Archive for the January 2008 Category

BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER

When I was in the labor relations business in New York City, a pompous, Harvard-trained lawyer offered me legal advice for about five of those years. In addition to his degree from Harvard, this lawyer had three first names. Obviously, because of his training and his birthright, this lawyer was my superior in every respect, including moral, societal and ethical considerations. But when it down came down to a “brass tacks” situation, I found myself relying on my own logic rather than the Harvard-trained lawyer’s advice. He was nice to have around but when the union people on the other side of the table would demand to know “Why did you do the following?”, I could not say that I did it because I was relying on a lawyer trained in Boston.

Frequently when an issue or a question arose, this lawyer would refer to it as “the case at bar”. He used that expression on many occasions, even when the debate was whether we should eat lunch at the company cafeteria or go to a small sandwich shop outside the building.

My association with this barrister occurred at the end of the 1950s and into the beginning of the 1960s. Arithmetic tells me that I knew the pompous gentleman fairly close to 50 years ago, but nonetheless the expression “the case at bar” has stayed with me for all of the intervening years. A stroke, aphasia and the passage of time have not eroded that thought from my mind.

And so it is that the case at bar today is aphasia. A neurologist might describe aphasia in clinical terms but I am not a clinician and I will try to tell you what it means in practical terms. Aphasia results from having a stroke. Aphasia is a pretty fair trade-off when one considers that strokes can cripple the limbs and put one in a wheelchair. Aphasia sufferers usually walk like everyone else, but when they talk, sometimes their speech comes with uncommon difficulties to bring the words out of their mouths. The stroke that happened to me occurred in November of 1997, which was ten years ago.

For the ensuing decade, aphasia has bedeviled me on hundreds or perhaps thousands of occasions. I once tried to make a list of the words that gave me trouble, but in the end I had to give it up because I simply could not recall those words. In my case and in many other cases of aphasia, the disability affects the brain’s recovery of nouns. For example, there are times when I may be speaking to a person and, in the midst of the conversation, aphasia will strike and I can’t recall his name. I know who I am talking to but I am simply unable to get his name from my brain to my vocal cords so that I might say, “Thank you, Joe”.

Curiously in my case, aphasia obliterates some words that I have known intimately for years. For example, glaucoma has had a strangle hold on members of the Carr family, but on many occasions, I cannot call its name, even though it is the source of the Carr family blindness. In November of 1997, I reported to Shirley Morgenstein, the Director of Speech Therapy at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. After several sessions, I was advised by Shirley that writing essays might be helpful. When I began to write this essay or, as we say, the “essay at bar”, the word Kessler was nowhere to be found in my alleged mind. In the Chicago traffic office, I sat next to Clarence Kessler and over the years I have tried to think of him when I needed to pronounce the word of the rehab institute. But that has gone away. Now, as of this morning, I remember the Kessler name from a World War II air field of the same name in Mississippi that was known by its terrible food and draconian discipline. In the article that follows, you may see other word associations that I use to get along.

When I first became totally blind more than two years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Sing No Sad Songs for This Old Geezer”. I ask you now to sing no sad songs for me, because thousands of other people with aphasia are in much worse shape than I am. As one example, there is a story of a man who is being berated by a supermarket clerk for holding up the line. The line was being held up because this aphasia sufferer could not bring the words “thank you” to his lips. I presume that the thank you was intended for the clerk who excoriated the aphasia sufferer.

Now it is well known that people very much like to be with other people of their own nationality, religion, and, in this case, ailment. Shirley Morganstein now runs, with her partner, a company based in Montclair, New Jersey called “Speaking of Aphasia”. It turns out that people who wrestle with aphasia every day have an organization which publishes a newsletter. Earlier this year, Shirley suggested that I might write an article for the use of the editors of the publication devoted to people who are entangled with that disability. Shirley’s wish is my command, as it has been for the past decade. And so it is that an article entitled “Dodging Bullets” (see attachment) has been submitted to the editor of the newsletter which is circulated among these birds of a feather who deal with aphasia. At Shirley’s request, her name has been eliminated from the actual submission. But she is the mover and shaker in my essay writing career.

When submitting this article, the record should show that while I cannot recall the name of the words persimmon or Kessler, I can recall instantly the thought about the case at bar. If I ever meet another pompous attorney, I will use that term in the hope that he will consider me a Harvard-trained lawyer with three initials before my family name. And if I recite the maxim of “birds of a feather flock together”, that other person will think that I am a poet. Not bad for a blind guy who can’t remember the word glaucoma.

E. E. CARR
January 23, 2008
Essay 288
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Does Pop still remember the business guy? Has his opinion changed at all since 2008? Was any feedback on “Dodging bullets” ever received?

Of course, Dodging Bullets has already been published and can be found here.

IN THE DEFENSE OF DECENCY

The readers of Ezra’s essays are now showing the wears and tears of age. Some of them have actually become long in the tooth. The question that I have to ask today is whether any of you believe that in the United States there will be a presidential election that is conducted without an assault on decency. I doubt that my grandchildren will see such an election but the hope here is that their grandchildren may experience a presidential election that is consistent with the basis concepts of decency.

A short look at the elections that have taken place in the past 80 years might be instructive. In those years, attacks on decency were commonplace. In the past ten or twelve years, assaults on decency were to be found in almost every presidential election.

My first exposure to presidential elections took place at the age of six in the election of 1928. The election involved a colorless engineer from California named Herbert Hoover. He was running against the flamboyant Governor of New York, Al Smith, a Democrat and a Catholic. You may also recall that at that time, America’s southland was known as the “Solid South.” Southerners at that time voted as a block for the Democratic candidate. But Al Smith’s religion threw them a curve ball. They wanted to vote for the Democratic candidate but his Catholic faith prevented many of them from doing so. In those years, it was commonplace to hear that if Al Smith were elected, the Pope in the Vatican would actually be in charge of the government of the United States. The assault on decency in this case made it impossible for Al Smith to have won the 1928 election. If Smith had been a Protestant, he would have been perhaps a three to one favorite to prevail over Herbert Hoover. But that was not the case, and the Baptists and the Evangelicals deserted Smith and voted for Hoover or simply stayed home. Herbert Hoover won that election in 1928 and by 1929 the American economy was in a Depression that lasted for 13 years. Even today in New York City, there is an annual dinner honoring Al Smith which has become a major social and political event. Smith is remembered but no one seems to have thought about Herbert Hoover in the 76 years since he left the office of the President of the United States.

Moving forward from the 1928 election, in the year 2000 we had the Republican primary contest between George W. Bush and John McCain. Bush was being advised by Karl Rove, a man who wants to win at whatever cost. Before the election, Bush and Rove committed a major assault on decency by spreading the story that McCain was no longer stable after having spent five and a half years in the captivity of the North Vietnamese. In the New Hampshire primary, McCain clobbered Bush, rolling up an 18% margin.

When the primary moved to South Carolina, the Bush strategists elected to play the race card. Sometime prior to the South Carolina election, McCain and his wife had adopted a small girl from an agency in Bangladesh run by the people who were associated with Mother Teresa. Bangladeshi children are often dark-skinned. When Bangladesh was part of India, they found that their dark skin made them members of the lower castes in Indian society. Nonetheless, the McCains adopted the little girl and John McCain was promptly accused by the Bush machine as having had a black child conceived outside of wedlock. For a white man to have fathered a black child outside of wedlock is a fatal charge in any election. And so it was that McCain lost South Carolina to George W. Bush.

Now if we advance further into the primary season in 2008, we find that the assaults on decency have not stopped. The current rumor is that during his five and a half years of captivity by the North Vietnamese, John McCain sold out on other American prisoners. May I ask that if John McCain had sold out on other American prisoners, why did he continue to be tortured? If I understand correctly, McCain cannot comb his hair because it is too painful to raise his arms above head level from torture by his captors. Accusing McCain of selling out is another scurrilous rumor that comes within the province of bottom feeders.

As a matter of disclosing my interest, I am an adoptive father and I know a little bit about military service abroad. While I am sympathetic to McCain on these grounds, it should also be noted that I am not a McCain supporter nor have I ever contributed a dime to his campaign chest.

McCain must have angered some people in the Republican Party because the assaults on decency still go on. In my view, McCain is a decent person who does not deserve these assaults.

In the 2004 election between George Bush and John Kerry, you may recall the so-called “Swift Boat” attacks. John Kerry was an authentic war hero in the Vietnamese War. During that period of war, George Bush spent part of this time with the Texas Air National Guard. It might be observed that there were no Vietnamese to fight the Texans in the Texas Air National Guard. When the election became close, a group of individuals formed the Swift Boat committee and attacked John Kerry on his military record. Curiously, the attacks were leveled at Kerry being awarded two Purple Hearts. Nothing was said about the Silver Star that was awarded to Kerry, which is the third highest medal in the American military. Purple Hearts are not awarded for any acts of heroism; they have to do with being wounded. It is entirely conceivable that a soldier or sailor performing paper work as a clerk well behind the front lines might be hit by a stray bullet, which will put him in line for a Purple Heart if the wound occurred in a combat zone. But the damage was done and John Kerry lost the election. May I observe that Silver Stars are not awarded by sending in box tops from your favorite cereal.

Now we advance to the primary elections in 2008. For the bottom feeders who thrive on lies and scandal, the hunting is very rich. Before life is done, the bottom feeders may spew their venom on Mitt Romney because of his faith in the Mormon Church. I expect him to be accused of polygamy.

Mike Huckabee has the cockamamie idea that the United States Constitution should be realigned on Biblical principles. Biblical principles include the issues of slavery. Coming from a Southern state in the old Confederacy, it would be logical to ask if Huckabee wishes to reinstate slavery protected by the American Constitution.

Had Rudolph Giuliani been nominated as the Republican candidate for President, I suspect the rumors and jokes about his three marriages may never have stopped. If his marriages are not enough, there is always his former business partner Bernie Kerik, who will shortly answer a Federal indictment that could put him away for several years.

On the Democratic side, we have Senator Hillary Clinton who is known for her sharp elbows. When the bottom feeders come to the surface to spray their venom, it might be expected that they will accuse
Mrs. Clinton of being a lesbian. Such a story, it turns out, is already in circulation.

Then we have Barack Obama who on his father’s side is an African American. The bottom feeders have long since started the rumor that Obama is really a Moslem. When Brian Williams of NBC News asked him about these rumors, Obama said that he was a Christian and had always been one. One more rumor is that Obama took the oath of office using the Koran in place of the Bible. Obama found this laughable, as I do too. There is a congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, who is a Moslem, who took the oath of office using the Koran. But he has nothing to do with Barack Obama.

As a matter of fact, I put no faith whatsoever in people placing their left hand on the Bible or the Koran or any other religious document and swearing to tell the truth. Every liar from Ken Lay of Enron fame to Scooter Libby has placed his hand on a Bible and pledged to tell the truth. The juries have convicted them of perjury nonetheless.

Again, as a matter of full disclosure, I have contributed nothing to the campaigns of Mrs. Clinton or of Barack Obama.

And so we see that after 80 years, within my lifetime, the assaults on decency still exist and are probably becoming more vicious than ever. They make the old question of “When did you quit beating your wife?” look fairly simple in comparison. And so I repeat the question that launched this little essay, are we ever going to have a presidential election that is devoid of assaults on decency? Certainly not in my lifetime, but perhaps when my great, great grandchildren are of voting age, they may experience such a phenomenon. And perhaps they will have the opportunity to vote for a gay atheist who has Jewish roots.

There may be an oxymoron in that conclusion, but perhaps it is oxymoronic for us to expect that someday we will have an election that is devoid of attacks on decency.

E. E. CARR
January 24, 2008
Essay 287
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I’m partial to “have you heard the joke they don’t tell to gay people” as my ‘gotcha’ question.

More importantly — we’re in an election year of Ezra’s Essays! Looking forward to this one. I actually remember reading several of these in hard copy when my mother would release them from her stash to the rest of the family.

I wonder if this essay was written before the ‘birthers’ were in existence. Those guys are friggen’ terrible.

“OH MY, YOU ARE A DARLING”

Impartial and independent observers have assured me that the readers of Ezra’s essays have been purged of Southern Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Holy Rollers, and other evangelical sects. That is a lovely development in view of the fact that before this essay is finished, there will be references to female horniness. I grit my teeth when I am forced to discuss this subject but I intend to do my duty. In any case, the horniness issue will not arise until the latter paragraphs of this essay.

The events that took place that form the undergirding of this essay occurred between 1948 and July of 1951. The main character that we are discussing here today is a gentleman named Richard J. Darling. To all of us who knew him, he was plain Joe Darling.

Joe was the president of a local union in upstate New York that was part of the Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers. During the period in this discussion, Joe had been elected to the Executive Board of that union and was also a member of the national five-person bargaining team. As a result, he spent a good bit of time in New York.

In St. Louis, I held the presidency of a Midwestern unit involving the same federation. I had the good fortune over those years to also be elected to the Executive Board as well as to the bargaining committee. As a result, Joe Darling and I saw a good bit of each other during the years in question. In addition to the meetings in New York, there were frequent regional meetings taking place in such towns as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. Because of our positions in the union, Joe and I attended all of those meetings and again saw much of each other.

In those years, I was in the latter half of my twenties while Joe was much nearer the beginning of his fifties. The twenty-year difference in our ages seemed not to matter because we tended to enjoy the same things, such as restaurants, and our sense of humor seemed to match. For example, while the other representatives at these meetings tended to dine on enormous steaks, Joe and I frequently looked up local tea rooms where the offerings were adequate but not overwhelming. But more than that, Joe was a mentor to me. In the labor business, there are long pauses while each side tries to figure out what to do about the opposing side’s next move. And so it was that we had plenty of time to spend with each other. At the same time, the Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers was not rolling in cash. It was customary for delegates to share a room with other delegates of the same sex. Joe Darling and I often found ourselves as roommates. Joe did not smoke or chew tobacco and was an ideal roommate.

Joe was a philosophical type who tended to reflect the view that he had been there and done that. In point of fact, Joe had been there and had done that. Joe realized that he was a test room employee in Utica, New York, and would probably remain in that position for the rest of his AT&T career. This was a horrendous miscarriage of justice, because while he was working, Joe had earned a legal degree and was admitted to the Bar Association of New York. But the AT&T company preferred lawyers from Yale and other prestigious schools. Thus it was that Joe languished in AT&T’s test rooms in upstate New York. Joe wrote wills, guided the settlements on property, and occasionally appeared in court. There were times when his clients gave him some property in lieu of payment of his fees, and so it was that he became a holder of properties in and around Utica, New York.

Joe was my mentor, my teacher, my good friend, and my roommate. But Brother Darling had something that I could only marvel at. Joe Darling was a very handsome man. He was about six feet tall and weighed no more than 180 pounds, and his hair had turned prematurely gray. His suits fit perfectly and he wore no glasses. While he was nearing or had just passed his 50th birthday, it is likely that many people would consider Joe to be only in his late 30s.

Now at these meetings that I have mentioned previously, the delegates were all required to wear a name tag. The name tags, worn on the coat pocket, stated your name and your home town. Everyone in the labor movement tends to shake hands with each other and introduce themselves. And so it was that Joe Darling and I wandered around the room, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries.

Warning: now comes the horniness part.

As Joe, with his extraordinarily good looks, would wander around the room, I have heard women say openly to him, “Oh my, you are a darling.” Or they might say to another woman, “That man is a darling.”

My infallible rule is that when people go to other big towns and find themselves in a hotel room where booze is served at the cocktail hour before dinner arrives, horniness tends to set in.

Joe was fully aware of his attractiveness to the other sex but never tried to exploit it. He considered it a source of humor.

When Joe and I roomed together, which was often, I would say to
Mr. Darling that if he wished to use the room alone as a result of meeting on of these horny females, I would take off for two or three hours and leave him undisturbed. I considered myself a full-fledged gentleman and it seemed to me that this was the thing to do when a stranger would say to Joe, “Oh my, you are a darling.” Invariably, however, Joe would say to me, “I’ve got all I can handle at home.”

Joe was married to a woman he called Jo-Jo who was about 20 years younger than he was. During the bargaining sessions, Joe would go to Grand Central Railroad Station and get on a train to Utica on Friday evening. He left in time to get home for dinner. Joe did not return until 9 or 10 o’clock on Monday morning. Thus it was that I concluded that Brother Darling was in fact taking care of his business at home. In the three years that Joe and I were associated, he taught me much that I have carried through the rest of my life. Again, he was my mentor, my good friend, and my roommate. No one could ask for anything more than that.

The end of the story came a few years ago when I tried to call Joe. By that time, I suspect that he was in his 90s. From all that my wife Judy and I could determine from the speakerphone, Joe was in the grip of Alzheimer’s Disease. He seemed not to remember me or any other characters that were involved in our escapades.

I am sorry for this unhappy ending but you will recall that in the beginning of this essay I merely set out to recount a matter of female horniness. I believe that I have accomplished my duty with great distinction. That is worthy of the Victoria Cross. If there are complaints about my deportment, they should be referred to the local chapter of the Salvation Army.

E. E. CARR
January 19, 2008
Essay 285
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well clearly Joe has a little bit of an edge over the mayor of Toronto. “I’ve got all I can handle at home” would have easily been sufficient for ol’ Mr. Ford but he chose to go with a somewhat more uncouth saying.

That aside, he seemed like a very good fellow. Alzheimer’s is a bitch. I am very often glad that Pop’s memory and wits have remained sharp over the years. I feel like writing the essays probably helps keep them that way.

DODGING BULLETS

The surgeon who intended to repair my aortic valve late in 1997 advised me to stop my Coumadin intake five days before the procedure. On the fourth day, a stroke occurred. The stroke spared my limbs but left me with an active case of aphasia. The surgeon, who is a decent fellow, said that “We dodged a bullet.” He does not have aphasia. But in any case his statement came out as “We dodged a bullet.”

While I was still in the hospital recovering from the stroke, two women came by and told me that they were going to help me with my aphasia problem. They left sheets of paper and told me on one occasion to write down every vegetable that I could think of on this one sheet. The next day they came by and told me to write the name of every automobile I could think of. Then they said that in a day or two they would return and I would be asked to repeat, for example, the names of 20 automobiles in, say, 20 seconds and the same would apply to the vegetables. It turns out that those two women were hoping to establish a business to help aphasia sufferers. As soon as I could leave the hospital, I returned the papers and my wife contacted the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute.

After a few sessions, the speech therapist advised me to start writing essays as a means of restoring some of the loss in my brain. It so happened that the first essay was due on December 8, 1997. It also so happens that in 1943 my airplane was shot down on December 8th over Northern Italy. Furthermore, ten years later on December 8th in Chicago it was our good fortune to adopt a two-and-a-half-month old baby girl. And finally, on December 8, 1956, her sister was born. And so my first essay had to do with those events.

While we dodged bullets, as I freely concede, aphasia has hung around for all of the ten years since the stroke. Even today, I cannot name the stationary bicycle that I ride in our gym in the basement without first recalling the Seagal Stationery Store in Summit. I cannot pronounce the word persimmon without thinking first of the Simmons Mattress Company. And the word Bacitracin will not come to my lips until I think of my parents saying that Herbert Hoover was going after things bass-ackwards. Beyond that, there are word substitutions. For example, when my wife went to mail our income tax to the Internal Revenue Service, I asked her if she had mailed our umbrella. To the extent that I can do it, I find these lapses into aphasia humorous.

While the speech pathologist got me to start writing essays, I have not quit. As I dictate this little article, to my right are ten three-inch binders holding essays that I have produced over the past ten years. My estimate is that 200 or more have been written as a means of dealing with aphasia. There are people who ask how I think of subjects to write about. My grandson says that the essays are memoirs of my long life. I find that when I am engaged in my bathroom, subjects come to me almost automatically. I write about people I have known, humorous events during my service in the United States Army, my family who had religious quirks, and dozens of other subjects.

As the son of Irish antecedents, I find the British monarchy hilarious beyond belief and a splendid source for my essays. For example when the Prince of Wales decided to share quarters with Camilla Parker-Bowles before they were married, Queen Elizabeth insisted that he construct another bedroom next to his official residence at Clarence House. The Queen politely ignored the fact that they had been lovers for at least 30 years during their marriages to other people. But the Queen was determined to preserve British dignity at any cost.

Clearly, there are many cases of aphasia that are much more severe than the one I have. My recovery from aphasia was not helped by the onset of glaucoma, which blinded me totally at the end of October, 2005. When I could read and write, I could absorb information from the written page. Now I must rely entirely on my ability to hear. But the essays have not stopped. I now have a recording device into which I am dictating this article. The cassettes from the device are transcribed by a lovely lady who lives about eight miles from here, who then sends the finished product back by email. At that point, my wife Judy and I go to work correcting and polishing the essays. It may seem like a cumbersome procedure, but it works.

In the previous paragraph, I had difficulty trying to recall the word glaucoma. I know that word inside and out because glaucoma blinded my father as it did my elder brother. Yet due to aphasia, there are many instances where the name glaucoma either will not come to my mind or refuses to be pronounced.

I am not a physician or a psychologist or a member of any of the professions that treat aphasia in a clinical manner. I am simply an 85-year-old geezer who worked for AT&T for 43 years and who found the time to volunteer for the United States Army Air Corps when World War II started. If I had any advice to offer to other aphasia sufferers, it would be for you to consider writing essays. My essays are distributed to about 25 or 30 people, who from time to time encourage me by their responses. When I fail to write essays, my vocabulary shrinks.

So you see, it is important for me to keep on writing essays. Not everyone considers them literary gems, but when it comes to battling aphasia, they seem to get the job done. Aphasia may have closed one door in my life, but it opened another one involving essays. In the final analysis, every person must play the hand he is dealt, even though he may have to dodge some bullets while doing so.

E. E. CARR
January 16, 2008
Essay 284
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I’m always a fan of these meta essays. Also, as I go back in time, I realize that Pop has been using the umbrella example to demonstrate his affliction for a long time. This would indicate to me either that it was the most egregious word substitution or there simply aren’t that many to choose from in the last few years — each option of course being very good news to me. I hope that 2014 brings at another crop of new essays.

Honestly I think I’m incredibly lucky to have access to this large of a body of work regarding my grandfather. I live a long way from New Jersey and our chances to have conversations in person are somewhat limited. Essays are of course not a perfect substitute for that but this is a way for me to have at least a short conversation, even if it’s one way sometimes, with Pop every day. Kinda cool!

INSPIRATIONS FROM THE W.C.

The writing of essays requires an infusion of ideas. A good many of my ideas occur to me while I am attending to my duties in the bathroom. For example, you may recall that there were a series of essays which were entitled, “Thoughts While Shaving.” As time has gone on, I still receive thoughts in the bathroom which become essays sooner or later. Here is a polyglot essay that ranges from lobbying for AT&T to a concert, to a wheelbarrow full of frogs, and even my argument with the Jockey underwear company. So hang on as we try to take a look at all of these inspirations from the W.C.

In 1962, there came an offer for me to become the Director of Industrial Relations for the New York Telephone Company. This was a familiar field for me in that I had been associated with labor management relations for about 14 or 15 years at that time. Moving to the New York Telephone Company was a good opportunity in that it gave me experience with what the AT&T and Bell System companies called the “Associated Companies.” Beyond that, my offices would be in New York so there was no need to move my family. Actually my office was located directly opposite the Lackawanna ferry slip on West Street in lower New York City. When a Bell System man got an offer that was a promotion and it did not require that he move his family, it was a big, big plus.

The New York Telephone Company had at that time about 100,000 employees and its assets were in the billions of dollars. I worked for the New York company for two years and basically enjoyed every minute of that time. Even today, some 40 years later, I still correspond and speak to Lorraine Grant Murray, who was my workmate at the New York company. My association with the people of that company was pleasant, which seemed to reflect the leadership at the top level.

Beyond all that, my office was located on the west side of the building facing the Hudson River. From my office I could see the ferries approaching the slip on West Street. I usually had time to put on my coat, catch the elevator, and cross West Street in time to catch the ferry, which connected to the Lackawanna Railroad, which served New Providence, New Jersey, the town in which I lived.

From my standpoint, the New York Telephone Company treated me well in every respect. But in the spring of 1966, it was decided that I could serve the company best by moving to Washington to become a lobbyist in the so-called AT&T Washington office. And so it was that the house in New Providence was sold and my family was moved to Bethesda, Maryland.

The lobbying effort by AT&T was significantly different from the lobbying that now takes place in the nation’s capital. In those days, it was the intent of AT&T to be helpful to the servants of the federal government and to provide support, such as speech writing, whenever it was needed. There were lunches to buy, of course, but my total allowance for lobbying purposes was about $250 per month. It goes without saying that $250 per month could be blown away by two people having lunch at an expensive restaurant in Washington today. But in 1966 through 1969, the allowance was reasonably adequate.

The Washington AT&T office was located first on K Street, known today as “the street of lobbyists.” Soon however, the Washington office was moved to L Street, just west of 19th Street. In the new building, a large part of the first floor was occupied by the Touchdown Club, which was a private club that offered food and drink. I joined the Touchdown Club because it offered a place to have lunch without going out into the elements on rainy or snowy days and because my government contacts liked to go there on the chance that they would meet football or baseball players. At the time, you may recall, Washington was represented in the American Baseball League by an expansion team. Its star was a first baseman named Mike Epstein. Epstein billed himself as “the Super Jew.” Epstein was a likeable fellow and young people thought of him as their hero. Because the Senators, as the expansion team was called, were not drawing well, on Saturday afternoons they would permit youngsters to enter the ball park upon payment of a fee of about one dollar.

Living across the street from us in Bethesda was a widow with five children. Her husband had been murdered in Venezuela, his home country. In Venezuela, politics is a deadly game. From time to time, I would gather up four or five of those children together with my two children and take them to the ball park. I believe that we all had a rollicking good time.

While the baseball Senators struggled, the professional football team in Washington, called the Redskins, thrived. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Redskin fever is a religion among many people in our nation’s capital. As you can imagine based on the name of the club that I joined, a good many of the Redskins would come to the Touchdown Club, as well as dozens of football player wannabes and hangers-on. A good many of the patrons at the Touchdown Club had bulky bodies which may have led impartial observers to believe that they were former football players. All things considered, the members of the Touchdown Club seemed to be decent people who enjoyed having a drink, an enormous roast beef sandwich, and discussing football year round. I am not that much of a football fan but the Touchdown Club gave me the amenities that I needed to do my job.

Once each year, on a Saturday afternoon, the members of the Touchdown Club would hold a Saturday session where members’ daughters could attend and, if they wished to, perform on musical instruments. On this occasion, the Saturday afternoon for the children occurred when my daughter was about 11 years old. At that time, Suzanne (the daughter) was studying the playing of the piano. When I told Suzanne about the Saturday afternoon session, she appeared to be interested and perhaps even excited. Her piano teacher gave her a new song to learn, which was just appearing on popularity charts. The song was called “Love is Blue.”

So on this Saturday afternoon, which probably occurred in February or March, Suzanne, her elder sister Maureen, and I set aside time to hear the daughters of the members perform. Mothers and wives were not invited. After a hearty lunch, as I recall it, the entertainment began. My recollection is that Suzanne had memorized the music from the song “Love is Blue” and did not need to have the music set before her. My recollection is also that about the third performer that afternoon was a youngster who played “Love is Blue.” As the afternoon proceeded, about two or three others approached the piano and also played “Love is Blue.” Finally it was Suzanne’s turn to play and she played – you will probably be surprised by this – “Love is Blue.” I believe that song was played once more before the proceedings ended that day.

But what needs to be said was that this collection of old gimpy football players, lobbyists, and hangers-on gave each performer rousing applause. It made no difference how many times “Love is Blue” was played, or how many mistakes were made, it evoked a robust response from the male audience. Because my daughter was treated to this applause the same as every other member’s daughter was, I began to have warm feelings toward the members of the Touchdown Club. They were the guys with the big bellies and others who limped from football injuries, but no matter how you cut it, they welcomed the performances of the children with rousing applause. That happened more than 40 years ago and it still leaves me with moist eyes when I think of it.

I am dictating this essay on a Monday afternoon. In this house, Monday is one of the four days that we exercise in the morning. And so it was that I took a shower around 12:30 this afternoon. With sightless eyes, it is important that I concentrate on nearly every move. That is particularly true in what I have called in this essay the W.C. As I was rubbing and scrubbing in the shower, my mind should have been on where I put the washcloth and the soap. But as you can see, my mind fluttered away into thoughts about the Touchdown Club.

Before I was finished with my work in the shower, I began to think about Chris Dodd, the Senator from Connecticut. Chris Dodd is one of the brightest people in this country. But more than anything else, and even more than his brightness, Chris Dodd has a sense of humor. In politicians such as those at the senatorial level, we seldom find people with wit and humor. Chris Dodd has both. For example, he is in his fifties and he has two very young children. He says that he is the only person who is being courted by the AARP and by diaper services at the same time.

After the defeat that he suffered in the Iowa caucus, Judy and I sent him an email congratulating him on his performance and suggested that he should run for the Majority Leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate. Apparently, Dodd received the identical idea from others. Dodd responded by saying that managing the Senate majority job is like managing a wheelbarrow full of frogs. That remark could have been made by my friend Jake Birdsall, the gravedigger/philosopher who lectures in the Peculiar, Missouri public school system.

That thought also occurred to me as I was showering in my W.C. and if I don’t keep my mind on my business, some day there will be horrendous consequences from a fall. I concentrate as hard as I can, but my mind has sieves that permit things like the incident at the Touchdown Club and Dodd’s remarks to float through.

As I was exiting the shower, a maneuver that requires great concentration to keep from slipping on the tiles, my mind floated to thoughts about polygamy, where the husband has to put up with the continual sniping among his wives. I was thinking that Bountiful (that’s this woman’s name) would say to Plenitude, another wife, “Did you see what Felicity (another wife) was wearing yesterday? It was a blue blouse with a purple skirt. How horrid!” Plentitude would reply, “That’s not the end of it. Did you see that she kept the blouse unbuttoned down to her navel? She thinks she is Marilyn Monroe but actually she is a lot more like Twiggy.”

Then another wife, Prudence, replies, “She ought to put the hip wiggling and the low-cut blouse away and wait her turn to enjoy Brigham, our wonderful husband.”

There is no way to stop sniping such as this. But every man in a singular marriage ought to be thankful. For myself, if it were not for Mitt Romney in the presidential sweepstakes, my innocent mind would never have thought about polygamy.

For those of you who have spent your lives in seminaries, the term “W.C.” stands for water closet. Those are ancient terms and today the water closet would be identified as the bathroom, the john, the can, or les latrines. “Latrines” is of course a French term and I include it here only to show off my extensive knowledge of the French language.

One final thought about the work that goes on in the W.C. People in my situation literally have to concentrate on every move lest they make a fatal step which might result in an accident of major proportions. People who are so afflicted, learn to put on their undershirts after a shower in the W.C., by feeling around the edges of the top until they come to the label sewn in the back. They then know which way the shirt is to be donned. But recently the Jockey Corporation decided that it would save a few tenths of a cent by having its slave laborers in China or Thailand or wherever, simply print the size of the tee shirt and its manufacturer on the back. Those of us who have to concentrate on each move now have no more labels to locate the rear of the shirt. There is no man alive who can feel an imprinted message on the back of a tee shirt. Any of you who are interested may join me in writing the Jockey Corporation to tell them that they are bastards for removing the traditional tags that used to reside there.

In any case, I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the Touchdown Club and Chris Dodd even though I wrote it while I was showering and exposed my life to great danger. Perhaps on my next trip to the W.C., I will remember to concentrate, concentrate, and concentrate.

E. E. CARR
January 7, 2008
Essay 283
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I wish lobbyists still were limited to $250 a month in spending! The political landscape would probably look a lot different if that were the case. Or, come to think of it, it would probably look exactly the same and such dealings would just become increasingly shady.

There are essays to be found about both the tag-on-shirt situation and about the name-of-the-toilet situation and you should use google to look for them. I’d link them for you but I can’t at the moment! They’re rather good though, you have my word on that.

“I LOOK BUT I SEE NOTHING”

What I am really describing here is a job opportunity for men who are burdened with the loss of eyesight that afflicts me. In this short essay I will try to tell you why this is a golden opportunity for men such as myself.

Guido Bocciola operated a very fashionable restaurant in New York on 55th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. The restaurant was called L’Aiglon, which means, I believe, a young eagle. While escargot and caviar and other such delicacies appeared on the menu at L’Aiglon, roast eagle was never among the offerings. But, nonetheless, it was a very fashionable place that served excellent cuisine and had a much bigger luncheon business than it had for dinner.

Early in my essay writing career, I did a series of 12 essays about people I had known in New York City. One of them was Guido Bocciola. Those of you who had anything to do with AT&T may remember “deButts’ Folly”. In that instance when John deButts became Chairman of the Board of the AT&T Company, he foolishly decided that he wanted to move the headquarters from 195 Broadway uptown to the corner of Madison Avenue and 55th Street. The building that deButts proposed was enormous. About halfway between Madison Avenue and Fifth was the location of Guido’s restaurant. Before deButts’s folly could be completed, it would be necessary to destroy Guido’s operation. You may also recall that after a painstaking search, I located the man in charge of the construction and went to see him. He was an AT&T employee from the Midwest, as I am. He was a very pleasant fellow who said that he would welcome Guido if he came to see him. The appointment was set for 9 AM the next morning. In that meeting, Guido and the AT&T man in charge of knocking down buildings came to an agreement that permitted Guido’s restaurant to remain in operation for three more years. On top of that, AT&T agreed to take care of deficiencies in the building that the previous owner had declined to perform. Guido thought that AT&T as a landlord was truly heaven-sent.

In my jobs as Marketing Director and then as Director of Correspondent Relations, it was necessary and appropriate for me to bring guests to lunch. Almost invariably, I would select L’Aiglon as the place to go.

L’Aiglon had paintings on the wall and there were deep carpets on the floor. It was Guido’s custom to welcome each guest and, after the luncheon was completed, to bid that guest goodbye. Guido was impeccably dressed for the sixteen or seventeen hours that being owner of a restaurant requires. He was courteous to a fault.

Guido was a native of Milan, Italy. It was his contention that the Milanese were the most hospitable people in Italy. I found no reason to argue with that point of view.

For example, when my younger daughter was hit by a motorcycle near Toulouse, France, we retrieved her and brought her home. Shortly after our arrival at home, Guido asked us to come in to his place for dinner. Guido oversaw the serving of each meal and he himself prepared us a desert which he called his spécialité.

One of the reasons that I took my foreign guests to Guido’s restaurant was that the employees there had non-traditional backgrounds. Some spoke Spanish, some spoke Portuguese, many spoke French, and there might have been another language or two which do not come to mind at this particular moment. But the point is that my guests could have a discussion in their own native tongues. I enjoyed the repartee and my belief is that in so doing, I learned a lot from my guests and Guido’s waiters.

When luncheon was served at L’Aiglon, it was usually to a full house. There were many men who clearly discussing business with other men. On the other hand, in a discrete corner or two of the restaurant, there were men entertaining females. Because I went to the restaurant there so often, I became aware of the existence of these other gentlemen. I noticed that from time to time their female acquaintances would change. And so it was that in a free-floating discussion with my great and good friend Guido, I asked him about the men who were dining with different female friends from time to time. Guido’s reply was classic. He said simply, “I look but I see nothing.” Obviously if there were a divorce suit, to call Guido to the witness stand would be a futile gesture. Guido would look and still see absolutely nothing.

The thought about Guido has stirred my desire to get back into the business world. Tomorrow I am going to place an ad in the local newspapers offering my services as a maître d’. It will have to be in an upscale restaurant where my scouts can inform me that men are appearing at lunch with different women. As the maître d’, if I were ever called to testify in a divorce suit, I could say with a straight face, “I look but I see nothing.”

My services should be worth $10,000 per week from the restaurant owner and, if there is a divorce suit where I could repeat my mantra about seeing nothing, there might be a payoff of more than $50,000. If my quest for a job as a maître d’ in an upscale restaurant succeeds, AT&T can take its pension and invest it in Enron stock. So, as you can see, I intend to be gainfully employed for a long time, which will keep my name off of the unemployed rolls that the politicians talk so much about these days. I will tell you that it will be a good thing to go back to work in a profession that I believe I will enjoy.

E. E. CARR
January 16, 2008
Essay 286
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I suppose I’ll have to read that other essay to find out what became of L’Aiglon. Google tells me that there is no longer any such restaurant in New York, which is a shame. I think that Pop’s business idea is a winner, though. It reminds me of a restaurant in China called “Whale’s Belly” or somesuch where the diners all eat in the dark. In that restaurant and others of its ilk, the waiters wear night vision goggles. Pop would have no need for these and indeed could save the restaurant money on such equipment.

A FOUNTAIN PEN AND KEEPERS OF BROTHERS

Preachers, politicians, poets, and the surgeons who perform autopsies remain clueless as to the location of the soul in the human body. Evangelical enthusiasts such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson claim that the soul is located in the heart. Every Fellow of the American College of Cardiologists will deny this as junk science. They say that the heart might content stents, carnality, and the evidence of bypass operations but the presence of a foreign object such as a soul would cause nothing less than perpetual atrial fibrillation. Because of my lack of religious fervor, I do not have a dog in this fight. Nonetheless, I do believe that confessions are good for the soul, regardless of where it may reside.

My confession about this essay is that it has much to do with the doctrine of bait and switch. As a strict adherent to this doctrine, I am obliged to inform the reader of where the bait is located and then where the switch appears. Whatever the cost, I am prepared to make these identities known to every reader.

We start with the bait part as a preliminary. As every historian will recall, before typewriters were invented, writers were compelled to write their compositions in ink using a pen made of a goose quill. History will also record the fact that the best goose quills came from the underside of the female goose in front of the wings. Obviously a female goose who had lost her quills and feathers to writers was entitled to complain that its modesty had been violated. But the plucking of female goose feathers such as those used to write the United States Constitution came to an end with the invention of the fountain pen.

Fountain pens contained a tank inside of the barrel which could be filled by putting the point of the pen in an inkwell or in a bottle of ink and moving a lever on the side of the pen, which would permit capillary action to cause the pen to be filled. The leading supplier of fountain pens was the Shaeffer Company, which was originally located in the great state of Iowa. The Shaeffer Company produced handsome sets of pencils and fountain pens which could be offered as gifts to graduates of all levels of the educational system. The Shaeffer Company is still in business and now even offers a fancy set that sells for a little more than $3500.

Remember that we are still in the bait section of this essay. Shortly after the First World War, my mother, Lillie Carr, acquired a fountain pen. Her handwriting was so bad that in some ways I regretted getting a letter from her when I was a soldier overseas. If Lillie asked me a question in her handwriting, it would take me several hours to deduce what she had in mind. But her handwriting is not at issue here.

Lillie was a pious woman who claimed that she was not only saved but that she was sanctified. I was at a loss to know what “sanctified” meant until some sixty years later. Howard Davis, a reader of these essays, who comes from a family where preaching is the family business, told me that being sanctified has to do with sainthood. Lillie, who may indeed be a saint in heaven, has caused me to consider whether she is still chewing snuff. My unbalanced mind can see Lillie leaning over the banister around the edges of the heavenly dance floor expectorating to relieve the pressure in her mouth. If Lillie were alive today, she would be pleased to know that the Skoal Company has now introduced its snuff with flavorings such as peppermint and brown sugar.

As I have said, Lillie was a pious woman who loved to sing “Amazing Grace.” She read her Bible on many occasions and when she came to a verse that struck her fancy, she would whip out her fountain pen and underline it. The last time I looked at her Bible, she had underlined perhaps 50% of the verses in the Bible. She did not underline those genealogical stories about “Joe begat John and John begat Yasser” etc.

Now as we come to the closing thoughts in the bait section, it should be noted that Lillie was a true believer who not only walked the walk but talked the talk. In other words, she put her money where her mouth was.

During the great American Depression of the 1930s, there were a lot of poor people, including the Carr family. The fact that the Carr family was poor did not prevent her from helping other people who were probably poorer than we were. Lillie raised chickens in the far part of our back yard and offered them for sale to favored customers. Dell Van Buren Barbee was the car washer at the filling station where I was an attendant. When Dell needed a chicken, he would go to Lillie Carr’s back door, remove his hat, shuffle his feet, and tell her that he would like to have another chicken . The fact is that Lillie charged Dell exactly half of what she would charge other customers. And she would also say to me, “Boy, we all have to be our brother’s keeper.”

It is at this point that we progress to the switch part of this essay.

And so it is that for more than 75 years, I have labored under the view that the Bible directed Lillie and even reprobates like myself that we must all be our brother’s keepers. Over those years, I have made semi-annual contributions to Centurion Ministries of Princeton, New Jersey whose director is Jim McCloskey. McCloskey devotes most of his efforts to men who have been wrongfully imprisoned. He is a close associate of the Innocence Project, which is run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. Their weapon is the analysis of DNA, which has resulted in the release of prisoners wrongfully imprisoned who have served perhaps as much as 30 years.

Along the same line of our being our brother’s keepers, there are dozens of other projects that I try to support, including the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. In that organization, along with paying students, they take poor children who are hearing-impaired. They forbid lip reading. They equip the children with the newest devices to aid their hearing. My wife Judy and I toured the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis a few years back and were inspired. As a footnote, in 1930 or 1931, I was a patient at the Institute for perhaps six sessions. A school teacher had mistaken my shyness for deafness and had sent me to the Institute to improve my hearing. You may remember an essay that I wrote that as soon as the sessions at the Central Institute were finished, I would take my unrestricted streetcar pass and attend ball games played by the St. Louis Cardinals and the
St. Louis Browns. The kicker to the story is that the same teacher who had mistaken my shyness for deafness had promoted me a half grade ahead of myself before the end of that school year.

As a matter of information, I have thousands of worthy charities that might qualify for what I thought was the Biblical injunction to be my brother’s keeper. One I will tell you about is a college in the Appalachian Mountains called Alice Lloyd College in Pippapasses, Kentucky. The principle at Alice Lloyd College is that they take poor youngsters and provide them with a college education, provided that they work for it. Every student at Alice Lloyd is working his or her way through that school. Without this program, the high school graduates in the Appalachian Mountains would receive no college training. Judy and I made a contribution to that college because it stirred our heartstrings to know that young men and young women have the means to get a college degree. As a further matter of information, we are told that no deserving young man or woman has ever been turned down for entrance to Alice Lloyd College. And, finally, 95% of its graduates go on to post-graduate work and the bulk of them return when they are finished to work in the Appalachian Mountains where poverty abounds.

So the switch part of this essay is that if any of you are struck by the desire to make a contribution to a school where the work ethic still applies, Alice Lloyd would love to have your contribution. Our contribution met with this response from the president of the college:

Thank you for your gift of $400, which will help keep the doors of opportunity open for Appalachian youth. Without your help, many promising young people would never realize their dreams of a higher education and a better way of life.

Alice Lloyd worked for 46 years writing letters to her friends to obtain the assistance needed to provide an education for her beloved mountain students. Her idea was to instill traits such as character, leadership, duty, conscience, purpose, and the desire to serve God and others. It is nice of you to join us in our dedication to keeping their dreams alive. Thank you again, and may God bless you as you have blessed us.

So there are two switches in this bait and switch proposition that comprises this essay. The first switch is that if any of you wish to include Alice Lloyd College in your donation list, those people in Appalachia would be pleased and so would I.

Now the second switch is that for the 75 years that I have labored under the misapprehension that we must be all be our brothers’ keepers, it turns out that I was terribly mistaken.

According to one of the Bibles given to me from my mother’s estate, Genesis states in Chapter 4, Verse 9, that the Lord was given a smart-ass answer when he asked what had become of Abel. Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The fact of the matter is that I had it all backwards. I thought the Bible says, “I am my brother’s keeper.” I am not so impertinent as to correct the writers of the Holy Script. But in my view, that sentence should read, “I am my brother’s keeper!” That sentence should end with an exclamation mark rather than the question mark that the Bible now contains.

Finally, there is one last thought which accompanies the fact that I had my Bible quotations all wrong. In this case, after my mother was prepared to be buried, my eldest brother, Charles Halley Carr, who was the executor of her estate, asked me if I would like a memento of her life. I asked for her Bible. She was buried in Kirkwood, Missouri, and at her burial, Charlie gave me the Bible and I simply packed it in my suitcase and did not open it for several weeks after I returned to New Jersey. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, my mother had at least two Bibles. The Bible that I wanted was the one where she had underlined nearly half the verses with her fountain pen. But this Bible has no such markings. Instead, it lies on a credenza in front of my desk, and when I could see, I would refer to it from time to time to get my quotations correctly. Nowadays the Biblical quotations come from Judy’s computer, but in any case Lillie would approve of being everybody’s brother’s keeper and I am more than certain that she would approve of any and all support of Alice Lloyd College.

I have baited and switched you in this essay but I hope it proves to be harmless. As Lillie would say, “In this world, we all have to do the very best we can.”

E. E. CARR
January 15, 2008
Essay 284
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Alright first, I think it’s pretty cool that an atheist asked for his mom’s Bible to remember her by. I dunno, I just think there’s something really neat about it. Does anyone have any idea where the second bible went?

Also I’d like to know if there’s an essay dedicated entirely to the time in Pop’s life that he was falsely sent to the school for the blind, because I’d like to hear more about that experience.

THE VITAL SIGNS OF 2008 LOOK PRETTY GOOD

The New York Times has a reporter named Jennifer 8 Lee. I was intrigued by that name and asked Ms. Lee how it came about. Ms. Lee was very gracious and explained to me that she was of Chinese ancestry and her forbearers considered 8 to be a very lucky number. That seemed to be a very cogent reason for the Lee family to name their daughter after the numeral 8. In my own case, while it is young, the vital signs for the year 2008 look fairly favorable. Consider some of the following.

At the end of the year, our telephone was returning busy signals to anyone who called. When we reported the problem to the Verizon Corporation, they promised to send a repair man at a specific time to fix the trouble. The repair man showed up just as he was scheduled to and worked on our phone. When he was finished, he said that he was going to write a work order to have a new cable installed. I assumed that in this big corporation the work order would get lost and that we would never hear of the work being done. That was not the way it worked. The following day, a workman showed up to install a new cable. When he departed, he said that he was going to send a splicer to make some adjustments in the cable. Again, I assumed that the splicer might never show up. But on the following day, the splicer showed up and went to work on the cable. On top of all of that, our cable box is located about 8 or 10 blocks from this house. When the Verizon repairmen went to the cable box, they called us to tell us that they were not leaving but that they were simply going up to the cable box. All things being equal, I have never had more considerate treatment for our telephone travails.

Then over the holidays there was a problem with our stationary bike in our gymnasium in the basement. The bicycle when pumped made threatening noises that reverberated through the aluminum frame, which was most distracting. We called Gymsource to speak to Steve Spiegel, who is really a salesman, but who does repair work in the evenings and on weekends. I had assumed that it would be some time before we could get the bicycle repaired. But that is not the way it worked. I spoke to Steve around 1 PM and he said, “I will be there this evening.” Steve showed up on time and the work was done. That is another sign that things seem to be going spectacularly well.

Then there was a case over the weekend where we wanted to get my essays out to Howard Davis in New York City, who was having difficulty in trying to kill the long weekend. Howard is an avid reader who also critiques my prose. On Monday, December 31, Judy took the essays first to the Short Hills Post Office, which was closed, and to the Summit Post Office, which was closed also but had a machine in the lobby. I am not familiar with the mysterious ways of post office machines but the package was mailed with the hope that it would be delivered at least by Wednesday, January 2. In point of fact, however, the package was delivered to the Davis apartment in the Yorkville section of New York City the following morning on New Year’s Day at 10:30 AM. Again, the vital signs for 2008 continue to look pretty good.

You may recall that there are two young boys, aged 9 and 7, who have adopted me as their “Grandpa in America”. These boys are the children of a woman, Jenny, who helps Judy with housework here and who also does some office work. These are the same kids who have given me the medals they won because of their proficiency in soccer. Esteban is the nine-year-old who has started to learn to play the violin. We knew that Esteban planned to come with his mother over the holidays to give us a concert.

We had sometime earlier placed an order with a computer outfit that had promised to deliver computers to disadvantaged kids around the world. The offer was that if we contributed $400, they would deliver a computer to a disadvantaged child somewhere in the world and would also send us one. I thought that if the computer was delivered here some time before St. Patrick’s Day, we would be lucky. But as it turned out, the computer was delivered here on the Saturday before Christmas, 2007. Thus, we were able to present Esteban and his brother Fabian with the computer as a Christmas present.

Over that weekend, the two boys showed up with their parents and their new little sister, Melissa. Esteban had brought his violin. He played for us two selections which were followed by thunderous applause from his parents and ourselves. The applause was so great that he decided to play an encore. It was “Jingle Bells”, which he also sang. Again, there was thunderous applause. This was followed by Judy’s serving ice cream to all of us, together with special Costa Rican cookies that Jenny had brought as a gift.

On his way out the door, Ronald, the father of the two boys, hugged me and then hugged Judy and said in his newly-acquired English language skills, “Thank you for being so good to my family.” Under those circumstances, it was very hard to hold back the tears. Ronald meant every word that he had uttered in the English language.

Finally there were two other developments. For several days we had been plagued by ice on our driveway, particularly where the driveway is shaded by the house on the north side. Over that weekend, miraculously the ice and snow started to go away. I regarded this as a glorious sign for the incoming year.

During the end of July, 2007, it was my fortune to spend a week in the Overlook Hospital where I received a blood transfusion. The transfusion came with a notice that it is possible, but not probably, that the transfused blood may have contained the HIV virus. A week ago, a blood test revealed that no such virus exists and that the state of my health, if it is judged by extension blood tests, seems to be splendid.

While we were absorbing this noteworthy news, came a check for $400 from the great state of New Jersey because of a new furnace that we had installed earlier last year. The furnace runs on green vegetables and sautéed turnips rather than on natural gas. The check was another good sign of the new year.

And in the final analysis, there was an occasion the day after New Year’s when I found myself at the end of the driveway wrestling with two garbage cans that I intended to bring back to the garage. The weather was windy and one of the garbage cans fell on its side. Retrieving the garbage can and corralling it with its mate without dropping my cane was about all I could handle. And it was cold, cold, cold. In the midst of this wrestling match, the garbage men in their big truck turned the corner and headed up the street in front of our house. Normally the garbage men collect garbage on the west side of the street, and then go up to the corner and turn around and collect the garbage on the east side of the street where we live. But this was not the case. The garbage driver stopped the truck on his way up the street and the next thing I knew a garbage man interrupted my work to tell me that he would take care of things. There was no argument about it. The garbage man said that he was going to take care of things and he set out to do exactly that.

He and I walked to the back of the house, a distance of about 90 feet, and he carefully placed the garbage containers in the garage. During our walk, we had had a discussion and finally I asked him, “What is your name?” I then told him that my name is Ed Carr and we shook hands. He told me that his name was Louie and he called me “Eddie”, which is what one of my older brothers used to call me. Louie and I expressed to each other best wishes for the year to come and patted each other on the back. There is no better way to start a new year than by making a new friend. I consider good old Louie to be a decent man who is my new good friend.

After my encounter with Louie, I began to wonder about where the fellows who empty the garbage cans eat lunch. When I could still see, I recall that they had a conclave of garbage trucks that parked on the playground lot that adjoins Parsonage Hill Road. Emptying garbage cans is not conducive to a great appetite but I suspect that as time goes on, one concentrates on eating lunch and forgets about the smell in the great compartment just behind the front seat of the truck. So you see, Louie and I are great friends but so far we have not invited each other to lunch, but he would be welcome here at any time.

I am perfectly aware that there are nearly 12 months left before 2008 expires and many shoes could drop before ’08 disappears. I am aware of illnesses, hospitalizations, deaths, etc. But so far, if you subscribe to my philosophy of taking it one day at a time, the vital signs for 2008 are promising. Now if we can put together the same promising signs for the next 360 days, I would say that 2008 may be a banner year. And before it is all over, I may have my middle name changed from Edgar to the numeral 8. As Jennifer Lee can testify, 8 is a propitious number.

E. E. CARR
January 6, 2008
Essay 282
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well if nothing else, the end of 2007 sure as hell was good. The bit about the turnip furnace threw me for a loop. I am pretty sure he was kidding but I honestly don’t know. Hopefully he’ll see this and can give me a heads up.

Regarding weird Chinese names and the letter 8, here’s a related fact — you have to pay more for phone numbers with the digit 8 in them in China. Conversely, phone numbers featuring the digit 4 are cheaper because the word “four” and the word “death” are phonetically very similar, which is of course unlucky. “Four” actually sounds way more like “death” than “eight” sounds like “fortune” (“si” and “si” vs “ba” and “fa”) and that negative association is taken highly seriously.

Also, the post office machines and infrastructure working not only as intended, but outperforming expectations is a minor miracle.

I’m also thinking now about how I want to tackle 2008 from a blogging perspective. Going in order seems all well and good but the year that I did randomly and the year that I did in reverse were also fun. I’m pretty sure I also did a year in alphabetical order. I’m running out of different ways to sort a year full of essays, so if someone comes up with a novel one they should let me know!

Also, as a final note, Esteban and his whole family seem like excellent people. I wonder if any of them know about this site? Maybe one of them would be willing to write something here someday.

THEY DON’T MAKE YEARS LIKE THEY USED TO

I started out life as a youngster. Granted that was in prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the great state of Missouri. As a youngster, it seemed to me that the years that were given to us were sturdy and rugged and were intended to last for more than 100,000 miles. In those days, the months were prolonged and had a feeling of sturdiness about them. When the last out in the baseball World Series was accomplished each October, a period of semi-gloom settled around us but it could be handled.

After the baseball season was consigned to the record books, there were Notre Dame football games which absorbed my attention and lasted through the Fall. On January 1, there was a national college championship game played in the Rose Bowl, which ended the football season. There was sturdiness and reliability about the Fall season. But once the calendar turned to January, a cold gloom settled over my young frame.

It was cold and damp as I walked the three miles to the public school that I attended. Inevitably, when I expressed the thought that I could not wait for Friday to come, my elders would tell me, “Boy, don’t wish your life away.” January and February were months of gloom and despair, and they seemed to never end. This is another example of how they used to make years in the old days. My best scientific estimate is that January and February and perhaps the early part of March lasted at least seven months. There was no baseball season at that time of year, of course, so time dragged endlessly. But no matter how you cut it, those extended months contributed to the thought that they don’t make years like they used to.

St. Louis lies below the confluence of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. When summer arrived in May, these two major rivers contributed toward an exceedingly humid climate. It lasted through May, June, July, August, and September. Those months took at least nine months to complete. There was however the fact that baseball was played in those months, which tended to make life go a little easier.

The net result of what I am saying so far is that in the old days, when I was a youngster, they made years that went on forever. Now, however, I am an oldster. Believe me, if you have a choice between being a youngster or being an oldster, always opt for the youngster category. As an oldster, it seems to me that the years go lickety-split. The term “lickety-split” occurred to my mind for the first time in perhaps 65 or 70 years. But as we grow older, there is no denying that the years fly by. Last year, I blinked my eyes, such as they are, blew my nose, and the year 2007 was gone. It all goes to demonstrate the immutable and infallible fact that the years these days are not made as they used to be made. The years these days are meant to be like Kleenex. They are to be used once and discarded almost immediately.

In former days, the years were bolstered by timbers of sturdy six-by-six oak and mahogany and even pieces of iron. As time went on, we could find the years being bolstered by a steel framework. Ah…, but those days are gone. Now it is a disposable society. It is a case of “use it once and then let us proceed to the next story”.

I suspect that part of the problem may have to do with imports from China. Lou Dobbs, the television commentator, always refers to imports from China as coming from “Red Communist China”. Dobbs may have something there in view of the fact that the toys sent us by the Chinese are tainted by lead and the toothpaste has an ingredient that may well kill you. So I am suggesting that part of our problem may be the imports from China. But no matter how you look at it, current years are not constructed in the old fashioned, wear like iron mode. The years these days are not supported by sturdy timbers of oak and mahogany, but by plastic or recycled pressed paper and cardboard. No one can expect years supported by plastic to last 100,000 miles.

In my humble estimation, the fundamental and basic problem lies in the bumpers that once adorned our automobiles fore and aft. Those of you with longer memories may recall that until about 1965 or ’70, every automobile had two sturdy bumpers to protect the grill as well as the back side. In addition, those bumpers had a use for helping others. In former days, it was not unusual to see a person whose battery was run down and whose car would not start without a push. In that case, the front bumper of the pushing car would be engaged with the rear bumper of the stalled car and it could be pushed until the car started. In other cases, when a car fell into a ditch, very often it could be yanked out by attaching a cable and a winch to the front or rear bumper.

During those years when bumpers were a standard part of the basic automobile, we were introduced to bumper jacks. If a tire went flat, the bumper jack could be placed under the bumper and with several strokes of the pumping mechanism, the car could be raised and the tire could be changed. The bumper jack came with the auto and was always carried in the trunk of the car. This may seem like a routine operation but as an old filling station attendant, I can tell you that it was not without its perils. There were occasions when the jack had lifted the car to its full height and then, as the lugs were being removed, the car would lurch toward the missing wheel and catch the person changing the tire in the arm or hand. In my case, I never changed a tire without having the spare immediately available. It goes without saying that when the bumper jack was extended to its full height, accidents of every sort could and did happen.

Well, in any case, the manufacturers of automobiles decided that they would integrate the bumpers into the exterior of the car. So for the last 20 years perhaps, there have been no bumpers at all any more. If one were to take a modern automobile and attempt to shove it against another car that would not start, damage would result to both the pusher and the pushee. This of course causes your insurance rates to be terribly inflated, all for the lack of a bumper. Obviously, the automobile manufacturers are in union with the insurance companies.

I have spent several hundred hours studying this matter having to do with the unsturdiness of the years that we now find inflicted upon us. I have gone to my attic, where there is silence and where I may experience the coldness of my youth. I have talked to scholars such as the man who delivers the newspaper and the attendant at the grocery store who rounds up the carts in the parking lot. My ultimate conclusion is that the construction of the years started to deteriorate when bumpers were removed from cars, which clearly accounts for the lickety-split situation that afflicts us today. As hard as I have tried, I cannot escape the conclusion that when the automobile manufacturers decided to jump into bed with the insurance companies, it meant inevitably that the years were not made as they used to be made. There may be scholars who will argue with my conclusion, but until a better reason comes along, I am going to stick with the bumper theory and doctrine. If Albert Einstein were alive, I am certain that he would subscribe to my infallible conclusion.

E. E. CARR
January 5, 2008
Essay 281
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Kevin’s commentary: Oh man oh man. First off, welcome to 2008. It’s technically 2014 now but it’s 2008 in Ezras Essays time, dammit. And if Pop doesn’t like that years go by too quickly, now he gets to do 2008 again, in some small way.
Secondly I couldn’t ask for a more standard old fogey essay if I wanted to. I mean that in the most loving way possible. But seriously, when you ask most people how a typical old person story starts, it is invariably “back in my day, I had to walk five miles in the snow to school.” It’s a trope. Look, it’s documented right here.
However, I feel like most old people are not nearly as well spoken as Pop and they don’t do things like make neat car metaphors run through their stories. Which is why you should keep reading Ezras Essays instead of talking to your own grandparents. Even when mine are telling the oldest of stories, they do it better.