Archive for the Outstanding Title Category


This is an essay that was run over by the events of this week. For two or three weeks, it had been my intention to write an essay having to do with civility. I had thought that the title of the proposed essay might be, “Civility, Decency, and Compassion Toward Others.” But as I said, the events of this week left that essay pretty much flat on the ground.

In the proposed essay of a week or so ago, I had thought about commenting on the absence of civility in today’s society. And I had thought also that in Washington there is an air of questioning the loyalty and patriotism of people who do not agree with a particular political point of view. Those thoughts had to take second place in view of the events this week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Civility is the mark of intelligent men and women in the daily course of their affairs. In the last few years, I have been struck by the absence of civility in politics as well as in the conduct of people I had observed. For example, Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, commented on the lack of civility among members of his own race. Herbert pointed out that in the lyrics of the songs sung by the screamers who claim that they are producing music, the lyrics contain several obscenities. Other black people are referred to in these lyrics as “niggas.” Women are commonly called whores. Bob Herbert deplored this trend in the music of black people. I was aware of those lyrics. I was aware of those lyrics, and I too deplore them. They simply are not civil and the alleged music is also clearly uncivilized.

There is a child of 12 years who lives across the street from us who obviously is a problem child. He is an only child and he is given to ringing doorbells and disappearing. The game is called “ding, dong, ditch.” His loud mouth when he is playing near the street is disturbing. But that is not the full reason why I wanted to include him in this essay on civility. On two occasions, we have heard him refer to his mother as a “bitch.” If that boy were my child he would be shredded.

The incivility has also taken a major foothold in the federal government. As events in Iraq begin to move in the direction of an all out civil war, politicians and shrill commentators on radio have departed from decency in that they accuse others of treachery and lack of patriotism if they do not agree with the views of the current administration. Rush Limbaugh, a convicted drug offender, leads the charge in this respect. People in the Bush administration disparage the patriotism of anyone who questions the absolutely dubious value of their judgment in the pursuit of the Iraqi war. Tony Snow, the right-wing political hack who is now the spokesman for George Bush, leads the charge from the White House.

When George Bush and Richard Cheney accuse others of lack of patriotism, it causes most citizens to shake their heads. During the Vietnam conflict, Bush fled to the National Guard and was never involved in military service. Cheney took five deferments and, like Bush, he had no part to play in the military. Cheney claimed that he had “other priorities” at the time. For those two men to question the patriotism of anyone, particularly those of us who served, is astonishing.

So we see that civility these days runs at a high premium. It took a shooting by a deranged person in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to bring it all back into focus. The shooter was a man named Charles Carl Roberts, IV, who took several guns and 600 rounds of ammunition to a one room Amish schoolhouse. Judging from notes he had written to his wife, he planned for a long armed standoff. In the end, Roberts killed as many as six or seven small girls by gunfire. These children ranged in age from seven to thirteen years. In my estimation, I cannot imagine a more horrible crime being committed. My life has been blessed by having two daughters. If anyone had threatened them in any way, it would be my intention to deal with him very sternly, including killing him. I suspect that every father feels about his daughters as I do. Simply put, you don’t fool with any child free of penalty.

Today is Friday, October 6, 2006. Funerals for several of the children were held late this week. It is reported that the children were buried in plain pine boxes wearing new white dresses which their mothers had sewn for their interment. It is also reported that one funeral took place in a barn and another Amish funeral took place in the basement of a house. Obviously, the Amish are plain people.

When word of the shootings was announced, condolences and contributions poured in. People around the country offered their prayers for the dead and injured Amish children and also contributed something approaching $600,000 for the Amish families. The Amish grievers who had lost their children stayed true to their belief in simplicity and generosity. They informed those who wished to pray for the departed children that their prayers should also include Charles Robert’s widow and his children. And next, they seem determined now to give some of the donated money to the children and to the widow of Charles Roberts as a means of sharing.

I am largely flabbergasted at their gesture. It reflects a generosity of civility that goes beyond all reason. My respect for the Amish as a people knows no bounds. They have no electricity in their homes. They drive horses and buggies rather than automobiles. They live a starkly simple life. Yet when it comes to showing civility, decency and generosity, there is no one to match them.

On the days when the little girls were being buried, there seemed to be no sympathy coming from the White House. The Commander in Chief of this country’s armed forces said nothing, but instead, devoted himself to Republican fund raisers in California and other places. The First Lady spent the day in Buffalo, New York, campaigning for a congressman whose chief of staff had quit that day in the Mark Foley matter. I suppose it gives testimony to the fact that generosity and civility often have no place in the American political system.

I grieve for the Amish for the loss of their little girls. I stand at attention and salute them for their civility, decency and generosity in a time of great strife. The Amish are not strange creatures at all. They are brave and decent people in all respects.

So I hope you see what I mean when I told you at the outset that my plans to write an essay on civility were clearly run over by events on the ground. When the funeral for the shooter, Charles Roberts, was held, 75 mourners attended the service. Half of the mourners were Amish. I suspect that the Amish represent civility and decency at its best.

October 6, 2006
Essay 209
Kevin’s commentary: That was an incredibly decent thing for them to do as a community. I don’t remember this event well — mass shootings are far more common than they should be in this country — but damn, giving money to the shooter’s family is a lot to ask.


This morning, March 6, Tim Russert asked General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, how the war in Iraq was going. To save space, I will condense his answer into the thought that the war is going swimmingly. Everything is on schedule and soon there will be Iraqi boys fighting the insurgents over there to protect American values over here. There will be no need in the future to send American boys to defend American values in Iraq. The Iraqis will take care of that.

It is my belief that the General was terribly wide of the mark. The best estimates that this old soldier can glean is that a civil war in Iraq is in the making. My advice to all my readers is that if you have got a few bucks to bet, bet them on a civil war. I doubt that any respectable bookie will take a bet to the contrary.

When the United States invaded Iraq, we were told that it was to wipe out those big nests of weapons of mass destruction. When that cause did not fly, we changed it to several other reasons, none of which made much sense. Finally we settled on the thought that we were going to bring democracy to the Middle East. The point here is that nobody in the Middle East was ever really asked whether they preferred democracy to some other form of government. In effect, we were going to impose democracy on them whether they like it or not.

Two elections seemed to upset this attempt at democratizing the Middle East. In the first case, we sponsored in Iraq a secular group of candidates who lost convincingly to the religious candidates. The Shiites simply beat our guys by a factor of five to one. Now in Palestine, there was an election a week or so ago overseen by none other than Jimmy Carter, one of our former presidents. In that case, Hamas, which is called a terrorist organization by the current U.S. administration, simply clobbered the opposition. We and Israel do not like Hamas. The fact that they won this election fairly and squarely is beside the point. Now that they have won the election, we and Israel are going to cut off all aid to the new government of the Hamas organization. It appears to me that we like democratic elections, provided they go our way. When they go against us, we are angry and want to overturn them. This is nothing other than a case of short-sighted American consternation.

Next we come to the new drug bill for senior citizens. You may recall that this bill was not written by legislators, but by the pharmaceutical industry and it specifically forbids any bargaining by the government with the industry on the price of drugs. When the pharmaceutical industry had done its work, they turned it over to Tom DeLay, the House enforcer of rules, to see to it that the bill got passed. DeLay held open the vote on this drug bill for three hours to make sure that he twisted enough arms to get it done. In the end, enough arms were twisted so that the bill passed by a margin of one or two votes.

Since that time, the administration has been telling us how wonderful the drug bill is for those of us who are senior citizens. The high point came when your chief executive and Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Bush, undertook to explain to all of us oldsters why the drug bill was actually to our benefit. Here is what he said:

“Because the –all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those – changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be –or closer delivered to that has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It’s kind of muddled. Look, there’s a series of things that cause the – like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate –the benefits will rise based upon inflation, supposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those –if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.”

It should be borne in mind that this is not a caricature from Saturday Night Live; it is the official transcript of the remarks. Bush actually said these things and they were recorded by his officials. You may find it hard to believe, but that is the way this man thinks. Perhaps I should say that he does not think before he speaks and the result is obvious.

Finally, we were told by the current administration that basically it was a Christian administration. The President made much of his conversion by Billy Graham and the fact that he was leading a Christian life. If that is so, why then do we have torture in our prisons at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo? There is no doubt whatsoever that we are torturing our prisoners. Kit Bond, the senator from Missouri, calls torture “enhanced interrogation procedures.” “Enhanced” simply means torture. When John McCain, a victim of torture himself in Vietnam, was about to introduce a bill to ban torture of our prisoners, the vice president, Cheney, made several attempts to kill the bill. When it passed, it was signed by the president with the full knowledge that torture would continue. Torture is not a Christian way of doing business. Torture simply guarantees that when our prisoners are taken, they will be tortured also. It is a very short-sighted policy. But in the end, it is interesting to note that an administration that sells itself on Christian values embraces also abject torture among those values.

Well, there you have a few cases that contribute to American consternation. I do not go to bed at night peacefully, knowing that our values will be preserved by Iraqi soldiers. I do not sing the praises of democratic elections in Palestine. And I am going to take Bush’s explanation of the drug bill to my speech teacher in the hope that he might make some sense out of it, and I am going to ask my preacher about torturing prisoners that we hold. I have no hope on any of these counts.

And so you see, we have a terminal case of American consternation. With the current organization in power, I suspect that the consternation will be with us for a long time to come.

March 6, 2006
Essay 180
Kevin’s commentary: Just wow. The only “Bush quotes” that still get commonly thrown around these days are his obvious fuck-ups like “I know how hard it is to put food on your family.” I wish there were more of these transcripts floating around. They are astoundingly poor. Of course, people speak differently than they write, and when your extemporaneous speeches are recorded word-for-word, anyone’s will probably look a little bit silly. But “a little bit silly” is a far cry from “For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table…There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered.”

Amazing. Similarly I had forgotten how uncomfortable the 2006 election of Hamas was for politicans. “You guys! This is NOT how you’re supposed to be using all this awesome freedom that you have” was pretty much the prevailing sentiment. Really I think that the U.S. is just nostalgic for 1950s Iran, where the Americans just got to install somebody. That was smooth sailing for everyone involved, right?


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.

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.


When the English language was developed from its Saxon roots, the original meaning of “bastard” had to do with the offspring of unmarried parents. The word bastard is sometimes considered an epithet and should never be hung on the offspring but should be reserved for the unthinking parents who produced that offspring. But in any case, bastard is a lovely noun that has endured for hundreds of years. In this essay I hope to give you a taster’s choice of four different kinds of bastards, which some of you may well recognize.

The taster’s selection has to do with stingy, cheating, mean and smiling bastards. When you have finished this course of tasting, I hope that your vocabulary will now include the rich noun of bastard.

In view of the political climate as we approach another presidential election, I have elected to forgo politicians because the general perception is that all of them are “lying” bastards. In my humble estimation, lying bastards constitute a large percentage of politicians. In deference to the election that will take place in a few weeks, I have elected to ignore the political lying bastards until the election results are in. I haven’t forgotten about politicians as lying bastards, but we will reserve that for another time.

The first tasting has to do with “stingy bastards.” In 1950 and 1951, it was my lot to spend a considerable amount of time in New York away from my St. Louis home. The work had to do with attending meetings of the executive board of the Long Lines Employees Federation union and with bargaining a contract between that organization and AT&T. Our lodgings in New York were always provided by the Piccadilly Hotel on 45th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue. The Piccadilly was in the heart of the theater district and its lobby bustled with scalpers, actors, stagehands, and hangers-on. The stage play “Guys and Dolls” could well have been set in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel. It is my recollection that the great stage play “South Pacific” was taking place in the neighborhood, and although it was a great success, my union friends and I were able to buy tickets from scalpers in the lobby of the hotel. I saw “South Pacific” on two occasions in New York and once more when the traveling company came to St. Louis.

The stage play “South Pacific” takes place on an imaginary island in the Pacific called Bali Hai and is set in the Second World War. In the play, elements of the American Navy are stationed on Bali Hai. A featured actor was Ezio Pinza, who had been a bass singing at the Metropolitan Opera. As Pinza aged, there were fewer performances at the Metropolitan Opera so his career tended to wane. When “South Pacific” came along, it was a magic moment because the leading male role seemed to have been invented for a person such as Mr. Pinza. His opposite number was Mary Martin, a lovely American woman who was widely known from her work in previous stage plays. Casting Pinza with Martin was an inspired choice and the play caused critics to issue rave reviews.

Somewhere down the line was an actress named Juanita Hall, a leather-lunged long-time veteran of American stage plays. In “South Pacific,” Juanita Hall played a role called Bloody Mary, who seemed to run a sort of “escort service” among the native Polynesian women there. Juanita was a very forceful character who had my love and devotion from her first syllable. There were occasions when American Naval personnel were entertained by her girls, and Bloody Mary thought her girls ought to be more amply rewarded. When an American sailor shortchanged one of her Polynesian girls, Bloody Mary would cry out loud that such a sailor was “a stingy bastard.” Those words caused the audience, generally, to cheer wildly.

At the time when “South Pacific” was first shown, profanity in the theater was subdued. But “South Pacific” captured the American idiom perfectly. Sailors who toy with call girls are not given to the speech of Sunday School children. Neither are soldiers. It was suggested that Bloody Mary had learned the term “stingy bastards” from the men who called on her girls. The line that Bloody Mary spoke about “stingy bastards” was delivered in such fashion that even the Archbishop of Canterbury would have laughed and approved. I suspect that the Archbishop may think that some of his parishioners are stingy bastards when it comes to their contributions to his collection plates. But the Archbishop says that he has no comment.

The music was by Richard Rodgers with the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. If there ever was a perfect blending of music and words, it is in the music and lyrics of “South Pacific.” That stage play has now been revived, more than 59 years after its opening, and is playing to a sold-out house in New York. I have been unable to see the revival of “South Pacific” and have only a compact disc of the new cast, but for all these years I have remembered Juanita Hall in her depiction of Bloody Mary. She ran a verbal knife through those who cheated her girls by calling them stingy bastards.

Now we turn to a second tasting, this one having to do with being cheated. The rule at AT&T in St. Louis and throughout the Bell System was that upon the first anniversary of being hired, the new employee would become a “permanent employee,” and would be entitled to a leave of absence if required. Don Meier and I had completed the requisite service but because the company found that we were going to enlist in the Army and, in Don’s case, the Marines, the company said that the rule had been rescinded and that no leave of absence would be granted. This was in the summer of 1942 and Don and I said “to hell with AT&T”; we were going to go. For more than two years, there were no communications of any kind from AT&T as Don fought his war in the Pacific and I attended to duties in North Africa and in Italy. Late in the summer of 1944, Congress passed a law that said that fellows in our situation must be granted leaves of absence and given full employment rights upon our return. With this, floodgates were opened and material of all kinds from AT&T began to appear. Don served with great distinction in the Marine Corps on Iwo Jima. He was killed in the battle there and never was able to take advantage of the right to return to AT&T. In my case, I did return to AT&T in St. Louis in November, 1945 and was given a desk in an office that was run by W.G. Nebe, who was my boss’s boss.

Bill Nebe sat in the back of the room with his desk placed before a large window. Nebe faced the window, and in this position, his back was toward all of the rest of the employees in that office. He had a reputation for orneriness and few people ever approached Mr. Nebe. In return, Mr. Nebe rarely spoke to any of the employees under him.

When I returned to work in November, 1945, there were no welcoming ceremonies of any kind. My old job had disintegrated and I had a desk but no duties to speak of. My immediate supervisor, John Baxter, rarely spoke to me and Mr. Nebe spoke not at all. And so it was that I was startled one day, after having returned for about four months, to raise my eyes and find that Bill Nebe was standing by my side and seemed to want to speak to me. He said something about a “recalculation” of my meager salary which had taken place during my long absence. AT&T had thousands of accountants and actuaries, but four months after my return there had been a “recalculation” of my salary, which was to be increased by the magnificent sum of about $4 per week. Significantly, the “recalculation” included no retroactivity. The returning veterans had the formula for computing these salaries and their conclusions differed greatly from those of the actuaries and accountants at AT&T. In point of fact, it became quite clear that AT&T was cheating the returning veterans.

On the other hand, however, there is one compensation in that for the first time Bill Nebe was required to deliver that message to such lowly serfs as myself. When I saw those figures, I concluded that “you, Mr. Nebe, are a cheating bastard.” I did not say those words to the Honorable Nebe, but rather I then joined the union where I could do something about such larceny.

Well, the tasters have now given you some idea of what stingy and cheating are like, so let us turn to meanness. For many years, the affairs of the 20,000 employees in the Long Lines Division of AT&T were directed by a man named Henry Killingsworth. Killingsworth was a small person in stature who had such proclivities as ordering the begging nun in the headquarters lobby to refrain from her work. In a Christmas letter, he wrote that from now on, “we are going to have to take the slack out of those trace chains.” This was a reference to planting cotton, where the mules that pulled the plow were thought to be working hard when there was no slack in the trace chains. So in essence, Mr. Killingsworth wrote in a Christmas letter that from now on, he expected the Long Lines employees to work as hard as his mules used to work.

Killingsworth has been dead now, I assume, for several years but even at this late date, some 24 years after I retired, I would say that Killingsworth was a mean, vindictive little bastard who did not have a place among honorable men.

So now our tasting has taken us from stingy to cheating to mean. At this point we turn to insurers. Insurers have never been known for their generosity to their customers. Quite the opposite, insurers find unknown clauses in their contracts, often to deny payment to their patrons. The sinking of the Mary Ellen Carter was one such case.

There is an Irish folk song called “The Mary Ellen Carter.” The Mary Ellen Carter was a fishing trawler that had the bad luck to strike a rock outside of its harbor and to sink. Because it was not sunk on the high seas, it appears that the insurers refused to pay a cent on the grounds that striking a rock near the home harbor was not covered. There was an effort to raise the Mary Ellen Carter, which is the subject of that song. One of the lines in that folk song is memorable. The line goes like this:

“For those to whom adversity has dealt the fatal blow,
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go.”

Presumably the smiling bastards are the insurance agents who refused to pay for the loss of the Mary Ellen Carter. Perhaps smiling bastards is a welcome relief from stingy, cheating, and mean bastards.

Well, boys and girls, there you have a small tasting of four kinds of bastards, ranging from stingy to smiling. It excludes those who take the last seat on the subway that you had your eye on as well as those who duck into a parking place just before you get there. They are a special kind of bastard.

Your old essayist would be greatly disappointed if in the future you regarded the word bastard as an epithet. It is a descriptive noun that only requires an adjective to go with it. If we are to keep the English language alive and vital, bastards should be a part of that effort. My final piece of advice is that if you have a chance to see the revival of “South Pacific,” please do me a favor and go see it. Juanita Hall, the lady who played Bloody Mary, is probably retired by this time but if you treat one of her girls with stinginess, you can be prepared to be called a “stingy bastard.” That, my friends, gives vitality to the English language.

September 17, 2008
Essay 337
Kevin’s commentary: Pop also likes to refer to the briefly-mentioned politicians as pissants.

Per usual, Killingsworth continues to sound like an asshole of the highest caliber.

In point of fact, I saw my very first musical last weekend. It was called “Book of Mormon.” I would imagine people today initially reacted to Book of Mormon in the same way that “South Pacific” shocked people with its language (but then pulled it off smoothly). Calling someone a stingy bastard is on stage is pretty intense, but for instance the lyrics “When God fucks you in the butt // Fuck God back right in his cunt” are just about as extreme as could possibly be permissible in the theater.


On many occasions, I am unable to recall what I had for dinner yesterday. I mark this short-term memory loss off to advancing age and interest in other topics of the day. While I am unable at times to recall yesterday’s dinner, I am often able to recall events and situations that took place more than 75 years ago. There is no nostalgia for yesterday’s dinner, but events of the last three-quarters of a century have a ring of nostalgia to them. And so it is that my mind has come to rest this week on three items that are to be put in one’s mouth. Naturally, this accounts for the title of this monumental piece. What I have in mind here are first, Jawbreakers, then Mr. Wrigley’s chewing gum, and finally the tonic called Geritol, which men of a certain of a certain age swallow to increase their vigor and sex appeal. So now we turn to Jawbreakers. A Jawbreaker was a piece of hard candy that was delivered as a ball. The ball of candy was probably an inch to an inch and a quarter in diameter. It may possibly have been even bigger than I have described but let’s let it stand at that. The Jawbreaker was not intended for eating but was intended to be sucked, much like a lozenge. The Jawbreaker was inserted in the mouth and was sent to the outside of the teeth on one side or the other, which resulted in a protruding line near the jawbone, and it was from this source that its name was derived. Jawbreakers were sold at convenience stores and small restaurants and were found in those locations in a large globe. When a coin was inserted and a little lever was pulled, one Jawbreaker would drop into a trough and would appear before the patron. My recollection is a little foggy at this moment, as I cannot remember whether Jawbreakers took a five-cent coin or a one-cent coin, but I am inclined to believe that it was five cents all the way. The Jawbreakers in the dispensing globe were colored either red or blue, which gives the colorful delight that was to follow after they were sucked. After a few minutes in the side of the jaw, the child would remove the Jawbreaker to admire the kaleidoscope of the different colors that his Jawbreaker now contained. As the Jawbreaker stayed in the jaw, it would diminish in size and would surprise the child by the sugary delight that flowed down his throat. I have no scientific data on this at this late date, but I believe that from beginning to end a normal Jawbreaker would take perhaps ten to twelve minutes to disappear entirely. Jawbreakers were very popular when I was a child who had no dependable source of income. But even today, I recall Jawbreakers with a sense of nostalgia. In passing, it should be observed that my father and my brother had broken jaws. My father’s jaw was broken by a crank in a rail car carrying clay. The crank got hung up and when it was released very suddenly, my father’s jaw was in the vicinity. My brother, on the other hand, in the Depression of the 1930s, was trying to make a dollar any way he could. He began to put punch cards in bars where patrons would punch out a rolled up sign that said “You lost” or that you might be paid 50 cents or a dollar from the bartender. Each punch of the punch board cost a quarter. My brother’s efforts took him to Kansas City, where he ran headlong into patrons of the Pendergast machine who struck my brother so hard for interfering in their territory that his jaw was broken. The treatment for a broken jaw is to wire the upper jaw and the lower jaw together so that food must be sucked in, after it is mashed, through the front teeth. At a very early age, I vowed that I would try to avoid broken jaws at all costs. So now that you know all about Jawbreakers and broken jaws, let us proceed to William Wrigley and the chewing gum that he offered to the American public for many years and still offers. Mr. Wrigley began to offer his chewing gum in the late 1880s, and sometime after the century had turned, the popularity of his chewing gum increased. For many years, starting with the Depression of the 1930s, Mr. Wrigley offered his gum in various flavors. There was Spearmint, Doublemint, and later there were little cubes called P.K.s. Apparently William Wrigley, the original owner, had a son whom he had named Phillip K. Wrigley, and this confection, which looked a lot like the Chiclets of today, was named after his son’s initials. For many years, it was believed that chewing gum, particularly Mr. Wrigley’s gum, would cover up the smell of nicotine on the breath and there were those who believed that chewing his gum would cover the smell of alcohol. My educated guess is that the chewing gum would perform neither of those tasks. Mr. Wrigley’s chewing gum, which was often carried by young men in their shirt pockets, reached such popularity that somewhere at the end of the 1930s, he was able to purchase the Chicago Cubs baseball club. The stadium that they play in is named Wrigley Field and remains so to this day. The ownership of the Cubs franchise was passed on to The Chicago Tribune Company. The Tribune Company has acquired many assets and has probably overextended itself and is now in trouble. It remains to be seen where the Cubs wind up. Chewing gum was an exercise in etiquette, and there were many gum chewers in the 1930s and ‘40s and ‘50s. If a person chewed gum with the mouth open, he was subject to great criticism. Beyond that, there were athletes and construction workers who chewed Mr. Wrigley’s gum to keep the mouth moistened and perhaps to kill the smell of nicotine. In those cases, when under stress, it was not unusual for a runner or a worker to swallow his gum. I suggest that the intestinal tract would not look kindly on gum swallowing. When the gum had been thoroughly chewed and had lost its flavor, there was also the problem of disposal. Theoretically, the gum chewer would have kept the wrapper that the gum came in, and would put the chewed gum in the wrapper to discard it. But that was rarely the case, as far as I can recall. The gum was often discarded in waste baskets and, unhappily, on the street. On many occasions, particularly after having my shoes shined, I would step on a piece of used chewing gum and would be looking for a putty knife to remove it. When the used gum was discarded in a waste basket, as in the ordinary office, I cannot imagine the cleaning person looking kindly upon this exercise, because the gum stuck to almost everything. But for many years, perhaps fifty or more, chewing gum was an exercise in American democracy. We chewed our gum and made Mr. Wrigley rich and famous. In my own case, I would like to believe that I never dropped my gum on the sidewalk where it could be stepped on by another citizen. But for the last fifty or sixty years, I cannot recall having purchased a package of Mr. Wrigley’s gum. Now as I try to disengage some used chewing gum from my newly shinned shoes, let us turn to a tonic that is also taken by the mouthful. Not long after the Second World War was finished, Geritol, a tonic, appeared on the market that was rumored to provide aging men with renewed vigor. This was before Viagra and the many steroids ever made any appearance at all. As men approached the far reaches of their life span, they often sought the help of a tonic that would miraculously boost their spirits and their vigor. The advertising for Geritol did nothing to discourage these views but in the final analysis, I am of the belief that Geritol was a fraud and provided nothing more than another mouthful of nostalgia. But the reputation of Geritol was legendary. Only four or five years ago, a famous essayist wrote these lines:

When one approaches the eighth decade of life, it becomes an article of faith with every newspaper reporter that in the case of any mishap, the lead sentence will pivot on the age of the oldster. If, for example, an 82 year old man parks his car, enters a drugstore and his car is hit while he is buying his Geritol, the lead sentence in any newspaper account will say, “The car of an 82 year old man was involved in a serious collision.” That is the way it is. My retirement from driving is meant to thwart such journalistic bombast.

As you can see, this well-known essayist deplores the fact that Geritol has disappeared from the market. He attributes his youthful appearance, wavy hair and zest for life to the regular ingestion of Geritol. Perhaps the Chinese drug manufacturers will soon have a tonic on the market that will cause the drug store cash registers to jingle and to give hope to American men. Well, there you have my thoughts on Jawbreakers, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and the magic tonic called Geritol. I am reasonably certain that reading this essay will not greatly increase the scientific knowledge that researchers look for. But that was not the point in the beginning. The point was that this old essayist had a feeling of nostalgia in his heart for Jawbreakers, chewing gum, and Geritol. Those three items constitute a reasonable subject for nostalgia for all kinds. And so in this essay I am not devoted to scientific pursuits but rather to mouthfuls of nostalgia. E. E. CARR May 26, 2008 Essay 316 MOUTHFULS OF NOSTALGIA EXTRA!!! Newark Star Ledger, Tuesday June 17, 2008 mothfulls of nostalgia



Kevin’s commentary: That gum machine looks like something that would be deeply satisfying to use. Same as a pressure washer. I’m rather glad that gum has not gone the way of Geritol; unlike Pop I still buy chewing gum regularly. Perhaps I should send him a pack, if he’d be so kind as to let me know which flavor he preferred. I feel like the jawbreakers’ colorful appeal would probably be lost on him at this point, so those are out. The part about the machines made me think — gumballs are one of the only things that haven’t undergone any sort of price change since I was a kid. They were 25c when I was twelve, and they’re 25c now. The machine is limited by the fact that nobody carries around dollar or half-dollar coins, so 25 cents is about as expensive as it can be. But inflation charges on. So what is to become of the gum machines? At some point before too too long they will cease being profitable for the establishments which house them. I guess you could just start to fit them with credit card readers; absurd solutions are sometimes the best ones.


This essay is going to attempt to perform an impossible literary marriage in that it involves the virginity of Muslim women and an apt poem by A. E. Housman, an English poet who could foresee miracles of the future. Whether this marriage will last is a reasonable subject for discussion, but I believe that it is worthy of our investigation at this moment. If the marriage does not work out, I will arrange to finance an annulment.

This started with the publication of a story in The New York Times this week on a procedure known as hymenoplasty. The New York Times has contended from its start that it prints “the news that’s fit to print.” It is also known as “the old gray lady of Times Square.” So by discussing this front page story, it would seem to me that I am not violating any cultural prohibitions.

Over the past several centuries, France has attempted to influence the affairs of neighbors across the Mediterranean in North Africa. Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco were once French possessions. Because of economic conditions, residents of those French speaking countries have emigrated to metropolitan France. I suspect that at this point there may be as many as five million former North Africans resident in France and most have clung to their Muslim faith. A good many of them are now citizens of France. You may recall the great debate when Muslim women attempted to wear their head scarves to school and to work. In the end, they were banned from such practice at the direction of the President of France, Jacques Chirac. But whether the French like the Muslim visitors or citizens, they are a fact of life. It is equally clear that the Muslim population is not about to leave France to take off for its original homes in North Africa. The French people understand this situation and with the exception of a few politicians, seem to say, “The Muslims are with us, so let us get on with the business of governing the fortunes of la belle France.”

Now we come to the sticky part. As young Muslim women grow up in metropolitan France, there are temptations all about them. Some of those temptations are sexual ones. The fact of the matter seems to be that in spite of all of the thundering that comes from Muslim pulpits by the imams and ayatollahs, some Muslim women in France yield to the temptations of love and surrender their chastity. For lovers of chastity such as myself, this is a cosmic disappointment. But the world must go on and we must yield to the inevitable.

In the Muslim world, women are treated basically as commodities. At least that is the way the Muslim faith is practiced as it gets closer to Mecca. According to the code of the Muslim religion, it seems that Muslim men insist upon marrying only virgins. As we learned from The Times story, there are cases in which a woman must submit a document attesting to her virginity to her prospective husband. If a woman enters into a marriage with a Muslim man and he has doubts about her virginity, he can take her back to the shop after the wedding night. I know this is unfairness at its greatest, but that is the way the world works when women are treated as mere commodities.

Now objective observers might ask whether there is a similar test for virginity among the prospective grooms. In point of fact, there is no such test and a Muslim man may embed dozens of women and then still demand that his bride be chaste in all respects. Is that unfair? Of course it is. But that is the way the world works. If I were a Muslim woman, which I am not, obviously, I would not wish to enter into a marriage with a fervent Muslim man because it would mean being confined to the kitchen and the bedroom. On the few occasions when a Muslim woman appears in public, she is often obliged to wear the chadour which is a shapeless black garment which covers her face with a veil and then the rest of the black garment flows down pretty close to the floor. If a Muslim man ever took a woman wearing a chadour to a restaurant, I would be interested in following the progress of the meal as it would require the female to lift her veil each time a mouthful of food was entered. All I can say is that this is no way to live.

My calculation is that the prophet Muhammad who established the Muslim faith was born about 1500 years ago and he established the basic ground rules for conduct between men and women. Over these many centuries, I suspect that there must have been endless torment among women who were intent upon proving their chastity to their new husbands. But now relief has arrived. If a Muslim girl has slipped a few times – or many times – there is now a surgical procedure which will re-establish her virginity. I know that is an oxymoron about re-establishment of her virginity, but that is the way it is. According to The New York Times report, a woman with $2,500 may undergo a procedure known as hymenoplasty which is guaranteed to pass the required inspections and to lead to the husband’s conviction that he has indeed married a pure-bred full fledged virgin. The Times reports that it apparently is an outpatient procedure which requires about half an hour on the operating room table. Once the surgeon has made his last stitch, the prospective bride may leave the operating room and glory in the thought that her chastity odometer has indeed been turned back to zero. If that is what it takes to fool a Muslim groom, I will join in the cheering.

Now there is a poem, which is the other half of this marriage in this essay, called “When I Was One-and-Twenty.” It would seem to fit a young woman who loses her chastity in the vicinity of her 21st birthday, but regains it in the succeeding years. The poem was written in 1896 by an English poet named A. E. Housman. I think it fits the situation quite adequately. Here is the poem.

“When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.”

In the former days, when a Muslim youngster at the age of one-and-twenty “lost her heart out of her bosom” and surrendered her chastity to her lover, the thought would have been, “’Tis paid with sighs a plenty and sold for endless rue.” But now modern surgery has made it possible to avoid those “sighs a plenty” and “endless rue.”

My mathematics, faulty as they are, tell me that the poet Housman wrote “When I Was One-and-Twenty” in 1896, which is about 112 years ago. My belief is that Professor Housman wrote a prescient poem that peered into the future. It peered through the Muslim faith and into modern surgery. If the poet Housman were alive today, I am quite certain that he would add a final verse having to do with the glorious outcome of the procedure known as hymenoplasty.

So there you have an English poem which predates the procedure outlined in The New York Times of June 11, 2008, by 112 years. Beyond all that, I feel a warm glow inside my chest knowing that I have wed an English poem of the 19th century together with a surgical procedure in the 21st century. Every Muslim woman must know that there is now no need to have “sighs a plenty” or “endless rue.” That, my friends, is a heavenly outcome.

June 11, 2008
Essay 321
Kevin’s commentary: As my girlfriend accurately points out, this is basically a procedure in which women go through a painful experience so as to have yet another painful experience. It makes not a whole whole lot of sense. But I suppose if that’s what is necessary to maintain the supposed dignity of the marriage, especially when there are such double standards in place re: male and female sexuality, then it seems like as sensible a decision as any other.


In the past two months Americans and, indeed, the rest of the civilized world have been troubled by the banking crisis as well as the collapse on Wall Street. Recent reports suggest that the banks are now turning a hefty profit and reading the stock tables will suggest that the stock market is recovering. From Mr. Obama and his economic team, we are told that there are some “green shoots” in the economy which should make all of us feel a small bit better. But all of these positive signs can not distract from my personal dilemma which has to do with the great subtraction crisis.

I have great faith in mathematics even though I am not skilled in its use. But here is the problem. What If we were to write down 2009, and directly under it with a minus sign, write 1922. Then a line should be drawn under these entries and subtraction should begin. Two from nine equals seven, so write the seven down and two from ten – we have to borrow a little number there – equals eight. No matter how it is done, the result is always 87. I have tried regular mathematics and arithmetic as well as algebra and trigonometry. I have even used long division and calculus. The answer always comes out to be 87. This is a crisis that the Obama team has failed to recognize thus far. But I suggest that it is my personal crisis nonetheless.

What is happening here is that on August 4th, I will have completed 87 years of living. My parents and my siblings have long since taken their leave of this vale of tears and presumably have now become angels. What accounts for my having hung around so long is a complete mystery. Perhaps it is due to the advice of an army corporal who advised me in the first days of basic training that I did not get paid to think. I got paid to do what I was told. So for more than 60 years, in accordance with the corporal’s advice, I have tried not to think too much.

My longevity may have its roots in the desire to live to the age of 100. In March of this year, when my Missouri friend Howard Davis turned 91, he proclaimed, “Only nine more years until I get to 100.” That is a magnificent attitude which I hope to emulate and which may account for my own longevity.

In the final analysis, it may have to do with the advice my mother Lillie gave to me on the day that I departed to enlist in the American Army. I have recorded this story before but I think that it bears repeating on an auspicious occasion such as my 87th birthday.

The two of us were standing on the driveway in front of our garage, prior to my taking a quarter mile walk to catch a streetcar, which would take me to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. As mothers are wont to do, Lillie Carr advised me to not get hurt and to write her frequently. I promised to write her but on the other subject of not getting hurt, I pointed out that in this war we were going to be helped by the French, the Canadians, and the Poles, as well as the Czechs. Then, stupidly, I said that the British would be on our side as well. My mother was an Irish woman who ascribed most of the world’s ills to the British. She had no use for them in any shape or form. As soon as my words were uttered, my mother said to me, “Do you mean the English?” I knew that I had been had, so I simply shrugged my shoulders in the hope that that gesture would provide some sort of an answer. In fact it provided no answer at all. In response, my mother said to me, “In that case, son, you will have to do the best you can.” With this, she turned on her heel and walked back into the kitchen, and I knew that the interview was done.

The streetcar ride took more than two hours to go from our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. During that time, I questioned my sanity for having brought up the English. I don’t claim that I was a stellar soldier in the Second World War. But my mother’s advice about doing the best you can still rings in my ears as the 87th birthday approaches. There were times when I really didn’t do the best I could and I regret those instances. But in the end, I am still here, after a fashion, trying to hang on for the 100th birthday. If my Missouri comrade, who was also involved in World War II, made it, perhaps I can too. So in a few years, there will be another essay, perhaps, to let you know how things worked out. But in the meantime, we should all try to do the very best we can and we should not think too much, as the Corporal suggested. At my advanced age, that is about all that I can aspire to.

August 2, 2009
Essay 404
Kevin’s commentary: Fun fact — Pop is now as old as Mr. Davis was when this essay was written.
Other readers of the essay might like to know that he is just as full of BS now as he was as a sprightly 87-year-old, and lines like “I have tried not to think too much” still show up now and again.
I hope that reading this essay will remind Pop of the make-it-to-100 attitude that he held, and hopefully still holds. I know that things can be rough sometimes!


The explanation for this current title will probably appear before the end of this essay. This means that those of you who wonder why this lovely title exists will have to hold on for a while and it will give you a vital interest in the outcome of this little piece.

Over the 11 years that I have been writing essays, there have been a number of occasions when I have touched on third-rail subjects. Those subjects, of course, are religion and politics. In this essay, I propose to touch on another third-rail subject which may arouse visceral emotions. The subject is assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

I know that this can generate emotions based largely on the teachings of your religion. But it is a subject that is worthy of our attention because it is timely. As citizens age and acquire new ailments, it is clear to me that the thought of assisted suicide may well occur to those who are in constant pain. If they elect to end their lives, far be it from me to criticize them. I am not an advocate of assisted suicide but I can envisage the times when it may be well for people to consider ending the torment of pain by ending their lives.

The case comes into focus in the deaths of Sir Edward Downes and his wife earlier this month. Sir Edward was a noted British conductor who had enjoyed great success. He was a major interpreter of the works of Giuseppe Verdi and the Ukrainian composer, Sergei Prokofiev. The record suggests that he conducted 93 concerts in the famous Covent Garden auditorium in London. Beyond that, he was for a considerable period of time the conductor of the British Philharmonic. For his work in music, he was awarded a knighthood, which is an extraordinary achievement. He was 85 years of age. His wife was 76 years of age and was in the last stages of cancer, which had bedeviled her life in recent years. Sir Edward and Lady Downes made an arrangement with an organization in Zurich, Switzerland to end their lives. According to their children, who witnessed the event, minutes after sipping a cocktail, they fell into unconsciousness and in ten minutes were pronounced dead.

There is one other aspect about the health situations of the Downes couple. Sir Edward was losing not only his ability to see but also his ability to hear. I can tell you that a blind man who cannot hear is in serious trouble. A man who cannot read a musical score and cannot hear it would probably have to forfeit his job as a conductor. And he will lose the ability to listen to music forever. So the Downes couple had serious problems and wished to depart this vale of tears together. This led to the appointment with the Zurich agency, which charged them about $6,500 each.

I cannot find it in my heart to condemn Sir Edward and Lady Downes. To the contrary, I applaud them for their decision and the fact that it was carried out in accordance with their wishes. To put my views succinctly, I am not an advocate of killing people at $6,500 a clip. On the other hand, for those who are terminally ill and are suffering great pain, it seems to me that having a means to die peacefully is the most humane thing that we can provide.

My experiences in World War II have a lot to do with my viewpoint. When one of our gunners was hit by 30-caliber or 50-caliber machine gun fire, it literally tore him apart. In those cases, I can remember a person or two begging to die as soon as possible.

But 65 years have passed since World War II and its survivors are aging and have contracted all sorts of ailments. I suspect that those who are bedridden and confined to wheelchairs may well give a thought to a humane way out. Others may simply have lost their zest for living. In my own case, I am not terminally ill and hope to avoid that condition. But if that condition arrives, I would hope that there would be an alternate means of death rather than enduring a long and costly illness prior to death. That simply makes sense. As you can see, I am unrestricted by religious prohibitions on causing an untimely death. If that time ever arrives for me, I would hope that the religious authorities would mind their own business.

Before this essay is complete, it seems to me that a personal note is called for. I am, as most of my readers know, blind. If I lost my ability to hear, it would be very nearly catastrophic. I listen to music and for five days each week The New York Times in a condensed audio version is read to me by a recording device. When I became blind, there were four books on the shelf near my chair that were to be read. I now, as you may have guessed, buy books that provide an audio version.

There is a bit more to it. I sleep in a four-poster brass bed. When I arise, I fumble with my white cane until the end of the bed is located by striking the cane against the brass post. At that point I know to turn left to go to the bathroom. The cane of course makes no sound while I tread on the rug, but as soon as the bathroom is reached, the cane tells me that there is a tile floor and that then positions me. A white cane is a poor substitute for eyesight but for the sightless that is all there is. But it is a good bit better than nothing, which would be the case if loss of hearing were involved. I do not wish to trouble my readers with my personal problems, but I hope that this disclosure may tend to provide understanding for the decision that Sir Edward and Lady Downes made. It is a cruel choice but again I will say that in my heart I cannot find it possible to criticize them. Much to the contrary, I salute their courage.

Now as for the title of this essay: at the outset the thought occurred to me that if under the Roe v. Wade, umbrella a woman can do as she wishes with her body, it would seem to follow as a matter of consistency, that an old-timer in pain and agony could do the same. There are those who will say, much to my regret, that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. And there are others who will say, with respect to females, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. And so I have blended these two thoughts, which results in the hobgoblin making the sauce for the gander. It seems to me that a little levity at the end of a very serious essay might be required. And so it has been provided.

July 28, 2009
Essay 400
Kevin’s commentary: For more on the subject, see here: — my thoughts there apply equally well here. The critical difference is that this one has a bizarre yet fitting title. The word “hobgoblin” is criminally underused these days.

I also have just realized that I’m rapidly approaching the halfway point to the Essays. Exciting stuff! I’ve published 343 to date, counting this one.


I suppose that it is commonplace for us to have to overlook the things that give us comfort and pleasure. Men overlook the contributions that women make in cooking their meals and keeping their houses clean. Children often overlook the efforts of their parents in providing schooling for them. So being forgetful is not an unusual event. However, overlooking the comfort and joy that our commodes bring to us, is not something to be celebrated. Going “commodeless” is far from a joy. Indeed, it is a trial. I know a good bit about that thought.

Growing up during the 1930s, on occasion we visited my father’s brother George, and his wife Essie. While we were in southern Illinois, in Pope County, we also tended to visit Elmer and Grace Collier, who was my mother’s sister. Their homes had no electricity or running water. Indeed, they were dependent upon outhouses.

At that time, I slept in my underwear and had no such things as pajamas and house shoes. If there was a need to use the outhouse late at night, it became a substantial trial.

On one occasion, when my grandfather died in 1932, the time of year was Christmas time. Using the outhouse at that time in frigid weather was far from a joy.

When I joined the American Army and was sent to North Africa, I found that using the outhouse in some locations required putting up with sandstorms that blew through the tarpaulin shacks. That was true in Atar, Mauritania and Tindouf, Algeria. It was also true in El Genina and El Fasher in the Sudan. All things considered, it may be assumed that I am an expert on “commodeless” living.

My last overseas assignment was in Accra, which is located in Ghana. This was a large British-built airbase, which I thought was quite comfortable after the African campaign. Curiously, the British had provided commodes but they failed to provide doors. The commodes were open to gawkers, which for newcomers could prove disconcerting. I am reasonably certain that in London and the rest of the British Empire, doors are provided for the commodes and that they also can be latched.

Jumping ahead a good many years, it turns out that I moved to Millburn, New Jersey in 1969. The leading hardware store at that time was run by a fellow named Harvey J. Tiger. Mr. Tiger did not appreciate chewing the fat as he went about his work. It was all business. His store was at least twice as long as it was wide. He had displays against the walls as well as drawers underneath the displays. Mr. Tiger stood at the back of the store near a cash register and we were obliged to take our purchases to him and he would check us out. Not long after I began to patronize Mr. Tiger, it appeared that a plumbing salesman had taken over. The salesman had introduced pastel-colored commodes with contrasting tops. If one were willing to wait for a while, he could order a purple commode with a green top, if it was so desired. Apparently Mr. Tiger did not think much of this arrangement and after six months or so it was gone.

The point here is to remind readers that they would certainly not enjoy “commodeless” living. Commodes ask for nothing. They simply accept the wastes from the human body and wait for those wastes to be flushed away. They do not criticize or comment and are thoroughly apolitical.

Finally, there is a nostalgic note having to do with commodes. On October 31, 2005, I was lying on a guerney in preparation for being transported to the operating room for the final operation on my one remaining eye. There was a men’s room nearby and I left the guerney to use it because I knew my operation would take quite awhile. The basic fact is that the last thing that I ever saw before blindness took over was a commode. Hence, the sense of nostalgia that envelopes this subject.

One way or another, it seemed to me as a chronicler of affairs having to do with mankind, that we have overlooked the commodes which serve us every day. They bring joy to our lives and are essential to our well being. Therefore I thought while I was still alive, that I should offer recognition to the vital part that commodes play in our lives. And so it is that I offer this robust ode to our modest commodes and thank them for all of the help that they have rendered to mankind. It seems to me that such an ode is long overdue.

June 29, 2009
Essay 392
Kevin’s commentary: A moving piece, to be sure. I wonder though — the toilet might have been the last thing Pop saw, but I wonder about some of the other absolutes. What’s the prettiest thing that he remembers seeing? The ugliest? Has the memory of how any objects look faded away? Is there anything in particular that he has no idea what it looks like, or anything that he couldn’t possibly forget even if he wanted to? Hopefully he’ll see this and answer a question or two.

Read more of Pop’s thoughts re: toilets (because why wouldn’t you want to do that?) here.


Those of you who shop for produce may have noticed over the years that grapes never come from Arab or Muslim countries.  The reason for this is fairly simple.  The petroleum reserves in those countries are so great that they tend to rise to the surface, which proves infertile to the grape-growing industry.  And so it is that among the Arabs, including the Muslim nations, grapes are highly prized.  In the old days, grapes were  often given as wedding gifts or, in other cases, were used to mark a wedding or a retirement.  So the significant fact is that, while the Muslim countries admire the grape-growing countries such as Chile and Argentina, they are unable to grow their own grapes.

This situation has existed since the time of the Prophet Mohammed.  When the Koran was written, it noted the absence of grapes from the Arab culture.

On the other hand, the Koran took notice of the fact that virgins existed in unbounded numbers.  Some were young and some were middle-aged and some were elderly.  But they all had notarized certificates attesting to their virginity.

These two facts about the absence of grapes and the plethora of virgins came into communion with the writing of the Koran.  Specifically, the Koran promised that when a martyr approached the gates of Paradise, Allah would welcome him to those lofty heights and promise to reward him with a varying number of virgins.  According to the Koran that one might read, there would be offered somewhere between twenty-five and nearly one hundred virgins to each martyr.

But the issue of virgins being allotted to martyrs again became quite sticky a few weeks back.  It seems that learned scholars in the Arabic language had concluded that the reward to be offered to martyrs was not virgins but rather grapes.  So if a martyr presented himself high in the clouds to Allah with a certificate of martyrdom, he, under this interpretation, would be rewarded with grapes, not with virgins.  It seems to me that a person contemplating martyrdom through blowing himself up might be hesitant about doing so.  In these days, grapes can be imported from this country or from South America, which makes them much less valuable.  But when the Koran was written, they were inaccessible and highly prized to the point that each person was limited as to the number of grapes he could consume.

The author of this essay has a fertile and understanding mind when it comes to the issue of virgins and grapes.  Let us suppose that a newly-minted martyr who had blown himself to smithereens in the market at Baghdad then approached Allah.  After the welcoming ceremony, the new martyr would strongly hint to Allah that he was ready to get going with his virgins.  My guess is that he would say to Allah, “Your Majesty, I am hot to trot.”  Like most gods, Allah would be unfamiliar with this Americanism.  He would tell the new martyr, “You came here to enjoy eternal life, which I hope we can do as soon as we put all of the millions of pieces of yourself back together.”  And then Allah would be obliged to tell the martyr that he was going to spend this eternal life without the comfort of virgins.  He would say to him, “Here are your 25 grapes.  Congratulations.  And be as happy as you can be in your eternal celibacy.”

If the martyr became belligerent with this “hot to trot” business, Allah would be obliged to remind him that the College of Cardinals has existed for 2,000 years, childless and in celibacy.  But the martyr would say that he had not come to Paradise in quest of celibacy.  He had come to Paradise with the thought that he was going to have a romp with 50 or 70 virgins.

When Allah would explain to the new martyr that this was a misreading of the Koranic verse, the new martyr would then say, “I came here hot to trot, but I wind up being screwed.”

What all of this boils down to is that from time immemorial, Allah must have known that the religious writings of his faith promised virgins to those who became martyrs and proceeded to Paradise on that assumption.  From this it must be concluded that Allah might well be a bait-and-switch artist.  It might well be that Allah will call to account those scholars who insist that grapes will be the reward of martyrdom.  But I am not a Muslim and I do not believe this business about the virgins or Paradise.

On the other hand, the romantic interests in my soul tell me that the mistaken impression in the Koran that has existed for hundreds of years should continue.  For all we know, it might be that potential martyrs may even fall in love with one of their imaginary virgins.  Perhaps he would provide her with some imagined Chilean grapes.



April 29, 2009

Essay 380


Kevin’s commentary: This is in my top 10 Essays of all time. It’s also the second official recipient of the “Outstanding Title” tag.

For more serious commentary on the subject at hand, you can look here:

That said, this commentary is over; this essay easily stands by itself.