Archive for the Depression Category


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 4, 2008


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

ANNETTE, MILDRED, OPAL AND ESSIE | A Retrospective on Women

This is an essay about the unfairness’s that life seems to have reserved for women. In nine years of writing essays, this is the fourth essay on these meaningful inequities.

As I set out to write this essay, lines from two songs come to mind. The first is from a traditional folk song called “The Waggoner’s Lad.” It says,

“Hard luck is the fortune of all womankind,
They are always controlled, they are always confined.
Controlled by their parents until they are wives.
And slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.”

The second thought that comes to mind as this essay is started is a line in the Eric Bogle piece called, “There Must Be A Reason For It All.” There is a counter melody sung by a tenor to Bogle’s baritone voice which holds, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it that way.”

In sum and substance, the unfairness’s that are visited upon women seem to be nobody’s fault. That’s just the way it is. I suspect that if men were to undergo the unpleasantness of menses, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomies, spinsterhood and being widows, there might be a more intense effort on the masculine side to even things up. But that is not the way it is.

In this essay, I propose to tell you about four women I have known who bore their trials with great good grace. The first one is Annette Anderson, a secretary who worked for AT&T in its Overseas Headquarters in New Jersey.

As I recall it, Annette was a divorcee with two or three children. Working in suburban New Jersey meant that she had to own and drive a car to get to work. After a time, the oil in the crank case of every car must be changed. I am more or less an expert on draining crank cases because I spent four years as a youngster working in filling stations when it was a practice to change the crankcase oil every 1,000 miles. In my career, such as it was, I suspect I may have drained as many as a thousand crank cases.

Usually, when I drained crankcases, I had a hydraulic lift inside the garage to raise cars up to chin level. When the plug is removed from the crankcase, there is a surge of oil that must be caught and drained into a barrel. It is a job that requires work clothes rather than dress clothes.

In Annette’s case, economic circumstances conspired to require a less expensive means of draining the crankcase oil of her car. She once told me that she lived on a dead end street. When it was time to change the oil, she would drive the front wheels of the car over the curb and park it so that the front end of the car was higher than the rear end. Annette was a pretty woman with blonde hair. She was also slender. When oil changing time came, she would bundle her hair in a scarf, don old clothes and wiggle under the car to unscrew the crank case plug. Her tool was an end wrench. She took a bucket under the car to catch the oil as it drained from the crankcase. When the oil had drained, she replaced the plug and wiggled her way, with the can with five quarts of used oil in it, out from under the car.

I have drained enough crankcases to know that Annette’s method was a primitive one. But with children to feed and secretarial salaries being what they were, this is what Annette had to do. As an old automobile mechanic, I considered Annette a bit of a heroine. I have not seen or talked to her since 1984. I hope she is well and now has enough income to take her car to a proper garage where the engine oil can be changed by a mechanic.

Now we have a case of Mildred Simon, a supervising force clerk in the Chicago traffic office of AT&T. Each day Mildred would arrive in the office around 7 A.M. and would count the tickets from the prior day’s traffic. Chicago was a big hub in the AT&T network, so there were many tickets to count. Mildred had two helpers for this purpose. The object was to make sure that each ticket was billable which meant that it had to be classified properly. There was also the matter of straightening out any handwriting mistakes.

Mildred Simon was always a most cheerful person. One way or another, I discovered that Mildred had suffered a terrible accident as a child and had lost both her legs. At this late date, I cannot tell you whether the legs were lost below or above the knees but in any case, the loss of the legs seemed to be hideous enough. Mildred sat in the back of the office and whenever any one of us walked past her desk to enter the operating room, Mildred would smile. She knew the loss she had suffered; she was just making the very best of it.

In back of Mildred’s desk was a bulletin board. After I had adopted a child while I worked in Chicago, Mildred was always on me to bring in pictures of my little girl so that she could post them on the bulletin board behind her head. Even after I left Chicago, I sent pictures of Maureen, the little girl, to Mildred. Here was Mildred worrying about my adopted daughter, knowing that to go home at the end of the day, she had to fight the buses and the subways in the loop district of Chicago. It was no easy task even with two good legs, but Mildred had to negotiate this ordeal with two wooden legs. When it comes to heroes, or heroines, I think of Mildred Simon. I have not seen her since 1955, but I think of her often.

The third person in this essay is Opal Audrey Carr, my sister. In the Great American Depression, it was necessarily for the Carr children to go to work at every opportunity. Opal was my senior by seven years. It meant that at an early age she took a job at Joe Gonnella’s saloon on North and South Road in Brentwood, Missouri, serving drinks and occasionally singing. Opal taught herself to play chords on the piano to accompany her singing.

In addition to all of the problems of the Depression that came to Opal, she was also the object of a domineering older sister. In the end, Opal moved from the house to escape the domineering by my eldest sister. As I recall it, Opal had at least two marriages that did not work out. On one occasion, I borrowed a truck and took it to her residence to move her belongings to another location.

While I was in the Army, Opal became associated with dog racing in Florida and in Arizona. As time went on, the family heard less and less from Opal, but we knew that she was racing her greyhounds. As it turns out, she lived in a trailer in Florida and died there before her 60th birthday.

Opal was a good, generous woman. Life didn’t treat her fairly and the Depression was another burden that she had to bear. I suppose that in Opal’s case, the line about “Hard luck is the fortune of all womankind,” applies in spades. I regret that I was unable to see more of Opal. She was always good to me.

And that finally brings us to Essie who was the wife of George Carr, my father’s elder brother. All things being equal, she was my aunt. She lived with her husband and three or four of her boys in a primitive farmhouse in Elizabethtown, Illinois. That town didn’t amount to much, with the feed store probably being the primary attraction on Main Street.

In any event, on the day before Christmas Eve in 1932, a telegram was received at our home in St. Louis by my father telling him of the death of his father, William Meredith Carr. My mother and my siblings had no interest in traveling 180 miles to sleep in Essie and George’s farmhouse. I was 10 years old and I was drafted because there was no school the next day during the holidays.

As I recall it, my father was driving his 1928 Studebaker which had been his car of choice for many years. The two of us arrived in Elizabethtown late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1932. The farmhouse had no electricity or indoor plumbing. There was a well and an outhouse. Heat was furnished by the stove in the kitchen and by another potbellied stove in the living room. This was primitive living at best considering that it was a cold winter.

In the front room, as it was known in those days, there was a double bed which I assume was used by George and Essie. On this occasion however, my grandfather was laid out on that bed covered by a blanket. For a ten year old, it was an eerie feeling. Nonetheless Essie set about providing us with what was called a supper in the country, or dinner in the city. I only remember that Essie made biscuits that I thought were very nice. When bedtime arrived, Essie, still playing the hospitable hostess, made pallets on the floor in the kitchen which was probably a little warmer than the other rooms. My recollection is that I was cold all night with the covers pulled up over my head.

On Christmas Eve day, three of George and Essie’s boys had dug a grave for my grandfather. With the clay soil, and it being frozen, it was hard work. When the boys, who were much bigger and older than I was, returned from their grave digging, there was no bitching or griping. They were as gentle with me and my father as they could be. When I shook hands with those three farmers, I knew that I was shaking the hand of a workman, not a stockbroker. Their hands showed that they had worked at manual labor all their lives.

When Christmas Day arrived, I looked forward to returning to the civilized world of St. Louis. However, at breakfast, Essie knew that there were three other children of about my age. One way or another, Essie had a very small bag for each of us. In each small bag, there were four or five pieces of peppermint candy. Essie made it clear that she intended to recognize Christmas Day with presents for each of us. The peppermint, of course, was the present. That was 74 years ago, and to this day, I have never forgotten Essie’s generosity.

In 1932, in the Depression and in the country, there were no such things as dentists. When teeth arrived at the point where they were no longer useful, a strong man would tie a string around them and pull them. Essie, who was perhaps in her early 50’s, had only six or seven working teeth in her mouth. All her life she had worked hard and the labor showed itself on her face and on her body. Essie was no beauty queen by any stretch of the imagination, but the generosity in her heart knew no bounds.

On Christmas Day, Essie’s sons placed my dead grandfather in a homemade coffin and carried it to the front yard of the house to be placed upon a wagon pulled by two mules. The graveyard was about a half a mile down this rugged road which I hoped would not puncture a tire. Essie rode with me and held my hand. When we reached the graveyard, Essie’s boys and George gently lowered the homemade coffin into the grave. At that time, no one knew about the word cemetery. A graveyard was a graveyard, pure and simple.

One last thought. Essie and George and their boys lived in this primitive farmhouse which may have been a mile or two from what was known as the “hard road.” A hard road could be concrete or asphalt or even gravel. Getting to Essie and George’s house required negotiating the “unhard” road, which was nothing more than wagon tracks. All those exposed rocks could puncture tires in those days very easily. One way or another, we made it back to the hard road to start the journey to our home outside St. Louis.

I don’t recall seeing Essie after that burial, but she has always had a special place in my memory for her generosity on a cold Christmas morning in 1932.

Well there you have my thumbnail sketches of four courageous women who continued to smile and carry on even though life was stacked against them. When Eric Bogle wrote the line, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it that way,” perhaps he had Annette, Mildred, Opal and Essie in mind. I didn’t make it that way either, but good gracious, men have to do better to provide a level playing field for their women. Unfair treatment and inequities have gone on much too long.

December 10, 2006


He’s quoted this particular stanza a few times now, not that that’s a bad thing. But I’m not sure the particular brand of hardship it captures is reflective of modern-day feminist problems, which perhaps have less to do with domineering husbands and more to do with more entrenched social norms and imbalances.

I wonder if the choice to keep the deceased at home (and having family members dig the grave) is a function of their economic situation, or if this was typical for the time period. I’ve heard that this was a pretty common practice in the states, with some homes even having rooms that were built to accommodate the holding and viewing of dead bodies. Maybe this tradition made that generation more familiar with death, because it was kept in closer proximity and normalized a little more — as opposed to sending the dead person off to a funeral home ASAP for embalming. This effect could be compounded by mortality rates and longer lifespans, since death becomes much less of a fixture in life, and kids can grow pretty old before anyone close to them dies. Compare to Pop’s family, where several siblings didn’t make it to adulthood; I imagine that all those kids must have been much more comfortable with death (vs their modern counterparts), since it played a larger role in their early lives.



For several days now, I have been thinking about one of my classmates at the Clayton, Missouri public school system. She was the only daughter of the couple who presided over the small restaurant immediately west of the Clayton High School.

She dressed plainly, wore no makeup that could be discerned and had little to say. She was certainly not part of the social circle in the Clayton public school system. I suspect that she was self-conscious in attending the Clayton school system because of the wealth of the children who were students there. In any event, permit me to tell you a little about her parents and the eating establishment they operated.

I am violating a rule here in that I am commenting for the first time about events that took place during the great American Depression of the 1930s. But this episode is about the Ehrhardts and not about me, so technically I am avoiding my own ban of discussing the Depression.

Somewhere around 1931 or 1932, the Clayton public school system erected a large additional building to house its cafeteria and chorus room. Those were on the second floor. On the first floor, it housed the classrooms equipped for the teaching of “shop” and a garage for the school bus.

There was only one school bus. It was driven by an amiable gentleman named “Shorty” Schaeffer. Shorty was a friend to all the youngsters who road his bus.

Across the street from this addition there was an ancient bungalow that housed a place for students to eat. It was a long narrow building with a sun porch in front, a larger room which must have been in former days the living room and dining room; and in the rear of the building was the kitchen. The place was owned by the Ehrhardt family.

Mrs. Ehrhardt cooked the lunches for the students, which consisted almost exclusively of hamburgers and frankfurters, as I remember it. The food was served by her husband, who had responsibility for the counter that was in the main room. The students often ate in the former sun room if the weather were inclement. In more pleasant weather, they would sit outside on the steps eating their lunches.

Some of the well-to-do children attending the Clayton public school system, including the high school, referred to the Ehrhardt establishment as “the dump.” When Mr. Ehrhardt heard anyone refer to his establishment as “the dump,” he became very angry. The Ehrhardts were doing the best they could during the Depression and it hurt him to hear the words “the dump” as it applied to his place.

The menu choices of hamburgers and hot dogs, if my memory is anywhere near correct, cost five cents each. Potato chips cost another five cents. Perhaps in later years, as we got toward 1940, the price may have doubled, but I doubt it. In any case, it was possible to eat with the Ehrhardt’s for a grand total of ten or fifteen cents.

The kids who ate at Ehrhardt’s establishment had very limited resources and could not afford to eat at the new cafeteria across the street where a complete luncheon would cost maybe twenty cents or twenty-five cents. That was clearly beyond the reach of most of the poor students. There were several students who brought their lunches to school and had no money to spend at all. Generally speaking, the children who ate at Ehrhardt’s had to eat there because, again, they could not afford the prices at the cafeteria across the street.

During all those years, I had attended the Clayton system along with the Ehrhardt daughter, who in retrospect seems timid and self-conscious. Like many of the rest of us, that daughter had trouble competing with the wealth of the rest of the students. All things being equal, the Ehrhardt daughter was non-descript. She did not stick out in her dress, or in her makeup. She seemed to just want to get from one day to the next without controversy.

On most days, the Ehrhardts asked their daughter to work at their eating establishment. She seemed to prefer helping her mother do the cooking as opposed to serving her fellow students along with her father. Working with her mother more or less prevented her from having to face the students that she considered to be her superiors.

I knew the Ehrhardt daughter for perhaps eight or ten years while I attended the Clayton school system and I can’t ever remember having a lengthy conversation with her. It was all only “hello” and “goodbye” and there were no extended remarks in between. I suspect now that the Ehrhardt daughter may have had an inferiority complex, which is not hard to understand given the fact that she went to school with so many wealthy classmates.

The Ehrhardt daughter was a good person in an unfortunate situation. There were students at the school who looked down upon those who patronized “the dump” as well as the Ehrhardt family itself. For my money, the Ehrhardts were hard-working people who were doing the best they could and the daughter was dutiful. She wasn’t beautiful and she didn’t wear lovely clothes. She was just the daughter of hard-working people during the Great American Depression. As you can see, I don’t even remember her name, but she made a distinct impression upon my mind.

I left Clayton high school at graduation time in January of 1940, and I have not seen either the Ehrhardts or their daughter since that time. For the past day or two I have been wondering whether the Ehrhardt daughter ever married or had children or had a successful career. She was simply a child of the depression, which may tell you all you need to know about her. Her father was often gruff but her mother was a loving person who extended a welcome to anyone who came to her establishment, whether they were rich or poor. I hope that the daughter took after her mother rather than her father.

And so I am sorry to tell you that she did not wind up being Miss America or winner of the Olympics in 1936 or anything of the sort. In point of fact, there is not much that I can tell you about her. But for the last day or two, thoughts about this inoffensive woman have bedeviled me. I sincerely hope that she enjoyed life after the closing of the Ehrhardt Eatery, which happened around 1945 when the street was widened.

As a matter of interest, in all the years I attended the Clayton public school system, I was never able to afford the prices at the school cafeteria. Paying twenty cents or twenty-five cents for lunch was much beyond my means. On occasions when I had a nickel or two to spare from cutting grass or babysitting, I often invested with the Ehrhardt organization. But mostly I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag which my mother insisted that I should fold up and bring home because, as she said, “They don’t give those paper bags away, you know.”

I am sorry to leave you up in the air about the Ehrhardt daughter, but if you ever see her please tell her that I send my best regards. Because that woman is now well into her eighties, treat her gently when you find her.

August 11, 2006


Whoa whoa whoa. If a hamburger costs 5 cents, chips certainly shouldn’t ALSO cost 5 cents. Cheese and meat are both a lot more expensive than potatoes! Maybe the hamburger was 8c and the chips were 2c; that would make more sense.
Anyway, 25 cents in 2017 dollars is $6.15. I can get away lunch in San Francisco for $7 sometimes; in light of that, the idea of paying 25 cents for a depression-era school lunch in Missouri seems crazy. $6.15 per kid would add up quite quickly. Ehrhardt’s prices seem a lot more reasonable — it’s a shame the kids gave them a hard time.


This essay offers the thought that being poor financially, may have its merits. Obviously, its drawbacks are well known. The conventional wisdom these days runs against being poor, but being one step away from financial disaster is in communion with the philosophy of a country woman who claimed Lusk, Illinois as her birth place.

Country women are accustomed to hard work and to plain speaking. This lady was fairly tall and raw boned, if that term can be used for a church going female. Her use of the English language reflected her educational accomplishments which had to do with completion of the third grade McGuffy Reader. Double negatives in one sentence were common place. The British Broadcasting Company would have been aghast at her spoken English, but as an Irishwoman, she had no use for the BBC or for the royal family. Her views on life continue to make eminent sense 44 years after her death.

Often, she spoke in aphorisms. She believed, for example, that being poor – which she often was – did not prevent a person from being honest. If a debt was owed to someone, it should be paid as fully and as promptly as possible.

Being rich or poor provided no excuse for avoiding service to your country. Her brothers and her son all volunteered for Army service in the First and Second World Wars. Awaiting the call from the draft board was sort of second tier patriotism to her. Avoiding service, for able-bodied men, was considered scandalous by the Lusk philosopher.

Being poor was no excuse whatsoever for not washing ones self. While your clothes may be worn, they should always be clean.

Being poor should not prevent one from looking for work. If a job developed, honesty demanded that the employee get to work on time and stay until quitting time.

Being poor did not entitle one to give up and to whimper about life’s unfairness. That Lusk woman didn’t demand miracles, but she did demand that those around her do the best they could do. Her exhortations and aphorisms were sometimes delivered with Bible verses such as, “The wages of sin is death.” Her demands were not couched in proper English grammar, but those around her always got the message.

It seems to me that people coming from those depression era circumstances are often better able to understand events that take place in our daily lives and in the life of this country. Let’s take the 2004 presidential election. In that contest, the man who had the most money had a clear advantage. George Bush and John Kerry had never been poor in their entire lives. Bush made preposterous claims for example, about the success of the war in Iraq. Poor people who saw their children become soldiers as a means of making a living knew not to believe such political propaganda. They simply watched the casualty figures mount and concluded that they were being lied to.

For his part, John Kerry picked a crucial time in the campaign to display his wealth and athletic skills. He visited one of his many homes and he was photographed wind surfing. That was a colossal blunder. If the idea was to show that he was physically fit, it was drowned out by the horse laughs from farmers and miners and other folks who have to work for a living. When a farmer is harvesting wheat in any Midwestern state, he would not be favorably moved by a rich man wind surfing in an elite setting on Cape Cod.

Bush and Kerry were always politicians of inherited wealth. Men from more modest circumstances would not have operated the campaigns as the well heeled candidates conducted them in 2004. They would have known to stick to provable facts and to avoid wind surfing on Cape Cod at all costs. Being poor is no excuse for running a dumb campaign.

Now that the campaign is finally finished, a candidate of modest means would know better than to star in a $40 million inaugural extravaganza. Candidates who have survived diminished backgrounds would think first of the military vehicles in Iraq which have inadequate armor. Such a candidate might think also about the victims of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. A man who had to work his way through school might conclude that $40 million would buy some armor for combat vehicles or it might help a fisherman from Sri Lanka to replace his tsunami destroyed boat. Or it might provide shelter for homeless people here who have barely enough to eat.

First things first. Extravagant $40 million inaugural bashes probably would not even make the “To Do” list of a candidate who was raised by parents who lived from one paycheck to another or from a no-paycheck to another week or month without a job.

In the January 11, 2005 edition of the New York Times, there is a full page devoted to “What The First Lady Will Wear.” On Inauguration Day, Laura Bush will wear a gown designed by Oscar de la Renta. The gown will have to match her hair and her accessories. “Mrs. Bush has acknowledged that she is taking style cues from her 22 year old twin daughters,” says the Times. They will have to also wear ball gowns from designers to the wealthy.

While poor people with inadequate food and shelter are with us, the expenses devoted to the Inauguration including the ball gowns, is nothing less than an abomination. While soldiers are dying from lack of vehicle armor, the money spent to dress the first lady and her daughters must be regarded as loathsome.

Soldiers and poor people can read. They will view the inaugural activities with detestation. All of these descriptions will have been richly earned by the Bush family and the Inaugural Committee.

If one wishes to understand what women and men of modest means endure everyday, it helps to have been born in poor or less affluent circumstances. For example, if anyone seeks to understand people working in dead end jobs, it would help if the inquirer had worked for a time on the bottom rung of the labor ladder. To understand financial despair, it would help to have been broke once. If one wishes to understand sick people without health insurance, it might be well to have been sick in that same circumstance. To comprehend despair among soldiers, it would be well to have served as a private in combat situations. And if your bank or your landlord takes away your housing or your car, it may be well to have experienced that dread.

It may be that no one wishes to understand all of the travails that befall ordinary working and retired Americans. That may be the case particularly among the more affluent. On the other hand, if one wishes to understand the dynamics of the American people, there are those American citizens who worry about not having enough to eat, or worry about the rent or are concerned about being sick without insurance. Those things are part and parcel of American life in 2005. Discerning citizens would be well advised to understand that. Being poor or coming from deprived or modest backgrounds might be helpful in understanding those situations.

If we turn from the individual citizens to the American influence on world affairs, it seems to me that there is a verse from the King James version of the Bible, that may offer some wisdom. In Proverbs 16:18 we are warned that, “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Quoting from Proverbs doesn’t make me a Bible scholar, but those words have meaning to the more affluent among us who proclaim that America leads the world in nearly every category.

Take automobiles, for example. In affluent neighborhoods and suburbs, finding an American car in the parking lot of a market will take a bit of searching. The well-to-do and those who aspire to be well-to-do drive foreign cars. It is de rigueur to own a Volvo or an Infiniti or a Lexus. Less well off citizens drive Fords and Chevies and Chrysler products.

In 2004, Toyoto sold 2,000,000 cars in this country. They seem to have passed Chrysler and are threatening Ford for total sales in the United States. Whereas two decades or so ago, the world looked to American car manufacturers for innovative leadership, those laurels have now passed to the Japanese and to the Germans. Close behind them are the Koreans.

For 45 or 50 years following World War II, American cars set the standard for the world to follow. American manufacturers were slow to recognize that less affluent buyers were buying Volkswagens, Hondas and Subarus rather than Fords or Chevies. By the time American car companies woke up, the luxury market included Lexus’s and Infinities fighting it out with Cadillacs and Lincolns which now find favor largely with limousine companies.

By paying attention to Toyota, Nissan, Honda, VW and the Korean manufacturers, we might have learned something to prevent the rapid drop in the sale of American cars. Poor people could have told Detroit something worthwhile – if Detroit had asked and had paid attention.

In the field of education, poor people could point out some other shortcomings. The cost for tuition, board and room at well regarded universities now exceeds $40,000 for one year. Travel to and from the school and incidental expenses are additional expenses to be borne by the student or his family. And Americans thought their educational institutions were without parallel.

Simply put, $40,000 puts attendance at a first rate school out of the question for children of poor people or even those of modest means. To anyone who claims that American higher education leads the world, there are some sobering thoughts. One of the first is that many soldiers being killed or wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, joined the military primarily or solely because they could use military pay to afford a college education. The main thrust of the American military is aimed at enlistments among high schoolers who come from modest or poor backgrounds. Recruiting shows and exhibits do not bother with well-to-do high schools. Their aim is at deprived schools in run down neighborhoods.

Enlisting is sort of a chimera. Recently, the Army has instituted its “Stop Loss” program which means that the soldier is kept in the military, at the end of his enlistment, whether he likes it or not. When he finally completes his enlistment, the soldier is probably 22 or 23 years of age which is not a prime time to become a college freshman. Having been away from academic pursuits for at least three years is a primary reason for abandoning a college career. With re-enlistment bonuses of several thousand dollars, many young men will opt for more soldiering. Students from well-to-do families can embrace a college career directly after high school. At age 22 or 23 years, these youngsters are set to start their life’s work. Poor people know that the educational cards are stacked against them. They are smart enough to know that, but not smart enough to make a level playing field for everyone who aspires to attend a university. On top of everything else, the U.S. Government has now announced a cut in Pell Grants which means that there will be even fewer resources for worthy students who come from poor circumstances.

My reading of educational facts in continental Europe leads me to conclude that many governments encourage students to succeed regardless of financial circumstances. This is not the American way. A case in point is a young Czech man who spent a summer in New Jersey working for a farmer who sold his produce in local farmer’s markets. That fellow is now a PhD candidate at the Economics University of Prague. The fellow who sold us tomatoes and cabbages came from a family of modest means, yet he will soon be addressed as “Doctor” or “Professor.” Could a student of similar means achieve that in this country? The chances are that it would take considerable financial resources that poor people don’t have and have no prospects for achieving.

In leaving the field of education as it relates to students of lesser means, there are two sobering thoughts. American government officials have imposed a series of immigration rules that have caused a deadening effect on foreign students studying in this country. This is absolutely counter-productive because those students, in later life, will have no understanding of how things work in the United States. Ignorance may well mean hostility.

Secondly, the Chief Executive of the United States government has told us that layoffs and outsourcing of jobs is sort of a blessing. He says the obvious answer is to find a nearby junior college and to study to learn a new career.

Unfortunately, many of the layoffs and outsourcing have happened to people who hold more than one advanced university degree. And when the Chief Executive speaks about the opportunities offered by junior colleges, my mind turns to a 50 year old laid off coal miner who started to work at age 16, not long after completing the eighth grade in a country school. What are his chances of becoming a nuclear physicist, if that is his next planned career move? Maybe the Commander in Chief has some ideas. The rest of us do not. But he has been a rich man all his life. Do you think he has a plan for 50 year old miners? There is also the person holding down three jobs already to make ends meet. How will she or he find time to attend career-changing classes at a local junior college.

There is one circumstance where being poor has some great advantages. That circumstance is music. The poor people who have been oppressed and denied opportunity to succeed, have often turned to music. Does anyone who knows anything about music deny the power of the spiritual? Hearing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” or “Look Down Look Down That Lonesome Road” will tell any listener that poor people have constructed magnificent pieces of music. If the spirituals are sung by the likes of Leontyne Price or Paul Robeson, for example, the results are electrifying.

Jews have been pushed and ground down for centuries. Still they have produced sterling song writers such as Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin. Broadway and the music world would have been much poorer had it not been for Jewish composers, lyricists and performers.

And finally, there are the Celts who produced, among other songs, “Danny Boy,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Scotland the Brave” and the Welsh song “Ar Hyd Y Nos” which we know in English as “All Through the Night.” Are there more expressive lyrics than “Sleep my child, may peace attend thee, all through the night?” When Russian choirs sing, their hearts are in their music. All of these people, the Africans, the Jews, the Celts, the Poles and the Russians will grab your attention when they perform – and they may make you cry a bit. Generally speaking, poor people, engulfed by tragedy, will often put their thoughts into song.

The foregoing list of music by poor people is something that comes to mind as we close “Maybe Being Poor Ain’t All Bad.” Obviously, there are other people who have turned their poverty into music. Failure to include them is a function of space and time, and not one of deliberate omission.

By this time, this ancient essayist hopes his point about poor people has been made. Being born to royalty does not prevent some utterly miserable things to take place such as Britain’s Prince Harry appearing at a party dressed as a Nazi Afrika Corps trooper with a swastika armband. Ho boy – no poor Cockney would have ever made that mistake – right mate? Being born poor may mean that the person of lesser means may possess brain power that greatly exceeds the ruling class. And so, old essayists who came of age during the Great Depression may have a point when it is claimed that maybe being poor ain’t necessarily all that bad.

Now a concluding word or two about the Lusk philosopher. She was, of course, Lillie Carr, my mother. When she wanted to upgrade her background, she would claim that she came from Golconda, the seat of Pope County, about 20 miles away. She would contend that while no one knew where Lusk was, “ever’body knows about Golconda.” Maybe so, because around Golconda, they had “hard roads” (meaning paved ones). Lusk had only one-car trails that had no street or highway designation. Those unpaved roads were identified by naming some of the farmers who lived along the right-of-way for the roads. “Go by the Brown place and turn right on the road to the Jones place” is the way that directions were given.

The Lusk native, who moved to St. Louis in 1904, had eight children. Three of them died at an early age. When her youngest child went to join the American Army in 1942, his departure was marked by a blunder of colossal proportions. To put it mildly, Lillie harbored active and smoldering ill feelings toward England as she was an Irish nationalist.

When it was time for me to leave to catch the Kirkwood-Ferguson street car which would start my journey to Jefferson Barracks south of
St. Louis, she said to be careful. It was at this point that she needed re-assurance. The soon-to-be-soldier told Lillie that there would be plenty of help. She always liked the Poles because they were hard workers at the farm superintended by my parents in Clayton, Missouri. She was told about the Poles, the French and the Russian troops. Lots of help there. Inexplicably, Lillie’s son said that British troops would also be prominent in the fight against Hitler.

Immediately, it became clear from Lillie’s expression that her youngest child was in the throes of a gigantic mistake that would have been avoided had he shut up before including the Brits.

Lillie said, “Do you mean the English?” My shoulders shrugged in affirmation. The last words that reached my ears came from Lillie saying, “In that case Son, you do the best you can.” It was a long ride on that street car.

For whatever differences we may have had on religion, she taught me that being poor was no excuse at all for not doing my best in every case. It goes without saying that Lillie of Lusk has my eternal gratitude for demonstrating that being poor has many merits.

There are those who say, “I have been rich and I have been poor. Rich is better.” But on balance, there are times when being poor teaches you some valuable lessons. In the end, it seems to me, that maybe being poor ain’t all that bad. For those who disagree, my understanding is always available.

January 13, 2005


I think the real lesson is “if you’re going to be poor, try to be born in Western Europe.” There are definitely some things in the US that get around the pitfalls that Pop mentioned — for example, for high-achieving poor students, the most prestigious universities usually are also the cheapest options — but overall the safety nets that we have are not of a very high quality. It doesn’t help that they come under direct fire from Republican politicians at every opportunity.

MUSINGS – Volume I

To put it bluntly, the eyesight of this old essayist is not as sharp as it was when soldering was my occupation. So after 67 years of driving cars and trucks and airplanes, my head prevailed over my heart and my retirement from driving cars has now occurred. If there is an emergency, of course, there is no prohibition on my coming out of retirement to take the wheel once more.

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 is meant to thwart such journalistic bombast.

Being a retired driver means that Ms. Chicka drives while freeing me to look at the passing scenery and to muse a bit now and then. Actually, my musing goes on pretty much full time as there is no attempt on my part to tell Ms. Chicka how her driving could be improved. My contribution is to look out the window, adjust the heat controls and think about esoteric facts of life. In Army days, the pilot flew the plane and my job was to look for FW190’s or Messerschmitt 109’s. So things haven’t changed much. My current ponderings often have no obvious conclusion, but they give me something to think about now that my responsibilities no longer include driving. So you are invited to ponder and muse along with me on some of life’s mysteries.

Lawn Signs and Bumper Stickers

As these lines are written, the 2004 elections are three or four weeks into history. Summit, New Jersey, an affluent community, seems to tolerate lawn signs even on 15 or 20 room mansions on Hobart Avenue. The signs urge the viewer to vote for various people for councilman or woman as well as candidates for the presidential race. Bumper stickers abound mostly on the rear bumpers where following drivers are forced to look at them.

The printing industry must make handsome profits on signs and stickers. That is all well and good, but can anyone assure me that a driver encountering signs and stickers, will say, “That’s the man or woman who gets my vote because it looks so nice on the lawn sign or the bumper sticker?” For my money, it is a case of one politician printing such signs because his opponent has such material. At election time, put your spare cash into printing company stocks.

Entrepreneurial Hijinks

You will see many car trunks and fenders these days with an eight or ten inch loop saying, “Support the Troops.” These loops have an adhesive on the back so they will stick to any surface.

The loops were hijacked from messages urging people to be aware of breast cancer. The loops about the troops are sold in hardware stores, drugstores and convenience stores.

A not very bright fellow was asked by a television reporter about the profits produced by the loops. He said the profits went to the troops. How could anyone be so dense. The profits have nothing to do with troops of any kind. The profits go to the marketers who invented the idea, to the printing companies and to the people at the point of sale. And those people have no intention of becoming Privates, PFC’s and Corporals. They are much too busy banking their profits to think about taking up soldiering for their life’s work.

Soon there will be loop signs that say, “Bring the troops home.” Some are now appearing. But again, whatever profits there are won’t be going to troops of any kind.

Odd size waist measurements – Men’s Division

Clothing manufacturers have an aversion to odd size waist measurements. If a person has a 35 inch waist line, his clothing store may shoehorn him into a 34 inch pair of pants. For an additional fee, the pants may be altered so that they fit. Ah, but that is not the American way. Is there a constitutional prohibition on garments, particularly pants, manufactured in odd rather than even sizes?

Belt makers produce belts only in even sizes. Does anyone know if belt makers who produce odd size belts will find themselves prosecuted? This charade has been going on for all of my life. Maybe after Congress deals with the 9-11 Commission findings, they may give some thought to men’s clothing. In my lifetime, that is a forlorn hope, but it is one of my musings.

Rooney on election results

Andy Rooney is, of course, the well known essayist who delivers four or five minutes of comment at the end of “60 Minutes” broadcasts. He got a hostile message which claimed that all the people at CBS News were liberals who voted exclusively for John Kerry. Rooney said that was not the case at all. He said the 50%-50% split at CBS News was the same found throughout the country. Rooney said, “50% of us voted for Kerry and 50% registered their hatred for Bush.”

Several commentators have said Kerry lost because of guns, gays and God. They may well be right.

Ashcroft on the way out

John Ashcroft is the worst Attorney General of the U.S. in our 228 years as a government. He is so utterly terrible that George Bush told him his services were no longer needed. Ashcroft comes from a Missouri town near Howard Davis’s ancestral home of Defiance.

My musings about Ashcroft have to do with “providence” and crime and terrorism. Brother Ashcroft said recently that providence was responsible for there being no terror attacks on the U.S. since the Bush Administration took over. If that is even halfway true, where was Ashcroft’s providence on September 11, 2001 when the same crowd of neo-cons was also in control? Poor old John can’t have it both ways.

When Ashcroft resigned, he did not dictate a letter to his secretary. No, he produced a five page handwritten letter to Bush in which he said the campaign “against terror and crime has been accomplished.” Presumably, the disappearance of crime and terror came about because Ashcroft was the Attorney General. If those facts are even remotely true, why do we still have police departments, and soldiers getting killed in Iraq?

In the main hall of the Justice Department building in Washington there is a statue of a woman largely unclothed. One of Ashcroft’s first acts was to order the breasts of the statue to be covered. To the extent that we have naked female statues in the halls of justice, we will also have crime and terror. Ashcroft has pulled a magical triple play. By covering the breast or breasts of the statue, he set in motion the sacred campaign to wipe out crime and terror. For that he has earned our eternal thanks. Even Howard Davis never thought Ashcroft could do it.

Condoleezza and airplanes

During the hearings of the 9-11 Commission, the National Security Advisor stated that there is no way anyone in the Bush Administration could be blamed because terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Condoleezza, who advises the U.S President, believed this was a new form of warfare never before contemplated. No one ever thought of such a thing, she said.

Condoleezza must not be a scholar of World War II. In that conflict, the Japanese had squadrons of Kamikazi pilots whose sole duty was to fly their airplanes into such things as U.S. aircraft carriers.

Harry Livermore, who was aboard the carrier “Ticonderoga,” saw a Kamikazi cause something like 300 American deaths when it struck his ship. The Russians used some of their aircraft propellers to slash holes in German planes during aerial warfare against the Soviet Union. The Russians were partial to the P39 Bell Air Cobra which we had lend-leased them. When ammunition ran out, the Russians used their own propellers to down German aircraft.

It is distressful to me that Condoleezza had no idea about aerial warfare including flying an airplane into a building or a ship or another war plane. My musings and pondering make me wonder what gave her qualifications such weight as to become Secretary of State. It beats me.

Porter Goss and the rules of the road for CIA employees

When George Tenet found himself the fall guy for the intelligence failures of the Bush Administration, he quit. Bush picked Porter Goss, a Florida Republican congressman, as his replacement at the Central Intelligence Agency.

In theory, the CIA is a non-political organization where different points of view are heard and tolerated. The thought being that our intelligence has to be impartial and to reflect the best estimates of the CIA. The CIA used to present facts to the administration and to Congress. Sometimes these facts run counter to political desires.

Old Porter took over as the head of the CIA with the obvious thought that this was a nest of leakers and nay-sayers. The resignations of 15 top CIA officials have been offered so far. More resignations are on the way as we write.

In a letter to CIA employees, Porter Goss said to forget all that B.S. about impartiality and differing points of view. In his second month of the job, Goss said he wanted to clarify “The rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work.”

If the policy is to attack Iran, the CIA is expected to “support the administration.” If the policy is to attack Peru, every CIA gringo is expected to say, “go get ‘em.”

My ponderings are those of an old soldier. Somehow this all seems bass ackward. The CIA produces the intelligence which must guide the rest of the government. In Porter Goss’s view, the Bushies make a policy and require the CIA to support it. It seems to some of us that such a reversal of the normal order of things can bring us nothing but disaster. Is the government really going to say it is our policy that country “X” is suspected of having an atomic bomb and it is up to the CIA to produce the evidence even if there is none. This is Alice in Wonderland political stuff which causes me to muse and ponder about it. If the U.S. government is going to make policy before we have evidence, we are asking for more Vietnams and more conflicts with the Arab world. It is sort of like my knocking down a man in the street and requiring the cops to produce a justification for my attack. As we said, this is all totally bass ackward, to use one of my mother’s phrases.

Poor people always suffer

Just off hand, we have several friends in Florida who formerly worked for AT&T. One lives in the Northeastern part of the state, one lives in the northwestern part of the state and one lives far to the south below Naples. The hurricanes that struck Florida were relentless, but all of our acquaintances seem to have survived unharmed. But the poor people who live in trailers and insubstantial housing were largely wiped out. As these lines are written some three months since the hurricane season began, there are families waiting to acquire new housing, even if it is only a trailer.

This is a familiar tale. The people who have little most often suffer the most. My musings wonder if the suffering comes about because they have a high rate of abortions, which played such a part in the 2004 elections. Or was it that these poor people had a high rate of same sex marriages which some voters seemed to detest?

My ponderings tell me that poor people will take whatever money they have to buy bread and cheese for their children and for themselves rather than to give it to an abortionist. My instincts tell me that abortion and same sex marriages are developments that are seldom – if ever – thought about by poor people.

Many of us were raised during the Hoover Depression of the 1930’s when there was no work and we were poor. We did not worry about abortions and same sex marriages, but we still wonder why it is that nature or providence or unseen gods make it so hard for poor people to enjoy life.

Sin is damn near everywhere

Bob Carney who resides in that Sodom and Gomorrah liberal city of Wilton, Connecticut, reported on a conversation he had overheard in Jacksonville, Florida. Carney and his lawfully wedded female wife, were waiting for their luggage in the baggage area of the Jacksonville Airport. He reports, “We heard a well dressed woman and her daughter chatting with a skycap about how she would not raise her daughter in New York.” “Too liberal,” she said. The skycap agreed citing the “wrong values up there.” Minutes later, Carney’s wife began talking about a recent episode of “Desperate Housewives.” The woman who would not raise her child in New York said, “I love that show. It is so much fun.”

“Desperate Housewives” is the show that had its leading actress dressed, apparently only in a towel, in an encounter with the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrill Owens. This was a short skit prior to a Monday night NFL football game. At the conclusion of the skit, she dropped the towel and jumped into Owens’ arms. This is very artsy stuff. All of it was done to promote “Desperate Housewives”!

The woman who thought New York too liberal most likely joined the rest of the voters in the 2004 election to support Bush. Curiously, the Pecksniffian right wingers who attend church services regularly the most, are the most regular watchers of TV trash such as “Desperate Housewives” and the Fox Network. These facts are not propaganda from the political opposition. These facts come from weekly independent studies done by the broadcasters themselves.

It must be a case of give sin hell on Sundays and on election day, but please don’t deprive me of my trash TV viewing all the rest of the month. My muses and my pondering say, “Go figure.”

Whatever is left of my mind will probably continue to collect musings and ponderings as Ms. Chicka does the driving. The yard signs urging support of political candidates are gone now, but the bumper stickers remain. My notes tell me there is material on hand to support Volume II of musings. If Volume I if a big seller, you may be sure its successor will be waiting in the wings unless this old essayist is distracted by broadcasts of trash television. The preachers are right. Sin is everywhere including right here in Short Hills, New Jersey.

November 27, 2004


Nine essays in one! That’s gotta be some kind of record.

There was an interesting NYT piece the other day about how the cultural divide in this country manifests itself through TV viewership. The core of the piece is 50 maps showing viewer density for all sorts of different shows. Shows like Duck Dynasty and Teen Mom are extremely popular in places like Kentucky, but not so much in New York, which is watching The Daily Show and Game of Thrones.

With the yard signs and bumper stickers, I think that these matter a lot more for local elections than they do for national ones. People react well to name recognition, so if you’re driving around your neighborhood and see a ton of signs for like, a harbor supervisor, then you’re more likely to put that person’s name down if you get to the polls and can only remember that one name. For elections where a) parties play a big role and b) everyone knows both candidates anyway, like presidential elections or senate races, it’s hard to imagine they do any good whatsoever.

As a final thought, if the Bush administration was committing to “policy first, evidence later,” I wonder if team Trump will go with “policy first, evidence never” or “‘alternate facts’ first, policy second.” Both seem like good candidates.


Today is my birthday. Ordinarily, my birthday happens only once a year, so it has always been my intention to be as charitable as possible on this sanctified occasion.

It is very difficult to be charitable this year as we were told last Sunday, August 1st, that the terrorists planned to annihilate those of us in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Northern New Jersey. Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge made this breathless announcement on Sunday afternoon.

He needn’t have been so breathless as the events he was attempting to describe happened in 2000 and in 2001 – a mere three or four years ago. Old Tom never mentioned this fact which is charitably described to an oversight. Some oversight.

Whenever the Democrats have a favorable development to report such as the naming of John Edwards to the ticket or Kerry’s widely acclaimed Thursday night speech at the Democratic convention, Ridge or his hymn singing brother, John Ashcroft, always appears with a terror alert. It never fails. So you see my charitable impulses are being sorely tested with a large dose of cynicism.

Tom Terrific should have gotten off stage several minutes earlier because of his preposterous conclusion. This is hard to comprehend, but Ridge concluded his presentation with these nonsensical words: “We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president’s leadership in the war against terror.” In short, he ended his screeching presentation with a commercial.

John Moreley wrote in the New York Times, “I realized that I was listening to a paid political announcement and turned the radio off. The credibility of the announcement had been reduced to zero.”

And so my intent to be charitable on this momentous occasion is being flayed by the whips and chains of absolute cynicism.

Nonetheless, it seems important to charitably consider two elephants in the room – American dead in Iraq and stem cell research – with perhaps a thought or two about military cemeteries which used to be called graveyards. And we may conclude with a piece of hilarious comment by the comedian, George Bush.

The Dead in Iraq

As of this morning, American dead in Iraq has reached the 921 mark. Another 126 soldiers from their so-called coalition have also lost their lives. On the Iraqi side, there have been as many as 20,000 lives lost. It is hard to imagine all these dead soldiers and civilians. What is even more preposterous, is that Bush and Kerry and Nader take no note of these deaths. Bush has time to campaign and to fall off his bicycle, but he has yet to attend a funeral for one American soldier killed in Iraq.

Bush started this tragically unfortunate war in Iraq with no exit strategy. He assumed we would be welcomed as heroes. There are 921 dead soldiers who could offer a thoroughgoing rebuttal.

So under the circumstances, it is understandable why Bush would refrain from mourning for the dead – American and others. Bush has reasons to overlook or ignore the elephant in the room. What is baffling is why Kerry and Edwards have said nothing about the pachyderm in the parlor. This is a ready made issue for the Democrats, but the Kerry campaign pretends that the Bush people are civilized. Stealing votes in Florida or contending that John McCain had a black child is par for the course for the Bush people when they campaign. Now they are suggesting that John Kerry is a coward.

John Edwards is a fine trial attorney who could make mincemeat out of the presidential stewardship which has cost us 921 deaths so far. But Edwards has been silent about the elephant he does not see.

Ralph Nader has made a pass to two at the casualties, but then his attention is drawn to why he is in the race in the first place. So Nader leaves the elephant undisturbed.

So the American Electorate is left with a conundrum. Why is the elephant in the living room unobserved and not commented upon. If 921 people died suddenly in someplace like Topeka, Kansas, there would be widespread comment. But when 921 of our best young men and women and 20,000 Iraqis are lost in what appears to be a never ending war, the politicians are silent.

So the conundrum continues. Any solution that this old soldier might offer would be unwelcome and rejected. The Army made it clear to me many years ago, that soldiers don’t get paid for thinking. Now, 62 years later, it appears to me that soldiers get paid to die. Slow learners like me seldom get to march in a parade with the rest of the troops.

Stem Cell Research

Ron Reagan, the son of the former President, made a non-political speech at the Democratic Convention in which he praised medical advances in stem cell research. His father died of Alzheimer’s disease which is one of the diseases stem cell research would work on. The Roman Pope is heavily afflicted with the evidence of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s would be among the first diseases tackled by the researchers of stem cell work.

Reagan’s speech was well received by the convention. Estimates are that stem cell research is backed by an overwhelming majority of the American public. But the fact remains that while stem cell research is heavily favored by the American public, George Bush continues to make opposition to it a plank in his platform. Another conundrum as Kerry, a Catholic, is in favor of the research work. The answer here is out and out pandering by Bush. This is pandering of the first and worst sort.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) led a reformation movement out of the Catholic Church. From the year 1529, Luther established the Reform movement which we now know as the Protestant Church. Bush reads no history, but if he did, he would know the United Methodist Church is a member of the Protestant faith. Bush claims membership in that branch of the Protestant faith which he adopted after 40 years of dissolute behavior. His church affiliation was to prevent him from losing his wife and his twin daughters. The Methodists have never announced any opposition to stem cell research.

Now we come to the pandering part of his desperate attempt to secure a second term. The Vatican claims that stem cell research is contrary to their beliefs. This is well and good for Catholics. By Executive Order, Bush has decreed that stem cell research funded by the U.S. Government be severely limited in this country – which is why Ron Reagan and his mother have taken the position in favor of research work going forward.

In so doing, Bush has proclaimed that Catholic theology will now apply to all the rest of Americans who owe no faith to Rome. Not long ago, Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays. If Bush had the power back in the 1930’s, he may have decreed that all the meat eating non-Catholics would have to struggle through on Jack salmon or tuna fish on Fridays.

The point here is pandering to potential voters. If Bush were sincere about stem cell research, he would at the least, have to accept the primacy of the Roman Pope in all religious matters. Absent his acceptance of the Pope’s authority, Bush is cherry picking which equates to nothing other than pandering.

As an aside, Bush, in his rush to embrace Catholic theology, overlooks the fact that the Pope has condemned his war in Iraq. Furthermore, Bush has expressed no belief in Purgatory nor have we seen him asking his daughters to refrain, at all times, from birth control. Nothing is said by Bush about the death penalty, which the Pope opposes.

Bush panders to the Catholics and to the Jews and to the rest of the Christian faiths mainly because his intellectual ability is so limited that it is impossible for him to make a case on the merits of the issue. And so the conundrum continues.

Now let us move on to the disaster that awaits any country that moves to break the Church-State division. My example is the 18th Amendment, which shut down alcohol beverage sales in this country for a time between the end of the First World War and March, 1933.

Soon after the First World War was settled, this country invoked the Volstead Act which led to the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Under this amendment, there was a legal prohibition of the manufacture, transportation or the sale of alcoholic beverages. The era of Prohibition lasted until Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in March, 1933.

The idea of Prohibition came largely from Southern politicians who wanted to be seen as destroyers of “Demon rum,” in accordance with Protestant beliefs. It was nothing other than the intrusion of religion into the political process. A good number of the Southern politicians were known to be heavy drinkers, but they wanted to win an election, so they imposed Prohibition on all of us.

Disaster followed. Bootlegging was rampant. Gangs grew up captained by such men as Al Capone who wanted to maintain his dominance in the liquor trade. One of my religious aunts made “home brew” during Prohibition, which turned me off beer for life.

What is being said here is that Bush will do anything to pander to religious groups. When religion moves into politics, disaster follows. Perhaps we ought to be encouraged by the defeat of the amendment to bar same sex marriages. That annulment was simply another way for Bush to wallow around in religious affairs.

In any case, however, when it comes to stem cell research, politicians are staying away in droves and voicing no opinions, regardless of its benefits. It may even cure baldness in men.

Military Cemeteries

As long as we are dealing in conundrums, and as long as we are toying with the unmentionable subject of religion, it would seem appropriate for a brief discussion of military cemeteries. They have always intrigued me because they show that in the vast preponderance of cases, the buried soldiers lie under a cross, thus marking a Christian grave.

It is my contention without full fledged research, that crosses mark about 95% to 98% of the graves in military cemeteries. Here and there one finds a Star of David marking a grave. Marking a grave with the symbol of the Hindu, or Buddhist or Moslem faiths has never come to my attention. Did none of such soldiers ever die in military service?

When one looks at a military cemetery, there is a sea of white crosses presumably marking the graves of observant Christians. But the facts on the ground don’t seem to bear that out. One might think that given the dangers posed by being a soldier or a marine or a sailor, that church services would be a focal point of military service. The facts would suggest otherwise.

In wartime situations, work continues seven days a week. For example, the first raid on Ploesti, Romania was a Sunday morning operation. We lost more than half of our crews and planes in that mission. To the best of my ability to reconstruct events, no religious service took place on Saturday, July 31st in 1943, or on Sunday, August 1st, 1943. Yet it must be supposed that when the Army Graves Registration Unit recovered whatever bodies were left, they were probably all buried under a wooden or cement cross. Whether they were ardent Christians is unknown to me. Perhaps there were aspiring preachers, but also it must be considered that some had no faith at all or that some were Atheists. But their graves are marked by crosses.

In the Vietnamese War, when Lt. Calley had his troops burn down villages huts in My Lai and killed old women and children, presumably when those soldiers died, they were buried under a cross even though they had committed a heinous crime. Throughout my career as a WWII soldier, there was never any instruction on my part but to claim total non-belief. Yet the “P” (Protestant) on my dog tags would have guaranteed me a grave under a cross.

Finally, we now have the report of the so-called “9-11” Commission chaired by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. That report warns against “group thinking.” To pretend that our intelligence is the best, to pretend that we cannot be attacked, to pretend that we can impose our will on other nations are examples of GROUP THINK. Similarly, to pretend that 95% to 98% of the soldiers in the American Army are supporters of the Christian faith is only another example of group think. Some are back sliders, some never attended church services, some are atheists, and some are non-believers. To bury them all under a cross is another example of military group thinking.

If the military service wants to use crosses to mark graves, that is fine with me, providing the dead military person has asked for a Christian burial. My point is amazingly simple. Not everyone who rests below those crosses necessarily supported the Christian religion. So this is another conundrum.

War is a secular experience. One of my Christian friends has told me of an effort to change the lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldiers” to “Onward Christian Pilgrims.” To try to kill an enemy is not a religious exercise; it is a genuinely secular undertaking.

Far be it from me to pose a problem without a solution. My solution to any conundrum about burying a military person is a secular one. In place of a cross or a Star of David, why not mark the grave with an engraved marker which says, “Here lies an American soldier or marine or a sailor or a coast guardsman.” Date of birth and date of death would also be engraved. My proposal would not include rank. Perhaps his hometown might also be included. His or her name would appear in all caps at the beginning of the marker.

This takes religion out of the death which occurred in a secular action, not in a religious assault. My marker suggestion may not be adopted anytime soon, but there it is as a solution to secular conflicts that result in military deaths.

Assuredly, it is my birthday, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will pay attention to my thoughts. Well, maybe next year – if there is a next year. This old soldier has given you three conundrums in this one little essay. This old writer has done his best. Solving the conundrums is now up to the reader.

A Final Conundrum

This ancient essayist has very limited love for George W. Bush. In truth, the gauge on my affection for Bush reads perpetually below zero. On the other hand, Bush often gives us head shaking conundrums when he speaks.

You may recall his determined mispronunciation of NUCLEAR. You may also recall that he said his political opponents frequently MISUNDERSTIMATED him.

Shortly after signing the $417 billion defense spending bill early in August, Bush added these deathless remarks about our supposed enemies: “They will never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and NEITHER DO WE.” A few weeks earlier, Bush said, “more and more of our imports come from overseas.” No kidding?

Yale and Harvard must be very proud of Bush.

This was all in the same week where the dullard Tom Ridge failed to mention that his breathless warning stemmed from events three or four years old.

When this country needs a laugh or two, Bush or his helpers will be there to supply it. That is, when he is not busy finding new ways to harm us. Perhaps we ought to be thankful

August 4, 2004

P.S. As of publication date, 8/19/04, the number of US casualties has risen from 921 to 953. Other coalition deaths now total 130. Additionally, a partial listing of contractors killed or missing in Iraq totals 126, including many Americans. (On October 4, 2004, the number is 1063).


When caught between an idiot president who can’t put a sentence together, and a malicious president who can put together sentences like “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything [when you’re a star],” I’m suddenly feeling unexepctedly nostalgic for the Bush era.

It’s also nice to know now where Pop got his distaste for beer from — I’ve had a botched homebrew before, and can confirm that it would not make for a strong first impression. And sometimes when I’m out at a bar, I’ll definitely still have moments like this:

I have always wondered now, in our increasingly secular society, what a military gravestone for a Buddhist looks like. If anyone has an example, please send that my way!


During my formative years, it was necessary to work. This was in the Great Depression which lasted from 1929 until war broke out in December, 1941. During that time, the place where one went to buy gas or to have a car lubricated was called a filling station. Later when wordsmiths took a leading role with the oil companies, there was an attempt to call filling stations, “service stations.” The curious point about this semantic change is that as time went on, the stations offered fewer and fewer services to the customer. At this writing, it may be true that only New Jersey provides an attendant to pump gas into your car. In the other states, car owners pump their own gas and do everything else.

Wiping off windshields, checking the air pressure in the tires or looking to see if the owner needs a quart of oil are lost arts. They simply are not done anymore, not even in New Jersey.

In those very difficult economic depression times, a job – any job – was a treasured possession. By making myself a pest around Carl Schroth’s Flying Red Horse Mobilgas station, the owner took me on full time in the summer and part time when school started. That was at age 15.

At that time, around 1936 or 1937, white wall tires were coming into vogue. If a young man did not have white sidewalls on whatever car he drove, it was believed that girls would ignore him. There may have been a lot of truth in this story of white sidewall tires opening the door to romance.

Schroth’s station was in Clayton, Missouri, the fanciest part of St. Louis and its suburbs. The people who patronized Carl Schroth were largely untouched by the Great Depression. Accordingly, those wealthy people drove Packards, Cadillacs, Lincolns and Rolls Royces. All of those cars were monstrous. Most of them had wheel wells in the front fenders to accommodate two spare tires. You must remember that many cars in those days had no trunk opening. In normal cars, the spare tire was attached to a holding device on the rear end of the car or in one or two cases, under the gas tank.

One of Schroth’s major customers, a Mr. Kukenmeister, owned two Rolls Royce touring cars. These were enormous cars. The year of manufacture was somewhere between 1929 and 1934. They had canvas roofs that could be folded back and placed on a space in back of the rear seat. And they each had six white sidewall tires which had to be cleaned spotlessly. When the weather was inclement, the cars had isinglass windows for all doors. There was a flap in the canvas below the isinglass where the driver could stick his arm out to signal turns. If his arm pointed down, the driver intended to make a left turn. When his arm pointed up, the driver intended to make a right turn. Putting the arm straight our meant the driver was slowing or was signaling a stop.

In those days, women seldom drove cars. Maybe a flapper might drive a little, but ordinarily, driving was left to the men or in the case of the two Rolls Royce touring cars, to chauffeurs.

The owner of the touring cars, Mr. Kukenmeister, was quite wealthy. Often he would drive one to Carl Schroth’s station with the second Rolls Royce being brought by a chauffer. They would wait for 1½ to 2 hours while the cars were lubricated and washed. The tops had to be brushed which took some time. Washing the cars was done by hand and with the owner standing nearby, much care had to be taken to avoid splashing the inside of the touring cars.

As the youngest member of Schroth’s staff, it fell to me to make the white sidewall tires sparkle and to clean the wire wheels. This was a formidable job. (See attachment) If the owner had scraped a curb, there would be a smudge on the whitewall tire which would be devilishly difficult to remove. When there were smudges, usually found on the tires on the right or curb side, steel wool would have to be employed. And we also had a copper wire brush that could be used on the worst smudges.

The wheels had to be cleaned between each spoke. A long brush was needed for the spoke wheels – all six of them on one car and six on the other. There were times when my hope would have been for the Kukenmeisters cars to go to the Shell station across the street.

The two well-mounted tires in the front fenders had to be taken off. And of course, these two tires had to be remounted. The 2001 Chryslers in use here have 17 inch tires. The Rolls Royce had tires of 19 or 20 inch diameter, which meant that there was a lot of scrubbing to do. But, a job was needed pretty badly, so the scrubbing took place. My memory tells me that there was no such practice as tipping for people working in the filling stations. In the final analysis, we were glad to have the job, even if it was a low level scrubbing position with no tipping.

From 1936 or 1937 to 1941 when it was my good fortune to leave the filling station business after a Monday to Friday job opened up with AT&T. It was also possible for me to work 10 hours on a Saturday and five hours on Sunday morning. This was at Harold Bauer’s Standard Oil Station on Hanley Road which was in another ritzy section of town. Harold took Sundays off and left the enterprise with an assistant named Mark. Mark took a dim view of me because, it might be supposed, AT&T was my main employer. Neither Harold nor Mark would ever permit me to drive a customer’s car around the driveway because they feared finding a grease spot on the customer’s upholstery.

There may have been a good reason to keep me out of being seated in a customer’s car. That reason was that both of them put me in charge of cleaning and re-lubricating the front wheel bearings on cars that came to Bauer’s for service. Bauer’s did not wash cars, so cleaning white sidewall tires was a thing of the past. But greasing front wheel bearings was probably a less pleasant job. This happened at 3000 mile intervals.

For one thing, the work had to be done outside in all kinds of weather. The wheel bearing job took place over a pit on the side of the station. There was no lift for this work outside. It was necessary to ease yourself down some steps at the front of the pit, and using a drop cord electric light, the work of greasing the underside of the chassis took place. Afterward, when the car was properly placed with a jack under one of the front wheels, it was possible to gain access to the front wheel bearings. First, the bearings had to be washed in gasoline or kerosene and dried and inspected for cracks. Then came the greasy part. The bearing would be placed in a special container filled with grease. When the top of the container was tightened, grease would be forced throughout the bearings and all its surfaces. Then the wheel had to be replaced. Very dirty work, but that is what had to be done. For 15 hours at Bauer’s, my pay was a big five dollars, but these were depression years and a half a sawbuck was very helpful.

Well, there you have a summary of my travails with white sidewall tires and front wheel bearings. Not very inspiring work, but it was a job.


There was one other fad among men around this time and that was wearing two tone shoes in the summer months. Many fellows wore two tone shoes from Easter till about October.

Generally speaking, the instep was white and had to be cleaned with a whitening paste or polish. There were two kinds of shoes worn by men. The most popular was the wing tip where the brown or black leather extended from the cap back to the arch, leaving the instep white. Less popular was the straight across cap over the end of the shoe. Brown was by far the most popular color with black being a distant second.

Getting the shoes shined was a bit of a project. Men, particularly young men, took a good deal of pride in having their shoes shined in those days. It was almost unheard of to get a haircut without a shoeshine. Many barber shops had two bootblacks working regularly.

Shining the shoes at home was far from easy. The wingtip shoes were much worse than the straight cap models. Trying to keep the brown or black paste and the brush off the white instep was almost impossible to do. On ordinary shoes, the paste is applied and brushing follows. After those operations take place, then the shoes are brought to a shine using a special cloth.

With two-tone shoes, the best that could be done is to apply the paste and to rub vigorously with the cloth on the brown or black leather. If the two-tone shoes were taken to a boot black, the owner would almost always be told to leave the shoes so that they could be worked on when the bootblack had a slack period. Whereas, shining regular one tone shoes in a barber shop, for example, would cost 25 cents or as much as 50 cents, working on two-tone shoes could cost anywhere up to two dollars or a few cents more. Remember now, we are talking about 1940 prices when the Depression was still with the American public.

When the young swain back in those pre-World War II days set out to impress a young lady, it was essential that his two-tone shoes be shined and that his white sidewall tires be white. There is no way to know now more than 63 years later, whether girls were properly impressed. As a completely unbiased, objective evaluator of mores, it is my impartial belief that young men who wore unshined shoes and/or those who let their white sidewall tires look unkempt, were courting romantic disaster. My two-tone shoes and my whitewalls were always spotless. After all these years, I don’t remember if those facts ever resulted in my hitting a home run in the romance department. It was my thought to give it my best effort.

Ah, but that was long ago. Today, young men pay no such attention to their shoes or to their tires. Perhaps this is progress, but as far as this impartial, objective, unbiased evaluator of public mores, the jury is still out.

December 27, 2003


Oh man, maybe Pop somehow missed the rise of metrosexuality but god knows my brother cared more about his collection of Nikes than he cared about pretty much anything else for a while there. And while the tires themselves are no longer particularly important, ornate hubcaps (rims) are a big deal to a lot of cultures. So in some ways, shoes and tires are definitely both still a big deal among the dating population.


If you will lend me your eyes for a few moments, I will try to give you a nickel’s worth about aphasia and several dollars’ worth about the realities of being a soldier. My thoughts about the realities of being a soldier have been rolling around in my mind and have been keeping me awake at night. So something has to be done and that accounts primarily for this essay.

Let us turn to the aphasia part of this equation. Aphasia is a stroke-induced ailment that causes one to forget nouns. For example, in preparing to write this essay, I somehow lost the word aphasia even though it is one of the subjects of this essay. On other occasions, I frequently forget the name of glaucoma, the ailment which blinded my father, my brother, and now myself. It is a matter of calling the names to mind. For example, I can tell you that Tom Brokaw, who called my generation the greatest generation, worked for NBC and appeared on the 6:30 PM national telecast. While I can tell you all about what Tom Brokaw did, I often cannot call his name to mind. This ailment tends to become dangerous when I fail to call the name of a prescription drug to mind. I might say that it is in the tall green bottle or the tall white bottle, but that is not much use to the pharmacist who dispenses it. I am simply unable to speak the name.

In my own case, aphasia was the result of a stroke that I had in 1997. A stroke affects the brain. It is not necessarily a heart-related matter at all. In my case, I was spared the loss of movement in my limbs, but the net result was aphasia. The surgeon who had planned an aortic valve replacement, said that we had dodged a bullet by having control remain in my limbs. Nevertheless, he is not the guy who suffers from being unable to call nouns to mind as a result of aphasia.

To correct the effects of aphasia, I had treatment for three months at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation under the care of Shirley Morgenstein. As the work with rehabilitation proceeded, Shirley suggested that I should write essays as a means of rehabilitating my brain. Now some 200 essays later I am still at it.

There is one rule that I have always tried to observe. In all of the essay writing that I have done, I have never commented on the deprivations of the great American Depression, which affected so many of us. I have never commented on the divorce which took place 23 years ago. And I have only written an essay on one occasion having to do with the brutalities associated with combat warfare. In that case, I wrote an essay called “They Never Betrayed Me.” It had to do with my experience of December 8, 1943, after being shot down in northern Italy, being a POW, and being rescued by the Italian Partisans. It was the Italian people who never betrayed me in the escape from the German prison. I wrote that essay some 60 years after the event as a means of telling my daughters and their husbands and their children about what had happened so long ago. It was also a piece intended to keep my five grandsons from being seduced by the lure of military life.

Now, I am about to transgress that rule once again by writing about the realities and the brutishness of warfare. Violating a rule twice in 65 years would seem to me to be acceptable behavior.

What set me off were the six or seven generals who demanded the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. All of these generals were retired, of course. While they were active, if they had ever asked for Rumsfeld’s resignation, they would have been cashiered immediately. They knew that, and so they kept their remarks to themselves until they retired. The burden of what the generals had to say about Rumsfeld had to do with the whole Bush administration which started the war in Iraq. It was the view of these generals that the war was ordered by people who had never served in the military forces, including Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez, Rice, Wolfowitz, and all the rest of the neocons. It is easy for those sitting in Washington to send an army to invade Iraq because it is not their lives that they are putting on the line.

The quote that is the title for this essay comes from what they have had to say. The retired generals have said that the Bush administration sent people to war to get killed but they had never been sobered by the requirement to “bury the dead”. They never experienced war and the attendant duty to take care of its obvious aftermath. I am here to tell you about the realities having to do with the death of soldiers. And I am here to tell you about burying the dead.

From this point on, this essay will probably be a grim one for many readers. It is my intention to talk about the death of soldiers and it will not be a pretty scene. It is unreal to assume that, in every case, soldiers die from a dime shaped bullet hole to the heart and that they fall to the ground in a position where the Army Graves Registration Unit can pick them up and put them in coffins. The fact of the matter is that soldiers are killed in the most grisly of circumstances. Today in Iraq we see the effects of roadside bombings that separate men from their senses. They lose their eyesight and their ability to reason. So far we have lost 2,450 men in Iraq being killed with more than 18,000 being injured. The casualties have suffered gruesome injuries.

Kindly remember please that the statistics published by the American military are subject to great doubt. It is not in the interest of the American military to tell you how many people have been killed and how many have been injured in a sad fashion. It is in the interest of the American military to minimize the deaths and the injuries. Simply put, don’t trust the military when it comes to publishing details about deaths and injuries.

I was never in the infantry where the bulk of deaths and injuries occur. My service was in the Air Force and I will use that as a means of describing the deaths of airmen. When a mission is mounted against the perceived enemy, only a small minority of the wounded ever return to base. As a general rule, those on the mission suffer their injuries over enemy territory and do not return to their bases. Their deaths may occur by anti-aircraft fire or by fire from opposing fighter pilots. They may be captured and lose their lives in prison camps. All that we have to go on here is that those who are missing will be an empty cot in the tent or in the barracks. When a man has been missing for a short time, you know that he is not returning when people from the headquarters come to collect his personal effects from his footlocker, if he has a footlocker.

For those who return wounded from a mission, there are grim realities. These are the realities that the generals did not mention in their effort to unseat Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless I am sure that they are cognizant of these injuries. I am going to be talking here about airmen who participate in raids over enemy territory. Before leaving on any mission, every airman must don a parachute harness. The parachute harness is like a pair of overalls in one respect in that it is stepped into with the harness being anchored at the crotch level and then thrown over each shoulder. There are devices, latches if you will, to hold the harness together. Many airmen, particularly pilots, prefer to use a seat parachute pack attached to the harness. The seat harness covers the buttocks and indeed, it is sat on. Many of us, me in particular, used a chest pack parachute that must be attached to two receptacles near the top of the harness. The main thing about the chest pack is that it must be attached properly or the parachute will open downward rather than upward. Furthermore, the chest pack must be remembered before jumping out of the airplane whereas those with the seat parachutes do not have such a concern.

When enemy fighters try to disable one of our aircraft, they usually go after the tail gunner and then the side gunners. Once they are put out of commission, the plane is largely defenseless to attacks from the rear and from underneath. Injuries from 30 caliber or 50 caliber bullets to the aerial gunners are hideously gruesome. Either the 30 caliber or the 50 caliber can make a hole in a man’s midsection much bigger than the size of a fist. When a plane arrives back at the base from which the mission started and there is an injured airman or airmen aboard, there is the problem of removing the injured man. In most cases, however, if an airman takes 30 or 50 caliber bullets in his chest or stomach area, he will probably be cut in half. As I said, 30 caliber and 50 caliber bullets just tear holes all the way through a man’s midsection or through his chest area.

Now I return to the theme of this essay, which is “they did not have to bury the dead.” Removing the remains of an airman who has been hit by anti-aircraft or fire from an airborne machine gun is a delicate operation because the lower part of the body is still attached to the upper part through the parachute harness. It is not uncommon to see a man’s lower parts dangling, being held on only by the parachute harness which passes through his crotch area. I know these are grim and gory details, but the neocons who ordered this invasion of Iraq, Bush, Cheney, et al., should think about things such as this. Removing a man who has been killed by machine gun fire from the rear cockpit of an airplane, for example, is a gory and messy piece of work. It is not a case of a single small bullet hole through the heart at all. It is simply a man being cut in half with all of the attendant details.

I regret to tell you these details, but these are the actual facts of war. There is no gainsaying that the war is making, as Bush says, “great progress.” The fact of the matter is that George Bush has never seen what war has done to his troops. Neither has Cheney, neither has Rumsfeld, neither has Gonzalez, and neither has Madame Rice or anybody else among the neocons. It is my recommendation that people of this sort who directed this war against Iraq be required to bury some of the casualties that have occurred. It is my estimate that once the people who ordered this war in Iraq get their hands bloody from a dead soldier, they might have more reluctance in the future to order any invasion. It is one thing to sit in Washington and send airmen to bomb Iran or Iraq. It is quite another thing to lift an airman out of the rear cockpit of the airplane with his two halves coming out being held together largely by a parachute harness.

Well, you see, the retired generals have obliged me to break my promise of never discussing the combat phases of my war experience. It is only the second time. If my recollections, which are grim, were to become known in the upper reaches of this administration, it would be welcomed by me. In the instant case, Bush now contends that the war will go on at least through the rest of his term, which takes us to somewhere into 2009. By that time, there may be another 2,500 dead and another 15,000 wounded. May I ask, is this in the interests of the United States? Of course it is not! Do you feel one bit safer because of these casualties?

As you can see, the generals set off an angry response that I have been harboring for years, since the Iraqi war started. I grieve for every American and Iraqi death. I grieve for the deaths of our allies in this misadventure. While I grieve at the deaths and the injuries, Bush rides his miserable bicycle and worries not at all. Well, I shouldn’t say “worries not at all;” he dreams up ventures such as wiretapping and collecting data on telephone calls made by American citizens, and threatening to bomb Iran.

This essay started out with my recollections of aphasia and it ended up exactly where I knew it was going, which is a grim recital of deaths that occur to soldiers. As such it is merely an exercise in the realities of warfare. If you are upset by this recitation of the realities of warfare, please don’t harbor resentment toward me but rather toward the people in Washington who ordered the misadventure into Iraq. For the deaths and the gruesome injuries to American soldiers, this administration must be held accountable and the fact that it is going to go on for years to come is a travesty of the first order. If you are aroused and angered, as I am, please tell your representatives or your senators about your anger and let them know that killing and torture by Americans is not in our best interests. Absolutely not at all.

May 17, 2006
Essay 190


For new readers, it’s probably worth mentioning that this particular type of essay is atypical. Pop generally enjoyed writing about language, culture, and current events. This incident must have royally pissed him off, since nothing short of that would cause him to revisit war memories.

Now that we’re once again in the election season, this essay makes me think back to John McCain, who is still in the senate trying to (among other things) protect American soldiers from torture. He’s of course far more familiar with the realities of war than most of his colleagues; he’s buried the dead. I only hope that however this next election turns out, we’re not left with another commander in chief who deploys troops first and asks questions later.


Here is a little Missouri story that has no effect on the current state of the world. It is memorialized here not because it is a great story; but rather, as time takes its toll on my brain, I may forget all about it. So if I write these thoughts down now, when the television screen in my head goes to black, perhaps I can revive this story and enjoy it again.

In 1928 when I was six years of age, I was enrolled at the Forsyth Grammar School in Clayton, Missouri. The Forsyth School was given that name because it was on Forsyth Avenue. The Maryland School was named after the street it was on, just as the DeMun and Bellview Schools were named after the streets on which they were located. The Clayton school system took a very practical approach in naming its grammar schools. Some schools are named after dead educational heroes, but I suspect there were no such heroes in Clayton, so the street name became the name of the school.

In 1928, the Clayton School System offered no kindergarten classes. I can’t remember when such classes were offered, but when I started to school, the first grade was where it all began.

The Forsyth School had been built in the 1880’s, but it was well kept with janitors who seemed to care. It had wooden floors and walls. In today’s world, I suspect that the Forsyth School would be considered a fire trap, and maybe it was. But for more than 50 years, it got the job done.

Miss Brantley taught first grade. She was a real lady. She wore dresses and sensible shoes. Blue jeans were unknown then and if they had been discovered, Miss Brantley would have had no part of them. Miss Brantley was single, as were all the teachers in that school. When a teacher married, she left school teaching. That seems like a silly rule to me, but that is the situation that prevailed at least until 1940 when I graduated from Clayton High School. At age six, I was not much of a judge of women’s ages, but I suspect that with gray hair, Miss Brantley was pretty close to 50 years of age.

In looking back on that situation, I am convinced that Miss Brantley sensed that I was not one of the many rich kids in that class. As I recall it some 73 years later, she was very good to me.

There was an occasion when, being unable to read, I wandered into the girls restroom. Nature called and I simply took the first restroom that came along. Within a minute or two, Miss Brantley found me and gently guided me to the boys restroom. She made no fuss about the incident and I was never embarrassed about it. As I say, she was very good to me.

Shortly after the first grade classes started, Miss Brantley taught us a song. It went:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
We’re all in our places
With sunshiny faces,
Good morning Miss Brantley,
Good morning to you.

A little song that sticks with you for 73 years can’t be all bad.

While all of this was taking place, I was a red hot St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan. In 1926, the Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. It was the first trip for the Cardinals to the World Series. The mighty Yankees had been there many times. The series went seven games with four of those games being played in Yankee Stadium. The final game was played on October 10, 1926, which is just 75 years ago.

Jesse Haines pitched into the seventh inning. Jesse used the knuckleball quite a bit. By the seventh inning, his fingertips were bleeding, and after he got two men out, he found the bases loaded. The next hitter was Tony Lazzeri, one of New York’s most feared hitters. Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis manager called for one of his oldest pitchers, Grover Cleveland Alexander to relieve Haines. Legend has it that Alexander was suffering from a head splitting hangover. Legend or no legend, Alexander struck out Lazzeri and the Cardinals went on to win the game and their first World Series. St. Louis went wild that night.

My brothers, who were much older than I, made such a fuss about the Cardinal victory, that this is my first memory at age four, of anything. I don’t know if Alexander struck out Lazzeri with a fastball or a curve. I just recall there was such joy in our house, that I remembered that incident from 1926 and I remember it to this day.

The incident that forms the recollection for this story happened when I was seven or eight years of age. If my memory is anywhere near right, the teacher in second grade at the Forsyth School, promoted me ahead of time in January, 1930, so I was in a third grade class with kids who were six months older than I was. In Clayton, classes were divided so that children born before September first started in the fall semester and children born later entered school in January. So every class had an “A” and a “B” group. Everything seemed to go well with the third grade work, but apparently I did not say much of anything during the class. This had to do with my shyness and the thought that I might make a mispronunciation in speech. My parents were not good role models because they often mangled the English language. So, I sat back and watched.

Another reason for my silence probably had to do with intimidation. Clayton was a wealthy town. The merchant class of St. Louis had their residences there. Lawyers and doctors who practiced in St. Louis resided in Clayton. The kids around me were affluent beyond my wildest dreams. When it rained, mothers or chauffeurs would pick up the students. On the other hand, I still had a three mile walk to my home whether it was sunny or snowy or rainy or close to zero or anything else. That’s just the way things were. Other poor kids had trouble dealing with the weather, so I was no different. If anything, I felt sorry for the kids from the orphans home. They really had a tough row to hoe.

One incident of intimidation sticks out after all these years. Several other boys were discussing bathing. One of them said he took a shower every day. The others said that was their schedule and some said on hot days, they took two or three showers every day.

Water cost money at our house. The gas required to make the water suitable for bathing had to be paid for. Showers were out of the question. We did not have one. Instead of a shower every day, we had a bath once a week. And often to conserve water, I had to bathe with my father. So maybe you can see how talk of showers and baths would make me feel inadequate and promote silence on my part. Intimidation can be a powerful force in a young child’s life so I had little to say.

Soon someone of the teachers concluded that I was deaf. I am not sure why they came to that conclusion, but I was told to take a note home to my parents which asked for permission to send me to the Central Institute for the Deaf, located on Kingshighway Boulevard in St. Louis. The teachers at the Forsyth School could do no wrong, so my parents concluded that I was hearing impaired – with no evidence to support that thought – and gave permission for me to go to the deaf school. Through this whole procedure, I said nothing, which is probably what got me into the deaf school in the first place.

Now there are more pluses than minuses in this equation. You will see why as we go along. To start, there is nothing wrong with my hearing at age eight to age seventy eight. I’ve had employment physicals, Army physicals, check ups and hospital stays. In none of those instances has anything been found wanting in my hearing. So I headed for the deaf school knowing that I was fine but telling that to the teacher or teachers who wanted to send me to the deaf school, would have fallen – so to speak – on deaf ears. (How do you like that bon mot Howard Davis?)

There was no such thing as being driven to the deaf school. My mother did not drive. If my father or my brothers took off from their jobs, they would have been docked or fired. Remember, this was 1930 and the depression was starting to take a bite out of everyone. So the school gave me a street car pass good on every street car. I gave it back after each trip to Central Institute for the Deaf and it was given back to me prior to my next visit. My recollection is that I made six or eight trips to the deaf school.

Kingshighway Boulevard is one of the main North-South streets in St. Louis. It was six lanes wide with street car tracks in the center of the right of way. From Clayton, leaving school, I took the University line to the Forest Park line which took me to the school. Getting off the street car was not a big problem as there was space before crossing the three lane North bound traffic on Kingshighway. The traffic people in St. Louis had placed large, permanent signs in the general vicinity of the street car stop, warning of deaf children using the stop. I suppose if a driver hit a deaf child on that street, it would not go very well for him or her, although there weren’t many women drivers back in 1930.

After alighting from the street car, automobiles would come to a full stop as the alleged deaf child – in my case – made his way to the deaf school. Knowing that we were deaf, drivers would signal that they were going to remain stopped while we crossed the big street. Some drivers waved and mouthed greetings. I can’t ever remember a car crowding one of the kids going to Central Institute. They usually waited until we reached the side walk before driving away. Getting off the street car and having cars stop for you and wishing you well was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old.

In the school, most instructors or teachers had tuning forks. Sometimes they would talk loudly or whisper from in front, on the side and from the back of our heads to see if we understood what they were saying, but mostly they used the tuning forks. They would ask the patient to shut his eyes or they would more often offer a blindfold. Then they would plunk the tuning fork near an ear, or I suppose on top of or in the back of the head. After it was plunked, the instructor would ask, “What ear did you hear that with?” I must have answered their questions appropriately because after six or eight sessions of about an hour each, it was concluded that they could find nothing wrong with my hearing, at least I got no treatment. So I was sent back by the Central Institute for the Deaf to the Forsyth Grammar School in Clayton with my alleged mysterious hearing impairment still intact. Or maybe Central Institute claimed that I had been cured. Nobody ever told me much of anything about my dreadful problem.

But now there was a real plus in this arrangement. Each year the Cardinals and the other major league team, the Browns, accepted applications for memberships in their Knot Hole Gang groups. I was equipped with both the Cardinals and the Browns groups. Generally speaking, not many games were sellouts and youngsters with Knot Hole Gang passes were permitted to sit along the left field lines near the bleachers. There were no night games in those days. Games usually started at two to three in the afternoon. I don’t know why the games started so late, but that’s the way it was.

Ordinarily, Central Institute would let me go around 2PM. Using my unlimited street car pass, I went back to catch the Forest Park street car being sure to wave at the cars that stopped as I crossed the street. A short distance away, the Forest Park line crossed the Grand Avenue line and soon I found myself at Grand Avenue and Dodier Street, the home of Sportsman’s Park where the Cardinals and Browns played. I saw most of the games from the second inning on. When I wanted to leave, I presented the unlimited street car pass to the Grand Avenue Line, the Forest Park line, the University line and then to the Kirkwood-Ferguson line.

My parents never had an overwhelming interest in my treatment at Central Institute for the Deaf. I told them about the tuning fork episodes and about the loud and soft conversations, but that did not take long. I did not tell anyone at the Forsyth Grammar School about my experience at the deaf school because I assumed Central was keeping the school filled in on my “progress.” And mostly I never told anyone about going to the ball games. I almost got caught a few times when other boys would discuss yesterday’s game. If I were to say, “He was out by a country mile,” they would say, “How do you know?” I guess that I was able to suppress my superior knowledge about the games I had seen, for to disclose it would have been a disaster.

Somewhere along the line, the teacher in the third grade said I would not be going back to the deaf school. I suppose she thought I had been cured. So I took my 20/20 hearing back to the classroom and no one ever mentioned Central Institute for the Deaf again. So you see, there were many pluses in my expeditions to the deaf school.


A more recent thought about Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Cardinal pitcher. When Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he invited Ronald Reagan to lunch in his office. Reagan had recently been sworn in as President of the United States. In a tour of his office O’Neill pointed to his desk and said that it had been used by Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland was one of Reagan’s predecessors as a President of the U. S.

Reagan said, “Oh yes. I know all about him. I played him in a movie about his baseball career.” O’Neill said he meant Grover Cleveland, the former President. Reagan dismissed him by repeating that he had a good time playing in the movie about Grover Cleveland Alexander. O’Neill gave up.

October 8, 2001
Essay 22
Kevin’s commentary: This is the first essay I’ve published since Pop’s death yesterday. There is a lot that I would like to say on that subject but I’m struggling to write about that right now, so I’m doing this instead. Please bear with me.

About this essay itself — not only is it funny as hell and one that I certainly heard a few times growing up, it represents part of a bit of a hot streak that he was on with his essay-writing in 2001. By that I mean this essay was immediately followed by what he considers to be his favorite essay he ever wrote, which of course is worth checking out if you haven’t read it yet.


It may very well be that this essay should be entitled “Back to the Future.” In my current situation, I am of course unable to see the action taking place on television. I listen to the dialogue on television and in many cases, I can determine who the speaker may be but in other cases I have to ask my wife or other people around me as to who is the speaker.

In baseball games, which I have long prized, I miss the beauty of a fielding gem or the swing of an expert batsman. On the other hand, I do not appreciate the chatter that comes from television announcers that has very little to do with the game in progress. It seems to me that there is idle chatter having nothing to do with the game that takes place until the proceedings are finished. Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez, two Met heroes, are examples of announcers who chatter endlessly about other things than the ball game taking place in front of them.

I said that this essay ought to be about going back to the future and that had to do with my replacing the television set with a radio. In the 1926 World Series, the Saint Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in seven games when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri in the ninth inning and my home town, Saint Louis, went absolutely wild. My recollection of the celebration of that game is the first memory that I have in my memory bank. From that time on, I have been a fan of radio and now I find that the people on radio broadcasts are much more to the point and have fewer distractions such as interviewing fans and asking which kind of ice cream do you like at the ball park.

Growing up in Saint Louis meant following the Cardinals, and to a lesser extent the Browns, religiously. The games were broadcast live from Sportsmans Park where both the Cardinals and the Browns played. When the Browns or Cardinals were out of town, the telegraph reporters gave summaries about the state of the game to the announcers in the Saint Louis radio stations. These reports would have been about the score of the game and it might even include such things as who hit a home run and who struck out whom and so forth.

On days when the Cardinals or Browns were out of town and there was no local game, telegraphic reports were sent to the radio studio and it was up to the announcer to recreate the game using his imagination. The announcer might say that the pitcher is winding up and he is ready to throw the ball, but then there might be an interruption in the telegraph process and the announcer would be stuck there with the pitcher holding the ball for several seconds. Under this arrangement, the announcers were able to give very artful demonstrations of the play in progress even though they had not seen it.

Remember, these were Depression times and the radio stations could not afford to send their announcers to the games being played in other cities. They had to rely on telegraphed reports. Hence, the need to recreate the ball game.

During most of the years as I was growing up, there were two announcers in Saint Louis who were the sports directors of the station and who were also the announcers of the ball games of the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Saint Louis Browns. On KMOX, a powerful station, the sports director was a man named France Laux. Further down the dial was a radio station, WIL, where the announcer was Johnnie O’Hara. Laux was a straightforward announcer who, I suspected, had no sense of humor at all. He had trouble recreating the games that were sent to him by telegraph. O’Hara, on the other hand, was a gregarious fellow who seemed to love recreating the games right out of his mind as he got a telegraph report. If the telegraph report said that the pitcher threw a strike, O’Hara would say that he wound up and that he delivered a spitball to the outside corner. That is clearly not what the telegraph report said, but that was what O’Hara colored it to be.

France Laux also, as sports director of KMOX, had a program called “Stars of Tomorrow.” In that program, Laux would visit neighborhood industrial teams and high schools and would interview their star players on a cumbersome piece of equipment that would record their thoughts which he would play later on his sports program. At that time it was a very complicated process. On this one occasion, when I was playing in an industrial league game on a Sunday, France Laux appeared early in the proceedings to interview our fleet center fielder, Vernon Ludloff. Laux would start the interview by saying, “And what star of tomorrow do we have here?” The star of tomorrow would say his name and would then say hello to everyone. In this case, France Laux asked Vern Ludloff, “What star of tomorrow do we have here?” and Ludloff got his script mixed up. Vernon was supposed to say, “Hello everyone, I’m Vern Ludloff.” In point of fact, Vernon said, “Hello Vernon Ludloff, I’m everybody.” France Laux did not use that quote on his broadcast that evening or any other evening. So I guess that Ludloff fell from the stars of tomorrow array.

In recent years, on television there is a tendency to use attractive young women who know nothing about the game being played, and ask them to give a two-minute report in-between innings or, in football games, between periods and time-outs. Even the best broadcasting team that I know of, which consists of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, have been inflicted by their management with this device. On occasion when the attractive young woman begins her spiel, she will often fail to end it before the next batter comes to the plate. So far, that sort of arrangement has not come to radio. It afflicts only television. These young women are nice to look at but they add nothing to the game; indeed they detract from the game.

My New York grandchildren gave me an XM Radio for Christmas in 2005. On that radio, I can hear classical music, a better class of country music, music from the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as ball games from all over the country. Because it is a satellite radio, I can keep track of billiard games on the moon, cricket games on Saturn, and pool playing on Venus. It is a remarkable radio that has provided me with unheard of pieces of important information.

So in the end my problem with my eyesight is not all that bad because I get a better description of the games from radio. There is more straightforward talk about the game in progress as well as the rumors involving the players such as trades and that sort of thing that may be taking place at the time. Actually, at this point, while I do not have an option to watch television, I must say that going backwards many years to the radio broadcast has its merits. I don’t miss television all that much any more and I have come to again appreciate the skill of the radio announcers. And finally, I must admit that without radio I would not have been able to hear Mr. Ludloff tell everyone that he was everybody. That memory is 65 or 66 years old and it is nowhere near being forgotten. So if you go to Saint Louis and run across Vernon Ludloff, please tell him “I’m everybody.”

June 6, 2006
Essay 196
Kevin’s commentary: The essay of the beast: 6/6/06! I was thinking as I read this essay that if Pop went back to the future with his satellite radio, I suppose that I’ve gone “forward to the future” by completely replacing television in my life with the internet. However, even internet broadcasts of games that I follow have unfortunately been afflicted by the “interview babes” who know next-to-nothing about what’s happening, and are rather there chiefly to be seen. So I guess that department is a win for the radio all around.

Pop’s memory continues to astound. I would be hard-pressed to come up with the names of any local media personalities from Austin, and that was only six years ago. I guess I really just never had much reason to pay attention to them, and I preferred music to talk shows whenever I was in my car, which of course was the only place where I was ever exposed to radio.

As far as ol’ Vernon is concerned, I wonder what he’d think if I told him that upon reading the title to this essay, I thought I was about to get an essay about a profound philosophical observation. I expected to hear Pop’s take on a person making a statement about, perhaps, empathy for others. But no, he was a not-quite baseball star who couldn’t keep his lines straight — which honestly makes for a better essay anyway, most likely.