Archive for the March 2007 Category


Rodney Dangerfield was a comedian who during his lifetime claimed that he “got no respect.” Dangerfield was a happy comedian who coined a maxim or two. One of his maxims was, “I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor, and believe me, rich is better.” In this essay, I will contend that there is merit in being born unwealthy.

There is much to recommend in Dangerfield’s philosophy about being rich. On the other hand, it seems to me that being born poor has its merits also unless it is accompanied by the deadly sin of envy or by the equally deadly sin of self-pity.

My childhood coincided with the Great American Depression. The Depression was so painful that to this day, 75 years later, I find that I am often unable to write about it. But as poor as the Carr family was during the Depression, there was an underclass less fortunate than we were.

Clayton, Missouri is the county seat of St. Louis County. Great wealth used to flow to Clayton from the prosperous farms to its west and by prominent St. Louis businessmen and professionals who maintained residences in that town. During the depths of the Depression in the mid nineteen thirties, St. Louis County operated a home in Clayton for orphan boys. For some families, the economic circumstances became so tight that they were forced to give up their boys and place them in the orphans’ home where they were cared for after a fashion.

The Clayton, Missouri public schools reflected the wealth of the physicians, lawyers, and business people who sent their children to that school system. At the bottom tier in that student social structure came the orphans’ home boys. These children knew of the circumstances that had brought them to be wards of St. Louis County. They had every reason to be angry and to pity themselves. I had many long talks with the boys from the orphans’ home who seemed to say to me that somewhere down the road things will get better. The orphans’ home boys ate their lunches from a paper bag, not being able to afford the prices at the school cafeteria. I joined them in that circumstance and was also required to return the paper bag to my mother at the end of the day. The orphan’s home boys attended no student social events because the price of admission was much beyond their means. Yet in retrospect, thinking today, I did not detect any measurable sign of envy and certainly I did not notice any degree of self-pity.

The boys from the orphans’ home grew up knowing what tough times really were. I suspect that everything they received later in life was greatly appreciated. There was never a sense of self-entitlement. Anne Richards said of George H.W. Bush that he woke up on third base and thought he had hit a triple. His eldest son is called out on strikes and expects to be carried off the field by adoring fans. This situation would never occur to the orphans’ home boys. None of them ever attended college but rather went to work at age 15 or 16 years. Their tussle with poverty during the Depression, in my estimation, made them much stronger people. They expected no entitlements and believed that it was necessary to work for everything that was given to them. And so the orphans’ home boys avoided the great sins of envy and of wringing the hands in self-pity.

And all of that brings me to another case where a woman has avoided the sin of envy and the degrading thought of self-pity. When I returned to New York from Washington in 1969, I was given an office on the 25th floor at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York. In that row of private offices were other men working for the Long Lines Department of AT&T and who also held the title of director. Outside our offices was stationed a secretary for each one of us. There were three married women among the secretaries. They were Audrey Weidenheimer, Lois Reda, and Rosemary Bies Bannon. Rosemary was later succeeded by Dorothy Giovi Campbell. There was also one unmarried woman who was edging into spinsterhood. Her name was Virginia Dunne. And then there was Esther Rezoagli (pronounced Rez-wali).

Esther was a woman in what I suspect were her early fifties. She was what my parents would have called a “widow woman.” I know that “widow woman” is a tautology but my parents considered that term a form of respect. Esther was the daughter of Italian immigrants who was born in Greenwich Village and still lived there. From time to time, I would sit in the chair next to Esther’s desk and talk to her because I knew that she was of Italian parentage and she knew that I had spent a large part of my military career in Italy. As I remember it, her parents spoke little English and her father held laborer’s jobs. Esther and her family qualified as one of those of us who were born unwealthy. My conversations with Esther took place in the early 1970s and for one reason or another I could never bring myself to ask her when her husband had died. She described him as a man who had her complete devotion and it would seem inappropriate to ask for the date of his death. So I let that matter pass.

The point that is significant in this case is that Esther had been married for 25 years or thereabouts and had lost the love of her life. There were no children. Esther’s husband was the focus of her attentions during all those years. In our conversations, Esther said she was never tempted by envy of other peoples’ situations. She said in effect, “ I remember what I had and that is enough to carry me forward.”

Esther expressed no envy of the three married secretaries who were her colleagues and, from what I could gather, she had hoped that the unmarried secretary would some day find a husband so that she could enjoy the pleasures of being married. Esther was born poor and worked her way up the secretarial ranks at AT&T. She worked for everything she got and she was thankful that, at that time, the New York city public schools offered a good education. Being born poor and later losing the love of her life never caused Esther to wallow in self-pity. She said, on the question of envy, that “my marriage was a very happy one and that is good enough for me.”

I have not seen Esther since 1974 and I regret that. Esther was a good, courageous woman who held no envy of others in more fortunate circumstances. And above all, Esther spent no time that I could discern in self pity.

Because we have been apart so long, my language skills in Italian have deteriorated immensely. It would give me great pleasure to speak a few words in Italian with Esther even though I know she would correct me. In any language, men would have a lot to learn from people as courageous as Esther Rezoagli. The daughter of immigrant parents who was born in poor circumstances rose to make a success of herself. She suffered a string of misfortunes along the way including the death of her husband. Esther symbolizes strength and decency. I regret that I have lost touch with her and hope that the marvels of the computer will locate her. In any event, I simply wanted to tell Esther that she resides in an honored place in my alleged mind.

Rosemary Bannon was my secretary for a time. Eight to ten years later, after she assumed positions in other departments, Rosemary was murdered by Lonnie Bannon, her husband, also an AT&T employee. Following Rosemary’s murder, Lonnie committed suicide. It was a sad ending to a young woman who looked forward to many years of happiness. Rosemary deserved much more than what she got with Lonnie Bannon.

Life was not fair to the orphan’s home boys. It treated Rosemary Bannon in a disastrous way. And life has not been kind to Esther Rezoagli, but I suppose it demonstrates the thought that we must all play the hand that we are dealt. Even Rodney Dangerfield, a former poor man who wound up wealthy, would agree to that proposition.

March 8, 2007
Essay 240
Kevin’s commentary: Well that one sure took an unexpected turn at the end. Poor woman. In my work experience, as limited as though it may be, Pop’s thoughts hold true — the people who came from the poorest backgrounds tend to work the hardest.


In the thirty-year period between 1920 and 1950, Henry Mencken was a dominant figure in American letters. He was prominent in American political affairs as well. He was a writer, an editor, a publisher of two intellectual magazines, and he found time to author more than 80 hard-cover books. Few things escaped Mencken’s attention. The title of this essay is taken from one of Mencken’s work in which he said of a female acquaintance that she wore enough jewelry that she “flashed and glittered like the mouth of Hell itself.”

There is a certain anomaly here in that Mencken was a non-believer in religious affairs, so I assume that he used “Hell” in a metaphorical sense. But that is of no moment in this essay. Mencken had a logical mind that probably reflected his Germanic heritage. His attention to the woman who wore outrageous jewelry was a subject for his curious mind. Mencken must have wondered at the logic and reasoning of it all. If the woman wore outrageous jewelry, would she be more attractive to men or was it done simply to please herself? In any case, since Mencken has departed the scene, I suspect that the “flashed and glittered” business is now greater than ever and it continues to defy logic and reasoning. The illogic of it all makes me wonder why people wear accoutrements and accessories that do, in fact, flash and glitter like the mouth of hell itself. Let me give you a few examples.

When I departed Chicago to accept a transfer to New York, my going-away party was attended by perhaps 100 women. After all, I was leaving a traffic office in Chicago where many women were employed. Many years later, I looked at photographs of that party because it was a happy affair. As far as I could tell from the photograph, every woman wore a hat to the party. There were hats of every description from the skimmers to more elaborate concoctions. The fact is that those women did not wear those hats to work on ordinary workdays. The hats were saved for special occasions and had to be fastened to the hair on top of the head with hairpins. I can remember from that night wondering whether those hats ever fell off into the soup or the roast beef. While the hats did not flash and glitter, the irrationality of it all was impressive.

In the photographs taken of the going away party, it appeared to me that every woman was wearing earrings. Logic has no place in the wearing of earrings. In my view, they are nearly the ultimate in irrationality. Some of the women in the photograph wore discreet earrings, but others wore the so-called bangle-dangle earrings of several rings that hung down two or three inches below their ears. Now I will reveal a male secret. If women wear earrings for the flash and glitter that they may lend to the occasion, I have never met a man who said, “I want to marry that woman because of her earrings.” Similarly, I have never met a man who would say, “I want to become seriously involved in a romantic relationship, even if it is only for one evening, with that woman with the flashy and glittery earrings.”

On the other hand, the old curmudgeon Mencken might be surprised to know that in these days, men also wear earrings. The women in that photograph at the going-away party seemed to all wear necklaces. I have no debate with necklaces and believe that they are an excellent accessory to show off the female body. I suppose that some of them may be so outrageous as to meet Mencken’s test of flash and glitter, but the Chicago women who saw me off that night wore modest necklaces.

What is disturbing is that, in these days, professional baseball players tend to wear necklaces. The more I think about that, I recall that professional basketball players and football players also wear necklaces. This is an atrocious development. I have seen games where the pitcher, wearing a necklace, must stop between pitches to gather his necklace and stuff it back in the top of his uniform. If necklaces are to be worn, they should enhance the female body and male professional athletes should be chucked into the mouth of Hell itself for wearing them.

During the current Bush administration, in the first five years every member was required to wear an American flag pin in his lapel. It seems to me that none of us, American or otherwise, would need an American flag lapel pin to identify the country of origin of the American president. This truly belongs in the flash and glitter category and Henry Mencken’s ghost would be greatly disturbed. How illogical can you get?

Now we proceed to a member of the legal fraternity who was assigned to work with me when I had the labor relations job in New York. This gentleman had three given names. His only saving grace is that his name was not followed by a number which would indicate that he was the fourth or fifth in that line of succession. This lawyer met every test of Mencken’s flash and glitter maxim. He wore one ring on each ring finger which could be seen when he laid his hands down on a desk, which he often did. The object of showing us his hands was to lead us to ask about his rings. For the four or five years that we worked together, I was successful in avoiding bringing up the subject of his rings. My reluctance to ask about the rings had a basis in fact. Fairly early in our association, I had asked him about his three given names and had gotten a genealogy report on the lawyer’s family. That cured me. But the lawyer met every test of Mencken’s flash and glitter rule.

I notice that over the years, there are women who use five or six or seven bracelets. Some of these bracelets extend up toward the elbow. When I see such an exhibition as that, I am greatly unimpressed. And of course there are women who wear not one ring but six or seven including the thumb. Again, to reveal a masculine secret, I would not be moved to marry such a woman or even to become seriously involved with her. All those bracelets and rings might serve only to attract lightening.

One of the most outrageous examples of flash and glitter occurred one night in Bombay, India. The woman involved was Mrs. Ramaswami, the wife of an important correspondent with the Indian Telecommunications Authority. When we met the Ramaswamis for dinner one night, Mrs. Ramaswami was dressed in the height of Indian fashion, including diamonds studs glittering from each nostril. There was one diamond for the right nostril and another diamond for the left nostril. I remember nothing about that dinner because I was concerned about how those diamonds were anchored inside her nose. I wondered if she took them off when she went to bed and if so, how did she get them reinserted the next morning. So you see, the Indians have their own version of flash and glitter, which would have amused Mencken endlessly.

Another thought comes to mind having to do with eyeglasses. In recent years, I have seen eyeglass frames decorated with twined ivy as well as fake diamonds. The frames of glasses have nothing to do with improving visual acuity. The essence is in the glass, which is ground so that one may see a little bit better. Again, I would have trouble running away with a woman who wore decorated frames on her eyeglasses. But on the other hand, there may be millions of men who would roll over and play dead at the sight of such eyeglasses but I am not one of them. All I can say is, ain’t democracy grand?

In addition to wearing bracelets to the elbow, I am informed that some women wear bracelets on their ankles. I suppose I can live with that, but I tend to draw the line at one of our mailmen who has a stud in his tongue. Now of course the stud doesn’t flash and glitter when he keeps his mouth shut, but I shake my head at what that is supposed to represent. Do tongue studs advance the cause of democracy or medical knowledge? I doubt it. Tongue studs bring to mind Ubangi women in Africa who stretch their lips so that ornaments may be attached to them. I do not favor tongue studs or Ubangi female lip ornaments.

Well, there you have my summary of the flash and glitter accessories that is reasonably up to date. Mencken’s quote took place in 1927, when American men were aghast at women who wore flapper clothes and “bobbed” their hair. Several religions of the Nazarene and Pentecostal stripe declared that bobbing the hair would lead straight to the Hell about which Mencken had commented.

Now if Mencken thought that some of the accessories women wore flashed and glittered like the mouth of Hell itself in 1927, he should be told that their granddaughters are wearing outrageous accessories and, in addition, there are tattoos on every part of the body. I suspect that Mencken might be disturbed to know that the granddaughters in 2007 might wear bracelets up to the elbow, rings on every finger, ankle bracelets and, in addition, they might have a spitting cobra tattooed around their mammary glands. Henry Mencken was a man of the world, but today’s accessories worn by men and women, might cause him to say that, for the last 80 years, he was absolutely right when he said those accessories “flashed and glittered like the mouth of Hell itself.”

And now I retire to contemplate, as I have for the last 30 years, about how Mrs. Ramaswami had those diamond studs stuck in her nostrils. For me, this is one of the great mysteries of the world. At least Mrs. Ramaswami had the saving grace that she did not wear stiletto heels and belly button rings, which some modern women now do. Again, ain’t democracy great?

March 21, 2007
Essay 242
Kevin’s commentary: Well this one was a bit curmudgeonly, huh. I would go so far as to call it uncharacteristic. I guess Pop disagreed with his Father’s sentiment that wearing a wristwatch made someone gay, but he draws the line at male necklaces. Now I have never worn a necklace because I think they’re a bit tacky on guys, but damning them to Hell, even if the person doing the damning doesn’t believe in said firepit, seems a little extreme. In a similar vein I don’t know why we’re holding personal jewelry choices to their ability to “advance the cause of democracy or medical knowledge.”


In a recent essay, I commented on the Irish propensity for attempting to find humor in every untoward situation, including death. In the case of the demise of a loved one, there is a bawdy Irish song whose lyrics go like this:

“Look at the coffin, with its bloody gold handles,
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody well dead?
Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody good cry,
The longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die.”

Subsequent verses after the coffin “with its bloody gold handles,” contend that the mourners are hypocrites, that the flowers have lost their petals, the widow is milking the audience for more tears, and, in one version, the young male choir is referred to as bloody young faggots. The word “bloody” appears often in the speech patterns of England and Ireland. It is not an oath or a vulgarity, but rather it is used solely as an intensifier. My father, for example, referred to the tappets in his Studebaker automobile as “those bloody tappets sounding off again.” And in the final analysis, who can take quarrel with the thought that “the longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die”? That seems to me to be more or less a given. The point in this whole situation is that in unfortunate instances in our lives, the Irish seem to have a penchant for looking for some humor to leaven the sadness. All things considered, I think it is a better solution than hand-wringing and weeping.

Another example comes to mind from the writing of the Irish author, James Joyce. One of his books has to do with the wake held for Tim Finnegan, an Irish laborer. According to the story, “Finnegan fell off a ladder and broke his skull.” Irish custom requires that the corpse be laid out on a bed in the living room and covered by a sheet or blanket. In Finnegan’s case, his corpse was laid out with “a bottle of porter (beer) at his head and gallons of whiskey (Bushmill’s best) at his feet.” As the wake progressed, Mrs. Finnegan served tea and cake to the guests, but soon the mourners began to drink the whiskey. Drinking Irish whiskey commonly results in disagreements of one kind or another. In one such encounter, a man threw his drink at another mourner who was standing near the corpse, which was proclaimed as the “nicest corpse I ever did see.” As the whiskey spilled over Tim Finnegan, he began to rise from the dead. He then said, “What the hell. Do you think I’m dead?”

James Joyce takes several hundred pages to describe Finnegan’s Wake. The Irish have also memorialized it in a bawdy song called, “Tim Finnegan’s Wake.” If you ever hear that song, I am sure that you will be inspired. As far as can be determined, Tim Finnegan went on to lead a lengthy life after his resurrection. James Joyce is a favorite of Irish actors who quote frequently from his plays. If James Joyce said that Finnegan rose from the dead, that’s good enough for me. I believe in the restorative powers of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, just as the mourners did.

Irish people mourn the same as everyone else does. When a loss occurs such as a death, Irish people are mournful. It is not as though the Irish are without feelings, but it is that from their long history of oppression by the English, the Irish tend to look for any humor they can salvage from every dire situation.

For several years I have intended to write on the sentiments expressed in the song, “Isn’t it Grand Boys.” I neglected to do so because the subject had to do with death. But when push comes to shove, who can debate that “the longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die”? It seems to me that even in the most mournful of circumstances, a snicker or two would not hurt. This of course would follow the advice of “Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody good cry.” Once the crying is over, perhaps balance is restored and there is an opportunity for a little bit of humor. Humor has served the Irish and the rest of humanity well for hundreds of years. I hope that will be the case for the next millennium or so.

Even the laid back Cockneys have gotten into the spirit of the bawdy song discussed here today. There is a music hall Cockney song performed by Irish singers which holds, “They are moving father’s grave to build a sewer.” The early verses say, “They’re moving his remains to make room for nine inch drains.” But by the end of the piece, the father has his revenge.

The last verse says,

“And won’t those city toffs begin to rave!
But it’s no more than they deserve,
‘cause they had the bleedin’ nerve
To muck about a British workman’s grave.”

So you see, this essayist is happy to report that the Cockney Brits and the Irish agree on something, even if it is the subject of death.

And so in the Irish tradition, this old essayist has offered you three songs to carry you over your moments of sorrow. If “Isn’t it Grand Boys,” “Tim Finnegan’s Wake” and “They’re Moving Father’s Grave to Build a Sewer” fails to move you, it may be a hopeless case. But I suspect those songs may leave you with a nickels worth of laughter, which is well.

March 8, 2007
Essay 239
Kevin’s commentary: Well to me, Tim Finnegan’s Wake is the best one of the three. Lots and lots of music tonight! I’m publishing this on the same day as this essay which has three more for ya. If you like these, just find a Clancy Brothers album and let the whole thing play through — they rarely make bad music.


This essay is being written during the first week in March, 2007. I am assuming that by this time every American knows about the scandal at the Walter Reed medical facilities in Washington. The commanding general of the hospital, as well as his successor, and the Secretary of the Army have been relieved of their duties, which is to say that they have been fired. Among the abuses cited by Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the Washington Post were such things as post-operative patients being required to wheel their wheelchairs for substantial distances to attend morning formations. In the rain, they are forbidden by the Army to use umbrellas. The patients are in limbo as long as 18 months or more while the Army tries to figure out whether they should be returned to duty or if they are entitled to a disability pension. One brain-injured soldier was told, after serving in the Army for, I believe 18 years, that he was not entitled to a disability pension because the staff had come to the conclusion that he was a “slow” person when the Army took him in. In effect, the Army concluded that his brain injury suffered in Iraq had nothing to do with his slowness of thought. The series by Dana Priest and Anne Hull ran for two days and has caused major confrontations in the Army at the headquarters of the Walter Reed medical staff.

As far as can be determined, it seems to me that the patients were enlisted men. In some cases, because of their poor post-operative treatment, their wives or mothers had to leave their jobs in various parts of the country and come to Washington to try to care for them while they were in the facility. This is a scandal of enormous proportions.

I have a certain amount of bona fides to comment on this situation. During World War II, I served for a little more than three years as an enlisted man in this country, Africa, and Italy. My experience with the Army leads me to conclude that there are only two basic reasons for the conduct of the Army in this current scandal. The first point is that whenever an enlisted man seeks medical treatment, he has to overcome the Army’s innate belief that he is a malingerer. Soldiers who report for sick call are treated with suspicion. It is a matter of proving to the medical staff that the soldier is indeed sick and in need of medical attention and is not a malingerer.

The second reason for what has happened here is that when a soldier is discharged or is on the verge of discharge, the Army does not treat him generously. It is the Army’s view that everyone is attempting to cheat the system. Obviously if you start from the position that every soldier reporting for sick call is a potential malingerer, then it follows that those applying for benefits after having served their term are also trying to game the system.

I will give you a case in point, which is my own. There was an occasion in 1945 in Accra, British West Africa, which is now Ghana, when I knew that I had a dreadful case of malaria. At the time, I was the flight-line chief on the midnight shift. When I realized what my condition was, it was about eight in the morning and I attempted to report to sick call. My barracks was at least a half a mile from where the sick call was being held. I had no choice but to walk that half a mile and when I reached the sick call, I was a few minutes late. The enlisted medics told me to come back tomorrow. They did not take my temperature or feel my head or anything else; they told me, “Come back tomorrow.” When I started out of the door, I told them that I was going to the hospital on my own. When I reached the door, I collapsed. High fever is a hallmark of malaria. After walking from my barracks to the sick call, my temperature got the best of me and I fainted. With that, the two people who had told me to come back tomorrow raced to my side and escorted me to a jeep which took me to the hospital.

You see, at this point the medical personnel were trying to catch people attempting to game the Army system for caring for its soldiers. Soldiers reporting for sick call were treated with considerable suspicion. Typically, the Army takes an adversarial view with respect to its soldiers reporting for sick call.

Now let us turn to post-discharge treatment by the Army. Three months after my discharge, I was required to spend several days at a Veterans’ Administration hospital to deal with a case of pneumonia. A short time later, I applied for disability benefits for malaria and for other wounds suffered in North Africa and in Italy, because I was concerned that my condition would interfere with my employment. My residence was located some 20 miles from the Jefferson Barracks medical facility which treated former soldiers. The Army told me that I would have to prove that my medical condition was such that I could not work properly and in addition they scheduled one examination after another at Jefferson Barracks. At that time, I had no car. The Army had a recruiting office in downtown St. Louis about three blocks from where I worked. It was staffed with a physician and a nurse to look over new recruits joining the Army. The Army barred me from using that facility and instead, required me to the make the 20 mile trip to Jefferson Barracks which consumed the full day. After a short time, I got the message that the system was an adversarial one and I dropped my claim. I collected not one cent from the Army disability program.

What is happening today at Walter Reed has been going on at least since 1945, to my own personal knowledge. I suspect that it has been going on much, much longer. The medical staff in the American Army takes the view that enlisted men reporting disabilities are potential malingerers. It is the intention of those medical personnel to catch those malingerers and put them back on duty. This is in full accordance with the commanders who like to see everybody at work, sick or not. This adversarial attitude carries over when it comes to discharging post-operative soldiers, such as those at Walter Reed. And it also applies when they ask for benefits to recompense them for their injuries. The compensation is a small fraction of what a wounded man needs to get along. If my memory is correct, a Sergeant I know of, whose story appeared in the New York Times and who has a 100% disability, gets a grand total of $1800 a month. You can’t make many trips to Europe on $1800 a month.

The sum and the substance of this mess is that when the American Army medics meet the wounded soldiers, they are prepared for battle and the patients are to be returned to duty or driven off. This is a preposterous attitude, but as a former soldier who has endured the medical facilities of the U. S. Army and the Veterans’ Administration, I am here to tell you, that is what we have. And that adversarial attitude accounts for the disastrous mess we have at Walter Reed Army Hospital. For the military authorities to abandon wounded soldiers, particularly those with brain injuries, is the ultimate exercise in treachery. Every young man or woman who is contemplating a career in the American Army should recognize that when wounds or illness forces one to the sidelines, the Army is prepared to forget them. The wounds from the Iraq War are much more significant than those from the time when I was engaged in World War II. Brain injuries and the amputation of limbs seem to be much more prevalent than they were in World War II. These are frightening injuries and soldiers must be compensated for them. But even more, any person who elects to enlist in the Army, at this stage with war in Iraq taking place, is a candidate for an insane asylum. I have five grandchildren, all male. If any one of them elects to join the military services, which I doubt will ever happen, he will be forced to go through me, if I am still alive.

My friends, this is what the ill-advised war in Iraq has brought us. More than one objective observer has commented that the American Army is on the verge of being broken. And yet we have the politicians threatening to invade Iran with an army that is basically a phantom one.

I have dictated this essay in an attempt to introduce a degree of realism into what we now face with an army that is largely crippled. Cheerleading and political gymnastics won’t cut it any more. The American Army is in dreadful shape, which is exceeded only by the plight of its wounded soldiers who lack adequate medical care. Treachery is the unvarnished name of this exercise. May I say that this is a day that I thought would never come. The conditions that exist today are shameful beyond belief. And to think this has been going on, to my personal knowledge, since World War II.

The prospects for the future are threatening. The Congress has no guts for a fight nor does the Administration have any idea of changing its methods of operation. Before it is over, may I guarantee you that the United States is going to take one hell of a whipping before we set things right. When an army refuses to care for its wounded soldiers, it is a time for monumental change. Are there no men with courage to step forward and right this mess? Our Army represents the American people. Can we continue our concern about the Golden Globe awards and Anna Nicole Smith’s funeral while the dire situation takes place at our première Army medical institution, Walter Reed Hospital in Washington? Is there nothing that will arouse the American people to demand a fundamental change in the way the Army does its business? So far, no one has stepped forward to set things right. This is a national tragedy!

March 5, 2007
Essay 237

Postscript: This is an angry essay. Upon reviewing the first draft of the dictation, it seems to me that it is not angry enough. This morning, March 4, I listened to Bob Schieffer’s Face the Nation program in which he interviewed Anne Hull of the Washington Post. Ms. Hull is the co-author of the exposé that ripped the cover off of the disgraceful acts taking place at Walter Reed Hospital. In that interview, I was reminded that some of the post-operative patients who had suffered such things as brain injuries were being asked to provide proof that they had actually been in Iraq. One soldier brought in his purple heart. Another brought in pictures of himself and comrades in Iraq. All of this simply validates the idea that the United States Army takes an adversarial role in its treatment of its wounded soldiers. If I have one regret about this essay, it is that it is not angry enough. Subsequent events, such as the lying by Alberto Gonzales to the U.S. Congress, have driven the story far back in the newspapers or the story has been dropped. This is a dreadful shame that must be borne by the United States Army and this Administration.


Kevin’s commentary: Disgusting. If one cannot afford to take care of the veterans, one cannot afford to go to war. That calculation should be part of the cost consideration from square one and it’s clear that it is not.

Also, asking wounded veterans to provide proof that they were wounded on the field? Seriously? Does the army not keep any sort of records of these things? This is absolutely insane.


The restaurant that my wife and I patronize almost exclusively is called Basilico, which of course is the Italian word for basil. Basilico was founded by two Italian immigrants who came here from Imperia, Italy in the mid 1980s. They worked for another Italian until they could establish their own place which has now gone on for about 12 or 13 years. The owners are gregarious fellows who tell some tall tales. Mario de Marco is one owner. When I called him this morning to inquire about the seating capacity of his restaurant and compliment him on the dinner we had there yesterday, he said that he was hoping that I was calling him from the hospital where I was laid up with food poisoning. Mario proposed that, in that case, I would sue him and that we would split the benefits flowing from the lawsuit. Being mindful of the Scooter Libby trial, I could only tell the truth, which is to say that we had a wonderful dinner. In the first days of my blindness, Mario is the same person who offered me some coffee or tea while we were waiting for a take-out order. When I declined his offer, Mario proposed that maybe I would like to watch a little television instead. I told Mario that because of his cheekiness, I would look into having his immigration papers cancelled.

His partner is Angelo del Becci, another immigrant from Imperia, Italy. Angelo has been known to stretch the truth from time to time. At the dinner last night, I introduced Angelo to our broker as the former owner and operator of the Legurian Sea. Angelo did not confirm or deny that introduction, so my broker went away under the impression that he had talked to a major maritime power.

Mario and Angelo laugh and joke their way through the seventeen-hour workdays that are the lot of restaurant owners. They are happy people and their patrons seem to sense that quality in them. If there is a moral in the Basilico story, it is that tall tales and story telling make life much more enjoyable and, for all I know, those tall tales and story telling might even prolong a good many lives. I have been involved in exaggerating the truth for more than 80 years, which is a strong endorsement of that philosophy.

This essay is about people who tell tall tales and also about story telling. My conclusion is that the people who engage in those activities may well enjoy life more and that they may live a little longer. Over the years I have told my daughters outrageous stories and they seem to have suffered no permanent damage from those tales. When Maureen, the first daughter, was growing up, I told her that I had found her at a fish market on the tray with the lobsters and the clams and the oysters. Actually, Maureen came into my life through the courtesy of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. But that is a straight story and even to this day, 53 years later, Maureen will probably tell you that her father discovered her at a Chicago fish market. No harm done.

A second story has to do with the beak of a pelican. I claim to have invented the thought that “the pelican’s beak can hold more than his belly can.” Shortly thereafter, one of my daughters was reading a children’s magazine and ran across the same expression. Obviously, I had to claim that the magazine had to have gotten that story from me as I never read children’s magazines. The girls did not believe me! However, those two disbelievers passed that story on to their children. So you see, my kids are addicted to tall tales and story telling as well.

When one of Maureen’s sons asked why we ate lobster instead of turkey on Thanksgiving Day, a story was invented. It held that cranberry trees grow to the edge of the ocean. When cranberry harvest time comes, the lobsters know about it in advance and crawl from the water to shake the trees so that the fruit will fall down. The best cranberries grow near the tops of the trees so the lobsters attempt to climb the cranberry trees. They have no pockets to put the cranberries in, so they eat them as they go and, as a result, they become top heavy and fall over backwards and hit the ground, breaking their necks. William, the son, seemed to agree that was a proper story but my friend in Sweden, Sven Lernevall, expressed great doubt.

I had expected Sven to endorse my story because I firmly believe that he is among Europe’s most active story tellers. For example, a few years back when the Russian Navy was found to have invaded the harbor at Stockholm, Sven treated it as a hilarious matter. Now when I send Sven a letter, I usually tell him that it has the blessings of the Russian admiral commanding the submarines in the harbor of Stockholm.

Then there is Jack, the youngest son of my daughter Suzanne. A few years ago, when Jack was visiting us, he saw a chipmunk outside the porch. Instantly, Jack named the chipmunk Nick, which was the name of one of his schoolmates. For all the years since that occasion, I have written Jack occasional letters from Nick describing his life underground. According to the letters, Nick has become romantically involved with a bluebird. Jack has shown those letters to his brother Kevin, who has inquired as to when the nuptials will take place. There may not be any nuptials in view of the fact that the bluebird will feed Nick only worms and seeds. Nick has an underground apartment near our bird feeder and it may be a bit of a problem getting the bluebird into the marital apartment to enjoy her marriage to Nick, the chipmunk. So you see that the fellow who tells the story gets as much satisfaction from it as the child it is aimed at.

Now, to shift gears for a moment, I will observe that I worked for the Bell System for an extended period of years. As a general proposition, the Bell System hires engineers, mainly electrical engineers. Those folks place a high premium on such things as Ohms’ Law and humor is a scant commodity in the telephone business. It may be that people who smile and joke a little are suspect, but I will tell you about one fellow, an engineer, who seemed to break the mold. His name was Beverly Swango. No one called him Beverly. They called him Bevo.

In 1950 and again in 1951, I was a representative of the union who bargained with AT&T executives. One of those spokesmen for the company was Bevo Swango. In those days, the representatives for the AT&T company were serious-minded people who gave no hint of any humor at all in their conduct. To find Bevo on the company’s team was refreshing.

On one occasion I made a presentation for the union that should have been a slam dunk for the company to concede. But the powers that be on the 26th floor of 32 Sixth Avenue in New York had ordained that the company would oppose the proposal that I had put forward. As it turned out, my main antagonist was Bevo Swango, answering on behalf of AT&T. Bevo had no compelling arguments but he was forced to defend the indefensible. And he did it with great skill. After an hour or so of this colloquy, I stopped the debate and turned to the union chairman, Carl Peters. In a reasonably loud voice, I told him that the company in the person of Mr. Swango was “beating me to death with foot work.” The company representatives were sitting on the other side of the table, but I asked them to pay no attention as I was addressing my remarks to my chairman. Obviously, they followed every word I said.

I told Carl Peters that Mr. Swango was beating me to death, and when I had him cornered, he slipped under my arms and began verbally beating me on the back of the head. I told Pete, with the company listening of course, that this reminded me of a quotation from a Senator from North Carolinia. Bevo Swango would have known this Senator, who was called McDermott, I believe, because Bevo came from that part of the country. With the company listening, I told Pete that bargaining with Bevo Swango reminded me of a recent remark on the floor of the U. S. Senate from that Senator. In a similar situation, this senator said that the proposition at hand was like “a mackerel in the moonlight. It shines and stinks.” To clean it up for the delicate ears of the AT&T representative, I said that it smelled rather than stunk. When Bevo Swango overheard that remark, he simply laughed out loud and hit the table and said, “That is a good one.”

As a teller of tall tales and story telling, Bevo Swango could hold his own with the best of them. Later he asked me whether I would have any objection to his using that line in speeches that he would make in the future. I told him, “Please, be my guest.” I suppose the rest of the company bargaining committee took no umbrage at what I said, because when the bargaining was finished, the company promoted me to a management position. Four years later, I was sitting at the same table on the opposite side, representing AT&T, bargaining with the union. For my former comrades on the union side of the table, I tried to make it clear that I still believed that a little bit of humor would go a long way.

Calvin Tuggle is another one of the former AT&T executives who broke the mold. For all of the more than thirty years I have known Cal, he has enjoyed telling outrageous tales. There was an occasion when, with my family, I was attempting to drive from Orlando, Florida to Richmond, Virginia. I started shortly after midnight and was within a few miles of leaving the state of Florida when a local trooper stopped me, at two in the morning, for my alleged speeding. The New Jersey plates on my car told him that I was a Yankee and he decided to impose justice on the spot. He said that if I wanted to hang around with my family until nine or ten o’clock in the morning, the judge at Yulee, Florida would come to work and would fine me $50. To save me this delay in my travel plans, the officer said he would take my $50 and give it to the judge that morning, and that I could be on my way to New Jersey. What Cal Tuggle knew was that the police around Yulee were famous for traffic stops. Yulee is within a few miles of Cal’s home town. For the better part of 35 years or thereabouts, Cal Tuggle has wanted to know why I didn’t go before the judge and demand justice.

There was another occasion when Cal Tuggle, Howard Pappert , and I were in Kuwait City, Kuwait. At that time, condemned prisoners were beheaded by the Kuwaiti authorities. These beheadings occurred in a central plaza in downtown Kuwait City. When we arrived in that city, there was confusion in getting to our hotel because of the crowds coming to watch the execution. Of course we did not witness the execution, but according to the English language Kuwait City News, the condemned prisoner asked to be read several verses from the Koran. Then he asked to be read several more verses from the Koran, until it became apparent that the prisoner was trying to avoid the inevitable. When the deed was done, Cal Tuggle contended that the report of the execution was carried in the sports section of the Kuwait City News. The fact is that the story started on page one and, because of the delays caused by the prisoner, the story went on and on and finally ended on one of the back pages of the paper. There was a story of a football game on that page which made it plausible for Mr. Tuggle to contend that the execution was reported in the sports pages.

Over the years, Cal Tuggle has gotten no better. I believe that he maintains a summer home in the northwest suburbs of Yulee, Florida, and that his winter home is in the southern suburbs of that great international city. He may deny this but I know this for a fact. Otherwise, I would lose my standing as a teller of tall stories.

It is probably true that tellers of tall tales and story tellers are not entirely meritorious. But, on balance, if I had my life to live over, I would want to be acquainted with men of humor or women of humor who stretched the truth now and then. I can’t imagine going through a humorless life. Such a life might not be worth living as far as I am concerned. Story telling and tall tales have a special place in humor. Moreover, I am firmly convinced that people who indulge in such humor may enjoy a longer life. So bring on the Cal Tuggles, the Bevo Swangos, and the Sven Lernevalls who have made my life more enjoyable.

I leave it for my readers to decide whether laughter prolongs life. While my readers are considering this proposition, I am going to call a lawyer to bring suit against the owners of Basilico so that after a successful suit the profits may be shared with Mario and Angelo. I will distribute the award: $50,000 for Angelo, $50,000 for old Edgar, $50,000 for Mario, and $50,000 for this old essayist. My children have always complained that my method of distribution of one for you and one for me and one for some other guy and one for me violates the rules of arithmetic. But I am not much of a mathematician and I will take my loot cheerfully and humorously to my checking account.

March 12, 2007
Essay 241
Kevin’s commentary: Jen read the last paragraph of this essay and immediately remarked “well that’s how he lived so long.” I’m inclined to absolutely agree. To me, Pop’s defining characteristics are his intelligence and his sense of humor, vulgar as it may be. Both of these he imparted onto his daughters, and ideally some of that has trickled down to me.

Spooky Suze, for instance, raised her children on an assortment of random decrees. One could not exit a tunnel without saying “ibbidy wibbidy yib yib yib” If one did not say such a phrase the tunnel would go on forever. Cartoons only aired on Sunday mornings in Dallas Texas (my father’s family lives there) and nowhere else. Etc etc.

Incidentally, any updates on Nick’s whereabouts and daily goings-on would be much appreciated by my younger brother, who absolutely still remembers him.


In a recent essay entitled “Passed Balls and Wild Pitches,” I recorded three incidents that were really gaffs that have marked my life in recent years. In this essay I will continue the baseball metaphors by using the title of “Foul Tips.”

Passed balls and wild pitches ordinarily have an impact on the outcome of a baseball game. When a wild pitch occurs or when a passed ball takes place, the runners on base can advance and some may score a run. So passed balls and wild pitches are a thing of substance. On the other hand, foul tips, in 95% of the cases, result only in a delay of the game. All things considered, foul tips are not of great consequence and basically serve to delay the game.

When I set out to dictate this essay, it was my fleeting intention to label it “Two Eccentric Englishmen.” However, when I began to think of the inconsequential nature of these eccentric Englishmen’s acts, I concluded that the foul tip title would probably be more accurate. So, with that introduction, let us consider the actions of these two eccentric Englishmen.

The first gentleman I would like you to meet is John Major, a former Prime Minister of England. I am aware that his title would be more likely Prime Minister of Great Britain but with the change in circumstance that has resulted in the loss of the British Empire, I believe it is much more appropriate to call him the prime minister of England. John Major succeeded the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, whose major contribution to the English language was to tell Ronald Reagan not to go “wobbly” on her during the Falklands War.

I have been writing these essays for nearly ten years now and it has always been my desire to investigate the dressing habits of John Major, Prime Minister of England. I do not intend to give away any sartorial secrets of the male sex but after years of dressing, as I have and others have, I am baffled by John Major’s attitude toward his underwear. I have not commissioned a poll on this matter, but I suspect that in this country or in England, most men wear an undershirt which is tucked into their boxer shorts or their jockey briefs. On top of their underwear, they wear a dress shirt which is tucked in to their trousers. The dress shirt rests outside their boxer shorts or their jockey briefs. I have been dressing this way for more than 80 years and it seems to suit me and millions of others reasonably well. But not John Major. This eccentric Englishman not only tucks his undershirt into his boxer shorts but when he puts on his dress shirt, former Prime Minister Major tucks his dress shirt into his boxer shorts or jockey briefs as well. I am almost certain that he does not wear jockey briefs for reasons that I am now able to disclose to the world.

As far as I am able to determine, jockey briefs appear in white color only. Boxer shorts on the other hand appear in various colors, with blue seeming to lead among boxer shorts wearers. When Prime Minister Major tucks his dress shirt into his boxer shorts, it is inevitable that the top of the elastic band on his boxer shorts will peek out from under the limits of his trouser tops. Thus we have the Prime Minister of England wandering about showing the tops of his boxer shorts to the whole world while those shorts are suffering from terribly overcrowded conditions.

Because of the size of my neck and the length of my arms, shirt makers ordinarily provide me with garments that are long in the tail. If I were to attempt to tuck my long-tailed dress shirt into my boxer shorts or jockey briefs, a vicious argument would occur because of the overcrowding. There simply is not enough room. The dress shirt belongs outside the boxer shorts, not in them. But if John Major elects to wear his shirt inside his boxer shorts, that may be the essence of democracy.
Mr. Major wears his dress shirt inside his boxer shorts and I wear my shirt in a more conventional manner. But no matter how you cut it, I believe that it qualifies John Major as sort of an eccentric Englishman.

Now we proceed to the second of the eccentric Englishmen, who is a member of the royal establishment called the Windsor clan. Until 1917, the Windsor family name was Wettig, a Saxon name. When the First World War took place, the monarch of the time changed the name to Windsor, which was a much acceptable British name. The current carrier of the title of Prince of Wales is actually Charlie Windsor. Charlie is known primarily for his goofy statements. The royal family and the British political system have tried to quell the Prince of Wales’s desire to make unfortunate statements, but they have not been very successful. For example, when a stenographer in one of the Prince of Wales’s work units asked for a raise and/or her chances for promotion, Charlie issued a combative response which told her that not everybody could be news readers on British television so she should be content with her subservient status and basically should shut up.

When Charlie married his paramour of 35 years, Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles, it appeared to objective observers such as myself, that Charlie had tended to devote his attentions to his new wife instead of making outrageous statements. For about 20 months, this situation prevailed. Charlie kept his mouth shut and the royal family and the ruling political party in England were not on their guard for goofy statements. But that was broken recently when Charlie, the Prince of Wales, went on a tour in the United Arab Emirates and, without warning, the Prince of Wales launched a diatribe against the McDonald hamburger chain. I suspect that what brought on the diatribe was the propensity for young children to become obese, which Charlie blamed entirely or largely upon the McDonald’s chain.

Charlie Windsor’s attack on McDonald’s was ill considered. In my experience, the absolute nadir of cuisine is found in English pubs where people sing the praises of “pub grub.” If there is worse food in the entire world than pub grub, it must be found only in the prisons of backward countries like Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. The only rival for the bottom of the barrel cuisine title would be found in Irish pub grub establishments. It strikes me that McDonald’s, when compared to the ordinary pub grub in England, is more like a Buick or a Chrysler as compared to a broken-down English motorcycle. Of course, McDonald’s contributes to obesity but at least it has interesting menus. And if its patrons eat enough to become obese, it is sort of a testimonial to its offerings. In the final analysis, for the Prince of Wales to criticize McDonald’s when he is the patron saint of English cuisine and English pub grub, is an exercise of misguided logic. But I suppose that this will have to be marked off as the return of Charlie Windsor to his more familiar daffy role as an eccentric Englishman. It may be that his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who at 80 years is in her dotage, seems to hang on to the throne of England rather than surrender it to her first-born son, Charlie Windsor. If Charlie became King of England and offered his usual goofy statements, the results might be catastrophic. So the Queen remains on her throne and Charlie is the Prince of Wales and all is right with the world until she becomes an angel.

Well, there you have my report on two eccentric Englishmen. Their actions really have no important effect upon the course of men’s lives in England and may be ignored. This is exactly the case with baseball players who hit foul tips. The runners don’t advance, no runs are scored, and the official scorer yawns until the next pitch occurs. My hope is that the Prince of Wales begins to tuck his royal robes into his underpants, à la John Major, and that both of them will come to this country, where they will be able to witness first-hand the futility of foul tips. I will explain to them in my imperfect English that foul tips occur because the ball is round and the bat is round and managers tell every batter that the ball must be hit squarely on the nose. When the round ball is not struck squarely by the round bat, a foul tip occurs. But I am pleased to tell you that foul tips ordinarily have no consequence and neither does Mr. Major’s tendency to wear his shirt in his underpants nor do the goofy statements of Charles Windsor have any consequences either. About all that can be said about Mr. Major’s sartorial habits and Charlie Windsor’s goofy statements and foul tips is that democracy is a wonderful system of government. I must leave now as I hear the strains of “There will always be an England” playing in the background which disturbs my dictation because I must now stand at full attention.

March 5, 2007
Essay 238
Kevin’s commentary: What a supremely odd practice. Clearly this is not done for comfort, and clearly it is not done for style. What reasons remain? Maybe that arrangement of dress helps one make important decisions. I also — and I’m not sure why — would not expect Pop to defend McDonald’s as something that features “interesting” menus but then again, I’ve never really had the pub food that it is being compared to. And now I’m not exactly in a hurry to try.


Those of you who follow these essays know that in recent years there have been a number of essays devoted to women who have my admiration. Women do not have the best of it in this life. From the beginning, their strength is less than that of men and their earning power is often similarly affected. Yet women deal with life’s adversity with great courage. I take the view that men should be so strong.

In this essay, it is my intention to pay a tribute to my own wife. In doing so I intend to seek the help of Henry Louis Mencken, a writer of prose without parallel in the English language. Additionally, I hope to invoke two thoughts that are Irish in their ancestry.

The Mencken fellow we are talking about here began his journalistic career at age 15 in Baltimore. Before he was felled by a stroke in 1948, Mencken was editor of The Baltimore Sun papers. Mencken found time also to own and edit The American Mercury and to co-edit The Smart Set, two quality intellectual magazines that were widely popular during the 1920s and 30s. Aside from those duties, Mencken wrote a substantial number of books bound in hard cover. My last count of the books in my library runs to something like 85 or 87 volumes, all by Henry Mencken. He even wrote a book on poetry under the pseudonym of Owen Hatteras.

Henry Mencken was a bon vivant who enjoyed trans-Atlantic travel to Europe with emphasis on Germany, the land of his ancestors. I believe it is fair to say that between 1920 and 1950, Mencken was one of the gold standards of American journalistic efforts. For my own part, since 1945, I have enjoyed his books and articles in the magazines immensely.

Mencken was a bachelor until he reached the age of 50. During his unmarried years, Mencken spent a good bit of time joshing his married compatriots. At the age of 50, when he should have been entering his golden years, Mencken fell in love with a woman 20 years his junior who was a writer who also lived in Baltimore. The marriage between Mencken and Sara Haardt, from all appearances, was a very happy one. Their life in Baltimore was marked by parties and stimulating conversation, usually with political and journalistic figures.

In about the third year of their marriage, Sara was diagnosed as tubercular. The treatment for tuberculosis at that time in the mid-1930s consisted only of sending the patient to a location where he or she could breathe fresh mountain air. And so Sara spent a substantial amount of time in sanatoria in Maryland, breathing the fresh air that was prescribed for her. The fact is that at that time there was no cure for tuberculosis and Sara’s health deteriorated with her death following in 1936. Mencken was inconsolable.

It is clear that Mencken had Sara on his mind for years. On the fifth anniversary of her death, Mencken wrote these lines: “I will have her in mind until thought and memory adjourn.” On my best day I could not compose a sentence of such elegance. But if there is no objection from Mencken’s ghost, I would like to borrow that line and that sentiment and apply it to my own wife, Judith Anne Chicka.

For the better part of a quarter of a century, Judy has been at my side when legal and medical troubles intruded. She has shown me courage and strength beyond my imagination. Her devotion to me has been done selflessly. My respect, admiration, and love for her know no bounds.

Judy is of Serbian and Irish parentage. I am sorry to admit that I know nothing about Serbian literature. If I did know something about that subject I would try to find a line that expresses my admiration and dedication to her. On the other side of the ledger, I am more familiar with the works produced by Irish writers. Two thoughts come to mind, but neither has an identifiable author. They are simply traditions in Irish literature.

Ireland is an island nation. Because of that fact, it is also a nation where men go to sea to make their living. And so it is appropriate to quote a thought from Irish writings which holds that my admiration, respect and love for Judy will continue until “the seas run dry.”

And then there is the Irish poem Eileen Aroon, which has been turned into a folk song. In one of its final stanzas, the poem/song proclaims:

“Dear are her charms to me,
Dearer her laughter free,
Dearest her constancy.”

The Irish quotes, in my mind, are as elegant as Mencken’s tribute to Sara. I suspect that it will be a long time before the seas run dry, but I can tell you that over the last quarter-century, Judy’s constancy has inspired me. I hope that this traditional thought from her Ulster ancestors is adequate.

Well there you have my thoughts in tribute to my wife. If Mencken were alive and writing today, I suspect that he might be tempted to borrow the line about constancy from its Irish authors. The tributes in this essay to my wife sum up my perception of our relationship over the past quarter century. I have chosen Mencken’s line and the anonymous Irish author’s lines in an effort to express my own thoughts. Their elegance is much greater than anything I could write. As such, this is another tribute to women-kind who have my undying understanding and respect.

March 24, 2007

Kevin’s commentary: I’ve been hoping to find this essay for quite a while. I always knew it had to exist, but I figured that it would be a while before I arrived at it due to the fact that I publish on this site in reverse chronological order.

That said, I’m very glad to see that Pop took the time to write this down. And even as I type this commentary out, I know that Judy will probably be the one reading these words to Pop tomorrow. Come to think of it, that means I can commandeer her voice for a moment to remind Pop: “Hey Ed, you really are one lucky son of a gun to have found me.”

Judy has been a wonderful grandmother and I’m sure an even better wife; it makes me happy to see essays about her.