Archive for the June 2006 Category


My search for a high-paying job with bonuses and stock options is not a magnificent success story. Last year, I thought I had the New York Mets’ manager’s job sewn up, but they gave it to Willie Randolph largely because he is younger and he is a Brooklyn native. When the New York Knickerbockers demoted Herb Williams, I thought I had that job sewn up as well. Instead, the Knicks gave the job to Hubie Brown and gave him a long-term contract at $10 million per season. I would have been a much cheaper investment. When Bush finally got the nerve to fire his Treasury Secretary, I thought that job was going to be mine as well. Instead, it went to the Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Company who said that he took a $38 million cut in annual salary to accept the job. I would have come much cheaper in that job as well.

The incomes of people in top jobs are to my mind clearly astounding. For example, the head man at Home Depot made $40 million last year while his sales fell 12% and the stock price declined almost the same amount. Two executives from the Chase Bank who live here in New Jersey were paid $35 million each. I have an account with Chase Bank but my account seldom reaches anything like $35 million. A few years ago a company was formed here called Celgene, which offered a cancer drug. I initially invested in Celgene and sold it when it showed no promise. Things have turned around at Celgene and its two top executives each were paid nearly $33 million last year. So these are the kinds of jobs I have been searching for.

Two years ago when George Bush was mounting his campaign to invade Iraq, his CIA director, George Tenet, assured him that there were weapons of mass destruction and that invading Iraq was a “slam dunk.” It is fairly clear now that we have had three years since Bush announced “mission accomplished”, that invading Iraq was no slam dunk and that the weapons of mass destruction were certainly no slam dunk either. So Mr. Bush fired Mr. Tenet and gave him the Medal of Honor. With that, the Duke of Crawford summoned a chairman from one of the House committees, named Porter Goss, and ordained him as the new Director of the CIA. When Goss took over, he was told by the President that the Chief Executive was greatly annoyed by the leaks going to the newspapers, which he claimed came from the CIA. He told Goss to fix that. Goss fired a string of experienced executives and in so doing, gutted the agency. Furthermore, Mr. Goss wrote a letter to all of the CIA employees instructing them that their views should conform with administration policies. According to my advisors from the deep forests of the Ozarks, this is bass ackwards. Intelligence comes first, not last. And it should never conform to anybody’s preconceived notions1.

Eighteen months after Mr. Goss was appointed Director of the CIA, the king of the universe fired him as well. There was a meeting at the White House in which the king of the universe and the great decider praised Mr. Goss and showed him the door. At that point, the Duke of Crawford introduced Michael Hayden, a four-star general from the Air Force. It is fairly obvious that General Hayden was the choice of the President all along and he was simply waiting for an opportunity to fire Goss and put Hayden in that job.

General Hayden comes with certain baggage in that he is the author of the snooping program which listens to your telephone calls. Initially it was claimed that only calls from this country to foreign ports would be listened in on when they involved a call between two Al Qaeda representatives. Presumably when Osama Bin Laden wants to talk to one of his representatives in the United States, he places a person-to-person call which makes it much easier for our snoops to locate the call. The New York Times reporter James Risen, discovered General Hayden’s plan to snoop on Americans talking on the telephone. This set off a campaign by the Bush administration to suppress and to deny the rights of the free press that we have enjoyed for the two hundred and eighteen years of our existence. Then the newspaper USA Today disclosed that not only international calls were being monitored but that calls within the United States were also subject to monitoring. The point here is that your freedom to make telephone calls and e-mails is going to be altered by the fact that your government is listening to them and secondly by the thought that when those practices are disclosed, the administration sets out to destroy whatever it can of the discloser.

General Hayden has another problem in that Dana Priest of The Washington Post has disclosed that the CIA is running a series of prisons outside the United States where high-level prisoners are confined and are presumably subject to the laws of the country where they are held, which often permits torture. The administration has responded to the story about the prisons run by the CIA with a determination to cut down The Washington Post. I would suspect that if James Risen or Dana Priest made an illegal bet with a local bookmaker, the administration would know all about it. As a matter of fact, Dana Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this year for her stories on the CIA run prisons.

What the citizens of this country are being asked to do is to give up their right to freely express their views on the telephone in the name of national security. Secondly they are being asked to give up their right to a free press, again on the basis of national security. Many years back, Benjamin Franklin had an apt thought about liberty and security. Franklin said, “Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” The advice from this old geezer about liberty and security tracks totally with Ben Franklin.

To use an ancient expression, I thought I had a lock on the CIA job. After all, I spent more than three years studying the ways of warfare in the Air Force during World War II. Secondly, during the 1960s I was an AT&T lobbyist, again involved with the American government. I suppose those credentials were not as exciting as the four-star general who appeared before the Senate committee for his confirmation. But on the other hand, I would say that my credentials are impressive as well. There aren’t many of us World War II buck sergeants still around and looking for work.

Speaking of AT&T and General Hayden’s snooping program, it is quite clear that AT&T, my old employer, has contributed mightily to the snooping program. On no occasion has AT&T denied responsibility for collecting and handing over its data to the Federal Government. If the United States government can make heads or tails out of all of the phone calls and e-mails in this country, I commend them. There are literally billions of calls. What they are going to do with them is a mystery to those of us who worked in the telecommunications industry.

But now we go one step beyond the snooping with the administration’s desire to wipe out all opposition from the American press. Again, I would assume that every reporter in Washington and any other sensitive location would have their phones wired so that government people can listen to what they have to say in an attempt to locate who their sources may be. When the administration and General Hayden attack the American press, they should bear in mind the words of Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, who said, “It is not a good idea to pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” In this case I hold not only with Ben Franklin but with Mark Twain as well.

While we are on the subject of freedom and the press, what comes to mind is a significant comment by the Reverend Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor. During the First World War, Martin Niemöller was the captain of a submarine, also known as U-boats, which sank all kinds of Allied shipping. Following the war, Niemöller became a pastor. In the 1930s, he broke with Adolph Hitler and was eventually imprisoned by Hitler. According to his biographers, Niemöller was sentenced to be executed two days after Germany surrendered. Of course the execution did not take place and Niemöller was released. There’s a quote by Martin Niemöller that ought to fit here when we are talking about liberty and security. In one of his works, the Reverend Niemöller had this to say:

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

It is fairly clear that the Reverend Martin Niemöller was a brave man and almost paid for it with his life. It is also clear that unless someone speaks up, the forces of oppression will destroy us all. It is my recommendation that General Hayden and his boss and the ultimate boss of all the world, Mr. Bush, should read the remarks of Martin Niemöller.

The burden of this essay has been to offer my thoughts to General Hayden who got the CIA job that I had in mind. Now that we have offered my geezer views to General Hayden, I thought it would be worthwhile to offer a thought or two to the Duke of Crawford about his war with Iraq. When Bush’s father was president, he hired a professional named Brent Scowcroft as his National Security Advisor. Scowcroft knew all the generals and he knew all about military options and hardware. He was a military expert and thus was qualified to serve as the National Security Advisor. When the current president assumed his post, he chose an academic from StanfordUniversity – I believe her job was provost – to be his National Security Advisor. Condoleezza Rice is her name and she had absolutely no qualifications as a National Security Advisor. Her four years in that job showed the paucity of her experience. Nonetheless Mr. Bush promoted her to be the Secretary of State, to succeed a fully-qualified man named Colin Powell.

In 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the senior Bush, together with Scowcroft, gathered a coalition consisting largely of Arab countries to have Hussein thrown out of Kuwait. That was accomplished and much of Hussein’s army was destroyed in the battles in Kuwait. There was an argument at the end of the so-called Gulf War in 1991-2 that the coalition forces should have gone all the way into Baghdad. Leaning upon Scowcroft’s advice, the elder Bush declined to go to Baghdad and attempt to subdue the Iraqi nation. It was the elder Bush’s thought that we had gone there to liberate Kuwait, and that had been done. To march into Baghdad would have involved a much different set of circumstances. It would have alienated the Arab world as well as those of us in the West who do not share the Arab viewpoint.

Following the war, Bush and Scowcroft wrote a book in which these sentences are significant. They wrote that they did not advance to Baghdad to force Saddam Hussein from power because to do so would have involved “incalculable human and political costs… Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”2

When the current Duke of Crawford was asked about why he invaded Iraq and conquered Baghdad against his father’s advice, Bush replied that he sought his advice from “a higher father.” Presumably, Bush was referring to God.

It has been my view that people who are in communication with the Almighty are debatable companions. When a man refers to the thought that he gets his information from on high, there is no amount of earthly logic that will move him. George W. Bush has made much of the religious component of his experience and he has contended that it was God who encouraged him to run for the presidency. Please put me down as a doubter. I am reasonably certain that any God of any kind would not permit the slaughter of nearly 2,500 Americans and perhaps 100,000 Iraqis in a war without justification and without end. Such a God would not have permitted George W. to commit the excesses and the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison. Such an overseer of man’s destinies would not have permitted Mr. Bush to keep those prisoners at Quantanomo for as much as four years without ever knowing the charges against them. My advice to the Duke of Crawford is that he should listen to his earthly father a lot more often than to his heavenly father, whoever that might be.

Well, there you have it. It now appears that my search for a high-paying job will be one as a counselor giving advice to high-level authorities. I am not sure how much people who offer advice are paid or even whether they are entitled to bonuses. I suspect that my career as an advisor probably will pay a little less than the $40 million made by the head man at Home Depot. But if I were offered something less than that, say something on the order of $35 million, I would consider that a pretty fair salary for the advice that I have to offer. On top of that, a publication such as the Reader’s Digest could compose a story about how a former buck sergeant finally began to succeed in this world. As everyone knows, buck sergeants are the salt of the earth. My advice to General Hayden and to George W. will probably be rejected. But I suggest that they ignore it at their own peril.

June 6, 2006

1. Wouldn’t it just be more convenient for everyone if reality would just stick to the script sometimes?
2. I really like the choice of the word “barren” here. The idea that “yes, we could do this, but it wouldn’t really accomplish anything aside from spending a lot of money and lives” is one that truly should have been taken to heart earlier.

This essay was a pretty on-point takedown of all the wonderful parts of the PATRIOT act which served to lay the groundwork for all today’s NSA, which endeavors to monitor all human communication. I’ve always wondered, if the NSA is storing all this data somewhere, it’s a shame that I can’t really see what types of stats they have on me. I mean, aside from “conversations about things that could be terrorist activity,” what else are they tracking? At this point, it seems naive to think that they’re going to stop collecting all our data, so now I’d just like to at least see some interesting (that is, unrelated to terrorism) applications of that information. Alas.


It may very well be that this essay should be entitled “Back to the Future.” In my current situation, I am of course unable to see the action taking place on television. I listen to the dialogue on television and in many cases, I can determine who the speaker may be but in other cases I have to ask my wife or other people around me as to who is the speaker.

In baseball games, which I have long prized, I miss the beauty of a fielding gem or the swing of an expert batsman. On the other hand, I do not appreciate the chatter that comes from television announcers that has very little to do with the game in progress. It seems to me that there is idle chatter having nothing to do with the game that takes place until the proceedings are finished. Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez, two Met heroes, are examples of announcers who chatter endlessly about other things than the ball game taking place in front of them.

I said that this essay ought to be about going back to the future and that had to do with my replacing the television set with a radio. In the 1926 World Series, the Saint Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in seven games when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri in the ninth inning and my home town, Saint Louis, went absolutely wild. My recollection of the celebration of that game is the first memory that I have in my memory bank. From that time on, I have been a fan of radio and now I find that the people on radio broadcasts are much more to the point and have fewer distractions such as interviewing fans and asking which kind of ice cream do you like at the ball park.

Growing up in Saint Louis meant following the Cardinals, and to a lesser extent the Browns, religiously. The games were broadcast live from Sportsmans Park where both the Cardinals and the Browns played. When the Browns or Cardinals were out of town, the telegraph reporters gave summaries about the state of the game to the announcers in the Saint Louis radio stations. These reports would have been about the score of the game and it might even include such things as who hit a home run and who struck out whom and so forth.

On days when the Cardinals or Browns were out of town and there was no local game, telegraphic reports were sent to the radio studio and it was up to the announcer to recreate the game using his imagination. The announcer might say that the pitcher is winding up and he is ready to throw the ball, but then there might be an interruption in the telegraph process and the announcer would be stuck there with the pitcher holding the ball for several seconds. Under this arrangement, the announcers were able to give very artful demonstrations of the play in progress even though they had not seen it.

Remember, these were Depression times and the radio stations could not afford to send their announcers to the games being played in other cities. They had to rely on telegraphed reports. Hence, the need to recreate the ball game.

During most of the years as I was growing up, there were two announcers in Saint Louis who were the sports directors of the station and who were also the announcers of the ball games of the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Saint Louis Browns. On KMOX, a powerful station, the sports director was a man named France Laux. Further down the dial was a radio station, WIL, where the announcer was Johnnie O’Hara. Laux was a straightforward announcer who, I suspected, had no sense of humor at all. He had trouble recreating the games that were sent to him by telegraph. O’Hara, on the other hand, was a gregarious fellow who seemed to love recreating the games right out of his mind as he got a telegraph report. If the telegraph report said that the pitcher threw a strike, O’Hara would say that he wound up and that he delivered a spitball to the outside corner. That is clearly not what the telegraph report said, but that was what O’Hara colored it to be.

France Laux also, as sports director of KMOX, had a program called “Stars of Tomorrow.” In that program, Laux would visit neighborhood industrial teams and high schools and would interview their star players on a cumbersome piece of equipment that would record their thoughts which he would play later on his sports program. At that time it was a very complicated process. On this one occasion, when I was playing in an industrial league game on a Sunday, France Laux appeared early in the proceedings to interview our fleet center fielder, Vernon Ludloff. Laux would start the interview by saying, “And what star of tomorrow do we have here?” The star of tomorrow would say his name and would then say hello to everyone. In this case, France Laux asked Vern Ludloff, “What star of tomorrow do we have here?” and Ludloff got his script mixed up. Vernon was supposed to say, “Hello everyone, I’m Vern Ludloff.” In point of fact, Vernon said, “Hello Vernon Ludloff, I’m everybody.” France Laux did not use that quote on his broadcast that evening or any other evening. So I guess that Ludloff fell from the stars of tomorrow array.

In recent years, on television there is a tendency to use attractive young women who know nothing about the game being played, and ask them to give a two-minute report in-between innings or, in football games, between periods and time-outs. Even the best broadcasting team that I know of, which consists of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, have been inflicted by their management with this device. On occasion when the attractive young woman begins her spiel, she will often fail to end it before the next batter comes to the plate. So far, that sort of arrangement has not come to radio. It afflicts only television. These young women are nice to look at but they add nothing to the game; indeed they detract from the game.

My New York grandchildren gave me an XM Radio for Christmas in 2005. On that radio, I can hear classical music, a better class of country music, music from the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as ball games from all over the country. Because it is a satellite radio, I can keep track of billiard games on the moon, cricket games on Saturn, and pool playing on Venus. It is a remarkable radio that has provided me with unheard of pieces of important information.

So in the end my problem with my eyesight is not all that bad because I get a better description of the games from radio. There is more straightforward talk about the game in progress as well as the rumors involving the players such as trades and that sort of thing that may be taking place at the time. Actually, at this point, while I do not have an option to watch television, I must say that going backwards many years to the radio broadcast has its merits. I don’t miss television all that much any more and I have come to again appreciate the skill of the radio announcers. And finally, I must admit that without radio I would not have been able to hear Mr. Ludloff tell everyone that he was everybody. That memory is 65 or 66 years old and it is nowhere near being forgotten. So if you go to Saint Louis and run across Vernon Ludloff, please tell him “I’m everybody.”

June 6, 2006
Essay 196
Kevin’s commentary: The essay of the beast: 6/6/06! I was thinking as I read this essay that if Pop went back to the future with his satellite radio, I suppose that I’ve gone “forward to the future” by completely replacing television in my life with the internet. However, even internet broadcasts of games that I follow have unfortunately been afflicted by the “interview babes” who know next-to-nothing about what’s happening, and are rather there chiefly to be seen. So I guess that department is a win for the radio all around.

Pop’s memory continues to astound. I would be hard-pressed to come up with the names of any local media personalities from Austin, and that was only six years ago. I guess I really just never had much reason to pay attention to them, and I preferred music to talk shows whenever I was in my car, which of course was the only place where I was ever exposed to radio.

As far as ol’ Vernon is concerned, I wonder what he’d think if I told him that upon reading the title to this essay, I thought I was about to get an essay about a profound philosophical observation. I expected to hear Pop’s take on a person making a statement about, perhaps, empathy for others. But no, he was a not-quite baseball star who couldn’t keep his lines straight — which honestly makes for a better essay anyway, most likely.


According to the Gregorian calendar, which I carry in my breast pocket at all times, in a few days I will have completed one year in the business of being blind. I had promised myself that I would take an assessment after one year of what the effects of being blind really meant. While I was thinking about writing this one-year-anniversary essay, I had a basically bad day with blindness. After bringing the two garbage cans in from the street, I became confused in my own garage. I wound up with the ladders, the sledgehammer, and the adze instead of the door on the opposite side of the garage. Later in the day when I started to take a shower, I lost an argument with the wooden entrance door to the bathroom. It gave me a severe punch to the head. The day, however, was saved by Shana, a golden retriever who belongs to Janet Rubin, a neighbor down the street. Janet brought Shana by and we resumed our romance, which has been going on for quite some time. What Shana wanted was to be petted and hugged and snuggled. I am the guy who can do that job better than anybody else. When I think about Shana, I forget about losing my way in the garage and the bathroom door that took a round from me. Shana is a complete sweetheart.

You may recall an essay written called “Are You Going to Believe Me or Your Lying Eyes?” which marked the completion of six months of blindness. The current essay is a continuation of the assessment of my lack of eyesight as time goes on. The title indicates that this is only the first inning – or the first year – but in this case I do not know how long this game will last. If all goes well, we may even stretch it into extra innings. If it does not go well, I am resigned to the thought that that is the way the ball bounces.

My decent into complete blindness started in early August, 2005, which accounts for this being its first anniversary or, as I have called it, “The First Inning.” On that occasion, we visited the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan. I had to be led throughout the Hunger Memorial and then had also to be led back to the ferry. My sight was pretty much gone at that point.

There have been some significant developments since I wrote the “Lying Eyes” essay which may be of interest. We will get to those developments in a moment or two. In the meantime, for those of you who may not be aware of the background of my blindness, it comes from glaucoma. For centuries, that ailment has been an incurable disease. Under the Ed Carr Doctrine, if you have glaucoma and if you live long enough, the chances are that you will end life as a blind person.

Finally, there is one more thought having to do with glaucoma. It does not come from overeating or over-drinking or hanging out with bad companions. It is passed from one generation to another through heredity. My father had glaucoma; he passed it to his five living children who fathered six children. Those children produced 15 offspring who may have inherited the glaucoma gene. The point is that glaucoma is going to be with us for a long time to come and it will affect an increasing number of people. What a crime.

This essay may be a little longer than usual because it is written with the thought that my descendants might find it helpful in the event that the glaucoma gene has been passed to them.

Sometime after the six-month assessment was written, I had a talk with Dr. Andrew Beamer, my cardiologist from the Summit Medical Group. I consider Dr. Beamer an excellent friend. During the conversation with Professor Beamer, I pointed out that things that go on in my head may well have an effect on my cardiac condition. Blindness may offer some lessons in logic and blindness may offer many lessons in patience. But the fact of the matter is that blindness offers no lessons in tranquility. The lack of tranquility translates into other conditions in the human body.

A blind person must calculate every move in advance in his head before he moves, and the first step is of paramount importance. If the first step is misdirected, the second and third and subsequent steps will be even further off course. For example, during the conversation with Dr. Beamer, my thoughts were often on the four doors that would lead me to exit the Medical Group offices. From that point on, there were a set of two steps, a walkway, a set of three steps, a set of Belgian blocks followed by the street and on the other side, another set of Belgian blocks, etc. Without sight, all of those things had to be taken into account and had to be planned for. That makes for no tranquility whatsoever.

It would be interesting for a person like myself to understand what the life expectancy is for a person coming late into blindness. My guess is that blindness will at one time or another cut a person’s life somewhat short.

I pointed out to Dr. Beamer that there were also some other considerations having to do with my head. All the details about my life have to be kept in my head rather than on a note pad. Further, there is the thought about blind people walking. For example, blind people tend to stare at the ground as they walk using their cane. I know there are blind people who walk with their heads staring straight ahead, but that has not been an accomplishment of mine so far. I stare at the ground, seeing nothing, but that is the way the new person to blindness must walk because of being afraid of being tripped or falling into a hole. The result of walking with one’s head down and thrust forward is to cause the head to be struck repeatedly by walls and by doors. From time to time, I have used the cane in my right hand and have put my left arm up in front of my face to ward off these blows, but it is difficult to remember to do that and, in addition, it is an ungainly posture. So you see, Professor Beamer whose main attention is directed toward cardiac problems also learned a little about blindness and the effect it might have on cardiovascular problems. All of this instruction was done of course, without charge to Professor Beamer.

My assessment is that of the tools that blind people use, the walking cane is by far the most valuable. It will not take the place of eyes, of course, but it will find the opening to doors. It will also find interruptions such as steps and Belgian blocks, and when crossing the street, if held out where every driver can see it, it often results in having the driver stop so that the street may be crossed. I know that there may come a time when a driver will say that he didn’t see my sunglasses on a dark day and the cane being held in front of me, and will clip me. That is a chance I suppose that will have to be taken.

There is one other thought about the cane. When it locates the opening to a door, the cane is pushed forward into an upright position, followed by the blind person who then uses his forearms to search for the doorjambs. My forearms have become slightly calloused from this exercise, but that is a small price to pay.

For reasons unknown to me, I now find that when sitting, my head is tilted back much in the manner of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt used a cigarette holder and I suspect that he kept his head tilted back to prevent the ashes from falling on his suit. I have no excuse in that regard. In one way or another, my head seems to be tilted back and when I notice it, I try to straighten it out. I don’t want people to think that I am looking down my nose at them, even though I can’t see, of course. Now there is no great cause for concern until I begin to drop my “r’s” as in the case of “war” coming out as “wah” in the manner of FDR himself.

Another factor that comes into play is the thought that other people can see. When I get out of the car, I see basically just blackness or grayness. I have to remind myself that other people don’t see blackness but actually have visual sight. My advice to newly blind people in that circumstance is to never adjust your underwear or speak until you know who is listening. Again, as strange as it seems, other people can really see and even after one inning, I can still recall that phenomena.

In this year of blindness, I have been struck by several points. In the first place, people often, if they address me, speak in loud tones. Of course, my ears are pretty good. It is my eyesight that gives me the trouble. Further, when I approach a counter as at the Medical Group or the drugstore, the other people will almost invariably address their questions to Judy, my wife, rather than to me. On that point, without eye contact, I can’t see to whom their remarks are addressed. Yesterday, for example, one of the clerks at the Farmer’s Market asked Judy if I could see anything, even though I was standing there and was willing to answer that question. If you are going to address a blind person, it would be much appreciated if you were to say, “Joe, I have a question for you.” Otherwise, Joe can’t see to whom you are talking and so he is non-responsive. I understand that. Also, when taking your leave, tell the blind person so that he is not left talking to the breeze.

All things considered, people have been extraordinarily generous to me. They hold open doors, they summon elevators, and yesterday at the Farmers’ Market, we bought what would normally be $7.50 worth of rhubarb, but the owner of the Market said, “Hey, man, that only comes to five bucks.” I didn’t ask for the reduction; he did it himself. But I greatly appreciate his consideration. In other cases, on an elevator, I have heard women say to my wife, “Do you need help?” I don’t resent that at all. I regard it as a friendly gesture and a helpful one as well.

I find that as blindness continues, it becomes an expensive proposition. All of the jobs that I used to do such as putting in the screens on the porch and taking in the hoses for the winter have now been moved to a handyman whom we are delighted to have, but there is an expense involved. For my wife Judy, she has had to hire some additional help around the house as well as a woman who comes and takes care of some computer work. My thought is that if you intend to be blind, be prepared for certain additional expenses.

I have lived in this house for nearly 37 years. After a year of blindness, I can say that I can get from here to there in this house reasonably well. If I were to tell you that I could get from here to there flawlessly, please don’t believe me. Witness the confusion in the garage and in the bathroom. After having negotiated the rooms in the house, I am now trying to take the garbage cans to the street. It involves four trips, taking the garbage out and retrieving the cans the following morning. That happens twice each week.

There have been some faux pas in that I have taken the garbage can all the way into the street, and had to be told to take it back to my driveway by a passing walker. On another occasion, I went to the end of the driveway to bring the can back in but one way or another, I wound up walking down the street in front of my neighbor’s house. The reason is that our driveway is lined by Belgian blocks and the street is lined by Belgian blocks, so the sound to me is pretty much the same. Without a sense of direction, I beat on the Belgian blocks and sometimes I head in the wrong direction. At the moment, I am an expert on the sound of my walking stick hitting on linoleum, on wood, on tile, on Belgian blocks, on concrete, and on asphalt. These achievements are not necessarily in great demand among employers in this world, but they serve blind people quite well.

The thought that things rearrange themselves, such as the support beams in the basement, continues. I know the support beams do not actually move, but at times, it seems as if they have done so. In any case, it must be lived with. There are at least two or three dozen other effects of blindness that might be listed here, but in the interest of time and space, we will save them for another day.

This has been a long recitation of some of the things that occur to a person in blindness. I apologize if it has gone on too long. On the other hand, it has been my intention to create a list of things that are to be expected in blindness so that it may be passed on to others, particularly to my children and grandchildren. I know that is a grim thought, but better that they should know what to expect rather than to encounter some of these things without warning.

All of this business of my blindness pales in comparison with a diagnosis of Judy’s condition which was disclosed in March of 2006. At that time, Judy’s biopsy showed her to have carcinoma of the breast. Fortunately, it was caught quite early and she has undergone “two procedures”, as the doctors say. There have been two long six-day waits before the results of the biopsies were known, but it appears that the lumpectomy has taken the carcinoma away. Judy has now undergone some 33 sessions of radiation to be followed by a drug that will be taken for five years thereafter. The point is that I can live with blindness, but Judy’s problem is significantly more serious. Judy is a brave person who doesn’t deserve such treatment. But we will do the very best we can with the conditions that exist.

Now to close this essay, perhaps a few words about banshees, gossoons, leprechauns and phthisis may be in order. For the first year of blindness, I have been treated to a panorama of illusions which my ophthalmologist tells me are a product of my brain, and to a lesser extent, my eyes. Those of you who read the six month report of my blindness called, “Your Lying Eyes,” may recall the illusions I saw that provided me with a dozen water glasses on the table, trees in every parking lot and in the conference room of my lawyer, and the aircraft instrument panel that might be found in our biggest bomber. While the ophthalmologist attributes these illusions to my brain and to my “lying eyes,” every bona fide Irishman will recognize that this is the delicate work of banshees and gossoons. And the two three-year-old boys who dine with me regularly, are leprechauns fathered by the banshees, who are not bound by any religious rule about celibacy. The images were often entertaining, but now seem to be headed into oblivion.

For the better part of 50 years I have been involved with ophthalmologists because it was suspected that glaucoma would one day blind me. It was only recently, however, that I learned about phthisis (pronounced tysis). When a person becomes blind, it appears that there is a significant danger of the collapse of the eyeball. If the eyeball has not been punctured, it is referred to by the medics as atrophy. If the eyeball has been punctured, as in the case of trabeculectomies, it is referred to as phthisis. In my particular circumstance, as the first year drew to a close, I noticed that the eyelids were sticking together and that the eye itself seemed to be shrinking. My ophthalmologist told me that there was no need to visit him because what I have here is a clear case of phthisis. At this point, medical science knows of no way to stop the collapse of the eyeball. If for cosmetic reasons, one wishes to wear a glass eye, my ophthalmologist said he would look into that eventuality. I told him not to bother as my vanity does not require me to meet the world with a glass eye, no matter how attractive it might be.

One of the other effects of phthisis, aside from its difficult spelling, is that the illusions seem to be disappearing. The parking lots full of trees are now bare. The table which held so many water glasses is now completely empty. And the two boys who dined with me are becoming much less clear. So you see, the first year or inning of blindness has provided me with entertainment and now that the illusions are tending to disappear, I believe I will miss them. But nobody ever said that banshees would stick around forever.

After a year of blindness, the future looks clear to me. I believe that I have accommodated to blindness reasonably well, knowing that blindness can never be defeated. At this point, it is not going to go away, either by some medical miracle or by the power of prayer. I am quite certain that Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and Allah did not send this illness to afflict me and to torment me. The sum and substance of it is that glaucoma was inherited from my ancestors and no amount of prayer or medication will make it go away. I understand that and accept it because I have no choice. As I look at where things stand now, it seems to me that there is merit in two sports: one is boxing and the other is soccer or, outside the United States, football. In both of those sports, the end result is frequently a tie where one side does not prevail over the other. In my case, I know that I am not going to prevail over blindness, so the best I can do is hope to play blindness to a tie. So far, I believe that that is about where we have come out, if you bar such incidents as getting lost in my own garage. Ties in the two sports I mentioned are honorable. One side will say, “I held the other person or team to a draw.” Most spectators and teams will understand that holding the opponent to a draw is an honorable achievement. In my case, I believe that if all goes well, I will try to hold blindness to a draw. I never thought that I could beat blindness so holding it to the draw is an achievement in itself.

Lillie Carr, my mother, had a thought in this regard. She was a fierce Irish nationalist who disdained everything that Great Britain stood for. On the summer morning in 1942 when I left home to join the American Army, my mother and I stood on the driveway outside her kitchen window. She urged me to be careful. I tried to reassure her by telling her that the French, the Poles, the Canadians and the Australians would all be fighting on our side. And then stupidly I mentioned the British Army. She said to me, “You mean the English?” I shrugged in agreement, with which she said, “Son, in that case you will have to do the best you can.” The discussion was ended as she turned and went back into the house. And so, as it relates to blindness, I am going to do the best I can. And if that means fighting blindness to a draw, regardless of how many innings it takes, so be it.

June 23, 2006
Essay 197

(see postscript on next page)


Humor rarely attends non-sightedliness. Quite to the contrary, the inability to see is more often associated with melancholia. There are no blind comedians. Thus, when a humorous situation presents itself to the non-sighted, it must be attacked, knocked down and strangled into submission forthwith.

After the forgoing essay was completed, our lovely neighbor, Frances Licht, accompanied Judy and me to an avant-garde concert presented in the sanctuary of a local Presbyterian church. It featured a percussion band with drums and cymbals of every description. And they were LOUD, LOUD, LOUD. When the kettle drums were struck, when the bass drum was thumped and when the snare drums were played, leaves from the churchyard trees fell to the ground. And when the giant cymbals were struck, resurrection activity was noted in the church graveyard. There was also a chorus of 60 voices who could be heard when the percussion band took a musical rest. This world premiere played to a full house on the night we attended. I wore my sunglasses and carried my luminescent cane to the pews in the front part of the sanctuary. When this dubious music was finally completed and when the last drum was beaten and when the last cymbal crashed that woke up the dead, the three of us attempted to leave by an entrance to the side of the alter. People sitting in front of us seemed to want to leave by the rear doors which resulted in a traffic jam. One gentleman ran into me and said with great sincerity in his voice, “Oh I am so sorry, I did not see you there.” Immediately, I laughed and answered by saying, “That’s all right. I didn’t see you either.”

I know this story will not make the late-night comedy shows. And I am well aware that it lacks knee slapping capabilities. But boys, it is the best we’ve got. I told you that there are no blind comedians, and this tends to prove my point.

Kevin’s commentary: I would contend both that Pop has done the best he could, and that he has successfully held blindness to a draw. Losing to blindness presumably would mean something like getting seriously hurt as a result of not seeing something coming. There is little danger of that happening these days, so a draw seems like a good bet to make.

I’m rather curious if Pop was ever able to identify the ghostly 3-year-olds, or the little old lady who used to walk around with him and Judy. Perhaps they were purely fictitious, but I feel like something like that has to be tied to memory.

This is the 4th essay in a series on blindness.

Previous essay