Archive for the Filling Station Category


Ordinarily, it is my wont to deal with financial matters promptly. This accounts for calling contractors before their bill for work at the Carr-Chicka residence has often been composed.

And so my head is shaking over my failure to write an essay about Craig Jordan, a Lab Technician who works for the Summit Medical Group in Summit, New Jersey. This essay has been in my “Come Up File” for perhaps two years now. That’s far too long, so as soon as a few essay preliminaries are observed, there will be a short essay about a most accomplished professional phlebotomist, Craig Jordan.

Professionalism has always seemed like a most desirable characteristic in earthly endeavors. Perhaps we ought to start with the Great Depression of 1929-1942 which meant that workers and executives had to make do with what they had. As a matter of fact, World War II was fought by children of the Great Depression.

For many years, it fell to me to be acquainted with Al Goebel, a fellow AT&T employee. Putting it succinctly, Al Goebel was in many respects, the most pompous fellow it has been my misfortune to know. But in between all the pomposity, Goebel had some wisdom that greatly appealed to me. Goebel was a B-29 pilot in the Pacific in World War II. Al had been shot at and there were occasions when he feared his B-29 bomber would not make it off the hastily constructed wartime runways in the islands of the Pacific.

Goebel contended that for our generation, the strongest influences in our lives were the Great Depression and World War II. That had my full endorsement. Then Goebel would say we were the right generation to fight the war because growing up during the Depression, taught us the value of things and to improvise where the right tool or right part was unavailable. In short, it was Al Goebel’s point that if we did not have a part or a tool, the Depression generation was accustomed to doing whatever was necessary to get the job done. From that experience flows practical expertise and, if you will, a sense of professionalism. There were no schools to teach grace under fire. It had to be done regardless of the drawbacks. Professionals can handle those kinds of do or die situations.

And so in my experience, people who show professionalism acquired largely on the job, have my complete admiration. Al Goebel may have been pompous, but in this case he made eminent sense.

Carl Schroth was a professional of that sort. Carl ran a Mobilgas station in Clayton, Missouri. Many of his clientele were uncommonly wealthy people who lived in Clayton, a prosperous suburb of St. Louis. In 1937 when this essayist had reached his 15th birthday, Carl hired me to work in his filling station. The elder statesman under Carl Schroth was good old Charlie Kosta, who could make an engine start after everyone else had given up.

Carl had a 1927 Packard coupe that he had converted into a tow truck because it had a powerful engine. About one mile from Carl’s station was a fancy subdivision that offered houses built as though they were European castles. During the Christmas holidays every year, these wealthy people would have some boisterous parties. When the parties ended, it seemed that at least two or three celebrants would drive their cars off the icy private roadways and would find themselves mired in a ditch. And so Carl Schroth’s filling station was called to set the stricken cars back on the roadway.

On the Packard converted tow truck, there was no top to cover the driver and his helpers. There was a windshield but nothing else. Heaters at that time were unheard of. So the exposed tow truck ride made us anxious to get the stricken cars out of the ditch so that we could return to the warmth of the filling station.

The people who had driven their cars off the road were assumed to be wealthy people visiting other wealthy people. Once a car was winched out of a ditch, the owner would be reminded the charges would be something like $10 or $15 for an ordinary pullout. On New Year’s Eve, the price would creep more toward $20 if the hour was late and if the rain and snow were still at it.

On this evening, Carl Schroth and Charlie Kosta were working with me on rescuing wealthy drivers. In this case, after the car was restored to the icy roadway, Carl or Charlie again told the owner that the cost of our services would be $15. This amount had been agreed to by the car owner before winching work started. Here, after his car was pulled out of the ditch, this fellow told Carl and Charlie that he did not want to pay the agreed upon price for the pullout. It was cold and from my wrestling with the stricken car to get the winch chains attached to the bumper or the axle, my clothing was pretty well soaked. Charlie and Carl and your old essayist were in no mood to bargain at 2AM, even if there was a depression on.

Carl and Charlie listened to the owner of the car as he said $15 was simply too much. Now comes my introduction to professionalism in pulling people out of ditches. As soon as the owner said for the second time that he was not going to be held up by filling station grease monkeys, Carl and Charlie stood on opposite sides of the car – and silently pushed it back into the same hole that it had occupied before.

From this experience, it became clear that customers ought to be treated courteously, but if they intended to put down men who wore work clothes, there would be a price to be paid. As soon as the three of us climbed aboard our Packard tow truck and started to leave, good common sense came over the owner of the ditched car who now wanted to pay the agreed upon rate. Charlie Kosta who was driving the Packard never stopped, so this story has no end as far as the three of us were concerned. But the point was made in my young mind. People who perform a vital service on a night filled with snow and sleet deserve to be paid. Failing such payment, professionalism dictates that there should be no more investment in the venture.

The impression left in my mind is only half of the conclusion of that early morning trip. It must be assumed that the owner of the car must also have derived a lesson from what Carl Schroth and Charlie Kosta did on that occasion. For my part, it was resolved in my mind that messing with Carl and Charlie was not a profitable proposition. They were first class professionals.


As time went on, St. Louis Cardinal ballplayers, Enos Slaughter, Pepper Martin and Stan Musial were professionals who gained my admiration. They were something like Franklin Roosevelt, that is someone to be admired from afar. Closer to home were some of the other GI’s with whom this old soldier served. Many of these people became professionals in the military sense. One was Mike Molinari who was in charge of combat aircraft electrical problems. Mike worked for a newspaper in civilian life, but once he joined the Air Force, he became a professional electrician in charge of our early stage electronic equipment.

Working for AT&T led me to the vast numbers of women employed in the traffic operations in St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago and in New York. These women were tough as nails if they concluded they were being cheated or being run over. But from my long association with them, they were people of unshakeable loyalty. They were not as well paid as many of us would have preferred, but when a call had to go through or when a party had to be found, the AT&T traffic women were without parallel. No greater professionalism may be found in all of AT&T’s many thousands of employees.

When there were physical problems that hospitalized me in the Army, the professionalism of the Corps of Nurses was immediately apparent. Now in later life as hospitalization is required, the professionalism of civilian nurses earns my admiration.

For several years, it was my pleasure to be a friend of Charles Lee Brown, the Chairman of the Board of AT&T. Charlie’s brain put him in the genius class. His position as the head of America’s largest corporation did not affect his dedication to doing the right thing. Charlie was a bargainer on two of my bargaining teams in negotiation with the Communication Workers of America. Even under duress, Charlie never put down any of the union people even if some of their proposals were bizarre. Charlie was a good man in my estimation and he performed all his AT&T jobs with distinction and professionalism.

There are literally hundreds of cases where people have displayed expertise and professionalism. This week, Matt Pepe and his sons laid a new driveway at this house. Matt Pepe has performed work for me for more than 40 years. There are no schools that teach concrete and paving work as far as can be determined. Matt Pepe learned on the job and his two sons have profited from the expertise he has learned. If anyone needs concrete or paving work to be done, members of the Pepe clan are first class professionals who appear on time and who do not dawdle about the job. It is completed with dispatch.

One more case of professionalism out of thousands, now comes to mind because we see him twice a week. Daniel Commodore, an immigrant from Ghana, has established himself as a first class fish monger in a large Whole Foods grocery store near us. Only a professional could skin a fish as Daniel does. He comes by his craft naturally, it may be supposed, as his father was a fisherman in Ghana which used to be called The Gold Coast. Daniel is not only an excellent fish monger, but he is a bright and friendly person. It is a pleasure for my wife and for me to count old Daniel as our friend. His cohorts at the Whole Foods fish counter are Janice Williamson and Robert Lopresti. They are also professionals in dealing with fish.

It was obvious that undertaking an essay about professionalism would mean that it would be impossible to cite every such case. To all those cases which are not included in this essay about professionalism, this old essayist extends his apology. If we were to write of every case of professionalism that has happened to me, this essay would be unending. It is hoped that the reader will understand. And besides, this was supposed to be a salute to the honorable Craig Jordan in a tribute that has been put off for more than two years.

Craig works in the Lab at the Summit Medical Group. For many years, cardiologists at the Summit Medical Group have been watching the composition of my blood. If it gets too thick, there is a possibility of severe coronary problems. If it gets too thin, some of the same problems may also arise. What is being offered here is my interpretation of a cardiac procedure which will never be included in a medical textbook.

Now to see that my blood is the proper fluidity, the medics have devised a method called a Protime reading which measures how Coumadin has affected my blood and its consistency. This is all well and good to measure the consistency of my blood, but to do so requires the efforts of a phlebotomist who draws the blood to be submitted to the Protime procedure.

Drawing blood from a patient is not necessarily a happy procedure. When a phlebotomist is encountered, an arm is extended and the needle to withdraw the blood goes in around the elbow. Every time a Protime reading is required, blood must be withdrawn. Because the reading must be taken sometime at weekly intervals, the arm develops scar tissue which tells the phlebotomist that he must go someplace else to insert the needle. Most often if the elbow area is foreclosed to the phlebotomist, he or she will then go to the large veins on top of the hands.

From the patient’s point of view, only a masochist would enjoy blood being drawn. Some phlebotomists are more skilled than others and some are more dedicated to their craft. The objective for both the patient and the phlebotomist is to make the procedure as painless as possible and to get the work finished as quickly as possible.

Because it has been necessary to draw blood for repeated Protime readings, it has become clear that some phlebotomists are better at their craft than others. And that, dear readers, brings us at last to the consummate pro of all phlebotomists. Today, there is a procedure to take a small amount of blood from one of the fingers, which obviates the need to draw blood from the arm. But in former days, it was a case of drawing blood from the arm every week or two weeks. Whenever possible, it was my intention to ask that my blood be drawn by Craig Jordan because he did the work as pain free as possible and he did not dawdle in getting the test tube filled. This may be hard to believe, but there have been occasions when Craig released the rubber band on my arm and started to put a small bandage on the puncture, and this old patient would ask, “How is it coming along?” The Craig Jordan answer was, “It’s all over.”

Where Craig Jordan learned his craft is unknown to me. Aside form being a first class professional phlebotomist, Craig is a thoroughly pleasant person who would always be welcome in our home. A week or two ago, the cardiologist ordered blood to be drawn. It had been some time since it was necessary to visit the Labs. In passing, the receptionist Monica was asked if Craig would happen to be around. Monica said he was still at work at the Labs and would it please me to have the work performed by Mr. Jordan. My reply was an enthusiastic “yes” and soon old Craig showed up and went to work.

In a short while, this ancient patient wanted to know how the work was going, and Mr. Jordan said he was finished. As always, it was as close to painless as it could possibly be.

As you can see, professionalism has my highest regard whether it is pouring concrete, or skinning a fish or a big shot such as Charlie Brown being decent to the little people he had to deal with. And so it is that Craig Jordan has my vote and my endorsement for the Phlebotomists Hall of Fame because of his complete professionalism. That is only the half of it because Craig is a most pleasant man who would be called a good guy.

It has taken me two years to get this essay written, but all along, my view of Craig has not changed at all. The encounter last week, simply confirmed the view that Craig Jordan belongs in the top tier of his craft.

In a way, it is regrettable that Al Goebel, the old B-29 pilot, did not live long enough to be a patient in the hands of Craig Jordan. My bet is that pompous old Al would say that Mr. Jordan can do his phlebotomist thing on him at any time. And Goebel might even agree to tell Craig a Depression tale or a B-29 story from the Pacific. Al clearly was pomposity personified, but he was a fine story teller. Perhaps Craig would be interested in what Al Goebel had to say as long as the story was completed by the time Craig had done his phlebotomist thing.

May 20, 2004


Kevin’s commentary: Phlebotomy has come a long way since the days of leeching, it sounds like. I had no idea that the veins in ones hands would make good targets for taking blood. I guess it’s pretty easy to find them, though, so why not?

Thanks to the magic of Google, I was able to track ol’ Craig down pretty quickly. He’s a motivational speaker now, which is pretty cool. I think I’ll send him a link to this essay, to let him know that his talent stood out to Pop so much that he wrote an essay about it. Who knows if he’ll remember an old patient from fifteen years ago, but I think it’d be fun to read this even if he doesn’t.


UPDATE: Craig responded right away! He wrote:

Hello all. I am Craig Jordan. Mr. Carr was a great man who made everyone smile when he came to the lab. I had the pleasure of being chosen by Mr. Carr to perform his phlebotomy procedure when he came to the lab and it was an honor and a pleasure to do so. Mr. Carr always put a smile on my face and laughter in my voice. Mr. Carr was an inspiration to us and a joy to be around. Although he is not here, he has not left my heart and thoughts. Mr. Carr motivated me then and is motivating me now. This essay is moving and heartfelt. It will live with me for as long as I live. Rest in Heaven Mr. Carr.
-Craig Jordan




During my formative years, it was necessary to work. This was in the Great Depression which lasted from 1929 until war broke out in December, 1941. During that time, the place where one went to buy gas or to have a car lubricated was called a filling station. Later when wordsmiths took a leading role with the oil companies, there was an attempt to call filling stations, “service stations.” The curious point about this semantic change is that as time went on, the stations offered fewer and fewer services to the customer. At this writing, it may be true that only New Jersey provides an attendant to pump gas into your car. In the other states, car owners pump their own gas and do everything else.

Wiping off windshields, checking the air pressure in the tires or looking to see if the owner needs a quart of oil are lost arts. They simply are not done anymore, not even in New Jersey.

In those very difficult economic depression times, a job – any job – was a treasured possession. By making myself a pest around Carl Schroth’s Flying Red Horse Mobilgas station, the owner took me on full time in the summer and part time when school started. That was at age 15.

At that time, around 1936 or 1937, white wall tires were coming into vogue. If a young man did not have white sidewalls on whatever car he drove, it was believed that girls would ignore him. There may have been a lot of truth in this story of white sidewall tires opening the door to romance.

Schroth’s station was in Clayton, Missouri, the fanciest part of St. Louis and its suburbs. The people who patronized Carl Schroth were largely untouched by the Great Depression. Accordingly, those wealthy people drove Packards, Cadillacs, Lincolns and Rolls Royces. All of those cars were monstrous. Most of them had wheel wells in the front fenders to accommodate two spare tires. You must remember that many cars in those days had no trunk opening. In normal cars, the spare tire was attached to a holding device on the rear end of the car or in one or two cases, under the gas tank.

One of Schroth’s major customers, a Mr. Kukenmeister, owned two Rolls Royce touring cars. These were enormous cars. The year of manufacture was somewhere between 1929 and 1934. They had canvas roofs that could be folded back and placed on a space in back of the rear seat. And they each had six white sidewall tires which had to be cleaned spotlessly. When the weather was inclement, the cars had isinglass windows for all doors. There was a flap in the canvas below the isinglass where the driver could stick his arm out to signal turns. If his arm pointed down, the driver intended to make a left turn. When his arm pointed up, the driver intended to make a right turn. Putting the arm straight our meant the driver was slowing or was signaling a stop.

In those days, women seldom drove cars. Maybe a flapper might drive a little, but ordinarily, driving was left to the men or in the case of the two Rolls Royce touring cars, to chauffeurs.

The owner of the touring cars, Mr. Kukenmeister, was quite wealthy. Often he would drive one to Carl Schroth’s station with the second Rolls Royce being brought by a chauffer. They would wait for 1½ to 2 hours while the cars were lubricated and washed. The tops had to be brushed which took some time. Washing the cars was done by hand and with the owner standing nearby, much care had to be taken to avoid splashing the inside of the touring cars.

As the youngest member of Schroth’s staff, it fell to me to make the white sidewall tires sparkle and to clean the wire wheels. This was a formidable job. (See attachment) If the owner had scraped a curb, there would be a smudge on the whitewall tire which would be devilishly difficult to remove. When there were smudges, usually found on the tires on the right or curb side, steel wool would have to be employed. And we also had a copper wire brush that could be used on the worst smudges.

The wheels had to be cleaned between each spoke. A long brush was needed for the spoke wheels – all six of them on one car and six on the other. There were times when my hope would have been for the Kukenmeisters cars to go to the Shell station across the street.

The two well-mounted tires in the front fenders had to be taken off. And of course, these two tires had to be remounted. The 2001 Chryslers in use here have 17 inch tires. The Rolls Royce had tires of 19 or 20 inch diameter, which meant that there was a lot of scrubbing to do. But, a job was needed pretty badly, so the scrubbing took place. My memory tells me that there was no such practice as tipping for people working in the filling stations. In the final analysis, we were glad to have the job, even if it was a low level scrubbing position with no tipping.

From 1936 or 1937 to 1941 when it was my good fortune to leave the filling station business after a Monday to Friday job opened up with AT&T. It was also possible for me to work 10 hours on a Saturday and five hours on Sunday morning. This was at Harold Bauer’s Standard Oil Station on Hanley Road which was in another ritzy section of town. Harold took Sundays off and left the enterprise with an assistant named Mark. Mark took a dim view of me because, it might be supposed, AT&T was my main employer. Neither Harold nor Mark would ever permit me to drive a customer’s car around the driveway because they feared finding a grease spot on the customer’s upholstery.

There may have been a good reason to keep me out of being seated in a customer’s car. That reason was that both of them put me in charge of cleaning and re-lubricating the front wheel bearings on cars that came to Bauer’s for service. Bauer’s did not wash cars, so cleaning white sidewall tires was a thing of the past. But greasing front wheel bearings was probably a less pleasant job. This happened at 3000 mile intervals.

For one thing, the work had to be done outside in all kinds of weather. The wheel bearing job took place over a pit on the side of the station. There was no lift for this work outside. It was necessary to ease yourself down some steps at the front of the pit, and using a drop cord electric light, the work of greasing the underside of the chassis took place. Afterward, when the car was properly placed with a jack under one of the front wheels, it was possible to gain access to the front wheel bearings. First, the bearings had to be washed in gasoline or kerosene and dried and inspected for cracks. Then came the greasy part. The bearing would be placed in a special container filled with grease. When the top of the container was tightened, grease would be forced throughout the bearings and all its surfaces. Then the wheel had to be replaced. Very dirty work, but that is what had to be done. For 15 hours at Bauer’s, my pay was a big five dollars, but these were depression years and a half a sawbuck was very helpful.

Well, there you have a summary of my travails with white sidewall tires and front wheel bearings. Not very inspiring work, but it was a job.


There was one other fad among men around this time and that was wearing two tone shoes in the summer months. Many fellows wore two tone shoes from Easter till about October.

Generally speaking, the instep was white and had to be cleaned with a whitening paste or polish. There were two kinds of shoes worn by men. The most popular was the wing tip where the brown or black leather extended from the cap back to the arch, leaving the instep white. Less popular was the straight across cap over the end of the shoe. Brown was by far the most popular color with black being a distant second.

Getting the shoes shined was a bit of a project. Men, particularly young men, took a good deal of pride in having their shoes shined in those days. It was almost unheard of to get a haircut without a shoeshine. Many barber shops had two bootblacks working regularly.

Shining the shoes at home was far from easy. The wingtip shoes were much worse than the straight cap models. Trying to keep the brown or black paste and the brush off the white instep was almost impossible to do. On ordinary shoes, the paste is applied and brushing follows. After those operations take place, then the shoes are brought to a shine using a special cloth.

With two-tone shoes, the best that could be done is to apply the paste and to rub vigorously with the cloth on the brown or black leather. If the two-tone shoes were taken to a boot black, the owner would almost always be told to leave the shoes so that they could be worked on when the bootblack had a slack period. Whereas, shining regular one tone shoes in a barber shop, for example, would cost 25 cents or as much as 50 cents, working on two-tone shoes could cost anywhere up to two dollars or a few cents more. Remember now, we are talking about 1940 prices when the Depression was still with the American public.

When the young swain back in those pre-World War II days set out to impress a young lady, it was essential that his two-tone shoes be shined and that his white sidewall tires be white. There is no way to know now more than 63 years later, whether girls were properly impressed. As a completely unbiased, objective evaluator of mores, it is my impartial belief that young men who wore unshined shoes and/or those who let their white sidewall tires look unkempt, were courting romantic disaster. My two-tone shoes and my whitewalls were always spotless. After all these years, I don’t remember if those facts ever resulted in my hitting a home run in the romance department. It was my thought to give it my best effort.

Ah, but that was long ago. Today, young men pay no such attention to their shoes or to their tires. Perhaps this is progress, but as far as this impartial, objective, unbiased evaluator of public mores, the jury is still out.

December 27, 2003


Oh man, maybe Pop somehow missed the rise of metrosexuality but god knows my brother cared more about his collection of Nikes than he cared about pretty much anything else for a while there. And while the tires themselves are no longer particularly important, ornate hubcaps (rims) are a big deal to a lot of cultures. So in some ways, shoes and tires are definitely both still a big deal among the dating population.


My father bought a new 1914 or 1915 Mitchell touring sedan. The Mitchell had just come out. Pictures say it was a beautiful automobile, but my memory has no recollection of it at all. (see attachment) In my time, he drove straight six cylinder Studebakers. For a time, he drove a straight eight Packard. The term “straight” means the cylinders were placed in a row. In an engine with “V” in its title, the cylinders were placed in a “V” with four on one side and four on the other side.

The tappets on those engines had to be adjusted regularly which accounts for my being in our unheated garage holding a drop cord electric light so that my father could get the tappets in adjustment. That work had to be accomplished by my father in an ungainly posture using a valve tappet feeler gauge. It was not inspiring work, but anyone who ever heard an engine with unadjusted tappets, would know that something needed to be done.

My first car was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe which was a reliable car. (see attachment) My second car was a 1937 Chevrolet coach. It was called a coach because while it could seat five or six people, only two wide doors were provided. In other words, it was not a sedan which had four doors.

The main selling feature of the 1937 Chevrolet was it was the first car to have “knee action” in the front suspension which was supposed to deliver superior riding qualities. That car was pretty much a disaster with the engine needing frequent major repair work and with the “knee action” front wheels coming constantly out of adjustment.

But the subjects of this essay are essentially a 1931 Ford and South Wind heaters. Today, we obsess over car safety. There are seat belts and air bags, and gauges of every kind to say nothing about signs that tell you when a door is opened. But the manufacturers still are doing very little in terms of improved mileage.

But in the 1930’s there was not very much concern about automobile safety. Horsepower was important, particularly after Ford produced its first V-8 automobile in 1934. Now there is an interesting thought about Ford. For all the 1920’s, Ford had considerable success with its Model T cars. In 1930, Ford replaced the Model T’s with Model A’s. The Model A’s had regular three speed transmissions which replaced the antiquated transmission band systems in the Model T’s.

One of the Model A characteristics that would offend modern day car safety experts, is that the gas tank was located in the hood section directly in front of the windshield. It is fairly clear that in a front end collision, the gas tank would spill or that the tank would be found in the laps of the front seat passengers. It was a fire hazard in any case, but Ford built its Model A’s until 1935 when they were replaced by the V-8 models. The Model A’s were a big success for Ford.

The cars had a floating gas gauge in the tank that could be seen from the passenger compartment. Presumably, Ford located the gas tank more or less over the engine because they must not have trusted the pumps to pull the gas from a rear mounted gas tank to the engine in the front. In spite of the obvious hazards, Ford found itself with a runaway best seller. The Ford car that led the sales parade was a coupe with a rumble seat where the trunk should have been. (see attached) Rumble seats contributed greatly in the romance department, but it was not the driver who profited from this aspect of the Model A’s. It was one of his passengers.

While all these old cars were in existence, not one of them had a heater, unless you considered a casing over the exhaust system of the engine. The casing led to a hole in the firewall with the thought that as the engine warmed, the heat from the exhaust system would be caught and moved somehow to the passenger compartment. Such heaters were not reliable at all and usually produced smoke fumes. But that was all the heat there was.

In most cars, particularly those with no windows or with isinglass windows, passengers, other than the driver, would cover themselves with blankets or robes. Horsehair robes to cover the laps of passengers were quite popular. But no matter how you cut it, riding around in a 1920’s or a 1930’s model car on a cold day was not enjoyable – not at all.


Then in 1938, an outfit called South Wind Heaters developed what must be the forerunner of today’s auto heaters. The South Wind was mounted in the passenger compartment. It had tubes through the firewall where it tapped into the fuel supply of the engine. When a large button was activated in the passenger compartment, ignition took place in the South Wind and heat was generated. If the South Winds were carelessly installed, it could very well result in a fire in the engine compartment. Fires in the passenger compartment were unknown to most of us who worked around cars, but fires in the engine compartment were a problem. Carl Schroth, my boss on my first job, had a South Wind which worked well.

The South Winds are still around today, but rarely seen. They are offered by a Canadian seller of specialties for used (restored) car fans. The South Winds are offered as refurbished and the dealer says that they “have an Art Deco look that fits perfectly with old cars.” In any event, auto manufacturers soon figured out a way to tap into the radiator and the cooling system of the engine. Hot water heaters made the gasoline powered South Winds largely obsolete. That was a good development because the South Winds were expensive and dangerous.

Well, that is the story on older cars. It would be worth a lot of money to drive a Model A Ford today. Perhaps it would have more cachet than the foreign cars which seem to be crowding out American manufactured cars. But the car business has always had its dog-eat-dog aspects. It is simply worse today than ever before.

For an old essayist who had a lot to do with old cars and filling stations. Writing about them is an exercise in nostalgia. Those days were clearly not as pleasant as they seem now, but it is pleasant to bring back memories of more than 60 years in age.

Anybody for an unheated rumble seat ride? My bet is that it would be necessary to beat off young people who would compete to ride the romance seat in a 1931 Model A Ford. And maybe some of us oldsters would be among them.

December 28, 2003

Seems like there are a lot of attachments for this one! If Judy gets some time, perhaps she’ll be able to dig up a couple and I can post them here. As far as cars though, it’s pretty surprising how long it took manufacturers to figure out that gas tanks should be put far from zones that crush during crashes. You might excuse the Model A for the mistake, but even later cars like the Pinto were still experimenting with terribly placed gas tanks — the Pinto was famous for having its gas tank at the very very back of the car, so if you rear ended one it was likely to explode. Fun times.


[Editor’s note: The NY NY series will end with part 12 tomorrow. It’s even longer than the Moscow one, and I’m a little pressed for time tonight, so we’re doing this instead and switching it later]

I can’t ever remember having delusions of grandeur. If I had, my mother or my siblings – all older than me – would have deflated me. To start with, my parents worked virtually all their lives until they were hospitalized not long before their deaths. My oldest sister worked as a secretary for the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company and later for the government for perhaps 45 years. The other sister started out as a singing waitress in Joe Gonella’s Saloon until she married and wound up owning a string of greyhounds which she raced, largely unsuccessfully in Arizona and Florida. Those two sisters worked all their lives. They would have no sympathy for a younger brother who suffered from grandeur delusions.

My oldest brother owned a surveying company. He didn’t survey people for their personal preferences; he used a transit and rods to measure, for example, real estate and street layouts. The other brother was an insurance salesman who called on individuals as distinguished from large companies. He did his best work at night after the wage earner came home and had dinner. So those two fellows would have no sympathy for anyone afflicted with delusions of grandeur.

When I was 15 years of age, I went to work in filling stations. Now they are called service stations even though any level of service doesn’t exist any more. In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s when you went to a filling station, your windshield was cleaned, the oil and water were checked, tires were inflated and we inspected for worn fan belts and lights that had burned out. In the alleged service stations of today, just try to get your windshield cleaned. It won’t happen unless you do it yourself.

At my tender age, I always drew the dirtiest jobs such as swabbing the grease room floor at the end of the day. Changing tires and lubricating car chassis were not meant for dilettantes. People who did that sort of work had their clothing soiled. When fall came and it was time to put anti-freeze into the radiators, the old water and anti-freeze had to be drained. Most cars prior to the Second World War had petcocks that could only be activated by someone lying on his back, reaching up to turn the petcock followed by hot water running down the arm of the prone filling station attendant. The only consolation came when I went home in my dirty uniform when my father would say, “That boy is doing a man’s work.”

I first went to work at Carl Schroth’s station in Clayton, Missouri. Carl worked a 60 hour week as did his helpers. His main helper was Charlie Costa, a prince of a man. His second helper was Bob Litzenberger who had an entirely negative personality. Bob was angry at the human race, but he was sufficiently good at what he did that Schroth kept him on. The last two helpers were Carl’s stepson, Jack Frier, and my self. Jack and I attended high school and worked afternoons, evenings and weekends. This was a good place to learn about filling stations and automobile repair and to observe a good guy, Charlie Costa, and a man who was down on life, Bob Litzenberger. Nonetheless I learned a lot from those men and from Carl Schroth.

I did this work for quite a while because there were no other jobs available. Over the years, I applied to dozens of places in St. Louis and St. Louis County and no one was hiring. So I pretty much had to make the best of things by continuing to work at filling stations.

While I was in high school, I took four years of drafting. By my third and fourth year, I thought my drafting was pretty good. The teacher was Don Zoerb. On one occasion when I had skipped school and the principal found out about it, he penalized me. Zoerb said, “The wheels of Justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine.” In that case, the wheels of Justice ground me to a pulp. In any case, Don Zoerb was friends with an AT&T minor executive named Bob Mann. Mr. Mann was a fine fellow. So one day, Bob Mann called Zoerb and said he could use a draftsman. This was in September of 1941. So Don Zoerb told Bob Mann that Ed Carr might be interested in a job with the Telephone Company. So Bob Mann called me and I made haste to 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis and I was hired.

I was hired as a draftsman but new people had to serve an apprenticeship until a drafting table opened up. So I became the “Boy” referred to in the attachment hereto. Among other drawings, the drafting department made eight sizes of linen cloth originals of equipment and cable layouts, so when the blue prints were made, there were eight sizes of them also. And each had to be folded so that they would fit in files and so that they would open without problems. So I folded a lot. We had special tables with fold markings so the drawings would be folded in accordance with AT&T specifications. And I found files and took them to engineers. There are two routing slips on the announcement that I was the file boy. I knew everyone on those lists and I remember them to this day. I took files to all of them. Occasionally, I would be permitted to do a little drafting – but not much.

The fact that Frank Kennedy Steele, the Chief Draftsman, called me a “boy” didn’t really bother me. I was wearing a white shirt to work and I did not have to roll around on the ground in the coming anti-freeze season. And I had a shot at drafting, the discipline I had trained with Don Zoerb for. Incidentally, Don Zoerb is a consummate hero in this whole affair.

The Chief Draftsman was, as New Yorkers would say, “a piece of work.” He had attended the same high school in Clayton, Missouri that I had attended, although he was perhaps two or three years ahead of me. Frank more or less fancied himself as an artist. He wore the latest fashions in shirts and suits. As I recall him now, he is wearing a starched shirt with at least a 3½ inch or 4 inch collar. His hair was quite long by the standards of 1941. In spite of the “boy” letter, Frank Steele was good to me. I liked him and I learned from him. But vanity got the best of him. Not long after the Second World War broke out, Frank quit AT&T and started to set the art world on fire. I heard from him after the war. Apparently he was still working on the art world, but that world was giving Frank little comfort. As I say, I liked him even though others in the St. Louis office were turned off by his insistence that he be called Frank Kennedy Steele. Three names didn’t set well in the Midwest of 1941.

While I was the “boy acting as a messenger and file boy,” an incident with the ticket seller at one of the leading burlesque houses occurred. The letter is addressed as you can see to a Mr. Curtis, who was fairly high up in the Long Lines Department of AT&T in St. Louis. But Mr. Curtis had a boss and that boss liked to call his minions in from offices in places like Kansas City and Dallas to confer in his office. Remember, in 1941 there was no such thing as television or tele-conferencing. Having a long distance hook up on telephone lines was in its infancy and frequently did not work well. So the men came in from outlying offices for conferences.

St. Louis at the time supported two burlesque houses. There was the Grand Theater which catered to the middle class and the less than middle class. The other house was the Garrick Theater. It catered to the upper middle class and those who saw themselves as stars of tomorrow.

Now we need to take a small time out while I point out the difference in spelling between a theater in 1941 and today’s spelling of theatre. The reversal of the “e” and the “r” in the spelling of the names is an English affectation. I thought we fought the Revolutionary War to avoid that sort of atrocity but today, I regret to say that virtually every show place calls itself a “theatre” regardless of whether it is located on Broadway in
New York City or in the grand city of Dothan, Alabama. I’m sure that Ben Franklin, the old printer, would be appalled at the intrusion of English spelling with French overtones.

Having disposed of the English affectation, let us go on with the saga of why the Grand and Garrick Theaters are important. Before the war,
St. Louis was an open city with jazz, booze, late hours for saloons, prostitution and police payoffs. In short, all the things that make life worth living. It was a major port on the Mississippi River. When war came, the Army moved to close St. Louis. All things being equal, I liked St. Louis a lot better before the Army clamped down. In any case, the two burlesque houses operated from about noon until after midnight, every day. The Army never touched either one of the burlesque places. Those two houses were emporiums of culture which the Army accepted. Think of this. Sally Rand, the fan dancer from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, appeared regularly at the Garrick Theater. That’s about as good as it gets.

Now when the big boss wanted to entertain his subordinates from the outlying districts, he would often take them after dinner to one of the burlesque houses. He didn’t want to be told that the show was sold out so he bought tickets in advance before he called his conference. So this “boy,” age 19, was summoned into the big office and told to go buy eight or ten or fifteen tickets to the Garrick Theater. In those days there were no credit cards, of course. So I would take the cash from the big boss and set out for the Garrick Theater. I enjoyed these expeditions because I could look in windows and generally watch what a big city does to live from one day to the next. Some working class movie theaters and saloons opened early around 9AM, so I looked at them also. The man who sold the tickets at the Garrick Theater was not given to small talk. He more or less said, “Give me the cash and here are your tickets – goodbye.”

Well the big boss started to have more conferences than usual which meant that I would show up at the Garrick Theater ticket office fairly regularly. Finally, one day the ticket seller said to me, “Aren’t you the kid who was here on Monday and yesterday?” I said that was me – the boy messenger and file boy, age 19. In a week or two, the same thing happened and the ticket seller said to me, “Holy Jesus, Kid, you must be nuts about them dames.” I started to say that I was only buying the tickets for my bosses boss, but I thought better of it and I more or less agreed that “I must be nuts about them dames.”

Shortly after those episodes, a drafting table opened up when Frank Steele left and Bob Ohlemeyer was promoted to Chief Draftsman. I know Frank’s letter said that I was a “boy,” but I had a good time being a messenger and in a fairly short time after my hiring, I was back at a drafting table.

Being a draftsman may have ended my trips to the ticket window, but once in a while something happened to keep things interesting in the office as well. One such event was a matter of divine intervention into the affairs of the drafting department.

The St. Louis Division of the Long Lines Department was called Division 5. The drawings we prepared ranged from small 15” X 12”, called “A” drawings to very large drawings which would cover a desk top. Those were called “G” and “H” drawings.

Everyone knows that St. Louis is a sweltering place in the summer. In the 1940’s, of course, air conditioning was found only in movie houses. So our offices were like everyone else’s offices with windows opened as far as they would go and with the fans on.

We rented office space at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis in the headquarters building of Southwestern Bell. This was one of St. Louis’ largest buildings stretching at least 25 stories. Our offices were on the 8th floor near windows to help us see when doing our drafting work. The blue print department was run by Southwestern Bell employees and was located on the 20th or 21st floor. The high intensity lighting needed to make blue prints caused the temperature there to go up many degrees. As a result, the blue print people were often short tempered and would shout at people like us.

To order a blue print, we would take an original drawing and prepare an order form. Let’s say we wanted 20 copies of drawing 5F-XXX. The order form would be attached to the original drawing, the drawing would then be rolled up and a rubber band was put over the rolled drawing.

For years, we had known that it we threw a paper airplane out of our eighth floor office in the summer, it would go upward instead of downward due to the thermal current, I suppose.

Well, one day in June or July of 1942, as always a hot one, the Chief Draftsman got an irate call from the blueprint room. Somewhere among all the obscenities, the blueprint guy wanted to know where we got off by sending him an unrolled original print without an order form. The Chief Draftsman looked at his record and said, “We don’t need copies of that original drawing; you made them this morning.” That enraged the blueprint people and we had to send our meekest internal messenger, a girl, up to the blueprint room to retrieve the drawing. I suppose that what had happened was that the drawing floated out the window of our office and was carried to the 20th or 21st floor where it floated into the blue print room. See, I told you that this was a case of divine intervention in the affairs of the drafting department.

At the time, it is estimated that Roman Catholics accounted for at least half of the population of St. Louis and surrounding suburbs. Those folks in the office considered the story of the floating original linen drawing a sign that Archbishop Glennon, the head of the St. Louis diocese, would be made a Cardinal. He was pretty close to 80 years of age when we had the floating incident.

The heathens among us considered it a sign that the St. Louis Cardinals would win the National League pennant and go on to the World Series. As a matter of fact, the Cardinals mauled the New York Yankees in the World Series by a score of four games to one in 1942. So score one for the heathens. In 1946 or thereabouts, Archbishop Glennon got his red hat, but he was then sneaking up on 85 years and death got him in less than a year. So score one for the faithful.

So you see, the floating drawing indeed was a sign of hope – for the secular and for the religious people at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis. When air conditioning became popular, alas, miracles like this never came again.

Well, that’s the story of the notice that the Long Lines Department of AT&T had a boy to perform messenger and file service work in the
St. Louis Division Office back in 1941, and the story of a divine intervention at 1010 Pine Street. That was the start of my AT&T career. Before it was over, I worked 43 years for the Bell System including more than three years with the United States Army.

The road led to Kansas City, to Chicago, to New York, to Washington, back to New York and then finally to New Jersey. I am happy in retirement and I was happy while I was working. The letter about the boy messenger was written 60 years and seven months ago. And finally, I’m happy that I’ve lasted that long. And nobody calls me boy any more and no one has asked me about being nuts about them dames. On the other hand, I haven’t bought many burlesque tickets lately.


P.S. The T. W. on the attached letter stands for Ted Wozniak who died a few years ago. Ted determined the appropriate file for vital items like this. See the “61-6” notation. I just retrieved the files from the file cabinets. I was not skilled enough to determine what file should be used for important papers such as we have here. I simply took the files to the engineers who requested them. In my spare time, I bought tickets to the most upscale burlesque house in St. Louis.

Protestant preachers like Billy Graham, use all kinds of euphemisms to avoid saying a person has died. One such euphemism is called “giving up the ghost”. When I give up the ghost, I would like proper recognition to be given to all my accomplishments when I was “the boy” in the St. Louis Division Office. I am sure the New York Times will devote two or three obituary pages to this pre-war saga of dynamic human relations. And the preacher might find it informative, and titillating.


I hope Judy can find the attachment for this one! I had never thought to ask how exactly Pop got his start at AT&T, so this essay answered a question that I didn’t even know I had.
The craziest thing of all though is that in this essay, Pop learned a skill in high school and then was able to use that skill to land a job. No way does high school do anything like that now. I guess college is the new high school in that respect, but even there much of what people learn cannot be easily applied to a career unless you’re in a STEM field.

Here’s the attachment!


It may come as a surprise to all of you to know that your ancient essayist has been a victim of permanent shock since 1940. Permanent shock is sort of a funk which is debilitating in every sense. The shock was caused by Del van Buren Barbee, a philosopher who also washed cars for a living. Del became a philosopher after completing the fourth or fifth grade in a segregated Mississippi grade school. Professor Barbee and I were the two employees of what came to be known as the Friendly Sinclair Service Station in Richmond Heights, Missouri.

Permanent shock is a different creature from merely temporary shock. For example, this country invaded Iraq in 2003 on the ground of weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz both swore that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but nonetheless, based on faulty intelligence, we invaded that sovereign country. As facts turned out, Hussein and Aziz were absolutely right and we suffered a case of temporary shock which now seems to have worn off.

In another case of such a temporary shock, Madam Dr. Secretary Condoleezza Rice has told the world after September 11th that she was completely shocked with the thought that people would actually fly airplanes into big buildings. Condoleezza, of course, skipped that chapter in history where the Japanese flew their airplanes into our ships for extended periods of time during World War II. Admiral Harry Livermore, of the Ticonderoga Task Force should have pointed out this fallacy to the Madam Secretary before she made such a colossal mistake. They were called kamikaze. In a way, kam-i-kaze sort of rhymes with Con-do-leezza which would make it a little bit easier for the Madam Secretary to remember. But nonetheless the temporary shock of 9/11 seems to have now worn off.

Finally, we have the case of Pat Robertson, the eminent preacher, who holds regular conversations with God. In a recent conversation with God, it was agreed that God would visit a stroke on Ariel Sharon because he moved settlers from the Gaza Strip. Nothing has been heard about Mister Sharon and his coma, but it appears that the temporary shock about Pat Robertson’s conversation with God has now also worn off.

So you see, there is a vast difference between permanent shock or funk and temporary shock.

To set the stage for my becoming a victim of permanent shock, it is necessary to review very briefly my career as a filling station attendant. This will give you an idea of how I was terribly influenced by the utterances of Professor Barbee. In 1940, I left the employment of Schroth Flying Red Horse Mobil Gas Station and accepted employment at Ed Williams’ Sinclair Service Station further down on North and South Road in Richmond Heights, Missouri. The lure was an extra two bucks a week, which was a fairly sizable sum in 1940. My duties at Ed Williams’ involved working from noon until nine PM six days a week. I had the station all to myself on Sundays, as Ed Williams and Del Barbee took the day off.

At the time I went to work for Ed Williams, he was driving a new 1940 Chevrolet sedan. One evening, Mr. Williams seemed to suffer from loss of sleep as he was driving his new car and had somewhat of an accident. It so happens that a road in Brentwood, Missouri called Eager Road terminates at Hanley Road. Set back from this intersection was a lumber company with a large glass window. In front of the window, out toward Hanley Road, was a short lawn which had an embankment of eight to ten inches as it reached Hanley Road. Mr. Williams, going west on Eager Road, was apparently asleep and driving at a fairly good rate of speed and went through the stop sign and hit the embankment which then launched him into the air. Shortly thereafter, his car penetrated the window and he found himself in the showroom of the lumber company along with all of the lathes and doors and other things that are found in a lumber company supply room.

Within hours, one of Mr. Williams’ pals who was a lawyer changed the name of the service station where I worked from Ed Williams’ Sinclair Station to the Friendly Sinclair Station. I suspect that Ed Williams’ wife wound up owning the service station.

Next door was a building which eventually came to house a beauty parlor. It was run by a young Greek woman whom I suspect was perhaps thirty years of age. I noticed as my evening shift at the service station progressed that one, two, or three nights of the week, this young lady would return to the beauty parlor about 7:30 or 8:00 o’clock, accompanied by an older gentleman riding along with her. In those days, it was quite unusual for a woman to drive with a male passenger. Males always drove. But in this case the beauty shop owner brought her “friend” back to the beauty parlor. They entered the beauty parlor and frequently did not leave by the time I closed the filling station at 9:00 PM.

The owner of the beauty parlor made a deal with Professor Del van Buren Barbee which involved his arriving early before 8:00 o’clock and sweeping out the hair and the refuse on the floor of the beauty parlor. Professor Barbee told me a few stories about the accommodations in the beauty parlor which led me to believe that maybe the owner of the beauty parlor and her older friend were not discussing double-entry bookkeeping during his evening visits.

Discussing the amorous adventures of the beauty shop owner and her elderly lover, Del delivered himself of the following remark which has caused my permanent shock which lasts until this day, some 65 years later. Del said, “If God invented anything better than sexual intercourse, he kept it for Hisself.”

It took me a while to recover from this announcement. It must also be noted that Professor Barbee did not say “sexual intercourse.” In its place he used the ancient Anglo-Saxon expression involving the “f” word with “ing” on the end of it. That made it sound more compelling and indeed, the statement as used by Professor Barbee rolled with Churchillian profoundness.

Now it must be understood that as an old soldier, I was not offended in any respect by Professor Barbee’s use of the “f” word. What caused my permanent shock had to do with his using the term “hisself” rather than “himself,” which, as all of us grammarians know, is a case of first person pluperfect. Professor Barbee should have used the third person penultimate, obviously. Every good grammarian will recognize Del’s terrible faux pas. And so my shock continues in its permanent state, even to this date, some 65 years later. Can you imagine a fellow with a fourth or fifth grade Mississippi education in an advanced segregated school making a mistake like that? I am shocked, shocked, shocked.

February 12, 2006
Essay 177
Kevin’s commentary: As good an essay for restarting the site as I could have asked for. I like to think that I read a lot, generally speaking — but no matter how much I read or where I search around, I don’t think I can find anything else quite like a good essay of Pop’s. There’s just this great mix of nostalgia and humor that’s so uniquely his. And it would seem like some of the best essays are still yet to come.



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!


Those of you who have persevered in reading these essays will know that from time to time the titles involve curve balls, changes of pace, and, occasionally, a foofoo ball. This essay will not be called “Love Affairs” , but rather “Affairs of Love” for reasons that will become clear as the sections develop. If all goes well, I propose to tell you about my love affair with Chevrolet automobiles and with a jockey’s love of his horse, all of which are included here together with a reference to “dislove,” which is my neologism for a current divorce suit taking place.

Rick Wagoner, the President of General Motors, recently made a commercial at the company’s driving grounds in which he predicted that one day we would all be driving cars with hydrogen engines. Mr. Wagoner is also the man who came a little late to the party because he is suggesting that his line of Chevrolet cars is a line of fuel savers. Unhappily, General Motors did not develop hybrid cars so they are stuck with gasoline engines and claim that their economy reaches well beyond 20 miles per gallon. When pigs learn to whistle and wear lipstick, I will begin to believe the economy claims for American automobiles. On the other hand, before Mr. Wagoner was born, my first car was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe and I have no idea whatsoever as to its fuel economy. In those days, when gasoline was being sold for 20 to 25 cents per gallon, no one seemed to worry about fuel economy. That of course is not the case today.

I had a love affair with that 1931 Chevrolet coupe which had a little trunk that was filled mostly with the spare tire. Sportier models of that car had a rumble seat where my trunk was located, but I only paid $50 for that car and a rumble seat was out of the question. It was a six-cylinder engine with the cylinders arranged in a straight line as opposed to being in a V shape. Henry Ford introduced V-8 engines in 1932, but it was quite a while before General Motors adopted that way to arrange their engines. They stuck with straight sixes and straight eights for years, until after the Second World War.

I drove that Chevy to work and occasionally when I courted the girls. It had a drawback in that the linings on the brake drums tended to harden, which produced a rumbling sound when the brakes were applied. On my first date with Flora Hoevel, in about 1939 or 1940, the brakes made their rumbling sound, which embarrassed me. But Flora thought it was very entertaining. As it turns out, I did not become entangled with Flora, which is probably all to the good because I found much later that Flora had produced nine children. There are nine positions on the normal baseball team. Flora produced enough kids to populate all of them. But by the time she accomplished that feat, I was long since gone.

That may have been the happiest car I ever owned. It gave me no trouble and when I was enticed by a bigger later model used Chevy, I sold that car to Tallis Lockos for the same $50 that I had paid for it in the beginning. There was no heater or any air conditioning and the windows had to be rolled up with a handle on the inside of the door. But like a first love, that car has an outsized claim on my affections. If I were able to have a discussion with Mr. Wagoner of General Motors, I would encourage him to build cars as dependable as that 1931 Chevrolet coupe. But Mr. Wagoner is off dealing with hydrogen-powered engines which will not be produced until we all go broke buying $5 a gallon gasoline. There is much to say for simplicity in automobiles, and the 1931 Chevy coupe was simple but it worked. And it still retains a claim on my heart.

From that love affair, we now turn to a case of “dislove.” I am fully aware that there are English language purists who will dispute my use of the neologism dislove but when they hear the brief story of Dina Matos McGreevey, I suspect that they will become believers in dislove.

Dina Matos is a member of a prominent Portuguese family in Newark, New Jersey. Somewhere along the line our future governor, who is now our past governor, Mr. James E. McGreevey, courted Dina Matos and they were eventually married. In one of my previous essays, you will recall that Dina and her prospective husband were involved in a triangle which included the chauffeur, which led them to celebrate their accomplishments at a chain of restaurants called TGI Friday’s eating establishments.

As time went forward, James E. McGreevey became the Governor of New Jersey and served about two years, until he appointed an Israeli citizen as the state national security director. It also developed that the Israeli citizen was a gay lover of none other than James E. McGreevey. The governor called a press conference at which he announced that he was a “gay American” and resigned. His wife at the time, Dina Matos, stood by him in the background and seemed to be greatly surprised by this disclosure.

There is now a daughter of about six years from this marriage. A year or so ago, Dina filed a divorce suit based largely on the thought that the Governor misled her on his being gay. I suspect that many newspaper writers were not surprised by his gayness, because it had been hinted at for years. In any event, after another year or more had passed, the divorce suit came to trial. Dina wishes to extract large amounts of alimony from the former Governor because she claims that he is a celebrity. It is the contention of Dina and her lawyer that the former Governor should undertake a speaking tour where the fees would rival those paid to Bill Clinton. The facts of the matter are that McGreevey has written a book which more or less flopped and there seems to be no call whatsoever for him to speak to people.

McGreevey is now a student at an Episcopal seminary where he hopes to become a priest who will be involved in ministering to the prison population. If he is ever ordained, the job that he is seeking pays around $47 or $48,000 per year. So when Dina asks for a huge settlement of her suit, McGreevey replies, “I am a poor seminary student who is broke.” Dina seeks a million dollar payment plus alimony from her former husband.

On this score, I am inclined to believe the former governor because he now lives with a wealthy lover who pays his legal bills and living expenses while he attends the seminary. But nonetheless Dina wants to extract wheelbarrow loads of money from good old Jim.

Divorce suits are never happy affairs. In this one, it was saddest that in one year Dina spent $26,000 for clothing for herself and her child. There was a dress that she liked and to match the dress with a pair of shoes cost around $500. Apparently Dina bought the shoes. So Dina is a spendthrift.

Further questioning established that she owes her lawyer around $250,000 for the divorce suit and that her home in Plainfield has not been paid for and it carries about a $600,000 price tag. So you see, the McGreeveys, man and woman, are being supported by someone else. Apparently her lawyer has the illusion that at the end of this trial there will be a big payoff. I suspect that he is in it for the publicity involved and that any realist will recognize that in the end there will be no payoff from the seminary student of the Episcopal faith.

So the McGreevey love affair has turned into an exercise in dislove. Dina Matos, in her appearances on the stand, is presenting a woman who has been scorned, who wishes to extract vengeance from her husband or soon-to-be former husband. When the judge delivers the verdict in the McGreevey-Matos trial, I suspect that the judge may be influenced by Dina squirting away $26,000 on clothing for herself and her little daughter. Divorces are always unhappy events but in this case Dina Matos has gone out of her way to make this trial an example of plain horridness. But perhaps what it shows is that when lovers split, a situation of dislove takes over which will take many years to dissipate.

Now having dealt with Dina and her divorce problems, let us turn to a happier subject, yesterday’s race at the Belmont Stakes in Long Island. Coming into the race the favorite was a horse named Big Brown. That horse is a big burly horse who won his first six races with great ease. For example in one of the other races of the Triple Crown, either the Kentucky Derby or the race at Pimlico, he defeated the eventual winner of the Belmont Stakes by 23 or 28 lengths. Newspaper accounts say that some 93,000 people attended the Belmont Stakes and that they bet more than $5 million on Big Brown to win, even at odds which were quoted as one to four. Please note that this is not four to one odds, it is one to four. This means that when a bettor lays down his four dollars, if he wins the bet, he will collect only one dollar additional. But as it turns out, disaster lay ahead in the Belmont Stakes and the bettors lost their bets.

June is often a brutal month for heat on the eastern seaboard and in this case the Belmont Stakes were run in 93 heat. Perhaps this explains the disastrous performance by Big Brown but that is only one supposition. When the race started, Big Brown made his bid to dominate the field. But his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, said that within a few yards of the starting gate, “I had no horse.” Kent could have used his whip to flail Big Brown in an effort to make him run faster but because he “had no horse” Kent showed his love for the horse and he let the rest of the field pass him by. Big Brown, who was the overwhelming favorite to win that race, finished dead last. The race was won by Da’ Tara, a horse that had been beaten by Big Brown by 20 or more lengths in a previous race.

The jockey showed his love for Big Brown. Instead of punishing him to try to make him run faster, which he could not do, he saved the horse for another day. Big Brown has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness at Pimlico, which is two-thirds of the triple crown. There has not been a winner of the full triple crown since 1978. What happens now is that Big Brown, from this time forward, will lead a life of love. He may race again from time to time but in racing terms, Big Brown will be retired to stud. When the owners of a thoroughbred mare wish to have her impregnated by Big Brown, they will pay the owners of Big Brown a tremendous fee and then bring the mare to Big Brown. From that point on, if all goes well, the rest will happen naturally. But thoroughbred horses are highly strung creatures and it may take some time to get the mating dance completed.

If Big Brown is an accomplished lover, and if he is fertile, a pregnancy will take place. If, on the other hand, he is infertile, he will be accused of “shooting blanks.” It goes without saying that a horse on a stud farm who shoots blanks is a candidate for the glue factory or for those who subscribe to the belief that horse meat steaks are beneficial to their diets. But whether or not Big Brown shoots blanks or is a successful lover, we will just have to wait and see.

And so there you have two cases of love and one of dislove. I still yearn for my 1931 Chevrolet at times, and I am sure that Big Brown will always yearn for winning the Belmont Stakes in 2008. But those are just pipe dreams at this point. It is also probably a pipe dream that James McGreevey and Dina Matos will ever reunite. But no matter how you cut it, this modest little essay has been worthwhile in that it has produced the neologism of dislove. Obviously that is a worthy accomplishment.

June 8, 2008
Essay 319
Kevin’s commentary: I’m glad the horse can’t understand that he’s in a “either get it up or die” situation that he’s in. I feel like that’s even more pressure than a racetrack would be. Could you preform, so to speak, with that hanging over you?

On a more intelligent subject: I did not know my grandfather on my Dad’s side well; he passed away when I was young. However I did know that he and Pop had at least one thing in common, in that they knew their ways around a vehicle. Pop worked at the filling station, and Dado worked at GM. That said the trend I noticed in the lives of these two gentlemen is that they switched cars much more frequently than they switched jobs. This seems backwards to me, as I’ve worked a good deal of jobs and internships now but have only ever owned one vehicle. It was a very dependable vehicle and my family just recently sold it. I wonder though what accounted for the huge turnover in cars of Pop’s times. Hopefully he can clarify this matter somewhat.

More on horses and studs here.

For an essay inspired by “I had no horse,” read here.


Henry Ford, the auto magnate, was also a peace activist. Prior to the hostilities that marked the First World War, Mr. Ford chartered a ship on which he loaded several important American personages to go to the capitals of Europe to ask them to avoid the coming war. To the American press, this was known as the “Flivver Tour,” which was inspired by the Model T cars that Ford manufactured. The ship called at several ports but apparently it missed Berlin because that capital is not an ocean port. And so the First World War took place in spite of Mr. Ford’s best efforts.

Henry Ford gave the war his best shot but when it failed, Mr. Ford returned to manufacturing automobiles. Starting in 1908, Mr. Ford produced a series of automobiles which were called “Model Ts.” The automotive world was told that it could have the Model T in any color provided it was black. I will attest to that fact in that all the Model T cars I ever saw were painted black. But the Model Ts put the Americans a leg up when it came to getting from one place to another.

My automotive expert consultant is none other than Tom Scandlyn, my friend of a more than 50 years. Mr. Scandlyn and I had a technical conversation during which he specified that the Model Ts were made to move forward and into reverse by a series of three pedals located on the floor of the driving compartment. From all that I have been told, I believe that driving a Model T Ford was not the easiest thing to do in this world. It had a planetary gear system that moved the car forward in two different gears and one that provided a reverse gear. There was no foot accelerator in that the engine speed was controlled by a throttle beneath the steering wheeling. One of the three pedals could be used to brake the car.

Aside from driving the car, there was the matter of getting it started, which had to be accomplished by use of a crank until 1921 when electric starters were introduced. When cranking the car, it was important not to use the thumb, because a backfire in the engine would cause the crank to reverse itself, which might produce a fractured thumb or even a dislocated forearm. It was important for the emergency brake to be fully engaged during the cranking process; otherwise the engine might start and result in the cranker being run over by the car that he wished to drive.

The engine was a four-cylinder one which produced a modest amount of power and which was given to vibrations. My recollection is that when the engine of a Model T Ford was started, the car shook and vibrated a bit. Early in the manufacture of the Model T, it became known to the automotive world as the “flivver.” There are also cynics who refer to that car as a “Tin Lizzie.” No matter how you cut it, the flivver and/or the Tin Lizzie put America on wheels.

Mr. Scandlyn, the Model T consultant, actually drove one of these cars and has lived to tell the tale.

Ford produced the Model T until the mid 1920s, when it was succeeded by a car known as the “Model A.” In my experience working in filling stations around the St. Louis area, I have never known the owner of a Model A car to be disappointed. They were simple automobiles that were easy to drive and a joy to maintain.

If a young man had the means and was inclined to let his thoughts turn to love, he would buy a Model A coupe with what was known as a “rumble seat.” Those owners who did not think of love very much simply had a trunk in the rear of their coupes. But rumble seat owners were a bit different. The compartment in the rear of the car had a handle near the cab of the car which, when opened, would turn into a seat. Men who owned a Model A with a rumble seat were considered very sporty. As a matter of no great interest at all, my friend Jack Frier owned a Model A with a rumble seat which I was permitted to use on occasion, but I was unaccompanied by any female companions. But that does not detract from the fact that Model A’s with a rumble seat were the height of class.

In the fall of 1931, Mr. Ford introduced his 1932 model, which featured a V-8 engine. The engines were very powerful for that time, and the owners took great pains to show off their speed in racing away from stop signs. On the other hand, there was one drawback about the V-8 engines. For every ten or twelve gallons of gas, the engine would consume perhaps one quart of oil. I knew, as a filling station attendant, that any time a V-8 owner came to my service station, he would be a great candidate for a quart of oil. If he neglected to keep the crank case full, it was quite likely that the engine would “seize” and would have to be referred to a mechanic for an expensive repair.

It has probably been more than 70 years since the word flivver has entered my conscious mind. It came about as a result of a book by Ted Sorensen, the counsel to John F. Kennedy. Sorensen has written a wonderful book called “Counselor.” Obviously I cannot read any more, so I often buy books that are available in the spoken word. In this book, it is the author who reads his own words. Sorensen speaks in the tones of his native Nebraska, which according to the mid-Western ethics of speech, is unadorned by frills and fancy words. To a man who is accustomed to the mid-Western style of speaking, Sorensen’s unaccented words say to me “Hey Missouri boy, welcome home.”

The story about Henry Ford chartering the peace ship came from an early chapter in “Counselor.” When Sorensen used the word “flivver,” I said to myself that flivver is a word that has been too long away. As it turns out, Sorensen’s parents were peace activists too, which led to the story about Henry Ford chartering the ship to sail to European ports to talk them out of the First World War.

Now perhaps this is an admission against interest, as the lawyers say. But in spite of my admiration for Henry Ford’s contribution to peace, in my 66 years of driving automobiles, I never owned a Ford automobile of any kind. I started out on a 1931 Chevy, which I bought in 1938 and stayed with the General Motors line for most of the rest of my life. I owned Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and, finally, in 1986 I bought a Cadillac. The Cadillac was the smoothest riding car that I ever owned, but it had a love affair with the mechanics at the Cadillac dealership. That car, which was the top of the General Motors line, was undependable in almost every respect. Before long, the Chrysler Corporation offered a series of sporty cars which caused me to unload the Cadillac. And from that time until 2004, when I quit driving, I drove Chrysler cars. Judy, my wife, still drives a Chrysler car to this day.

Aside from the flivver or the Tin Lizzie, this country owes Henry Ford another enormous debt. In World War II, Henry Ford turned over his mammoth plant at Willow Run, Michigan, where he began to manufacture B-24 bombers. at the end of 1944, 650 B-24 bombers were rolling off the line every month. There were three shifts a day working at the Willow Run plant and Henry Ford threw down the bars and invited women to join the work force. My belief is that “Rosie the Riveter” was one of the women who worked at Ford’s plant in Willow Run.

Henry Ford was a genius at manufacturing automobiles and, then later, bombers. For all that, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude but I am an ingrate in the fact that I never bought one of his cars. I never owned one of his airplanes either. But I am indebted to Ted Sorensen for his book, which contains the story about the peace ship which was called “The Flivver Tour.” When a man like Henry Ford does the best he can with the Flivver Tour and his efforts toward the peace movement, he must be exalted, not condemned.

The origins of “flivver” remains unknown. The Ford Motor Company says that it originated with an early airplane that they were experimenting with. Noah Webster says that “flivver” refers to a “small, cheap, usually old automobile.” I thought that flivver referred to the way the Model T vibrated when the engine was started. But in an case, we owe Henry Ford our thanks for putting America on wheels.

June 26, 2008
Essay 323
Kevin’s commentary: Jeez, that’s a hell of a lot of oil. I guess people didn’t take as long of road trips back then; you’d have to keep a barrel of oil in your trunk.

Anyone curious about Pop’s current vehicular situation can here about it here.


This afternoon the temperature is hanging below the freezing mark. Somewhere between six and eight inches of snow are on the ground. The forecasters assure us that the snow will be followed by a freezing rain. Perhaps all of this proves that when I elected to stay in the great state of New Jersey, I was out of my mind.

The title of this essay might lead one to believe that it had to do with integration of the races. That is, of course, not the case. The recollections have nothing to do with each other. They are individual recollections that may reflect a time when life was a little harder but perhaps a lot simpler.

On a cold snowy day such as this one, a person fortunate enough to own an automobile in the 1930s would have several things on his mind. To start with, he might wonder whether the radiator would freeze. In the 1930s, a person of lesser means would have used an antifreeze based on denatured alcohol, which often tended to boil away as the engine heated. Every service station was equipped with a hydrometer to measure the antifreeze component in the radiator. If the contents of the radiator of the automobile were to freeze, it would be a catastrophe that would require a new core to the radiator. A poor man could not afford this extravagance.

On the other hand, owners of automobiles with greater financial resources could purchase a product called Zerex, which was alleged to be a permanent antifreeze, even though it lasted only for one full season. People who were affluent enough to have Zerex in their radiators were also likely to buy an upscale gasoline with ethyl in it. Most people drove their cars on a gasoline called “regular” and ethyl had to be asked for. In the current situation with the Arabs having a strangle hold on our oil supplies, we are fortunate to be able to get any gasoline at all.

Now, on a cold wintry day such as this one with snow on the ground, it is incumbent upon every owner of an automobile to make certain that he owns a pair of skid chains. Prior to 1950, every car was driven by a set of drive wheels on the rear, not the front, of the car. Putting skid chains on the rear wheels of the car was a messy job at best, because of the dripping snow. And it was a dangerous job also. The back side of the car must be jacked up with the skid chain placed so that it covered the entire surface of the tire with the link on the inside being most difficult. This work was accomplished by an attendant lying flat on his back, trying to attach a latch that he could not always see. Stories abound about the cars falling off the jacks and crushing the arms or the chests of the attendants who were trying to affix the skid chains.

Skid chains seem to have lost their allure and we rarely hear of them these days. Similarly, skid chains were succeeded by tires equipped with studs. In theory, the studs were to grip the road and made skid chains unnecessary. In point of fact, however, the studded tires tended to tear up the roads and often did not provide much more protection from skids than the old-fashioned chains would.

At the time we are speaking about, for all intents and purposes there were no heaters in the automobiles. In the early 1930s, there were so-called manifold heaters which were nothing more than a metal device clamped over the exhaust manifold which was then poked in to a hole in the passenger compartment. They not only failed to heat the inside of the car but they provided fumes as well. So much for manifold heaters.

The first heaters were called “Southwinds,” which were gasoline heaters. The Southwind heaters provided a lot of warmth but they also were the cause of fires in the passenger compartment of the car. They did not last very long.

Because of the lack of heaters in automobile interiors, lap robes were often found in the automobile seats. For reasons unknown to me, lap robes made of the hide of a horse were greatly favored. The robes were simply spread over the lap. Unhappily, the driver of the car could not use lap robes at all. He had plenty of other things to occupy his arms and legs and mind.

Signaling a turn was an important function in the era we are now discussing. In those days there were no direction signals, of course. A turn signal was accomplished by rolling down the driver’s side window and thrusting the left arm out beyond the automobile. In Missouri, for example, if the left arm were raised as it stuck out the window, it signaled a right turn. If the left arm tended to point toward the ground, it signaled a left turn. If the arm stuck straight out, it signaled caution to the drivers behind and to the drivers approaching the car. The signals were not uniform throughout the United States, which accounts for the fact that there were many accidents caused by confusion over the arm signals. As a general rule, passengers in the rest of the car were anxious for the driver to roll up the window to avoid icy blasts of snow and rain such as are occurring this afternoon.

In those days, the automobile owners were required to drain and replace the crank case oil every thousand miles. Ordinary automobiles used an oil called “30 S.A.E.” If my recollection is correct, the SAE stood for Standard American Engineers. On a day such as today, I might recommend to a driver that he use number 20 S.A.E., which was thinner than the number 30 S.A.E., to replace the oil drained from his crank case. It made starting a little easier. But if the engine of the car needed a ring job, its consumption of oil would increase.

Advances in technology have made the care and mothering of automobiles much less burdensome. Taking one thing with another, this old filling station attendant misses the old days not at all.

When I started this essay, I thought that it would be about segregated recollections. Now, having disposed of automobile recollections, there are two or three other matters that need to be recalled. In the 1930s, it is my recollection that every home was equipped with a hall tree that usually stood at or near the front door. Men in those days always wore hats and upon entering a household, polite men were instructed to hang their hats on a hall tree. There were also hooks for hanging an overcoat.

When I entered Clayton High School in January of 1936, the instructor or teacher in the shop department was a man called Sam Hall. Mr. Hall was a lovely person and no one fooled with him. He was perhaps six feet tall with a burly build. Somehow or other, he could instruct kids planning a board while at the same time teaching other children or other youngsters to run a lathe. I greatly admired Sam Hall, and as you might guess. My first project under his guidance was the construction of a hall tree.

To construct something like a hall tree, Mr. Sam Hall had a mantra that we all learned to repeat. It was: “Plane a board smooth and true, and mark it one. Plane an edge smooth and true, and mark it two.” I must confess that seventy some years have erased my memory as to what happened to marking it three and four and so forth. But by the time school had ended in June of 1936, my hall tree was completed and I carried it for the three miles to my home. My mother said it was the finest hall tree she had ever seen.

There is one other recollection from the 1930s that is unpleasant. In nearly every office, many of the desks came equipped with a spittoon. In those days, men chewed tobacco and sooner or later required a place to dispose of the contents in their mouths. I have never been adept at toe dancing, but as I walked around the St. Louis offices of AT&T, I had to be extremely careful not to kick a spittoon, which would result in my trouser leg becoming wet. Spittoons are gone now and, if I may say so, good riddance.

Now to move on to things of a more pleasant nature. As a youngster, my mother often offered her children tapioca pudding because it was a cheap dessert during the American Depression. I discovered on my last trip to Overlook Hospital that they occasionally serve tapioca pudding. All things being equal, I very much enjoy eating tapioca pudding. And so today, some seventy years after the Depression, Miss Chicka, my wife, makes tapioca pudding for me. To my delight, she has developed a taste for this desert, and it is one of the few pleasant memories that has survived since the 1930s.

When the ground becomes a little warm in the spring, those lucky enough to have bulbs of rhubarb will find green shoots rising from the ground. Those of you who have not tasted rhubarb are in for a treat. I have a great fondness for that fruit or vegetable or whatever it is, and we try to buy enough in the springtime to be frozen to last all winter. Unfortunately, the menus at such fancy places as the Four Seasons in New York offer no rhubarb at all. What a shame!

A final thought or two about recollections from the 1930s or thereabouts. There were those of us who, as winter approached, were required to wear long underwear. As time went on, the arms in the underwear lost their elasticity and tended to peak out from under one’s shirt. This was the source of great embarrassment to children such as myself who were required to wear the long underwear. Rich kids attending the same school could afford fancy sweaters but that was not the case for this old geezer. I do not have fond memories about long underwear and bring it up only as a segregated thought that goes with today’s essay.

Before wrapping up these disparate thoughts in today’s essay, a thought or two about female names comes to mind. It seems to me that very few parents are naming their female children with names such as Gertrude. Mildred is another name that is not much used these days. In the 1930s, there were female children named Shirley which, of course, had to do with Shirley Temple. From the decades prior to the 1930s, we have names like Olive and Verna Mae. On the male side of the ledger, not many parents are naming their children Harry or Willard. These are fine names and I regret to see their non-use.

Finally, in the St. Louis area, in the 1930s, there was a company that manufactured Skelly Gasoline. I have searched my memory and have been able to conclude that it was sold at only one station, run by an elderly gentleman named Stack. By this time, I suppose Skelly has gone the way of Gertrude, Mildred, and the other names of yore.

This essay was named segregated thoughts but perhaps it should have been named disparate thoughts. But no matter how you look at it, in the end it is nothing more than the recollections of an old-timer on a cold snowy February day.

I leave you now with the thought that before long the baseball season will take place. I know that in winter there is the agony of ice and snow but I take pleasure in the belief that sooner or later the baseball season will bring joy to us all. It is only a matter of time before an umpire will yell “Batter up!” and/or “Play Ball” and joy will be with us all.

February 27, 2008
Essay 296
Kevin’s commentary: Either I’m not getting something or a “manifold heater” is pretty much just a way to give oneself carbon monoxide poisoning. Relatedly, I’ve never, ever heard of “lap robes.” I just feel like even now, when signaling a turn can be done by moving one’s finger by about an inch, people signal turns about a third of the time. I can only imagine how infrequently people would actually signal turns when doing so required that you roll down the whole window and freeze everyone in the car. Ugh.

Speaking of old names, there was a very loud girl in the room a few doors down from me during my Junior year of college. Her name was Esther. Wolfram Alpha tells me that this name peaked in popularity around 1897. She was obnoxious as hell but that was still a 19-year-old named Esther, so maybe Gertrude and Mildred have hope still.

More thoughts on skid chains:
More on Mr. Hall and hall trees:


I started out life as a youngster. Granted that was in prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the great state of Missouri. As a youngster, it seemed to me that the years that were given to us were sturdy and rugged and were intended to last for more than 100,000 miles. In those days, the months were prolonged and had a feeling of sturdiness about them. When the last out in the baseball World Series was accomplished each October, a period of semi-gloom settled around us but it could be handled.

After the baseball season was consigned to the record books, there were Notre Dame football games which absorbed my attention and lasted through the Fall. On January 1, there was a national college championship game played in the Rose Bowl, which ended the football season. There was sturdiness and reliability about the Fall season. But once the calendar turned to January, a cold gloom settled over my young frame.

It was cold and damp as I walked the three miles to the public school that I attended. Inevitably, when I expressed the thought that I could not wait for Friday to come, my elders would tell me, “Boy, don’t wish your life away.” January and February were months of gloom and despair, and they seemed to never end. This is another example of how they used to make years in the old days. My best scientific estimate is that January and February and perhaps the early part of March lasted at least seven months. There was no baseball season at that time of year, of course, so time dragged endlessly. But no matter how you cut it, those extended months contributed to the thought that they don’t make years like they used to.

St. Louis lies below the confluence of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. When summer arrived in May, these two major rivers contributed toward an exceedingly humid climate. It lasted through May, June, July, August, and September. Those months took at least nine months to complete. There was however the fact that baseball was played in those months, which tended to make life go a little easier.

The net result of what I am saying so far is that in the old days, when I was a youngster, they made years that went on forever. Now, however, I am an oldster. Believe me, if you have a choice between being a youngster or being an oldster, always opt for the youngster category. As an oldster, it seems to me that the years go lickety-split. The term “lickety-split” occurred to my mind for the first time in perhaps 65 or 70 years. But as we grow older, there is no denying that the years fly by. Last year, I blinked my eyes, such as they are, blew my nose, and the year 2007 was gone. It all goes to demonstrate the immutable and infallible fact that the years these days are not made as they used to be made. The years these days are meant to be like Kleenex. They are to be used once and discarded almost immediately.

In former days, the years were bolstered by timbers of sturdy six-by-six oak and mahogany and even pieces of iron. As time went on, we could find the years being bolstered by a steel framework. Ah…, but those days are gone. Now it is a disposable society. It is a case of “use it once and then let us proceed to the next story”.

I suspect that part of the problem may have to do with imports from China. Lou Dobbs, the television commentator, always refers to imports from China as coming from “Red Communist China”. Dobbs may have something there in view of the fact that the toys sent us by the Chinese are tainted by lead and the toothpaste has an ingredient that may well kill you. So I am suggesting that part of our problem may be the imports from China. But no matter how you look at it, current years are not constructed in the old fashioned, wear like iron mode. The years these days are not supported by sturdy timbers of oak and mahogany, but by plastic or recycled pressed paper and cardboard. No one can expect years supported by plastic to last 100,000 miles.

In my humble estimation, the fundamental and basic problem lies in the bumpers that once adorned our automobiles fore and aft. Those of you with longer memories may recall that until about 1965 or ’70, every automobile had two sturdy bumpers to protect the grill as well as the back side. In addition, those bumpers had a use for helping others. In former days, it was not unusual to see a person whose battery was run down and whose car would not start without a push. In that case, the front bumper of the pushing car would be engaged with the rear bumper of the stalled car and it could be pushed until the car started. In other cases, when a car fell into a ditch, very often it could be yanked out by attaching a cable and a winch to the front or rear bumper.

During those years when bumpers were a standard part of the basic automobile, we were introduced to bumper jacks. If a tire went flat, the bumper jack could be placed under the bumper and with several strokes of the pumping mechanism, the car could be raised and the tire could be changed. The bumper jack came with the auto and was always carried in the trunk of the car. This may seem like a routine operation but as an old filling station attendant, I can tell you that it was not without its perils. There were occasions when the jack had lifted the car to its full height and then, as the lugs were being removed, the car would lurch toward the missing wheel and catch the person changing the tire in the arm or hand. In my case, I never changed a tire without having the spare immediately available. It goes without saying that when the bumper jack was extended to its full height, accidents of every sort could and did happen.

Well, in any case, the manufacturers of automobiles decided that they would integrate the bumpers into the exterior of the car. So for the last 20 years perhaps, there have been no bumpers at all any more. If one were to take a modern automobile and attempt to shove it against another car that would not start, damage would result to both the pusher and the pushee. This of course causes your insurance rates to be terribly inflated, all for the lack of a bumper. Obviously, the automobile manufacturers are in union with the insurance companies.

I have spent several hundred hours studying this matter having to do with the unsturdiness of the years that we now find inflicted upon us. I have gone to my attic, where there is silence and where I may experience the coldness of my youth. I have talked to scholars such as the man who delivers the newspaper and the attendant at the grocery store who rounds up the carts in the parking lot. My ultimate conclusion is that the construction of the years started to deteriorate when bumpers were removed from cars, which clearly accounts for the lickety-split situation that afflicts us today. As hard as I have tried, I cannot escape the conclusion that when the automobile manufacturers decided to jump into bed with the insurance companies, it meant inevitably that the years were not made as they used to be made. There may be scholars who will argue with my conclusion, but until a better reason comes along, I am going to stick with the bumper theory and doctrine. If Albert Einstein were alive, I am certain that he would subscribe to my infallible conclusion.

January 5, 2008
Essay 281
Kevin’s commentary: Oh man oh man. First off, welcome to 2008. It’s technically 2014 now but it’s 2008 in Ezras Essays time, dammit. And if Pop doesn’t like that years go by too quickly, now he gets to do 2008 again, in some small way.
Secondly I couldn’t ask for a more standard old fogey essay if I wanted to. I mean that in the most loving way possible. But seriously, when you ask most people how a typical old person story starts, it is invariably “back in my day, I had to walk five miles in the snow to school.” It’s a trope. Look, it’s documented right here.
However, I feel like most old people are not nearly as well spoken as Pop and they don’t do things like make neat car metaphors run through their stories. Which is why you should keep reading Ezras Essays instead of talking to your own grandparents. Even when mine are telling the oldest of stories, they do it better.