Archive for the Nostalgia Category


This essay is an exercise in my own personal nostalgia. It may well be that it will not resonate with many of my readers. But if you will stick with me for a few minutes, you may be enthralled and entertained. Or you may just be bored.

The Carr family had three of us who were inclined toward music. My two elder brothers showed no signs of ever appreciating music in any form. My elder sister of about 15 years my senior sang in the grand opera choruses in St. Louis. She took lessons from a woman named Mrs. Ettinger who loved German music. At a recital given by Verna, my sister, the whole program was devoted to German lieder or German music. I felt they were frightful. My sister Verna had a decent voice. It was wasted on German music.

My second sister, about seven years my senior, named Opal, wound up singing in Joe Donella’s saloon in Brentwood, Missouri. She learned a few chords on the piano, then more or less accompanied herself. Opal was a free spirit who wound up owning some racing greyhounds in Florida and Arizona.

In my own case, I would judge my musical talents as a singer as being mostly ordinary. I never had a solo part, but in retrospect the teachers at Clayton High School had no solo parts to offer. I was happy to sing a baritone part in an octet one time.

All of that brings me to Georgia Walker, a very attractive woman who was ten or twelve years my senior when I attended high school. That would mean that she was probably in her late 20s or early 30s during my career as a high school student. Miss Walker was devoted to her music and disliked anyone who sang off key. One of the reasons for this was that she taught us to sing a cappella, meaning without accompaniment. Singing in this fashion means that if one strays somewhat off key, it will soon be detected. It was about 75 years ago that Miss Walker was my musical teacher. I still remember her devotion to a cappella music and to this day I appreciate that musical form. We sang at various events and there was a spring concert.

At one point during my senior year, Miss Walker greatly embarrassed me – not intentionally. Miss Walker said that I always sang on key and that I was helpful in every respect or some such thing. She said this in front of the whole choir or chorus and at age 16 or 17, I was embarrassed. Actually she meant it as great praise. If I had been 10 or 15 years older, I might have asked Georgia Walker to marry me. I would probably have been turned down, but Miss Walker being unmarried, I believe she would have appreciated the compliment.

Clayton High School is located in a suburb of St. Louis and also employed a musical director for the band. This man was George Best. He made every attempt to demonstrate his superiority to Miss Walker. Most of the chorus or choir members in my class detested George Best. But he was a man and he seemed to have the hierarchy of the school in his corner.

Now there is a third person in this panorama who played in the band and was a disciple of George Best. He was a likeable fellow named Jack Martz. Jack did not play the trombone or the tuba. His specialty was drums. You may find this hard to believe but in one spring concert, perhaps in my last year of attendance, George Best designated Jack Martz to play a drum solo.

On this occasion all the parents were invited, so it was a full house. Jack started his drum solo temperately. But before long, old Martz began to flail away at his drums. My guess is that it took Jack somewhere between eight and ten minutes to finish the drum solo. The chorus, including myself, stood around on the raised platforms, not realizing that Jack Martz would go on so long in his solo rendition of drum work.

The fact of the matter is that I am getting a bit older and recently the thought of Georgia Walker flashed into my mind. She was a lovely woman, who would now be over 100 years old if she is still alive. With this being an exercise in nostalgia, I wanted to recall that wonderful woman.

At the same time my exercise in nostalgia also wanted to recall George Best. Mr. Best was an arrogant sort of person, particularly with respect to Miss Walker. George Best may have been an excellent teacher of the band but for my part, I detested him for his treatment of Miss Walker.

Similarly, there was Jack Martz, the drum soloist. Jack was a modest fellow who somehow attracted the attention of George Best. On the spring recital, Jack flailed his drums for the better part of ten minutes. There was no theme to the drum solo. It was just a matter of Jack using every ounce of energy including an intermittent ring of cowbells and triangles while the solo took place.

As I told you in the beginning, this was an exercise in nostalgia on my behalf. If you have stuck with me through this recital, you will recall my affection for Miss Walker, my distaste for George Best, and the amazement with which I watched Jack Martz play his drum solo. I hope that you will excuse me for yielding to my temptation to engage in this exercise in nostalgia. But if nothing else, it was Miss Walker who encouraged my love of music that has pleased and consoled me for the past 75 years.

At this late date, I am pleased to recognize her with these lines. She was a lovely woman. And as for George Best and Jack Martz, they are also a part of this old geezer’s nostalgia.

January 16, 2012


I wonder what memories will stick with me for that long. It’s hard to predict what your brain will choose to hold onto.


The title to this essay, “Disparate Ponderings,” may well reflect the influence of the New York Times editorial pages upon my brain. The ponderings in question really have to do with remembrances of years past. There are six thoughts in this essay and I hope that some of them will remind old-timers of the days before television and e-mail ever existed.

One of my recent ponderings had to do with female girdles. It seems to me that in years past whenever a female reached the age of puberty, she was obliged to buy herself a girdle. The Sears Roebuck catalogue, published annually each fall, was avidly read by the females as well as the males in our household. I can assure you that Sears had girdles galore. There were long ones and short ones, as well as black ones and flesh-colored ones. What baffled me then in the old days was why a young woman weighing no more than 110 pounds would need a girdle. Yet it seems to me with my faulty memory as a guide that every young woman looked forward to the day when she could order a girdle. In those days, women wore silk stockings with a seam up the back. It is hard to believe but there was a time in this country when there were no panty hose. I suspect that girdles were worn for the sake of keeping the silk stockings anchored so that they did not fall down around the ankles.

But the Second World War seemed to have altered everything. There was a shortage of rubber, and silk stockings were a thing of the past. Your old essayist cannot say that he misses girdles or silk stockings, but it is pleasant to ponder the fact that in the age before television came along there were such things. Sears Roebuck has fallen on hard times and, as an economist, I would suggest that it has much to do with the demise of the practice of women wearing girdles.

Now that we have settled the issue of girdles, another question arises about “Do you remember?” There was a time during the 1930s when athlete’s foot was a matter of serious medical concern. During my years in high school, when the boys would take showers following the gym classes, athlete’s foot was a common occurrence. It is not clear to me what causes athlete’s foot but I can tell you that it existed and that once someone had acquired it, it was difficult to rid oneself of it. During my high school years, I had at least two or three cases of athlete’s foot, which had to be treated with a liquid I remember as Camphophenique. Athlete’s foot was so common that advertisements for its cure appeared in almost every newspaper in a small ad at the foot of the newspaper. The pictures in those ads showed athlete’s foot at its worst, with cracking and peeling of the skin around the toes.

I am not here to proclaim that athlete’s foot was an ailment affecting only youngsters but as I also recall there seemed to be no athlete’s foot in the United States Army, where men traipsed in and out of showers at all hours of the day. This of course assumes that one saw service in a location where there were showers. There were occasions when men did not remove their shoes and socks for a few days at a time, yet my recollection is that no one ever seemed to complain of athlete’s foot. I suspect that athlete’s foot went the way of rheumatism, which has now been replaced by the more upscale term of arthritis.

Now that we have disposed of girdles and athlete’s foot, we must turn our attention to Charles Atlas, a gentleman who promised to turn “98-pound” weaklings into 210-pound behemoths. During the years of the Depression, many magazines were adorned with the advertisements of Charles Atlas. There were half pages and full pages, and each one of them showed a man with bulging muscles who contended that he used to be a 98-pound weakling. I never knew anyone who was taken in by the Charles Atlas advertising, but it was good entertainment during the Depression when there was no television or email.

I suspect that Charles Atlas was a man who sold barbells and other weightlifting equipment. That statement is totally unsupported by fact and it flows only from my memory that some of the people who posed for Charles Atlas advertising seemed to be carrying barbells. How it was that he changed a 98-pound weakling into a 210-pound behemoth never was clear while I was reading those magazines, and it remains unclear to this day. Yet there is a certain nostalgia about recalling Mr. Atlas because his advertisements were so widely printed that almost everyone in this country knew who he was. Perhaps your preacher might not have known who Mr. Atlas was, but I suspect that 95% of his congregation would know a good bit about Charles Atlas. I never heard Mr. Atlas being interviewed on radio and it is clear that no one ever referred to him as Charlie Atlas. And so it is up to us old-timers to remember that
Mr. Charles Atlas ever existed.

Now we turn to another pondering that took place during the Depression years. During those years, there was a great drought that settled all over the Mid West and into the plains states, so that the skies were virtually cloudless. From time to time, I assume wealthy advertisers would hire small aircraft to write their messages in the sky. The messages were brief, but they were quite effective, judging by the number of people who seemed entranced by them as the skywriter went about his work.

Skywriters always flew single-engine airplanes, which were of course propeller driven. They must have carried a tube of white exhaust that, when released, could linger in the sky for several minutes. Naturally, I was entranced by skywriting. It seems to me that letters such as “e,” “f,” and “t” should have been the easiest to write. The more difficult letters would be the letters “s” and “b.” My memory is that it would take perhaps ten to fifteen minutes for a skywriter to write his message in the sky. They only wrote the name of the product, and there was great excitement among the viewers after the first letter or two appeared as to what the message would eventually read.

My last exposure to skywriting came, I believe, in the early 1960s, when my family accompanied me to the New Jersey shore. On a cloudless day, a skywriter would appear and would write a message for the benefit of weekend viewers. There was even a romantic occasion when a skywriter wrote “love U” for the benefit of some love-struck youngsters.

No matter how you cut it, I was a draftsman who had a great interest in the formation of letters, here on the earth as well as in the sky. My regret is that I never had the opportunity to ride aloft while the letters were being written. One of my companions as a child always hoped that the skywriter would misspell a word. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened. All the words were correctly spelled and I regret to this day that skywriting is a function of a long-forgotten era.

Now that we have disposed of my pondering about skywriting, let us turn to a pondering about a wonderful entertainer named Burl Ives. Ives was a singer of folk songs who, like many other singers of folk songs, played a guitar. He was the son of a farming family from Jasper County, Illinois. Jasper County is far removed from the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other environs. But in the end, Ives eventually made it to New York where, in 1940, he was given his own radio program. His voice was absolutely distinctive. Fortunately, my ponderings have been helped along because I have several recordings which I have made into compact discs which offer such selections as “Blue-Tail Fly” and “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I am happy to report that folk singing is a vibrant art that has survived the assaults of rock music, hip hop, and other attacks on mankind.

Ives died a few years back at the age of nearly 90. I suspect that a good many of my older readers will recall him fondly. I certainly recall him fondly and my ponderings take me to the point of inquiring, “Where will the future Burl Ives come from?”

There is one other pondering that takes me into the field of religion where I am usually reluctant to go. In this case, however, it is a matter of economic circumstances having overtaken the teachings of a church.

For many years, the Roman Catholic faith has taught the evils of artificial contraception. Simply put, they dislike every form of birth control. The only exception came during recent years when the Vatican reluctantly approved the use of “natural birth control,” which seems to exist only during the time of the infertility of the female. I suspect that there are thousands of unplanned pregnancies that happened with the use of the so-called “natural planning.” My belief is that natural planning worked perfectly if one or both parties were sterile. But be that as it may, it appears that the economic circumstances of the 21st century generally require those who engage in sexual intercourse to use birth control. When one thinks about the cost of raising a child and putting him through college, sometimes at the expense of $50,000 per year, most people will conclude that fewer children are better than many.

Perhaps these economic circumstances came along a little late because your old essayist is the seventh child of an eight child family. But I was born in 1922 and today things are much different. There is a medical group that we patronize that has many nurses who have graduated from Catholic schools. As a general principle, it seems to me that those nurses are producing only one or two children per couple. One nurse had her second child not long ago and proclaimed that “This is it!” These are healthy young women who, I suspect, are not going to live the rest of their married life in celibacy. And so it is that the Popes over the years who have denounced the evil effects of birth control now find their parishioners practicing that art. With the cost of raising a child, particularly for those who plan to send their children to college, I can only say that this is a logical improvement.

Well, there you have six cases of disparate ponderings. Perhaps it can be argued that my ponderings reflect a wandering mind. Naturally, I would not agree with that conclusion but I would argue on the other hand that my ponderings recall an era when life was simpler and perhaps more rewarding. Any man who contends that my pondering about girdles for example is evidence of a disturbed mind will most likely never recall the use of girdles. Whatever my ponderings reveal about my inner soul is probably irrelevant. At my age I am very happy that I have enough cerebral power left to think about things such as girdles, athlete’s foot, Charles Atlas, skywriting, Burl Ives, and birth control. I would argue that men who have those kinds of ponderings ought to be celebrated with caviar, foie gras, and the clinking of champagne glasses.

August 16, 2008


These type of essays do a number on my search history. In one tab I have a whole set of pretty horrible images of Trench Foot (they definitely had that in war, even if athlete’s foot wasn’t a thing), and in the next there are all these hokey old ads for a bodybuilder man. Incidentally the Charles Atlas company, insofar as it still exists, seems to have not updated their advertising since the campaign that made them so famous. It’s a pretty incredible throwback to go to his site.

Girdles and skywriting are both common, too. Skywriting is pretty typical at big events like airshows, and girdles go by “Spanx” now but it’s the same deal. Another fun set of search terms, by the way, is “Spanx” followed by “Burl Ives.” I like to think that somewhere out there is a VERY confused advertising robot who very much would like to figure out what I’m trying to buy, but can’t at all piece together what these terms have to do with one another.


Because of its sacredness, this is an essay that should be read in silence, preferably in a monastic setting. On the other hand, if you prefer to read it aloud in the midst of a bawdy house, there is nothing that can be done to stop that. The author would like to have the address of the bawdy house, if that can be arranged.

For all my adult life, my instincts have always led me to men and women at the lower levels of the economic ladder, who do the heavy lifting and the repetitive functions that bring prosperity to American corporations. The people at the lower end of our economy are unfortunately often people of color. No matter how you cut it, prejudice still exists in this country, particularly in the South and West. And so my instincts often lead me to people of color who suffer discrimination and who are barred from the society pages of our newspapers.

Some 60 years ago, those instincts led me to lend my support to a union of telephone workers who were being short changed by AT&T, the most powerful corporation of its day. In that case, women such as the telephone operators were prominent among those being cheated. It pleases me now that my instincts for the underdog have remained unchanged for such a long period of time.

All of this came in to focus the day that Georgia Coney, a long term friend who is a supermarket checkout cashier, made a remark about the great American Depression. The remark was made to Sue Catlett, who oversees checkout cashiers in this market and to Dale Ash, another cashier. Miss Chicka and your old author were part of this discussion group. Georgia, Sue and Dale trace their ancestry to Africa as Judy and her husband trace theirs to Ireland.

Georgia is the fourth child out of 10 of a farmer and his wife who worked the soil near Albany, Georgia. She said that as a child, in spite of the fact that her family was large and times were tough, “We never went to bed hungry.” In those Depression days, that was a significant achievement.

In the Carr family during the early and mid-1930’s, we came mighty close to not having enough to eat on more than one occasion. Holding my thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart, this old essayist said to Dale, “We came that close several times.” John Gualdoni, a grocer, saved us.

And so the discussion was about hard times brought on by Herbert Hoover, an engineer by trade, who unfortunately happened to be president of this country. Hoover, like Bush, understood nothing about people who had to work to put food on the table. That supermarket discussion led me to deal with one of three subjects mostly banished from my memory. Aside from the Depression, the other two are the divorce of 1983, and the combat phases of my military service in World War II.

The American language has a way of evolving, adding some words that are meritorious and other words whose span of time in the language is ephemeral. In this case, the new phrase used largely by younger people to deal with unpleasant or banished subjects is to say, “I don’t want to go there.” When Bush was on one of his many Texas vacations, and was told of Osama bin Laden’s desire to target the United States, it was an unpleasant thought and Bush did not want to interrupt his bass fishing. He did not want to go there. The result was the attack on September 11, 2001 for which we were given adequate warning by Osama.

In my case, there is no desire whatsoever to relive the deprivations of the Great Depression. Similarly, there is no reason to rehash a divorce case of nearly a quarter century ago or the death and destruction which took place during the combat phase of my military service. That took place some 62 or 63 years ago. All things considered, those three subjects have long been largely and deliberately banished from my thoughts.

Recalling the events of those years is not only unpleasant, but it smacks of asking the listener or reader to feel some sort of sorrow or pity. Those reactions are absolutely the last thing that is desired. Those things happened. They are in the past. The idea is to do better so that they don’t happen again.

On perhaps the only bright note, one of the lessons of the Great Depression had to do with my schooling in the Clayton, Missouri public school system. This lesson is that things are not always what they seem to be.

In this case, the well-to-do movers and shakers of the St. Louis business community did their business within the city limits of St. Louis, but their residences were often in Clayton, a leading suburb. In this case, we are speaking of lawyers, physicians, stock brokers and business owners. Because those occupations are often peopled by those of the Jewish faith, the Clayton school system was just about equally divided between Gentile and Jewish students.

In those days, there was no official recognition of Jewish holidays. If a Jewish kid was not at school on a religious holiday, his absence was ascribed to a cold or to some other transient ailment. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the student body at Clayton was Gentile and basically Protestant. The Catholics had their own schools.

The chorus or glee club at Clayton was both Gentile and Jewish, but sang no Jewish songs. When Christmas came, Jewish students sang about the birth of Jesus in a straw hut near Bethlehem. At Easter, there may have been a song or two celebrating the alleged resurrection of Jesus. As far as anyone knows, the Jewish members of the chorus sang that religious stuff along with the Gentiles, including one non-believing left footed baritone, to use an Irish term. Georgia Walker was the music teacher. It is fairly clear that if the Jewish students failed to sing of the “Great getting up morning in the sky,” Miss Walker would tell them to sign up for a shop or a cooking class instead of chorus.

My parents were fundamentalist or primitive Christians who believed that no one could enter the kingdom of heaven until he or she had undergone full immersion baptism and had the experience of being “born again.” Because Jews lacked those experiences, they were barred from heaven and its suburbs, by all flame throwing fundamentalist preachers.

For the last twelve years of his working life, my father worked as a caretaker for a private, largely Jewish subdivision. It is suspected that he never told them they would be barred from heaven until they submitted to full immersion baptism and being born again. Remember, this was the Depression and jobs were pretty much non-existent.

But aside from failure of other faiths to reach heaven after death, my parents never tried to turn me into an anti-Semite. They were not that kind of people and they knew of my rejection of their brand of Christianity. It had to be painful for them to know of my disbelief, but they seemed to say, “We have four believers and one odd ball. Four out of five is not so bad after all.” They were wrong as my sister Opal, counted among the believers, wound up singing and serving drinks in Joe Gonella’s saloon.

Earlier in this essay, it was said that things are not always what they seem to be. The incident that came to mind was of a successful St. Louis businessman who owned a large house just across the street from the playground for the Maryland Grade School which was part of the Clayton public school system. At that time, we played with a nine inch softball which had outseams as distinguished from an inseam ball. It was believed that outseamed balls lasted longer – which was important in depressed economic times.

All this took place in the fourth through the eighth grade at the Maryland Grade School. The batter would bat at the plate near the chain link fence which ran along side the playground. On the other side of the small street, was the palatial home of an owner of a St. Louis business. His business was located on Franklin Street, that housed dozens of cheap furniture stores and stores that sold repossessed furniture.

At the businessman’s house was an officious maid who growled if one of the boys had to chase a foul ball on the rich man’s property. There was one other character in this playlet, that being a boy about our age who lived in that palatial home, who went to our school and who seemed to have colds quite often. At that age, it had never dawned on me that his colds may have been related to celebrating a Jewish holiday which was not on the school calendar.

On WIL, the St. Louis radio station, there was a program every day sponsored by “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman.” On St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration went on for a week. Irish music always found its way onto Dick Slack’s radio program.

What Dick Slack was offering was cheap furniture and repossessed items at “Unheard of bargains.” This being the Depression, he apparently sold enough goods to buy a large house in Clayton with a maid and Cadillac and Packard automobiles and a son who attended our school.

Finally, about in the sixth grade, it dawned on me that “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman” was not Irish at all. He was the father of the boy whose name rang no bells in Donegal. Maybe in Jerusalem, but not in Dublin or Glock-a-Morra. This is hard to believe, but old Irish Dick Slack, the man who gave everyone easy credit, was in fact, Jewish. And his kid went to school with all of the ball playing Gentiles who chased foul balls in Dick Slack’s yard.

So that one got marked off to things are not always what they seem to be. In addition, it is one of the few incidents that can be related that had any humor in it at all during the Depression. The Depression went on from 1929 to early 1942, when World War II started. That is a long time to go without a laugh or two.

And so Georgia Coney’s remark about “not going to bed hungry” caused me to violate a rule on not discussing a banished subject. That rule was also violated in 2002 when on the 60th anniversary of my enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps, an essay was written for my daughters having to do with being shot down on December 8, 1943. This was anything but a happy experience. While essays have been written here about the non-combat phases of my military experience, this is the only time that the banished subject of combat in World War II has been violated. My excuse is that it was written for two daughters who have a connection to December 8th, which makes it no more than a venial sin.

Now about December eighth. In the first case, Maureen became our daughter through the auspices of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. Ten years to the day from my being shot down over German occupied territory in Italy, Maureen or Old Blondie, was taken from her foster home at the age of ten weeks. Three years later, on December 8, 1956, her sister, Spooky Suze, was born. So you see, December 8th which started out so bleakly, has worked out very well.

It was my original intention to write an essay on banished thoughts and subjects. It is very difficult to write about something that has been banished and repressed. All things being equal, it is my hope that you took the Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman story to heart, because if things work out well, there will be no more of these banished disclosures. Unless, it was Dick Slack whose house was repossessed and who got shot down in the midst of a divorce involving his Hebrew, Muslim and shanty Irish wives. Now that might be worth writing about, providing his maid would permit me to do a little research on the grounds of his palatial home in Clayton, the heart of the Show Me state.

September 5, 2005


It’s pretty easy to tell at this point when an essay is gonna be a favorite. This one definitely qualified within the first paragraph. Happy late St. Patrick’s day, Mr. Slack.

John Gualdoni the grocer comes up in a number of essays. I think he’s unique to me because his profound impact on Pop’s family was such a clean-cut positive. He was generous when he didn’t have to be.

Every once in a while I think about the sheer unlikelihood of my existence and my mind always snaps at first to how little effort it would have taken from a million different directions to make me not exist. The obvious ones are not the positive factors like John Gualdoni — I’m much more likely to think about how the gunner that shot Pop down could have aimed differently or how the motorcycle that hit mom could have struck her a little more square-on. But it’s also nice to think that behind those scary one-offs which didn’t happen, there’s a whole army of people supporting one another through incredibly tough times that did support each other successfully.

And if you think about it for a second, you realize that by coincidence of your existence, you’re by definition the latest link in an unbroken line of people who have successfully had kids and raised them to adulthood in a chain that goes all the way back to the first humans. When I think of the sheer amount of cooperation that had to have gone into such an effort, it makes me feel like the John Gualdonis of the world who try to lift everyone up probably have a bigger impact on humanity than the occasional sidewalk-motorcyclist, even if the latter can sometimes be a lot more visible.

On another note entirely, I wonder if mom could tell me where “Spooky Suze” came from.

BLOODY CODGERS | Meditations: Chapter XII, Verses Leviticus – Levi’s Jeans

Meditations: Chapter XII, Verses Leviticus – Levi’s Jeans

Verse 1: Good Old Words
Don’t pay too much attention to the titles for this part of the current Meditations series. Nostalgia has overtaken me as there is a yearning to hear glorious words that have some how fallen out of style.

There are new words today by the dozens that often use the language of computerese. There is nanosecond and lip synching and sound bites. But those words have no staying power. When the next generation of computer devotees comes along, they will be forgotten and replaced by another set of largely meaningless words and phrases.

Bloody, as used here, is simply an intensive. It has nothing to do with blood on the floor or on someone’s face or clothing. The Brits and the Irish used to use bloody frequently. When a Tommy, a British Army enlisted man, is denied a furlough, he may well refer to the “bloody British Army.” It might be expected that the Underground bombings in London would be an occasion for Brits to mumble something about the “bloody Moslems.”

The word according to English dictionaries dates to 1661. It is defined as an “intensive” which may, in some cases, have vulgar overtones.

My father, a thorough-going Irishman, used to delight in adjusting the tappets on his Studebaker automobiles. When the tappets were out of adjustment, loud clicking noises would come from the engine. The original Ezra would say, “Man, we have got to fix those bloody tappets.” Nothing vulgar. Simply an intensive as it applied to tappets.

But alas, Ezra became an angel in 1958. It has now become difficult to assuage my nostalgia for vibrant English such as the use of the term “bloody.”

The modern definition of “codger” says that term is used to describe a “mildly eccentric person who is usually an elderly fellow.” That is a crabbed definition. In the first place, “codger” always referred to a male person. He might be eccentric as Mr. Merriam Webster says, but most often he would be a good natured man who laughed and joked. My mother, Lillie, always used that term appropriately. If a man of Lillie’s vintage was mean or eccentric, she would use a term other than codger. On the other hand, Harry, my mother’s favorite brother, was called an old codger by Lillie sometime after he reached age 50. And so it is that my definition of codger is a more generous one than the dictionary definition. But one way or another, it would be nice to hear codger or old codger once again.

Ornery, according to the dictionary, is only 185 years old. That is hard to believe as it seems to me to come from the 17th Century. The modern definition is “having an irritable disposition.” Cantankerous is a synonym for ornery.

An ornery mule is one who bites and kicks. An ornery man is one who cheats and may not take care of his family. Politicians were often described in days past as ornery – so nothing has changed. There may be occasions where ornery could be used affectionately as in a father saying – in jest – “I have three ornery sons.” But as a general rule, ornery used to be used to describe a cantankerous man or a person with an irritable disposition. So Mr. Merriam Webster is close to right on ornery. But that is no help when no one says ornery any more.

As was said in my first paragraph, nostalgia has overtaken me. It would be a pleasure to hear a preacher or a politician or a TV commentator such as Bob Schieffer utter the words bloody, codgers and ornery. If they would do that, they would have my business forever. If the Archbishop of Canterbury would utter those old English words publicly, it might even have some kind of effect on my view of the Anglican Church – but in all likelihood, probably nothing would change.

Verse 2: Bombings, Angels and Virgins for Martyrs
In recent weeks, London’s Underground and a double-decker bus have suffered bombings with attendant deaths. The resort city of Taba in Egypt’s Sinai, popular with Israelis and Egyptians alike, experienced a horrific bombing. The explosions in Iraq have become so routine that they usually go unmentioned unless there is the loss of American lives. In many respects, bombings in Baghdad have become a way of life.

After the London bombing, an Arab man was interviewed. From what he said, he was a well educated man who put credence into Islamic concepts of life and death.

He said that from the moment of our births, we are all waiting to die. Some die young and some die older. To a large extent, it is a matter of chance as to when our lives end. He then said that for a worthy cause, advancing the day of death would be a favorable development. He then said that if the death meant a blow to the Christian occupation, as in Iraq, advancing the day of death would be more than worthwhile. This man was not a terrorist or anyone’s “dead ender.”

He was a rational man who seemed to have no zealotry for Islamic beliefs. From time immemorial, Moslems have disliked Christians and Jews. The Arab man was saying that any blow to the Christian occupiers of Iraq, and other Arab lands, was not only justified but in some ways desired.

Tony Blair is all tangled up in his John Bull underwear. Blair loudly contends that the Arab view amounts to no more than a “vile philosophy.” He and his Texas handler refuse to discuss the occupation of Iraq as the reason for the bombings. In so doing, they have buried their heads as far as they will go in the sand.

Before we occupied Iraq, London suffered no bombings. It is an immutable fact that for every action there is a reaction. We occupy an Arab country and the reaction is bombings in London and soon in the United States.

If the situation were reversed with an Arab army occupying Britain or the United States, both of us would resist mightily and would do everything to thwart the Arab occupiers. In English, the proper word for such action is patriotism.

Blair has invented the term “vile philosophy” in the hope that citizens of England will overlook his disastrous course of following George Bush in occupying Iraq. It seems to me that a dose of reality is in order to demonstrate that occupying an Arab country leaves Britain without a rational reason for complaining. By occupying Iraq, they asked for it.

When George Bush said, “Bring ‛em on” he probably overlooked the fact that the Arabs could indeed, respond and do so lethally. When England stops occupying Iraq, it may be that the Arab recriminations will diminish or cease. The same idea applies also to the British occupation of six countries in Northern Ireland. When the occupation stops, there will be peace with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Every rational person should know by now that occupying another country has consequences that are often deadly. But the American and British occupiers of Iraq wish to be blind and deaf to that immutable fact.

Verse 3: Some Thoughts and Questions about Fornication
Everyone knows that proper born-again Christians and Moslems have nothing admirable to say publicly about fornication. In some ways, it is similar to Americans condemning monster sized SUV’s – and then buying a Ford Navigator or Explorer with gas mileage averaging between 10 or 12 miles per gallon. The human race may publicly deplore fornication, but the evidence is clear that a lot of it is taking place and has always taken place.

This old codger-essayist hopes that the word fornicate does not turn you off. As a matter of fact, on page 483 of the Merriam Webster Collegiate dictionary, you will find that word has been a standard English term since 1552. So it is well established word and has its proper place in the language of the Anglo-Saxon race.

While it has a fairly modest listing in standard dictionaries, the King James Version of the Bible is found to have 40 verses referring to fornication. For example, according to Revelations, some powerful religious person – God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost or the Virgin Mary – destroyed the thriving city of Babylon because the residents there were found to be fornicating and drinking tankards of wine. So the powerful religious figure or Intelligent Designer, had it reduced to ashes. In the 18th Chapter of Revelations, Verse 3, we find:
“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and merchants are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (my emphasis).

In Verse 7, there is more about Babylon’s wickedness. “How much she hath glorified herself and lived deliciously…” (my emphasis).

There you have it. Fornication leads to delicacies and worse, to deliciousness. It frightens me just to write those lines. Are we here in Short Hills waxing rich over delicious delicacies?

If the Bible uses 40 verses to warn us of delicious and delicate developments, there are some questions to be asked about fornication. It is assumed that each incident of fornication is marked in a heavenly ledger very much like a baseball box-score where each error or wild pitch is entered in the ball player’s record.

It is clear that each act of fornication will result in a black mark. That much is understood. But what if the fornicator uses some form of artificial birth control as a means of avoiding a possible pregnancy and a subsequent abortion. Does this mean two or more black marks on the heavenly box score? Most observers would vote for an error for each transgression. And, of course, if it applies, adultery is another black mark. Observers would vote for an error for each such trespass.

Now while we are on the subject of multiple errors, we should consider the case of Strom Thurmond, the Senator from South Carolina who lived to celebrate his 100th birthday. When Thurmond was 22, he lived in a large home that required the assistance of help from female maids who were African-Americans. Polite, educated South Carolinians referred to the maids as “Nigras.” One of the maids, a 16 year old, caught Thurmond’s eye and at his insistence, they fornicated. In more civilized climes, their liaison would be called rape. The testimony was the Thurmond forced himself on this youngster more than once. She became impregnated and gave birth to a daughter.

In a fit of noblesse oblige, Thurmond paid for the daughter to attend a black, female college. Aside from secret and rare visits to Thurmond’s office, he never acknowledged his daughter even though 100 years would have given him ample time to do that.

Now Thurmond was clearly guilty of fornication. But at the time, it was illegal to have sexual relations between races. Read white and black. Now in the heavenly ledger, Thurmond must have been given black marks for fornication. Do you think he should have received two black marks because he violated the law on race mixing, that is the law on miscegenation? And if he had used a condom, my instincts are to give him three black marks. The fact that Thurmond’s paramour was under- aged also deserves a big black mark. Did Strom believe the housemaid was a slave? If so, he deserves another black mark.

Writing about a miserable wretch like Thurmond brings us to the unfairness of life. John Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet at the age of 46 years. Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary of Great Britain died yesterday in his 59th year. And Thurmond hangs around until he hits the century mark. What a cruel turn of events.

An allied subject would involve the U.S. decision to reject the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. The Chief Executive of this country has said on more than one occasion that to adopt the Kyoto Treaty would “wreck the American economy.” Global warming is no longer debatable. It is here with 103 degree readings in the Windy City of Chicago. But this administration says it is protecting the American economy by nixing the Kyoto Treaty.

That same Chief executive has loudly proclaimed his desire for this country to embrace abstinence in sexual matters. A small aside. If abstinence is such a great virtue for single people, why should it not also be a similar virtue for married people as well? That is a matter for musing on another occasion.

In practical terms, if Kyoto would have a deleterious effect on what the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief on our economy, or “wreck” it, does he not care what his abstinence policy would do to the lodging segment of our economy? My thoughts here go to motels, tourist cabins and the so called “hot sheet” hotels. They are an integral part of the American economy.

Everyone knows that there is a zero chance of our practicing abstinence. Just this week we read of a four star Army General being run off for dallying with a civilian person other then his wife from whom he was separated. There was also a report of a 79 year old Monsignor from
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, who was accused by an irate husband in a divorce suit, of spending excessive amounts of time with the angry husband’s wife on weekends and vacations. The wife is 49 years of age. They were videotaped, according to the husband, entering a motel on Long Island. Five hours later, they left the motel wearing different clothes from the costumes they wore as they entered. This is hard for this ornery old codger to relate, but it is a pretty good bet that they may have been more than hand holding. The Monsignor has resigned saying all this publicity is making it impossible to carry on as Rector of St. Pats. The irate husband might be well advised to make his next confession in a church other than St. Pats.

The point is that if the Commander in Chief is truly worried about the American economy, he must be concerned about all of it. If we are going to wipe out the lodging industry with a policy of abstaining from relations between the same or different sexes, why should the smoke stack industries continue to proliferate and profit? The King James Version has nothing to say on this particular point.

It seems to me that if the Grand Ayatollah Chief Executive wants to take on the ancient custom of fornication, he will clearly bite off more than he can chew. With Iraq and the Social Security fiasco, that would be a disastrous and monumental trifecta.

And so endeth Chapter XII of the New Jersey Meditations. You are advised to consider the delicacies and deliciousness of fornication until the next meditation appears.

July 11, 2005


I think most American patriots forget just how long the Iraq occupation period was, and that for the vast majority of that time we were supposedly in a post-combat, “Mission Accomplished” status under which we were getting more and more entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan for less and less defensible reasons about WMDs.  By the end we were occupiers without a cause. The citizens of these countries never “hated us for our freedom,” they hated us because we were obstructing theirs. By, you know, filling their daily lives with our soldiers. And then replacing those soldiers with missile-equipped drones.


This is a follow-up essay to an earlier piece called “Jobless Nostalgia.” Before we get to the heart of the subject, every reader should know that a new table and a new chair are being used for this monumental work of essay writing.

Earlier this year, Miss Chicka decided that my office chair, which had provided me with superior service for about 20 years, needed to be replaced. You will note that Miss Chicka made this fateful determination.

The new chair is an Aeron, made by Herman Miller and has more handles and adjustments than my Chrysler car. It is a mind boggling exercise to describe what this chair can do – so this ancient writer will not even try. But the new chair has one failing. When it is in the operating mode and is pulled up to my desk, there is not enough room for my upper legs between the chair seat and the desk. Apparently, the designers at Herman Miller designed the multiple position chair to be used with modern desks which have no middle drawer or a very skinny middle drawer. The chair is a work of modern art, but it is basically unusable at my desk.

Trips to the local hospital provided an answer. When hospital patients are served a meal, there is a device called an overbed table. It might be called a block “C”– shaped table. The bottom part of the “C” is shoved under the patient’s bed. The top part of the block “C” is a table which is capable of being raised or lowered or it can be tilted for reading. So we bought one.

The saving grace is that the user of the Aeron chair can use the overbed table without having to worry about whether his upper leg will fit between the seat of the chair and the table. And, the tabletop is adjustable to many heights to accommodate near-sighted writers as well as for those who can write at a great distance from their noses.

All of this is being pointed out as a means of explaining unforeseen and inexplicable errors and other proof reading mistakes in this work.

Now this essay is the result of a suggestion of Miss Chicka. In an earlier essay called, “Jobless Nostalgia,” there were lamentations for jobs and occupations that no longer exist such as elevator operators, draftsmen or telephone operators. The point Miss Chicka was making is that when jobs disappear, the person who assumes responsibility for the task is you and me. Let me give you some examples.

Let’s take a call to a doctor’s office. In former days, doctors had a receptionist or a nurse to answer calls from patients. Ah, but those days are long gone now. A call today is not answered by a human voice. Instead, a recorded announcement commands the patient-caller to perform certain tasks before the personnel in the doctor’s office will take the call.

Typical questions are these:
Do you want an appointment for today? Press 1
Do you want a future appointment? Press 2
Is this an emergency? Press 3
Do you need a prescription? Press 4
Do you need to have your current prescription extended? Press 5
If you do not understand these inquires and wish to speak to a doctor’s
representative, press 6 or wait for an operator.

In days gone by, the receptionist or the nurse would answer the call and make appropriate arrangements. Not so today. Listening to the spiel about “press 1” and “press 2” takes many minutes and from time to time, the patient will say, “To hell with all this garbage” and hang up.

But the overwhelming point is that the patient is doing the work of the receptionist or the nurse. What could have been settled in a one minute call now takes several minutes and in the end, it is necessary often, after all the numbers are pressed, to talk to the doctor’s representative in any case. Is this an advance? Does it promote better doctor-patient understanding? On all accounts, the answer has to be NO!

In recent months, there were occasions to call investment firms to inquire about direct deposit of dividends as opposed to mailing the dividends to me each month. As a general rule, investment firms are quite anxious to have an electronic transfer rather than using the postal system. In my case, there were many hurdles to deal with. When the first “press 1” and “press 2” were accomplished, the call then went to the next stage where there were additional “press 1” and “press 6” buttons to push, before the second hurdle was completed. There was now a third one to deal with. And in the end, it was necessary to deal with a supercilious representative of the investment firm. All this took about 20 minutes to deal with a simple request: send my dividend checks electronically rather than by the U.S. Postal System. But in the end, the burden of doing the investment company’s work fell on me. If this is progress, take me back to the 1940s. And we haven’t considered firms that offer the “press 1” and “press 2” to hear the selections in Spanish or, in Canada, in French or English.

Closely allied to the “press 1” and “press 2” problem, is the telephone system. In its early days, all phones were manual. If you wished to place a call, there was a Central Operator who performed all the necessary functions. These operators knew who was being called and were often full of gossip. They could tell you if you had an incoming call while you were engaged in a separate call. And more than anything else, they provided a human touch to the telephone company. But that was long ago. Today, if you wish to call across the street, there is usually the necessity to dial a “1” followed by a three digit area code followed by a seven digit local code. The requirement to dial “1” followed by the area code is a development that has come about in the last few years. But no matter how you cut it, the customer is doing the work that used to be performed by a telephone company employee. And all of this is a matter of “progress”? Many of us who remember when service was really provided are pretty dubious as to the claim of progress.

When a call is placed to a phone belonging to a company very often the call is referred to a remote voice box, which permits company employees to answer at their leisure. More than anything else, this is primarily a device to keep labor costs as low as possible. Not long ago, calls to a company location were answered by a real employee who could deal with the subject at hand. Not any longer. When a call is transferred to a voice box, the customer-caller is obliged to explain his problem to an electronic device that asks no questions as a human would do. Once again, the customer is doing someone else’s work while the employer enjoys the reduced payroll.

Closely allied is the banking industry. Banks now seem intent upon getting rid of tellers and using ATM’s in their place. Perhaps, modern bankers denigrate the human touch that a teller can offer. It is obvious, that an ATM is not going to ask, “How are you today?” or “Good to see you again.” In any case, bankers want you to do the teller function and the small talk is simply an arcane memory of the past. On-line banking takes it a step further.

When it comes to small talk or advice about one product over another, there is no better example than grocery stores. My memory goes back to the late 1920’s and the depression years of the 1930’s. My mother patronized Gualdoni’s grocery store located just south of “Dead Man’s curve” on North and South Road in Brentwood, Missouri. The sharp bend in the two lane roadway on a steep hill which produced several serious motor vehicle accidents per year, was called “Dead Man’s Curve” for a very good reason.

At Gualdoni’s there was a long counter. Bob and Lou and John Gualdoni stood behind the counter. Behind them was the stock. Corn flakes, for example, were stacked at the top of the other packaged goods. They may have been eight or nine feet above ground level. When a customer ordered corn flakes – Kellogg’s, of course – one of the three clerks would take a long pole with a grappling device on the far end and pick out a package of corn flakes. Bob and Lou were in their 20’s. They often dislodged the corn flakes and would catch it on the way down.

In the meantime, the customer would stand on the other side of the counter with a grocery list. When all the items to be brought were assembled on the counter, the clerks would write down the cost on a brown grocery bag, and would then add up the total. There were no calculators then or even adding machines. Each column was added and the carryover was written at the head of the next column of figures.

While the groceries were being assembled, John or Bob or Lou might say, “We’ve got some strawberries that would be good with those cornflakes.” In a way it was salesmanship, but in another way it was a grocery man being helpful.

Boy, has all that changed. Clerks are hard to find in today’s grocery stores. The customers wanders up and down the aisles and throws things into his grocery cart. There is no small talk, and certainly, no helpful suggestions. If the customer fails to see the special on strawberries, he or she will be forced to eat his cornflakes strawberry-less. In the final analysis, the customer is performing the duties of the clerks who have never been hired by the owners of the grocery chain or store.

But from all appearances, we ain’t seen nothing yet. In the bright new world of tomorrow, the check-out clerks are eliminated. Each item has a bar code. The customer takes the bar coded item to a machine and passes it over a reading device. A total is then produced which the faceless customer pays using his/her credit or debit card. This is similar to the transaction at a self-serve gasoline station where you pump your own gas and pay your own bill. Grocery shopping tomorrow will be an experience almost completely devoid of any human contact. The customer is responsible for the function formerly performed by clerks. While we moan at doing someone else’s work, the grocery owners have retired to the back rooms to count the extra profits from the non-hiring of clerks. Everyone knows that the grocery business is a competitive affair, but a little human contact might make it a more pleasant experience.

This is not a complete list of functions that require customers to perform the work formerly performed by clerks, telephone operators, nurses, receptionists, etc. A complete list might involve more functions than the reader is willing to deal with. In leaving this subject of all of us performing jobs formerly performed by others, if we go back in time, there may be a bright side to this whole proposition. When many of us were youngsters, coal was brought to our homes in the winter months. There was no gas or oil heat. Delivering coal was a filthy job. Shoveling it from the coal bin into the furnace was a job that required old clothes. Taking out the ashes after the coal had burned was an unpleasant job. Gas or oil heat is a more pleasant way to heat our homes and a good bit cleaner as well.

In the summer, before refrigerators were commonplace, ice men came each day except Sunday. A 12 or 15 inch card was placed in a window facing the street. The top of the card had an entry for 25. If the card was turned on one side it read 50. If the card was turned the other way, it read 75. If the card was placed upside down, it read 100. The numbers were the pounds of ice that the ice man was to deliver for use in an ice box.

In St. Louis and its suburbs, the predominate furnisher of coal and ice was the Polar Wave Company. Delivery men who worked for Polar Wave were hardworking fellows. Statistics are unavailable of course, but it must be assumed that men who delivered coal and ice had a short life expectancy. But the point is clear that heating homes and having refrigerators rather than an ice box are more civilized today than they were in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

My informants – some of whom are reliable – tell me that Polar Wave is still in business and is a profitable company. They should be applauded for making the transition to modern times.

There is one other occupation that is included here because of a sense of nostalgia. The job was a sharpener of knives and scissors and other cutting devices. In the 1930’s, there were men who drove small pickup trucks with a large whetstone in the back. The whetstone was mounted on the truck bed and was turned very much the way a bicycle is propelled. When the sharpener had a customer from ringing his bell, he would leave the cab of the truck and climb into the rear of the truck. Seated on a seat, he would then pump to turn the whetstone.

Memory tells me that knife sharpeners were generally Italian immigrants. They were hard working people in an occupation that offered no long term benefits. Today, these men are gone. In their place, we have electric devices that sharpen both sides of a knife whereas the whetstone sharpened only one side at a time. Certainly, the electric sharpeners of today are a great improvement, but for many of us, the ringing of the bell that told us the knife sharpener was on our street brings back a sense of considerable nostalgia. On top of that, when the immigrant sharpeners told you of their home towns in Italy, it provided a geography lesson as well.

This little essay about lost jobs must end with a sense of romance. For nearly 30 years, it has been my pleasure to know two Swedish citizens through their association with Televerket, the Swedish international telecommunications firm. My friends are Ella and Sven Lernevall. Sven and your essayist are about the same age. In order to advance himself, Sven left his hometown of Umeå in Northern Sweden which is located on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. Sven soon found work in Stockholm as a radio telegraph operator deciphering dispatches from other countries. At the time in the 1940’s, people in the United States who wished to send a radio dispatch to Sweden used the services of RCA. Calling by telephone was still several years off.

Now for the romance part of this story. In 1945, Sven met Ella who also was a radio telegraph operator. According to natives of Sweden, it is very difficult to pronounce the name of Umeå, Sven’s hometown. Somewhere along the line in 1945, Dr. Lernevall heard Ella pronunce Umeå properly and elegantly. There is no need for me to tell you that romance followed and Ella and Sven married.

As time went forward, telecommunications advances rendered the radio telegraph operator as an obsolete occupation. Before that happened, Ella and Sven had a happy marriage and Sven was promoted several times in the Swedish Telecommunications Authority.

So there you are. In spite of all of us performing functions that were formerly performed by others, your old essayist brings cheer to a dismal situation by reciting the story of the romance by Ella and Sven Lernevall, natives of Sweden. Not all stories of lost jobs end as uplifting as the Lernevall story, but there is some sort of hope. In the meantime, my efforts will go toward pronouncing Umeå in a fashion that even King Gustav would approve of. In exchange, perhaps, His Majesty might try pronouncing the name of four towns in my home state of Missouri. They are Tallapoosa and Braggadocio in the Boot Heel of Missouri, and in Johnson County, Chilhowee and my favorite, Knob Knoster. If they are pronounced correctly, Sven and Ella would be appointed the Duke and Duchess of Knob Knoster, in the Show Me state, an achievement of unparalleled significance. Even though the pay is at the poverty level and they would be forced to use a 1939 Essex Motor car for ceremonial occasions, most socialites would die for these honors. It is a certainty that Knob Knosterettes will come to love and revere their new Swedish royalty. (A map of Missouri, The Show Me state, is included here.)

June 12, 2004


“Objections to Modernity” has to be one of my favorite labels. I might even like it more than “Favorite,” which I guess is a little ironic.

I love self checkout machines. I live right by a Safeway so I generally only buy a handful of items at a time, so my choice is to either wait ten minutes for a checkout counter to open up or just scan a few items myself and be on my way. Plus, since I’m currently a product manager on point of sale systems, I love seeing how different companies implement self checkout. Spoiler alert: they still do this badly, because 2 of the 6 registers at my safeway are dependably out of order. Never the same two, mind you. This is what happens when you do a shoddy job of client-proofing your machines.

I get what Pop is going for here, that the lack of people in these service jobs makes people more isolated and reduces social interactions, and that’s a valid point. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty strictly a good thing that nobody has to deliver milk and ice every day, and that every human in the world with a cell phone can pretty much call any other human in the world with a cell phone without having to go through yet another human to route the call, which obviously wouldn’t have ever possibly scaled to the globe’s current call volume. Similarly most gains in automation are going to free people up to do work that they find more satisfying to them, in a future where we move away from the idea that everyone needs a 9-to-5 that provides gainful employment. That’s just not a rational endgame here.

And who knows? Maybe once the general population isn’t so heads down at work for 40 hours a week, they can go out and socialize more, or maybe they’ll hang out at grocery stores and recommend good food combinations to passerby for the fun of it. I think you can use retired people as sort of a model here — once you don’t have a full time job, you definitely get out a lot more.


It would be a great source of regret it any reader were to conclude from the title of this essay, that this is a religious piece. Banish the thought. Quite to the contrary, this vignette is an Army story. When we reach the latter stages of this inquiry, there will be a denouement that will justify the grand title that has been given to this small essay.

The events in question took place in the Summer of 1942 at an ancient United States Army installation called Jefferson Barracks. St. Louisans usually referred to it simply as “The Barracks.” It was located south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. The fort or barracks was established in ancient times when the West began in Missouri. The Barracks had seen service in the Civil War in this country and in all the conflicts that took place thereafter. When a man enlisted in the Army or was drafted, his place of entry into military service was Jefferson Barracks if his home was in Eastern Missouri and perhaps in Southern Illinois.

The average stay at Jefferson Barracks was on the order of ten days or two weeks. During that time, the Army would be figuring out where the enlistee or draftee would be shipped for basic training. For this reason, there were many permanent party soldiers who were in charge of determining where the new soldier would be sent.

Every soldier at every base, whether new or older, would ask whether the food was acceptable and whether the discipline was within tolerable limits. At Jefferson Barracks, the food was quite good by Army standards. The discipline could be lived with, so Jefferson Barracks was rated a good place to be if you had some time that you owed the U.S. Army.

When you owe the U.S. Army some time, it is called a “hitch.” Merriam Webster calls a hitch a “delimited period of time especially military service.” For the regular Army in peacetime, the standard hitch was three years. That ended not long after December 7, 1941. From that time forward, enlisters and draftees were compelled to serve a hitch “for the duration of hostilities plus six months.” No recruiter ever featured this aspect of military service.

In the Spring of 1942, the U.S. Army told me to go home and wait for the draft when an attempt was made by me to enlist. The reason seemed to be that the Jefferson Barracks staff could arrange their entry procedures to induct the draftees who arrived on a set pattern. Enlistees, on the other hand, had no predictability as to numbers, so draftees were encouraged and enlistees were in the main, discouraged. And this was in a situation where a real war was going on. In any case, my enlistment started in the Summer of 1942.

Now as to the length of the hitch that enlistees were to serve, news belatedly reached our ears that in the First World War, hostilities technically continued from the end of the war in 1918 until a peace treaty was signed in 1922. At that point, presumably the “plus six months” would kick in.

None of us spent a lot of time worrying about the length of the hitch as we assumed something might happen in the meantime or that our death might solve everything.

Now there is one more consideration about entering the Army after December 7, 1941. For all intents and purposes, the Army created a new army for men entering service after the attack on December 7, 1941. It was called the “Army of the United States,” to go with the United States Army. My enlistment started as Private Carr, Army of the United States, or AUS. When my enlistment ended on November 8, 1945, my discharge said Sergeant Carr, AUS, was honorably discharged. All the while, the U.S. Army still existed for men who had not completed their hitch by December 7, 1941. The Army moves in mysterious ways and creation of the AUS seemed to be one of them.

The Army also moves in mysterious ways when it comes to assigning men to jobs. The Army probably in one of the Corps areas or even in Washington says, for example, it needs some more tank drivers or some more artillerymen or some more front line soldiers. So a requisition is then prepared. When a requisition arrives in the field, the soldiers there grab available people and send them to the proper school or, if there is no time for school, to the proper functioning unit. As an example, my close friend Tallis Liacopalus had always worked in eating establishments. So naturally, he became a tank driver. Al Strain, another close friend, who had always worked on cars, became an artilleryman because the requisition had to be filed. Al was available, so he became an artilleryman.

In my case, the Army ignored my years of drafting experience. The sergeant who handled my enlistment, said that my work on cars during my filling station career would be very valuable on airplanes. So after a time, my hitch had to do with being an aerial engineer. That is nice work if you exclude being shot at from time to time.

Well, now that you have been brought up to date on what a hitch might be or what the Army of the United States might comprise, it is time for what the French call the denouement, or the reason for this essay being written.

Before leaving Jefferson Barracks, every soldier had to have dog tags. Dog tags were not the proper name for the identification that is hung around the necks of soldiers. However, in all the time that was spent in the Army, dog tag was always the name given to the two tags worn by soldiers. Their real name is unknown to me.

At Jefferson Barracks, there were three soldiers in a work unit who had a device that stamped out every soldier’s dog tags. One soldier, a sergeant, had a master list with the full name as well as the serial number of the soldier to be dog tagged. My number was 17077613. The first “1” came because of my enlistment. Draftees were given “3” as their first number. The first “7” is because my enlistment came from the Army’s Seventh Corps Area which embraces seven or eight Midwestern states. The “T42-43” entry represents my inoculation against tetanus. The “0” in the left hand corner is my blood type and comes from the Army physical examination. The only missing piece is the religion of the new soldier. In my case, it is shown as a “P”. There were only two other designations available as far as can be determined. A Catholic would have a “C” or someone of the Jewish faith would have a “J” in the lower section of the tag. No one has ever told me how a Hindu or a Buddhist might be shown on his dog tags. My strong inclination is that they would be shown as Protestants. But in any case, the American Army had few Hindu or Buddhist enlistees or draftees.

When the Army had small groups, such as the one stamping dog tags, it is called a “DETAIL.” Merriam Webster calls it another French word. In any case, when the sergeant asked me for my religious preference, he was told that this soldier did not want a religious preference on my dog tags. It was therefore suggested that the space on the dog tags say nothing. The sergeant stood up and said that everyone had to have a “J” or a “C” or a “P” stamped on his dog tags. And the sergeant wanted me to come clean.

There was an attempt by me to explain that no prejudice hovered in my mind about other people stating a religion. My own choice was that there was no preference in my mind and that my desire was to leave that part of the dog tags untouched.

The sergeant of the detail said that my indecision was holding things up but, nonetheless, he would consult with a “higher authority.” Presumably that “higher authority” was a military person, or perhaps it was someone in the deity. It was assumed by me that a U.S. Army Buck Sergeant could make that inquiry of a deity.

While the sergeant was doing his consulting, my mind wandered to the various kinds of Protestants that then existed. There was a whole spectrum of choices. In the most conservative branch of Protestantism, there are the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists and perhaps the Presbyterians and the Lutherans. In those congregations, the preacher is often called a “Doctor.” Talking by the congregants to the preacher is completely unheard of. As a general proposition, the songs in these conservative congregations are often a thin gruel of unsingable hymns.

On the other side of the spectrum were the evangelistic sects – the Southern Baptists, the Pentecostals and the Nazarenes. Often, the preacher might be a layman who wore no robes. Throughout the proceedings, the congregations were encouraged to talk back to the preacher with shouts of “Amen” or “Halleluiah” or even “Now you are telling them.” The hymns in the evangelistic group will stick to your vocal chords. When “Amazing Grace” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” are sung, the congregants sing lustily, clap their hands or put their hands in the air.

At this point, the august U.S. Army was demanding that this new soldier identify himself as a Catholic, or a Jew or as a Protestant. In my barely 20 years of existence, there was no occasion for me to become familiar with Jewish religious concepts. Catholic beliefs were equally unclear to me except that it was understood that Catholics ate no meat on Fridays. My only religious exposure came as a youngster when my parents compelled me to attend their evangelical churches. From that experience, it was my conviction that religion was to be avoided whenever possible.

There was no anger on my part at anyone. What was being presented by the Army was a forced compulsory choice. My inclination was to not get involved in any way. The Army was saying that it was necessary to submit to military compulsion. My demurral was not acceptable to the U.S. Army or the Army of the U.S.

Again my thoughts turned to the spectrum of choices offered by U.S. Protestantism. In the conservative camp, it seemed to me to be a case of eating petit fours served with well chilled chardonnay. On the other end of the spectrum, there were the evangelistic sects who strongly favored red meat barbecues washed down with a locally produced beer.

My choice was, “none of the above.”

While all this was going through my mind, the sergeant of the detail hung up the phone and turned to me with an angelic smile on his face. He said, “You, Private Carr, are a Protestant,” which made me believe his conversation with “higher authority” was with someone higher than simply a military person. At that point, the soldier in charge of the stamping machine, put a “P” in it and pressed down. So while by belief in non-belief remained intact, there is no denying that the Army of the United States considered me a full fledged Protestant. My parents would have been proud of the man who stamped the “P.”

My service started 62 years ago and ended 59 years ago. In that time, there has been a chance to consider such frauds and mountebanks as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or Billy Graham’s son. A good many of this group claimed that they started preaching the Gospel according to Protestant beliefs as child preachers. Perhaps they were pounding the lectern when it was a foot or two out of their reach. Not everyone believes those child preacher stories.

On the other hand, there is a stamp of genuineness to my situation. The Army of the United States, no less, bestowed a “P” on my dog tags after consulting “Higher Authority”. The serenity with which the Sergeant of the stamping detail announced my affiliation with the Protestant faith convinced me that ordinary Protestantism was not to be my ultimate goal. It was to be a no holds barred Protestant preacher in the mold of old Billy Sunday. In that case, even the original Billy Graham would have to concede pre-eminent status to Private Carr of the Army of the United States. Amen.

July 1, 2004

It’s less messy than a baptism, I suppose.
Anyway the part of this that I didn’t previously realize is the bit about hitches lasting “for the duration of hostilities plus six months.” You would just have absolutely no way of knowing when your tour would be done, especially if hostilities weren’t declared officially over for years after the fighting stopped. That could potentially have been a decade-long commitment, depending on how the war went.
I wonder though, why exactly the religion had to be so urgently identified in the same place as name or blood type. If you’re concerned with funeral rites, can’t that be looked up later once the body is out of combat? It seems like you could just as easily keep that in the same database where you’d keep next of kin, phone number, etc. Maybe some soldiers are very nervous that the wrong kind of religious authority would pray for their corpse on the battlefield; this makes sense as there are very little other things out there to be worried about.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2003


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


My father bought a new 1914 or 1915 Mitchell touring sedan. The Mitchell had just come out. Pictures say it was a beautiful automobile, but my memory has no recollection of it at all. (see attachment) In my time, he drove straight six cylinder Studebakers. For a time, he drove a straight eight Packard. The term “straight” means the cylinders were placed in a row. In an engine with “V” in its title, the cylinders were placed in a “V” with four on one side and four on the other side.

The tappets on those engines had to be adjusted regularly which accounts for my being in our unheated garage holding a drop cord electric light so that my father could get the tappets in adjustment. That work had to be accomplished by my father in an ungainly posture using a valve tappet feeler gauge. It was not inspiring work, but anyone who ever heard an engine with unadjusted tappets, would know that something needed to be done.

My first car was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe which was a reliable car. (see attachment) My second car was a 1937 Chevrolet coach. It was called a coach because while it could seat five or six people, only two wide doors were provided. In other words, it was not a sedan which had four doors.

The main selling feature of the 1937 Chevrolet was it was the first car to have “knee action” in the front suspension which was supposed to deliver superior riding qualities. That car was pretty much a disaster with the engine needing frequent major repair work and with the “knee action” front wheels coming constantly out of adjustment.

But the subjects of this essay are essentially a 1931 Ford and South Wind heaters. Today, we obsess over car safety. There are seat belts and air bags, and gauges of every kind to say nothing about signs that tell you when a door is opened. But the manufacturers still are doing very little in terms of improved mileage.

But in the 1930’s there was not very much concern about automobile safety. Horsepower was important, particularly after Ford produced its first V-8 automobile in 1934. Now there is an interesting thought about Ford. For all the 1920’s, Ford had considerable success with its Model T cars. In 1930, Ford replaced the Model T’s with Model A’s. The Model A’s had regular three speed transmissions which replaced the antiquated transmission band systems in the Model T’s.

One of the Model A characteristics that would offend modern day car safety experts, is that the gas tank was located in the hood section directly in front of the windshield. It is fairly clear that in a front end collision, the gas tank would spill or that the tank would be found in the laps of the front seat passengers. It was a fire hazard in any case, but Ford built its Model A’s until 1935 when they were replaced by the V-8 models. The Model A’s were a big success for Ford.

The cars had a floating gas gauge in the tank that could be seen from the passenger compartment. Presumably, Ford located the gas tank more or less over the engine because they must not have trusted the pumps to pull the gas from a rear mounted gas tank to the engine in the front. In spite of the obvious hazards, Ford found itself with a runaway best seller. The Ford car that led the sales parade was a coupe with a rumble seat where the trunk should have been. (see attached) Rumble seats contributed greatly in the romance department, but it was not the driver who profited from this aspect of the Model A’s. It was one of his passengers.

While all these old cars were in existence, not one of them had a heater, unless you considered a casing over the exhaust system of the engine. The casing led to a hole in the firewall with the thought that as the engine warmed, the heat from the exhaust system would be caught and moved somehow to the passenger compartment. Such heaters were not reliable at all and usually produced smoke fumes. But that was all the heat there was.

In most cars, particularly those with no windows or with isinglass windows, passengers, other than the driver, would cover themselves with blankets or robes. Horsehair robes to cover the laps of passengers were quite popular. But no matter how you cut it, riding around in a 1920’s or a 1930’s model car on a cold day was not enjoyable – not at all.


Then in 1938, an outfit called South Wind Heaters developed what must be the forerunner of today’s auto heaters. The South Wind was mounted in the passenger compartment. It had tubes through the firewall where it tapped into the fuel supply of the engine. When a large button was activated in the passenger compartment, ignition took place in the South Wind and heat was generated. If the South Winds were carelessly installed, it could very well result in a fire in the engine compartment. Fires in the passenger compartment were unknown to most of us who worked around cars, but fires in the engine compartment were a problem. Carl Schroth, my boss on my first job, had a South Wind which worked well.

The South Winds are still around today, but rarely seen. They are offered by a Canadian seller of specialties for used (restored) car fans. The South Winds are offered as refurbished and the dealer says that they “have an Art Deco look that fits perfectly with old cars.” In any event, auto manufacturers soon figured out a way to tap into the radiator and the cooling system of the engine. Hot water heaters made the gasoline powered South Winds largely obsolete. That was a good development because the South Winds were expensive and dangerous.

Well, that is the story on older cars. It would be worth a lot of money to drive a Model A Ford today. Perhaps it would have more cachet than the foreign cars which seem to be crowding out American manufactured cars. But the car business has always had its dog-eat-dog aspects. It is simply worse today than ever before.

For an old essayist who had a lot to do with old cars and filling stations. Writing about them is an exercise in nostalgia. Those days were clearly not as pleasant as they seem now, but it is pleasant to bring back memories of more than 60 years in age.

Anybody for an unheated rumble seat ride? My bet is that it would be necessary to beat off young people who would compete to ride the romance seat in a 1931 Model A Ford. And maybe some of us oldsters would be among them.

December 28, 2003

Seems like there are a lot of attachments for this one! If Judy gets some time, perhaps she’ll be able to dig up a couple and I can post them here. As far as cars though, it’s pretty surprising how long it took manufacturers to figure out that gas tanks should be put far from zones that crush during crashes. You might excuse the Model A for the mistake, but even later cars like the Pinto were still experimenting with terribly placed gas tanks — the Pinto was famous for having its gas tank at the very very back of the car, so if you rear ended one it was likely to explode. Fun times.


In a recent essay, I grumbled that it had been my misfortune to write about politicians for some time. I observed that writing about politicians is a sordid business. I believe that now is the time to write about some people I liked and respected.

In this new phase of my life as an essayist, I wrote about our beloved lap feline, Shannon P. Catt. So now I am free to write about other people who held my respect and admiration. Once in a great while someone who earned my disrespect and dislike will come along. But they are only incidental to what I will have to say.

From the beginning, or at least after the Army of the United States begrudgingly told me I could leave at the age of 23 years, it was my intention to find out what went on in New York City. A few months after the first big telephone strike in 1947, I drove from St. Louis to spend a vacation in the big city. An election to the presidency of the Union Local in St. Louis provided me with the opportunity to come on business to New York where the national headquarters of the Union was located. This national headquarters had to do with the Long Lines Division of AT&T which represented about 30,000 members. My journeys to New York started in 1948 and continued through the summer of 1951. So it was my good fortune to indulge my curiosity about the Yankees (boo!), the Giants and the Dodgers (a big boo..o.o.o.o!) and a lot of other events that took place only in what some people called the Big Apple.

No two ways about it, I was predisposed to like the citizens who call New York home. And the non-citizens as well. The New Yorkers who served with me in the Army were interesting people. The people from AT&T Headquarters who visited us in St. Louis were bright people. I never put New Yorkers down because they were depraved and unholy folks; on the contrary, I wanted to see a little bit of that depraved and unholy conduct for myself. Then or now, I always thought that a little sinful action was completely uplifting in its own way. My mother, with her constricted Nazarene and Pentecostal view of life, never visited me in the East. She would probably have regarded Broadway as dreadfully depraved. Her last child, namely me, would offer a differing view. He would say in robust tones, “Bring on the sin.” As I am sneaking up on my 80th birthday soon, perhaps it could be argued that a little sin greatly expands the life span.

I never set out on a campaign to get to know folks in New York City. It happened naturally over a period of years. For better or worse, I am a curious fellow. If someone from a different country comes along, I’d like to talk to him. Among other things, I have always been curious about how hotels and bars and restaurants and nightclubs are operated. So I asked some questions and before long, friendships developed naturally.

As improbable as it sounds, the reason I got to know restaurant owners, hotel people and a few entertainers goes back to my employment with the great American Telephone and Telegraph Company. I had better write about AT&T because it is believed – and I am a believer – that once AT&T sells its broadband services to Comcast this fall, some other company will make an offer for the remaining parts of the company and AT&T will become part of our forgotten past like Eastern Air Lines or the New York Central Railroad. Events conspired against the company, and dubious management decisions also had a major part in the prospective disappearance of one America’s best known names.

But, be that as it may, the fact is that every branch of AT&T was dominated by engineers, more specifically, electrical engineers. The president of the company and the vast majority of his reporting staff were electrical engineers. The head of the Long Lines Department was an electrical engineer as were the heads of regional Associated Companies. The same goes for Western Electric.

About the only places that escaped the engineering domination were the legal and the medical officers. AT&T believed that engineers could do any job so, from time to time, the accounting department was often headed by an engineer. Engineers were also found in influential or controlling positions in labor relations, press relations, personnel department matters, advertising and in the AT&T lobbying effort in Washington.

In point of fact, many of us did not buy the idea that an engineer could do every management job. In retrospect, there are those of us who believe that over-dependence on engineers probably led to the misfortunes of AT&T, starting in the 1970’s.

Now this is not a polemic against engineers – not at all. But as a group, telco engineers tended to be straight arrows. They got to work at 8AM and went to lunch with other engineers in the company cafeteria or dining room. At 5:30PM or 6PM, they caught a train or bus and went home. They rarely stopped at a bar in the railroad depot and they would shun the bar car on the train on the way home. And few of them told ribald jokes.

I’ve known hundreds or thousands of telephone engineers. At home, their tastes run to bridge, fishing and golf. On summer weekends, they enjoy cookouts. That’s wholesome enjoyment, but Broadway plays, concerts and nightclubs acts are usually not on a telco engineer’s agenda.

All of this worked out very well for me. I liked all the things that telco engineers disliked. And then or now, I can’t abide golf or bridge or fishing. I liked Broadway theatrical performances. I liked the restaurants that were found only in New York City. In short, I was attracted to the whole New York scene. When guests from out of town or foreign guests showed up, people would often ask me to help entertain them. Far from a burden, I felt indebted to telco engineers who gave me an opportunity to explore the mysteries of the Big Apple.

Now, with your permission, I will introduce you to a New Yorker who helped me with my work when I first came to New York City as a representative of the Union. In the beginning, it was the Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers. After 1950, the FLLTW became the Communications Workers of America, which was usually referred to as the CWA.

When I came to New York on Union business in the 1948 to 1950 period, the President of the union was Robert T. Creasey. He had about 30,000 members in the Long Lines Federation. I haven’t seen Creasey for a long time but I suspect that he may have died from cholesterol poisoning or maybe he choked on a steak bone. Remember, you heard it here first that cholesterol poisoning is a deadly disease.

When I came to New York from St. Louis, we stayed at the Piccadilly Hotel on West 45th Street in the heart of the theater district. Creasey, who originally came from Dallas, was a meat eater. Only meat; no fish, no vegetables. If the steak dribbled off the plate because it was bigger than the plate, Creasey would say it was about right. And he had it cooked somewhere between raw and extremely rare. Creasey and I got along very well. On the other hand, I had grave reservations about his choice of restaurants.

I have never been a meat eater even though the opportunity to enjoy non-meat entries in St. Louis were fairly rare. But here I found myself with Creasey and his staff and three or four others who made up the National Board, hanging around the office at 45th Street and Eighth Avenue as dusk and evening approached. Someone would say that it was time to eat. Creasey would then suggest an old fashioned saloon in the next block above 45th Street on Eighth Avenue called Roths. We seemed to eat there three or four days a week, but it was where Creasey could get his overwhelming, rare steaks. My old colleague, Joe Darling, was equally revolted by the food at Roths, but the President had spoken so we ate at Roths. Somehow or other, our two votes never seemed to register when noses were counted.

Roth’s was a throwback to the 1920’s if not to the 1890’s. They contended that they offered a complete menu selection. In point of fact, Roth’s seafood was tired shrimp. His other non-meat entrée was chicken. The idea was that if you wanted to eat seafood, you went to a restaurant that specialized in fish. If your taste included a desire for exotic food, perhaps a Turkish restaurant would fill the bill. But if you wanted to eat steaks and chops and other meat products, you came to Roths.

Joe Darling and I tried everything. We argued that even if Creasey ate only large chunks of meat, at least we could find a different place to go other than Roths. No sale.

Prior to 1950’s, no one knew about cholesterol. I suspect that guys who ate enormous steaks looked upon themselves as macho men. Joe Darling and I were probably viewed as effete consumers of parsley sandwiches. But if Creasey kept on with his meat eating habits after we last talked with each other, I suspect that by now he must have succumbed to cholesterol poisoning. Too bad as he was a nice guy, other than eating meat at every meal.

In 1950, telephone workers across the country voted to form the Communications Workers of America, CWA. The head man of CWA was an old Washington, D. C. hand named Joe Beirne. Beirne was very well connected in Democratic political circles. Joe pulled off a deal with Maurice Tobin, the Secretary of Labor in Harry Truman’s cabinet. Creasey, who opposed Beirne and who was a rival of Beirne, was given a job as Assistant Secretary of Labor. Creasey accepted as he should have done. Beirne was in good shape as he got rid of a rival and a burr under his saddle in one swift move. For Joe Darling and me it was a day of liberation in 1950 with Creasey gone. We were free at last to eat in an establishment other than the fabled Roths.

Bob Creasey was a good man. Even before he went to Washington, he scared the AT&T Company with his competence. The Company rued the day when they had not promoted him to management years before. Later, I found out that my promotion to management in 1951 had quite a bit to do with the company wanting to avoid the same mistake. So aside from being a good guy, in a large measure, I may owe my progress in the company’s management ranks to old Robert T. Creasey.

With Creasey’s departure, I concentrated on seafood because I knew that in returning to St. Louis, few opportunities to eat lobsters, clams, oysters, sole and other fruits of the sea would be tough to come by.

And so we said goodbye to Bob Creasey. He came to CWA conventions and I met him once in Washington. His office was the size of a football field. I was glad for the recognition that came his way. He was a hard worker who put himself through evening law school in Dallas.

I suspect that Brother Creasey might be pushing 90 years of age by now, that is, if he succeeded in avoiding cholesterol poisoning. By staying completely away from meat or meat products for the past 15 years, and with the help of Zocar, my cholesterol is now about 150. I don’t know if this represents 150 watts or 150 kilobits or 150 pounds per square inch. I don’t know if the 150 is on the Fahrenheit scale or on the metric scale. So go ahead and laugh at my ignorance, but as I eat my watercress sandwiches, I will feel purified and sanctified. When my age reaches my cholesterol level, then I will start to worry.

MAY 31, 2002

The first of a twelve-part series on New York living. To pick a few nits, I’ve never understood why so many people seem not to consider fish as meat. Yes, they’re primeval and roughly as unevolved as you can get for a creature with a brain, but all things considered the distinction between a salmon and a chicken is pretty negligible, sentience-wise. Of course, we know why Pop hated eating poultry, but still the distinction between seafood and cattle also seems pretty tenuous, unless you’re purely looking from a health perspective. Even then, fish are sometimes host to mercury and all sorts of wonderful chemicals that would put cholesterol to shame in the lethality department. I wonder if Pop ever tried fugu.


The title of this essay is a bit misleading because at the time this game took place, Africans played no baseball at all. On the other hand, it is a celebration of a game played by GI’s late in 1944 or 1945 between two clubs whose managers disliked each other with such intensity as to border on hatred.

The game was played on a dusty diamond located on the British airbase at Accra, Ghana. Ghana, at that time, was called the Gold Coast. By the time the game was played, the Americans at this joint British-American base far outnumbered the Brits and, in effect, it was more of an American base than a British base. Nonetheless, we drove on the left-hand side of the road and we were paid in British West African pounds sterling.

Both teams had to make the ball last for the entire game and, if my memory is correct, we were furnished only a choice of two bats. Gloves were hand-me-downs that had to be returned to the Recreation Department at the end of each game. The stands holding the spectators could accommodate about 20 or 30 persons. The benches for each club were strictly nothing more than benches; they had no backs. One was arranged along the third baseline and the other was along the first baseline.

The leaders of the two clubs could not have been more unlike each other. The leader of the “Office Workers” was a man named John Lewis whose forces went to work in the offices of the administration wearing freshly-pressed khakis. The leader of the “Overloaders” was dressed in fatigues and his men did the manual loading of cargo aboard the many airplanes that flew out of Accra to bring supplies to the European front on one hand and to the Japanese front on the other. The head man of the Over Loaders was known as “Red” Sabbatis. Red came from the Boston area and was celebrated because he had once signed a minor league contract with either the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Braves.

Somehow or other, long before I arrived at Accra, there was bad blood between John Lewis and Red Sabbatis. The games between the two clubs were used to express that anger.

John Lewis was an older fellow, probably in his late thirties or early forties. How he ever got into the military is something I do not know. But John was a very straight-laced fellow who argued with umpires and expected to win every argument. I had no animosity toward John Lewis, but on the other hand I had no warm feelings for him. It gave me a degree of pleasure to beat his club.

Red Sabbatis, on the other hand, was a working man’s kind of fellow whom everybody seemed to like. I liked Red quite a bit. I liked Red even though he played shortstop, which was one of the positions that I had often played. All things considered, Red was a natural born leader not only of the ball club but of his Overloaders’ work crew working on the flight line.

The catcher on the Overloaders was a left-handed fellow named Prozak. I never recall hearing him referred to as anything but Pro or Prozak. If he had a first name, it escaped me. Prozak had been a six foot four inch left-handed pitcher and an outfielder and a first baseman in the semi-pro ranks and also had been given a tryout by one of the clubs around the Boston area. Prozak was very close to Red Sabbatis. Prozak caught the pitcher on the Overloaders using a first baseman’s mitt. Unfortunately, catcher was the other position that I normally played. So the options of playing shortstop or catching were denied to me because of the seniority rule and the fact that the manager played one of those positions.

Somewhere along the line, there was a fellow named Shorty who stood probably a little less than five feet tall. Shorty rolled his own cigarettes and appeared to always have a hangover. Shorty attended most of the ball games played at this dusty field and, from what I could gather, he understood baseball quite well.

The third baseman on the Office Workers’ team was a fellow who let you know that his background included wealth and a college education. He wasn’t particularly snooty about all of this, but he seemed to reflect the thought that he was a little bit better than the rest of us. I never knew his name or at least I can’t recall it, so we will refer to him as Van Cleef.

The rest of this cast includes Walter Bednar, a pitcher from Cleveland who was a thoroughly lovable guy. The third member was Eddie Boyce, an infielder from Brooklyn who was a little touchy because he spoke pure Brooklynese. When he addressed two people, for example, he would refer to them as “youse guys.” I liked Eddie Boyce quite well.

As it turned out, Walter Bednar, Eddie Boyce, and myself came to Accra late in the proceedings because we were returning from our Detached Duty in Italy with the Twelfth Air Force.

The Overloaders were an established team when we reported to Accra. The three of us played on another team for a game or two, with which Red Sabbatis made an offer to the three of us, to join the Overloaders. Walter Bednar became the pitcher, Eddie Boyce became the third baseman, and I was required to play second base, a position I thoroughly disliked.

The game was called softball but in point of fact the ball was anything but soft. It was simply a larger version of a baseball. It could be hit for more than three hundred feet and the ball stung if caught without a glove.

Because Accra is only five degrees above the Equator, the sun shines most of the time and the weeds grow all of the time. Games could be played late in the evening. The sun and the rain in the Equatorial Zone provided lots of rain which meant that the vegetation grew at an alarming rate all year long.

That takes us to the field itself. There were tie-downs for each of bases which meant that they were held in place fairly firmly. There was no pitcher’s mound, of course. The field was dusty most of the time except when it rained. The outfield was an interesting piece of work. In right field, a road ran along the edges of the field and on each side of the road were two drainage ditches, perhaps two and a half to three feet deep. Because of the vegetation that grew in those ditches, it was difficult to find out exactly where the ditches were. It was not unusual to see an outfielder back up and slide into the ditch and largely disappear.

In center field, about 350 feet from home plate, was the base morgue. The morgue was associated with the base hospital and there were some center fielders who were wary of the morgue and did not like to chase balls hit in that direction.

In left field, there was an obstruction very much like the wall in Fenway Park in Boston. The base at Accra had a large hospital which was built in a series of separate wings. Most of the wings or wards were about 100 to 125 feet in length and extended from a central structure. In this field at Accra, there was a ward that extended for about 70 feet into fair territory with the remainer of the ward in foul territory. The patients in this ward had no radio or television, of course, so they watched our ball games with great interest. That wing was a place where patients with venereal disease were treated. Soldiers have a wry sense of humor and always referred to the venereal disease wing as the “country club ward.”

Well, that is enough about the circumstances of the game that is under discussion here. Late in the game, John Lewis’s Office Workers had tied the score and had men on first base and on third base. The runner on third base was the disliked Sergeant Van Cleef, the wealthy man. Apparently John Lewis had flashed a signal from his perch on the bench, which he never left, to the runners for a double steal. Walter Bednar fired a fast ball to Prozak and the runners on first base and third base took off. Prozak came up firing to me. His throw had all of the earmarks of a major league fast ball. I caught the ball running in, about chest high, and fired it back to Prozak. With great good fortune, the ball was caught in Prozak’s mitt, six inches above the ground in front of home plate. An instant later, Van Cleef slid in to home plate and was called out because of the fact that Prozak had the ball and Van Cleef slid into it.

I was astonished when John Lewis, an argumentative fellow, did not dispute the call. I was also amazed that Van Cleef simply got up, dusted himself off, and walked to the bench. There was absolutely no argument that he was out and Lewis and Van Cleef accepted that fact. I was greatly surprised that they didn’t dispute the call.

In all of my baseball playing career, my throw to Prozak was probably the hardest I ever threw and certainly it was the most accurate one in my history. When we gathered around the pitcher to discuss the runner on second base, I had thought that Sabbatis and Prozak would praise my throw that saved the run. In point of fact, those two men simply took the point of view that that’s what I was expected to do and they offered no praise whatsoever. Eddie Boyce and Walter Bednar patted my behind and said, “How to go!”

That night in the barracks, Shorty, the guy who looked as though he had a perpetual hangover, was describing the game to three or four other GIs who lived in that barracks with all of us. Shorty contended that the throw from Prozak to me and my throw back to Prozak were the hardest that he had ever seen in his life. And he was full of admiration. When I walked by, Shorty asked me had I seen the game. When I told him that I was the second baseman, Shorty had trouble believing it. Prozak was probably six inches taller than I was and a lot heavier, so he could understand a throw coming from Prozak to me but my return throw was launched by a smaller fellow and Shorty simply could not believe that a man could throw that hard.

But now we come to the moral of this long story. In all of the games played by the Overloaders for the rest of that year, neither Prozak nor Red Sabbatis ever mentioned the throw. I was not dismayed by their failure to comment but I thought that the play on Van Cleef was worthy of attention of some kind. While those two teammates offered no praise whatsoever for the play in question, praise came from a very unexpected source.

In the mess hall, I was eating my dinner out of my mess kit and facing the back of the mess hall. I was distracted when someone tapped me on the shoulder and sat down opposite me. He complimented me on my throw to Prozak. Of all things, it was John Lewis, the Manager of the Office Workers whom the Overloaders genuinely disliked. Lewis sat down to eat his meal, dressed in his usual freshly-pressed khaki uniform, and started to discuss the game. Within a few minutes, along came Van Cleef with his mess kit, and sat down beside me. He touched me on the back and complimented me on throwing him out.

I was never particularly attracted to John Lewis and Van Cleef but I did not hate them as Sabbatis and Prozak did. I thought they were a little “uppity” but I let the matter rest there.

So the moral of this story about an African baseball game is that you never know where praise might come from. Similarly, those who are expected to give praise may not do so. This may not be the most startling revelation, but there it is. From that date forward, I looked at people in a little different light. If John Lewis and Van Cleef were decent men, which they were, then there must be hope for the rest of mankind.

And by the way, my memory tells me that the Overloaders won that game by one run. The men in the “country club” ward were greatly pleased with the outcome of this African ballgame.

May 26, 2006
Essay 191
Kevin’s commentary: I… I don’t have any experiences like this. There seems something so pure about it, I don’t know. The kind that bleeds nostalgia, that I’ve only ever seen in movies. Something that you can only get with a bunch of guys who need a distraction in a place a long way from home. I also think that this essay is actually helped by the dictation style; Pop’s voice comes through incredibly clearly.

Maybe stuff like this is still happening around me, and I’m just so far removed from the sporting world that I don’t see it? Seems likely. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m largely useless in any sport where you have do something that isn’t about running really quickly. Since baseball already has designated hitters sometimes, maybe I should propose the position of designated runner.