Archive for the 2005 Category

Letter to Kevin 6/15/05

Kevin –

Judy and I were delighted with your response to the letter and the essay about Mencken. I am not surprised by your mother withholding it from you. She may well have referred my letter to the FBI or to the Texas Holy Roller Diocese before she let you read it.

Basically, from the day of her conception, she has been a prominent juvenile delinquent. She jay walks, spits on sidewalks, cadges cigarettes and reads girlie magazines. In one of his regular appearances on Fox TV news, God himself told me to quit praying for her as it was out of his hands. God’s former wife told me that I would be turned into a pillar of salt if my prayers persisted. Tom Delay is the only person who could have any influence on your mother.

In your last sentence you suggest that sending more essays to Texas might be in order. I will be happy to do that. I have been writing essays for about eight years. I believe that 200 or more essays have been written here. Your tap dancing mother has most if not all of them. Judy and I will go through them and send you some.

As you read the essays, remember that unjust wars disgust me. Iraq for example. I am a liberal Democrat whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the British royal family – or for anyone else’s kings, queens, princes, etc. Gay marriage is fine with me. Generally speaking, all the prohibitions of the Catholic Church are regarded here as the acme of stupidity. My writings mock politicians, preachers and do-gooders. I praise countries that sing, such as the Celts. The death penalty is abhorrent to me. I like baseball and consider NASCAR racing as obscene.

Now about your debating skills. Reading Mencken would be a good investment of your time. He was a sharp logician who laughed at the many of the laws that hampered this country. Prohibition of the sale or consumption of beer or whiskey was high on HLM’s lists of foolish laws.

I hope you can find books by Mencken in your library. I believe I have everything that he put between hard covers so we can be a resource for you. There is a new book dealing with the Bible that is excellent reading because it is logical. It is “Sins of Scripture, Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate…”. John Shelby Spong, who was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark wrote it. If you ever get into a debate about such things as homosexual acts, etc. it is the gold standard for setting the Biblical situation straight. The book was published in 2005 by Harpers in San Francisco. The subhead is “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.”

When we get the mailing together, we will talk some more. I am delighted by your interest in Henry Mencken who had a profound influence on my life.

Stay strong,
e-mailed 6-15-05


It is with reluctance that I publish my 15-year-old-self’s email that Pop is replying to here. Even though it makes me cringe, I take solace in the fact that Judy is probably the only person reading this, and she’s seen it already. For extra context, apparently my mother had waited three months to hand me one of Pop’s essays that was sent to me specifically.

I am truly, truly sorry that I could not have read your essay about HLM earlier, seeing as it was written on March second. It was mailed May 15. It was given to this particular churchwallop….10 minutes ago. Needless to say, I read both parts of the letter right away.
Addressing the first part: dad says that all I need in order to be the essential twin of Jesse Halloman is a handlebar mustache. I’ll work on that one. About religion: I have decided that there is in fact a God, but He really doesn’t give a damn about us. Nor did he create us. Nor did he do much of anything really; mom calls this the watchmaker approach. I have long since considered the bible a load of crock, and have yet to read it. “Religion is the archenemy of progress” made me think, and i’ve come to accept that it is absolutely right. I’ve heard that more people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than by both Stallin and Hitler combined. The essay itself was another work of brilliance, and it got me to wondering if our library has any books by Mencken–he seems to think like a debater, and arguments against a rigid state and or democracy would be a wonderful tool to have in my cases. I thank you for passing the torch, and introducing another generation to this author.
As for the two paragraphs from chain of command, it reminded me strikingly of good old jack shepherd–if you say you’re getting a milkshake, you’re getting one. Then I realized that i had just compared George W. Bush to someone as great as Jack, and was disgusted with myself.
I thank you for your letter and essay.

P.S. try grounding mom…forbid her to leave the house until she has given all mail directed to me, well, to me. I enjoy reading your essays, and hope you send more.

Upon reflection twelve years later, it strikes me that the “watchmaker” theory here is more of an issue of nomenclature than of theology. Everything is caused by something else (exempting, perhaps, extremely advanced physics on very small scales), so the “watchmaker” approach is tantamount to just saying “there was a big bang, so we’ll just say that “God” is whatever phenomenon that kicked that off.” I think that’s where I was coming from at the time when I “Decided that there is in fact a God” above.
Any deeper probing into the watchmaker theory makes it fall apart just as much as any typical explanation of God, namely that one is forced to wonder what created or came before God, which of course is a dead-end line of thinking. Looking at small-scale physical interactions of particles and extrapolating as far backwards into the big bang as we can with physics is probably a much better bet if you want to eventually find out what happened to cause all this.

It’s cute to see one of my first written essay responses, though. I’ve done over seven hundred now!


Word has reached these ears that you have expressed the view that life would not be worth living if blindness ever occurred to you. This letter is not meant to chastise or to criticize that point of view, because the author has had many of those same thoughts in recent years. I fully understand the thought about life not being worthwhile after blindness occurs.

The purpose of this letter is to encourage you to consider the thoughts of a recently blinded man before your idea about life not being worthwhile is set in concrete. It seems to me that there may be some merit in the views of a person who recently became blind and who may offer some thoughts on the subject.

My bona fides are fairly obvious. For eleven years, I did without the sight in my left eye due to an expulsive choroidal hemorrhage during a trabeculectomy which is a process aimed at relieving pressure on the optic nerve. This summer, the pressure apparently expanded in the right eye, and despite all efforts to save it, it was also lost. A trabeculectomy on the right eye was performed at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia in October and unfortunately, it did not restore my sight. So for better or for worse, I am now a completely blind man. I do not see shapes or shadows or anything of the sort, I simply stare into blank space.

The major purpose of this letter to a friend is to tell you that it is still possible to enjoy life even after the devastating onset of blindness. I am trying to say that the onset of blindness does not mean the end of life. It just is not so. There is absolutely no gainsaying the fact that your life after blindness will change fairly dramatically, but that is not a reason to say, “I want to do away with my life because of blindness.” At this early stage in my blindness, the facts seem to say that blindness can be worked around and can be accommodated in spite of the debilitating effect it may have on a person. Clearly, a person afflicted by blindness will need a substantial amount of help. For example, I can no longer write checks. If I wrote a check, the bank would instantly reject it. There is a debate about eating because I am not yet ready, as a blind man, to appear in a public place to consume a meal because my eating habits have been altered by blindness. On the other hand, I have been able to resume many of my activities, starting with getting around the house, going shopping, and things of that nature.

Being blind does not mean the end of everything. Ray Charles, the entertainer who died recently, once contended that his blindness was only 1% of his total experience in living. I rejected that thought in an essay called “Ray Charles is Full of Spit.” Blindness is considerably more than 1% of a person’s living experience. On the other hand, there is no reason to say that 99% of my life is now shot, therefore I will retire to a hole in the ground and pull the dirt in over me and wait until an angel comes to carry me away.

Yes, you will need some help. Balancing your check book is one subject and reading a newspaper is another. Those things have to be worked out over time. But the burden of what I am trying to say is that those things are surmountable. Please understand that blindness cannot be defeated. It certainly can not. But it can be accommodated and lived with. When a thing is accommodated and lived with, there is no drastic reason to end one’s life. In the short time that I have been completely and totally blind, I have learned how to use the white cane and how to get around the house, not totally easily but with a modest degree of proficiency. As each day passes, it seems to me that my repertoire of experiences as a blind man grows slowly and so, in time, I hope to live a life resembling the life I had when I could see. I know that will never happen, but it is something to strive for.

When one considers what has happened to the people, to the soldiers, who have been badly injured and mutilated in Iraq, those of us who are blind have absolutely no reason to moan about it. A news report a week ago portrayed a 21 year old soldier who not only was brain damaged, his eyes were shot, he was blind, he was unable to breathe, and he had to be fed through a hole in his throat.

Good gracious, that is nothing compared to a man like me who even at 83½ years is able to exercise 4 days a week and is capable of doing a lot of things. When I see a report about what we are doing to our soldiers in Iraq, I am angry beyond reason. But it also demonstrates the fact that those fellows have a lot more reason to want to end their lives than those of us who acquired blindness late in life. I hope this gives you a thought or two about ending your life.

As I conclude this letter, I wish to point out that blindness does not flow from any celestial creature. It is not a function of Jesus, Allah, the Holy Ghost, Joseph Ratzinger (the new pope) or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson to order a case of blindness. But most significantly, regardless of the candles that are lit and regardless of the novenas that might be said, all of those creatures who reside somewhere above the clouds cannot cure my blindness or yours either. The thought that blindness could be cured by some appeal to a celestial creature went out of style at least in the first or second century. It is up to you to live with the situation and make the best of it, as opposed to praying and hoping that it would go away. The fact of the matter is, blindness is a permanent condition and must be lived with and taken into account at every turn.

I hope this letter reaches you when you are in a receptive mood and before your views about ending your life are firmly established. If you should decide that life is now not worth living, more than anybody else, I will respect and understand that point of view, because I’ve had those thoughts myself. I hope this finds you well. Blindness is not something to be happy about, but if nothing else, I can tell you from my small experience, it can be lived with and it is not a proper reason to consider ending anyone’s life.

Warmest regards,
December 25, 2005


Pretty heavy subject for a Christmas letter, Pop! Still, this is a sweet and realistic note, which is hopefully exactly the type of honest assessment that the recipient needed to hear at the time. I hope it made an impact.


EEC dictation 11-17-05 1st DRAFT

The subject of this essay today is blindness. No circumlocutions, no euphemisms, just plain blindness. The blindness, of course, has to do with your old essay writer. As time went on during the recent series of eye operations, it became apparent that aphasia began to make giant strides toward erasing my memory of words and phases. Aphasia has to do of course with the inability to recall words.

This essay is written not as a perverse to spoil anybody’s yearend celebrations, but rather an attempt to deal with galloping aphasia in my own case.

It just so happens that the subject I have chosen is blindness because the two are, in my case, closely related.

It is not in my interest to attempt to persuade you to render any sympathy for me. Far, far from it. This essay is simply a device as a means of achieving some more mental agility which will push away effects of aphasia.

The fact of the matter is that once glaucoma takes a hold on your eyesight, there is not much you can do about it but to fight it. But in the end, if you live long enough, glaucoma may be the winner. I am the son of a blind man who lost he site to glaucoma some where age of 64 or 65 years. I am the brother of a man who lost his sight somewhere near his 60th year. I am the brother of another fellow who lost his sight near his 70th year. So the object is to outlive glaucoma but it is not always possible to do so, witness the recent events having to do with myself.

What I would propose to do today is to first welcome all of those who wish me well. On the hand, there are those who offered to say a prayer in my behalf. For those offering to say a prayer, it should be observed that, my attitude for 65 years toward religion has been one of non-belief in organized religion, disorganized religion and unorganized religion. I appreciate the thought, but it appears to me that prayers will not necessarily change things.

The thought today in this essay, is merely to account for certain factors that I had not known before blindness set in. The blind person has no series of reference compass. He does not know if the is facing east or west, north or south. It is easy for him to become confused and it is easy for him to loose his balance and fall down.

Beyond that there is the thought that things are not always what they seem to be. For example, when a room is entered by a blind person like myself, if things go well, in a series of functions, good results will occur. On the other hand, if there is some confusion, the whole deck of cards tends to fall over. For example, it has seemed to me that there are rooms in this house that occasionally have been rearranged. With the door on the one end of the room as opposed to the other end. At the same time, there are occasions that the doors that I count on to get me from one place to another do not add up, and I wind up being easily and totally confused. As things have worked out, logic seems to be the only savior. If I can locate one familiar object, say such as the dresser, then the rest of the objects tend to fall in place. But in the meantime, there is great confusion as to where I am and how I am going to proceed, simply because of the confusion generated by my lack of sight.

At the moment, I am doing fairly well in the familiar surroundings of our house. The bathrooms and the kitchen etc are well known and I can get to them with no great trouble. One the other hand, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, builders built a large number of home called split-levels. In those split-level, there are a large number of stairways.

Some of the stairways are 6 or 7 steps. No matter how you cut it, they are stairways and they can be fallen down fairly easily. This is the second split level house that I have occupied. And it is necessary at all times to keep in mind where the stairways are located.

Venturing outside the house requires my close association with my wife Judy, who acts as my eyes. Without her, I would be pretty well up the creek without a paddle. Last Saturday we bought a white cane which is a very valuable instrument but it still does not match sight. Going outside requires unfamiliar territory to be negotiated. That is an onerous task in many cases. Being blind tends to wear the blind person down, as every second is consumed with fear of falling down or some other catastrophe. Both when I am with Judy, and the walking stick I tend to get along fairly well.

I think that by this time, you have the fact of life in my case and I am required for better or for worse to deal with it. Blindness is not an adventure as in a pregnancy, but it is a fact that has to be dealt with. All of this leads to this essay and leads me to the title of this essay and reflections on my relationship with my father.

Ezra Sr., a very proud man, was completely blind for the last 12 or 13 years of his life. The five Carr children all understood that glaucoma was an ailment that could be transmitted from one person to his children. In this case, blindness has gotten to my brother Earl. And Charley died at age 60 and thus seemed to avoid blindness. The two women involved seem to have been able to live normal lives despite acquiring glaucoma.

When my father developed glaucoma, he turned himself over to the Post brothers who operated out of Barnes Hospital, a well known institution in St. Louis. At that time, it seemed to me that surgery was perhaps the only solution in an attempt to handle glaucoma. Before long, my father’s eyes were an unsightly mess. During the Depression, my father went for quite a while without a job, through no fault of his own, until he landed a position that was to care for the grounds in a large subdivision in University City, Missouri. In spite of his ability not to see things, he tried to trim a tree at the end of his career. He said he believed that he was stepping on a limb of that tree, and of course there was no limb. He fell on his skull, fracturing it, and ended up in a hospital. That was the end of his career and for the next 11 years he was housebound.

At first, people used to come and drive him to church, but within two or three months, that came to an end. He was reduced to sitting next to his Atwater Kent and listening to the news reports. Eventually he began to listen to adventure stories about the wild west. He more or less threw himself into the action.

Ezra Senior, as I have said before, was a very proud man who treasured the life that he had left in rural Illinois. He refused to give in to city ways. When he for example, went to a small café near his house, he would order a white sod-ee, not a white soda. The name of the state that contains L.A. was pronounced Cal-i-for–nee, not California. One of my sisters attempted to make his language a little bit more modern, but every time she said something, he reverted to his former ways with greater tenacity. I stayed out of the debate about locutions as I knew where it would end.

Ezra Sr. was a man who honored his Irish forbearers, which resulted in his use of the strongest epithet I have ever heard, which resulted in the word “bloody.” When we were out driving in one of his Studebakers, if the engine talked back to us, he would say, “I’ve got to fix those bloody tappets.” Another one of his mispronunciations had to do with the word nuisances. It turns out that if George Bush, who graduated from Yale and then took a masters degree from Harvard, can say “nuc-u-lear,” then there is no reason for my father to avoid saying noose-i-nance. My old man was not without his faults, but he was a tough guy. He said about his blindness, “Yes, it’s not easy to deal with, but more than anything else, it is a bloody nuisance.”

And so I tend to take pretty much the same attitude that it is a bloody nuisance that will have to be dealt with. I am, of course , not happy about the loss of my sight but I am philosophical knowing that everything that could have been done, was done. So as a pragmatist, I intend to live as best I can, for whatever time remains, with the thought that there could be some good come out of this whole mess.

I appreciate your staying with me thorough this essay during the Holiday season. If things go well, perhaps next year we might have a more pleasant message.

November 17, 2005

Blindness teaches patience. And secondly, blindness has the virtue of never causing anyone to search for his eyeglasses again.


I’m publishing a draft, because:
1) it gives some fun insight into his iterative process post-blindness,
2) it’s sufficiently well-assembled to stand alone as an essay, and
3) it’s the last thing from 2005 to be published.

I think he got in the remark about not having to search for eyeglasses in a later essay, because that certainly rings a bell.


As a general rule, Gentiles who profess a religious faith tend to claim that they are Christians of one sort or another. While Christianity requests that it adherents subscribe to various rules, a good many rules are ignored or are deliberately violated. A case in point is the Catholic teaching that use of birth control is a major sin. If that is so, why do so many Catholic couples call it quits after having two or three children? Are these couples leading celibate lives for the bulk of their marriages? Probably not.

There is also a Christian rule found in the third commandment of the Ten Commandments barring the use of God’s name in vain. As in the case of birth control, this dictum is often ignored or violated. This immutable fact underlies the use of the expression, “Oh, Good Jesus.” This is simply an expression. It is not a cry for Jesus to scoop them up and comfort them. This expression occurs when a statement is made that violates all the accepted principles of credulity. For example, when someone tells you that poor people who do not have enough to eat are ecstatic with their circumstances, the common reaction is generally, “Oh Good Jesus.” The same expression applies when the grand dragon of the Republican Party tells us that the war in Iraq is being fought to make American homes and citizens more secure. Precisely the opposite is the case.

This essay is largely about the abuses of the Bushies in the New Orleans disaster which makes it eminently appropriate for Jews, Buddists, Pagans, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and Zoroastrians to join in the chorus of “Oh, good Jesus.”

The actions of the Bush people about the calamity that was visited upon New Orleans are instructive. Barbara Bush must have enjoyed a terrible fit of anger when she conceived her oldest son, George W. The virgin birth that followed was sanctified 55 years later by the law firm of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas when they anointed him the President of these United States. When Barbara Bush visited the evacuees from New Orleans in their current home in Houston, she said the following:

“This is working out very well for them. Almost everyone I’ve talked to says they’re going to move to Houston. What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this (she cackles slightly) is working out very well for them.”

Marie Antoinette is alive and well in Barbara Bush.

She was speaking about people who had lost everything back home in New Orleans. Barbara says they were underprivileged anyway, so obviously, things are working out well. They are broke, with no job prospects, often separated from their families and 350 miles away. So for Barbara Bush, who more or less said “Let them eat cake,” it must be said:

Oh good Jesus! Barbara, are you nuts?

Her prosperous son, George W. announced in a photo op cabinet meeting that HE, PERSONALLY, was going to find out “what went right and what went wrong.” This, of course, is nothing more than a whitewash. The New York Times says, “We can’t imagine a worse idea.” To that eminent investigative sleuth, we say:

George, good Jesus. Shades of John Ashcroft in the Valerie Plame outing. The MAN himself is going to investigate his own Administration and his own mistakes? Give me a break!

In April or May, when George W. paid a condolence call on Cindy Sheehan and others who had lost their sons in Iraq, he stepped in the room and said, according to Ms. Sheehan, “And who are we honoring today?”

The President of the United States with a support staff numbering in the thousands, cared so little that he ignored, out of laziness, the work done for him prior to his meeting with the bereaved parents. Simply put, he cared not at all. “So who are we honoring here today?”

George, Oh good Jesus is insufficient in this case.

While we are on the deplorable subject of Bush, he is quoted everywhere as saying, “Who knew that waves would top the levees?” The reason those waves topped the levees is that the Bush Administration stopped the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and used the money for tax cuts and for Iraq. Any more questions?

This brings to mind Bush’s girlfriend, Condoleezza who said that prior to September 11, 2001, “NO ONE ever thought of planes flying into buildings.” Madame Secretary was absent from school on the day when Kamikazi crashes in WWII were discussed. That happened in 1943, 1944 and 1945. The World Trade Center happened in 2001. Madame Rice was uninformed for 55 years.

To Bush and his paramour, we say, Oh good Jesus in spades!

More on George W. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives met with Bush in the presence of others. She asked him, in view of everything that went wrong in New Orleans by FEMA, why didn’t Bush fire Michael Brown, head of FEMA. She said that Bush replied, “Why would I do that?” According to Minority Leader Pelosi, Bush said he was unaware of things going wrong in New Orleans. Figure that one out. It must be supposed that the debacle in New Orleans was only a Democratic plot.

On Thursday, the 8th, the Bush Administration starting with Scott McClelland, tried to peddle the line that there had been no colloquy between Pelosi and Bush. Plainly and flatly, the White House was calling Pelosi a liar even though there were several other witnesses.

For this we say, “Oh, sweet smelling good Jesus.” Does anyone see the hand of Karl Rove in this mess?

Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “It makes no sense to spend the money to rebuild New Orleans.” Perhaps in Hastert’s view, Bourbon and Canal Streets and all the surrounding New Orleans territory would become a parking lot. This came after he promoted the pork heavy highway bill that donated $200 million to Hastert’s district in Illinois, for his “Prairie Parkway.” That same bill appropriated something on the order of $1 billion to build a bridge in Alaska to connect an outlying island to the mainland. The bridge exceeds the cost of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and connects the 50 residents of the island with the rest of Alaska so that cars do not have to take the ferry. But to rebuild New Orleans? No way. That is good money chasing bad dreams. For you, Dennis Hastert, we say:
Oh good Jesus! Hastert has no shame at all.

When the inept Michael Chertoff who supposedly runs the Department of Homeland Security and his completely incompetent helper, Michael Brown of FEMA said, after two of three days of national television pictures of the squalor in the New Orleans Superdome, “We just found out today about people in the Superdome.” They must watch no television news programs. To them, we say:

Michael and Michael, Oh good Jesus to both of you lying fools.

The Associated Press had a dispatch picked up all over the world. It said that Brown of FEMA had waited – in spite of warnings – until after Katrina had struck the coast. Hours after the disaster, Brown asked Chertoff to dispatch FEMA employees to the region and said that they should arrive “In the next two days.” He wrote that “they should convey a positive image” about the government response. Two days to get there with the thoughts that they were no more than shills for the government’s image. To you, Chertoff and to you Brown –

Oh double good Jesus.

At the photo op cabinet meeting, our Commander in Chief is quoted in the New York Times as “sneering” when he said, “One of the things that some people want us to do here is to play a blame game.” This is the fellow who blamed the lowly enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib for the nightmare there – and no court-martials or anything else for officers or for Rumsfeld. Only Brigadier General Janet Karpinski, a woman, was censured. This is the fellow, along with Karl Rove, who is contriving blame for Mrs. Blanco, the female Governor of Louisiana – who is a Democrat – to accept responsibility for the Federal government’s failure. For the criminal actions of George Bush, we can only say –

Oh good Jesus! This Administration makes no mistakes.

Even in the early days of the Katrina disaster, there are dozens of other examples where the Bush people failed to take action. George himself took two days to cut off his five week vacation. Then he donned his Air Force #1 jacket to fly over the misery. From 20,000 feet, there is not much that anyone can do.

Tom Friedman, who writes op-ed pieces for the New York Times berated the Administration in scathing terms on September 7, 2005. His two closing thought was:

“If Mr. Bush goes back to his politics as usual, he’ll be thwarted at every turn…Katrina will have destroyed a city and a president.”

If Katrina delivers us from the inept George Bush by destroying his presidency, even this old non-believer will say, “Thank you, Jesus” in place of “Oh good Jesus.”

Final thoughts at this time some ten days after Katrina hit. A poll among Republicans disclosed that 74% of the Republicans polled approve of Bush’s handling of the emergency. This must mean that 74% of the Republican base has no understanding of the poverty that was the lot of New Orleans residents. It must mean that compassion for black people

is something we talk about occasionally – but we do nothing about it. It must mean that the New Orleans disaster makes interesting commentary
during our Republican polo games played at our country club. In a nutshell, it means that Barbara Bush’s attitude of “Let them eat cake” prevails from the boy-king down to the precinct leader in Louisiana. To all of them, every American should say:

Oh, good Jesus! And the Republicans claim to love God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost!

September 8, 2005


Waiting until after a massive hurricane makes landfall to dispatch aid is inexcusable. Sure, if the hurricane is a week away, don’t dispatch FEMA. But if it’s a day away, or twelve hours away, you can be faily certain that it will land, and fully certain that people will need help. The idea that 74% of Republicans thought that that as “good enough” is horrifying.


In a previous essay, I commented on the effects of aphasia, which is a stroke-induced ailment. As I mentioned in that essay, aphasia is a brain-related injury as opposed to a heart-related injury. People who have strokes often call for the cardiologist but in fact what they need is a neurologist.

One of the characteristics of aphasia is that it hurts not at all. That is to say, your arm or your leg or your head doesn’t hurt, but the hurt will only be to your confidence and your feelings of well-being. Aphasia has to do with the inability to recall names of people and other items of interest. It is quite possible, indeed it is more likely, that I can describe all of the circumstances surrounding an individual or an item of interest and still be totally unable to recall its name. That is aphasia. As I reported earlier, I could describe the NBC announcer Tom Brokaw, who wrote the book called The Greatest Generation, in great detail but I could not recall his name. At least I am a civilian with no great responsibilities any more but it would be catastrophic if I had aphasia were I to be a druggist. For example, I would mix up a prescription and put it in a bottle; a customer would come in and I would tell him to take two in the morning but I can’t remember his name. He might tell me that what I had prepared for him was an aspirin. That’s fine with me, but I couldn’t recall it.

Another aspect of aphasia is that highways with numbers on them are a blur to me. I can’t really recall the difference between Highway 78 or Highway 80 or any other highway anymore. All of this goes to say that I would not be a great guide to lead you around this part of the country or any place else. Another aspect of aphasia is that I frequently forget its name. In addition to that, I frequently forget the name of glaucoma, the ailment that has taken my sight. As I say, aphasia hurts not at all but it is a problem to be forced to ask my wife or my friends, “Who was that fellow?” or “What was the name of that highway?”

One of the few benefits of aphasia is that the people at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute told me to write essays as a means of stimulating my brain activity. At this point, I suspect I have written perhaps 200 such essays since 1997. For unknown reasons, I have never enumerated them all. They are in binders behind my desk and the totality of the binders suggests that perhaps 200 have been written. But nonetheless aphasia offered me the opportunity to be instructed by Shirley Morgenstein who remains as one of my treasured friends.

In preparing for this essay, I had forgotten the name of the Kessler Institute and had to be reminded by my wife. Earlier this evening I wrote a letter to William Rudin, the man who bought 32 Sixth Avenue where there is a plaque honoring the dead from World War II among Long Lines employees. I remembered Rudin’s name but of all things I forgot for a time the name of one of the dead men who sat within seven or eight feet of me and whom I knew very well. His name was Bernie Wheeler and he was killed shortly after the war started because he was an army reservist who was called up immediately.

I have been writing essays as you can see since 1997 and I suspect that if I had not written essays, my ability to recall names probably would be much worse. Nonetheless, recalling names of people or places or things still poses a problem. On the other hand, there are names that come to me almost instantly from people I knew not very well at all. For example, I have known Tom Scandlyn for 48 years. Over that span of years, I met his wife perhaps five or six times. Nonetheless I can recall Naomi Green, her maiden name, almost instantly yet I can not fish out the name from my mind for the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation. Please go figure.

My advice to all my readers is fairly simple. If you wish to avoid aphasia and all of its attendant disabilities, please do not lay yourself open to having a stroke. On the other hand, if you are ever afflicted with aphasia, I will welcome you to the club, providing I can remember your name. And as I said at the outset of this essay, aphasia doesn’t hurt at all. There are no aches or pains or anything of the sort. You may become insane from not being able to recall a name but that doesn’t qualify as something that hurts. Again, my advice to you if you wish to avoid aphasia is to avoid having a stroke. But on the other hand, my neurologists have been lovely women. So there may be some benefit after all.

While I am in a state of I am going to torture my baseball playing grandsons by asking them if they know who had the names of “Big Poison” and “Little Poison” and the Detroit pitcher called Eldn Aucker. Those three fellows played major league baseball in the 1930s and 40s, and my grandsons will go nuts trying to figure out who they are. For the private information of all of my readers, Big Poison and Little Poison were Paul and Lloyd Waner, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Eldn Aucker was the submarine pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who pitched in the 1940s and perhaps the early 1950s. It will be a pleasure for me to watch somebody else trying to figure out who that name represents. Those two baseball playing kids may develop juvenile aphasia, which will be my contribution to the lexicon of neurology.

While we are in the business of extending remarks from previous essays, I thought that it would be well to extend remarks on the essay written earlier having to do with old time language. You may recall that was the essay where my mother, upon learning of the death of my father, commented, “I reckon he was plumb wore out.” As soon as the mailings were taken to the post office, four more thoughts occurred having to do with ancient English language that I had not thought of before. For example, if a lawyer stands up in front of a jury and says, “I aim to prove this man is innocent,” he means “I intend to prove this man is innocent. Intend has apparently simply replaced aim in the American language. There is another aspect here. My parents would consider the word “cemetery” an upscale word. Ordinarily they always referred to what we now call cemeteries as the graveyard. It is hard for me to understand why graveyard was replaced.

Finally, there is the matter of dinner and supper. For example, Tom Scandlyn invited Judy and me over to his house for lunch. In old-time English, my parents and his parents would have referred to the noon-day meal as being dinner. The meal that is eaten at the close of the day is called supper. I suspect that Tom will agree with those designations.

As time goes on, I suspect that more words will pop into my mind having to do with latter day substitutions for perfectly adequate words that existed in the old days. If that happens, I will try to keep you informed.

May 17, 2006

As a fun fact, it seems like this essay never finished its editing process; it wasn’t sent to Pop’s normal mailing list. It featured a few edits from Eva that indicated that it was still incomplete. However, it was the only one I could find that hadn’t yet been put on the site. I’m away from my normal computer where I track all these sorts of things (I’m at a wedding in Austin) so it was surprisingly difficult to locate a new essay to publish, so here we are. I’ll be double checking when I get back that I haven’t somehow missed a year full of essays or something, but from the looks of it this project may soon be complete. Strange for me to think about — I’ll write more on that when it happens.


There are those in academia who claim that knowledge of Latin gives a student a major leg up when it comes to understanding other foreign tongues. I am a great dissenter from that viewpoint. Latin is of no value in deciphering some of the world’s major languages, such as English or German, or any of the languages of Eastern European groups or of the Asiatics, such as the Japanese or the Chinese. It seems to me that Greek counts most when dealing with non-English words. Take Aphasia. The Greeks say it is the loss or impairment of the power to use words usually resulting from a brain lesion. As far as can be determined now in the 21st Century, the Latin speaking academicians had no word for it. Only the Greeks. So stay with the Greeks.

I have no claim to academic credentials. The Clayton Missouri Public Schools had me as its student through all 12 grades in their system. John Bracken was Clayton’s long time superintendent of schools. They taught Latin, but as far as anyone can remember, they taught no Greek at all. At Clayton, Latin was a subject of great disinterest to me as I avoided study of that dead language. I had no interest in being a priest. On the other hand, after I left school and began to work in filling stations, it was my lot for Tallis Liacoupoulus, a Greek who worked in a small nearby restaurant, to become one of my best friends. He worked for an uncle, Leon Antonapolus. His family spoke Greek among themselves and with my being curious, they would sometimes explain Greek words or sayings to me. So when it was time to join the United States Army, I knew a little about Greek speech and virtually nothing about Latin and I wound up in Italy.

The definition that the Greeks used to describe aphasia is quite accurate insofar as it goes. Clearly, those who experience aphasia will find their ability to use words impaired, and they will have their pride tested. Sometimes the impairment is greater and there are times when the brain simply refuses to function. And there are occasions when an aphasia impaired person has a thought in his or her mind, but it is delivered in a garbled fashion. On other occasions, the aphasia affected person will not enter a conversation to express a thought because it may be forgotten by the time he or she wishes to speak. And there is more which I will try to describe in this little exploration into the effects of aphasia. That is what this essay will attempt to describe.

Since late November, 1997 when I had a major stroke, aphasia has been my constant companion. Fortunately, the stroke did not impair any of my limbs. It seems that the main result of the stroke was the brain lesion which caused, in the beginning, a severe dose of aphasia. So I have wrestled with aphasia for the past five years and I expect it will be with me the rest of my life. So those are my bona fides to comment on the effects of aphasia. I did not plan on becoming a commentator on what causes aphasia. I am not qualified to do that. In my case, it just happened. Now it is my continuing intent to defeat and subdue aphasia rather than having it the other way around. In the main, after five years of trying, I think my efforts have been fairly successful.

When it becomes apparent that the stroke sufferer has lost the power to recall words, there is a chance – or perhaps I should say a danger – that he or she may simply remain silent. This is a matter of pride. There is the embarrassment factor at work here. Forgetting words and concepts is an embarrassment. An even greater embarrassment is to have the stroke sufferer deliver his comment in a garbled fashion. The mind may have a strong idea of what needs to be said, but the tongue mixes up the subject and the predicate so that the comment is very difficult to understand.

For example, at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, while the staff had me in intensive care, there were six or eight other bodies in this small room. It became very warm there so the obvious solution was to turn down the thermostat. I knew what the problem was, but it was impossible for me to express that thought about being hot – or cold for that matter – in any fashion. And thermostat never entered my mind. Finally, a nurse came by and I drew her what looked like a thermostat facing and I showed her how if I moved the imaginary needle to the right, sweat would appear on my brow. Moving it to the left caused me to shiver. She got the idea, but in that whole episode, I couldn’t think of the words “thermostat” or “warm” or “cold.” Having to use a crude drawing might possibly be an embarrassment, but I waded in and let any embarrassment take a back seat.

There is another factor at work here having to do with the intrusion of a word or words that make no sense whatsoever. Let’s say that “carnival” weighs on your mind, as some of these nonsense words often do. And let us say that today, a waiter asks you about your order for lunch only to be told that, “I would like a hamburger and a carnival.” There are dozens of nonsense words that I had to purge before I spoke. In any case, this is another reason to remain silent rather than to risk embarrassment. Pride again.

The dictionary definition of aphasia as we said earlier, is the loss or impairment of the power to use words. Man, that’s only the half of it. What do you do when your brain completely shuts down or goes on strike? In some cases, the better off aphasia sufferer will search for a synonym. Let’s say he can’t think of the word “watch.” If his brain is at work, he may say “timepiece” or “Timex” or “Movado.” But when your brain simply shuts down completely, there is a period of silence which is a major embarrassment. In my case, there is a background of labor negotiations, lobbying and speechmaking where it was necessary to have a quick response to everything. When my brain occasionally shuts down, even at this late date and even at my age, I feel embarrassment. I understand embarrassment. And I comprehend pride.

Perhaps what is more embarrassing is to forget the subject under discussion. This may not happen much anymore, but when there are allied subjects to the main subject, it is a real problem to remember what points B, C and D are when they are ready to be broached. Losing a train of thought can happen very easily and it has not much to do with the impairment of the power to use words. It has to do with forgetting and losing the train of thought. Again, it is an embarrassment even if it happens in private.

This happens often in writing. My handwriting is about like other peoples, I suppose. Sometimes, I will have a thought and it is urgent to write it down before it is forgotten. This results in words that are misspelled or words that make no sense at all. Before the stroke well into my 75th year, I could easily retain those thoughts until they could be written and recorded. After the onset of aphasia, it is important that the thoughts be recorded quickly before being forgotten. As I said earlier, not being able to recall a word is only the half of it when it comes to aphasia. Forgetting is a major problem.

Now we come to the issue of concentration. Since aphasia became a major factor in my life, I find that it is urgent that all my powers of concentration be applied to the subject at hand. When it comes to reading stock tables, it is often difficult for me to remember which letter follows what other letter. “M’s” and “N’s” are good examples. Locating Comcast, for example, is a bit of a problem because it is necessary for me to sound out the word and to realize that it is “Comcast,” not “Concast.” Before aphasia, I never had that trouble. This same problem applies to looking up words in the dictionary or names in the telephone directory.

If I had trouble with the alphabet in reading stock tables, looking up words in the dictionary or dealing with the telephone directory, it all pales in comparison with my bank statements. I never claimed great expertise with numbers, but aphasia really threw a monkey wrench into the gears. All I am talking about is a simple checking account. In a month, perhaps I would write 25 or 30 checks. But when Chase sent me a monthly statement, I knew that a major battle was about to be joined. I am doing much better now, but I still look forward to the arrival of the monthly statement with a degree of distaste and I blame the lingering effects of aphasia for this outlook.

Now a little more about concentration. When driving my car, I never use the radio because it would impact my concentration. As a flyer for the U. S. Army Air corps – later the Air Force – we were trained to listen for noises that might presage engine trouble or for the sound of bullets hitting the plane’s skin. Those factors do not apply anymore, but I am not casual about driving a car. It is important that concentration be applied so that I don’t forget what I am doing. It goes without saying, that cell phone usage does not ever occur in my car. Another long term effect of aphasia.

I find also that words spoken by other people during a TV newscast, for example, are distracting. My concentration on the newscast is broken by the distraction which all goes to show that with the after effects of aphasia, it is largely possible to do one thing at a time – but not two or three things at a time.

Related to concentration is this thought. In a complex sentence where two or more people are involved, it is often difficult for me to determine who did what to whom if the account goes on in great detail. In my letters and essays, I usually deal with only one subject at a time. When I attempt to bring in other characters in an effort to make the account more concise or to save space, even I am unable to tell you who the “he” or “she” is in the concluding lines in the sentence structure. For example, in the attached story by Sam Dillon in the New York Times, I read only a part of the story before I was lost between Father Anderson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the man who claimed he had been sexually abused, Mr. Andreas. Perhaps if I subscribed to the Catholic faith, I might be able to distinguish between the litigants, but the lingering aspects of aphasia makes it not worth my while to figure out who did what to whom and who is the litigant and who is the defendant. For not understanding Sam Dillon’s story, I am prepared to spend the centuries after my demise in Purgatory. Serves me right for getting aphasia, which was invented by Satan himself.

In the foregoing paragraphs, I have told you some of the reasons for doing nothing about treatment for aphasia. Embarrassment and discomfort with the effects of aphasia are significant factors. Pride is sometimes the major factor. I know that from first hand experience. But those factors are of no consequence when the cost of doing nothing is considered. The overwhelming factor is that doing nothing is not an option. It is not an option to say that overcoming aphasia is too much work or can’t be done. Simply put, it has to be done. Certainly, it is hard, hard work and no one else can do it for you. Early in my aphasia experience, Shirley Morganstein, the Director of Speech Therapy at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, gave me a homework exercise that she thought would take ½ an hour or even one hour. I spent eight hours on that little project. I’m glad I did, but that homework assignment tired me greatly.

As soon as Overlook Hospital released me, Judy and I made a beeline for Kessler. During my two weeks in Overlook, some women who claimed to be speech therapists came to my room and gave me exercises. For example, name 12 vegetables or 10 automobiles makes. They took advantage of my being a prisoner of the hospital and attempted to sign me up for longer term work once I had gained release. Judy and I – mostly me – were put off by their high pressure tactics. So a day or so after leaving Overlook, we were in Shirley Morganstein’s office and she agreed to take me on as her student.

Shirley is a no-nonsense director and teacher who has no patience with people who show no sign of trying to help themselves. Failure to bring homework to the session would result in an imposing demonstration. I made sure to do what I was told even if it took eight hours to do what others would consider a half hour task.

Not long into the three days a week therapy sessions with Shirley, she suggested that I write essays. Our next meeting was on December 8, 1997. That day is of some significance to me because in Italy in 1943, I was shot down. In 1953, my wife at the time and I adopted a little girl. And, our second daughter was born on December 8 in 1956. So that date has some significance to me. In my first essay, I wrote about what that day has meant to me.

Because I had sessions with Shirley on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it kept me hopping to deliver three new essays a week. I am not sure that Shirley demanded three new essays a week, but that’s what I gave her. Shirley traces her ancestry to Poland and Rumania. I had no idea of that fact as I began to write of my travels in Europe. When we got into the essays and I showed her my many souvenirs and my multiple passports, I suspect that Shirley became interested in what I was describing. After she told me about her ethnic background, I took her an ancient Polish flag in a small frame as well as a doll from Rumania.

In the five years since I finished at Kessler, my guess is that about 350 pieces of prose, including dozens of essays and countless letters and e-mails, have been written at this desk. Some are better than others, but there is a hidden ingredient in the written word as opposed to the spoken word. When an aphasia afflicted person is writing, he can take his time about the right word or the right phrase. Perhaps he may consult dictionaries or other reference works to find the right word or phrase. Or he may ask his wife. There is no immediacy to getting the word right and hence, no embarrassment. If my brain locks up while writing, which happens less often these days, I simply wait awhile and after some time passes, the words come back to me.

Writing is the most valuable contribution to speaking orally for me. If I have written about a subject, when I speak it poses much less of a problem. Perhaps the rule ought to be that writing should precede speaking. Obviously, that is not always possible, but writing helps immensely when speaking.

Shirley of Kessler is nobody’s fool. She had no idea whatsoever that I could write an essay. I knew I could but Shirley was completely in the dark on that subject. But in the end, writing is what brought me back from the jaws of aphasia and Shirley Morganstein is a proper heroine.

As you can see, recovery from the effects of aphasia is a long term investment that takes a lot of work. Having people like Shirley Morganstein – a tough teacher – around was a great help. And mostly, having my wife Judy to look after me and to give me thoughts of how I might improve was nothing less than crucial.

Aphasia it not the end of the world. From time to time, it frustrates me particularly when I know a word that I have used 10,000 times, will not come to my mind or to my tongue. Ah, but there are certainly worse things, so to the extent it can be done, I am inclined to laugh about it. The saving grace is that the word which won’t come to my mind or tongue this afternoon, will roll out of my mouth this evening without my even being aware of it.

Now to all those people out there who cluck their tongues and diagnose alzheimers for every word forgotten by older people, I would recommend that they be introduced to aphasia. Or perhaps they ought to talk to me or to Shirley Morganstein or to Judy Chicka. Nobody can claim that he or she is as quick as they were 40 years ago, but when I forget a word, it doesn’t mean that the alzheimers caretakers should ready a bed for me. It is a long struggle, but with the help of my friends and my wife Judy, old Ezra will do pretty well indeed. When I worked for Uncle Sam, nobody in the Army ever heard of anyone having alzheimers or aphasia. Now at this late date, this old soldier does not intend to succumb to ailments that nobody ever heard of – except for the Greeks.

All things considered, it is my hope that after reading this essay on the effects of aphasia, that you found it instructive or that you enjoyed it. On the other hand, if none of those positive factors apply, remember that when I began to deal with aphasia, I was unable to say “warm” or “cold” or “thermostat.” Those words were light years beyond my reach. The point is that with my background and with the help of professionals, I can now say pretty much what I think. A few years ago, this stroke victim was largely mute. If I can do it, if I can come back, surely other people can do it as well. Stay strong and get to work on your exercises and, in my case, on my essays.

This essay is being written for those currently suffering from the effects of aphasia, be that now or in the future. It is not written as a means of attracting sympathy for myself. I need no sympathy. In my case, I have wrestled with the aphasia tiger and I believe he has been largely subdued. So don’t waste any tears or hand-wringing for me. Save that for those who are dealing with the aphasia concern right now or somewhere down the road in the future. If those aphasia afflicted people work hard and stay strong, I am certain that they too can dispatch the aphasia tiger.

November 27, 2002


The revelation here for me was that writing about a given topic “cleared” that topic in his mind, and made it easier to access going forward. That actually seems like it might explain why he went on to double the count from 350 essays to the final count of 700+. (Fun fact, this is the 701st essay to be published to this site!) The way it’s presented, writing about these memories cleared out some mental cobwebs and let him speak more confidently about those topics going forward. I think in a more literal sense that means that these essays were re-wiring the neurons in his brain. New, alternate paths were created to access knowledge that was closed off by the brain damage caused by stroke, which is amazing. I’d imagine that raw persistence and laughing off the hard moments probably helped tremendously.


Under ordinary circumstances, your old essayist attempts to keep his correspondence separate from the essays that are produced here. In this case, however, Tom Friedman, the New York Times star op-ed writer wrote a piece that should not be condensed or treated in the Reader’s Digest fashion. Friedman’s piece was so wrong and so provocative, that a spirited reply was called for. Again, in the interest of transparency, my readers should see what was said by both sides.

Here, then, is Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece from the June 15th issue of the New York Times:

June 15, 2005
Let’s Talk About Iraq

Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up – this is still winnable – but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point – the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power – when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision – endorsed by President Bush – to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today – the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals – flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, “Squandered Victory,” puts it, we need “a bold mobilizing strategy” right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven’t even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We’ve already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine – “Just enough troops to lose.” Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friedman’s piece had an incendiary quality to it. His call for doubling the troops in Iraq and his ignoring the occupational aspect of our presence there was provoking to this old soldier, so Friedman heard from me.

Mr. Friedman

This e-mail is written much more in puzzlement than in anger. For all these years, I had considered you a writer who dealt in logical realities as distinguished from the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere that marked the machinations of the Bush administration.

The wheels to your credibility came off when you enthusiastically endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. From that day forward, you have seized every opportunity to endorse the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice thesis that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The fact that Rumsfeld was fighting this war on the cheap seemed to give you no problem back in 2003.

Now in your column that appeared in the June 15th edition of the Times, you have given your credibility one more enormous kick in the gut. Your opening sentence says Iraq “has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” Illogically, in your second paragraph you say, “this is no time to give up –this is still winnable…..” Mr. Friedman, for more than two years you have shoveled garbage of this sort on Times’ readers. It is absolutely nothing more than warmed over born again propaganda from the White House. In my eyes, you have become the designated hitter for the sycophants of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al.

Near the end of your article, you prescribe, “Double the American boots on the ground…” This is a horrid cliché. You are capable of better writing than slovenly froth like this. But that brings us to the heart of the problem. In round terms, we have 140,000 troops “on the ground” in Iraq. As Christian occupiers, that gives the Iraqis 140,000 reasons to hate us. Now we find the eminent war strategist Tom Friedman prescribing 280,000 reasons to hate us. I am confident that strategists such as yourself will then prescribe 560,000 “boots on the ground.” Where does “boots on the ground” end?

The simple fact is that we invaded Iraq without reason. It was a sovereign nation even though it was disliked by Sharon and Bush. As long as we occupy Iraq as a Christian power, hatred will always be our lot – which we richly deserve.

Look at it this way. If the situation were to be reversed with Iraqi Arabs occupying the United States, every patriot would consider it his duty to injure or to hurt the Moslem occupiers. My puzzlement comes from your blindness to this overwhelming point. Mr. Friedman, your column on closing Gitmo was eminently on point. Why are you so blind as to parrot the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that this disastrous adventure is “still winnable”?

E. E. Carr

P.S. This letter comes to you from a World War II soldier whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief.

A copy of my reply was sent to Suzanne Carr Shepherd, an Austin, Texas lawyer who contends from time to time, that we are related.
Ms. Shepherd, Esquire, read both pieces and asked, given the indisputable fact that Army recruiting goals have not been met for months, where will the Army find another 140,000 soldiers to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq? That is a very reasonable question. It would do no good to ask Friedman about additional troops strength because he says he is a journalist, not a general of the Army.

Obviously, it was necessary for someone to step into this yawning void to answer the question from the Texas lawyer. So my reply had to do with costs which are now so great that Bush and the Army have lost count.

Here is my reply to the questions raised in Texas.

The costs of transporting new troops to Iraq are excessive. Then there is the cost of carrying the corpses back to the US and shipping them to home town cemeteries. It would be the ultimate patriotic gesture for new recruits to go to local cemeteries where they can be shot and buried immediately. That saves on the middle men costs and it will give the new recruit a chance to autograph the cross that will be placed over his grave.

Thinking right along with me, the Texas lawyer replied as follows:

Your suggestion makes perfect sense. And as in Vietnam – we can give them back their own country right away, or after 50,000 lost American lives, but either way we give them back their country. Why not do it now? In the meantime, we can shoot the new recruits right here at home until we figure it all out.

At this point, Ms. Judith Chicka, who is related in one way or another to the correspondents, suggested as a means to further cut costs, that new Army recruits be shot before taking the oath as a soldier. This means that the recruit may be denied any bonus and death benefit that might be attached to his or her enlistment. Under Ms. Chicka’s suggestion, the Army could save enough money to underwrite the Social Security program through eternity.

In the final analysis, more U.S. troops will give Iraqis additional reasons to hate us. The sole answer to this problem is to remove our occupying troops. The longer we stay as occupiers, we will harvest the robust hatred not only of the Iraqis but of the entire Islamic world. The Arab world sees us building permanent buildings in Iraq, some of which will be used as prisons. Arabs have every reason to believe that we intend to occupy Iraq in “perpetuity” as a Justice Department said of the prisoners at Gitmo.

This war is a function of ill disguised greed on the part of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. It has absolutely no basis in justice. Wars fought without justice have a way of biting the aggressor. The unrest that has now appeared in the United States is simply a forerunner to our endless quagmire in Iraq. Sooner or later, our troops will have to come home.

Tom Friedman should know that wars without justice are not “winnable.” This is an unjust war that is wasting lives of our soldiers, the lives of Iraqi civilians and the draining of our treasury. There is no light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel.

June 25, 2005


There was never a victory condition outside of a stable Iraq that was friendly to the US. Continued presence of US soldiers in the reason actively worked against both halves of that goal. It’s okay though, because now ISIS controls large swaths of the country — Mission Accomplished, right?


The reports from London about the bombings on trains and the bus are saddening and they are sickening. As an old World War II soldier, it was my privilege to serve with elements of the British Eighth Army in North Africa, Sicily and on the Adriatic Coast of Italy where there were often many casualties.

My admiration for the Tommies and their Royal Air Force comrades has been frequently recorded in these essays. While the working class Brits who fought England’s wars have my active admiration, there is virtually no limit to my disdain for British royalty and for England’s upper classes who aspire to be treated as royalty. The casualties in the recent bombings were working class people, not upper crust or royalty. Working people ride on public transportation. Royalty and the upper class ride in limousines.

The people who survived the German Luftwaffe bombing in London in the early 1940’s were working class blokes. Now some 64 years later, they must be wary of riding on the Underground and on London’s buses. How sad – and it needn’t have been that way.

When the dust settles and the sad funerals are held, the British nation must ask why has this happened to us? They say we are law abiding people who subscribe – more of less – to the dictates of the Church of England, the Anglican faith. Why is God’s wrath being visited upon the good women and men who sing “God Save the Queen” as their national anthem? Why us? What did we do to deserve this fate?

The short answer is that the Prime Minister of Great Britan is Tony Blair who threw England’s lot in with George Bush in the disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Simply put, London commuters are being murdered in retaliation for England’s military contribution to Bush’s war in Iraq. Blair became Bush’s poodle, perhaps in the vain hope that Bush would come to his aid when needed. Last week before the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in Scotland, Bush said that he and Blair have no quid pro quo arrangement. From Bush’s viewpoint, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine also.

Tony Blair must feel terribly lonely at this point. It is fair to guess that violence has only begun to be visited upon England. Blair is painfully aware that the population of Great Britain solidly opposes his misadventure in Iraq. George Bush is roundly hated by the Brits. He gave them another reason for their hatred when he gave a rousing turndown to Blair’s reason for calling the G-8 meeting; namely, aid to Africa and global warming. Why Blair has tied England’s fortunes to George Bush is a mystery of major proportions.

But in a week or so, there will come a time for a sober, objective determination of why such violence was visited upon London. The answer may come from animals, bees of the apodea strain and ordinary human conduct.

As every farmer knows, if you stand behind a cow or a horse and abuse one or the both of them, your reward will be a hefty kick landing usually in the crotch area. Docile animals, when provoked, will retaliate. Can this be news to anyone?

Wasps build a hive as their living quarters. If a human is so utterly foolish as to disturb the hive, he may well be hospitalized if he survives the retaliatory attacks. Left alone the wasps go about their business and do not seek out humans. But when they are provoked, they are bent on vicious retaliation.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese government attacked Pearl Harbor. In short, they poked us in the eye. The U.S. retaliated and by August 1945, the Japanese Empire was no more. The Japanese paid a heavy price for poking the Americans in the eye.

Three other cases of recrimination come immediately to mind. In England, it is normal to blame nearly every misadventure on the Irish Republican Army. That may be the case in some instances, but please remember England has occupied six counties in Northern Ireland since the treaty of 1922. This occupation has gone on in Belfast, Ireland’s second city, for 83 years. The English surely must accept that there will be retaliation.

In Spain, the Basques hold that the Spanish government has occupied their homeland. Every bombing or disaster is blamed on the ETA, the Basque resistance movement. When the Spaniards leave the Basque homeland, they may well enjoy bomb-less days.

Finally, there are the Chechnyans, who urgently wish the Russian government would let them decide their own fate. To the extent that the Russians try to suppress the Chechnyans, the Chechnyans will and have retaliated.

Once again, the lesson is that occupation and mistreatment provoke not surrender, but rather, recrimination.

Now let us move to 2003 when George Bush with the help of Chaney, Rumsfeld and Madame Rice thought that Iraq was a soft target that could be poked in the eyes with impunity. Our arrogance was unlimited. General Tommy Franks, overall commander of U.S. forces, viewed Iraqi deaths in a cavalier fashion. He said, “We don’t do body counts of Iraqis.” According to Lancet, the British medical journal, more than 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since, as Chaney said, “We liberated Iraq.”

We have lost 1750 Americans so far with another 12,000 to 15,000 wounded. The United States government under Bush is now in its third year of war. Rumsfeld predicted recently that the war could go on for twelve more years. Because of our involvement in Iraq, the U.S. has now concluded that it is incapable of fighting two wars at once as was the case in World War II. In short, Bush has us trapped in Iraq for the foreseeable future. If North Korea invaded South Korea, there is not much we could do about it. If China invaded Taiwan, we could only protest. If the Sudanese government continues its ethnic cleansing in Darfur, we will continue our governmental silence. If the Israeli Army set out to destroy the Palestinians, we would be reduced to ineffective protests.

So for the past two years and more, on behalf of the U.S. Government and people, Bush has poked the Arabs in the eye. And he is incensed that they retaliate with whatever weapons they have in the insurgency. The amazing thought here is that Tony Blair jumped off of Bush’s lap and tried to poke the Arabs in the eyes as well. So as night follows day, Blair and Bush now know that poking other people’s eyes comes with inevitable retaliation.

In Italy, the Premier there is a clown named Berlesconi who envisioned great rewards as he joined in Bush’s attack on Iraq. The population of Italy is solidly against Berlesconi’s stance. Since the London attacks, the Iraqi opposition has made it known that Rome is high on its list for retaliatory attacks. Berlesconi has now had second thoughts as he has announced that Italy will withdraw 300 troops in September. My guess is that with Italian elections coming up, Italy will soon withdraw all its 2500 troops. The substance here is that when Berlesconi found that the insurgence could reach London, he got religion. Simply put, he is gutless in fear of retaliation.

Now we have had bombings in Madrid and in London. More are threatened in Rome and Copenhagen in view of their participation in the war in Iraq. As time goes on, it becomes obvious that New York or Washington or Chicago or San Francisco could well become targets for retaliation. Bush, Blair and Berlesconi went into this war overlooking the completely obvious fact that there would be Arab recrimination. They started the war believing that a parade down Baghdad’s main street would be their reward as soon as Bush made his aircraft carrier speech about “Mission Accomplished.”

What they overlooked was that the Arabs might have something to say about the war’s course. Every normal human being in this circumstance will retaliate as best he can. Even animals and bees do it. The saving grace thus far is that Tony Blair is keeping a stiff upper lip and is not crying, “Poor me. Why me?” He is bright enough to know that people fight back when poked in the eye. On the other hand, if the U.S. is attacked, my bet is that Bush will don the martyrs robe and say, “We weren’t doing anything.”

George Bush started this war with no thought as to things going badly. My guess is that inevitably the U.S. will become a target for terrorism. For the duration of the war, our immature Commander in Chief has been saying “We have to fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here.”

When they show up in the U.S., George Bush will have to explain why the “fight them over there” failed. If past performance is any criteria, he wil probably resurrect his ridiculous claim that Iraq was the moving force behind the World Trade Center destruction. Now when the Arab insurgency eventually reaches our shores, he may have a point.

The point is that it is foolish to poke someone else in the eye and expect no retaliation. Blair is bright enough to understand those facts. Bush, who is a dim bulb, will not understand. In all likelihood, he will cringe and try to call time out. War is an unforgiving business. When the terrorists appear here, Bush will panic. All that bravado of “bring ’em on” will disappear as the insurgents do, in fact, bring it on in U.S. cities. Bush asked for it. Innocent people will die. And Bush will whimper.

July 9, 2005


I think I’ve been over this a few times now, so I don’t have much to add here.


Because of its sacredness, this is an essay that should be read in silence, preferably in a monastic setting. On the other hand, if you prefer to read it aloud in the midst of a bawdy house, there is nothing that can be done to stop that. The author would like to have the address of the bawdy house, if that can be arranged.

For all my adult life, my instincts have always led me to men and women at the lower levels of the economic ladder, who do the heavy lifting and the repetitive functions that bring prosperity to American corporations. The people at the lower end of our economy are unfortunately often people of color. No matter how you cut it, prejudice still exists in this country, particularly in the South and West. And so my instincts often lead me to people of color who suffer discrimination and who are barred from the society pages of our newspapers.

Some 60 years ago, those instincts led me to lend my support to a union of telephone workers who were being short changed by AT&T, the most powerful corporation of its day. In that case, women such as the telephone operators were prominent among those being cheated. It pleases me now that my instincts for the underdog have remained unchanged for such a long period of time.

All of this came in to focus the day that Georgia Coney, a long term friend who is a supermarket checkout cashier, made a remark about the great American Depression. The remark was made to Sue Catlett, who oversees checkout cashiers in this market and to Dale Ash, another cashier. Miss Chicka and your old author were part of this discussion group. Georgia, Sue and Dale trace their ancestry to Africa as Judy and her husband trace theirs to Ireland.

Georgia is the fourth child out of 10 of a farmer and his wife who worked the soil near Albany, Georgia. She said that as a child, in spite of the fact that her family was large and times were tough, “We never went to bed hungry.” In those Depression days, that was a significant achievement.

In the Carr family during the early and mid-1930’s, we came mighty close to not having enough to eat on more than one occasion. Holding my thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart, this old essayist said to Dale, “We came that close several times.” John Gualdoni, a grocer, saved us.

And so the discussion was about hard times brought on by Herbert Hoover, an engineer by trade, who unfortunately happened to be president of this country. Hoover, like Bush, understood nothing about people who had to work to put food on the table. That supermarket discussion led me to deal with one of three subjects mostly banished from my memory. Aside from the Depression, the other two are the divorce of 1983, and the combat phases of my military service in World War II.

The American language has a way of evolving, adding some words that are meritorious and other words whose span of time in the language is ephemeral. In this case, the new phrase used largely by younger people to deal with unpleasant or banished subjects is to say, “I don’t want to go there.” When Bush was on one of his many Texas vacations, and was told of Osama bin Laden’s desire to target the United States, it was an unpleasant thought and Bush did not want to interrupt his bass fishing. He did not want to go there. The result was the attack on September 11, 2001 for which we were given adequate warning by Osama.

In my case, there is no desire whatsoever to relive the deprivations of the Great Depression. Similarly, there is no reason to rehash a divorce case of nearly a quarter century ago or the death and destruction which took place during the combat phase of my military service. That took place some 62 or 63 years ago. All things considered, those three subjects have long been largely and deliberately banished from my thoughts.

Recalling the events of those years is not only unpleasant, but it smacks of asking the listener or reader to feel some sort of sorrow or pity. Those reactions are absolutely the last thing that is desired. Those things happened. They are in the past. The idea is to do better so that they don’t happen again.

On perhaps the only bright note, one of the lessons of the Great Depression had to do with my schooling in the Clayton, Missouri public school system. This lesson is that things are not always what they seem to be.

In this case, the well-to-do movers and shakers of the St. Louis business community did their business within the city limits of St. Louis, but their residences were often in Clayton, a leading suburb. In this case, we are speaking of lawyers, physicians, stock brokers and business owners. Because those occupations are often peopled by those of the Jewish faith, the Clayton school system was just about equally divided between Gentile and Jewish students.

In those days, there was no official recognition of Jewish holidays. If a Jewish kid was not at school on a religious holiday, his absence was ascribed to a cold or to some other transient ailment. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the student body at Clayton was Gentile and basically Protestant. The Catholics had their own schools.

The chorus or glee club at Clayton was both Gentile and Jewish, but sang no Jewish songs. When Christmas came, Jewish students sang about the birth of Jesus in a straw hut near Bethlehem. At Easter, there may have been a song or two celebrating the alleged resurrection of Jesus. As far as anyone knows, the Jewish members of the chorus sang that religious stuff along with the Gentiles, including one non-believing left footed baritone, to use an Irish term. Georgia Walker was the music teacher. It is fairly clear that if the Jewish students failed to sing of the “Great getting up morning in the sky,” Miss Walker would tell them to sign up for a shop or a cooking class instead of chorus.

My parents were fundamentalist or primitive Christians who believed that no one could enter the kingdom of heaven until he or she had undergone full immersion baptism and had the experience of being “born again.” Because Jews lacked those experiences, they were barred from heaven and its suburbs, by all flame throwing fundamentalist preachers.

For the last twelve years of his working life, my father worked as a caretaker for a private, largely Jewish subdivision. It is suspected that he never told them they would be barred from heaven until they submitted to full immersion baptism and being born again. Remember, this was the Depression and jobs were pretty much non-existent.

But aside from failure of other faiths to reach heaven after death, my parents never tried to turn me into an anti-Semite. They were not that kind of people and they knew of my rejection of their brand of Christianity. It had to be painful for them to know of my disbelief, but they seemed to say, “We have four believers and one odd ball. Four out of five is not so bad after all.” They were wrong as my sister Opal, counted among the believers, wound up singing and serving drinks in Joe Gonella’s saloon.

Earlier in this essay, it was said that things are not always what they seem to be. The incident that came to mind was of a successful St. Louis businessman who owned a large house just across the street from the playground for the Maryland Grade School which was part of the Clayton public school system. At that time, we played with a nine inch softball which had outseams as distinguished from an inseam ball. It was believed that outseamed balls lasted longer – which was important in depressed economic times.

All this took place in the fourth through the eighth grade at the Maryland Grade School. The batter would bat at the plate near the chain link fence which ran along side the playground. On the other side of the small street, was the palatial home of an owner of a St. Louis business. His business was located on Franklin Street, that housed dozens of cheap furniture stores and stores that sold repossessed furniture.

At the businessman’s house was an officious maid who growled if one of the boys had to chase a foul ball on the rich man’s property. There was one other character in this playlet, that being a boy about our age who lived in that palatial home, who went to our school and who seemed to have colds quite often. At that age, it had never dawned on me that his colds may have been related to celebrating a Jewish holiday which was not on the school calendar.

On WIL, the St. Louis radio station, there was a program every day sponsored by “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman.” On St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration went on for a week. Irish music always found its way onto Dick Slack’s radio program.

What Dick Slack was offering was cheap furniture and repossessed items at “Unheard of bargains.” This being the Depression, he apparently sold enough goods to buy a large house in Clayton with a maid and Cadillac and Packard automobiles and a son who attended our school.

Finally, about in the sixth grade, it dawned on me that “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman” was not Irish at all. He was the father of the boy whose name rang no bells in Donegal. Maybe in Jerusalem, but not in Dublin or Glock-a-Morra. This is hard to believe, but old Irish Dick Slack, the man who gave everyone easy credit, was in fact, Jewish. And his kid went to school with all of the ball playing Gentiles who chased foul balls in Dick Slack’s yard.

So that one got marked off to things are not always what they seem to be. In addition, it is one of the few incidents that can be related that had any humor in it at all during the Depression. The Depression went on from 1929 to early 1942, when World War II started. That is a long time to go without a laugh or two.

And so Georgia Coney’s remark about “not going to bed hungry” caused me to violate a rule on not discussing a banished subject. That rule was also violated in 2002 when on the 60th anniversary of my enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps, an essay was written for my daughters having to do with being shot down on December 8, 1943. This was anything but a happy experience. While essays have been written here about the non-combat phases of my military experience, this is the only time that the banished subject of combat in World War II has been violated. My excuse is that it was written for two daughters who have a connection to December 8th, which makes it no more than a venial sin.

Now about December eighth. In the first case, Maureen became our daughter through the auspices of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. Ten years to the day from my being shot down over German occupied territory in Italy, Maureen or Old Blondie, was taken from her foster home at the age of ten weeks. Three years later, on December 8, 1956, her sister, Spooky Suze, was born. So you see, December 8th which started out so bleakly, has worked out very well.

It was my original intention to write an essay on banished thoughts and subjects. It is very difficult to write about something that has been banished and repressed. All things being equal, it is my hope that you took the Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman story to heart, because if things work out well, there will be no more of these banished disclosures. Unless, it was Dick Slack whose house was repossessed and who got shot down in the midst of a divorce involving his Hebrew, Muslim and shanty Irish wives. Now that might be worth writing about, providing his maid would permit me to do a little research on the grounds of his palatial home in Clayton, the heart of the Show Me state.

September 5, 2005


It’s pretty easy to tell at this point when an essay is gonna be a favorite. This one definitely qualified within the first paragraph. Happy late St. Patrick’s day, Mr. Slack.

John Gualdoni the grocer comes up in a number of essays. I think he’s unique to me because his profound impact on Pop’s family was such a clean-cut positive. He was generous when he didn’t have to be.

Every once in a while I think about the sheer unlikelihood of my existence and my mind always snaps at first to how little effort it would have taken from a million different directions to make me not exist. The obvious ones are not the positive factors like John Gualdoni — I’m much more likely to think about how the gunner that shot Pop down could have aimed differently or how the motorcycle that hit mom could have struck her a little more square-on. But it’s also nice to think that behind those scary one-offs which didn’t happen, there’s a whole army of people supporting one another through incredibly tough times that did support each other successfully.

And if you think about it for a second, you realize that by coincidence of your existence, you’re by definition the latest link in an unbroken line of people who have successfully had kids and raised them to adulthood in a chain that goes all the way back to the first humans. When I think of the sheer amount of cooperation that had to have gone into such an effort, it makes me feel like the John Gualdonis of the world who try to lift everyone up probably have a bigger impact on humanity than the occasional sidewalk-motorcyclist, even if the latter can sometimes be a lot more visible.

On another note entirely, I wonder if mom could tell me where “Spooky Suze” came from.


For two or three years, it has been my intention to write an essay on poetry. If there is a human who knows less about the mechanics of poetry, it would be my pleasure to meet that person. Knowing almost nothing about how a poem is constructed does not bar me from commenting on the finished product any more than citizens are barred from comment and criticism of politicians who know nothing about how a good government should work.

If and when my pen takes paper to record my thoughts about poetry, it will be my contention that the best poetry today is written by lyricists who write poems that are meant to be sung.

Going a step further, it would be my contention that the best poet-songwriter these days is Eric Bogle, a native of Scotland who moved to Australia nearly 35 years ago. Bogle is a prolific author who sings the songs that he has composed including his lyrics.

In all likelihood, Bogle’s best known works are two anti-war songs having to do with the First World War. There is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a description of the sad adventures of an Australian soldier who was involved in the Battle of Suvla Bay in the Gallipoli region of Turkey. The second is formally called “No Man’s Land.” It is also known as “Willie McBride” and “The Green Fields of France.” That last title is a misnomer because the inspiration for the song came from a British military cemetery in Belgium. That is a small point of no consequence. The burden of the song is a strong indictment of war.

“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a long song-poem which describes the enlistment of an Aussie soldier, the battle, his wounding, and, in later years, his thoughts as his old comrades parade on ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) Day in April. These four lines from “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” have stuck with me for years. The people of governments that promote war should be equally haunted. The lines are:

“Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I awoke in me hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead,
Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

-Eric Bogle

The Aussie soldier lost both legs when he said, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.” I suspect that thought has crossed the minds of many ill people for whom medical science offers no cure or even temporary relief from pain. In some cases, dying would be a release from constant pain. Only the state of Oregon recognizes this miserable situation, but the Bush Administration seems determined to wipe this right off the books and make assisted suicide a major crime. How stupid. We spare household pets the pain of suffering, but such a release is denied to humans. Again, how stupid.

Bogle’s second well known song is his visit to the graveside of Private William McBride, presumably a Scottish soldier killed in the First World War. The first verse sets the stage.

“Well how do you do, Private Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside,
And rest for a while ΄neath the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day and I’m nearly done.

I see by your gravestone you were only 19,
When you joined the great fallen in 1915.
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or young Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Further on there are these lines:

“But here in this graveyard
It’s still no-man’s land,
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand,
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation which we butchered and damned.
For young Willie McBride it’s all happened again and

The chorus is the refrain:

“I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Bogle offers two prescient thoughts here as they relate to lives drawing to a close. The first is the idea that “never knew there were worse things than dying.” The second is the “hope you died well and I hope you died clean or was it slow and obscene.”

From my own point of view, the thought that human suffering comes about because of a god or a saint prescribing it is rejected out of hand. The supernatural forces that reside somewhere above the clouds is a figment of an overactive imagination. Simply put, as we grow older, our bodies seem unlikely to fight off diseases and ailments that were of no consequence early on. This must be a matter of natural progression from birth to death. But natural progression moves often in cruel ways. Part of the cruelty is that fatal diseases haunt older people. It is not a matter of an ailment taking us away as Bogle says, dying quickly and cleanly, but a matter of imposing a burden for such a time that people will conclude that we didn’t know there were worse things than dying.

A few examples might make the point. For more than 50 years, the Vincendese family has owned and operated Berkeley Hardware in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The man primarily responsible for its success is Angelo Vincendese, better known as “Lefty.” For the half century that Lefty has been my friend, he has been a dynamo. As he has approached 80 years, he has slowed down and needs some days off. Krones disease has caught up with Lefty. When Judy asked Lefty last week how he was feeling, Lefty gave her a pragmatic answer. He said, “I will never feel well again.” The last thing Lefty would ask for is your sympathy or pity. Lefty’s suffering is such that he must think Krone’s is worse than dying.

There are two of our neighbors who lost their husbands to Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t quick and it was not clean. Those brave women tended to their husband’s medical condition for more than three years. As life draws to a close, nature picks on the vulnerable in a cruel and vicious manner.

Two other examples come to mind. One was an atheist, the other a nun. In 1948, when Henry Mencken was a successful and a powerful figure in the publishing business, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Mencken was the bane of preachers and politicians and those who promise you some sort of eternal ecstasy provided you died first. In the years following the stroke, Mencken was unable to write. His mental processes were so afflicted that he could not compose a story or an essay, much less a book. And this was the man whose prose was the gold standard in American literary circles. He lingered for six years before death finally released him. During that time, he must have thought that perhaps his crippled condition made death an attractive alternate.

On the other side of the coin is Mother Angelica, a Catholic nun who was the driving force behind the Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Angelica was the chatterbox of EWTN. There were times when she lectured on her personal guardian angel. She gave him a name and called on him to help her out of tight spots. Why she had a male guardian angel is beyond me, but she called him “Stoney” as in a stone wall. In all seriousness, she told her TV viewers that they could also have a guardian angel – if they really believed. Mother Angelica’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

Mother Angelica must have spent an enormous amount of time before the TV cameras. She was the sales person for selling religious knick-knacks and trinkets such as a plastic heart of Jesus. She was a very busy woman. Three or four years ago, she disappeared from EWTN’s studios. After a long delay, the network announced, without saying so, that she had suffered a stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak.

She may be nearing 80 years, but in the end, she is denied the opportunity to broadcast as Mencken was denied the opportunity to write again. The atheist and the nun. Nature moves in cruel ways. Mother Angelica lives in a Catholic facility and is waiting for God to call her home. In the meantime, she must curse her inability to speak. Remember, some ailments are worse than dying.

There is one other example involving the televised broadcasts of a Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey. We watch the broadcasts until the choir has sung. One of the points in the service at this church is a few minutes devoted to “Joys and Concerns.” An assistant preacher asks for congregants to stand and announce a joy or a concern. On the joy side, someone may announce the arrival of a baby. Ah, but on the concern side, people will ask for prayers for a terminally ill cousin. On some occasions, prayers are asked for a person who must undergo an operation.

The concerns outweigh the joys regularly. Those who ask for prayers may want to avoid the inevitable. No one in this Bible believing church has ever asked that prayers be said for someone to have a speedy, dignified death as in Bogle’s “No Man’s Land”. No one!

Now to close the circle, age and glaucoma have caught up with my eyesight. If all goes well, there will be a delicate operation to drill a hole in my one eye that will permit the aqueous fluid to drain. I have not requested prayers of any kind because of my fear that the prayers would go to the god or saint who ordered me to become afflicted with glaucoma in the first place. Glaucoma is an insidious inherited disease. In my case, it was inherited from my father. Gods, saints, prophets and ascetic worshippers had nothing to do with it.

As difficult as it seems, there may be a bright side to my diminished eye sight. It is clear that when it is necessary to go from one place to another, poles, doors and walls intrude and are hit. There was an occasion when a step was missed resulting in a fall. But think what has been learned that will benefit religious organizations for centuries.

Joseph Ratzinger, the German soldier who became the current Pope, has launched a vigorous drive to root out homosexuals from Catholic seminaries in the United States. Curiously, Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican office of the Inquisition before his elevation, has not moved to separate priests who may be gay. The fury is directed at his seminaries but nothing has been said about the graduates of those seminaries who may be gay. It may have to do with the shortage of priests or it may be a matter that God and the German Pope can come to an agreement on later. In the meantime, no word at all about pedophiles. Is the Pope confused between being gay and being a pedophile?

For all those religious organizations that require male celibacy, one of the products of my limited eyesight may provide a heaven-sent answer.

You may recall an essay from this corner about Saddam Hussien’s jockey shorts. As a result of that essay, I now wear Saddam’s style of jockey shorts. When a man or a seminarian or a religious cleric wears jockey shorts, they must be worn properly to adorn the front of the male body. With my lack of sight, I have discovered that it is disastrous to put the shorts on backwards. But if the German Pope is serious about his new crusade against American seminaries, he can order all seminarians to wear their jockey shorts backward.

There is one more thought to offer in the drive to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. That is to put the shorts on turned inside out. It has the same effect as wearing the shorts backward.

Clearly, the Ed Carr innovations for the use of jockey shorts will be a godsend to those who wish to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. In all modesty, I expect to be decorated for my profound contribution to celibacy in seminaries. Perhaps a robe or a ring would be appropriate.

Well so much for male underclothing. Dealing with the ailments that overtake us at a vulnerable time is not an inspiring subject. It is simply a matter of pragmatism. It happens and nothing is gained by pretending that it is not the case. The sad fact is that Lefty, the hardware store owner, may never feel well again and it happened as he approached 80 years. If the situation becomes so serious, there is always refuge in Eric Bogle’s words, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

A final thought. Males seem to contract ailments that last a long time. The wives who take care of them are brave and seem more than willing to make the sacrifice to care for their men. From all of the men, a rousing salute is indeed in order, as well as – “Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come awaltzing Matilda with me.”

October 23, 2005


Real cheery one there, Pop. But I guess that’s kind of the point — there’s a class of things out there which can’t be made nice by trying to have a positive outlook, or by praying about them, or by really anything. There are some indignities that have to be borne slowly or painfully. I think that the ‘worse than death’ part may still be an exaggeration in many of the cases he described above, however. For sure there’s something cruel about a career writer being rendered unable to write, but that doesn’t mean that death would have been the preferable result to Mencken’s stroke. I get that if you’re in some sort of true prolonged agony, there are circumstances where death potentially seems more appealing than life, but there’s to me a pretty wide gap between that and just being majorly inconvenienced.