carried my Coats’s Number 9 thread and some buttons as well as a goodly supply of safety pins. Other soldiers came to know that my supply of buttons, thread, and safety pins was available to soldiers who showed the proper attitude. There were some bases that had laundries. My recollection is that those laundries were not given to gentle care of fabrics and that it was not unusual for garments to be returned with missing buttons. Nearly every soldier had a small sewing kit with a needle, or several needles, a little bit of thread, a few buttons, and a small supply of safety pins. Because most soldiers did not want to take the time, or perhaps lacked the expertise, to sew on buttons, they used the safety pins instead of replacing the buttons. It is obvious that safety pins have played an important part in my long life, and in the successful outcome of the Second World War. In this little essay it is my intention to salute safety pins.

One other item having to do with baseball comes to mind. As a child growing up during the Depression and then as a soldier, where baseball equipment was hard to come by, it was necessary to get maximum use out of every ball, glove, and bat. On one base in Africa, I can remember that when a baseball game was to be played, it was necessary to go to the quartermaster and take the equipment from a chest, which he guarded like a mother hen looking over her chicks.

In those cases, the men in the field got double use out of their gloves because both teams used the same gloves. For example, when a shortstop or a second baseman changed sides, he would leave his glove on the field so that it could be used by the opposing team. Those of us who had come of age during the Depression accepted this as a matter of course. There was a single button that held the glove on the hand. When a button was torn from an infielder’s glove, we also found that safety pins in large sizes would work reasonably well. So you see that safety pins had civilian as well as military uses.

Now I arrive at the point where, as I told you in the beginning, this essay has a degree of snare and delusion attached to it. I came into this world with safety pins adorning my first garment. The other night, in my 87th year, it became cold and I went to the closet to retrieve a heavier nightshirt. That particular nightshirt has the first button several inches below the collar, which exposes my throat and, worst of all, it discloses my cleavage. In fact, my cleavage is nothing to brag about except for the scars where my chest was opened on two occasions to permit surgeons to do their work replacing the aortic valve and giving me a heart bypass operation. But as life passes me by in these late innings, it turned out that a safety pin was exactly what the doctor prescribed. A two-inch safety pin in my expert hands fastened the nightshirt closed at the throat, which provided me with great comfort and protected by innate modesty.

So you see that when I entered this life and this evil world, safety pins had much to do with my well being. Now as my life draws to a close, safety pins are providing the same comforting assurances. Before I take my leave of this life, it seemed to me that paying a tribute to the utility and beauty of safety pins had to be in order. For those of you who were misled by the reference to cleavage in the title, I offer my conditional apologies for the seductive use of the English language. On the other hand, those of you who believed that this essay had salacious content, I offer my congratulations.

E. E. CARR
December 16, 2008
Essay 354
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: You know, I was trying to fashion a makeshift curtain the other day by fastening two smaller curtains together. Unfortunately I had no safety pins at the time and was forced to give up the effort. I don’t see them so much anymore, and they certainly aren’t available in my bedroom drawers. I’ll have to keep some in stock going forward.

Curious readers can find more thoughts on buttons and zippers here and here respectively. Perhaps I’ll introduce a section in praise of (relatively) modern everyday objects.

“YOU AIN’T TORE YOUR BRITCHES YET” – BILL KNAPP, CIRCA 1950

In the hills and bogs of this great country, there is a language spoken which is a derivative of the English language. That derivative is called “country speak.” If, for example, you follow the announcements of Richard Shelby, the U.S. Senator from Alabama, you will notice that he pronounces the word “can’t” as “caint.” This is a good start on speaking country speak. If you were to use the term “hisself” rather than “himself,” that would practically make you a full practitioner of this language.

In the past week, there were two events that collided in my brain. One had to do with a friendly evaluation by Bill Knapp, who was one of my supervisors in 1950, and the other has to do with the precipitous drop in the price of crude oil by the barrel. I will do my best to make some sense out of this cerebral collision.

The subject at hand here today is the garment that men wear on the lower half of their bodies. In country speak, that garment is usually referred to as “britches.” When country speakers become contaminated by exposure to city folk, they ordinarily begin to call britches by the urban term of “pants.” If one were to use the term “trousers” instead of britches, I suspect that the country speaker would either profess ignorance or say that you would be too uppity for his taste. And so today this essay will have to do with the unadorned term “britches.”

In 1950, I was an employee of the AT&T Company in its plant department in St. Louis. For a time I reported to Bill Knapp, a Texan who often used country speak to convey his messages. For many of us, including myself, Bill Knapp could do no wrong. Bill had been an Army Captain in the Second World War, which set him apart from all of the other supervisors in St. Louis. He was a down-to-earth man whose observations made eminent sense to all of us. Obviously, I liked Bill Knapp but his bosses, specifically including a man named Bill Heywood, did not care for Bill Knapp.

Before this essay is finished, I hope to get to Mr. Heywood. But in any case, the local union in St. Louis in the Long Lines Department of AT&T had been dominated for many years by craftsmen working in the test room three or four miles from the division administrative offices. Those of us who worked in the administrative offices thought that the administration of the union was taking us in the wrong direction and so we mounted a vigorous campaign to oust the current leadership. The campaign was successful and in 1950 I became the President of Local 6350 of the Communications Workers of America.

My desk was immediately in front of Bill Knapp so that he could see nearly every move I made. In the corner office a few feet forward sat Mr. Heywood at a walnut desk which came with a secretary and minions to answer the phone whenever his secretary was away to eat lunch. The bosses in the administrative offices were much aware of my efforts to become President of the local, because of its high publicity. Not long after my having become President of Local 6350, Bill Knapp said to me about my work for the union that “You ain’t tore your britches yet.” Bill meant this as a compliment and as a speaker of country speak, I understood it perfectly. His message was, “Try not to get your britches torn while you take care of your company duties and its natural protagonist, the union.”

Now as to Mr. Heywood. During this period I came into possession of a letter that Heywood had written to Bill Knapp’s boss. In the letter, Heywood complained that Bill Knapp’s performance was not making a positive contribution towards Heywood’s career. I suspect that the letter was leaked to me by one of the secretaries but I said nothing. To the extent, that if I buddied up with Bill Knapp, it would give Mr. Heywood more ammunition to contend that such action did not contribute toward his advancement. As things finally turned out, Bill Heywood got into a discussion with Henry Killingsworth, the boss of the whole Long Lines Department, and seemed to have insulted Killingsworth. Within a year or so, when the Long Lines Department was reorganized and a new office was established in Kansas City, Mr. Heywood found that he had been clearly demoted. The walnut desk was gone, to be replaced by a metal desk. The secretary was gone, to be replaced by no one. I was a low-level supervisor by that time in Kansas City and had much to do with furnishing the office needs for Mr. Heywood. He took his come-down extremely hard and, rather than saying “It serves you right,” I was moved to sympathize with him because I thought Killingsworth was a colossal bastard. Within 18 months, Heywood died of congestive heart failure which, in my humble opinion, was largely attributable to his come-down with his view of himself and his career with AT&T.

It might be argued that Mr. Heywood had gotten too big for his britches and that the bosses in New York had cut him off at the knees. I fully agree that Heywood had gotten a bit too big for his britches but his demotion and ultimate death were a bit more than I could understand. At this point, it might be observed that I witnessed Heywood’s come-down because the company had selected me for a management position and had promoted me. So I suspect that Bill Knapp’s evaluation of “You ain’t tore your britches yet” may have been on point.

Now we come to another case of people getting too big for their britches. For the past two or three years, the world has watched as the price of crude oil has advanced inexorably toward new limits. Gasoline, of course, is made from crude oil, and as the cost of gasoline increased, people were forced to look for other means of transportation. But the oil-producing states simply said that that is the new reality. The oil producers said that in a short time, consumers would have to accommodate the desires of the Indians and the Chinese for great amounts of oil and so it has become quite dear to everybody.

The Russians have produced a good bit of oil recently and, with the rise in prices, they could envision Russian hegemony over much of Europe and perhaps the rest of the world. To a large measure, the Russians were saying to the United States that “Now we have the upper hand and you must get acquainted with becoming the second fiddle.”

Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading producer of crude oil and on two occasions the United States dispatched, first, Vice President Cheney and then President Bush to go to the Saudis, hat in hand, to ask them to increase their production so that the price would drop. In both cases, the President and the Vice President of this country were told to kindly get lost.

I suspect that the other countries that were producers of oil could envision taking their earnings from oil sales and turning them into a caliphate which would convert Christians into Muslims. In Venezuela Hugo Chavez started to nationalize other industries in that country and patronize the United States by sending us cut-rate crude so that people in such places as the Bronx in New York were able to heat their homes this winter. It may be that Chavez was the man who was probably the leading contender for being too big for his britches.

The Nigerians, who draw “sweet oil” from the earth, which is highly desirable, cannot seem to agree on anything and their efforts to cash in on the world market were thwarted by their antagonism toward each other.

The Iranians who had all of this crude oil to offer on the world market have very few refineries of their own and, as a result, their drivers are often forced to wait in long lines at stations that offer them petroleum products. Unfortunately, the United States and Western Europe are not producers of great amounts of crude oil and, for some time, it appeared that the whip handle was in someone else’s hands. We were either going to pay the price, exorbitant as it was, or we would be forced to walk or take the trolley or the bus.

But then some events took place that mystified all of us. As it turned out, the Chinese had some financial woes of their own and the thought that they were going to require perhaps a billion cars disappeared. The same happened to the Indians who had pinned their hopes on small-engined cars to take them out of their rickshaws and put them in automobiles. For the United States, which is the leading consumer of oil products, the price had gotten to staggering proportions and our fellow Americans were forced to resort to public transportation and, for vacations, to stay at home. May I suggest that this isn’t all bad?

In any event, it is reasonably clear that the oil producers had grown much too big for their own britches. On July 11, 2008 the cost of a barrel of crude oil was $147.27. In the next five months, a spigot in that barrel of oil must have come loose and the price has dropped in the first week of December to something on the order of $42. That is a loss of 72%, which is even greater than the losses that some of us have encountered in the American stock market. On top of this, there are forecasters who contend that the price of crude oil will continue to drop and will not settle until it reaches the $30 level. One commentator said it would drop to $20. I don’t believe that commentator. So as you see, it is obvious that the producers of crude oil have grown much too big for their own britches and no one sympathizes with them now that they are forced to undergo a form of poverty.

A passing thought in that the Saudis have a tanker that is longer than three football fields loaded with oil that has been hijacked by pirates from Somalia. In the length of time that the pirates have held the ship hostage, the cost of the oil has dropped from about $140 a barrel to around $40 a barrel. If the Saudis hold out a little longer, it may be that the pirates from Somalia will give up and return the ship to the Saudis, and say, “Good riddance.”

Well, there you have three cases of britches that comprise the burden of this essay. The oil producers clearly have grown too big for their britches and I applaud their come-down. Then in Bill Heywood’s case, because of my dislike for Henry Killingsworth, the big boss of the Long Lines Department of AT&T, my sympathies were always with Bill Heywood as difficult as it was to love him.

And let’s not forget Bill Knapp’s admonition to me about “You ain’t tore your britches yet”. It was welcome advice. I took that to mean that I should not seek out instances where my britches might be torn.

The final thought is that I hope the term britches makes a comeback into common usage because those of us who understand country speak continue to believe that “trousers” is an effeminate term. And so I say, “Up with britches and down with trousers!” I challenge my fellow Americans to produce a better slogan which has as much sentiment and pathos as this one.

E. E. CARR
December 6, 2008
Essay 351
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Kevin’s commentary: I very rarely hear the word “britches” outside of the context of being too big for them. Accordingly I think that telling someone that his britches are intact is definitely a clever way of saying that that person keeps his ego in check.

A CASE OF ELEMENTARY FAIRNESS

In September of the current year, the Secretary of the Treasury came to believe that the American economy and its banking system were on the verge of complete failure. Secretary Paulson persuaded other members of the current administration and the Congress that indeed the sky was falling on the American economy. There are any number of reasons why this has happened but it seems that, finally, profligate spending, our tax cuts of several years ago, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have finally caught up with us. But no matter how you cut it, it appears that the American banking system and its economy were ready to fall off the cliff.

At that moment, the Bush administration decided that the way to fix this enormous problem was to throw money at it. I am not an economist but if they said that was the way to fix it, I said, “Let’s have at it.” Brighter minds than mine, such as Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, said that the problem was dire and maybe throwing money at it was our only hope. And so trainloads of money poured from the American Treasury and were distributed with very little oversight.

First came Wall Street with Lehman Brothers leading the way. Unfortunately, Paulson had not gotten there in time, and as a result, they went bankrupt. Next came another investment house called Bear Sterns, which asked to be saved, and the United States Treasury made an accommodation with some banks to buy out Bear Sterns. Then we were told that the giant insurance company, AIG, had to be saved or, if it failed, the results would be catastrophic to the American economy and the world’s economy. And so trainloads of cash were unloaded on AIG, which it used among other things to sponsor a trip by its executives to a spa where they lolled in pleasure for several days at the taxpayers’ expense.

The AIG disaster was followed by nine banks, which Secretary Paulson specified the leading banks in the country. He loaded a trainload of cash to take to the nine favored banks and insisted that they take $25 billion each, with the hope that they would use it to lend to other banks. Unfortunately the banks, including Chase the one that I patronize, simply did not lend the money to other banks, but rather used it to acquire failing banks in the neighborhood. And so at this point we were in the same pickle financially that we had started out from.

Then came the case of Citibank. Citibank also contended that, if it failed, other banks would also fail and the American banking system would be shot to pieces. And so Mr. Paulson made arrangements for Citibank to get large infusions of capital. When there was an inquiry about why Citibank still wanted to pay the New York Mets $400 million to have their name on the new stadium, we were told that the name would remain the same and the financial condition would not be altered. All of the foregoing deficiencies were alleviated by throwing taxpayer cash at the problem but there was no insistence that the United States government would have a deciding vote in the way the banks were to operate in the future. In effect, the investment houses and the banks and the insurance companies took the money and the taxpayers were left to hold the bag.

All of the foregoing took place in September, October, and early November. In late November and early December, 2008, it developed that the three American manufacturers of automobiles were about to drown in debt. In the case of General Motors it was believed by most people, including the United Automobile Workers, that their money would run out before the end of 2008 and that unless they received some help from the government, bankruptcy would follow. When an automobile company goes bankrupt, it will take a long string of suppliers with it into indebtedness. There are the dealers and the people who manufacture parts for the automobiles. Beyond that, if a company intends to pursue bankruptcy as a means of solving its financial difficulties, the problem that comes to the fore is that no one will buy a car from a bankrupt company.

Whereas Bear Sterns, AIG, the nine favored banks, and Citibank seemed to get their infusion of billions of dollars without problems, the automobile companies were subjected to the fires of Hell from the administration and the Congress. We are told by such stalwarts as Richard Shelby, the Senator from Alabama, and Bob Corker, the new Senator from Tennessee, that the only way to solve GM’s problem was bankruptcy. Their advice comes with a high suspicion of self-interest. In one case, Shelby from Alabama has one of the Japanese auto companies manufacturing in Alabama, which is non-union. Apparently Corker from Tennessee seems to revile unionism in all of its sizes and shapes. A cynic such as myself is only led to conclude that southern Republican Senators like Shelby and Corker are interested in having GM go into bankruptcy because that will take their union, the UAW, with them.

The fact that if the automobile companies go bankrupt, there might be as many as three million jobs lost, seems not to have entered their consciousness. What they are concerned about is their life-long effort to stamp out unionism wherever it pokes its head. I know that I am a cynic with respect to whatever those such as Corker and Shelby have in mind, but it seems to me that it is clear that bankruptcy would take the unions down with such a filing and that would please them endlessly. If I may say so, I would contend that people with that viewpoint have learned nothing. They are also the same people who have opposed granting civil rights to the descendants of slaves. When Lyndon Johnson signed the order that permitted black students to attend classes with white students and did away with segregation in eating facilities and other forms of civic accommodation, Mr. Shelby was among those who deserted the Democratic Party and became a Republican. If you want this country to return to its state prior to 1865 when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, following in the footsteps of Richard Shelby and Corker is the way to go.

I own no stock whatsoever in any of the automobile companies, but it seems to me that they are as entitled to fair treatment as the people who run AIG, Citibank, or Bear Stearns and the rest of the people who profited from the largesse of the American government that has taken place this fall. My argument is that if there is an industry that is too big to allow to fail, it is the automobile industry of this country. When World War II loomed on the horizon, it was the automobile companies that converted their facilities to produce tanks, jeeps, weapons of all sorts, and the bombers that we flew in that war. If the automobile companies go under, that ability to defend ourselves will be lost and all of us will be the poorer therefore.

It seems to me that all the automobile companies are asking for is elementary fairness. If we can not provide elementary fairness for all of our citizens, then it must be concluded that the people who run this government should be replaced by those who share a sense of fairness for everyone.

E. E. CARR
December 7, 2008
Essay 352
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Kevin’s commentary: Part of me wishes that we’d just pulled an Iceland with the banking situation. “Sorry you made bad loans, but that’s not really our problem” would just be so satisfying. Protect savings and checking accounts and let institutions fail when they make bad decisions.

YOU KNOW OR IS IT YOU NO?

I have always been interested in the patterns of speech used by my fellow Americans.  The election season of the past two years have been a bonanza of sorts.  During daylight hours, it has become the custom of cable programs to ask a speaker to kill a full hour whether he has anything to say or not.  This was eminently true during the 2008 Presidential campaign.  As a former union bargainer and as a lobbyist, I empathize with those who are required to fill an hour with very little to say.  It can be done.  But according to my ears, there is a phrase that has interjected itself into American speech patterns that makes no sense at all.  That phrase is “You know?”  Or is it “You no?”  I suspect that either term is used as a speech extender.  But Winston Churchill and Tony Blair and other speakers who speak English properly certainly would take great offense at this linguistic intrusion. 

The events that have taken place today, on December 30, constitute a full news day.  There is the fighting, for example, going on in the Gaza Strip, where the Israelis swear that they are going to wipe out Hamas.  At home, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois has announced that a political hack, who was once the Attorney General of Illinois, was designated to  fill out the unexpired term of Barack Obama in the United States Senate.  The news hens and news roosters are flapping their wings and again are using the interjectory device of “you know” on several occasions.  But it seems that the real news may be coming from Wasilla, Alaska.

A well-schooled commentator who understands the philosophy of the “You know” or “You no” might report from Russia’s neighbor that the news is inspiring.  A commentator might say, “You know that over the weekend Bristol Palin, the governor’s daughter, gave birth to a boy.  You know that they gave him a very interesting name.  You know his name will be Tripp Johnston, you know.  You know that his uncle is named Trig Palin.  You know that Alaska now has a trig and a trip, you know.  Governor Palin has said the more, the merrier even though her daughter and her lover were not married, you know.  Also you know that the male youngster who impregnated the governor’s daughter has decided to quit school, thus foregoing a high school diploma, and go to work on the north slope, you know.  And now all of us know that the impregnator has quit his job on the north slope.  And you know also that his mother has been charged with six counts of selling a controlled substance, which is believed to be meth amphetamines, you know.”

Well, so much for Sarah Palin’s grandson.  Between Tripp and Trig and Governor Blagojevich and the Gaza Strip, there is plenty for commentators to discuss.  But they still find time to intersperse “you know” or “you no” several times into their speech patterns.

I am not necessarily a purist when it comes to speaking the English language.  But I do love to see it used properly.  I am a devotee of country speak, black speak, and even political speak.  But my fur is rubbed the wrong way when speakers who should know better use the term “you know” or “you no” simply as conversation extenders.  For all I know Tripp Johnston or Trig Palin, his uncle, may grow up to speak perfect English, never using the “you know” or “you no” devices to extend their thought.  I would like to be around when that glorious day arrives, but in the meantime I suspect that we are going to be stuck with Governor Palin’s thought about “the more, the merrier” as it relates to children.  I believe the governor and her female children ought to have a heart-to-heart talk with their ob-gyn.

Well, clearly you know – or you no – that this humble essay has not advanced the ball in resolving the dispute between the “you know” devotees and the worshippers who subscribe to the “you no” school of thought.

The Irish, who speak the English language eloquently, might have a thought that would apply here in this dispute.  They could well say that the debate comes about for want of wit.  In this case, my tendency is to hold with the Irish.

 

E. E. CARR

December 30, 2008

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Kevin’s commentary: Guilty as charged. I wouldn’t say that my conversation is full of that particular phrase but I also can’t pretend to never use it. I stand behind Pop’s objection to its use in formal channels, however.