Archive for the May 2007 Category


Bernice Hughes and Werner Friedli, two likeable people, have been waiting since 1944 for answers to their questions. At this late date, I am still unable to provide them with suitable answers. But I will offer their questions to you in the hope that you may have a suggestion or two. Let’s deal first with the question posed by Bernice Hughes.

In 1935 or thereabouts, a brick home was built on the next lot adjacent to my parents home in Richmond Heights, Missouri. That house belonged to Bernice and Orville Hughes. Orville was an accountant by trade. In December of 1944, Bernice asked me a question which I was unable to answer then and I decline to answer it today.

In 1944, I had completed my fifteen month detached duty with the U. S. Army Twelfth Air Force in Italy and I had returned to my original assignment with the Air Transport Command in Accra, the Gold Coast. That country is now called Ghana. One day in the fall of that year, Captain Bell, the chief flight line officer, told me that I was to be the Aerial Engineer on the oldest C-47 in the African and Mediterranean Theater. My crewmates and I were to take the old C-47 back to its manufacturer, the Douglas Corporation, for refurbishing to be used in a War Bond drive. The crew was sent to Naples, Italy, to take possession of the old plane and bring it to Accra to prepare it for the long over-the-ocean hops and over-the-jungle hop in northern Brazil. As best I could determine, that airplane was built in 1935 by the Douglas Corporation and was known throughout the aviation world as a DC-3. The DC-3 (C-47) was to aviators what the Jeep was to ground troops in World War II.

I was 22 years of age and was put in charge of preparing that airplane for its long voyage to its home. We fitted it with interior gas tanks for the long, long hops over the ocean and the jungles of South America. In early December, 1944, we arrived in San Bernardino, California.

The orders for the four-man crew specified that we were to have a layover of five days before we started the journey back to Accra. That accounts for the fact that I spent some time at home that December. I am now able to confess that I did not mention my arrival at my parents home because I was confused. By the time my confusion lifted, I had spent almost two weeks at home instead of the five days specified by my orders. The war went on and no one seemed to notice my absence.

About half way through my home made furlough, Bernice invited my parents and me to have dinner at the Hughes’ home. Apparently Bernice had saved her ration stamps because she was able to put a large cut of roast beef on the table. Orville stood up and in traditional fashion, carved the roast beef for each plate. As I recall it, there were the usual mashed potatoes with a boat of gravy, but being as the dinner was held in December, there were no green vegetables. It was meat and potatoes and that’s all there was. The gourmets would have to look elsewhere for excitement.

Not long after the plates were put in front of us, Bernice unleashed a stunner for this young soldier. Bernice asked, “How many Germans have you killed so far?” I gulped a few times and wished that I was somewhere else far from the Hughes’ residence. But Bernice was not finished because she pressed on about whether the Germans were hit in the head or the heart or some other vital organ. I was completely stunned and Bernice never got an answer from me.

In all of the years since I was involved in combat, that question has been deliberately avoided. It pains me even now to recall that question. Among combat fliers, that question would never have been asked and would have been avoided at all costs.

In any case, I stumbled through the rest of the meal and was glad to retire from Bernice Hughes’ hospitality. Some sixteen years later in 1961, my mother had died and I was again back in St. Louis for the funeral. Prior to the funeral, there is a process called “viewing” which is an obscene custom. While the viewing was taking place, a gentleman in his late 50’s or early 60’s came over to me and introduced himself as Orville Hughes. We exchanged pleasantries for several minutes. He was interested that I was now working in New York and I was interested in where he had moved from the house next door to my parents to some other suburban location. In the ten or twelve minutes of the exchange of pleasantries, I made it a point not to ask where Bernice was. She may have been dead, or having another child, but I had every intention of not inquiring as to her whereabouts. I did not need another interrogation by good old Bernice. So you see, for the last sixty some years, Bernice’s questions have gone unanswered. And I propose to keep it that way.

Now let us turn to Werner Friedli’s question. When I took up residence in Accra, my barracks had the designation of G17. All of the inhabitants in that barracks slept in two-tier bunk beds. My downstairs partner was Sylvester Liss, who had worked at the Budweiser plant in St. Louis. We slept at one end of the row of beds, while Werner Friedli and Steve Thorin slept at the other end.

Werner Friedli was a man who commanded respect. He was tall and agile and was about 13 to 15 years my senior. Most of the men that I soldiered with were in my age group. I was surprised to find that Werner Friedli, a 35 to 37 year old, had been snatched by the draft. Friedli came from Chicago and he projected a professorial image. I liked Werner, but I really did not know much about him. Half-way between our two bunk beds was an aircraft electrician. On several occasions the electrician would brag about his wife’s mammary equipment. He called her breasts “boobs” and “jugs.” He bragged so much about the size of her bosom that Werner Friedli, the professorial type, was finally forced to ask the electrician: “Can you tell me what you can do with big boobs or enormous jugs that is different from what could be done to smaller boobs and jugs?” The electrician was as stunned as I was at Bernice’s question at the dinner party. He had nothing to say. And I am pleased to announce that his diatribes on his wife’s physique were ended. Werner Friedli performed a much needed damper to the electrician’s zeal.

So you see that war does not answer every question. Since 1944, Bernice and Werner have been waiting for answers to their questions. Werner Friedli’s put down of the electrician was one of the high points of my military career. And my avoidance of Bernice’s questions have pleased me greatly for more than 60 years. I can’t ask for more than that from an undistinguished military career.

May 13, 2007
Essay 253
Kevin’s commentary: I don’t expect that Pop could answer the question even if he wanted to. It must have been absolute chaos in a tailgunner’s seat.

Now here’s a more interesting question about midair refueling — how does it work without anything exploding? I was always taught that while refueling a car, it should always be off, presumably because leaving it on poses some danger. But if you’re switching the fuel line from the main tank to a second tank, mid flight, does that ever pose a problem? Then, as a two-part question: first, did you ever do a mid-air refueling from one flying plane to another; and second, how on Earth does such a process not produce sparks that would blow one plane to hell?


When Harry Livermore has something to say, it is usually worth listening to. Harry is older than I am and he has a degree from Grinnell College in Iowa. He is a consummate mid-Westerner whom I met on Mother’s Day, 1952. Harry was my boss in Kansas City as well as in Chicago. But more than that, we have been friends for more than 55 years. And so it was in December of 1953 that Harry told me that adopting a little Chicago girl was the best thing I ever did. I cannot argue with this fellow, Livermore, because he is older and he has a Grinnell doctorate degree. So perhaps Brother Livermore has something there.

What I intend to do today in this essay is not to recite every event in that little Chicago girl’s life but rather to call on a few fond memories that are brought to mind by the photograph you see on this page. There will be no continuum from one event to the next. This essay is about a series of memories and flashbacks. And all of them will have to do with my memories of what Livermore calls the brightest decision I ever made. If Harry says that is the case, I am not in a position to argue.

The first recollection comes on a Monday evening, which I believe was December 4, 1953. Eileen, my wife at that time who is now deceased, had gone with me in the evening to the largest department store in Chicago, called Marshall Fields. We were searching for cards that would announce the adoption of a little girl then in foster care. This two and a half month old little girl was the ward of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. It was that organization that had paid for her birth and for her stay in foster care. Marshall Fields had cards for every occasion imaginable but none to announce the adoption of a child. Being as it was a Monday evening, Betty Kruchten was shopping at that same store and she helped us in our search for an appropriate card. When we told Betty Kruchten that we intended to take possession of this little girl on Thursday morning, December 8, 1953, I thought nothing more about it. But obviously Betty Kruchten did. She will make an appearance a little later in this story about memories of Blondie.

On Thursday morning at 6:30 AM, the sky was threatening snow. What else is new about Chicago weather? We lived in a flat off California Avenue at about 3000 North. That is called the Near North Side in Chicago and it is located quite close to Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play. Our destination was 7600 South in Chicago near Comiskey Park where the White Sox play. It was a long drive from our flat on the Near North Side through the Loop and then on to the foster home on the South Side. I could not help but think that exactly ten years earlier, December 8, 1943, a plane on which I was the aerial gunner was shot down and I wound up a prisoner of the German Army that afternoon. So it took me ten years to go from the depths of despair to a mission to pick up a little Chicago girl. So you see, I was showing signs of progress even if it took me ten years to do so.

We had seen old Blondie on two previous occasions when her foster mother brought her into the offices of the Children’s Home at 1122 North Dearborn Avenue in Chicago. On both occasions we were asked to bathe her and change her clothes. On those two occasions when I dried Blondie’s hair after the bathing, I blew on it. Her hair was not really blond; it was almost pure white. It was about an inch and a half long and when I blew on her head, the hair flew in many directions. It was at that instant that I named this little girl Blondie. She has a proper name of Ellen Maureen but from those visits to the offices of the Children’s Home, she has always been Blondie to me.

The foster home was an individual residence where the women provided care until the adoptive parents took the children away. In this case, the woman who had given Blondie care for the first two and a half months of her life had called her “Pumpkin.” I suppose that she had arrived at about the same time as pumpkins appear on our market shelves. We gave Blondie another bath at the foster home and she was changed into the clothing that we had brought for her to wear. But parting with Pumpkin was an emotional affair. The foster mother made us promise that we would provide excellent care for her for the rest of her life. When you consider that a foster mother must surrender her little children to adoptive parents perhaps four times a year, it would be a job that I could not handle.

When we arrived at our Near North Side flat in Chicago, I was instructed by this mother of one hour’s standing to go to Blondie’s room, sit down on the rocker, hold Blondie, and feed her two ounces of orange juice. I did as I told. Nothing was said about a pad or any protective device. The net result was that two ounces went in the top end and perhaps four to six ounces came out the bottom end. I had been christened. The new mother appeared and observed that I had not placed a pad under Blondie’s bottom. But I said, “If this is as bad as it gets, I believe I can handle it.”

I changed clothes and caught the street car in preparation for reporting to my office at 111 North Franklin Street in Chicago. The instant I walked in the entrance, all the women in the office began to gather around the door to my office. I shared an office with Dick Nichols and Clarence Kessler. When I entered my office door, I saw great collections of presents on my desk and on my chair. My first instinct was to say that Nichols and Kessler had done my Christmas shopping for me. That thought was dismissed in a nanosecond because I knew that those two guys would never do anything as nice as that. To make a long story short, Betty Kruchten had been at work. She had started a petition around the office that resulted in at least a dozen presents for the new little Chicago girl that we had adopted that morning. I should say at this point that if there are more generous people in this world than those who worked for AT&T in Chicago, I would be surprised. They were generous in the extreme.

There may have been as many as 40 to 50 people standing outside my office door, wanting to know the details about the adoption that had taken place that morning. I gave them the length of the baby as well as the weight and tried to explain that to protect the anonymity of the birth parents we knew very little about them. We knew that they were of Irish extraction with perhaps some Polish influence as well. But beyond that we knew very little. I told the multitude that her name would be Ellen Maureen Carr. Ellen is the Gaelic diminutive for Helen and Maureen is the Gaelic diminutive for Mary. During the remainder of the time that I spent in Chicago, about 15 months, the women there regularly brought me dresses and things for Maureen to wear. As I have said, the traffic women in Chicago are the most generous people I have ever known.

The formal adoption took place in January or February of 1955, when Maureen was about 16 of 17 months old. The judge was named Otto Kerner who started out to be a very stern-appearing judge. When Maureen sat down on his desk, the judge melted. That judge later served two terms as governor of Illinois, but then, unfortunately, he was sent to jail for a variety of offenses. Blondie was not involved in his breaking the law.

AT&T at that time moved its men from one place to another, often without much forethought. In my case, however, I was asked to take a labor relations job, which is my natural field, in New York City. Shortly before leaving Chicago, we asked a number of people to have a few drinks and dinner with us at our home. One of my recollections is that a fellow I liked very well began to play with Maureen at that function. His name was Felix John Waychus. Typically, John Waychus referred to me as Ezra, just as I referred to him as Felix. Old John Waychus had a set of keys in his pocket. Maureen would not go to sleep because of the excitement of all of the crowd in our house. But she was heavily attracted to the key chain that John Waychus offered to her. Old John said to Maureen, ”You are a lucky girl.” I was standing near John as he said that, and I tried to amend that thought by saying to saying to Felix, “No, we are the lucky ones.”

I had come east to New York City around March or April of 1955. Finding housing was always a problem for people of AT&T who moved so much. I put several ads in the Newark Star-Ledger and finally heard from a prospective owner who seemed interested in renting to us. The landlord was the owner of what was known in New Providence, New Jersey, as the Rickenbacker Farm. It was a five-acre farm with all sorts of outbuildings and fruit trees a little further out. I knew nothing of New Providence, New Jersey, of course but John Finn, the man who had the adjacent office, knew about a fellow named Bill Braunwerth, who worked for Bell Labs. John took it upon himself to tell Bill Braunwerth to go inspect this prospective rental. The result was positive and so we became the tenants on the Rickenbacker Farm. The landlord rented to us because he was departing to enter a seminary to study some Far Eastern religion. I never saw the landlord after the first visit but I believe it is fair to say that in the end, old Blondie fell in love with the Rickenbacker Farm.

This picture shows Blondie at about the age of two years. On weekends and holidays, Blondie was my constant companion in performing the chores that are involved with living on a farm. I am the taller person in this photo.

Our next-door neighbor was Jessie Nielsen who had been a part of the Italian family named Delia. Jessie had married a Danish sailor and they had no children. The distance between the Rickenbacker Farm and Jessie Nielsen’s place was about 150 feet. When we arrived, it was covered by weeds that had grown to a height of three or four feet. When Jessie found out that her new neighbors had a small girl and that she was adopted, she put her husband to work. He mowed the weeds down to an acceptable level between our two houses. That made it possible for Blondie to go visit with Jessie. Jessie had a bench on her porch where she often sat in the shade of her porch roof to deal with tomatoes and onions and things of that nature. On more than one occasion, I found Maureen visiting with Jessie, with them kibitzing like two old women. Jessie’s husband sat around enjoying the show.

The Rickenbacker house had a porch that extended most of its length. It was, of course, not air conditioned. People would sit on their porch in hot weather to escape the heat. On many occasions, I would sit on that porch after I came home from work and Blondie would sit on my lap. There was an occasion when a thunder storm broke out, which Maureen pronounced as “fummee.” I understood what she was saying, and that was close enough for me.

Upstairs in this old house was a large room near Blondie’s bedroom. She had a table with four chairs surrounding the table. It was all children’s size. From time to time, Blondie would have tea parties. She invited Jessie to those tea parties and the conversation between these two old women continued apace. On another occasion, Ann Hincks, the Welfare Supervisor from Chicago, came to visit us and Ann was treated to a tea party by Blondie. When Blondie’s grandmother came to see us, the same treatment was accorded to her. I was not always invited to the tea parties because Blondie contended that I complained too much. It is true that I said, “This tea is too hot.” On other occasions I would say, “This tea is too cold.” On some occasions I would say, “This tea is too just right.” All of my comments earned me a slap. (The “tea” was unheated and unrefrigerated tap water.)

These were happy years for Blondie as she picked the fruit from the trees and visited Jessie. In the fall of 1957, we were visited by a priest from the adjoining Roman Catholic church called Our Lady of Peace. The priest informed us that the church had bought our property and that we should start looking for another place to live. He made it thoroughly and totally clear that we should take our time. There was no pressure at all, and in the end I was happy to have this new friend.

Fortunately, as it turned out, there was a new development called Elkwood Estates right there in New Providence. The new houses being built seemed ideal but the financing was another matter. But the builder had an understanding with a local banker and we were able to buy one of the houses on Commonwealth Avenue. And so in the fall of 1957, we moved to the new house. By this time, Maureen had a new sister named Suzanne.

When Suzanne was born, Eileen’s mother, Virginia King, came from Florida to run the house. During Eileen’s confinement, Mrs. King, Blondie and I visited her but Blondie was not permitted to see her mother because of her age. When the visits were completed, Mrs. King and I would point out the window of Eileen’s room. I held Blondie when she screamed at the window, “Mommy, take of that baby.” When memories about Blondie are the order of the day, this memory continues to stick with me.

The girls had separate rooms in the new house and it was my custom to lie down with each of them after they had been put to bed. There was not a lot of talking, but snuggling was the order of the day. I think I looked forward to those snuggles as much as the children did.

Across the street from our home was the residence of Clara and Nick DiNunzio. By this time little Blondie had started to school in New Providence, where it was possible to walk from our home to the school. One afternoon I was talking to Clara DiNunzio when I saw Blondie turn the corner and head toward our house. She had an armload of books. When she reached Clara and myself, Clara asked her how her school work was going. Blondie informed Clara that “third grade is very hard.” In the end she got through third grade as well as high school and college at Miami of Ohio. I must say that Maureen always dressed fashionably when she went to the grade school in New Providence. She wore dresses and her hair was appropriately curled.

When Maureen graduated from Miami of Ohio University, I was a no-show. I had spent that week in Athens, Greece and had planned to take a TWA airplane from Athens to New York and then another one on to Cincinnati, arriving in time for the graduation. But in Europe, workers who are angry will take off a day or two to cool down. In this case, the airport workers at the Athens airport refused to go to work on the day of my departure. So I was left to stare from my balcony of the Grand Bretagne Hotel. The balcony overlooked the main square in Athens, where the soldiers wear ancient uniforms with white leggings and white shoes with red pompoms on the shoe instep. I was watching their close-order drill while old Blondie graduated from college.

This has been a more lengthy recitation of my memories of Blondie than I had intended and I hope you are still with me. That little girl who christened me back in 1953 will soon celebrate her 54th birthday. The poets say, “The minutes fly and the years go by.” Indeed, those years seem to have flown by. At this point, Blondie has two boys of her own and a good husband. I know that their offspring and marriage are in good shape because all three of the guys discuss baseball with me. That of course is man’s highest calling.

Space limitations would not permit me to recall every incident associated with my daughter Blondie. In this essay, I have simply tried to capture a few of the memories that have lingered in my mind for scores of years.

For all these years, Blondie has never failed to give Harry Livermore the compliment of calling him “Uncle Harry”. She has been devoted to Harry just as she has been my helper throughout her lifetime as pictured on the little “photo” earlier in this essay. It was a happy day when Blondie entered my life and Livermore may have had it right when he said that adopting her was the smartest thing I have ever done. I know it gave me great pleasure on the day of her adoption to tell the assembled gift givers outside my office that Blondie now resided in her own home. She was in her own room and was in her own bed. And she had two parents who were dedicated to her well-being. For a child of less than three months, this is a major achievement. And now I have only one further thought to offer. If any of you see Blondie, you should blow on her hair to see if it scrambles in every direction on command. If that happens, you have got the right kid.

May 28, 2007
Essay 257
Reply from Maureen:
Daddy, I really enjoyed the story you wrote about me. Remember those dolls that I think AT&T gave to charity? I remember the doll I had had an aqua dress and bonnet and that it’s hair stood up. I think you always said the doll reminded you of me. You always had Suze and me help with everything — we always planted sunflowers, cleaned out the garage and basement, helped with mowing the yard — we carried the bags to my favorite — rotating the tires. Does anyone do that still? I still have the card that the ladies all signed in Chicago!

Thanks you again for the story. I really appreciate it. You took good care of me! Did you use a pad after that when you fed me? After vacation we should go for tea!? or lunch. Love Maureen

Kevin’s commentary: We read this out loud to Pop last time we were in NJ for a visit, so I won’t be redundant here. I will say that the line where Pop says “the girls had separate rooms in the new house and it was my custom to lie down with each of them after they had been put to bed” made me laugh, since mom still does that with myself and my brothers anytime we’re all home. Of course she is usually the first to go to sleep of the four of us, so Jack and Connor and I sometimes have to go to bed anyway and pretend to be a sleep. It’s more than a bit silly but hey.


My mother spoke no foreign tongues. The grammar of English, her native language, gave her enough trouble. Yet she was a master of “country speak.” She was the one who said, when she was full of food and drink, that she was “full as a tick” or “tighter than a June bug.” It was also my mother who said on the annual February 22nd celebration of our first President’s birthday that we were celebrating “George Birthington’s washday.” And it was Lily Carr who used the term “bass ackwards” to describe a move that was plainly in error. Modern purists today would conjugate that term to be “bass ackwardlyness.”

That description comes to mind almost every time when I do the grocery shopping with my wife. In the last three or four years, grocery stores have begun to play upbeat rock-and-roll and hi-hop music over their sound systems. This is nothing more than noise which the average listener would consider unintelligible. The singers are mostly screamers. There is no tune that I can discern. I can only conclude that the upbeat tempo of the music is designed to make the workers in the food market move at an increased pace. But that is where the bass ackwardlyness sets in.

If I were a merchant selling food or anything else, I would want my customers to linger with the thought that aside from what they had originally come to buy they might see something else and purchase it as well. The upbeat rock and roll music flies in the face of such a philosophy. The net result, in my case, is merely to hasten my exit from the store. There is no tranquility in this noise from the loudspeakers. When I hear that music, together with the screams of two-year-olds as well as the announcements that “Joe Doke, please report to the shipping department,” I am moved to cut short my visit and leave the store.

The upbeat screamers are for children who tend to play their music at the loudest decibels available. There is a mistake there in that what I hear is not music at all. It is screaming and noise. The owners of King’s and the Whole Foods Markets could take a lesson from Nordstrom’s. Nordstrom’s occasionally has a grand piano played on the first floor of their emporium. For example, the piano players at Nordstrom’s offer soothing music from composers such as Debussy and Gershwin, that encourages customers to hang around and listen and to shop a little more. And if one takes the time to listen, he might find a shirt that he did not intend to buy when he came in the door.

If the upbeat go-go music offered by King’s and Whole Foods is intended to make the help work harder, I believe that it is a lost cause because the help has long ago turned off the noise in their ears. They simply ignore it. The end result is that customers such as myself find ourselves being hurried through the store in an effort to avoid further exposure to the noise. From a marketing point of view, this is bass ackwards retailing.

I am indebted to Lily Carr for providing such an apt title for a situation that did not exist in her lifetime. Lily sometimes mangled the English language, but I am sure that if she were around today she would tell retailers such as King’s and Whole Foods that they are going after their customers in a bass ackwardly fashion. If Lily Carr were to deliver this message to the management of those two concerns, it would be delivered with her finger shaking an inch from their noses. And so I am grateful for Lily Carr providing a precise term for a condition that afflicts her seventh child and her last son. I suspect that Lily Carr would say that this noise is my just punishment for not becoming a Baptist preacher. That may well be the case but when the grocery store noise is coupled with television in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices, the torment clearly goes too far.

May 25, 2007
Essay 256
Kevin’s commentary: I’m beginning to think that I should create a tag specifically for essays concerning grocery store noise. It would now have three entries, including this one and this one.

This essay reminds me of an oft-repeated Shepherd family story in which we were trying to get dinner outside Disney World park. We wound up in some sort of Disney-affiliated bar (which is a thing that I didn’t know existed) which was playing “Jammin” by Bob Marley on repeat. There were no other options that were still open for dinner, so we put up with the constant refrain of “we jamming we’re jamming we’re jamming we’re jamming” through the entire meal. Toward the end, Mom speculated that this was Disney’s way of keeping anyone from getting too hammered at the resort. Unless you REALLY like Bob Marley, most people wouldn’t hang out in that bar for more than a drink or two.


The United States government has its hands full in dealing with the war in Iraq. There is also the problem of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gasoline prices going through the ceiling, the bust in real estate prices, and the failure of the Attorney General and his chief assistant to answer questions put to them by the Congressional Judiciary Committees. Nonetheless, Gonzales’s Department of Justice in Washington is hell bent on pursuing Deborah Jean Palfrey on charges that her escort service in Washington is nothing more than a front for prostitution. For the record, it is the belief of every sophisticated human being that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. It has existed since the beginning of time and it will continue to exist until the world goes up in smoke. But the Department of Justice, under the infallible leadership of Alberto Gonzales, is determined to wipe out good old Deborah Jean Palfrey. She claims that all she is doing is running an escort service in Washington which also provides erotic fantasies for the outsized egos of its demanding customers. Given a choice, my vote would go inevitably to Deborah Jean Palfrey.

This is a morality essay. Every morality essay must have an author that is pure in heart. I confess that during my school days I ogled at several “dirty little books.” Those dirty books were small items measuring about three inches by four inches and were kept hidden from parents and teachers. At the time, Popeye was a popular cartoon, also called the funny pages, with his girl friend Olive Oyl. There was another comic called Maggie and Jigs. These dirty little books had nude drawings of Maggie and Jigs and Popeye and Olive Oyl in compromising positions. Most of the readers thought the dirty books were funny rather than being salacious. To atone for my looking at those little books, I have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo, Beijing, and Perth, Australia, and I have even considered appealing to the religious authorities in Umeå, Sweden. So as you can see, having confessed my sins, my heart is pure and I am in a perfect position to write this essay.

The thrust of the government’s case is aimed at Deborah Jean Palfrey. Deborah Jean is a simple woman who buys all of her clothes from Sears and Roebuck. She wears low-heeled shoes that lace up over her cotton stockings which are rolled at just below the knee and secured by a rubber band. Deborah Jean owns no half slips; she wears the full slips that her mother used to make out of flour sacks and wears only cotton house dresses. Deborah Jean wears no makeup and certainly no earrings or necklaces. Her hair is long and is curled in a knot because, under her religion, it is a sin to “bob your hair.” She wears no rings on her fingers and her glasses usually come from the F.W. Woolworth dime store. So you see, Deborah Jean is in fact a very simple woman.

For the past several years, Deborah Jean has operated an “escort” service in Washington, D.C. Presumably when men go to Washington, D.C., they are often invited to formal dinners and Deborah Jean Palfrey performs a commendable service by providing them with female escorts. At this point, I might add that I was working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for nearly four years and attended many dinners, but it never occurred to me to call an “escort” service for someone to accompany me. I suppose that just shows how naïve a country boy could be when thrust into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Washington, D.C.

Upon closer examination, it appears that Deborah Jean’s escort service supplies some other services as well. It was discovered during the preliminary hearings on the suit against her that her girls claimed to be college-educated. It was further disclosed that for three hundred dollars they would perform erotic dances for 90 minutes for their clients. Under the arrangement with the escort service, the girls split the fee with Miss Palfrey. Miss Palfrey strongly insists that she has no idea whatsoever as to whether the erotic dancers also engaged in sexual relations, and she has no intention of asking a question on that score. Miss Palfrey says this is a matter between her escorts and her clients.

Ah, but now we have Deborah Jean’s ace in the hole. Over the years, Deborah Jean has collected a catalog of two thousand telephone numbers of her clients. I suspect also that she has made arrangements to gather their credit card numbers as well, but that point is not clear at this writing. Apparently Deborah Jean does not have a computer that is able to track down telephone numbers and turn them into names. To overcome this deficiency, Miss Palfrey has given 20% of the list to ABC News and they are trying to turn the telephone numbers into names of people. So you see Miss Palfrey is holding a monstrous ace in the hole.

When ABC News began its search of telephone numbers, it brought down two very large birds with one shot. The first person on the list turns out to be a former commander in the United States Navy who had engaged Miss Palfrey’s offerings. He is Howard Ullman. The former Commander Ullman contends that it is all a mistake and that he did not engage the services of Miss Palfrey’s escorts. Therefore, no sexual activity took place.

About two weeks after the foregoing denial, Commander Ullman has recanted his earlier testimony and says that indeed he did engage Ms. Palfrey’s escorts and that sexual activity took place. Perhaps his earlier denial was a source of agitation to his conscience.

When the Iraq war started, Commander Ullman was the author of the effort to “shock and awe” the Iraqis. The Iraqis did not go into shock and awe by our bombing campaign, but they lived long enough to see Commander Ullman having his own case of shock and awe by the disclosure of ABC News.

The second of the two who were shot down by ABC News, was the Deputy Director of the U. S. Department of State. He is Randall K. Tobias, married, 65 years old and at the State Department he was outranked only by Condoleezza Rice.

Now we come to Randy’s duties at the State Department. Randy was in charge of seeing to it that foreign governments promoted abstinence-only programs. He was also in charge of denying applications for funds from the United States for governments that encouraged or endured prostitution. Now may I ask you, how would a representative of the United States government go, for example, to the Congo and preach that every long-distance truck driver should abstain from sexual relations and that he should decline the offerings of prostitutes? Here we have a case of the United States government slaughtering people by the hundreds in Iraq, allowing thousands to die in Darfur, and demanding abstinence-only programs in the rest of the world.

Randall Tobias is a familiar name to most of us who worked for AT&T. At one point, after the reorganization following the Telecommunications Act of 1984, Randy was in charge of AT&T – Communications. This was a major appointment in that he controlled the fortunes of a very lucrative part of the business. In later life, good old Randy was also the Chairman of Ely Lilly. He also served for three years as President of the Board of Trustees of Duke University. It might also be observed that another one of his functions as Deputy Director of State was to promote fidelity in marriage. So Randy is a significant figure to be brought down by the first shot out of Miss Palfrey’s list of telephone numbers.

Randy did the only decent thing, and resigned his job at the United States Department of State. He at least had the decency to get out of town, which is what Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General, ought to do as well. Now I am not Randy Tobias’s ophthalmologist, but it appears to me that Randy must have been extremely near-sighted. Late at night, Randy has offered the thought that he needed a massage. Ordinarily, men would look under the massage offerings in the classified telephone directory, but Randy’s eyes must have given out before he ever reached the M’s. Instead his eyes came to rest on Miss Palfrey’s escort service, so he called them to send over a girl to perform a massage operation on his delicate frame. I must warn you that if you believe what Randy has said, there is a lovely bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn that I will sell you at a very decent price.

Randy has insisted that there was no sex involved. I suppose he merely got his massage together with a little erotic dancing and that was it. If Randy says there were no sexual relations, as a former AT&T employee I am obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. Every former employee of the AT&T Company and its Associated Companies as well as the Bell Labs is bound by the Boy Scouts Oath of Honor. So if Randy said no sex was involved, then I am prepared to endorse that position with fervor.

The executives at ABC News have belatedly concluded that they are in the business of providing news rather than looking up telephone numbers from Miss Palfrey’s list. Before they reached that conclusion, their efforts had yielded the names of officials at NASA, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, military officers and a “career Justice Department prosecutor.” So you see, Commander Ullman and Randy Tobias merely led the list of those exposed by Deborah Jean’s telephone list. She still holds 80% of the list so perhaps surprises are yet to be announced.

The author of this essay wishes to make one more confession, which will establish that his heart is as white as the snow. This old author came from St. Louis where morals existed on the highest plane in concert with prostitution which took place in several downtown residential neighborhoods. During the Depression years of the 1930’s, in many of those buildings, a small red light would appear in the front window. Obviously, every cop in St. Louis was a Boy Scout who contended that his job was to direct traffic and not to disturb those nice people who had a red light in the window. If old Randall Tobias wanted to extend his program of abstinence, he should have been engaged in St. Louis. I can assure Mr. Tobias that there were several places that could have used his services to extend his program of abstinence and fidelity. But the burden of my final confession has to do with my discharge from the Army of the United States.

When November 1945 rolled around, I found myself on a creaky, antiquated bus heading for St. Louis from Memphis, Tennessee. My ultimate destination was Scott Field, where I would be honorably discharged from the Army of the United States. The bus was packed to the gills, and I found that my seatmate was a young woman, probably in her 20’s. She was also headed for St. Louis and it soon became clear that she was a prostitute and regarded St. Louis as “the big time.” She offered me her services which she said could be accomplished at rest stops in Blytheville Arkansas or in Sikeston, Missouri. I politely declined her offer which is what Commander Ullman and Chairman Tobias should have done in their encounters with Deborah Jean’s escorts. So you see, my heart is pure, which enables me to recite this tale about Madam Palfrey.

Well, there you have my thoughts about the prosecution of Deborah Jean Palfrey. If Deborah Jean goes to jail, may I ask, does this mean the end of prostitution around the world? Does it mean the end of erotic dancing in men’s hotel rooms? Does it mean that when men are examining the yellow pages looking for massage parlors, their eyes will wear out earlier in the alphabet and make them call an escort service? Does Miss Palfrey’s prosecution mean the end of legal prostitution in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Copenhagen as well as many of the other cities in Europe? Are the manufacturers of red light bulbs going to be bankrupt?

In point of fact, Randall Tobias was a fraud, as is the abstinence-only effort by the United States government. Whether the purists in the U. S. government believe that prostitution can be stamped out, the fact is that the world’s oldest profession will be here long after they are gone. So now I retire to my radio to wait for Deborah Jean Palfrey to play her “Ace in the Hole” to bring down another corpulent fraud with self induced ego.

Perhaps if Deborah Jean Palfrey, with her cotton stockings rolled up to her knees and in her house dress, is successfully prosecuted by our federal government, I can only say that in this country, there ain’t no justice.

May 10, 2007
Essay 251
Kevin’s commentary: She was convicted of money laundering in 2008 and sentenced to five or six years in jail. Soon thereafter the poor woman turned up dead. The case was ruled a suicide, but there exists a decent amount of evidence that this was not the case. Probably the most compelling evidence was her repeated public insistence that she would never commit suicide. Unfortunately I think her “ace in the hole” was too valuable and potentially too damning. If there was no foul play, that is perhaps an even greater tragedy.



I have toyed with calling this essay “An Affair of the Heart” but that title would have been misleading. This is not a love story in any respect. It is a medical matter with ecclesiastical overtones. This combination of factors makes it a matter of major significance.

The story starts in my early childhood when my parents insisted that I accompany them to church on Sunday. The church services started at 9:00 AM with Sunday school and continued through the preaching which lasted until 1:00 PM. In many cases, there was an evening service as well. For the record, I am here to tell you that I regretted every single instant that I was forced to devote to listening to Christian theology as a child. The reason for my dislike pivots on the choice of churches offered by my parents.

Originally my parents were Southern Baptists, which of course is the branch of the Baptist Church that split from the main church after 1865 because of its support for slavery. From the Southern Baptists, they progressed to the Pentecostal Church, and then to the Nazarene sect. These were evangelical churches which encouraged shouts from the audience as the preacher spoke. There were “amens” and “halleluiahs” as well as “Give it to him!” when the preacher was excoriating Satan. When hymns were sung, it was not unusual to see people in the congregation waving their arms. Even as a lad of less than ten years, I thought this conduct was totally embarrassing.

Then in 1932 or 1933, when I was ten or eleven years old, my parents found a new church on Neustead Avenue in St. Louis. This church, called the Free Will Baptists sect, had taken over a building where the former church had gone bankrupt. The Free Willers had two characteristics at the outset. They addressed each other as Brother and Sister, including the preacher. And secondly, they banned piano accompaniment for the hymns that were to be sung by the congregation. There was a piano on the altar which I suppose had been inherited from the bankrupt church. But the cover on the keyboard was closed and no one attempted to play it. The reason for banning piano music was that the Free Willers had decreed that, in the time when Jesus was establishing the Christian church, there was no such thing as a piano. In an effort to be more holy and to authenticate the original Christian church, the Free Will Baptist Church on Newstead Avenue banned the playing of the piano.

Needless to say, the singing of the hymns was a catastrophe. There was no such thing as a pitch pipe so everyone started the hymns in his or her own range. There was nothing to follow as in the case of a piano or organ accompaniment. The hymns just wallowed in their agony. Even Brother Tony, the leader of the sect, noticed how badly the hymn singing was going. I suppose Brother Tony addressed this matter in prayer. In any event, on about the third or fourth Sunday of our attendance at the Free Will Baptist Church, we found Brother Tony attempting to lead the hymn singing with his trombone.

Apparently when Brother Tony went to high school some forty years earlier, he had attempted to play the trombone. When he attempted to play it on this occasion, he regularly missed the stops on the slide trombone. This resulted in slurring, which made the hymns such as “Amazing Grace” sound like New Orleans jazz tunes.

I did not endear myself to the church elders when I pointed out that there was no argument about not having pianos in the time of Jesus. But then I said that the people who attended the church came by streetcar, bus, and private automobile. Those vehicles did not exist in the time of Jesus either. My argument fell on deaf ears and the management of the church began to think of me as an infidel. Nonetheless, it would be 1900 years before Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler presented automobiles to the American public. That, of course, was of no significance to the church management.

The end came when Brother Tony decided that there should be a children’s choir. In spite of my advanced years, which totaled twelve or thereabouts, Brother Tony insisted on including me in this children’s choir which included six- and seven-year-olds. The first song that he wanted us to sing a cappella was “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” I assume that Brother Tony did not know how that tune was to be played on his trombone, therefore the children’s choir was left to sing it a cappella. The first verse goes like this:

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I’ll be a sunbeam for him.

I declined to sing the sunbeam song. Declined is probably a much-too-polite term. In effect I told Brother Tony I refused to sing the sunbeam song. In the colloquy that then took place, someone said, “To hell with the sunbeam song.” I suspect that the someone was your old essayist. In any event, Brother Tony went to my father and instantly pronounced that my heart was full of carnality.

I imagined that carnality was a condition much like that which afflicts automobile engines that burn cheap gas. As the cheap gas was burned back in those days, carbon deposits would build up on the intake valves as well as the exhaust valves and the valves would not “seat” themselves well. The result was a condition called “blow-by” which greatly depressed the horsepower of the engine. The solution for carbon deposits was to pull the head of the engine and to grind the valves down to their proper size, knocking off the carbon deposits. The engine example was about the best that I could produce to imagine the carnality that had invaded my heart as diagnosed by Brother Tony. After a time, when I was perhaps thirteen years of age, I refused to attend church services at all and spent my Sundays hanging around Carl Schroth’s Flying Red Horse Mobil Gas Station. Brother Tony’s diagnosis of carnality was soon forgotten at the filling station.

Now we fast forward a little less than thirty years when my father, who had died, was to be buried. During his final illness, my father had been comforted by visits from a preacher who had a church in a neighboring town. His name was Hurley Fitzwater. Rather than having a preacher say a few words about the deceased person, the protocol in Baptist churches is for the preacher to deliver a sermon prior to the body being interred. Hurley Fitzwater did not command total respect from my mother in that she referred to him as “a jackleg preacher.” When preachers who have never attended a theological seminary say that they have received a call from God to preach, they simply stand up and start preaching. Hurley Fitzwater was one of those who had received a direct communication from God, which caused my mother to label him “a jackleg preacher.”

When they put a lectern at the foot of my father’s coffin, I suspected that we were going to be in for serious business. Preacher Fitzwater assumed his stance behind the lectern and announced that his sermon was going to be “There…the sun will not shine.” There was a dramatic pause between the word “There” and the rest of Fitzwater’s title. Nobody in the audience had any idea where that quotation came from and it is certainly not supported by biblical citation. But Preacher Fitzwater did not dwell on where the sun would not shine. Instead he labored us with descriptions of carnality. I knew that my mother was a holy person and had been that way all her life. My sister Verna sang in the church choir and was also holy. My two elder brothers, Charlie and Earl, were so holy that they lectured me from time to time on “getting right with the Lord.” Opal, next in the line of Carr children, did not attend the service, presumably because she had to attend to matters affecting her greyhound racing dogs in either Florida or Arizona. If Opal had been at the service, I am sure that it would have eased my mind because I assume that the assault on carnality would have been divided between Opal and myself. But I was alone. Knowing that thirty years earlier Brother Tony had diagnosed my case as a matter of carnality, I assumed that I was on the fast track to the hottest seat in Hell.

For the last seventy-five years or thereabouts, I have known that I have had a case of chronic cardiac carnality. Brother Tony said so, as did Preacher Fitzwater. That is good enough for me. Nonetheless, this spring I submitted to an echocardiogram of my heart to determine how the heart was working. The famed and world renowned cardiologist, Professor Dr. Beamer, took a look at the pictures and produced an extensive electrocardiographic report. The electrocardiogram measured such things as regurgitation, velocity of output, and the condition of the aortic valve as well as biorhythms and muscular development. Professor Beamer knows that I am not a Sunday school boy and that carnality has always been a threat to invade my heart. Significantly, carnality never seems to invade the gall bladder, the lungs, or the intestines. It always comes to rest in the heart. Yet in studying the echocardiogram, the renowned Professor Beamer failed to find the evidence that was so clear to Brother Tony as well as to Preacher Fitzwater. And so it is that I carry this heavy burden forward without the confirmation of the medical authorities. I will do the best I can in carrying this heavy load until Ippolito, the undertaker, comes to carry me away. I will accept this wearisome burden in good humor, and will be disturbed only if someone were to sing or hum “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” in my presence. In that case, I will strike him as hard as I can with my white collapsible cane.

May 22, 2007
Essay 225
Kevin’s commentary: Well, that’s easily the worst song I’ve listened to in the service of Ezra’s Essays. Though in fairness I can’t exactly pretend that I wasn’t warned. That said, Brother Tony and Preacher Fitzwater have my sincere thanks — if it weren’t for them, there’s a very small chance that I would have had to go to church myself going up. Luckily for me, Pop’s experience with it was so bad that neither my mother’s nor my generation wound up having to sing about Jesus wanting us for sunbeams when we were kids. Cheers!


From 1929 until the beginning of 1942, the United States was in the grip of a vicious economic depression. Job opportunities rarely existed. Unemployment figures were at an all time high. The stock market was barely stumbling along. Bankruptcies and home foreclosures were a common place. Those dozen years of the Depression were dismal for most Americans.

The melancholy outlook during these years was broken once each year around Labor Day with the arrival of the one-inch-thick Sears & Roebuck catalog. Sears offered everything imaginable. There was farm equipment and automotive supplies. Women could delight in the dresses that Sears offered. Men could find any number of suits that included a vest and two pairs of trousers. In the foundation department, there were many offerings of girdles, corsets and brassieres. The corsets came in models that attached around the body through hooks and in some cases, laces. The brassieres were offered in a variety of models which did not include strapless ones, because Sears seemed to judge them as architecturally and structurally deficient. And so that brings us to the question of what does the Sears Roebuck catalog have to do with this essay.

As it turns out, we currently have 800 Generals in the United States Army who are threatened with the loss of their health. The Sears Roebuck catalog offers some palliatives that may save our Generals for use in future service. Specifically, I am speaking about corsets and brassieres.

Prior to the treaty that ended warfare in World War II, our Generals rarely wore decorations except on ceremonial occasions. The supreme commanders, George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower never appeared with ribbons and decorations when they were directing the war. In what appears to be the sole exception to this model was General George S. Patton. Patton wore a gun belt around his waist that carried a pearl handled revolver. In his hand, Patton carried kid gloves. Those with long memories may recall that in 1944 when Patton encountered a shell shocked soldier, he struck the soldier in the face with his gloves and ordered him back to the war. This condition has now come to be identified as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Patton was severely reprimanded and came close to being forced into retirement along with his pearl handled revolver.

In Vietnam, there is a General who is now approaching 95 years of age and who, in his lifetime, has managed to defeat both the French and the Americans at separate times. General Giap is a military wizard who has never worn a decoration on his uniform. When he appears in public, there are only two small insignia, one on each shoulder, to show that he is the chief of the Vietnam Army. Our Generals with the sign-boards on their chests, could take a lesson from General Giap.

Two significant thoughts occur here. The first is that in our Army, we now employ 800 Generals. Andy Rooney, the commentator on the television program 60 Minutes, conducted a study recently which disclosed that we won World War II with less than 300 Generals. World War II was fought by twelve million American military personnel in Europe and in the Far East, yet somehow we managed to win that war with less than 300 Generals. Now we have 800 Generals which leads Rooney and this old soldier to question what in the world is there enough for them to do. One example comes to mind. As we were preparing to assault Japan in the final stages of the war, the base at Greenwood, Mississippi with more than 4000 troops, was commanded by a full Colonel. That was in 1945. By contrast, at the start of the Iraq War, there was a company of National Guard troops who had the responsibility for guarding the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. That handful of soldiers was commanded by a Brigadier General. In the end, she was reprimanded for her performance and three or four of the soldiers who inflicted harm on the Iraqi prisoners were sent to jail. It might also be noted that the Brigadier General was a woman. So the Army, in traditional form, picked on a female and some lowly soldiers. There is nothing new in that conduct.

Now there is a second point having to do with protecting our Generals from curvature of the spine. Those of you who watch reporters interviewing the Generals or who watch Congressional hearings on television, for example, know that our Generals usually appear with an obscene billboard pinned to the left side of their chests. This billboard consists of ribbons apparently earned over the General’s career. If my calculations are correct, each row holds at least five or six ribbons. Our Generals appear to have the rows stacked as much as nine rows high, which might lead an innocent observer to conclude that the General has distinguished himself by 45 to 63 instances of bravery in his career. This of course, is not the case. At least one of those ribbons is for good conduct. There is another ribbon that is awarded because the General was in the Army prior to a certain date. In the current war in Iraq, I believe it is probable that anyone who sets foot on Iraqi soil is entitled to wear a ribbon to commemorate that bravery. In short, what I am trying to say is that we decorate our Generals with some meaningless ribbons which they display on a billboard on the left side of their chest.

In addition to the billboards, the Generals also wear a collection of metal objects. There are wings for aviators, and dolphins for those engaged in water warfare. And then there are metals that commemorate good marksmanship. The content of the metal medallions is such that if one of our Generals ventured into a thunderstorm, he might be struck by lightening.

Obviously, I am not an expert on the jackets worn by Generals. But I believe it is fair to say that when a General dons his uniform, with the full dress billboard, as well as the metal ornaments, his weight will increase by ten to twelve pounds. Certainly the American public should not expect our Generals to endure this burden. The Generals are brave men who have yet to register a complaint about their uniforms, but as an old soldier, I fear that they will soon suffer curvature of the spine simply from wearing their uniforms. I have offered my services to the Secretary of Defense and to the Halliburton Company to relieve them of this terrible burden. In the first instance, I am hopeful that the Secretary of Defense will order every General to buy a lace-up corset from the latest Sears Roebuck catalog. With this foundation in effect, the General may then put on the rest of his uniform. But the corset is not entirely adequate. To remedy this situation, I have suggested to my prospective employers, the Halliburton Company and the Secretary of Defense, that after the Generals don their jackets, they must also buy a see-through brassiere, again from Sears Roebuck. The see-through brassiere will not obscure the billboards being worn by the Generals and together with the corset, it will force them into an upright position.

The American Army is nuts about issuing specifications to its suppliers. The corsets should be made of virgin whale bone construction and should embrace not only laces but a belt tightener. Because the see-through brassieres are to be worn when the Generals enter combat against the radical Islamic fascist terrorists, and are intended to protect both sides of the chest, they should be double wide. They must be constructed sturdily. The Army has suggested that the non-see-through parts be made of tent material. I suspect that such sturdy material might deflect shrapnel and the occasional stray bullet.

I realize that with 800 Generals, Sears & Roebuck will have a run on their merchandise. And so it is that I have proposed that those garments be purchased through the Halliburton Company which, if my calculations are correct, will cause me to be rewarded handsomely. And I am sure that you understand that my suggestion is purely a patriotic one, even though it comes from an old enlisted man.

And so I leave you with the thought that we must protect our Generals at all costs. We can’t cut and run from our Generals. We must stay the course. And to Osama bin Laden, one of these over-decorated, corset and brassiere wearing Generals in full uniform will soon be huffing and puffing on your tail. My suggestion as to brassieres and corsets for Generals is offered as a selfless matter of health. The Secretary of Defense should order everyone at the Pentagon, including himself, to immediately start wearing corsets and brassieres to set a superior example.

May 13, 2007
Essay 254
Kevin’s commentary: Pop answered his own question here. The threat of lightning storms is ever-present, and we need to keep a supply of spare generals on hand to replace ones who are reclaimed by mother nature.

Anyway, make each bra out of transparent Kevlar and charge $200,000 for each one, and you’ve got a hell of an opportunity on your hands.