Archive for the September 2007 Category


Readers of the Carr essays know that the author maintains no religious affiliation. He is not a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Hindu. And certainly he is not the Protestant that his World War II dog tags proclaim him to be. And finally, his Irish ancestry bars him from membership in the Anglican communion. With this background in mind, the old essayist was astounded to find that the Senator Larry Craig story was deposited on his doorstep. The Craig story and his alleged gayness cried out to be written about.

I have not written an essay since May. Two hospitalizations during the summer and a lack of subjects tended to prevent me from unlimbering the dictaphone. But the Craig story is a different breed of cat that needs to be commented upon.

For those of you who do not follow the newspapers, you must now know that Senator Larry Craig, the senior senator from Idaho, was arrested in a men’s restroom in Minneapolis for propositioning an undercover cop.

The object of the proposition was to engage in homosexual acts. For six weeks after Senator Craig was arrested, he pondered the charges and eventually signed a confession which appears to deny him all appeals. Nonetheless, now Senator Craig has engaged a high-powered legal team in Washington in the hope that he can overturn the confession and, secondly, restore his good name. According to experts, the chances of these two things happening are remote indeed. Senator Craig has served 27 years in Washington and during that time he has opposed every proposition that would grant the gays anything resembling equal rights. He has opposed same-sex marriage just as he has opposed civil unions. He wishes to bar the military services from having homosexual members, even though some of them speak Arabic, which is indeed a rare skill. In short, Larry Craig is a terror when it comes to homosexual relations. At the same time, it appears that Larry Craig is indeed a gay person.

The undercover cop who arrested Senator Craig had the wit to record the conversation which followed Craig’s arrest. The senator claims, for example, that he has a wide stance which causes him to push his shoe into the next stall, which he contends is not really a signal. When he was asked about signaling with his hand, his reply was that he was searching for a piece of toilet paper that he had dropped on the floor. In short, Senator Craig’s answers were unconvincing and he voluntarily signed a confession to a misdemeanor charge.

Now a program note. In cases such as this, it is not my penchant to pile on. But when a man is down, I cannot find it in my heart to kick him. In spite of the hypocrisy which accompanied the votes that Senator Craig made on the Senate floor, I understand that he is fighting for his job. It would have been much more simple for Senator Craig to concede that he is a gay person. But of course, that is probably a sure way to defeat in the great state of Idaho. Nonetheless, we have a man here who is living a lie and who has done so for the 27 years of his Congressional career.

In New Jersey, our recent governor was James E. McGreevey. McGreevey put his gay lover on the state payroll and in the end was forced to resign his job and concede that he was “a gay American.” The recent reports are to the effect that he is living with his male lover. Over the Labor Day weekend it was reported that McGreevey had joined a seminary. I suppose that in time McGreevey may become a pastor and then a bishop. In what church remains unknown.
The unalterable fact is that Senator Larry Craig is a hypocrite because he has voted against every measure that would offer some sort of protection to people who are homosexuals. But I suppose it comes as no news to all of you in this readership that politicians are hypocrites. If hypocrites were suddenly removed from the chambers of the United States government, legislative affairs would grind to a halt.

What I am urging in this essay is a simple understanding that gay people are no different from the rest of us. They have their hopes and ideals and they strive for success in the fields of their choice. During my long career in labor relations, the union insisted that coming to company headquarters prejudiced their positions. So they suggested that we meet at a hotel in Greenwich Village. I suppose that you all know that Greenwich Village is the heart of gayness in New York City. It was during this period in time that I came to know and admire many people who were homosexual. They were artists, some were singers, and many of them were great cooks. Many became friends.

There are Christians who believe that God made us all in his image. They also believe that homosexuality is a sinful condition. Therefore, it would seem to me that when a Christian scorns a gay person, he must concede that God made a mistake. And he must contend that gays choose that lifestyle rather than a straight way of life. I strongly object.

Gays have been with us since the beginning of time. And I suspect that homosexuality will be with us for the rest of eternity. It seems to me that there is no percentage at all in scorning gay people. In my view, people have very little to say about their sexuality. They are either straight or gay, or a combination thereof. Some people are born to use their left hand, while others are right-handed. Some are bald and some are, like John Kerry, with a full head of hair. Does this mean that we should scorn the left-handers or that we should run the bald people out of town? I don’t believe so.

Those of you who have known me over the years know that my politics are quite liberal. In the Larry Craig debate, I heard a commentator say that people who hold liberal views are very likely to become gay people. I thought that comment was worthy of note.

In the final analysis we are all here trying to get from one day to the next. I can’t find it in my heart to scorn gay people any more than I could scorn left-handed people. And that also goes for Larry Craig. His is a sad, sad case. If he admits gayness, he will lose his job. But in the long run, Craig must know of his gayness and must concede it. I know Craig is a first-class hypocrite, but I can’t find it in my heart to scorn him simply because of his gayness. For being a hypocrite, absolutely. For being gay, I will give him a pass.

The title of this essay is borrowed from a Phil Coulter song about autistic children called “Scorn Not Their Simplicity.” Scorn is a powerful instrument of oppression and should be used very carefully. If someone wishes to scorn Larry Craig for being a hypocrite, he has my full endorsement. But to scorn Senator Craig because he is gay, that is another matter, and scorn is entirely inappropriate.

September 10, 2007
Essay 260
Kevin’s commentary: If you took all the hypocrites out of the legislature, it may indeed come to a standstill. However it’s kinda at one of those anyway, so maybe such a removal could be considered a cost-saving measure.

Finally I would add that we should all pity Mr. Craig. I don’t know what’s going on with his body that taking a poop requires him to take such a powerful and wide stance to get everything moving, but I’m sure such a condition can’t be pleasant. Maybe making hand gestures under the stall helps somehow.


During the 2004 and 2005 major league baseball seasons, center field on the Boston Red Sox was patrolled by a fellow named John Damon. During those two seasons, Damon declined to cut his hair and he also declined to shave. When he batted, the batting helmet would often squirt upwards because of the pressure exerted by the mop of hair below it. The pitchers must have been distracted by the sight of Damon, who seemed like a Neanderthal man come to life. In any case, after the 2005 season, Damon opted for free agency and was signed by the New York Yankees, who have a rule against facial hair. Damon cut his hair, shaved his beard, and got married.

Thinking about Johnny Damon has led me to the subject of whiskers in general. I know there are men who have the luxury of growing a mustache. In recent years, the mustaches sometimes seem to grow beyond the mouth and come down on its sides. Whiskers are also necessary for those who wish to grow a goatee. And certainly they are necessary for those who wish to grow a beard. But absent the mustaches, the goatees, and the beards, may I ask what good are whiskers?

For my own part, my beard is so light that it makes no impression whatsoever. There is no chance that I could ever grow a goatee or a beard. But like millions of other men, the whiskers continue to grow and must be chopped off.

It is at this point that I must ask, why do men have whiskers? The answer must be idiopathic, which the medical profession will tell you means, when translated, “I don’t know.” Were whiskers grown to make men less appealing to wild animals? Again, I don’t know. But a whole industry has grown up around whiskers. There are the barbers and the people who make instruments to shave whiskers. There are pre-shaves and after-shave lotions, as well as soaps to make the beard soft. And for those who use electric razors, there are lubricants to make the shaver cut properly. My father used a straight razor which he honed on a leather strop. He insisted on shaving with that straight razor even after he became blind.

In my case, I came of age when safety razors were the norm. However, during my years in the American Army, particularly those years spent outside the United States, there was no hot water. Shaving with a safety razor in those days was more or less difficult.

Shortly after I was discharged from the Army, the Sunbeam Corporation produced an electric razor. So now I have been using electric razors of one kind or another for more than fifty years. My father contended that shaving your face with electricity was “not natural” and therefore, against God’s wishes. I believe he was wrong on that point and I continue to shave my face with a Norelco razor that is submersible.

There was a time when I was doing extensive traveling abroad, where the electric currents are different from those in the United States, requiring a transformer. In that case, I carried a heavy transformer to insure my smooth shaves.

Cat whiskers are a different story. Veterinarians contend that cat whiskers warn the cat when he is entering a space that is too narrow for him to pass. But this is totally a theory and so far I find it unconvincing. It has nothing to do with the whiskers that are chopped off my face from time to time.

Well you see that I have raised this question about whiskers and obviously I can provide no answers. I regret raising a question to which there is no answer. But if any of you who read these essays can provide this old essayist with a reason for men having whiskers, I would like to hear it.

My father would have suggested that it is not natural for us to know the answer to questions of this sort. Maybe he was right, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about them.

George Steinbrenner, who signed John Damon to a $10 million a year contract, might not be best man to ask either. It turns out that Damon is a good lead-off hitter and he can catch the ball, which is important in a big stadium like the Yankees have. But he has what baseball people call a “glass arm,” which means that he can throw out very few runners. So Damon with his newly shaven face has been relegated to left field and a rookie has taken his job in center field. So George Steinbrenner may provide me with some clues as to why men have whiskers. And he won’t have to pay me $10 million a year.

One final thought goes through this old essayist’s head. Would it be possible to take the whiskers that are cut off and stuff pillows? How about pillows for dolls? If that may be the case, a whole new industry would come into being. I doubt it. So that all I can say about whiskers is that they are completely useless.

September 24, 2007
Essay 262
Kevin’s commentary: You know, I remember reading this one around the time it was written. 2007 was the last full year I was still living at the house in Austin, where of course Pop would send the essays. Once I moved to Northwestern I was no longer on the mailing list (probably since I changed addresses at least once a year) so I had to get the essays in huge batches when I went home. It was trickier to keep up with them, after that, which is partially why this site exists now. There were tons of essays that I missed!

In any event, Pop continues to shave with an electric razor, often under the watchful eye of one Jenny M. She’s very good at making sure Pop gets his beard under control. I’m sure this was a pressing question on all of our reader’s minds.

For my part, I read this essay and wondered about baldness. They say that you’ll go bald if your mom’s dad is bald, yeah? My beard — though not a full one by any stretch, comes in patchy but nominally it is still a bit thicker than Pop’s seems to get when he’s between shaves. Is that a sign that I won’t go quite as bald as he has? Here’s hoping.


At the end of time when historians finally record all of the philosophical thoughts produced by American scholars, it is likely that the contribution of Miss Kay McCormick will be excluded. It may be that her thoughts are excluded simply because she is a woman. On the other hand, it may be that her thoughts are not included because she has no academic credentials. She did not attend Chicago University in her home town, nor did she ever attend classes at the Cook County Community College, a school widely known as the Four C’s. Yet Miss McCormick had a philosophic thought that must have occurred to every rational old-timer.

The story starts during the latter part of the great American Depression. At that time, jobs were almost impossible to acquire. Kay McCormick was underage, so she borrowed her older sister Katherine’s birth certificate and applied for a job as a junior telephone operator in the AT&T offices in downtown Chicago. The job paid around $12 or $13 per week. Because she used her sister Katherine’s birth certificate to gain employment, this young lady was known until her retirement as Kay. Her actual name is Helen. Over the years, Kay, who used to be Helen, worked her way up through the ranks. She was a junior operator, an operator, a junior service assistant, a service assistant, and an assistant chief operator, and, finally, a chief operator. I am here to assure you that any woman who endures this ordeal and emerges as a chief operator is a tough one. But in spite of all of the travail, Kay McCormick never lost her sense of humor. I always found it a pleasure to visit with Kay in the telephone operating rooms at the number one office in Chicago.

Phil Coulter, the Irish composer, wrote that “the minutes fly and the years roll by.” The years did roll by for Kay McCormick and eventually she retired with more than 45 years of service with AT&T. Kay never married. What usually happens in cases such as this is that friends move away and some die. So after a while, the old-timers are pretty much left alone. And so it was that a few years ago I wrote a Christmas card to Kay McCormick. I suppose she was in her 88th or 89th year. She responded with a very cheerful letter which included the phrase that “I don’t know why I have hung around so long.” As things turned out, it appears that Kay did not hang around much after that letter. There were no more letters from Chicago and I assume that her days of hanging around were finally over.

Recently I had an interview with the world-renowned physician, Andrew Beamer. Professor Beamer is a doctor of medicine as well as a Fellow of the American College of Cardiologists. Now that I have passed the age of puberty, as the conversation drew to a close, I included Kay McCormick’s remark that perhaps at my age, I had hung around too long. The remark was intended not as a throw-away line but as the observation of an 85-year-old patient. I suppose I should have kept my remark to myself because the physician began to question me about depression. I have no clinical signs of classic depression, but it was entirely reasonable for Professor Beamer to pursue that line of questioning. In the end, I more or less agreed to write an essay on the pluses and minuses of being 85 years of age and the attendant mental difficulties that accompany such an aged person.

Again, as I have stated earlier, it seems to me that anyone of my age and with my medical background is entitled to a period of gloomy thoughts. Those gloomy thoughts are rational and logical. Any 85-year-old man who believes that he can run a four-minute mile is delusional.

A person of this sort is entitled to believe that we went to war with Iraq because of its possession of weapons of mass destruction. He is also entitled to believe that the mission there was truly accomplished. Further, he is entitled to believe that the Iraqis would welcome us with roses and kisses, and that the farthest thing from their minds would be an insurgency. And finally, he is entitled to believe that the insurgency is in its “final throes.”

I am not delusional but I have a realistic outlook on my length of life. I have no intention of harming myself as a means of bringing the end more quickly. I do not intend, for example, to hire a cab to take me to US Highway 22, where among the porn shops I might find a gun dealer. When the gun dealer would point out that my blindness would prevent me from truly enjoying what the army calls “a piece,” meaning a gun, I would intend to reply that Vice President Cheney insists that all of us have a second amendment right to carry a gun. The second amendment says nothing about blind people, so I insist on having a gun.

Even in my days in the American Army, I was uncomfortable around guns. I was issued a Colt 45 caliber, but only carried it on two or three missions because it had the reputation of the gun that couldn’t shoot straight. In the final analysis I am uncomfortable around guns and have never owned one.

Now, on the other hand, I find that there are numerous reasons why I am determined to stick around for a while. Kay McCormick had no family and her friends were gone. I have a family, including a wife. It would be disastrously short-sighted for me to hasten the end of my life because of my enjoyment of the company of my wife Judy. As long as I collect my pension, it makes things a little easier for her and for myself. So in the first instance, I expect to continue to “hang around” because it is helpful to my wife. At such time as I become a burden on her, there will have to be another evaluation.

It is my intention to hang around for the foreseeable future because of my relationship with my daughters and their husbands. If I were to go away, it would take a long time before that hurt would vanish.

Then there are my five grandchildren. They are all good guys. The ones in New York are going to be professional baseball players after they graduate from college, or so I hope. The oldest grandson has mastered the Japanese language, which is a monumental undertaking. Another grandson is a champion debater in Texas. And then there is the most lovable guy in the world, old Jack Shepherd. It would be a cruel piece of work for nine year old Jack to recognize that he no longer had a grandfather.

Jack has a mild case of Down’s Syndrome, and when we are together he comments that the two of us are bound together because we both have a disability. Jack is an expert in handholding and in writing letters expressing the thought that someday I will be able to see again.

On top of my family, there are many friends who are concerned about me and seem to care a lot. Just this week, Tom Scandlyn paid a visit here that was most enjoyable. From time to time, other friends call me to buoy my spirits. I still maintain an active relationship with Sven Lernevall, who is a Swedish humorist and philosopher.

And then there is Esteban and Fabian, sons of Costa Rican immigrants who consider me as their “American Grandpa”. And finally, I take some degree of pleasure from writing essays which are often the memoirs of my life. My curiosity about life remains. For example, I am now contemplating an essay on “Whiskers.”

At least for the short term, I intend to hang around, as Kay McCormick would say, if for no other reason than to see the Bush administration roundly defeated in 2008 and their miserable secrets exposed. I have always been a student of history and I have long since come to the conclusion that George W. Bush is absolutely the worst president that has ever been visited upon the American people.

So you see, I have many reasons to hang around. If that were not so, why am I down there in the basement four days a week exercising? Is it to be assumed that those 70 minutes per exercise are intended to end my life? Quite to the contrary: the exercises are there to prolong life.

Any man who reaches the age of 85 years and does not contemplate what might come next is, as I said earlier, delusional. If anything, I am a realist. My experiences in World War II made me familiar with death. I know the sinking feeling when I looked at the empty cot next to me that was occupied last night by an enlisted man. All things considered, death is part of living. I accept that. When things are added up, I believe that there is more for people in my situation to live for than to die for. Above all, I wish to live for whatever contribution I can make toward making my wife’s life easier. And I know that my children and grandchildren would be greatly hurt by my passing. But a man has to make a rational and logical assessment of his life at 85 years. And if that assessment is logical and rational, there may be no reason at all to suspect depression. I am not giggly as my life draws to a close but I am determined to be a pragmatist.

In the end, I propose a toast to Kay McCormick, who probably never heard of the medical term “depression.” If she did, she would have applied it to the economic circumstances that existed at the time she was looking for a job. But in any case, it was her remark about having hung around a little too long that provided the hook for this essay to be written. Any comment that provides such a hook is entirely laudable. If an 85-year-old person with a history of serious illnesses in the past does not ever suffer a degree of depression, that person may be eligible for psychiatric help.

September 17, 2007
Essay 261
Kevin’s commentary:
Kay’s note seems to have left a heck of an impression on Pop, since it was brought back up in another essay in 2009 which you can read here.

I’m quite pleased that Pop has made it through the end of the Bush administration; I didn’t realize that it was an explicit goal of his. He’s made it through a hell of a lot of things, really, and yet most of the relationships mentioned in this essay seven years ago have persisted. We hear plenty about old Sven, and a man named Harry Livermore is on Pop’s speed dial. The capacity to build lasting friendships seems like the mark of a good guy to me.