Archive for the August 2009 Category

GUNS

The title suggests that the subject for this essay is guns. If there is a more unqualified writer on this particular subject, he is unknown to man or beast. I have never owned a firearm. I do not ever intend to buy one. Now it is true that from the early part of 1943 through the beginning months of 1945 I made my living, or nearly dying, from firearms. It was a machine gun that was owned by the United States Army. The gun was loaned to me on the condition that I kept it in good repair and at the end, returned it to the owner. The last shot that came from that borrowed gun was probably fired in late 1944 or early 1945. For the next 65 years, I have been absolutely free of any type of firearm. When I returned the machine gun to the United States Army, I was thinking that the old spiritual should apply. That of course would be “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”

Two events have occurred this summer that have caused me to once again think about guns. The first has to do with those who are seeking to protect their second amendment rights by carrying loaded pistols to the town meetings being held by congressmen. The second event involves a wide receiver for the New York Giants football team who had a regrettable incident at the Latin Quarter Night Club in New York City.

When guns are carried by citizens, they often proclaim that they are within the law and are fully protected by the Second Amendment to our Constitution. The Second Amendment reads as follows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. In neither of the cases that inspired this essay is there any hint of a “well regulated militia.” But nonetheless, we have citizens showing up at town hall rallies carrying loaded pistols, followed by the incident at the Latin Quarter nightclub.

Taking first things first, it should be noted that in the month of August, politicians tend to leave Washington, DC and head back to their home districts. While they are there, they often hold town meetings to sense the pulse of the people.

Generally speaking, a high percentage of the members of the House of Representatives and a few senators contend that Washington is an evil place. In the town meetings, these representatives suggest to their constituents that only they can straighten out the evilness that pervades our capital city. In spite of the evil nature that is perceived by a good many congressmen, they tend to do everything that can be done to win re-election so that they can return to the evil city. I should think that it ought to be the other way around. If a Representative from Utah, for example, found Washington DC to be so evil, why would he want to ever go back? But the fact of the matter is that all of the Representatives and all of the Senators do everything within their power to be re-elected and to be sent back to Washington.

During the 1960s, it was my great pleasure to spend the better part of four years in our capital city lobbying for the great AT&T Company. For a man such as myself who comes from St. Louis, I found the climate to be ordinary. Of course, it gets warm in Washington during July and August, but the same could be said of Corpus Christi, Texas. In any event, the representatives and senators that we send to Washington typically tend to return to their districts after having declared themselves in recess for the month of August. This is a fairly cushy job in that our representatives, as a general rule, work only three days per week. They leave home on Monday evening, show up on Tuesday, and by Thursday evening they are headed back home. So I do not see this as a wrenching drama that drains all of their energy from them.

But in any case, when they go home in August, they often hold town meetings. What has disturbed me is that in the year of 2009, a good number of people show up at these meetings carrying firearms. They contend that the Second Amendment to the Constitution gives them that right and that they are there to exercise it. It seems to me that a good many of those who carry arms are intent upon telling the news media that they are doing so.

I may not be an expert on guns but I do claim some expertise on human behavior. I simply do not buy the argument that if everybody were armed, things would be more peaceful. I contend that if everybody were armed, there would be more killings than there are today. It is my suggestion that a speaker who exercises some passion may well arouse one of the armed persons. It has always seemed to me that a person does not go out in public carrying firearms without having the intent to use them. In my humble opinion, firearms have no place at all in a public meeting. Yet in the meetings with the representatives and senators, we find that a handful of armed men show up and brag about their armaments. To a European, this must seem like a preposterous American development. I consider it a preposterous American development as well.

Finally of course with respect to carrying arms to town meetings, I am forced to again observe that this country has a president whose father is of African descent. In the first seven months of the Obama administration, it is my belief that a percentage of the people who oppose him may do so for racial reasons. This is not a farfetched idea. This country has lost two of Kennedy brothers to assassins. Should there be more?

My conclusion is that carrying a loaded firearm to a meeting where contentious issues may be discussed is an invitation to use the firearm against a speaker with whom one has a disagreement. And for those who nurture resentment toward people of African heritage, whether they admit it or not, it could well be that in the excitement of a public debate we might lose another official. Firearms have no place at public meetings. I wish that they could be left at home or, indeed, never bought. But the courts have construed the Second Amendment, which has to do with well-regulated militias, into citizens claiming that they have the right to carry arms both concealed and in the open. I believe that this country can do without another assassination. Carrying these guns to meetings that are contentious may well provide a short-tempered person with an opportunity to shoot somebody. We have enough shootings without inciting more.

The second reason for my concern at this date involves Plaxico Burress, the former wide receiver for the New York Giants. In February of 2007 at the Super Bowl game, it was Mr. Burress who caught a pass from his quarterback that enabled the New York Giants to gain a victory and become world champions. Now in less than two years, Mr. Burress is headed for jail, which will be his home for the better part of two years.

This whole episode started when Plaxico Burress decided that he needed a firearm to complete his outfit when he went nightclubbing at the Latin Quarter Club in New York. Now Mr. Burress, who clearly is not among the brightest people on this earth, decided that he did not need a holster to carry his pistol. Rather he stuck it in the waistband of his trousers. It may be that in dancing the tango, the gun slipped from Mr. Burress’s waistband, but one way or the other the pistol fell to the floor. This is where the music should have stopped. But in any case, when his pistol hit the floor he had not bothered to use the safety on it. On striking the floor, the pistol fired, which is what it is supposed to do when the safety is off. The bullet grazed Mr. Burress’s leg so that he needed some first aid attention and it narrowly missed an employee of the club.

It could well be that a person who is not as well known as Mr. Burress could have escaped the police attention that followed. When Burress got patched up at a hospital, the police began to investigate what had happened and so it was that Plaxico was charged with a felony which in New York State carried a three-and-a-half-year sentence upon conviction. There was a secondary charge that carried only a two-year prison sentence.

Before it was done, old Plaxico decided that he did not want to stand trial and he pleaded guilty to the secondary charge, which means that he is now an inmate of the New York state prison system for two years. He is 32 years of age and he says that he hopes to straighten his life out and that he would like to return to the National Football League. I can tell you that there are very few clubs that would sign a 34-year-old wide receiver with a prison record such as Mr. Burress will have. I believe his chances for employment on a football club are, as they say in soccer, nil.

It seems to me that people who carry loaded firearms to town meetings are as thoughtless as Plaxico Burress. Perhaps it might be that carrying a loaded pistol might increase a man’s sense of masculinity. I consider it to be an exercise in stupidity. But be that as it may, you have these laws on the books that are greatly connected to the Second Amendment to our constitution under which some people claim the right to carry loaded firearms. Perhaps the people who attend political rallies might draw a lesson or two from the Plaxico Burress incident. When that gun struck the floor, it fired a bullet that grazed Burress’s leg. It could just as well have fired that bullet into Burress’s private parts, which may well have deprived him of his manhood forever. Perhaps those who go armed to political meetings might well keep the fate of Plaxico in mind.

E. E. CARR
August 25, 2009
Essay 409
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Public places are bad places for guns. Bars are bad places for guns — not just due to dancing-related issues, but bars tend to have drunk people getting in fights. Barfights should not feature pistols. Lots and lots of other places are bad for guns too. In fact, basically every place that isn’t an active war zone qualifies as a bad place for a gun to be.

Honestly the only other place where it really makes sense to have a gun, if of course you’re a crazy person who decides he or she needs one, is in your house. So that way when the burglar comes, you may murder him in your foyer just like you’ve always wanted. Aside from that ‘protection’ element there is practically no use for the object. Shootings like Aurora have taught us that the “good guy with a gun will stop bad guy with a gun” line of reasoning is utter horseshit, because the person who wins a gunfight is the person who comes prepared to that fight. The aurora shooter had full bulletproof riot gear on. Some asshole with a pistol is just going to get himself killed.
Stop bringing your guns out of your house. Stop having guns at all, Jesus. They do so so so much more harm than good, it’s preposterous.

Merry Christmas!

LOVE, LUST, AND LARCENY

It is a rare case when I have the opportunity to write an essay on love, lust, and $65 billion in larceny. There is also the element of infidelity in an extra-marital affair in this essay.

According to the New York Times, the Bloomberg News, and several other publications which appeared on August 14th, a woman named Sheryl Weinstein announced that she had a book that would be published shortly. It is reasonably clear that Mrs. Weinstein is a scorned woman who wrote this book in an effort to recoup her financial situation. Even though the book has been authored by a ghost writer, I have no trouble with her efforts to restore the family finances. As you may have guessed, Mrs. Weinstein was one of the many people who were bilked by Bernie Madoff. But that is only the beginning of this tale, because Mrs. Weinstein, according to her book, was Bernie Madoff’s mistress and lover for more than 20 years. Affairs of the heart that last for two decades must have some kind of meaning. But in the end, Mrs. Weinstein comes across as a scorned woman. For that, I am sorry for her.

It is clear that the Weinsteins took a heavy hit from the Madoff scandal. On the other hand, it should be noted that Mrs. Weinstein is a certified public accountant who should have known that no stock or collections of stocks return an 11% dividend every month for years. I suspect that greed and lust had much to do with Mrs. Weinstein’s current dilemma. On top of her qualifications, her son worked for Bernie Madoff during one summer and should have been familiar with his operations.

According to the story, Mrs. Weinstein was the Chief Financial Officer of Hadassah, which is of course a Jewish organization for women. In the end, Mrs. Weinstein not only committed $40 million of Hadassah funds to Bernie Madoff, but she and her husband as well as her son also invested with the king of Ponzi schemers.

When it was disclosed that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, Mrs. Weinstein and her husband concluded that they had better sell their real estate, which was located on the upper east side of Manhattan, in an attempt to recover their financial losses. Both of the elder Weinsteins now appear as publishers of a newsletter involved in the laundry business.

Those are the facts. Mrs. Weinstein, a Certified Public Accountant, was seduced by the 11% returns on money invested with Bernie Madoff. As everyone knows, this story ended tragically for the investors and Bernie Madoff is now serving 150 years in jail.

But those are only part of the story. According to Mrs. Weinstein, she will recount in her book that she was Bernie Madoff’s lover for the past 21 years. In all of those long years of love and lust, Mrs. Weinstein failed to detect that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme. Quite to the contrary, she refinanced her house so that she would have more money to invest with good old Bernie. I suppose that love and lust blind us to human failings. But for 21 years, Mrs. Weinstein accepted Bernie’s love and collected her dividends. As we say, love is blind.

I have great trouble buying this story. In 21 years of infidelity it is absolutely certain that someone else, some other employee, must have wondered what Bernie and Mrs. Weinstein were doing. My statistics tell me that much of an extra-marital relationship is usually carried out in the afternoons. This of course would permit the participants to go home as though nothing had happened. Are we to believe that no one in the Bernie Madoff organization noticed that the boss was missing on so many afternoons? Secondly, if Mrs. Weinstein was the Chief Financial Officer of Hadassah, she must have had an office from which she was missing on the afternoons of the engagements.

And then there is Ruth Madoff, Bernie’s wife. When Bernie came home each evening after spending time with Mrs. Weinstein, I am certain that his wife would ask him how his day went. In 21 years, Bernie Madoff must have been a very inventive fellow to keep Ruth in the dark. As you can see, I am a skeptic and I either believe that this did not happen or that it was done with the full knowledge of Ruth Madoff.

And then there is also Ronald Weinstein, the husband of Sheryl. Do you think that, when he got home from editing the laundry newsletter, he might not have questioned his wife about where she had been all day?

If my assumption is half-way true about affairs of this sort being carried on in the afternoons, I am certain that members of Bernie Madoff’s organization and of the Hadassah organization would have noticed that their bosses were missing. I believe that my skepticism is well-grounded. However, the fact of the matter is that Mrs. Weinstein has said that she was a participant with Bernie Madoff in lovemaking. So who are you going to believe, my skepticism or a witness with first-hand knowledge? On the other hand, Mrs. Weinstein cannot look to Bernie Madoff as a corroborating witness. If he agreed or disagreed, with a 150-year prison sentence hanging over him, who would believe him? So we are left to buy the book which will appear shortly with a cover price of $23.

I had planned to end this essay by using a line from a Broadway show, slightly twisted. The quotation would be, “Love, lust, and larceny, all the things that make life worth living.” But Miss Chicka, my wife, produced a better line. She said that Bernie was not only screwing his investors, but also his mistress/lover. I think that captures the whole affair.

Old Bernie was an equal-opportunity cad. And I cannot say that Mrs. Weinstein, who had an extra-marital affair of 21 years, deserves many plaudits either. So boys and girls, Mrs. Weinstein’s book will be out next month. She not only promises details of this relationship but also photographs. I can only say, as a grizzled veteran of such accounts, “Who would have thunk it?”

E. E. CARR
August 17, 2009
Essay 407
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Maybe it was a late-night affair instead. Perhaps Ruth is a very, very sound sleeper. Who knwos?
Big news for the blog: We’re departing from this silly schedule and resuming real-time posts. I’ll still be catching up to attempt to average 1 post per day by the time this blog gets finished, though!

GREED GETS ITS JUST REWARDS

Two or three years ago, the stock market was humming along at somewhere in excess of 13,000. A good many people were working and prosperity was in the air everywhere. It was in this era of prosperity that the New York Mets, the New York Giants, and the local professional football teams in New York planned their new stadiums.

On the baseball side, a large number of seats were set aside as boxes to accommodate wealthy patrons who were willing to pay $2,500 to view one baseball game. In Yankee Stadium as well as in Citi Field, which now accommodates the Mets, the two baseball organizations thought that they would have sellouts, with patrons clamoring for seats at $2,500 a clip.

On the football side, the Giants and the Jets designated a large section of seats behind the coach’s box which they stated would be the best seats in the house. If my understanding is correct, the Giants planned to charge something on the order of $3,000 per ticket while the Jets came in at around $2,500 to see each of their football games.

In a spirit of “get all that you can get,” the baseball organizations and the football organizations all decided to sell personal seat licenses.

To get a seat at a baseball game, one must purchase a personal seat license and then he becomes eligible to buy season tickets. This is a rip-off in its rawest form. It guarantees sell-outs to the baseball clubs and to the football clubs and means that the patrons must either attend every game or, if they elect to skip a game, sell the tickets. In short, the Giants, the Jets, the Yankees, and the Mets were charging twice for selling the same seats.

But then the great recession/depression occurred. People lost their jobs. Banks closed. The stock market retreated from a level of as much as 14,000 to a level just about half that amount. In short, America was in a depressed mood.

As things now stand in mid-August of 2009, the $2,500 seats at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are largely empty. Television commentators often allude to that fact. News reports tell us that no executive from Wall Street or the big banks wishes to be seen in those seats. A banker, for example, who would appear in the $2,500 seats would probably have his sanity questioned, particularly if his bank had accepted government bailout money. The football season is about to open, and I will ask my observers to pay a close watch on how those expensive seats behind the coaches are selling. My guess is that the same depressed atmosphere that greeted the baseball season will carry over into the football season.

I know that there are those who will claim that this is a matter of lousy timing. But for an old-timer such as myself who believes that it is worth $4 or $5 to witness a baseball game, it is a matter of the owners getting their just desserts. This is eminently true in a town such as New York, where all of the games are shown on television.

Perhaps there are those who have a need to tell the world that they have $2500 to waste on a baseball game. I am very fond of baseball and much less fond of football, but buying a seat for $2,500 is nothing more than an exercise in gross vanity. In any case, I am reduced to listening to the games on my radio, with television being of no use to me. Listening to games on the radio is where I started out years ago, and now it looks as though that is where I will end up. If that is to be the case, I have no objection whatsoever. And I will keep my $2,500 firmly planted on my left hip, rather than giving it to Yankees, Mets, Jets, or New York Giants.

E. E. CARR
August 17, 2009
Essay 408
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Nothing much to be said here aside from that I agree entirely. The whole notion of season tickets is pretty ludicrous when you have to buy a seat license just to get em. Pure absurdity.

THREE LITTLE WORDS

I am well aware that there is a song called “Three Little Words” whose lyrics have to do with amorous adventures. The three little words that have been roving around in my intellect have nothing to do with love or marriage.

The three little words in this essay include a new word called “incentivizing.” Then there are “proactive” and the noun “task” which has been turned into a verb.

Shortly before I retired, one of my colleagues latched onto the word “proactive.” This was simply another word for saying that you were for something. I did not see a need for a new word or a bastardization of one of the old words which was called “active.”

I will concede quite willingly that the person who used this word over and over was not one of my favorites. This fellow was the son of an Iowa preacher, which was some sort of a detriment from the start of our relationship. To be honest with my readers, over time, I simply disliked this fellow to a very large degree. That may account – or it may not account – for my not liking the word he used, which was “proactive.” That word is seldom used today, for which I am quite grateful. It seems to me that one can say that he is in favor of something without using the term proactive. With that thought, I hope that I can dismiss “pro-active” from my memory forever.

The second word is a noun, task. There are those who say that Condoleezza Rice turned it into a verb. Condoleezza might say, “I tasked him to file the letters.” That is pure Washington speak and a civilized man such as Winston Churchill would never have used that construction. Again, as I examine news reports, the word task seldom appears as a verb. For that I am very grateful.

But now we have a new entry. Those of you with finely tuned ears may recognize the word “incentivizing.” Good gracious! To provide an incentive is something every employer ought to utilize. In the military services, if one served 20 years without getting killed, the incentive would be a pension.

But now we find the fully respectable noun “incentive” turned into a verb. Once again, I doubt that Winston Churchill would ever let the word “incentivizing” roll from his lips.

The latest example came up over the weekend when the Philadelphia Eagles hired a backup quarterback named Michael Vick. Mr. Vick, until two or three years ago, was a renowned National Football League quarterback who loved dog fighting. In fact, Michael Vick was consumed by this cruel game and in the end his dogs were cruelly treated and Michael Vick spent the better part of two years in jail for the crime of promoting dog fighting.

The rest of the equation is that a gentleman named Donovan McNabb is the current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. McNabb is growing a bit older and has trouble producing results that his bosses admire. So in the past weekend, Michael Vick, who was recently released from prison, was hired as a backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The thought clearly is that Michael Vick would “incentivize” McNabb to do better.

Every professional athlete knows that there are hundreds of people who would be anxious to take his job. Old Donovan doesn’t need any “incentivizing” to figure out that Michael Vick and several other people would love to be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. But be that as it may, Michael Vick was admitted to the playing ranks of the Philadelphia Eagles and may soon be activated. Whether his presence “incentivizes” McNabb to do better remains to be seen.

But in any case, the three little words proactive, tasked, and incentivize have been disposed of in this essay. I hope that in my future years with the rest of the world, those three little words will make their appearance privately.

E. E. CARR
August 17, 2009
Essay 406
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Yep, Pop really hates “proactive.” Though I think it’s definition is a little different from simply being in favor of something — it denotes willingness to take initiative, which is an attractive quality in the workplace. Indeed all of these words are just workplace jargon which, though admittedly unnecessary, seem innocuous enough to me.

For those keeping score, “Proactive” makes another appearance in FORBIDDEN WORDS.

A REPRISE ON THISA AND THATA

Those of you who read Ezra’s Essays may recall an essay on Ben Bernie. He was a popular orchestra leader from the 1920s through the end of the 1950s. When he was pleased with the performance of his orchestra, he would say, “Yousa, yousa, yousa.” And when he was going to play a variety of tunes, he would refer to them as “thisa and thata.” On several occasions I have borrowed “thisa and thata” from Ben Bernie and I when my work pleases me, I say, “yousa, yousa, yousa.”

A Little More Country Speak
As my readers are well aware, I am literate in country speak, the language of rural America. I became proficient in country speak because it was the native language of my parents. After I finished the recent essay on my father, Howard L. Davis, my Missouri friend, reminded me of an expression that was very common in usage to my father. That is the term “directly.” When it was used by country speakers, the term “directly” meant that “I will attend to this in a short while.” I know that the word “directly” implies that the matter will be taken up immediately. For better or worse, that is not the way it was used by country speakers. For them, it meant that the matter was under consideration and would be acted upon shortly, but specifically it did not imply immediate action at the moment. So if a country speaker tells you that he will get to the matter directly, it means that he will attend to it in a short while.

While we are on country speakers, I am still mystified by an expression used by my mother. When something was absolutely worthless, she would say that “it is not worth a row of pins.” As an alternative, she might say that what is being proposed is “not worth two hoops.” I had to make a guess as to the spelling of hoops, as it could be whoops or just plain hoops (loud yelling). But remember when politicians promise you something, it may not be worth a row of pins or it may not be worth two hoops or a hill of beans.

Another aspect of country speak had to do with anticipating such things as time off from work or schooling. For those who wished for the weekend to get here immediately, the country speakers would say, “You are wishing your life away.” That line turns up in the Eric Vogel piece called “If Wishes Were Fishes, We’d All Cast Nets in the Sea.” I have been guilty of wishing my life away on numerous occasions but my troubles mean nothing as compared to those of the swindler Bernie Madoff. Facing a life sentence of 150 years, I suspect that old Bernie is intent upon wishing his life away.

Double-Duty Months
It has always seemed to me that February is the proper size for any month. It contains the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and Groundhog Day, and it lasts only 28 days. However, the men who arranged the calendar provided us with two double-duty months which are lamentable. These are December and January, which in my long life seem never to end. Then there is July and August. Those months with their hot and humid weather seem to go on forever.

On top of all this, bankers and brokers can hold on to your money a few extra days without paying interest.

If I ever get around to running for President of this great country, part of my campaign will be based upon February as the ideal month. It will give me great pleasure to see the bankers and brokers squirm while I ask them what their justification is for holding on to the profits without paying interest for as many as three extra days.

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer
Jenny, a wonderful woman who helps Judy with the housework here, has a problem that should never have happened. Jenny is a Costa Rican who, with her husband, has waited at least six years for the issuance of a green card from our Immigration Department. They live in a never never land, unable to open bank accounts because under the Patriot Act, only citizens can do that. The Patriot Act is a product of the far right wing of the Republican Party and is lamentable in the extreme.

Jenny’s husband is unemployed because he was a truck driver who could not get a license under the Patriot Act. He then took up construction work and no one needs to tell you what has happened to construction in New Jersey. There are three children ranging in age from three to twelve years. But altogether they are a wonderful family and I am dedicated to helping them whenever it can be done.

Last Sunday, which would have been August 3rd, all five of them attended a Catholic church in Summit, New Jersey. This happened in the afternoon because that is when the masses are conducted in Spanish. Jenny’s husband is not facile with the English language. Because it was raining and there was an umbrella to be dealt with, for one reason or another Jenny left her purse in the car. In New Jersey, there is a cottage industry in destroying and stealing cars by people who ride the train westward from Newark, then get off in more affluent towns of the New Jersey suburbs. In this case, Jenny more or less is the sole support of her family of five people. Seeing the purse, the thieves broke into the car and stole the purse. Because they could not start the car, apparently they attempted the destruction of the inside of the car. Again because of the Patriot Act, Jenny was carrying her valid Costa Rican passport. That is now in the hands of the thieves.

I wrote an essay a few days ago about the Costa Ricans being the hardest working people known to me. Jenny and her husband, Ronald, are all of that. But with Jenny losing her purse and her passport and whatever money was there, she is simply out of luck. So it is that I say that the rich get richer and the thieves do their thing and the poor people get poorer. The saving grace is that Jenny, who resides in Summit, New Jersey, reported the problem to the cops. For once the cops were most sympathetic and have promised to run the thieves down. That may not be possible but at least the cops understood the problem.

I believe it is probably fair to say that the thieves who stole Jenny’s purse and who trashed the inside of the car are probably poor people themselves. But being poor does not bring one the entitlement to bring harm to others. On the other hand, this all happened while Jenny and her family were attending the mass at the local Catholic church. You may draw a lesson from this incident about church going, but it will probably be the wrong one. For myself, a non-church going person, it might be said that I have tried to avoid attending a mass at the local Catholic church to avoid burglaries. But I suspect the local clergy would roundly condemn that viewpoint. However, it might be said that in the end the rich get richer and the poor get shafted.

E. E. CARR
August 2, 2009
Essay 405
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: This was horrible news to read. I’ve learned a lot about this family from more recent essays; they seem like wonderful people. Pop and Judy have helped them over and over again, and it seems like they truly deserve it.

THE GREAT SUBTRACTION CRISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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