Archive for the June 2008 Category


Well, boys, the news on every front is pretty grim these days. My $50,000 Hummer is covered by a tarpaulin because it tends to gulp great gobs of gasoline. When I took my 350 horsepower SUV to the dealer to trade it in on a smaller car, he laughed at me and told me to please get off his lot so that I would not encourage other SUV owners to come see him.

On the airline front, we find that prices have more than anything else tripled recently. The number of planes has been greatly reduced and we find that towns such as Rockford, Illinois, Hot Springs, Arkansas and other small towns are now to be “unserved” by the airline industry. We also notice that Tulsa and Kansas City, among many others, are going to have their airline options reduced on the order of 10 to 15%. To top all this off, the airlines now wish to charge you $15 to $25 for the purpose of checking your baggage, which they may well lose.

There are economists in Washington who assure us that we are only entering a recession. But my belief is that we are now wallowing in a full-fledged depression. During the last Depression in the 1930s, there were many occasions when I personally sold gasoline at the rate of five gallons for one dollar. High test, which was called ethyl in those days, went for about 10 cents more. Not only was gasoline cheaper in those days, but we did not have a war going on that drained $12 billion out of the American economy every single month.

I usually accompany my wife on her trips to the grocery store, where I calculate that the cost of our food, which is not exotic, is now running about 35 to 50% more than it was a year ago. I can’t tell you much about clothing these days because I tend to not buy any. On top of all this, we find that a good many of our banks are going broke. The large investment banker, Bear Sterns, went belly up recently and now job seekers from similar banks are doing their best to find new jobs in the financial industry.

Then there are the home owners who find that the declining value of their homes is such that they owe more than the homes will ever be worth. The choice is to face foreclosure or simply to walk away. That is not much of a choice at all. Millions of Americans are now in great financial and mental pain. But the administration seems unconcerned with it all. We were told some time ago by the Vice President of this great country that deficits don’t matter. He was as wrong on that score as he was when he said that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators.

The President equally seems unconcerned about what is taking place because he flies around the world using precious gallons of gasoline to lecture the Africans on the merits of abstinence, which was followed recently by a speech to Arab dictators in Egypt on the virtues of democracy. I suppose that he did not realize that the guffaws he was earning had to do with the silliness of his proposals. When Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or King Abdullah of Jordan embraces democracy, I hope to be alive to witness that event. But I suspect that it is some 250 to 500 years off in the future.

Perhaps some of the grimmest news comes from our efforts pursued under the aegis of homeland security, to deport every foreign national in sight. We are not only restricting visas for people to come to this country to learn and to contribute but the forces of law have been turned against people who are simply trying to make enough money to survive. We know of a ten-year-old child, an American citizen, who is the son of legal immigrants who do not yet have their citizenship. He is petrified by the thought that his parents will be deported to their native country if they violate a stop sign or commit some such other minor offense. The irony is that our bureaucratic procedures make applicants for citizenship wait on the order of ten years before it may possibly be granted.

During that time we have had such things as the Patriot Act, which decrees that people without citizenship may not be granted a driver’s license. The family that we are helping and who are the parents of the child in question here has suffered grievously from the Patriot Act. The father was a truck driver who lost his license in the great state of New Jersey and thus his job. If a man has to survive for ten years without a driver’s license, it begs the question of how he is going to look for work. Immigration is the life blood of this country because it brings other cultures here where they may be enjoyed. But the immigration bureau is slow to process applications on the ground that such newly-crowned citizens may vote against the current administration.

So you see, the news is bad on all fronts. During the great American Depression of the 1930s, we were at peace with the world. Gasoline was cheap and we were not peeing away our resources to support an unpopular invasion of another country. So at this point I must ask, “Is this a great country or not?”

To a man who has lost his job and to those who are being forced from their homes because of foreclosure and to the immigrants who must live in daily fear of being deported, may I suggest that the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” should apply. Fortunately I have never lost a job during my 47 years of employment, but I know how hopeless that feeling must be. Perhaps the spiritual sums it up with the quote about being a motherless child. Spirituals are borne in the depth of despair because they had their origin in the cruel practice of slavery.

My recollection is that the first slaves were brought to the Virginia colony in about the year 1619, which means that Americans have been involved in the issues of slavery and black-white relationships for 389 years. Slavery is the most dehumanizing experience that a person can undergo. The slave has no rights and is often subjected to beatings by his owner. It seems odd at this late date to refer to one man owning another man, but that is how it was during the period of slavery in this country.

Out of that experience came the development of songs that reflected the abject conditions of being a slave. There are hundreds of songs that qualify as spirituals. Until the early 1960s, those songs were known as “Negro spirituals.” When the term “Negro” fell into disuse, it was replaced by “people of color” and then there were activists who referred to the Negro race as “blacks.” Today the popular term is Afro-American. But an old-timer such as myself finds it unwieldy to use the term Afro-American spirituals.

If Paul Robeson, the great baritone, were alive today, he might laugh his head off at the grammatical construction that defines many of the songs that Robeson sang. For whatever it is worth, Paul Robeson was a native of the great and glorious state of New Jersey who, because he championed equal rights, was labeled a full-fledged communist. The McCarthyites who called Robeson a communist intended to drive him from the American stage. He found homes in Europe where the views were less xenophobic than those that existed in this country in the 1950s.

I realize that this essay is probably a gloomy one but the facts on the ground tend to support that gloom. But in writing this essay, I also had an opportunity to tell you of my life-long love of spirituals. The second line, after the motherless child reference, is to “a long way from home, a long way from home.” The singer of spirituals will make sure that “a long way from home” is elongated and emphasized.

Well, that is the grim news about the economy. But we must be heartened by the announcement by the president of the General Motors Corporation who now says that they will try to produce smaller cars with greater engine economy. Rick Wagoner is the President of General Motors and those of us who are not economists must wonder where Rick has been for the last two years. But in the long run, and I mean the long run, the news in this gloomy essay may force American manufacturers to develop cars on the European models, which deliver much better gasoline results than come from my yellow Hummer and the 350 horsepower SUV that I cannot trade or give away. If Rick Wagoner and the rest of his cohorts finally wake up to the idea that what we need are engines that produce much better results, we may then end our dependence on Arab oil.

When we end our dependence upon Arab oil, Mr. Bush will find the kings and dictators in those countries to be more amenable to his ideas of democracy. He may be so inspired that he will make a return trip to lecture the Africans on the virtues of abstinence. I understand the greatness of democracy and I have a faint understanding of abstinence, but I must tell you that I am completely baffled by the Vice President’s view that “deficits don’t matter.” He may have something there, but I doubt it. In the meantime I would hope that he and his boss and other cohorts in Washington would bend their efforts toward restoring prosperity to the American economy, rather than to the military-industrial complex. However, I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.

If you are interested, one of the succeeding verses to the title of this essay is “Sometimes I Feel that I’m Almost Gone.” That line is repeated and ends in the thought that I am a long way from home. I fear that before this depression is finished, a good many Americans will feel like motherless children and have a feeling of being almost gone. Those are cruel sentiments, but as a survivor of the Depression of the 1930s, it is always helpful to know the facts rather than the spin that comes out of the American government.

PS: My references to the SUV and the Hummer are allegoric ones. Even the Bible uses allegories, so I guess that I am in sacred company on that score.

June 8, 2008
Essay 320
Kevin’s commentary: Damn it Pop, the Bible does not use allegories because the whole thing is literally true, even the contradictory bits. One thinks you’d have figured this out by now.

On the immigration front, I’ll admit I know very little, but the process certainly seems excessive. My company is trying to hire a few programmers right now — both of whom happen to be Mexican — and we’re having to bend over backwards to find a way to get these talented workers to come help an American company. Nobody’s making easy.

More on this particular song here.


Those of you who have persevered in reading these essays will know that from time to time the titles involve curve balls, changes of pace, and, occasionally, a foofoo ball. This essay will not be called “Love Affairs” , but rather “Affairs of Love” for reasons that will become clear as the sections develop. If all goes well, I propose to tell you about my love affair with Chevrolet automobiles and with a jockey’s love of his horse, all of which are included here together with a reference to “dislove,” which is my neologism for a current divorce suit taking place.

Rick Wagoner, the President of General Motors, recently made a commercial at the company’s driving grounds in which he predicted that one day we would all be driving cars with hydrogen engines. Mr. Wagoner is also the man who came a little late to the party because he is suggesting that his line of Chevrolet cars is a line of fuel savers. Unhappily, General Motors did not develop hybrid cars so they are stuck with gasoline engines and claim that their economy reaches well beyond 20 miles per gallon. When pigs learn to whistle and wear lipstick, I will begin to believe the economy claims for American automobiles. On the other hand, before Mr. Wagoner was born, my first car was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe and I have no idea whatsoever as to its fuel economy. In those days, when gasoline was being sold for 20 to 25 cents per gallon, no one seemed to worry about fuel economy. That of course is not the case today.

I had a love affair with that 1931 Chevrolet coupe which had a little trunk that was filled mostly with the spare tire. Sportier models of that car had a rumble seat where my trunk was located, but I only paid $50 for that car and a rumble seat was out of the question. It was a six-cylinder engine with the cylinders arranged in a straight line as opposed to being in a V shape. Henry Ford introduced V-8 engines in 1932, but it was quite a while before General Motors adopted that way to arrange their engines. They stuck with straight sixes and straight eights for years, until after the Second World War.

I drove that Chevy to work and occasionally when I courted the girls. It had a drawback in that the linings on the brake drums tended to harden, which produced a rumbling sound when the brakes were applied. On my first date with Flora Hoevel, in about 1939 or 1940, the brakes made their rumbling sound, which embarrassed me. But Flora thought it was very entertaining. As it turns out, I did not become entangled with Flora, which is probably all to the good because I found much later that Flora had produced nine children. There are nine positions on the normal baseball team. Flora produced enough kids to populate all of them. But by the time she accomplished that feat, I was long since gone.

That may have been the happiest car I ever owned. It gave me no trouble and when I was enticed by a bigger later model used Chevy, I sold that car to Tallis Lockos for the same $50 that I had paid for it in the beginning. There was no heater or any air conditioning and the windows had to be rolled up with a handle on the inside of the door. But like a first love, that car has an outsized claim on my affections. If I were able to have a discussion with Mr. Wagoner of General Motors, I would encourage him to build cars as dependable as that 1931 Chevrolet coupe. But Mr. Wagoner is off dealing with hydrogen-powered engines which will not be produced until we all go broke buying $5 a gallon gasoline. There is much to say for simplicity in automobiles, and the 1931 Chevy coupe was simple but it worked. And it still retains a claim on my heart.

From that love affair, we now turn to a case of “dislove.” I am fully aware that there are English language purists who will dispute my use of the neologism dislove but when they hear the brief story of Dina Matos McGreevey, I suspect that they will become believers in dislove.

Dina Matos is a member of a prominent Portuguese family in Newark, New Jersey. Somewhere along the line our future governor, who is now our past governor, Mr. James E. McGreevey, courted Dina Matos and they were eventually married. In one of my previous essays, you will recall that Dina and her prospective husband were involved in a triangle which included the chauffeur, which led them to celebrate their accomplishments at a chain of restaurants called TGI Friday’s eating establishments.

As time went forward, James E. McGreevey became the Governor of New Jersey and served about two years, until he appointed an Israeli citizen as the state national security director. It also developed that the Israeli citizen was a gay lover of none other than James E. McGreevey. The governor called a press conference at which he announced that he was a “gay American” and resigned. His wife at the time, Dina Matos, stood by him in the background and seemed to be greatly surprised by this disclosure.

There is now a daughter of about six years from this marriage. A year or so ago, Dina filed a divorce suit based largely on the thought that the Governor misled her on his being gay. I suspect that many newspaper writers were not surprised by his gayness, because it had been hinted at for years. In any event, after another year or more had passed, the divorce suit came to trial. Dina wishes to extract large amounts of alimony from the former Governor because she claims that he is a celebrity. It is the contention of Dina and her lawyer that the former Governor should undertake a speaking tour where the fees would rival those paid to Bill Clinton. The facts of the matter are that McGreevey has written a book which more or less flopped and there seems to be no call whatsoever for him to speak to people.

McGreevey is now a student at an Episcopal seminary where he hopes to become a priest who will be involved in ministering to the prison population. If he is ever ordained, the job that he is seeking pays around $47 or $48,000 per year. So when Dina asks for a huge settlement of her suit, McGreevey replies, “I am a poor seminary student who is broke.” Dina seeks a million dollar payment plus alimony from her former husband.

On this score, I am inclined to believe the former governor because he now lives with a wealthy lover who pays his legal bills and living expenses while he attends the seminary. But nonetheless Dina wants to extract wheelbarrow loads of money from good old Jim.

Divorce suits are never happy affairs. In this one, it was saddest that in one year Dina spent $26,000 for clothing for herself and her child. There was a dress that she liked and to match the dress with a pair of shoes cost around $500. Apparently Dina bought the shoes. So Dina is a spendthrift.

Further questioning established that she owes her lawyer around $250,000 for the divorce suit and that her home in Plainfield has not been paid for and it carries about a $600,000 price tag. So you see, the McGreeveys, man and woman, are being supported by someone else. Apparently her lawyer has the illusion that at the end of this trial there will be a big payoff. I suspect that he is in it for the publicity involved and that any realist will recognize that in the end there will be no payoff from the seminary student of the Episcopal faith.

So the McGreevey love affair has turned into an exercise in dislove. Dina Matos, in her appearances on the stand, is presenting a woman who has been scorned, who wishes to extract vengeance from her husband or soon-to-be former husband. When the judge delivers the verdict in the McGreevey-Matos trial, I suspect that the judge may be influenced by Dina squirting away $26,000 on clothing for herself and her little daughter. Divorces are always unhappy events but in this case Dina Matos has gone out of her way to make this trial an example of plain horridness. But perhaps what it shows is that when lovers split, a situation of dislove takes over which will take many years to dissipate.

Now having dealt with Dina and her divorce problems, let us turn to a happier subject, yesterday’s race at the Belmont Stakes in Long Island. Coming into the race the favorite was a horse named Big Brown. That horse is a big burly horse who won his first six races with great ease. For example in one of the other races of the Triple Crown, either the Kentucky Derby or the race at Pimlico, he defeated the eventual winner of the Belmont Stakes by 23 or 28 lengths. Newspaper accounts say that some 93,000 people attended the Belmont Stakes and that they bet more than $5 million on Big Brown to win, even at odds which were quoted as one to four. Please note that this is not four to one odds, it is one to four. This means that when a bettor lays down his four dollars, if he wins the bet, he will collect only one dollar additional. But as it turns out, disaster lay ahead in the Belmont Stakes and the bettors lost their bets.

June is often a brutal month for heat on the eastern seaboard and in this case the Belmont Stakes were run in 93 heat. Perhaps this explains the disastrous performance by Big Brown but that is only one supposition. When the race started, Big Brown made his bid to dominate the field. But his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, said that within a few yards of the starting gate, “I had no horse.” Kent could have used his whip to flail Big Brown in an effort to make him run faster but because he “had no horse” Kent showed his love for the horse and he let the rest of the field pass him by. Big Brown, who was the overwhelming favorite to win that race, finished dead last. The race was won by Da’ Tara, a horse that had been beaten by Big Brown by 20 or more lengths in a previous race.

The jockey showed his love for Big Brown. Instead of punishing him to try to make him run faster, which he could not do, he saved the horse for another day. Big Brown has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness at Pimlico, which is two-thirds of the triple crown. There has not been a winner of the full triple crown since 1978. What happens now is that Big Brown, from this time forward, will lead a life of love. He may race again from time to time but in racing terms, Big Brown will be retired to stud. When the owners of a thoroughbred mare wish to have her impregnated by Big Brown, they will pay the owners of Big Brown a tremendous fee and then bring the mare to Big Brown. From that point on, if all goes well, the rest will happen naturally. But thoroughbred horses are highly strung creatures and it may take some time to get the mating dance completed.

If Big Brown is an accomplished lover, and if he is fertile, a pregnancy will take place. If, on the other hand, he is infertile, he will be accused of “shooting blanks.” It goes without saying that a horse on a stud farm who shoots blanks is a candidate for the glue factory or for those who subscribe to the belief that horse meat steaks are beneficial to their diets. But whether or not Big Brown shoots blanks or is a successful lover, we will just have to wait and see.

And so there you have two cases of love and one of dislove. I still yearn for my 1931 Chevrolet at times, and I am sure that Big Brown will always yearn for winning the Belmont Stakes in 2008. But those are just pipe dreams at this point. It is also probably a pipe dream that James McGreevey and Dina Matos will ever reunite. But no matter how you cut it, this modest little essay has been worthwhile in that it has produced the neologism of dislove. Obviously that is a worthy accomplishment.

June 8, 2008
Essay 319
Kevin’s commentary: I’m glad the horse can’t understand that he’s in a “either get it up or die” situation that he’s in. I feel like that’s even more pressure than a racetrack would be. Could you preform, so to speak, with that hanging over you?

On a more intelligent subject: I did not know my grandfather on my Dad’s side well; he passed away when I was young. However I did know that he and Pop had at least one thing in common, in that they knew their ways around a vehicle. Pop worked at the filling station, and Dado worked at GM. That said the trend I noticed in the lives of these two gentlemen is that they switched cars much more frequently than they switched jobs. This seems backwards to me, as I’ve worked a good deal of jobs and internships now but have only ever owned one vehicle. It was a very dependable vehicle and my family just recently sold it. I wonder though what accounted for the huge turnover in cars of Pop’s times. Hopefully he can clarify this matter somewhat.

More on horses and studs here.

For an essay inspired by “I had no horse,” read here.


I suspect that most Americans would contend that all sermons must be sectarian or religious in nature. To offer an essay with the title holding that it is a secular sermon might strike those church-goers as an oxymoron. To those of us who treasure secular thoughts, sermons come as easily as to those who hold sectarian beliefs. Secular thoughts are based on logic and reason. A sectarian sermon most likely will be based largely upon faith. When it comes to basing an argument or a sermon on the faith concept, I must admit that I am usually called out on strikes. I might be able to get a foul tip now and then, but in the end a well placed fast ball will blow right by me, and I will be headed back to the bench. So a secular sermon is based upon logic and reasoning, which makes it much easier for me to digest.

The essay that you are reading, called “Duty: A Secular Sermon,” comes about from Father’s Day 2008.

As Father’s Day approached, the two Carr daughters seemed to go out of their way to heap accolades on their father, who is none other than your old essayist. A few days before Father’s Day arrived, the New York contingent consisting of a daughter, her husband, and two sons appeared in this town to take us to dinner. It was a joyous occasion. However, I suspect that my two grandsons conspired to diddle me out of my fair share of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine. But I have forgiven them because they know more about what goes on in the world of sports than I ever knew. But they have the internet and satellite radios, which did not exist when I was wrestling with the problems of puberty.

The Texas contingent, which consists of a daughter, her husband, and three young men ranging from 23 years of age to 10, called on Father’s Day from Boise, Idaho. They were in Idaho to participate in the induction of Senator Larry Craig into the Idaho Hall of Fame. My hope is that the Texas delegation will send me a postcard showing that Senator Craig’s wide stance has been reproduced in a white marble statue. My regret is that I will have to be told about Senator Craig’s stance rather than enjoying it for my own personal amusement and exhilaration.

It goes without saying that I am on excellent terms with my daughters, their husbands, and the five grandchildren. For that I am extremely grateful, not only on Father’s Day but on all the other days of the year as well.

There was an added fillip to my holiday wishes in that I received the following message from Suzanne, the Texas daughter.

To Pop:
Thanks for all those days you got up early and got on the Erie Lackawanna Railroad and came home 11 or 12 hours later, doing things you seldom talked about. I was born and raised on third base and walked into adulthood with a Dartmouth degree and no debt. Thank you, Pop.

This was only the latest letter of appreciation that I have received from both daughters, particularly when they were attending college. Those messages tended to make me feel much better, because they suggested that perhaps I was carrying out my duty to my children. The lessons must have been well-learned, because the daughters are seeing to it that their children enjoy first-class educations. Nothing could make me more happy than to see that they are carrying out their duty to their children.

It could well be that it was my parents who instilled the sense of duty in their children. For example, when I was six or seven years of age, on a Saturday afternoon I was helping my father at work in our garage. He was a perfectionist who seemed to go out of his way to find the garage doors out of alignment. That afternoon, a young fellow from my father’s place of employment came by to seek my father’s advice. They talked fairly freely in front of me, figuring that at my early age I could not comprehend what was going on. In summary, the young man said to my father that he had gotten his “girlfriend into trouble.” This meant that there was a pregnancy involved. My father, with his second-grade education, did not hesitate in delivering his thoughts on the issue at hand. He said, “Be a man! You have got to marry that girl as quick as you can.” And so I grew up believing that manliness and duty went together.

Twelve or thirteen years later, when this country went to war with the Axis powers, it seemed to me to be clear that my duty was to join the military forces of the American government. To volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces at that time was not as easy as I thought it would be. The Army demanded three letters of recommendation from my former employers as well as a release form signed by my mother because I was only 19 at the time. It took a month or two to get the paperwork done but in the end I was pleased to do my duty and go to war.

Looking back at this late date, I can say openly and honestly that carrying out my duties to my country and to my children has always been a source of happiness to me. I never begrudged the long hours working in New York nor did I ever regret my enlistment in the Army because it seemed to me that I was doing my duty. Granted that I was working from time to time for a few colossal bastards at AT&T and in the Army. That had no bearing on my pride in fulfilling my duty. My children and my country owe me nothing because I was simply doing what my duty demanded.

Now we get to the sticky part of this secular sermon. I have been and remain unhappy with the thought that there are children who are growing up without fathers in the picture. Newspaper accounts tell us that nearly one-third of American children are born out of wedlock. I suspect that many of those children will never know their fathers. All of this is exacerbated by the loss of life in our misbegotten war in Iraq.

On a table in our living room there is a famous photograph taken by a photographer from The Detroit News. It is of a five-year-old boy leaving the church clutching his teddy bear while his mother is comforting his sister a few feet away. Both children have been attending the funeral of their father, a Major in the American Air Force who was lost in the war in Iraq. As the boy clutching his teddy bear walks by the entrance to the cathedral, he passes three portly priests who have their arms clasped in front of their ample bellies. Those three men should have stopped their pious thoughts and reached down to pick up the boy and comfort him. But that was not done. So much for celibacy. In all likelihood, that boy and his sister will face a fatherless future.

Another case comes to mind involving José Reyes, the shortstop for the New York Mets. Shortly after Reyes arrived on the New York scene four years ago, it developed that he had become the father of a child conceived with a New York teenager. Of all things, Reyes actually bragged that he had been visiting his child on one occasion. The New York press has tended to drop this story and we do not know whether Reyes is contributing to the support of this daughter. But the facts are obvious. Reyes has no intention of marrying the mother of this child and that little girl will grow up in a fatherless world. That is another crime against a defenseless human being.

Two other deaths have bothered me recently. Last summer our neighbor, a 55-year-old lawyer, was stricken by a fatal heart attack. He leaves his wife and three daughters, the youngest of whom is 17 and preparing to enter college. Keith Von Glahn was 30 years my junior. It is clear that prognosticators would have predicted that I would have long since been gone and that Keith would survive for quite a while. But that is not the way it has worked out.

Then there was the death last week of Tim Russert, the well-known National Broadcasting Company commentator. Russert had a boy of 22 years who graduated this spring from Boston College. Again the prognosticators would have been wrong in figuring that I would be gone and that Mr. Russert at 27 years my junior would still be alive. But that again is not the way it has worked out.

And so it goes with widows, and children being forced to grow up in a fatherless world. This secular sermon is intended to do something about this dismal situation.

I suspect that every man in his mid-fifties thinks he is indestructible and will live forever. May I offer a case in point, namely myself? My medical records will demonstrate the immutable fact that it just isn’t so. Middle-aged men don’t live forever and their medical problems, the serious ones, start very often with the onset of the mid-fifties.

There are at least one or two ways to deal with unfortunate and ill-timed deaths for men. Those deaths have an impact on the duties that men owe to their widows and to their children. If there are any smokers left in the fifties group, please check the habit and break with it completely. Cutting down in tobacco usage is tantamount to not cutting down on it at all. Avoiding red meat has its own rewards, as those of us of the vegetarian persuasion will attest. Then there are the merits of a complete physical examination with particular attention being devoted to the cardiology profession. And finally, one of the ways to avoid arthritis and to fulfill your duty to your wife and children is a regular exercise program. Playing golf or racquetball or short walks do not constitute an exercise program. I know that many of you are executives who can ill afford to take the time out to exercise. But there are many rewards. For example, it may avoid early widowhood for your wife and a fatherless childhood for your children.

So that is my secular sermon which is devoid of references to the prophets in the Bible. Beyond that, there is no collection plate to be passed following this sermon nor will you be asked to dig down deep in your wallet to support the addition to the church. It comes to you free of charge with the hope that I am doing my duty to prevent early widowhood and fatherless children. If my secular sermon achieves any of those results, I will have a radiant smile until my dying day.

And now, as a postlude to this sermon, I will ask the congregation to stand and sing several verses of that old gospel hymn, “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There.” As you go about your worldly duties, I would appreciate your remembering that it was your old essayist who brought you your first secular sermon. That may be the best way to mark future Father’s Days as they appear on the calendar.

June 23, 2008
Essay 322
Kevin’s commentary: Ah, now see, this essay presents a problem for me. On the one hand, I want to send it to my father for the wisdom contained in the last few paragraphs. On the other, I don’t want my mother to see this one and be reminded of the sweet card she wrote, because then she will probably remember that she received no such card last year on mother’s day. She did get a call, but it was nothing as sweet as what Pop got.

On that note, since when does Mom call Pop “Pop”? I thought that Connor invented that name, so presumably it was sometime between 1985 and now. But when? These are the important questions that I again cannot ask Mom to answer without bringing her here. Dilemmas abound.


Henry Ford, the auto magnate, was also a peace activist. Prior to the hostilities that marked the First World War, Mr. Ford chartered a ship on which he loaded several important American personages to go to the capitals of Europe to ask them to avoid the coming war. To the American press, this was known as the “Flivver Tour,” which was inspired by the Model T cars that Ford manufactured. The ship called at several ports but apparently it missed Berlin because that capital is not an ocean port. And so the First World War took place in spite of Mr. Ford’s best efforts.

Henry Ford gave the war his best shot but when it failed, Mr. Ford returned to manufacturing automobiles. Starting in 1908, Mr. Ford produced a series of automobiles which were called “Model Ts.” The automotive world was told that it could have the Model T in any color provided it was black. I will attest to that fact in that all the Model T cars I ever saw were painted black. But the Model Ts put the Americans a leg up when it came to getting from one place to another.

My automotive expert consultant is none other than Tom Scandlyn, my friend of a more than 50 years. Mr. Scandlyn and I had a technical conversation during which he specified that the Model Ts were made to move forward and into reverse by a series of three pedals located on the floor of the driving compartment. From all that I have been told, I believe that driving a Model T Ford was not the easiest thing to do in this world. It had a planetary gear system that moved the car forward in two different gears and one that provided a reverse gear. There was no foot accelerator in that the engine speed was controlled by a throttle beneath the steering wheeling. One of the three pedals could be used to brake the car.

Aside from driving the car, there was the matter of getting it started, which had to be accomplished by use of a crank until 1921 when electric starters were introduced. When cranking the car, it was important not to use the thumb, because a backfire in the engine would cause the crank to reverse itself, which might produce a fractured thumb or even a dislocated forearm. It was important for the emergency brake to be fully engaged during the cranking process; otherwise the engine might start and result in the cranker being run over by the car that he wished to drive.

The engine was a four-cylinder one which produced a modest amount of power and which was given to vibrations. My recollection is that when the engine of a Model T Ford was started, the car shook and vibrated a bit. Early in the manufacture of the Model T, it became known to the automotive world as the “flivver.” There are also cynics who refer to that car as a “Tin Lizzie.” No matter how you cut it, the flivver and/or the Tin Lizzie put America on wheels.

Mr. Scandlyn, the Model T consultant, actually drove one of these cars and has lived to tell the tale.

Ford produced the Model T until the mid 1920s, when it was succeeded by a car known as the “Model A.” In my experience working in filling stations around the St. Louis area, I have never known the owner of a Model A car to be disappointed. They were simple automobiles that were easy to drive and a joy to maintain.

If a young man had the means and was inclined to let his thoughts turn to love, he would buy a Model A coupe with what was known as a “rumble seat.” Those owners who did not think of love very much simply had a trunk in the rear of their coupes. But rumble seat owners were a bit different. The compartment in the rear of the car had a handle near the cab of the car which, when opened, would turn into a seat. Men who owned a Model A with a rumble seat were considered very sporty. As a matter of no great interest at all, my friend Jack Frier owned a Model A with a rumble seat which I was permitted to use on occasion, but I was unaccompanied by any female companions. But that does not detract from the fact that Model A’s with a rumble seat were the height of class.

In the fall of 1931, Mr. Ford introduced his 1932 model, which featured a V-8 engine. The engines were very powerful for that time, and the owners took great pains to show off their speed in racing away from stop signs. On the other hand, there was one drawback about the V-8 engines. For every ten or twelve gallons of gas, the engine would consume perhaps one quart of oil. I knew, as a filling station attendant, that any time a V-8 owner came to my service station, he would be a great candidate for a quart of oil. If he neglected to keep the crank case full, it was quite likely that the engine would “seize” and would have to be referred to a mechanic for an expensive repair.

It has probably been more than 70 years since the word flivver has entered my conscious mind. It came about as a result of a book by Ted Sorensen, the counsel to John F. Kennedy. Sorensen has written a wonderful book called “Counselor.” Obviously I cannot read any more, so I often buy books that are available in the spoken word. In this book, it is the author who reads his own words. Sorensen speaks in the tones of his native Nebraska, which according to the mid-Western ethics of speech, is unadorned by frills and fancy words. To a man who is accustomed to the mid-Western style of speaking, Sorensen’s unaccented words say to me “Hey Missouri boy, welcome home.”

The story about Henry Ford chartering the peace ship came from an early chapter in “Counselor.” When Sorensen used the word “flivver,” I said to myself that flivver is a word that has been too long away. As it turns out, Sorensen’s parents were peace activists too, which led to the story about Henry Ford chartering the ship to sail to European ports to talk them out of the First World War.

Now perhaps this is an admission against interest, as the lawyers say. But in spite of my admiration for Henry Ford’s contribution to peace, in my 66 years of driving automobiles, I never owned a Ford automobile of any kind. I started out on a 1931 Chevy, which I bought in 1938 and stayed with the General Motors line for most of the rest of my life. I owned Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and, finally, in 1986 I bought a Cadillac. The Cadillac was the smoothest riding car that I ever owned, but it had a love affair with the mechanics at the Cadillac dealership. That car, which was the top of the General Motors line, was undependable in almost every respect. Before long, the Chrysler Corporation offered a series of sporty cars which caused me to unload the Cadillac. And from that time until 2004, when I quit driving, I drove Chrysler cars. Judy, my wife, still drives a Chrysler car to this day.

Aside from the flivver or the Tin Lizzie, this country owes Henry Ford another enormous debt. In World War II, Henry Ford turned over his mammoth plant at Willow Run, Michigan, where he began to manufacture B-24 bombers. at the end of 1944, 650 B-24 bombers were rolling off the line every month. There were three shifts a day working at the Willow Run plant and Henry Ford threw down the bars and invited women to join the work force. My belief is that “Rosie the Riveter” was one of the women who worked at Ford’s plant in Willow Run.

Henry Ford was a genius at manufacturing automobiles and, then later, bombers. For all that, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude but I am an ingrate in the fact that I never bought one of his cars. I never owned one of his airplanes either. But I am indebted to Ted Sorensen for his book, which contains the story about the peace ship which was called “The Flivver Tour.” When a man like Henry Ford does the best he can with the Flivver Tour and his efforts toward the peace movement, he must be exalted, not condemned.

The origins of “flivver” remains unknown. The Ford Motor Company says that it originated with an early airplane that they were experimenting with. Noah Webster says that “flivver” refers to a “small, cheap, usually old automobile.” I thought that flivver referred to the way the Model T vibrated when the engine was started. But in an case, we owe Henry Ford our thanks for putting America on wheels.

June 26, 2008
Essay 323
Kevin’s commentary: Jeez, that’s a hell of a lot of oil. I guess people didn’t take as long of road trips back then; you’d have to keep a barrel of oil in your trunk.

Anyone curious about Pop’s current vehicular situation can here about it here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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