Archive for the November 2007 Category


As I approach the centennial of my birth, one would think that mellowness would settle around me. That is not the case as sharp elbows and abrasiveness still abound within my soul. It was in one of these moods of contrariness that I began to think of religion in my home town of St. Louis. St. Louis took its name from a French King who, upon his death, became a saint. It is also the name of the largest city in the state of Missouri.

Before I departed the scene in 1951, St. Louis was a heavily Roman Catholic city. Curiously, the Catholic athletic teams in that city engaged in contests only with other Catholic schools. For example, St. Joseph’s School and Church was located about one half mile from the Clayton Missouri Public School which I attended. But there was no interplay between them. I am not sure why this was the case, but the Catholic schools played only in their own conference and the public schools played other public schools.

While I was thinking about St. Louis, the thought occurred to me that an inordinate number of schools and churches in that city are named after the Immaculate Conception. No one has ever successfully proven that I am an expert on the Immaculate Conception. My curious mind has often wondered over the years, how that event occurred. But nonetheless, there were schools and churches in St. Louis that carried that name. As everyone knows, teams associated with schools always have nicknames. It seems inappropriate to call a team associated with the Immaculate Conception schools Lions, Bears, Trolley Dodgers, or Angels. Clearly, it is up to me to produce a nickname for athletic teams sponsored by schools named after the Immaculate Conception. The only appropriate nickname that comes to mind is “Spermies.” That name rings with understated eloquence.

When the athletic teams perform, obviously there has to be a cheerleading squad. The cheerleading squads have to have cheers to lead. For the Spermies, I would suggest a cheer along these lines:

Down with the pill!
Up with family planning!
Down with condoms!
Up with no birth control at all!
Down with Viagra!
Up with erectile dysfunction!
Down with artificial insemination!
Up with no insemination at all!
Down with coitus interruptus!
Up with no coitus at all!
Down with foreplay!
Up with Broadway plays!
Down with after play!
Up with inter-league play!
Down with double plays!
Up with school plays!
Go Spermies, Go Spermies!

Even with my advancing years, I would be inspired and thrilled by a cheerleading squad leading the above cheer. Bishop Terrence Patrick O’Flynn, who was a prominent figure in St. Louis during my tenure there, might join me in setting that cheer to a fight song. Every athletic team, particularly a football team, has to have a fight song. I would love to hear the band and the singers singing “Down with condoms!”, “Down with the pill!”, and “Down with Viagra!” et cetera. The end of the fight song should be, “Go Spermies! Abstinence, Abstinence, Abstinence!”

Beyond that, if Bishop O’Flynn were still around, I might take him to Washington where the National Conference of Catholic Bishops holds it annual conference each fall. For our cheerleading creation, it would be the hope of Bishop O’Flynn and myself that the bishops would grant us an imprimatur, which I believe the Copyright Office would recognize as a superior document.

As you can see, mellowness has not enveloped me in its hairy arms. Even though I am dictating this on Thanksgiving Day 2007, a spirit of truculence still boils within my heart. On the other hand, I am thankful for the memories of St. Louis and its proliferation of churches and schools named after the Immaculate Conception. It seems to me that producing this cheerleading refrain is a proper tribute to the ghosts of St. Louis, king and saint, and probably will lengthen my life. Furthermore, I am thankful that on this Thanksgiving, I am able to dictate an essay about St. Louis and the churches and athletic teams called the Immaculate Conception Spermies.

Always remember, “Abstinence, Abstinence, Abstinence!” “Go Spermies!”

November 22, 2007
Essay 271
Kevin’s commentary: A nice little essay from way out in left field. Thanks, Pop.
I wonder if God has spermies or if he just put the embryo in Mary’s oven directly. It stands to reason that any part of an immortal being is also immortal, right? So if there WERE spermies involved in the immaculate conception then, with enough searching, they might still be around. I think the Catholic church should deploy a team of priests with microscopes to go investigate.


A few weeks back, I produced an essay called “Memories of Blondie” which had to do with my thoughts about my older daughter. It seemed to be well received, so I thought one more memory would be in order.

Blondie has a sister who is three years younger than she is. Her name is Suzanne. When they were young children, there was an occasion when I was playing with the girls and their mother produced some cookies. The cookies were delivered to me with instructions that I should divide them equally. As most people know, I am a whiz at long division and the multiplication tables up to the level of four or five. When the cookies were placed in my hands for the proper distribution, I said, “Here is one for Blondie and here is one for Daddy.” Then I turned to Suzanne and said, “Here is one for Suzanne and here is one for Daddy.” It seemed to me that this was the only fair and equitable way to distribute the cookies in that the children got theirs and I got mine. This was fully in accordance with algebraic discipline and principles.

After the second round of cookies was distributed, using the same principle of one for Blondie and one for Daddy and one for Suzanne and one for Daddy, Blondie, who was then in the first or second grade, threw a tantrum. Blondie began to question my mathematics. She could not understand why I was winding up with more cookies than the children were. She called her mother and I was forced to relinquish my hard-earned cookies.

Over the years, I have consulted with mathematics instructors and professors of physics and trigonometry, as well as preachers who are superb in adding up the number of years that I will spend in the torments of Hell. When I told them of the division of one for Blondie and one for Daddy and one for Suzanne and one for Daddy, they universally said, “That is the most eminently fair and honorable way to divide cookies.” To this day, old Blondie continues to believe that she was hornswoggled in my distribution of the cookies. My conscience is absolutely as clear as the waters of the Mississippi. My distribution of the cookies may have been Ponzi-like, but in my shower, I continue to sing the refrain of “One for Blondie, one for Daddy, one for Suzanne, and one for Daddy.” I will sing that song with a clear conscience until Ippolito the undertaker comes to carry me away. And if there are funeral services, which I doubt, I want that to be the anthem that is sung by a full choir with a brass band.

November 22, 2007
Essay 270
Kevin’s commentary: Seems reasonable to me. I’ll file this one away to try with my kids someday. Or maybe I’ll just flip a coin to decide who gets all the cookies — heads I win, tails the kids lose.


When someone speaking to me works the phrase “critical mass” into a sentence, this illiterate mangler of words tends to believe that there is a degree of condescension in the conversation. It is much like a former AT&T colleague using the phrase “pro-active.” My impulse was to say, “What the hell does that mean?” But be that as it may, 1928 was a year of critical mass as well as a pro-active year for this young resident of a suburb of St. Louis. During the summer of 1928, I achieved the advanced age of six years. The St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant and were shutout by the New York Yankees in the World Series of that year.

One of my major achievements during 1928 was to enter the Forsyth School in Clayton, Missouri. When my mother’s seventh child reached the advanced age of 6 years, my mother produced a Bible that said that I had reached the “age of accountability.” That means that unless I were saved, I would be on my way to hell within an instant after my demise. To avoid that situation, she took me to a grove of trees near our property and instructed me to fall on my knees, close my eyes and pray. She also suggested that if my prayers were successful, Jesus would appear and/or speak to me and I would be saved. The rocks were hurting my knees and no one came from Heaven to appear before me or to speak to me. I concluded that the only way to avoid this torture was to announce that I was indeed saved. My mother threw up her arms and there was great celebration. What my mother did not realize was that from that instant forward, I had become a non-believer in religious ritual. Next summer will mark the 80th anniversary of that cataclysmic event. There have been no interruptions in this long streak of scoreless innings.

So religion is one of the issues I wish to touch on in this essay, with the other being politics. Those of you who live in large cities where subway trains operate must know about the doctrine of the third rail. There are two rails beneath the train that the wheels turn on. Between or beside those two rails is a third rail which supplies electrical power to the trains motors. When one touches the third rail and another metal object, he ordinarily will be turned into toast. Burnt toast. In this humble little essay, I hope to avoid that fate. But who knows? Perhaps critical mass will overtake me and I will become pro-active.

It has always been my belief that when religion invades the field of politics, both are corrupted. Democratic governments are secular institutions and should not observe the faith-based beliefs of religious zealots.

In 1928, the presidential contest involved Governor Al Smith of New York, a Democrat, and Herbert Hoover, an engineer from California. Al Smith was a Catholic, while Herbert Hoover reminds me much of Richard Cheney. When the votes were counted, Smith lost, largely because Evangelical Christians deserted him and would not vote for a Catholic. My mother and father agonized for a while about their vote. They were lifelong Democrats but this was the first time that they had ever been confronted by a presidential contender who was a Catholic. In the end, they voted for Al Smith. The southerners, who had at the beginning of that decade imposed prohibition upon the American citizenry, either did not vote or voted for Herbert Hoover. The Great American Depression was, of course, the result.

Again, my argument is that when religion invades the secular field of government, both are corrupted. During the current administration, George Bush has encouraged the promotion of faith-based initiatives. It is hard to believe, but on his public payroll there are office holders who are responsible for carrying out faith-based beliefs.

It is quite clear that the religionists, particularly the Evangelicals, do not believe that there is a separation between church and state. They feel free to corrupt the government with their faith-based zealotry, but they will resist until death the idea that the government should cross into their territory by taking their tax exemptions away, for example.

When promoters of Evangelical thought such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson speak, Karl Rove and his acolytes take notice and pander to them. Senator John Danforth, who was also the Ambassador to the United Nations, a preacher, and a Missouri Republican, commented recently that the Christian conservatives had become nothing more than an arm of the George Bush administration. With that, Senator Danforth resigned and went home to Missouri. Good for Senator Danforth! Unfortunately, his successor was John Bolton.

My argument is fairly straight forward. Faith, according to the dictionary, is a system of beliefs unsupported by fact. If someone wishes to believe that Joshua stopped the sun in its tracks, that is a belief and it is certainly not supported by any facts that we know of. If someone of faith wishes to believe that Jonah spent three days in the belly of that “large fish,” that is also a matter of faith. I suspect that Jonah would have been eaten up by the gastric juices that reside there. If someone wishes to believe that Joshua indeed stopped the sun and that Jonah cavorted in the belly of that great fish for three days, that is all well and good, provided that it stays on the church side of the church-state division. Faith-based beliefs have no reason to exist in the government of a secular state such as the United States. If one of our significant politicians, such as the President, truly believes that Joshua could stop the sun, and that Jonah spent three days in the belly of that fish, it is my belief that he has no place in a secular government.

There are nations that have no church-state division. Many of them are Islamic and are found in the Middle East. Iran with its ayatollahs and Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi influence over the affairs of that country, are two such examples. In those cultures, women are regarded as property and have no rights at all because of the dictates of the religion.

My argument is simple. It holds that the American government is a secular government that should not be influenced by the desires of the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons, and the James Dobsons. They belong on one side of the church-state relationship and have no reason for being in the secular affairs of the government. But that is not the way it works. George Bush has pandered to the Evangelicals, indeed to the worst elements of the right wing zealots, who comprise his base. And we are the poorer for it.

Turning to politics, I am again obliged to point out that Henry Mencken had it right when he wrote in 1925 the following lines:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Unfortunately, I would suggest that George Bush fits the prescription outlined by Henry Mencken in every detail. He is not only a moron, but an arrogant one as well. Our treasury has been squandered and we are involved in a needless war in the Middle East that will have no end while Bush is in power. Bush attends none of the funerals of the nearly 4,000 American service people who have been killed. He simply rides his bicycle on his Texas ranch.

So you see, in this essay I have attempted to deal with first religion and then with politics, and as a result, I have stepped on the third rail at least twice. If any of you are offended, I will understand that, but it is in the interests of the United States that the Evangelicals be confined to their pulpits on Sunday mornings and should not have a back door entry to the highest circles of the American government. By stepping on two of the third rails, I hope you understand the title of this essay which is “The Third Rail Squared.”

This essay has been boiling inside my head for quite a while and I am pleased that it has now been committed to paper. If anyone can show me that the Evangelicals have withdrawn from their effort to cross the church-state divide, and secondly, if someone can demonstrate to me that George Bush is indeed not an arrogant moron, I will concede that critical mass has been achieved in a pro-active manner.

November 22, 2007
Essay 207
Kevin’s commentary: Loving the Mencken quote. Though if the president really was going to represent our inner soul, he’d probably do what the majority of the country wanted. If memory serves, Bush struggled a lot with that in later years.

In other news, Pop really, really hates the word proactive.
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
Exhibit D


This morning I managed to cut my leg in a minor manner. When I assured all concerned that the leg would not have to be amputated, I simply said, “It is all right. It just smarts.” I suspect that the use of “smarts” in that sense must have reappeared in my vocabulary after an absence of perhaps 70 years. But “smarts” is not a bad word at all. I think it describes the situation accurately.

When Hillary Clinton elected to enter the current presidential sweepstakes, she said to anyone who would listen to her that as soon as she was president, the “war in Iraq will be stopped.” Within a few weeks, Madame Clinton was quoted as saying that she believed the war in Iraq would go on until 2013. I would remind those of you who are good at subtraction that the year 2013 is six years from now. I suspect that her boast about ending the war in Iraq was what my ancestors would have called “bosh.” Bosh is another of those unused words that seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years. But when it comes to politicians, bosh is a remarkably resilient and descriptive word.

In a previous essay, I mentioned another forgotten word, which is purgative. Purgatives are required when constipation takes place. In recent years, “purgative” has been cast aside and we have used the word laxative. Now, however, “laxative” has run out of favor and we have the words “soothing relief.” It seems to me that “purgative” was a reasonably decent word in spite of its meaning to the average ill patient.

In the earlier essay, I believe I commented that the accurate term “grave yard” has been replaced by “cemetery.” Here again there is a euphemism when you see advertisements that tell you that “You may lie in peace forever in the rolling hills and meadows of The Joyland Cemetery.” That’s all bosh.

A fifth English language musing that has tormented me is the word “yonder.” There are no two ways about it, I like the use of “yonder.” Since the earlier essay was completed, I began to think about an ancient hymn called, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” In many instances, choirs, particularly black ones, sing this in what is known in musical terms as “the call and response mode.” That fashion of singing will have, for example, the sopranos and the altos singing the first line, and holding the last note, while the tenors and baritones respond by repeating that same line. The females will then offer the next line, to be followed with a response from the male choir members. When they reach the line about “I’ll be there,” the entire choir will sing that line in unison. The call and response singing is a lovely way of getting a hymn sung.

As I am dictating this essay, I am distracted by an earworm that shouts loudly, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” I have no expectation that this old essayist will be among those summoned for the final celestial roll call but listening to that old hymn, particularly when sung by a black choir, is, pardon the expression, music for the heart.

While I have been diverted from dictating an essay on English language musings, I feel a need to comment on another previously issued essay about the noise that passes for music in our grocery stores. Judy and I shop at two overpriced markets here in Millburn, New Jersey. We go to those markets, even though they are overpriced, because of the friendship of the workers. There are Jamaicans, Ghanaians, Columbians, Italians, and people from the exotic climes of Newark and East Orange, New Jersey. The music that is piped in is vulgar in the extreme. It demonstrates that our music has taken a dive to the bottom. What young people listen to these days is nothing short of being abominable. In the first place, music is played at ear-splitting levels. There may be two electric guitars that are played by young men who know one or two chords which they repeat endlessly while they shout their messages. The drummer, who has the principal part in what is called music these days, is not allowed to just keep time. The drummer sets the course of the music. Curiously many of the so-called bands appear naked from the waist up. I have no idea what that contributes to their musicality, assuming that there was musicality in the first place.

The noise that emanates from the loudspeakers does not tell a story, as most songs do. It is repetitive in the extreme. For example, here is a song that I just composed as I was dictating this essay. It is called “I Wanna Make Out Wit’ Chu, Baby.” The Berlitz people have looked at the phrase, “Wit’ Chu” on several occasions and have concluded that it means “with you”. So in proper English the song would be called, “I Want To Make Out With You, Baby.” These words are sung rapidly four or five times. They are followed by a chorus, which would be “’cause it makes me feel so good.” So the whole song is “I wanna make out wit’ chu, baby, ‘cause it makes me feel so good.”

In subsequent verses, the song I have just invented goes on to say that the singer wishes to make out not only with you, baby, but with your sister, your mother, your aunt, your hairdresser, your dress maker, and your dietician.

In the old days, which weren’t so long ago, songs were harmonious and told a story. With rock and roll and the hip-hop way of singing, words have lost their meaning and music is the poorer for it. The so-called bands with their shirts off would have no idea what to do with “When the roll is called up yonder.”

When the noise from the loudspeakers becomes so apparent that I must take note of it, it is my desire to get out of the store as quickly as possible. This is self-defeating because a soft waltz, a love song, or even a hymn would keep people around where they might buy something beyond what they have on their grocery list. But be that as it may, American music – which is not really music at all – has taken a downward spiral toward the bottom. Even military music sounds great in comparison. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about this uncivilized behavior. But old soldiers must live with the hope that, given some time, decency will prevail. In my case, I hope I am around when that day arrives.

November 29, 2007
Essay 273

Postscript: A further thought now appears in that when two men are friends with each other, they often “josh” each other. For example, when I asked Wayne Johnson, the plumber, how he liked my new haircut, he said, “I believe the barber took too much off the top.” So joshing is another expression of friendship that does not appear in many vocabularies these days.

Finally, there was Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, who loved to use the word “metrics” when a perfectly decent word such as measurements would have sufficed. Then there was the occasion in Iraq when an enlisted man asked Rumsfeld why the vehicles driven by the United States Army had to be up-armored by metal they found in the Iraqi junk yards. Rumsfeld answered tartly, “You go to war with the army you have; not with the army you might want to have.” That was, in the dialects of Missouri, a “snotty” observation. I believe the reference to “snotty” is obvious to everyone. But why are things now supposed to be up-armored? I expect that this old soldier is losing his touch with the language of the Army of the United States.

Kevin’s commentary: See this essay for more on the grocery stores. As to the quips about ‘what young people listen to these days’ being terrible, I’d posit that each generation has intelligent and idiotic music and this one is no better and no worse than those which have come before. Today for every artist like Nicki Minaj cranking out masterpieces such as ‘Stupid Hoe‘ there’s another band like Arcade Fire telling a story, or The National writing poetry. But oftentimes the most popular music that gets played is the music which appeals to the lowest common denominator, and is often the most mindless. This reflects more on how marketing work than on the tastes of today’s generation.


Hundreds of years before I became an essayist, there was a grand summit meeting held on the grounds of what would eventually become the Buckingham Palace in London. It was attended by all of the reigning gods, kings, archangels, head rabbis and prophets, as well as by the leading preachers and politicians of the day. The grand summit conference also included the ancestors of Vice-President Dan Quayle, Yasser Arafat and O.J. Simpson. Basically the outcome of the grand summit conference was that it was decreed that henceforth November would always automatically follow October. There would be no April or May late in the year because November presaged the onset of winter.

For many Americans, the arrival of November is bad news indeed. It brings on a miasma that causes dropsy, sleepiness and nervousness. Within my experience, when October slides silently and seamlessly into November, the illness of miasma always arrives. Fortunately, it lasts only for perhaps five months. In any case, the debilitating illness starts as the final out is made in the current World Series. Once that final out is accomplished, every baseball fan knows that there will be no Major League Baseball on a regularly scheduled basis until five months hence. Baseball games are not played in November, December, January, and February. There are exhibition games in March, but that counts for very little. So there is a long period of unhappiness that must be endured until the first balls are thrown at the beginning of the new baseball season starting on or about April 1 of the succeeding year.

I have endured this terrible ailment for about 80 years. In 1926, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series that provided me with my very first memories. As a four-year-old St. Louis boy, I was wondering why my older brothers were dancing around the house and yelling. It turns out that in the seventh game of the World Series played in New York, Jess Haines was the Cardinal pitcher. His special pitch was a knuckle ball which is not thrown with the knuckles but with the finger tips. By the seventh inning of that seventh game, Jess Haines’s fingertips were worn to nothing but bloodiness. With the bases loaded with Yankees, Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis second baseman and manager, summoned Grover Cleveland Alexander from the St. Louis bullpen. Alexander was known as a man who seldom passed up a drink, and he had pitched the sixth game, which was a victory for the Cardinals. He had no idea whatsoever that he would be called upon to relieve in the seventh game. Nonetheless, Alexander was summoned to the mound, and was facing the feared Yankee slugger, Tony Lazzeri. It is widely believed that Alexander, when he entered the game, was suffering from a delicious hangover. Be that as it may, Alexander struck out Lazzeri and then went on to pitch the eighth and ninth innings, which cemented the first World Series victory for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Now if you come from St. Louis, as I do, or surrounding territories, you will realize that baseball is a religion to most Midwesterners. In subsequent years when the Cardinals appeared in the World Series in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1934, the students in the Clayton Public Schools were summoned to the gymnasium to hear radio broadcasts of the games that were then being played. In those days, of course, the games were played in the afternoon and the whole World Series was completed shortly after the first week of October. Today, with the intrusion of television, the games are played at night, often in frigid weather, and are rarely completed before the end of October. But for the students around St. Louis, learning could be postponed until they heard the broadcasts of the contests or the World Series involving the Cardinals. By doing so, a religious obligation was observed.

Now we come to the 2007 World Series. The contestants were clubs from Boston and Denver, in which I have no everlasting interest. But the World Series is an influence in my life. I can still remember the jubilation that took place in the 1926 World Series, when the Cardinals defeated the vaunted Yankees.

But when the final out was recorded in the World Series of 2007, it occurred in only the fourth game of that series. The World Series could have continued at least three games longer, but the Boston club made a sweep of it and took their trophy and went home. Perhaps that was a blessing because the players might well have suffered from frostbite had the games continued. All of this meant that the last outs were recorded earlier than expected and that the miasma that accompanies me in my winter solstice would arrive earlier. Now when nighttime comes, there are no baseball games to listen to. I make an attempt to listen to basketball and hockey games, but I find myself going to bed early because my interest is sliding.

These last two years, my New York grandchildren have subscribed for me to a satellite radio which sits on the table next to my chair in the living room. On that radio I am able to listen to out-of-town baseball broadcasts that are of great interest. For example, the Philadelphia commentator is Larry Andersen, an old relief pitcher. Andersen comments upon the strategy of the games and he gives you an unvarnished view of not only his home team but also the visiting teams. When the New York Mets played in Pittsburgh, the Pirates were in last place and it was reflected in the comments of their announcers who seemed bored and wanted the game to end as soon as possible.

In Houston, when the Mets visit there, there are endless comments about which church group is attending the game that night. Apparently the Houston Astros make an attempt to sell their tickets to Christian groups. As far as I can determine, the attendees at the games are limited to groups of the Protestant faith. There are no representatives from the Catholic Church or from the Jewish faith. The Houston Astros are a sad team and by not subscribing to attendance at the games, the Roman Catholics and the Jewish worshipers are showing excellent taste.

In any case, my satellite radio has provided me with many memories. In addition to being able to follow the game, it brings back my younger days when there was no such thing as television. In St. Louis, there was only Johnny O’Hara on radio station WIL, and France Laux on KMOX, who provided the broadcasts. I believe I join with many others who contend that radio reports are superior to those that are offered on television. And so I am indebted to those future Major League grandsons for their contribution to my summertime enjoyment.

This is being written during the first week of November, which is when my case of miasma has me in its grips. This comes about from the fact that I know it will be five months before the St. Louis Cardinals or the Mets or the New York Yankees begin their regularly-scheduled games. This agony has gone on now for 80 years, since 1926. There is no relief for the pain it causes. But I try to reason with myself that come next April the agony will be over. And so we make it from one winter to the next.

The fans of the Chicago Cubs give me hope. They have not celebrated a World Series victory of any kind since 1908. If my mathematics are correct, that will provide the fans of the Chicago Cubs with 100 years of shut-outs. If the Chicago Cub fans can hang on for 100 years, the least I can do is wait until next April. At that time, an umpire will yell, “Play ball!” and the first pitch of the new season will begin. At that moment, my agony will be lifted and there will be seven months of joy that will surround me. I suppose that five months of agony to be followed by seven months of joy is a pretty fair trade-off. In any case, I will mark off the days on the calendar until spring arrives in these parts.

Finally, a word or two about the title which is, of course, “The Hot Stove League Blues.” That term comes from people sitting around places such as hardware stores in the winter time with their feet up on a railing around the wood stove, trading stories about possible baseball trades and firings. It has been a long time since we have heated our stores with wood-burning stoves, but nonetheless the term remains in constant use today. So when somebody tells you about the Hot Stove League blues, you will always know that he is referring to a wood-burning stove around which people are trading stories and living in the hope that the cold weather will soon go away, that spring will arrive, and that there will soon be an umpire saying, “Play ball!”

November 7, 2007
Essay 268
Kevin’s commentary: Pop should be thankful for the onset of TV, if televising the games has made the baseball season several weeks longer! Also, he should investigate the possibility of a southern-hemisphere baseball league; maybe they have one with a season that runs on an opposite schedule.


Donald E. Wass was a fellow that you should not have known. Mr. Wass was humorless in the extreme. He was a low-level supervisor in AT&T’s Engineering Department in St. Louis. His responsibility caused him to have frequent conversations with other engineers in New York. Those conversations were so loud that work in the rest of the office was pretty much arrested until he completed his conversations. In point of fact, Mr. Wass was severely hearing-impaired.

His deficiency in the ability to hear caused him also to send TWX messages to New York on a frequent basis. TWX is similar to today’s facsimile. The TWX operators in St. Louis had a card cut for the return address because of the frequency of messages that Mr. Wass originated. Unfortunately, they made a small mistake in that they spelled his name as “Donalde” and they assumed that “W” was his middle initial and of course his last name became “Ass.” So it read “Donalde W. Ass.” The rest of the engineering office thought that this was a matter of great hilarity, including me. But that was not true in the case of Mr. Wass. He threatened to have the operator caught and fired, which never happened.

In any event, Donald Wass was often summoned to the head office in New York. A clerk would come to his desk and he would tell the clerk that he wished to have a “roomette” on the five o’clock Pennsylvania Railroad (known as the Pennsy) to New York, so the matters could be discussed in person in New York on the following day. As a young man of 19, I could envision Mr. Wass sitting down at the starched table cloth in the dining car on the train and eating a large steak followed by a cigar. Little did I know that before my career was finished, it would be my duty to visit major cities in this country as well as all of the principal capitols in the civilized world. But however you cut it, Mr. Wass was as humorless as a hornet.

All of these thoughts about Don Wass and visiting foreign cities came into focus when, in one of our Saturday night concerts, my wife played a CD from “On the Town,” a Broadway play by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For many years Comden and Green were the prominent producers of lyrics and librettos for Broadway shows. Their use of the English language was inspiring. One of the songs from “On the Town” is “Lonely Town.” Listening to the Comden-Green lyrics to that song, with the music by Leonard Bernstein, is about as good as it gets in a Broadway show. If I may impose, here are the lyrics to “Lonely Town.”

“A town’s a lonely town,
When you pass through
And there is no one waiting there for you,
Then it’s a lonely town.

You wander up and down,
The crowds rush by,
A million faces pass before your eyes,
Still it’s a lonely town.

Unless there’s love,
A love that’s shining like a harbor light,
You’re lost in the night;
Unless there’s love,
The world’s an empty place
And every town’s a lonely town.”

I have traveled enough to know that every town, no matter how big or small, has the potential for being a very lonely town. London was no exception. And so it was that I found myself at Heathrow Airport outside of England’s capitol at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I felt I had no real choice in the matter because when an American is asked or required to attend a meeting in the United Kingdom or on the continent of Europe on a Monday morning, he is obliged to leave home on Saturday evening, and travel overnight to his destination. No matter how much the spouses protest or the children throw tantrums, there is no choice but to get to London or whatever city is involved on Sunday to avoid yawning all the way through the meeting on Monday. One other drawback. Hotel keepers believe that their patrons tend to sleep in on Sunday morning and as a result they do not ask the housemaids to start to work until later in the day. As a result when early arrivals appear at the hotels, they are told that “Your room is not yet ready. Please have a seat in the lobby.” The seat in the lobby will be occupied until 11 or 11:30 or noon time until the housemaids do their work.

And so it was when I alighted from my flight from New York to London, that I was in an inferior mood knowing that I would have two or three hours to kill in the lobby of The Grovener Hotel until the housemaids had vacuumed the rugs and tucked my pillows in properly. As I walked out of Heathrow’s airport terminal, I saw a group of four or five taxi cab drivers waiting for passengers. As I strode to the head of the line, a driver stepped out and said, “Good morning, Yank. How are things in the colonies?” Fortunately I had my wits about me and I replied to him, “Good morning, mate. Things in the colonies are looking up now that we have learned to drive on the right side of the road.” He and the rest of the cab drivers knew that they had a soul mate. The ride to the hotel was inspiring. The driver and I talked of American and English politics, and of our days in the armies of the US and the UK. And suddenly London was no longer a lonely town. I had been welcomed by a new friend. I smiled as I sat on the couch in the Grovener Hotel until my room was ready, somewhere after 11 o’clock that morning. But the point is that London was no longer a lonely town, even on a Sunday morning.

Lonely towns become friendly towns when one finds a good companion. When I began to travel to the Scandinavian countries, I soon met Sven Lernevall in Stockholm, who remains my friend until this day. Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen are not winter vacation destinations. The sun makes an appearance for only a short time each day. But people in the Scandinavian countries are welcoming, and in spite of the weather, somehow Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo are no longer lonely because, as the song says, friends “were waiting there for me.”

Sven Lernevall is well into his 80s now, as I am. But he has not lost an ounce of his sense of humor. Donald Wass could have taken a lesson or two from Sven Lernevall. Recently I inquired of Sven about the proper form of address when one speaks to a stranger in Sweden. It appears that the Swedes use the term “Herr” as do the Germans when they wish to address a stranger. But that is not the end of it. Here is an email message from Sven explaining to me the various forms of address in Sweden.

“Yes, the equivalent of mister is herr. But we seldom use the word herr (or fru, mrs) anymore. When, for instance, they refer to someone in the parliament they do not say herr statsministern (mr prime minister), only statsministern. And they do not say herr Reinfeldt (our prime minister) but Fredrik Reinfeldt. We more or less abolished titles 40-50 years ago. Nowadays we address everyone by the familiar word “du” (you). Formerly we could say Ni to someone, even in singular, if we wanted to show courtesy (like the Germans use Sie or the French use vous). But in Swedish du is only singular i e when you talk to one person, ni is plural i e when you address yourself to several persons. We have not reached that far as you have in English where the word you covers both du and ni.”

“If you understood anything of the linguistic lesson above, just tell me.”

So you can see that Sven has lost none of his sense of humor, which makes him a good companion and which makes Stockholm anything but a lonely town.

In response to Sven’s exercise in the Swedish language, I could only reply that here in New Jersey, when two people are involved, the term “youse” appears often. The bartender would say to a couple, “What would youse two like to drink today?” That is not as good as Sven’s explanation, but it might serve him well the next time he comes to Newark or Camden.

For many years after World War II, I had avoided going to Germany. One way or another, I found myself in Munich with Howard Davis, another former American soldier. Howard was a Vice President of the N.W. Ayer Advertising Company, which had been retained by AT&T for many years. Howard Davis likes a beer now and then. I have no love of beer or any cravings for it. Nonetheless we wandered into a saloon where the tables were placed at about waist level or higher. It was obvious that the tables were supposed to accommodate six to eight standup drinkers of beer. Howard and I were by ourselves until we were joined by a German man dressed in workingman’s clothes. After a swig or two of beer, he looked at me and said in German, “Amerikanischer Soldat? (American soldier?)” I answered in perfect German, “Ja.” He then inquired as to whether I had ever been a POW and I said again, “Ja.” As it turned out he spoke reasonably good English because he had been a prisoner of the British for a large part of the war. After a few more beers the three of us were boon companions and Munich was no longer a lonely town.

Finally there is a town called Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is straight out of a movie set. The streets, as I recall them, were unpaved. Every shopkeeper was friendly and I expected to meet Billy the Kid at every intersection. Alice Springs at that time, in 1980 or thereabouts, had a population of less than 10,000. I am at home with Australians but on this occasion we were warned that we were going to Alice Springs in February, the height of the hot season. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees are quite common in that part of Australia. I was told by the know-nothings in Sydney that I would soon run away from Alice Springs because of the heat and the provincial nature of its offerings. That was not the case. There was a woman who ran a small shop where I wandered in, and by the time I finished my shopping she had sold me a didgeridoo, a great felt hat with the insignia of the Australian Mounted Police, and a necklace of shells strung on a string made by aborigines. I suppose I have trumpeted the virtues of Alice Springs ever since that visit and I regret that I have not been back there since 1982 or 1983. But nonetheless, while there are many lonely towns in this world, I am here to tell you that Alice Springs is not one of them. For those of you who are interested, a didgeridoo is allegedly a musical instrument played by the native Aboriginals.

In the final analysis, it is not hard to become lonely when one is far from home and without companions. Arab cities provide very little warmth for foreigners who are suspected of being Christians. Of all of the Arab capitols that I have visited, only Cairo is really welcoming. All the others are in fact “lonely towns.” But in the rest of the world, the difference is friends. When you are visiting a place, and “there is no one there to meet you,” that is a prescription for a lonely town.

When Don Wass ordered his roomettes on the Pennsy Railroad to go to New York back in 1941, I wondered if I would ever get to Gotham. But in those years, I have lived and worked in New York, and have made many friends there. It is clearly not a lonely town. It seems to me that a large part of avoiding loneliness and lonely towns has to do with your making an effort to call people by their names or shake their hands. I understand loneliness and I understand lonely towns. But with a little bit of luck, that loneliness and the lonely towns can be turned into friendly places. The key is friendship, which is what Sven Lernevall and the London cab driver and the Munich beer drinker and the people of Alice Springs showed to me.

Donald Waas, nee Donalde W. Ass, is now a largely deaf angel. Betty Comden and Adolph Green died within the past three years. We will hear no more of their lyrics or their librettos. What a shame!

November 29, 2007
Essay 272
Kevin’s commentary: An instant favorite. This one really hit home for me. It was striking for me how much different Beijing — a city I love — felt the second time I was there, when I didn’t have a circle of fifty friends with me. I wrote the following blog post soon after arrival:

Pop is damn good at making friends, though, and I’d imagine that in his heyday not many towns wound up being lonely for him. I’ll have to work a little more on that talent.