Archive for the April 2007 Category


Over a long span of years, I have been a son, a brother, a grandson, a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, and a brother-in-law. Over that same span of years, I have been a filling station attendant, a soldier, a telephone worker, a union president, a lobbyist, and an international telecommunications representative. But one way or another, it has taken me more than 80 years to become an adopted grandpa.

My adopted grandsons are nine-year-old Esteban and seven-year-old Fabian. They, along with their ten-month-old sister, are the children of Ronald and Jenny, a wonderful lady who helps Judy with the house cleaning and now has assumed some duties in our little office. You may recall an essay written recently that described the prayers of Esteban who hoped that sight would be restored to his “American Grandpa.” I cannot speak for anyone on the Christian Holy Trinity as to whether the prayers worked or not. But Esteban’s prayers greatly affected me. But the prayers were not the end of it.

On St. Patrick’s Day evening, Jenny and her whole family were going to attend a dinner provided by another Costa Rican family. Jenny had been asked to drop by our house so that Judy, my wife, could present a playsuit to Jenny for her daughter Melissa as a St. Patrick’s Day present. On the ride to our house, Jenny reported that the two boys were talking softly to each other. Upon reaching our house, Jenny said that she told the boys that she would come in alone only long enough to receive the St. Patrick’s Day present for Melissa. Ah, but the boys had a different thought in mind. Esteban and Fabian told their mother that they would like to go with her and that they had “made a decision.” As far as I can tell, the boys did not disclose that decision to their mother. So the boys got out of the car and accompanied their mother into the Carr household. When they encountered your old essayist, they shook hands as gentlemen always do. And then each one of them produced a medal that he had won in a soccer playoff. Rather than keep the medals for themselves to show to their friends, those two boys presented me with their medals as their Grandpa in America. That was the boy’s big decision. I was basically speechless.

These two boys are the sons of immigrants from Costa Rica, where soccer, or football as it is called there, is the major sport. From all appearances, they have achieved an excellence in that sport that required their league to give each of them a medal. Rather than to keep the medals for themselves for bragging rights, those two boys presented the medals to me. It goes without saying that I was deeply touched. My admiration for their generosity is boundless. These boys are not the children of wealthy parents. Quite to the contrary. They are the children of two Costa Rican immigrants who are doing their best to find a foothold in the American economy. And to think that they thought of me at a time of great joy to them is a source of profound amazement. Any American female who does not grab those boys as husbands needs a sanity test. Those boys are generous to a fault.

So you see, being an adopted grandpa in America for Esteban and Fabian has rewards of all sorts. On the Monday following St. Patrick’s Day, those medals were taken to a shop in Summit, New Jersey to be put in a frame that could be placed on my desk. Whenever I touch and hold that frame, I will be reminded of the generosity of Esteban and Fabian, two magnanimous fellows. It goes without saying that Esteban and Fabian, who adopted me as their Grandpa in America, will make wonderful contributions to this country as they grow up. And I still shake my head when I am told that they had made a decision to award me their medals. So you see, being an adopted Grandpa in America has rewards that I never imagined. As those boys grow up, I hope that they become affluent soccer stars and then become president of the United States. This country could use a little generosity and thoughtfulness in its chief executive and those two young guys have it in abundance.

April 8, 2007
Essay 245
Kevin’s commentary: Perhaps if Connor or I had ever won any sports-related anything as children we might have followed the same path. Alas the sporting genes just never made it to the Shepherd clan. Ah well.

I’ve met the Jenny in question in this essay and maybe, briefly, seen the boys. I can attest to their mother being incredibly kind at the very least. She’s also very diligent at making sure that Pop has kept his whiskers neatly trimmed.


Haggis is a meal consumed by Scots on ceremonial occasions. I use the word “consumed” advisedly because it is impossible to imagine that anyone would actually enjoy eating haggis. To prepare haggis, it is necessary to have a sheep’s stomach into which are poured quantities of oatmeal as well as the sheep’s kidneys, heart, lungs, esophagus, tongue, and other vital organs. Haggis purists insist that the sheep’s spectacles and dentures also be included in the sheep’s stomach. When the sheep’s stomach is loosely closed by string, it is roasted on an open fire for at least six or seven hours. During that time of roasting, the Scots walk around speaking the Scottish version of the Gaelic language, praising the Presbyterian religion, and drinking tumblers of Scotch whiskey. The wares of every distiller from Glenfiddich, to Johnny Walker to Dewars are slurped up. When the diners have reached the point of complete senselessness, the meal is ready to be consumed. Some diners sit in chairs while other helpless diners are forced to eat their haggis in a reclining position. I hope it is understood that your old essayist is not a haggis eater.

The consumption of haggis occurs mainly on January 25th when the birthday of Robert Burns is celebrated throughout the world. Bobbie Burns was the premier poet in the history of Scotland. He was well-known for his jibes at the doctrine of predestination which is a fundamental concept of the Presbyterian faith, the National Church of Scotland. Bobbie Burns died at age 37 years. It is not known whether he was predestined for Hell or whether he is now eating haggis with the angels.
Several years after Bobbie Burns was born, there came on the scene another Scottish poet and novelist named Walter Scott. As far as I can tell, Walter Scott’s birthday is celebrated nowhere. Perhaps the reason for the Scots to overlook his birthday is that Walter Scott accepted a knighthood from the English monarchy. Officially, Scott is known as
Sir Walter Scott and I suspect that accepting such an honor from the English throne did not set well with his fellow countrymen. Furthermore, Walter Scott was known as a fan of “pub grub” rather than as a devotee of Scottish haggis.

In any case, Walter Scott contributed these lines in one of his works:

“Lives there a man with soul so dead
Who to himself hath never said
This is my own, my native land…”

Those words from Walter Scott have stuck in my memory for at least 70 years. It seems to me that the reference to “my native land” is fulfilled by the flags and anthems that its native daughters and sons adopt. And so it is that I tell you that I have been a vexillologist since the age of 20 years. A man who is afflicted by a case of vexillology is a person to be celebrated and certainly not to be shunned. That term merely refers to a love for flags and their collection. I suspect that around this house today there are at least three dozen flags representing the hopes and aspirations of the people of the world.

I came upon my case of vexillology honestly. During World War II, it was my fortune to be associated with the members of the British Eighth

Army. That army was described as a polyglot army because it contained units from several locations in Europe. There were the Poles, the Czechs, the Norwegians, and of course the Free French who fought under a banner with the fleur-de-lis on it. Those men who came from countries under the yoke of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis put a high price on their national flags. At funerals or at the ceremony the British call retreat, which takes place largely at the close of the day, it was not unusual to see soldiers with tears in their eyes as they saw their own national flag.

So I became a collector of flags. On each of the upstairs windows I have attached flag holders. These are in addition to the flag holders immediately outside the front door. Flags of several nations have been mounted in those flag holders, not out of patriotic reasons but simply because I enjoy the beauty of flags. And I recall what they meant to the soldiers of the British Eighth Army, the polyglot army.

Taking one thing with another, it seems to me that in my collection of flags, the colors red, blue, white, and green tend to predominate. There are a few with black in them but I do not find them particularly attractive. The Scandinavian countries or, if Finland is included, the Nordic countries, all have a large cross which runs from top to bottom and from east to west. Those flags are very attractive. I like the British flag as well as the flag of Ghana, and it goes without saying that I am fond of our own stars and bars. But if there is one flag that stands out above the others, I would have to give that award to the Welsh flag.

Aside from flags, I am also a collector of dragons. In the middle of the Welsh flag is a large red dragon. He is as fierce as can be imagined, snarling at everybody as they look at him.

Seven or eight years ago we located a company in Wales that turns refuse into usable objects. When we asked that organization if they could produce a Welsh dragon, they said they could. Two months later they delivered our dragon which was made out of an abandoned washing machine. That dragon, which measures about three feet tall and four feet in length, now sits on the mantel over our fireplace. I am not a Welshman but it gives me great comfort to know that our living room is protected by a fierce red Welsh dragon.

So it seems to me that when Walter Scott said, “This is my own, my native land,” one of the ways to show devotion to that ideal is a flag. Many brave men have died in defense of their native land and in many cases, their coffins are wrapped in the flag of their native country. This is a touching ceremony and one that I revere.

So my love of flags, my vexillology, goes back nearly 65 years when I first saw the pride with which the soldiers of the British Eighth Army embraced their own native flags. Flags are a powerful instrument of patriotism and I am delighted to collect and to admire them.

Now that we have dealt with flags, there is an ancillary matter having to do with national anthems. Walter Scott’s line about “my own, my native land” takes form in the musical expressions that constitute national anthems. Some are warlike and others are more pacific. Some reflect pieces of beautiful music. Fortunately, none of the anthems are written in the rhymes of Rock and Roll or Hip Hop. Our national anthem was written in a period when we were angry with the British in the War of Independence. It reflects a militaristic outlook. Beyond that, it is almost unsingable because of the vocal range required. On the other hand, our adversary in that war was England. Their national anthem is “God Save the King” (or Queen, whichever sex is on the throne). In this country, we sing a patriotic song having the same tune as “God Save the King.” It is, of course, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. If I had my choice, I might opt for “America the Beautiful” with its amber waves of grain, as opposed to the “Star Spangled Banner.” But that is only one music lover’s opinion.

Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer, wrote some of the most majestic music in history. The national anthem in Finland reflects the work of Sibelius. In Sweden, “Sverige” is a patriotic song which is not their national anthem, but I find that song very moving.

Until the mid 1980’s, when athletic teams visited the Forum in Montreal, they were greeted by a well-known tenor, Roger Doucet, who sang
“O Canada” and the national anthem of the visiting team in their native tongue. In my estimation, Doucet was a world-class tenor and he was one of Canada’s national treasures. Unfortunately he died much too soon.

While there are marching songs that serve as national anthems and anthems that will put you to sleep, it has always struck me that the single most beautiful piece of music in the anthem category, is the one of Quebec. It is called “Mon Pays,” which of course means “my country.” Montreal and Quebec City have always been favorites of my wife and myself to visit. When I hear Roger Doucet on a CD singing “Mon Pays” and “O Canada,” I sometimes long to be a Canadian.

Well, there you have a few of my thoughts about flags and anthems. When Walter Scott said “This is my own, my native land,” that thought was carried out throughout the world by the use of flags and anthems.

Some flags are more beautiful than others, just as some national anthems are more moving than others. But in the end, flags and anthems provide us with an effective means of saying, “This is my own, my native land.” And for Walter Scott’s contribution to civilized society, I propose that his birthday be marked by a haggis-less dinner. The haggis has to go, but the Scotch whiskey can stay.

April 13, 2007
Essay 249
Kevin’s commentary: Ezra’s Essays often send me mixed messages when the subject of travel is broached. The United Kingdom is supposed to be a wonderful place full of interesting people, but all its food is shitty. Do I go there or not? Do I bring a suitcase full of sandwiches? Who knows.

In any event, Pop’s house is indeed full of flags and dragons. Here are some examples:


On Good Friday, 2007, which was April 6, the Pentagon leaked the information that 12,000 National Guardsmen would be activated and called to service starting early next year. They will be sent to Iraq and will serve at least one year there.*

There are some significant thoughts about this development. This will be an involuntary call-up of the National Guard. Several of these National Guardsmen had done a tour of Iraq previously. Traditionally, the agreement between the National Guard and the Pentagon has been that there would be a five-year interval between call-ups for service in Iraq. Obviously this call-up is much less than five years. In many respects, this is a back-door draft because the National Guard was not created for the purpose of fighting foreign wars. The Guard was created for handling such things as floods, fires, and riots on the home front. But because the American Army has been depleted by its losses and its recruiting failures, the National Guard is carrying more than 35% of the load in Iraq.

In effect, by calling on the National Guard to do combat service in Iraq, the Army is once again admitting its own failures and the fact that the Pentagon has not dealt honestly with the American public or with its fighting forces. Many of the National Guard members who are being called for duty in 2008 in Iraq have already done a tour there. They know how dangerous it is going to be, regardless of what Senator McCain may claim.

What I am getting to is the fact that the next eight months before the call-up will cause the Guard members to have an inordinate tenseness as they try to perform their civilian duties. Every American should be aware that a man called for combat service in Iraq could be separated from his senses by a roadside bomb. Every member of the National Guard units which are to be activated and called to service, must look at his wife and his children and know that she could well become a widow and the children could become fatherless in the following year.

The National Guard units are most often comprised of men who are beyond their teen-age years. When they joined the Guard, it was with the understanding that they would drill one weekend per month and would spend two weeks during the year in some sort of training. After -service in the Guard for 20 years, a pension of some sort would be available. And so the enlistees in the National Guard range in age from age 20 to age 55. These men have more experience and know the dangers of war. It would seem to me that those Guard members and their families for the next eight months would be under a period of heavy tension and stress. In this situation, it is not difficult to imagine that the divorce rate and stress related illnesses will increase.

What this tells the world is that the Bush administration has no intention of winding this war down and finding an exit strategy. The Chief Decider of the United States is going to throw everything into the balance in the hope that he can win an unwinnable war. The facts on the ground are that the American military cannot prevail. This is a war that should never, never have started. And now that the war is in its fifth year, the Chief Decider has concluded that more troops might affect the balance. I am afraid that is not to be. More troops, including the National Guardsmen who are being called up, will mean more deaths. The American government is being profligate with its soldiers in the forlorn hope that victory or a stalemate can be achieved. At the end of the line, victory will not be achieved. We are occupiers of the Iraqi territory and in the end, occupiers are always defeated.

As the last resort of scoundrels, Bush has now told the American people that, unless Congress gives him his $100 billion package to support the troops, tours will be extended and there will be early call-ups. The Commander-in-Chief is saying clearly that, “If I do not get my way, your loved ones in the armed forces are going to be away for a long period of time.” The attack on Congress is indeed the last resort of scoundrels.

If you run across some of the National Guard troops who will be activated and called to duty early in 2008, I hope you will appreciate their sense of tension and stress. For their wives to become widows and their children to become fatherless is an unconscionable crime. It is unconscionable because this is an unjust war started at the whim of the Great Decider and one that has now gotten much beyond his control. This is a gloomy assessment but I believe the facts will fully back my contentions. The lives of American soldiers are being wasted in Iraq in a profligate manner and our fortunes are being thrown away at the rate of billions per week. Until Congress cuts off the funding for this war, the killings will go on. And at this time, very few in the Congress seems to have the courage to cut off the funding. And so the war goes on to the great discredit of the United States.

April 13, 2007
Essay 248

*Postscript: Since the foregoing essay was dictated, the Commander in Chief has announced that all tours in Iraq have been increased by three months. This means that the call-up, originally scheduled for a year, will now be fifteen months at the minimum. It is a tragedy beyond description to know that many will die, both American and Iraqi, in the extended call-up. This war must come to an end and it is becoming clear that cutting off the funding is the only way to accomplish that end. This country is looking for several brave women and men to step forward and tell the Great Decider that his personal war is over and he should pick up his marbles and head for Crawford, Texas.

Kevin’s commentary: Well, we have an organization called the National Guard. Let’s break that name down a little bit. If I told you to guard my garage, you would probably understand that command to mean “stay near my garage and don’t let anyone else mess it up.” You probably would not take that to mean “leave my garage to go slash the tires of neighbors who you’re not a fan of” but that is basically what the National Guard was being asked to go do.

That said, I think the surge actually wound up being relatively effective at suppressing violence in the region. I hope in the end that was worth it.


The speech patterns of my parents had Elizabethan overtones. For example, if my mother were to be told that her seventh child had become an Anglican priest or a Baptist Bible-thumping preacher, she would have fainted. Upon regaining consciousness, I am certain that she would have said, “Well, I swan!” The term “swan” is an Elizabethan and/or Appalachian term used by my mother and her country friends to express complete astonishment. I suspect that the Archbishop of Canterbury would also have fainted and said, “I swan!” if this old geezer were to be installed as a priest in his Communion. But he is much more entitled to use Elizabethan terms than was my mother.

When my mother had enough of her sister Nora’s roasted goose and home-made beer during Prohibition, she would refuse a second helping on the ground that she was “tight as a tick” or “tight as a June bug.” I have no idea whether ticks and June bugs qualify as Elizabethan English but they are included here for the sake of making the nostalgia record complete.

When I began to think about the use of the ancient term “swan,” it set me to thinking about other similar obsolete and un-used expressions in the English language. I have no hope of listing them all but a few come to mind without hesitation. The reference in the title to geezers, fogies, and codgers, is not used very often any more. All of those words should be preceded by the adjective old, as I have never heard of a person being referred to as a young geezer, fogy or codger. But those terms used to be used frequently and thus qualify for inclusion in this small essay about nostalgia.

Another piece of this title also qualifies for inclusion in an essay about nostalgic remembrances. These days a nickel buys almost nothing. Even the parking meters have been adjusted to accept only dimes and quarters. As a young man, I can remember when Wings Cigarettes were sold for a nickel and until well into the 1950s, a nickel would buy you a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint, Doublemint, or P.K. chewing gum. For those who can remember the events that took place prior to World War II, P.K. chewing gum came in sugar-coated tablets much like Chiclets rather than in sticks. There were people who insisted that P.K. chewing gum would cover up the smell of alcoholic beverages. That claim was not backed up by the American Medical Association. For those interested in trivia, the P.K. stood for Phillip K. Wrigley, the gum manufacturer.

It is my hope in this essay to offer a few words that are perfectly acceptable but are no longer used. If time allows, I intend to offer a thought or two about business enterprises that no longer exist.

To start with words that modern-day journalists avoid, there is the term “yonder.” In Elizabethan and/or Appalachian English, yonder could be used to describe going to heaven or going to a far-away place such as my parents’ home town. A two-mile trip from my parents’ residence to Gualdoni’s Grocery Store would not qualify for going “over yonder.” But a trip to Columbia or Kansas City would be considered as going “over yonder.” Another example would be the hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll be There.”

Poets often use “yon” in place of yonder. That is fine with me as long as it rhymes. In any case, yon and yonder are an exercise in nostalgia.
When I hear politicians and preachers use the term “cain’t,” I am similarly given to nostalgia. When the term “can not” is abridged, it is ordinarily pronounced as “can’t.” But one way or another the term “cain’t” has survived all of these years. It is still prominent in Southern rural speech. It makes no sense but, to these ears, it brings back recollections of my childhood.

Then there is the term “shucks.” The term “shucks” is always preceded by the connecting phrase of “aw.” And so it is when a man hits a home run, he will tell the announcer in modest terms that “Aw shucks, I could have struck out on that same pitch.” We don’t hear “shucks” any more to speak of but it brings back pleasant memories and thus qualifies for its place in the Nostalgia Hall of Fame.

Then there is the term “reckon.” I suppose that people who use that term currently might be classified as speakers with rural backgrounds. But that word has always had an attraction to me because it is a modest term. In effect, “reckon” means “to think.” If a real estate dealer were to say, “I reckon that house ought to be worth $500,000,” he would get my attention and probably also my trust. If the newsreaders on television would slip a reckon or two into their announcements, they might grab and hold my attention. But nobody but a country speaker uses “reckon” much any more.

In the old days when crude oil sold for between $5 and $10 per barrel, gasoline at retail level was offered at 20 to 25 cents per gallon. Now that was for “regular.” If your engine was talking back to you with sharp pings, it could be fixed by taking on a tankful of “Ethyl” gasoline which had an additive that made it high test. Today, if someone asked a filling station attendant for Ethyl gasoline, I reckon his question would be answered with a blank stare.

Then there is one other term that seems to have no currency these days. That is the term “felicity.” There is a reporter with The New York Times who has Felicity as her given name, but felicity in the middle of a sentence seems to have gone out of style. I tend to regret that.

I realize the foregoing words are little used these days and it is far from a complete list. There are those who might say that this small number of words merely constitutes a “lick and a promise.” But I do not intend to “plum wear out” all of my references because I am a young old codger. For those of you who have known me for more than 50 years, I am sure that you will realize that I am just “joshing.” And finally, whatever happened to the words, “two bits,” and “six bits” which represented 25 cents and 75 cents in American currency. Anyone who sings the old tune of, “shave and a hair cut, six bits” is thoroughly out of date because that work will probably cost you more than $25 these days. There are many words and phrases that are not used in current speech but if nothing else, perhaps my readers will search their minds for nostalgic words that bring pleasant memories to mind.

Now we turn from words that have little currency these days to business enterprises that seem to be no longer with us. There was the Missouri Pacific Railroad, known as the Mo-Pac line. And then there was the
St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad, known as “the Frisco line.” Then there was another railroad known as “MKT” which stood for Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. It was called the Katy line. It had always been my ambition to ride the Pennsylvania steam train from St. Louis to New York over night, but that was not to be. That was called the Pennsy Railroad. On the east coast there was the Lackawanna Railroad, which was known as “The route of the Phoebe Snow.” The Lackawanna burned anthracite coal in its steam engines which emitted much less soot than soft coal. So Phoebe Snow could say that “My gown of white will be alright, upon the road of anthracite.” We don’t get quality slogans like this any more.

My father worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, which named trains after the cities of their destination. For example, there was the “City of Memphis” and the “City of New Orleans.” That company, with all of those mythical and majestic names is gone now. There is Amtrak in its place, which has no melody in its sound and which offers few rhythms that cause nostalgic thoughts to come alive.

A further trip in nostalgia has to do with Pan American Airways, Transworld Airlines, and Swissair. Pan American Airways, known as Pan Am, explored routes all over the world and was particularly helpful to the United States in its military efforts in the Second World War. Pan Am opened the routes to South America and to Africa. But it is gone now.

Transworld Airlines (TWA) was a major carrier. It was based in Kansas City and had lucrative routes to New York City, Chicago, and other points throughout the United States. There is a great sense of nostalgia when you think that TWA flew DC-3s that would land at Lambert Field in St. Louis, taxi up to a gate in the fence, cut the engines, and have a baggage handler open a rear door and get the luggage. The luggage handler would place the bags on a trolley, roll it a few feet to the fence where the departing passengers could come off and grab a bag and leave. I have great nostalgia for that period of time because it certainly beats the luggage system we now have which requires a trip to the terminal with the hope that your bag finally made it on the flight that you were on.

For many years when traveling in Europe, it was my intension to make it to Geneva, Switzerland, before noon with the hope of catching Swissair Flight #1 to New York. That flight departed at 12 noon, not a minute before and not a minute later. The meals provided aloft were exquisite even in coach class. When I quit traveling to Europe some years ago, Swissair seemed to be enjoying great prosperity. But something has happened in the meantime and in effect Swissair is completely out of business. What a crime! I will always remember a Swissair flight from Moscow to Geneva at 6 AM in the morning. The steward looked at me and departed for the galley to bring me a drink of brandy. He said that he often did that for travelers who had endured the privations of life in Moscow. It took another drink of brandy before we hit the ground in Warsaw, an intermediate stop, which meant that breakfast could be served. Ah, but Swissair is no more and all we have left is a feeling of great nostalgia.

Then there were radio and television manufacturers such as Magnavox, Stromberg-Carlson and RCA Victor. All of them seem to have been replaced by Japanese manufacturers. But the Americans sets which marked the coming of television in this country in 1948 and 1949 bring back poignant memories. I am sorry for the demise of American manufacturers.

Finally there are other business enterprises that unfortunately do not exist anymore. One was the Bell System, which of course provided me with employment through its AT&T branch. For those with long memories, the Bell System had an hour of classical music on radio and later on television every week, known as the Bell Telephone Hour. It was the gold standard of broadcasting and anyone who appeared on that program could claim stardom. But the Bell System was done in by the Telecommunications Act of 1984 and there is no more Bell System.

When you think of gasolines, you may grow nostalgic for the fact that there is no longer a Texaco station nor are there any Sinclair stations. The new owners, whoever they are, ordered that all Texaco signs be taken down effective January 1, 2007. I have missed Texaco and its Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, and the dinosaur who represented the Sinclair Gasoline Company. All I have left is nostalgia for those enterprises.

Well, there you have a list of words and enterprises that either don’t exist or are seldom used. I must say that I reckon that I miss them and that qualifies me as a practitioner of the art of nostalgia. The Elizabethan speakers who used “I swan” don’t seem to exist any more and, to tell you the truth, I miss that sort of speech. And finally, I miss the fact that a nickel won’t buy much of anything these days. It is enough to make a man with a case of nostalgia try to become “as tight as a tick” or “as tight as a June bug.”

There may be hundreds or thousands of other good words that have fallen into disuse just as there are dozens of companies and organizations that have been merged into non-existence. But I only promised you a nickel’s worth of nostalgia, not two bits or six bits worth. So you see, I was not joshing you about that promise.

April 6, 2007
Essay 244
Kevin’s commentary: So a “bit” is twelve and a half cents? What the hell? Listen. Here in the states, our systems of measurements are renowned for being indecipherable and needlessly complex – from Fahrenheit to inches and feet, none of it is the least bit intuitive. One of the only sets of numbers that makes any sense in this country is how we count money. One hundred cents is a dollar. Clearly the 12.5 cent “bit” doesn’t exactly fit too well. At least it divides out evenly into a hundred, but still. Cmon.

The most astounding part of this whole essay though was certainly the part about the flight which supposedly “departed at 12 noon, not a minute before and not a minute later.” As someone who recently got stuck with a 6-hour delay, a plane that consistent seems like a pipe dream.


On April 19th, the Attorney General of the United States appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the firing of eight prosecutors. In five hours of testimony, the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, was not very helpful in that he said on more than 70 occasions, “I can’t recall.” Two weeks earlier, his Chief of Staff appeared before the same committee and told the committee that he could not recall answers to questions on 125 occasions. As you can see, the Senate Judiciary Committee got little information from the Attorney General or from his Chief of Staff. Why the prosecutors were fired remains a great mystery even to this day.

Prior to becoming the Attorney General, Alberto was the personal lawyer for George W. Bush. In that role, Alberto declared that the Geneva Convention was “quaint” and need not be obeyed or observed.

Mr. Gonzalez also recommended enhanced interrogation techniques which many independent observers consider to be forms of torture. This led to the scandal at Abu Ghraib. In short, Alberto provided the legal basis for whatever George Bush wished to do.

In spite of the fact that Alberto’s testimony has led to the call for his ouster from several members of both political parties, the Great Decider has announced that his testimony only “increased his faith in Alberto’s ability to do the Attorney General’s job.” Mr. Bush said that Alberto answered every question “the best he could,” from which most independent observers would conclude that his best was pathetic. Nonetheless, Mr. Bush seems intent upon keeping Gonzalez and his forgettery around because Bush and the neocons think up wild ideas and Gonzalez provides the legal basis to underpin them.

I have had access to the same superb intelligence services that contended that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and which also contended that we would be welcomed as liberators there. Those same intelligence sources report the following colloquy between Alberto and his wife. Her full name is Armadillo Amarillo Anesthesia de Cinco de Mayo. The first letters of her three given names start with an A, so Alberto refers to her as “3 A’s.” She refers to him as AG, which stands of course for Attorney General. So here is the plot of the play that my infallible intelligence sources have reported to me.

3 A’s: Alberto, you are just arriving home at 10:30 at night. Can you tell me where you have been?
AG: I don’t know. I don’t recall.
3 A’s: News reports on television and the radio said that you spent the afternoon and evening firing your secretary of 25 years, the office boy who has been with you for 15 years, the man who hands out the towels in the men’s restroom, and the parking lot attendant at the Department of Justice building, as well as four attorneys. Can you tell me why you fired all those people?
AG: I don’t know. Nobody tells me anything. I may have heard rumors of their being fired, but I don’t put faith in rumors. So the answer to your question is, I can’t recall.
3 A’s: Surely, you must have a reason for firing your secretary after all these years and the office boy. How come you can’t recall it?
AG: All I can tell you is that I can’t recall any of that, but they needed to be fired. I didn’t know any of the details or any of the conversations that led to the firings but I can tell you that all of those people needed to be fired. It was a matter of National Security.
3 A’s: I can’t believe that you have been so cruel, particularly to the elderly gentleman who hands out the towels in the men’s restroom. But let’s move on to another subject. I found in your possession an American Express receipt for $400 from the “E Street Gato Casa” here in Washington. The receipt says “for services rendered.” What kind of services were those?
AG: Somebody must have stuck that receipt in my coat pocket. I know nothing about it so I can’t recall anything.
3 A’s: The fact is, I didn’t find the receipt in your coat pocket; I found it in your wallet.
AG: Oh, yes, I believe it was for a haircut.
3 A’s: Four hundred dollars for a haircut? That is hard to believe. And furthermore unless my Spanish has gone awry, Gato Casa means cathouse. It appears to your ever-loving wife that you spent the afternoon and evening in the E Street Cathouse. Is that true?
AG: Now that you have refreshed my memory, I will tell you the whole story. In the last few days, the Department of Health has determined that tainted cat food from Communist Red China is killing pets in this country. As you know, we have two beloved cats named Fido and Rover. I went to the cathouse to see about how we could avoid giving them tainted food. When I entered the cathouse, there was a large luxurious living room and a grand piano. The piano player told me that he had no idea about what was going on upstairs, but perhaps the girls were putting cat food into the cans. The piano player assured me that if Fido and Rover showed any signs of sickness, they should be rushed to the Walter Reade Army Hospital or to the nearest Veteran’s Administration facility. So that is what prompted my long visit to the Gato Casa.
3 A’s: Your explanation is only partially satisfactory, but I have other things to tell you. This afternoon I invited Paul Wolfowitz, the President of the World Bank, and his girl friend, to whom he gave a $60,000 raise, to come over for dinner on Saturday night. I plan to serve them the luscious pork roast that I found at the Kroger Meat Market.
AG: I usually can’t recall these things but Wolfowitz is probably Jewish and his girl friend is a Libyan, which probably makes her a Muslim. I doubt that they will eat much of the pork roast.
3 A’s: Well, in that case, they can fill themselves with the shell fish that I had planned to serve as an appetizer. Now, before we go to sleep, I want to ask you, Alberto, the Attorney General, do you still love me?
AG: That is hard to say because I can’t recall. Maybe I do and maybe I don’t. But taking one thing with another, you should not regard this as a vote of no confidence. It is simply a matter that I cannot recall.

So you see, Alberto’s recollections are faulty, which causes him to say that he can’t recall much of anything except for the dietary habits of Muslims and Jews. This, of course, is why this essay is called “Alberto’s Forgettery.” Based on his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe it would be fair to say that his forgettery is a hell of a lot better than his memory.

But remember Alberto’s testimony caused George Bush to say that he had increased confidence in Alberto’s ability to run the Attorney General’s office. It will be interesting to see if George Bush still embraces Alberto after his White House liaison, Miss Goodling, invokes her fifth amendment privileges when she appears before the Senate Judiciary
Committee. Fellow citizens: this is what we need at this crucial hour in our history. It is an Attorney General who can recall nothing and his White House liaison taking the fifth amendment to avoid prosecution for lying before she has even testified. When the President of the United States praises a man who has told the Judiciary Committee on more than 70 occasions that he can’t recall the answer to a question, I would suggest that the man who hands out the towels in the Department of Justice men’s restroom might be a good replacement for Alberto and his forgettery.

April 26, 2007
Essay 250
Kevin’s commentary: So I happen to be doing this essay on a plane up to Pop’s place. Consequently I don’t have access to the internet, or rather I am too stingy to pony up $11.50 an hour to connect. Without the internet I lack the capacity to investigate whether or not all the other people who were mentioned in this story actually got fired, or if that was a matter of Pop’s invention. A tragic case indeed.

In related news, there exists an enjoyable film called “Memento,” which tells the story of a man with anterograde amnesia, a condition which prevents him from making new memories. The movie details his struggle to get revenge on someone and his problems with finding that person and deciphering why exactly he needs to exact revenge upon him. It’s all very nice and action packed, but I can’t help but wonder if the Gonzalez version of Memento would be even better.

Picture this: you are in a limo on the way to the White House. You have no idea how you got in the limo. You get out and are taken to the oval office, where a man starts asking you questions. Apparently some people got fired recently and you had something to do with it. What’s the big deal about some people getting fired? Who is this guy anyway? Context clues tell you that he’s important, but it takes you a few minutes to piece together that he’s the President. Shit, I must really be in some trouble, you think. He tells you what to say and how to behave, but the minute you walk out the door his instructions have escaped your memory. The next thing you know you’re in court. You’ve forgotten why you’re there. People are asking about some sort of firings. What’s the big deal about some people getting fired? You want to build some huge elaborate lie – you like that, and it used to come so easily to you – but that’s dangerous here. You couldn’t even keep your story consistent for fifteen minutes. So you do the only thing you can: you tell the truth. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Court lets out for the day. You’re put in another limo. You get on your phone to check the news — apparently there was some big hearing today. Seems like the attorney general of the United States fired a bunch of prosecutors and then couldn’t produce a single reason why. Kept saying he couldn’t remember anything about the incident. You feel bad for the guy, you’ve got memory problems too.


Informed citizens such as myself believe that the earth is completely flat. We also have an unshakeable belief that Joshua did in fact stop the sun. If that were untrue, why did he write about it in the Bible? Please see Joshua, Chapter 10, Verses 12 and 13. The flat earth doctrine and Joshua stopping the sun in its tracks took place perhaps four or five thousand years ago. With respect to good old Joshua, I wonder what the citizens of Harriman, Tennessee had to say about the prolonged daylight on their okra crops. According to Joshua, the moon was also affected as well as the sun. I suspect that this is when night baseball came to Brooklyn, New York.

These were cataclysmic events that have impressed every informed and sophisticated citizen of the United States. Until last week, there have been no major events that would qualify as cataclysmic. However, last week, an event took place in the Texas legislature in Austin, Texas which has shaken the world.

In between spitting tobacco juice on each other’s cowboy boots in the legislature, old Leo Berman, a Republican from East Texas, arose to make a statement that would have rivaled Joshua’s declaration. Mr. Representative Berman is working on a manuscript that I suspect will be in future editions of the holy book. Here is what Representative Berman had to say: “Mexico is the world’s most corrupt country and its citizens are infecting us with their law-breaking culture and with tuberculosis and leprosy.”

So you see, the Mexicans among us are bringing us a plague because it is in their nature to do so. It is the Mexican innate intention to foist tuberculosis and leprosy upon all of us unsuspecting Yankee gringos.
In the opinion of this humble essayist, I believe that Representative Berman’s thoughts rank right up there with the declarations of Joshua and the Flat Earth Society.

The effort to emasculate the Mexicans is not a new phenomenon in American politics. Since our Declaration of Independence was signed, a good many of the religious right-wingers formerly demanded a halt in the immigration of the Irish. You may recall help wanted signs that said “Irish need not apply.” But the Irish were not alone. Traditionally, we have always had a tier of people who are anti-Semites. And then there are those who would bar people of other religions such as the Mormons. On top of that, there has long been a prejudice to the acceptance of African-American citizens. And now the enmity is directed toward Mexicans who come here to earn a few dollars which are used to support their families.

The founders of this country set out to welcome immigrants. Because of that fact, we are known throughout the world as the land of immigrants. It is the diversity of races that has made this country one of the great powers of the world. If we are going to shut off immigration as many right-wingers hope to do, we will be eating our own seed corn. If we attempt to expel the 12 to 13 million people now illegally residing in this country, the effect will be exactly the same.

For those of you who do not come from an agricultural background, it is a tradition among farmers all over the world to save seeds from this year’s harvest for the purpose of planting them for next year’s crops.
If we eat our own seed corn, this country will whither and eventually become a non-entity in the affairs of the world.

Now here is a thought that might cause the right-wingers who oppose immigration to think twice. When the English ran this country prior to 1776, Jews, Eastern Europeans, and Irish were not welcome. If the English had prevailed in 1776, can you imagine that now, every restaurant would serve only English fare and we would be devoid of French, Italian, and Chinese influences? If I may say so, English cuisine ranks slightly below that of Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. And can you imagine what our music would be like? The singers would voice praises of fairies, princes, and imaginary kings that would be worthy only of the Windsor family in Buckingham Palace in England. The point is that immigration has brought us wonderful improvements in our cuisine, in our literature, our music and in the public discourse.

Today, there is a poignancy having to do with the war in Iraq. Clearly millions of people wish to escape that country to avoid the conflict. A small country like Sweden has taken in as many as 20,000 Iraqi refugees. Taking one Iraqi with another, I believe it is fair to say that they are well-educated and sophisticated. When we leave Iraq, as we surely will, a good many of those educated people will be left to the religious slaughter that will take place in that country. I am well aware of the prejudice against taking Iraqis because of their Muslim faith. But I also recall the prejudice against Catholics and Jews applying for citizenship in previous years. The war in Iraq is our responsibility and it is also our responsibility to see to it that hundreds of thousands of educated Iraqis are not slaughtered and tortured. If a country such as Sweden can accommodate 20,000 Iraqis, surely this country can accommodate many, many more.

Nativism is a disease that causes its sufferers to bury their heads in the sand. Nativist politicians will tell you that when immigration is stopped and the illegal immigrants are kicked out of the country, we will all be transported into an eternal paradise. They are hopelessly wrong and it is another case of eating our own seed corn. The Mayor of New York is no farmer, but he will tell you that when the illegal immigrants are booted out, the economy of New York City will be critically injured. And when they are expelled, what happens to the growers of peaches and other fruit who depend upon illegal immigrants to pick their crops?

I hold no brief to speak for Mexican immigrants. I am aware that they come to this country to earn a few dollars for their families and while they are doing so they encounter horrible living conditions. They are doing the very best they can for themselves and for their families. Who can fault them for that? If work were available for them in their home country, work that paid a decent wage, the United States would then be fighting to import workers from Mexico. But that is not the case. And please do not let people tell you that when the Mexican immigrants become sick they go to an emergency room in a hospital for treatment, which drives up the taxes. The fact of the matter is that an illegal immigrant will do everything in the world to avoid treatment in a hospital where he knows that such treatment could very well lead to his deportation.

American citizens now find that a college degree only gets you over the first employment barrier. As our citizens become more educated, how many of them do you think are going to cut lawns, clean houses, pick fruit, and work in packing houses? The answer is, none.

There are two final points that must be made. To the extent that we choke off immigration, we are destroying one of the foundations upon which this country was built. To put it more bluntly, it is damned foolishness for us to knock the props out from what has sustained this country for so long.

And secondly, because Representative Berman’s comments were made in Austin, Texas, there is a warning here for Kevin Shepherd, one of our three grandchildren who lives in that state capital. If Kevin Shepherd, a great debater, becomes unable to debate because of his advancing tuberculosis case, or if he develops a raging case of leprosy, he should not appeal to me. If Kevin notices suspicious coughing or that his fingers tend to fall off, he should take that matter up with Representative Berman of East Texas. My guess is that the representative will have Kevin shipped to Guatemala so that the great state of Texas may remain pure.

If we eat our own seed corn in this immigration debate, we will have no one to blame as the country sinks into mediocrity or below. And I wonder where are the Christians who used to say, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself?” Perhaps grandson Kevin can supply an answer to that question. I have none except to say that we eat our seed corn at our own peril.

April 8, 2007
Essay 246
Kevin’s commentary: Kevin is unfortunately unable to comment upon this essay due to an acute lack of appendages. He has only himself to blame for living in Texas and then California, both of which are known havens for people of Hispanic descent. He hopes that you take no notice of the fact that leprosy is something right now that really only affects India, China, and Africa — which, last time he checked — were pretty low in Mexican count.

I have no answers regarding why Texan politicians are such awful people. All the debating talent in the world couldn’t present a good case for behaving like they do. You’ll notice that my solution was to leave the state almost immediately upon graduating high school.


It has been 71 years and three months since I last saw Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher. That period has passed with little lament from your old essayist. For most of the boys in Miss Maxwell’s eighth grade class, I think it would be fair to say that if the lamentable and regrettable period stretched to one hundred and seventy one years and three months, that might be an occasion to think about. But as it happens, a song heard recently has once again caused Miss Maxwell to intrude upon my memory.

Miss Maxwell was a spinster of perhaps sixty years when it was my misfortune to attend her class for a school year. My recollection is that she wore long-sleeved, mainly black dresses, that buttoned up to her throat. Any hint of décolletage was out of the question. Some students would say that Miss Maxwell was heavy set while others with a less generous bent would say that she was stout. Looking back, I would say that Miss Maxwell probably topped the scales somewhere between 150 and 160 pounds. Aside from her somber dresses, she wore high-buttoned shoes that I thought had passed from the scene with the Armistice of World War I. She never complained of ankle pain so I assume that her shoes lasted her for a long time.

As far as I could tell, this white-haired gentle lady had three passions in her life. She worshipped the English monarchy and would have been pleased had someone mistaken her for an English poet. Secondly, Miss Maxwell believed that English poetry was the acme of man’s achievements. And finally, she was a woman who could not control her love for English grammar and the diagramming of sentences in its structure.

In the mid 1930s, the British royal family designated Edward to be their next King. He called himself Edward VIII. Edward was a bachelor who was under the spell of a divorcée from the United States named Wallis Warfield Simpson. Madame Wallis Warfield Simpson was well-known as a prominent socialite in the high society circles of St. Louis and Baltimore. Along the way, she apparently shed herself of two wealthy husbands and reached the pinnacle of her success by becoming the paramour of the new King, Edward VIII. But the Brits refused to make her Edward’s queen and so the new King abdicated. Greater love hath no man than the bachelor King, Edward VIII. Miss Maxwell was inconsolable. While Edward VIII had no designs on Miss Maxwell, you would have thought from her dejection that she was his rejected lover.

In a previous essay, I recounted the dedication with which Miss Maxwell read English poetry to her class at least twice a week. If she had made this a fortnightly occasion, we might have withstood it better, but in point of fact, she read her poetry books for half an hour or so at least two or three times every week. The boys in her class would have preferred to walk over broken glass and hot coals rather than listen to her reading, which was in many cases acted out. In English poetry there are fairies, nymphs, and nymphets. I assume the nymphets are the children of the nymphs. The poetry was filled with visions of knights on horseback with their visors pulled down over their eyes and with their petards at the ready. Miss Maxwell was transported to another world when she read her English poetry.

The third great passion in Miss Maxwell’s life was English grammar. She had an inordinate desire to diagram the sentences. In a complex sentence, the diagrams might run east and west and north and south. As she explained that adverbs were a condition precedent to split infinitives or whatever, Miss Maxwell was carried away. The verbal foreplay on diagramming sentences led to Miss Maxwell’s having an expression of ecstasy on her face, with which she would then sit down on a stout oak chair near the blackboard. I date my dislike of grammar and the intricacies of English poetry to my attendance at Miss Maxwell’s eighth grade class.

The sturdy Miss Maxwell does not invade my thoughts very often but I began to think of her when we bought a compact disc of The Fureys. They are described as the most popular folk singers in Ireland, which may be true now that the Clancy Brothers have passed from the scene. One of the offerings on The Fureys’ record is, “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers.” When I heard that recording which has some supreme double negatives, I knew that Miss Maxwell’s ghost would be greatly disturbed.

The Fureys are excellent instrumentalists and arrangers, but their vocal offerings leave much to be desired. For one thing, they are unable to make the “th” sound as the English language demands. The word “think” comes out as “tink” and the word “thanks” comes out as “tanks.” But The Fureys are superb musicians and composers.

One way or another, The Fureys sing a song entitled, “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” by a composer identified as A. Taylor. I assume he wrote both the music and the lyrics. Here is the first verse:

Verse 1

“Sometimes I know I’m forgetful
Things roll on from day to day.
Sometimes I don’t bring you flowers
When I’ve been away.”

Here is the chorus:


“Sometimes I forget to tell you,
I can’t promise that I won’t.
If I forget to say I love you,
It don’t mean I don’t.”

That line, “If I forget to say I love you, it don’t mean I don’t,” is a classic. Even the dullard Prince of Wales or former King Edward VIII would understand its meaning in spite of its bad grammar. Certainly it has a double negative which flies in the face of every rule of English grammar. But good gracious, the composer needed a rhyme and the message is clearly understandable.

To make things more lamentable to Miss Maxwell’s ghost, that chorus is repeated after each of the three verses, so there is much for that ghost to chew on.

Miss Maxwell was an anglophile and I am not. May I suggest to Miss Maxwell’s ghost that he or she do not get their guts in an uproar over a simple Irish song. I know the poetry in the lyrics is hackneyed but the music is excellent and the sentiment is clear. Any woman who does not get the import of the message in “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” is beyond the pale.

To make the point that double negatives add to romance, the third verse also has a similar line. It reads:

Verse 3

“So now you know at last I’ve told you,
Think on this when things go wrong.
And when I take my time to hold you,
Don’t think you don’t belong.”

It is followed by the same chorus.

What I regret is that I did not find this song until March of 2007. If I had had it in 1935 or 1936, I could have used it to sing to Miss Maxwell. Miss Maxwell may have dived out of the window upon hearing those lyrics, but on the other hand, there might be a slim chance that she would unbuckle her high-buttoned shoes and dance a little as she erased the diagrams on the front blackboard. But who is to know? Miss Maxwell is gone now and only I, her erstwhile student, keep her memory alive. But every courting swain among the male populace in this country ought to memorize that line, “If I forget to say I love you, it don’t mean I don’t.”

I suspect that there may be some doubters among you who downplay the effectiveness of double-negative words. And so to dispel those doubts, my wife, who thinks the song is hilarious, has made a CD of that single piece for you. It is enclosed here and if you are ever in the mood for additional volumes in your record library, the place to go is Dara Records (.com) in New York City.

Now that I have dispelled my current thoughts about Miss Maxwell, I retire to listen to the music, knowing that it probably would greatly displease the ghost of the honorable Lady Maxwell. My distaste for Miss Maxwell’s grammar teachings will, of course, in the end lead me to the hottest spot in Hell. From that asbestos perch, I suspect that on many occasions Satan, Lucifer, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and I will look toward Heaven to see Miss Maxwell trying to diagram, “It don’t mean I don’t” upon her celestial blackboard. And we will all be pleased. On completion of the diagramming, it is likely that a look of ecstasy will again cross Miss Maxwell face, with which she will retire to lie on a sturdy cloud and smile.

April 12, 2007
Essay 247

Postscript: The CD enclosed contains two other musical offerings. One is another Furey song called, “Railway Hotel.” The second is a Liam Clancey epic. It is “Aghadoe” which Liam sings with the accompaniment of the Irish Philharmonic Orchestra. For lovers of geography, the town of Aghadoe is located adjacent to Lake Killarney which is the only totally bottomless lake currently in existence.

Kevin’s commentary: Ms. Maxwell actually shows up in nine essays published so far, and ten in the entire body of Ezra’s Essays. The last one is called “Irish Earworms” and will be published sometime in 2006. She may not have been the best teacher around, but she sure as hell made a lasting impact on Pop.

If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” is here (disregard the video), and is extremely pretty.

P.S., “Aghadoe” is a song which features the line about “the bullets found his heart” obliquely referenced in this essay published in February.