Archive for the Objections to Modernity Category

QUESTIONS IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS | Meditations: Chapter 13, Verses Pre-Genesis to Mid-Malachi

From time to time, questions come along that make me wonder if anyone else has similar questions and whether any solutions really exist. The questions are so persistent that they must be acknowledged even though there may be no answers at all. Try some of these.

Verse 1: Poor Health, Men’s Division
The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court has been afflicted with cancer. To see him try to walk is a disheartening experience. His cancer treatments kept him home bound for much of the 2004-2005 Supreme Court term. In recent weeks, he has required hospitalization for fever. The Chief Justice, William Rehnquist is now past 80 years of age.

He claims that he is keeping up with his work while at home by reading briefs and the minutes of court proceedings. In spite of his myriad of difficulties, he seems intent upon remaining as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

If he retired, it is likely he would receive a substantial pension along with health care. But he elects to shuffle along with his cap pulled down tightly on his head and tries to go to work. If Rehnquist worked for me, there would be a small personnel conference, at which time he would be told that between his ailments and his age, he should attend his own going away party as promptly as possible.

The business of the U.S. is too important that it not be left to aged invalids. This old essayist has never enjoyed the spiritual comfort that some derive from Catholicism. None-the-less, for several years it struck me that the Polish Pope, John Paul II should have retired for the same reasons that apply to Rehnquist. He was well past 80 years and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease. His mobility was seriously compromised. His voice was often inaudible. Yet he went through the motions of being Pope of the Roman Catholic Church until death claimed him.

Is this a matter of male vanity? In my own family, my father was basically blind from age 65 onward. Yet he found a used car salesman who sold him a big Buick that would barely fit in the garage. And the used car salesman had to drive the Buick home as my father could not see.

Women have face lifts. Some men have vanity in such proportions that it tends to blind and to kill them. This is one question that needs an answer.

Verse 2: Senator Frist’s Pre-Born Again Conversion
Bill Frist is a heart surgeon from Tennessee who is now the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. For a time now, he has been running hard to convince Right Wing Conservatives that he is a Bible believing Southern Baptist who would make a good president. In many respects, his campaign has come at the expense of his legislative duties.

For unknown reasons, Frist and other politicians have adopted the positions of the Catholic Church. For example, no Protestant church that is known to me, has decreed that life begins at conception. For all the years that preachers have tortured me with their prolix sermons, no Protestant preacher has ever preached on conception being the original key to life. They may think so, but Protestants have never made a point of it being a matter of infallibility.

Even the far out sects such as the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, the Southern Baptists and the Free Will Baptists have preached that their adherents must be born again. That is a matter of infallibility.

Yet Frist, a Baptist, who will apparently do anything or say anything or adopt any religious precept, has announced that life begins at conception. How does that square with being born again? It isn’t a matter of being conceived again; Protestants believe in being born again.

That raises substantial questions. In dozens of cases such as enlisting in the U.S. Army, one of the major questions has been “Date of Birth” and “Place of Birth.” Now if we are going to take Frist and the other politicians seriously, we are going to have to change countless forms and applications.

How could a person state the date when she or he had been conceived? Hard to say. Can anyone imagine the embarrassment when the proper amount of time had not elapsed between the DOC and the DOB? Why bring up skeletons from the basement?

Now what are we going to do about where the conception took place? When a live baby appears, hospital personnel fill out a birth certificate saying that the birth took place in this hospital in a specific city and county. So we know where the DOB took place. But what are we going to do about the DOC’s? Are we all to be Paris Hiltons whose parents contend that she was conceived there within a few meters of the Eiffel Tower? What are we to do with people who travel a lot, such as traveling salespersons? They would have no idea as to whether the DOC took place in Chicago, Des Moines or Crawford, Texas.

Obviously, Protestant Frist has not thought through his adoption of the Roman position on conception. But if this is the wave of the future, all of us must prepare ourselves with some rational answers. There are questions here that need to be answered as long as politicians embrace the precepts of the Roman church. Perhaps the Roman Church might blaze new trails by holding that as a condition of entering heaven, everyone must be conceived again. That will keep this Roman Church a full stride ahead of Martin Luther’s Protestants.

Verse 3: The Dullest Speakers Wear Eagles and Stars
For more than 63 years, that is the summer of 1942, it has been my sad duty to attempt to figure out what Colonels, Generals and Admirals are attempting to say. When it comes to sheer absolute dullness, high level military people compete with preachers and politicians in the World Series of uninspiring discourse.

There is a reason for this, of course. Early in my career as an Army private, a situation arose where it seemed appropriate to offer a solution. The sergeant informed me in thunderous tones that “You, Private Carr, don’t get paid to think.” For quite a while, it became my practice to think, but not to announce the results of my cerebral activity. Like Galileo Galilei who muttered to church authorities that regardless of what they thought, it was the earth that turned. And so this Private also muttered about less consequential things.

Simply put, the military services put a premium on acceptance of authority even if that authority is completely wrong. Men, and now some women, rise in the ranks by keeping their mouths shut. There is no such thing as a maverick general or an admiral who demonstrates a better way. The mantra is to get along by going along. Even on a disastrous course.

An example may be helpful. General Shinseki was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which is the top U.S. military job. When the Iraq invasion took place, General Shinseki offered the thought that to occupy and pacify Iraq, something like 400,000 to 500,000 troops would be needed.

That viewpoint flew in the face of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who had persuaded his boss that Iraq could be conquered on the cheap. The Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, was caustic in criticizing General Shinsiki. In a matter of months, Shinseki was, in effect, fired. Remember, you don’t get paid for thinking. That seems to apply to Privates as well as to Four Star Generals.

In point of fact, ever since the disastrous Iraq invasion has taken place, there have been calls for more troops to make our occupation succeed. But no General in the field wishes to have the Shinseki treatment visited upon him, so we struggle with a grossly undersized force.

The military doctrine of not being paid to think shows up when our military brass tries to explain things. To prevent criticism from Congress, the press or other military officers, they invariably read from a script which makes for utter dullness. When they agree to answer questions, they lapse into military jargon using initials for names and say virtually nothing.

Even the sainted Colin Powell had trouble speaking effectively. His major speech to the United Nations Security Council shortly before our Commander in Chief launched his ill fated invasion of Iraq, was shortly shown to be false. This was the speech where he guaranteed the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

The blunt fact is that the U.S. military abhors innovation as much as they protest to the contrary. This is a get along by going along outfit. To make an interesting statement or an interesting speech requires thought and the willingness to advocate something other than saying something absolutely without controversy.

The question that must be posed to our readers is how must dullness be considered a virtue in military matters? It appears that dullness in our military will be with us as long as the generals and admirals insist that soldiers and sailors don’t get paid for thinking.

Verse 4: Monuments
In the civilized world, there must be several million monuments. Maybe many more. Of all these edifices, only one involves me. That is the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C. which honors the military men and women who took part in that war.

Unfortunately, that is indeed an enormous monument which pleases politicians, but it doesn’t say much for the soldiers and sailors who were involved in World War II.

This overwhelming monument was built with no input from any old soldier known to me. It was built largely because there were memorials for the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. Bob Dole, the Senator from Kansas, was the moving force to build the monument which is why some of us say it was built to please politicians.

Aside from being antiseptic, it is overblown. It is a loud military brass band backing the National Symphony with a chorus of 10,000 voices. It would be better to have a single guitar player or a cello to memorialize that war.

The Korean War memorial is a stark reminder of what soldiers encounter in dealing with an enemy. It is a magnificent memorial.

The wall with the 58,000 names of the dead from the Vietnam War carries a moving message. More than anything else, it is an antiwar statement and it is a magnificent memorial to the fallen.

It seems to me that the World War II monument would have profited from simplicity. There is a wall in that monument that honors the 400,000 military people lost in that war. That might just be enough of an understatement to make an impression. But in addition to that wall, there are 50 or 52 tall stone obelisks for each state. But understatement has never been a characteristic of American politicians.

So the question that remains is whether it is worth seeing. Absolutely – provided you see it together with the Korean and Vietnamese memorials. The key here is that World War II is marked by a monument. The other two are marked by memorials. Memorials are better.

Verse 5: Envelopes and Screw Top Bottles
Companies that send me bills often include an envelope that requires me to be certain that the addressees name shows through the plastic window. This is a hassle that no one needs. Is there anything wrong with sending a return envelope that does not require such dexterity?

Now about screw top containers that require that the lid be forced down before it may be unscrewed. Allegedly, this is a device to protect our children. In this house, there are no children. When a bottle of 100 tablets is purchased, for example, for each of those one hundred attempts to extract one pill, the cap must be pushed down with which it becomes cross threaded. People become heathens for less provocation than the push down caps.

There has to be a better way of dealing with envelopes and bottles. Your suggestions will be welcome. And while we are at it, the fastening devices at the top of cereal boxes are often deplorable. There are those of us who believe the alleged most advanced country in the world ought to be able to design cereal boxes that shut without a degree in industrial engineering.

These are a few of the questions that give me pause. Perhaps future Meditations will provide some answers. But in all likelihood, as age creeps up on me, there will only be more unanswered questions and fewer answers.

August 13, 2005


I wonder — I think Pop’s blindness set in in 2005 sometime, but this essay doesn’t reference it in the fifth section. You’d think that would be the reason why everything else mentioned was particularly inconvenient, but maybe that’s implied.

Meanwhile I think the bit about male vanity towards the top of the essay was pretty spot-on. Pride can definitely drive people to make some pretty obvious mistakes. The best thing Joseph Ratzinger ever did was to recognize when it was time to retire from the papacy.

A POTPOURRI OF THOUGHTS | Meditations: Chapter 11, Verses Genesis to Exodus

My final job at AT&T was in the Overseas Department where it was necessary to deal with all the other telecommunications organizations in the world on mutual problems. In many cases, it was a matter of maintaining harmonious relations with people who were very different from ourselves as well as people who are very much like the people found in this country. It was a job that brought considerable enjoyment to me. Among the people who contributed to that enjoyment were two Assistant General Managers of the Overseas Telecommunication’s Commission – Australia. One was Randy Payne and the other was John Hampton.

We were all veterans of World War II which contributed much to our friendship. Before long, it also developed that all of us were offended by attempts to sully the English language. John Hampton said at one point that he had heard the term “to envelopize” a problem. Randy and John were baffled by that term as their American correspondent was by “cut to the chase.” Somewhere along the line came the phrase “pushing the envelope” and the penchant of one of my colleagues for the use of the absurd word “proactive.” When a new imbecilic phrase turned up, we all laughed as its meaning was guessed at. The three of us reserved a special place in hell for those who said, “At this point in time” meaning now, or “That point in time,” meaning then. That also applied to adding the suffix “wise” to any word, such as, “It is hot here, heat-wise.”

Randy Payne died bout 20 years ago at a much too early an age. John Hampton retired and unfortunately, we have been out of contact for nearly two decades. But the search goes on. In the past few years, particularly since the Iraq war, insane neologisms are found everywhere. This is the time Randy and John are sorely needed. Here are only a few of the new words that beggar definition and meaning.

How about “awesome” or “like” as in the ardent swain saying to his beloved, “Like, I want to kiss you.” She should reply, “Like when is it going to happen?” She might also say, “You know what I mean?” Then there is the recurring phrase “you know.” When George Bush speaks extemporarily, his sentences go on and on as he says “and uh…” instead of a period. Employers are looking for people who “think outside the box.” What box are we discussing?

From the war in Iraq, we have “tipping point,” “boots on the ground,” “standing up and standing down,” “closure” and “renditions.” Rumsfeld speaks a language all his own. He loves the word “metrics,” which means nothing more than a measurement of some kind as in the war in Iraq may go on for twelve years. Twelve years is a metric and a long one.

Condoleezza Rice, the recently appointed Secretary of State, has a compulsion to use the word “task” in dubious forms. Rumsfeld, of metrics fame, joins Madame Rice in trying to dress up that well understood term, in fancy and in illogical clothing. When someone has been assigned to oversee a project, Rice and Rumsfeld will say that he or she is “being tasked” with that responsibility. Prospectively, they may say that a subordinate person is under consideration “for tasking” a certain project. Because these are peculiar American usages, Randy and John would have pummeled me endlessly, and with good reason.

On the ecclesiastical front, we have an entry from EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the Catholic network. They now refer to children in the womb as “pre-born.” When a birth occurs, is it possible that the child would be called a “post-born” or an “after-born”? My driver’s license says born only. “After and post born” would lend some class to a classless entry.

From the baseball commentators we now have “going yard” which means hitting a home run. This takes insanity to a lofty level.

So you can see why Randy and John are sorely missed. We have much more to work with than when we plied our trade back in the 1980’s. Like I mean, like really. It is awesome! How about, at this point in time, may we say, awesome-wise? Or, proactive-wise? How about prayer-wise?

Your old essayist is at a loss to tell you if nuns who taught school were as tough as some parochial school graduates now claim. My main source is Francis Healey, a former major league catcher who is now a broadcaster of Mets baseball.

Fran is not alone in claiming that the nuns he was taught by were overly strict and that some of them were given to corporal punishment. There are those parents who want their children to be taught by demanding teachers. Perhaps that is a laudable trait, but it seems to me that something is missing here. Parochial school graduates speak not of the love of learning, but of the strictness of the teaching nuns. Rulers seem to have been used to rap knuckles of errant school boys. Is that the image that people such as Fran Healey, who must have left his parochial school 40 years ago, want to be known for?

My grade school teachers were demanding, but sometimes they would join the children in school yard games at recess. The question remains, were the parochial school nuns as tough as some graduates say they were? Were the Catholic kids that unruly? But the nuns are still at it so it is clear that some parents prefer for their kids to toe the line. Do bad boys ever get excommunicated? Maybe the Eternal Word Television Network can answer that question as soon as “pre-born” is explained satisfactorily. EWTN might explain that the so called “Morning-after pill” is designed to avoid the pre-born situation. That would be a clear definition that all of us could understand.

In previous essays, an attempt was made to describe hatred between people and countries. The Chinese, for example, are still smoldering about the treatment by the Japanese Army in World War II. The Italians are roundly hated in Ethiopia for the invasion in the 1930’s under Mussolini. In turn, the Italians hate what the German Army did to them late in World War II. The Poles hate the Germans and the Russians, with good reason. Even after 800 years, there is absolutely no love lost between the Irish and England. Old Mother England is reviled in Africa because the Brits referred to male natives as “boys” and demanded that natives call them “Master.”

Our occupation of Iraq – and particularly the torture that has been visited upon Iraqis – will earn Americans the undying hatred of Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world forever.

On the subject of torture in American prisons, Burton J. Lee III wrote an article for the Washington Post called, “The Stain of Torture.” Lee served as a doctor in the United States Medical Corps and was for four years, the presidential physician to George H.W. Bush. The final paragraph of Lee’s piece reads like this:

“America cannot go down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. It does not show understanding, power or magnanimity. It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and the citizens of the United States.”

Dr. Lee, many of us believe you have said it all. This is what hatred is all about.

The G-8 Summit meeting was badly overshadowed by the London bombings. Yet there were one or two statements of note.

With respect to the war in Iraq, one of the delegates proclaimed the conflict was “Laying the foundation for peace.” He really said that. Presumably, the bloodier the war in Iraq, the more likely that the foundation for peace is laid properly.

On global warming, seven out of the eight delegations were in favor of doing something about it. The United States, which contributes more to greenhouse gasses than any other country, declined to become involved. So the U.S. government holds that seven out of the eight governments are on “the wrong road.”

It may come as no surprise that the speaker in both cases was Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush may have been thrilled to learn while he was in Scotland on G-8 business, that the Shia’s have started to establish a Shia theocracy based in Basra, Iraq’s second city. A theocracy is a government based, in this case, on the Islamic religion. As far as this group of Shias is concerned, they will take a pass on democracy.

Bush may not have understood all that was going on around him in Scotland, but it is a pretty good guess that he was sobered by the events in London and in Iraq. It could – and probably will – happen here.

In recent years, it has become de rigueur to depopulate retail stores. Bakery counters don’t have people to explain the differences between breads. The products are packaged and placed in a bin and the customer is forced to paw through them.

Butchers are quickly passing from the scene as cuts of meat are packaged and placed in bins. Help at the cheese counter is largely a thing of the past all done in the name of getting rid of employees with a consequent boost in corporate earnings.

Perhaps the ultimate is the Staples office supply chain. It is quite possible to shop there for the better part of an hour and see no one but a cashier or two. The difference between products is left for the customer to divine. It is sort of like Rumsfeld saying you go to war with the Army you have. In this case, Staples has filled a store with products which may or may not fit customer requirements – and there are precious few clerks or cashiers to ask for help. Staples says it has done its part. If the customer is baffled, that is not Staples problem.

With the “no help” situation in Staple’s stores, the losses through shop lifting must be significant. But there we go worrying about Staple’s problems. Perhaps we are lucky to have the cashier available, but knowing of the desire to depopulate stores of every kind, it may not be long till they are gone as well.

The inescapable fact is that a good employee will pay for himself by showing how a product is used or by telling customers of other bargains or services supplied by the store. Ah, but the owners are not listening. Curiously, the owners do not share the increased income with the few remaining employees. They keep it for themselves. How short sighted. How immoral.

In Clayton, Missouri, my home town, there was a pool hall that was viewed by my mother as the ultimate den of iniquity. My mother suspected that Sol was selling some sort of beer to patrons during the days of Prohibition. That practice was known as “peddling home brew.” When Franklin Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, he legalized the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. At that point, old Sol – last name unknown – could sell his beer openly to players who used his pool tables.

My brothers who were 11 and 13 years older than myself, were accused by my mother of patronizing Sol’s place. As my young years advanced, Lillie, my mother, warned me that going to Sol’s would endanger my soul from any heavenly reward. All of this took place when Nora, Lillie’s sister, made home brew all during the Prohibition era. As a child, Nora’s home brew was so repulsive that now, 75 years later, there is not one atom in my body ever crying out for beer.

Secondly, the lure of pool-playing ranks somewhere below watching a dull person try to solve a crossword puzzle. My current interest in pool and golf are somewhere near zero or below.

Nonetheless, as my years mounted, Lillie was assured from time to time that Sol’s Pool Hall was not where my after-school hours were spent. Lillie was completely certain that her fervent prayers for her youngest child were paying off in terms of pool playing and drinking beer. Lillie went to her grave believing that my abstemious conduct was a product of divine intervention. Lillie knew of my non-belief in religion. She elected to declare her non-belief in my non-belief. Given that situation, it seemed best for me to let sleeping dogs lie.

Lillie never played pool in her life nor did she ever see the inside of a pool hall. Why she was so angered by the existence of Sol’s Pool Hall was inexplicable to me. But none-the-less, for more than three quarters of a century, my consumption of beer is in the range of two or three bottles per year. My visits to a pool hall over that period of time are zero. Do you believe these non-accomplishments are, in fact, divine intervention as specified by Mother Lillie? When this old geezer reaches eternal ecstasy in the hereafter, he will go to the divine ledger to see if that was indeed the case. My hope is to see Sol, who will offer me a cold one, and who will spin out the whole story. But seeing Sol, or Solomon, may be difficult because he subscribed to the Jewish faith. Perhaps Jews live in a different housing development from the Protestants. But that is an issue for another day. My unshakable belief is that Lillie and Sol will have worked things out long before it is necessary for me to knock on those golden gates.

July 5, 2005


Most of the time when I’m shopping, I’d much rather use my phone to look up reviews for a product than listen to a biased salesperson tell me about it. And even when a phone is available, having a sales rep staring you down as you attempt to shop is pretty disconcerting for me. I was in Shanghai last week, where this practice is taken to the extreme. In one of the giant counterfeit goods markets, Jen and I made the fatal mistake of asking someone how to get upstairs. That person proceeded to follow us around doggedly for at least ten minutes, despite my becoming increasingly rude to her. “We do not want you here with us, please go away, goodbye” was insufficient deterrent to get her to leave us alone. We eventually had to leave the store to get her to go away. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or maybe I’m just antisocial, but my ideal shopping experience is one where I’m left entirely alone.

FURTHER PROFOUND MEDITATIONS | Chapter Nine: Verses Leviticus to Haggai

The last Meditation seemed to exhaust the ready reserve supply. So it was my thought to put the Meditation series aside and go on to other projects unless there was a celestial sign that further work on this series would be met with ecclesiastical acclaim. In the middle of the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium, Kate Smith sang a recorded 1945 version of “God Bless America” during which Verna, my renowned sister spoke from the sky and said to me, “Write another Meditation.” Verna is now an Arch Angel so it must be assumed that further Meditations will have canonical blessings. And so here is another Meditation which is intended to get Verna off my case.

Verse 1: CLAYTON 714-J
After my father found a job in 1933 or 1934, the Carr family was able to subscribe to telephone service offered by Southwestern Bell. It was a four party line so all the other people knew when an incoming call occurred. On outgoing calls, if someone was on the line, it was necessary to wait for them to end their discussion before another party could make a call. Calls were kept reasonably short as a matter of courtesy. Aimless gossip was exchanged at the peril of other people on the four party system hearing it.

All of this comes to mind after hearing the mindless meanderings of cell phone users. There seems to be no limit on what they will talk about and for how long. For example, you may recall my Meditations about Myrtle’s Ovulation. Last Thursday, a ten year old boy was speaking on a cell phone as he and his mother were shopping. He said such things as, “Like why did he say that” or “Like, I don’t know. Search me.” All of this passes for the transmission of thought processes. He is a kid who will grow up to hassle other passengers on trains and buses with the vacancy of his thought processes.

If such stupid inanities were exchanged over the four party line at Clayton 714-J, the other subscribers would have complained loudly and in all likelihood, would have been joined by the operator. The words are clear after all these years. “If you want to discuss all that trash, get a one party line.” The fact is that single party service was so expensive that most folks during the Depression were forced to subscribe to party line service.

To bring closure, as today’s pundits say, we have not ridden the train to New York for awhile so it is impossible for us to say whether Myrtle’s ovulation resulted in the desired pregnancy. We will keep our ears open for further developments which will inevitably be discussed by riders using cell phones.

America’s premier evangelist Billy Graham, wound up his “crusade” on Sunday after three days of bringing the gospel to the natives. People came from Canada and Tennessee and the Carolinas to attend the extravaganza. Significantly, old Billy was not preaching to New York heathens, but to born-again believers from out of town. But when the believers answer his call to the altar, he claimed each one as a new-born sinner who has been persuaded by Graham’s call to glory. Objective observers would say Graham’s conversions are grossly inflated.

Graham was accompanied at his crusade by his son and successor, Franklin, who has repeatedly announced that the Moslem faith is nothing more than an idol-worshipping sect. When you couple this with his father’s denunciation of Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon, we have two alleged holy men preaching hatred of all who don’t subscribe to their distorted view of Christianity. Billy and Franklin are insular preachers who have not yet tumbled to the existence of Buddhists and Hindus or dozens of other faiths. If those other religions ever appear on Graham’s radar screen, stand by for further denunciations of those faiths as infidels, apostates and idol worshipers.

As Billy closed his crusade in Queens, he more or less demanded repentance from everybody. If you don’t have a reason to repent, it would be advisable to sin egregiously thereby giving a strong reason for repentance to please old Billy.

Curiously, Billy’s last day of his crusade coincided with the Gay Pride parade in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg attended the gay parade and did not appear at Billy’s crusade. But he is a Jew and Billy and Nixon dislike them intensely. A passing thought that if repentance is required of anyone, it should be Billy and Franklin and all those born again Christians repenting for their conduct to Jews and Moslems and to the homosexual community. But folks, don’t expect that to happen in our lifetimes.

Age creeps up on all of us. Inevitably, as people age, they require the attention of all kinds of physicians. Acquiring treatment from the medicos is made much less pleasant by having to sit in the physician’s waiting room listening to daytime television programs. It seems that every physician feels an obligation to entertain patients as they wait to tell their problems to the doctor. Daytime television programs are insipid, vapid, banal and devoid of any respectable quality. They don’t entertain, they agitate.

In days gone by, it was enough for physician’s waiting rooms to be equipped with old magazines. These days, people try to read those old magazines as one means of shutting out the intrusion of unwelcome television programming.

It seems to me that physicians ought to take the TV sets out of their waiting rooms. An intelligent person visiting the doctor for a trivial matter may be transformed into a patient with greater problems by having to watch or hear daytime TV, thus becoming a mean, cynical and hypocritical sort of person.

This opinion is delivered only to those covered by Medicare and no-fault insurance. All the rest are to be diagnosed by Senator/Doctor Bill Frist who found from a TV picture that Terri Schiavo had no sign of a persistent vegetative state. But at least Frist does not have a television in his waiting room. He makes it up as he goes along.

Last week, Donald Rumsfeld, the Emperor of Abu Ghraib, testified before a committee of the Senate. At the table with Rumsfeld, sat four officers of general rank. In the first two rows behind Rumsfeld were other officers who appeared to me to be two to four start generals. Rumsfeld is well protected. This assemblage of generals is there to pick up any papers that might be dropped by the Emperor.

Every officer present had on the left side of the jacket of his uniform, a virtual signboard of ribbons. My count showed they were stacked eight rows high and that each row of ribbons contained at least six or seven decorations. This means the aides to Emperor Rumsfeld were wearing in this one block of ribbons about 48 or more than 50 decorations. An uninitiated onlooker might conclude that each of these clowns had committed 48 or more individual acts of heroism. Don’t be mislead.

Looking at the sign boards on these Rumsfeld retainers led me to recall a line from Henry Mencken who would have said that this seductive display of ribbons glittered, flashed and sparkled as the mouth of hell itself. But wait. That is not all. On top of the rows of ribbons were pins signifying pilot status or infantry leadership. Below the ribbons were one or two more pins signifying who knows what.

On the right side of the jacket were two more ribbons probably signifying a unit commendation from the president and there were more pins.

On both shoulders were patches identifying the organizations they must have been assigned to at some point in their illustrious careers. The straps on their shoulders sported the stars of their rank. In case anyone missed the point, the shirt collars also carried the general’s stars on both the left and right sides. If these red hot generals were ever caught in a lightening storm, they would be certain to attract a bolt what with all this metal above their waists.

Now here is a secret you should know. These men did not participate in anything like 48 acts of bravery. We give medals and ribbons for such things as good conduct. The generals award other generals medals and ribbons because of “superior” performance. No one ever heard of an enlisted man who was the recipient of the general’s largesse. They keep that for themselves and it explains why their uniform jackets glitter, flash and sparkle as the mouth of hell itself.

There is one other thought about the “Signboard Syndrome.” No other military organization in the civilized world dresses up its uniforms as does the United States. They must believe our actions are bizarre and of a piece with our stated intention to police the world. Significantly, General Vo Nguyen Giap from Vietnam who defeated first the French and then the forces of the U.S., wears no decorations at all. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find evidence of his rank. He doesn’t glitter, gleam and flash like the mouth of hell itself. He presents himself as a simple soldier unadorned by the “signboard syndrome.”

There is no hope here, as long as generals can decorate other generals, this mockery of bravery will continue to persist.


When my sister Verna was here on earth, she enjoyed telling other people what to do . Her service as an Arch Angel has not robbed her of the desire to suggest to other people actions that would please her. Verna was delayed in reading this Meditation because she had mislaid her angelic spectacles. Also, a dark stain was found on her long white gown near where her wings emerge. Once these problems were solved, she suggested strongly that she would be pleased to see at least one more Meditation. To please Verna, it will be produced forthwith – whatever that means.

July 1, 2005


Not to worry — there are a solid nine more meditations in the pipes. I’m a huge fan of these.

For fun, try image searching for “General Petraeus Medals” he basically has a square foot of crap on his chest, with all sorts of other adornments festooning every available surface.

But Pop is wrong to insinuate that we’re alone in this absurd practice. Plenty of other countries do it, including several African countries, and of course North Korea, which is probably the best one. North Korean generals look like this:

I wonder what they do when the front of the general runs out of space. Do you start affixing medals to their backs? Their pants? Their hats? So many options!


Calendars don’t mislead or obfuscate. They mark the inexorable passage of time. That was the burden of the message exchange recently with Shirley Morganstein, a great speech therapist who set me to writing essays nearly eight years ago. In my case, essay writing has made those years pass most pleasantly. While essay writing has occupied much of my time, Shirley has established her own company called “Speaking of Aphasia.” If you ever have an encounter with aphasia, it may be well for you to see Shirley who represents the gold standard for providing remedies for people with that disorder.

One of the by-products of essay writing is that there are occasions when an item is worthy of comment but not necessarily a subject that will sustain a full essay. In my career as a non-paid essayist, those short subjects have been grouped at different times under four headings. First they were called, “Odds and Ends.” That was followed by “Bits and Pieces.” Then came “Thoughts While Shaving.” Finally, when my driving career was discontinued, there were “Musings.” All of them had to do with short subjects.

To lend a bit of elegance to these odd lots of subjects, they will now be called for the time being, “Meditations.” Chapters will designate one “Meditation” from another. For the benefit of scholars, in later editions chapters will appear with numbered verses. And for those of you who consider my choice of titles and divisions being called chapters and verses as too Bible-like, you will be cheered and encouraged to know that the first “Meditation” will be called, “Great News – Myrtle is Ovulating.”

Meditations – Chapter One

When a man has lived a long time and has moved around quite a bit, it is inevitable that such a person would use a wide variety of conveyances. In my own case, there have been cars, subways, buses, troop ships, ferries, and airplanes including the speedy Concords, as well as troop and commuter trains. In recent years in the Boston-Washington corridor, Amtrak has offered a new high speed service using the Acela trains. In Europe and Japan, dependable high speed rail service has been offered for more than 60 years. We have a long way to go to catch up with them.

Given a choice, my strong preference is for train service as opposed to all other forms of transportation. Of course, there are drawbacks like derailments and trains running late because of a cow lying down on the tracks. All of those drawbacks are conceded. What is not conceded is that a trip on a train is a relaxing and an elegant way to get from one place to another with minimum risk to the body.

In recent days there is one major impediment to train travel that has to be overcome. That is the loud talking blabber mouths who wait until they are seated on a train to call someone to spill out all the secrets that most people discuss only with their lovers and spouses in the confines of a locked bedroom door.

Similarly, in my long experience, it has intrigued me to find that upon registering in a hotel, some guests believe that is his or her license to begin a quest for a willing member of the opposite or same sex to begin a romantic encounter. It is the hotel that sets off this reaction.

The same syndrome is encountered when a person with a cell phone takes a train ride. As soon as he finds his seat, the cell phone comes out and the secrets of the day are exposed for all to hear. It must be the train that sets off such inanities.

Last November, for example, on a trip to Washington, we could not help overhearing a woman lamenting her chance to acquire a husband. She was seated behind me so it was impossible to give her an objective male evaluation. Had she been seated close to me, she would have been told that her chances of finding romance would increase exponentially if she refrained from loudly discussing her private and personal affairs in public.

Then there was a doctor who was responsible for the administration of his hospital. He recounted the financial misfortunes of his hospital for the better part of an hour. Mental notes were made by other passengers to avoid that hospital at all costs.

The overheard conversations did not contribute to our entertainment or to our store of knowledge. They simply had to be endured as a toothache must be endured.

In recognition of the cell phone problem on its trains, Amtrak has a “Quiet Car” where theoretically cell phone calls are prohibited. That prohibition is often honored in the breach as calls are indeed made, but the callers are much quieter.

So it was that Miss Chicka and her husband took a train trip on New Jersey Transit to New York late in May, 2005. Cell phone calls could be heard everywhere. It was a real cacophony. Our caller told all of us that it was “cute, cute, cute.” She said some article of clothing would “be cute and delicious.” This listener deplores the word “cute.” He did not know if the “cute, cute” appraisal applied to a new dress or to a coat for a dog. There are some things we are not destined to know about. As we said, what inanities.

On the way home, one leather lunged female cell phone user wanted to provide an up to the instant description of the love life of a woman who may have been known to both parties on the call in question. There was no such thing as ignoring the conversation because it was simply too loud and too clear.

Myrtle was the subject of the call. Presumably, Myrtle was experiencing some difficulty in becoming pregnant. Our cell phone caller on the train handled everything with aplomb. She announced to all of us at the outset, “Great news. Myrtle is ovulating.” She followed this remarkable announcement with the information that “Now is the time to get things done while she is most fertile.” Those of us who were unfamiliar with Myrtle’s gynecological and obstetric situation were left to wonder about the phrase, “Now is the time to get things done.” It seemed to me that this was such a sterile and non-romantic approach to a life altering decision. But “getting things done” told all of us that Myrtle meant business whether it applied to her doctors or to Myrtle’s male friend.

Unfortunately, we will probably not know whether Myrtle and her husband, lover, boy friend or casual acquaintance were successful by having her ovulation followed by a pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, you may be sure it will be announced to train riders by Myrtle’s friend. Looking ahead it would be of great interest for all of us to know whether Myrtle has considered such eventualities as breech births or a “C” Section. So you can see we have a lot to look forward to on future train rides with Myrtle’s buddy.

Obviously, it is too early to know all these details, but there is a train car load of people who now share the secrets of what appears to be an effort to make Ms. Myrtle pregnant. Myrtle and her partner must be pleased to know how her fertility is well known to all of us.

For the future, good old ovulating Myrtle ought to pick friends who don’t have a cell phone or who don’t ride trains. Or maybe Myrtle ought to keep her OB-GYN condition to herself.

May 30, 2005


Boys and girls, there will be no fewer than eighteen meditations in this series. Buckle up! I’m pretty excited about it; multi-essays are often my favorites, because sometimes he connects such disparate subjects with his transitions. And even when he doesn’t, it’s great to see how he feels about so many different things in the space of just a few pages.

He found his inner Andy Rooney with this one, that’s for sure. I’m sad that he didn’t make it to the era of people using video-chat apps on the train; because the phone must be held pretty far from the face for this to work, conversations are even louder. I’m sure Pop would have taken to photobombing these occurrences whenever possible.

Our trains in California prohibit having loud conversations as a general rule, which is largely ignored. Loud conversations are bad, but they’re definitely not the worst thing you get on bay area public transit. Crazy people are a routine occurrence, as are people who bring powerful portable speakers to treat entire subway cars to their personal playlist full of shitty music. Now and again you’ll get chain-smokers on the train, which to me are the #1 offender. I’d rather have a car full of phone talkers than be trapped with one smoker.

I remember taking the “L” in Chicago home late one night in college. As I stepped on to the train, I was immediately faced with a man standing directly in the middle of the doorway. He was looking down at his feet, and moaning over and over: “Burn God, Burn God, Burn God, Burn God.” This went on for the duration of the twenty-minute ride. It was phenomenally disconcerting. But still, give me any number of divine arsonists instead of a chain smoker, and I’ll happily put in my headphones and ride in peace.


This essay offers the thought that being poor financially, may have its merits. Obviously, its drawbacks are well known. The conventional wisdom these days runs against being poor, but being one step away from financial disaster is in communion with the philosophy of a country woman who claimed Lusk, Illinois as her birth place.

Country women are accustomed to hard work and to plain speaking. This lady was fairly tall and raw boned, if that term can be used for a church going female. Her use of the English language reflected her educational accomplishments which had to do with completion of the third grade McGuffy Reader. Double negatives in one sentence were common place. The British Broadcasting Company would have been aghast at her spoken English, but as an Irishwoman, she had no use for the BBC or for the royal family. Her views on life continue to make eminent sense 44 years after her death.

Often, she spoke in aphorisms. She believed, for example, that being poor – which she often was – did not prevent a person from being honest. If a debt was owed to someone, it should be paid as fully and as promptly as possible.

Being rich or poor provided no excuse for avoiding service to your country. Her brothers and her son all volunteered for Army service in the First and Second World Wars. Awaiting the call from the draft board was sort of second tier patriotism to her. Avoiding service, for able-bodied men, was considered scandalous by the Lusk philosopher.

Being poor was no excuse whatsoever for not washing ones self. While your clothes may be worn, they should always be clean.

Being poor should not prevent one from looking for work. If a job developed, honesty demanded that the employee get to work on time and stay until quitting time.

Being poor did not entitle one to give up and to whimper about life’s unfairness. That Lusk woman didn’t demand miracles, but she did demand that those around her do the best they could do. Her exhortations and aphorisms were sometimes delivered with Bible verses such as, “The wages of sin is death.” Her demands were not couched in proper English grammar, but those around her always got the message.

It seems to me that people coming from those depression era circumstances are often better able to understand events that take place in our daily lives and in the life of this country. Let’s take the 2004 presidential election. In that contest, the man who had the most money had a clear advantage. George Bush and John Kerry had never been poor in their entire lives. Bush made preposterous claims for example, about the success of the war in Iraq. Poor people who saw their children become soldiers as a means of making a living knew not to believe such political propaganda. They simply watched the casualty figures mount and concluded that they were being lied to.

For his part, John Kerry picked a crucial time in the campaign to display his wealth and athletic skills. He visited one of his many homes and he was photographed wind surfing. That was a colossal blunder. If the idea was to show that he was physically fit, it was drowned out by the horse laughs from farmers and miners and other folks who have to work for a living. When a farmer is harvesting wheat in any Midwestern state, he would not be favorably moved by a rich man wind surfing in an elite setting on Cape Cod.

Bush and Kerry were always politicians of inherited wealth. Men from more modest circumstances would not have operated the campaigns as the well heeled candidates conducted them in 2004. They would have known to stick to provable facts and to avoid wind surfing on Cape Cod at all costs. Being poor is no excuse for running a dumb campaign.

Now that the campaign is finally finished, a candidate of modest means would know better than to star in a $40 million inaugural extravaganza. Candidates who have survived diminished backgrounds would think first of the military vehicles in Iraq which have inadequate armor. Such a candidate might think also about the victims of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. A man who had to work his way through school might conclude that $40 million would buy some armor for combat vehicles or it might help a fisherman from Sri Lanka to replace his tsunami destroyed boat. Or it might provide shelter for homeless people here who have barely enough to eat.

First things first. Extravagant $40 million inaugural bashes probably would not even make the “To Do” list of a candidate who was raised by parents who lived from one paycheck to another or from a no-paycheck to another week or month without a job.

In the January 11, 2005 edition of the New York Times, there is a full page devoted to “What The First Lady Will Wear.” On Inauguration Day, Laura Bush will wear a gown designed by Oscar de la Renta. The gown will have to match her hair and her accessories. “Mrs. Bush has acknowledged that she is taking style cues from her 22 year old twin daughters,” says the Times. They will have to also wear ball gowns from designers to the wealthy.

While poor people with inadequate food and shelter are with us, the expenses devoted to the Inauguration including the ball gowns, is nothing less than an abomination. While soldiers are dying from lack of vehicle armor, the money spent to dress the first lady and her daughters must be regarded as loathsome.

Soldiers and poor people can read. They will view the inaugural activities with detestation. All of these descriptions will have been richly earned by the Bush family and the Inaugural Committee.

If one wishes to understand what women and men of modest means endure everyday, it helps to have been born in poor or less affluent circumstances. For example, if anyone seeks to understand people working in dead end jobs, it would help if the inquirer had worked for a time on the bottom rung of the labor ladder. To understand financial despair, it would help to have been broke once. If one wishes to understand sick people without health insurance, it might be well to have been sick in that same circumstance. To comprehend despair among soldiers, it would be well to have served as a private in combat situations. And if your bank or your landlord takes away your housing or your car, it may be well to have experienced that dread.

It may be that no one wishes to understand all of the travails that befall ordinary working and retired Americans. That may be the case particularly among the more affluent. On the other hand, if one wishes to understand the dynamics of the American people, there are those American citizens who worry about not having enough to eat, or worry about the rent or are concerned about being sick without insurance. Those things are part and parcel of American life in 2005. Discerning citizens would be well advised to understand that. Being poor or coming from deprived or modest backgrounds might be helpful in understanding those situations.

If we turn from the individual citizens to the American influence on world affairs, it seems to me that there is a verse from the King James version of the Bible, that may offer some wisdom. In Proverbs 16:18 we are warned that, “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Quoting from Proverbs doesn’t make me a Bible scholar, but those words have meaning to the more affluent among us who proclaim that America leads the world in nearly every category.

Take automobiles, for example. In affluent neighborhoods and suburbs, finding an American car in the parking lot of a market will take a bit of searching. The well-to-do and those who aspire to be well-to-do drive foreign cars. It is de rigueur to own a Volvo or an Infiniti or a Lexus. Less well off citizens drive Fords and Chevies and Chrysler products.

In 2004, Toyoto sold 2,000,000 cars in this country. They seem to have passed Chrysler and are threatening Ford for total sales in the United States. Whereas two decades or so ago, the world looked to American car manufacturers for innovative leadership, those laurels have now passed to the Japanese and to the Germans. Close behind them are the Koreans.

For 45 or 50 years following World War II, American cars set the standard for the world to follow. American manufacturers were slow to recognize that less affluent buyers were buying Volkswagens, Hondas and Subarus rather than Fords or Chevies. By the time American car companies woke up, the luxury market included Lexus’s and Infinities fighting it out with Cadillacs and Lincolns which now find favor largely with limousine companies.

By paying attention to Toyota, Nissan, Honda, VW and the Korean manufacturers, we might have learned something to prevent the rapid drop in the sale of American cars. Poor people could have told Detroit something worthwhile – if Detroit had asked and had paid attention.

In the field of education, poor people could point out some other shortcomings. The cost for tuition, board and room at well regarded universities now exceeds $40,000 for one year. Travel to and from the school and incidental expenses are additional expenses to be borne by the student or his family. And Americans thought their educational institutions were without parallel.

Simply put, $40,000 puts attendance at a first rate school out of the question for children of poor people or even those of modest means. To anyone who claims that American higher education leads the world, there are some sobering thoughts. One of the first is that many soldiers being killed or wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, joined the military primarily or solely because they could use military pay to afford a college education. The main thrust of the American military is aimed at enlistments among high schoolers who come from modest or poor backgrounds. Recruiting shows and exhibits do not bother with well-to-do high schools. Their aim is at deprived schools in run down neighborhoods.

Enlisting is sort of a chimera. Recently, the Army has instituted its “Stop Loss” program which means that the soldier is kept in the military, at the end of his enlistment, whether he likes it or not. When he finally completes his enlistment, the soldier is probably 22 or 23 years of age which is not a prime time to become a college freshman. Having been away from academic pursuits for at least three years is a primary reason for abandoning a college career. With re-enlistment bonuses of several thousand dollars, many young men will opt for more soldiering. Students from well-to-do families can embrace a college career directly after high school. At age 22 or 23 years, these youngsters are set to start their life’s work. Poor people know that the educational cards are stacked against them. They are smart enough to know that, but not smart enough to make a level playing field for everyone who aspires to attend a university. On top of everything else, the U.S. Government has now announced a cut in Pell Grants which means that there will be even fewer resources for worthy students who come from poor circumstances.

My reading of educational facts in continental Europe leads me to conclude that many governments encourage students to succeed regardless of financial circumstances. This is not the American way. A case in point is a young Czech man who spent a summer in New Jersey working for a farmer who sold his produce in local farmer’s markets. That fellow is now a PhD candidate at the Economics University of Prague. The fellow who sold us tomatoes and cabbages came from a family of modest means, yet he will soon be addressed as “Doctor” or “Professor.” Could a student of similar means achieve that in this country? The chances are that it would take considerable financial resources that poor people don’t have and have no prospects for achieving.

In leaving the field of education as it relates to students of lesser means, there are two sobering thoughts. American government officials have imposed a series of immigration rules that have caused a deadening effect on foreign students studying in this country. This is absolutely counter-productive because those students, in later life, will have no understanding of how things work in the United States. Ignorance may well mean hostility.

Secondly, the Chief Executive of the United States government has told us that layoffs and outsourcing of jobs is sort of a blessing. He says the obvious answer is to find a nearby junior college and to study to learn a new career.

Unfortunately, many of the layoffs and outsourcing have happened to people who hold more than one advanced university degree. And when the Chief Executive speaks about the opportunities offered by junior colleges, my mind turns to a 50 year old laid off coal miner who started to work at age 16, not long after completing the eighth grade in a country school. What are his chances of becoming a nuclear physicist, if that is his next planned career move? Maybe the Commander in Chief has some ideas. The rest of us do not. But he has been a rich man all his life. Do you think he has a plan for 50 year old miners? There is also the person holding down three jobs already to make ends meet. How will she or he find time to attend career-changing classes at a local junior college.

There is one circumstance where being poor has some great advantages. That circumstance is music. The poor people who have been oppressed and denied opportunity to succeed, have often turned to music. Does anyone who knows anything about music deny the power of the spiritual? Hearing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” or “Look Down Look Down That Lonesome Road” will tell any listener that poor people have constructed magnificent pieces of music. If the spirituals are sung by the likes of Leontyne Price or Paul Robeson, for example, the results are electrifying.

Jews have been pushed and ground down for centuries. Still they have produced sterling song writers such as Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin. Broadway and the music world would have been much poorer had it not been for Jewish composers, lyricists and performers.

And finally, there are the Celts who produced, among other songs, “Danny Boy,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Scotland the Brave” and the Welsh song “Ar Hyd Y Nos” which we know in English as “All Through the Night.” Are there more expressive lyrics than “Sleep my child, may peace attend thee, all through the night?” When Russian choirs sing, their hearts are in their music. All of these people, the Africans, the Jews, the Celts, the Poles and the Russians will grab your attention when they perform – and they may make you cry a bit. Generally speaking, poor people, engulfed by tragedy, will often put their thoughts into song.

The foregoing list of music by poor people is something that comes to mind as we close “Maybe Being Poor Ain’t All Bad.” Obviously, there are other people who have turned their poverty into music. Failure to include them is a function of space and time, and not one of deliberate omission.

By this time, this ancient essayist hopes his point about poor people has been made. Being born to royalty does not prevent some utterly miserable things to take place such as Britain’s Prince Harry appearing at a party dressed as a Nazi Afrika Corps trooper with a swastika armband. Ho boy – no poor Cockney would have ever made that mistake – right mate? Being born poor may mean that the person of lesser means may possess brain power that greatly exceeds the ruling class. And so, old essayists who came of age during the Great Depression may have a point when it is claimed that maybe being poor ain’t necessarily all that bad.

Now a concluding word or two about the Lusk philosopher. She was, of course, Lillie Carr, my mother. When she wanted to upgrade her background, she would claim that she came from Golconda, the seat of Pope County, about 20 miles away. She would contend that while no one knew where Lusk was, “ever’body knows about Golconda.” Maybe so, because around Golconda, they had “hard roads” (meaning paved ones). Lusk had only one-car trails that had no street or highway designation. Those unpaved roads were identified by naming some of the farmers who lived along the right-of-way for the roads. “Go by the Brown place and turn right on the road to the Jones place” is the way that directions were given.

The Lusk native, who moved to St. Louis in 1904, had eight children. Three of them died at an early age. When her youngest child went to join the American Army in 1942, his departure was marked by a blunder of colossal proportions. To put it mildly, Lillie harbored active and smoldering ill feelings toward England as she was an Irish nationalist.

When it was time for me to leave to catch the Kirkwood-Ferguson street car which would start my journey to Jefferson Barracks south of
St. Louis, she said to be careful. It was at this point that she needed re-assurance. The soon-to-be-soldier told Lillie that there would be plenty of help. She always liked the Poles because they were hard workers at the farm superintended by my parents in Clayton, Missouri. She was told about the Poles, the French and the Russian troops. Lots of help there. Inexplicably, Lillie’s son said that British troops would also be prominent in the fight against Hitler.

Immediately, it became clear from Lillie’s expression that her youngest child was in the throes of a gigantic mistake that would have been avoided had he shut up before including the Brits.

Lillie said, “Do you mean the English?” My shoulders shrugged in affirmation. The last words that reached my ears came from Lillie saying, “In that case Son, you do the best you can.” It was a long ride on that street car.

For whatever differences we may have had on religion, she taught me that being poor was no excuse at all for not doing my best in every case. It goes without saying that Lillie of Lusk has my eternal gratitude for demonstrating that being poor has many merits.

There are those who say, “I have been rich and I have been poor. Rich is better.” But on balance, there are times when being poor teaches you some valuable lessons. In the end, it seems to me, that maybe being poor ain’t all that bad. For those who disagree, my understanding is always available.

January 13, 2005


I think the real lesson is “if you’re going to be poor, try to be born in Western Europe.” There are definitely some things in the US that get around the pitfalls that Pop mentioned — for example, for high-achieving poor students, the most prestigious universities usually are also the cheapest options — but overall the safety nets that we have are not of a very high quality. It doesn’t help that they come under direct fire from Republican politicians at every opportunity.


This is a follow-up essay to an earlier piece called “Jobless Nostalgia.” Before we get to the heart of the subject, every reader should know that a new table and a new chair are being used for this monumental work of essay writing.

Earlier this year, Miss Chicka decided that my office chair, which had provided me with superior service for about 20 years, needed to be replaced. You will note that Miss Chicka made this fateful determination.

The new chair is an Aeron, made by Herman Miller and has more handles and adjustments than my Chrysler car. It is a mind boggling exercise to describe what this chair can do – so this ancient writer will not even try. But the new chair has one failing. When it is in the operating mode and is pulled up to my desk, there is not enough room for my upper legs between the chair seat and the desk. Apparently, the designers at Herman Miller designed the multiple position chair to be used with modern desks which have no middle drawer or a very skinny middle drawer. The chair is a work of modern art, but it is basically unusable at my desk.

Trips to the local hospital provided an answer. When hospital patients are served a meal, there is a device called an overbed table. It might be called a block “C”– shaped table. The bottom part of the “C” is shoved under the patient’s bed. The top part of the block “C” is a table which is capable of being raised or lowered or it can be tilted for reading. So we bought one.

The saving grace is that the user of the Aeron chair can use the overbed table without having to worry about whether his upper leg will fit between the seat of the chair and the table. And, the tabletop is adjustable to many heights to accommodate near-sighted writers as well as for those who can write at a great distance from their noses.

All of this is being pointed out as a means of explaining unforeseen and inexplicable errors and other proof reading mistakes in this work.

Now this essay is the result of a suggestion of Miss Chicka. In an earlier essay called, “Jobless Nostalgia,” there were lamentations for jobs and occupations that no longer exist such as elevator operators, draftsmen or telephone operators. The point Miss Chicka was making is that when jobs disappear, the person who assumes responsibility for the task is you and me. Let me give you some examples.

Let’s take a call to a doctor’s office. In former days, doctors had a receptionist or a nurse to answer calls from patients. Ah, but those days are long gone now. A call today is not answered by a human voice. Instead, a recorded announcement commands the patient-caller to perform certain tasks before the personnel in the doctor’s office will take the call.

Typical questions are these:
Do you want an appointment for today? Press 1
Do you want a future appointment? Press 2
Is this an emergency? Press 3
Do you need a prescription? Press 4
Do you need to have your current prescription extended? Press 5
If you do not understand these inquires and wish to speak to a doctor’s
representative, press 6 or wait for an operator.

In days gone by, the receptionist or the nurse would answer the call and make appropriate arrangements. Not so today. Listening to the spiel about “press 1” and “press 2” takes many minutes and from time to time, the patient will say, “To hell with all this garbage” and hang up.

But the overwhelming point is that the patient is doing the work of the receptionist or the nurse. What could have been settled in a one minute call now takes several minutes and in the end, it is necessary often, after all the numbers are pressed, to talk to the doctor’s representative in any case. Is this an advance? Does it promote better doctor-patient understanding? On all accounts, the answer has to be NO!

In recent months, there were occasions to call investment firms to inquire about direct deposit of dividends as opposed to mailing the dividends to me each month. As a general rule, investment firms are quite anxious to have an electronic transfer rather than using the postal system. In my case, there were many hurdles to deal with. When the first “press 1” and “press 2” were accomplished, the call then went to the next stage where there were additional “press 1” and “press 6” buttons to push, before the second hurdle was completed. There was now a third one to deal with. And in the end, it was necessary to deal with a supercilious representative of the investment firm. All this took about 20 minutes to deal with a simple request: send my dividend checks electronically rather than by the U.S. Postal System. But in the end, the burden of doing the investment company’s work fell on me. If this is progress, take me back to the 1940s. And we haven’t considered firms that offer the “press 1” and “press 2” to hear the selections in Spanish or, in Canada, in French or English.

Closely allied to the “press 1” and “press 2” problem, is the telephone system. In its early days, all phones were manual. If you wished to place a call, there was a Central Operator who performed all the necessary functions. These operators knew who was being called and were often full of gossip. They could tell you if you had an incoming call while you were engaged in a separate call. And more than anything else, they provided a human touch to the telephone company. But that was long ago. Today, if you wish to call across the street, there is usually the necessity to dial a “1” followed by a three digit area code followed by a seven digit local code. The requirement to dial “1” followed by the area code is a development that has come about in the last few years. But no matter how you cut it, the customer is doing the work that used to be performed by a telephone company employee. And all of this is a matter of “progress”? Many of us who remember when service was really provided are pretty dubious as to the claim of progress.

When a call is placed to a phone belonging to a company very often the call is referred to a remote voice box, which permits company employees to answer at their leisure. More than anything else, this is primarily a device to keep labor costs as low as possible. Not long ago, calls to a company location were answered by a real employee who could deal with the subject at hand. Not any longer. When a call is transferred to a voice box, the customer-caller is obliged to explain his problem to an electronic device that asks no questions as a human would do. Once again, the customer is doing someone else’s work while the employer enjoys the reduced payroll.

Closely allied is the banking industry. Banks now seem intent upon getting rid of tellers and using ATM’s in their place. Perhaps, modern bankers denigrate the human touch that a teller can offer. It is obvious, that an ATM is not going to ask, “How are you today?” or “Good to see you again.” In any case, bankers want you to do the teller function and the small talk is simply an arcane memory of the past. On-line banking takes it a step further.

When it comes to small talk or advice about one product over another, there is no better example than grocery stores. My memory goes back to the late 1920’s and the depression years of the 1930’s. My mother patronized Gualdoni’s grocery store located just south of “Dead Man’s curve” on North and South Road in Brentwood, Missouri. The sharp bend in the two lane roadway on a steep hill which produced several serious motor vehicle accidents per year, was called “Dead Man’s Curve” for a very good reason.

At Gualdoni’s there was a long counter. Bob and Lou and John Gualdoni stood behind the counter. Behind them was the stock. Corn flakes, for example, were stacked at the top of the other packaged goods. They may have been eight or nine feet above ground level. When a customer ordered corn flakes – Kellogg’s, of course – one of the three clerks would take a long pole with a grappling device on the far end and pick out a package of corn flakes. Bob and Lou were in their 20’s. They often dislodged the corn flakes and would catch it on the way down.

In the meantime, the customer would stand on the other side of the counter with a grocery list. When all the items to be brought were assembled on the counter, the clerks would write down the cost on a brown grocery bag, and would then add up the total. There were no calculators then or even adding machines. Each column was added and the carryover was written at the head of the next column of figures.

While the groceries were being assembled, John or Bob or Lou might say, “We’ve got some strawberries that would be good with those cornflakes.” In a way it was salesmanship, but in another way it was a grocery man being helpful.

Boy, has all that changed. Clerks are hard to find in today’s grocery stores. The customers wanders up and down the aisles and throws things into his grocery cart. There is no small talk, and certainly, no helpful suggestions. If the customer fails to see the special on strawberries, he or she will be forced to eat his cornflakes strawberry-less. In the final analysis, the customer is performing the duties of the clerks who have never been hired by the owners of the grocery chain or store.

But from all appearances, we ain’t seen nothing yet. In the bright new world of tomorrow, the check-out clerks are eliminated. Each item has a bar code. The customer takes the bar coded item to a machine and passes it over a reading device. A total is then produced which the faceless customer pays using his/her credit or debit card. This is similar to the transaction at a self-serve gasoline station where you pump your own gas and pay your own bill. Grocery shopping tomorrow will be an experience almost completely devoid of any human contact. The customer is responsible for the function formerly performed by clerks. While we moan at doing someone else’s work, the grocery owners have retired to the back rooms to count the extra profits from the non-hiring of clerks. Everyone knows that the grocery business is a competitive affair, but a little human contact might make it a more pleasant experience.

This is not a complete list of functions that require customers to perform the work formerly performed by clerks, telephone operators, nurses, receptionists, etc. A complete list might involve more functions than the reader is willing to deal with. In leaving this subject of all of us performing jobs formerly performed by others, if we go back in time, there may be a bright side to this whole proposition. When many of us were youngsters, coal was brought to our homes in the winter months. There was no gas or oil heat. Delivering coal was a filthy job. Shoveling it from the coal bin into the furnace was a job that required old clothes. Taking out the ashes after the coal had burned was an unpleasant job. Gas or oil heat is a more pleasant way to heat our homes and a good bit cleaner as well.

In the summer, before refrigerators were commonplace, ice men came each day except Sunday. A 12 or 15 inch card was placed in a window facing the street. The top of the card had an entry for 25. If the card was turned on one side it read 50. If the card was turned the other way, it read 75. If the card was placed upside down, it read 100. The numbers were the pounds of ice that the ice man was to deliver for use in an ice box.

In St. Louis and its suburbs, the predominate furnisher of coal and ice was the Polar Wave Company. Delivery men who worked for Polar Wave were hardworking fellows. Statistics are unavailable of course, but it must be assumed that men who delivered coal and ice had a short life expectancy. But the point is clear that heating homes and having refrigerators rather than an ice box are more civilized today than they were in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

My informants – some of whom are reliable – tell me that Polar Wave is still in business and is a profitable company. They should be applauded for making the transition to modern times.

There is one other occupation that is included here because of a sense of nostalgia. The job was a sharpener of knives and scissors and other cutting devices. In the 1930’s, there were men who drove small pickup trucks with a large whetstone in the back. The whetstone was mounted on the truck bed and was turned very much the way a bicycle is propelled. When the sharpener had a customer from ringing his bell, he would leave the cab of the truck and climb into the rear of the truck. Seated on a seat, he would then pump to turn the whetstone.

Memory tells me that knife sharpeners were generally Italian immigrants. They were hard working people in an occupation that offered no long term benefits. Today, these men are gone. In their place, we have electric devices that sharpen both sides of a knife whereas the whetstone sharpened only one side at a time. Certainly, the electric sharpeners of today are a great improvement, but for many of us, the ringing of the bell that told us the knife sharpener was on our street brings back a sense of considerable nostalgia. On top of that, when the immigrant sharpeners told you of their home towns in Italy, it provided a geography lesson as well.

This little essay about lost jobs must end with a sense of romance. For nearly 30 years, it has been my pleasure to know two Swedish citizens through their association with Televerket, the Swedish international telecommunications firm. My friends are Ella and Sven Lernevall. Sven and your essayist are about the same age. In order to advance himself, Sven left his hometown of Umeå in Northern Sweden which is located on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. Sven soon found work in Stockholm as a radio telegraph operator deciphering dispatches from other countries. At the time in the 1940’s, people in the United States who wished to send a radio dispatch to Sweden used the services of RCA. Calling by telephone was still several years off.

Now for the romance part of this story. In 1945, Sven met Ella who also was a radio telegraph operator. According to natives of Sweden, it is very difficult to pronounce the name of Umeå, Sven’s hometown. Somewhere along the line in 1945, Dr. Lernevall heard Ella pronunce Umeå properly and elegantly. There is no need for me to tell you that romance followed and Ella and Sven married.

As time went forward, telecommunications advances rendered the radio telegraph operator as an obsolete occupation. Before that happened, Ella and Sven had a happy marriage and Sven was promoted several times in the Swedish Telecommunications Authority.

So there you are. In spite of all of us performing functions that were formerly performed by others, your old essayist brings cheer to a dismal situation by reciting the story of the romance by Ella and Sven Lernevall, natives of Sweden. Not all stories of lost jobs end as uplifting as the Lernevall story, but there is some sort of hope. In the meantime, my efforts will go toward pronouncing Umeå in a fashion that even King Gustav would approve of. In exchange, perhaps, His Majesty might try pronouncing the name of four towns in my home state of Missouri. They are Tallapoosa and Braggadocio in the Boot Heel of Missouri, and in Johnson County, Chilhowee and my favorite, Knob Knoster. If they are pronounced correctly, Sven and Ella would be appointed the Duke and Duchess of Knob Knoster, in the Show Me state, an achievement of unparalleled significance. Even though the pay is at the poverty level and they would be forced to use a 1939 Essex Motor car for ceremonial occasions, most socialites would die for these honors. It is a certainty that Knob Knosterettes will come to love and revere their new Swedish royalty. (A map of Missouri, The Show Me state, is included here.)

June 12, 2004


“Objections to Modernity” has to be one of my favorite labels. I might even like it more than “Favorite,” which I guess is a little ironic.

I love self checkout machines. I live right by a Safeway so I generally only buy a handful of items at a time, so my choice is to either wait ten minutes for a checkout counter to open up or just scan a few items myself and be on my way. Plus, since I’m currently a product manager on point of sale systems, I love seeing how different companies implement self checkout. Spoiler alert: they still do this badly, because 2 of the 6 registers at my safeway are dependably out of order. Never the same two, mind you. This is what happens when you do a shoddy job of client-proofing your machines.

I get what Pop is going for here, that the lack of people in these service jobs makes people more isolated and reduces social interactions, and that’s a valid point. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty strictly a good thing that nobody has to deliver milk and ice every day, and that every human in the world with a cell phone can pretty much call any other human in the world with a cell phone without having to go through yet another human to route the call, which obviously wouldn’t have ever possibly scaled to the globe’s current call volume. Similarly most gains in automation are going to free people up to do work that they find more satisfying to them, in a future where we move away from the idea that everyone needs a 9-to-5 that provides gainful employment. That’s just not a rational endgame here.

And who knows? Maybe once the general population isn’t so heads down at work for 40 hours a week, they can go out and socialize more, or maybe they’ll hang out at grocery stores and recommend good food combinations to passerby for the fun of it. I think you can use retired people as sort of a model here — once you don’t have a full time job, you definitely get out a lot more.


When we parted company at the end of Series 2 of these thoughts that appear while shaving, there was some consideration of my current hometown, Millburn-Short Hills, as a candidate to be wiped out because of wine and fornication. This of course, comes from the Biblical source of Revelations which described what happened to Babylon. It earned the Mark of the Beast.

Millburn-Short Hills is a town or around 19,000 people in northern New Jersey. It is nowhere as big as Babylon at its peak. Millburn-Short Hills has only three major streets that amount to anything. Babylon had hundreds of boulevards and plazas, so comparing the two cities is a gross mismatch. Nonetheless, several of us have joined together to see that Millburn-Short Hills becomes an inspirational force so that wine and fornication will be wiped out. After all, many of us assume that we came within an inch of having the Mark of the Beast applied to all of us in the recent contra-temps involving our New Jersey Governor.

So the essayist approaches the next subject with fear and trembling. It has to do with exposing some intimate female garments to public viewing. We will try to treat this debate with all the sensitivity and civility that can be mustered.

Bra Straps That Are Exposed

My two sisters must have approached their teenage years with consummate confusion. Their mother – and my mother – had a primitive, Pentecostal view of religion. Things that were “of the world” were to be avoided at all costs. And so it was that Lillie, our mother, railed against half slips and brassieres. They were, according to Lillie, not natural and “of the world.” That means they are works of Satan.

This old essayist freely and openly admits that much of these developments came to me by hearsay. After all, the two sisters were 10 years and 14 years older than their youngest brother. About the only direct testimony came as arguments between these three women boiled over.

Lillie’s idea of a decent woman was one who wore no makeup and certainly, no rouge or lipstick. Her clothing buttoned up to the neck. Her dresses were well below the knee. The two daughters, Verna and Opal, rebelled often against their mother’s sartorial tastes. It is probably logical that the two girls bought their own undergarments from their own earnings as soon as possible.

Verna, the older sister, was church-going and lived a largely pious life. She took voice lessons and sang in the St. Louis Grand Opera chorus. Opal was pretty much the exact opposite. She learned to play the piano by ear and became a waitress-singer at Joe Gonella’s Restaurant or saloon. She wound up marrying maybe three times and her occupation was owning professional greyhound racing dogs.

In spite of their different outlook on life, it must be suspected that both wore bras and half slips – even though everybody knew they were Satan’s handiwork. But suffice it to say, that both the pious one and the hell raising saloon singer, covered up the shoulder straps in every case of public exposure. From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, disclosure of a bra strap would cause censorious controversy. It seemed to me that women were more outraged than men to see an exposed bra strap. Perhaps the offended ones believed the strap-showers were flaunting it.

Men were curious, but they pretended to be looking at something else if they were in the company of wives, mothers-in-law, girlfriends or preachers. Maybe men considered showing a bra strap as a tease.

Well, those days are long gone. Women these days show up at the post office or the grocery store in costumes that leave little to the imagination. There are instances where my first inclination is to look away to avoid violating a woman’s privacy. This is the Whole Foods grocery store, not the Horny Harry’s Saloon in Las Vegas.

Nobody asked me to be a referee or an umpire to say exactly how many clothes a woman must wear to be presentable. And so my reactions are greatly muted. But nonetheless, it would be worth the price of admission to hear what Lillie, Verna and Opal would say at today’s openness. They all died several years ago. You may rest assured that at their funerals, not a bra strap could be seen. So in the end, Lillie pretty much got her way.

For this old essayist, my view is that bras and half slips are not sinful inventions. Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar. It would come as a great surprise to me to find the Devil diddling around with female intimate apparel. On the other hand, many of us believe that a bra strap showing is clearly the work of unseen sinister forces that man is ill equipped to understand.

New Jersey’s Roundabout Roadways

As a means of shifting gears from female underwear and the current situation with the resignation of New Jersey’s governor, it may be well to say a few words about the roadways in this state.

In England, many years ago, when highways intersected, the English invented a devilish device known as a “Roundabout.” At heart, the roundabout places a large circle where the roadways come together. The theory is that drivers can stay with the circle until it is time for them to peel off and continue. That, my friends, is THE THEORY. In our mother country, all cars and trucks are driven from the right, but on the left side of the roadway. Perhaps that makes it easier for Englishmen to negotiate roundabouts while avoiding accidents from every quarter.

When highways in the Great State of New Jersey were laid out back in the 1920’s, a commissioner or a governor made the fatal mistake of borrowing roundabouts from England, calling them circles. Most have by now been discarded because of the great number of accidents they cause. It seems to me that here in New Jersey or in England, cars entering the roundabouts do not reduce speed and assume they have the right of way. Those are two fatal mistakes.

There are no signs signaling drivers to stay in a lane. In effect, when drivers enter a roundabout, it soon becomes a matter of bullying or luck that determines how cars will proceed. These devices may have been appropriate for England in days when cars were driven more slowly, but they are completely out of place in New Jersey.

Let me give you an example. On Highland Avenue at the railway station in Short Hills, New Jersey, there is a roundabout that connects with Hobart Avenue, a busy street, and at least two other lesser streets. It has been my observation that Saturday driving is by far the most treacherous day of the week. Young men in testosterone hyped sports cars and SUV’s who have been working in offices all week are out to show how quickly they can exceed 60 miles per hour. This is a formula for disaster.

It is made even more dangerous by the existence of a dark railroad underpass a short distance from the roundabout. When drivers emerge from the underpass, they enter the roundabout and feel no need to slow down – even when making a left turn – because they are following the contours of the roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout, if one wishers to peel off and enter the railroad underpass, he or she must deal with cars on the right side coming from Hobart Avenue.

This is a small example in a small town that is ripe for head-on collisions as well as cars plowing into the side of other cars all of whom can claim they have the right-of-way.

The roundabout in this town must cover a half to three quarters of an acre. There are benches where people may sit on the lawn to watch the near and full collisions. And the roundabout serves another purpose. It seems to be owned by the local government. As Christmas approaches, partisans put up signs extolling the joys of Christmas. It seems to me that people who adhere to the Jewish faith also occasionally put up signs or symbols. Angry letters to the editor of the local newspaper deplore putting up signs that erode the church-state relationship.

Perhaps there is something to be said for reading the handmade signs extolling the benefits of Chanukah and Christmas as a demolition derby takes place in front of them. We dumped the tea in the Boston harbor to show our disgust with the kingship of George III. Roundabouts would seem the obvious next rejection of Merrie Olde England, but there seems to be no movement to abolish them. Perhaps when a Saturday office worker in a souped-up Hummer runs over the religious signs, there may be a movement to do away with the roundabouts. Just remember what the Brits say, “What you gain on the turns, you lose on the roundabouts.”

The Demise of Dear Sir and Yours Truly

This little shaving thought has nothing to do with bra straps or New Jersey roundabouts. It isn’t supposed to. The thought that strikes me today often will have no reference to previous thoughts. When a thought makes a repeat appearance, it is interpreted by me as a spiritual sign that it should be written about to keep the Mark of the Beast away or to avoid the fall of Babylon which was described a little earlier.

This comment which will close the Third Edition of Shaving Thoughts has to do with an ancient custom in English usage which has made no sense since the age of chivalry. In this edition it is asked why in the world should letters start with an obvious falsehood and end with what is known as a “complimentary close,” that is equally outrageously false.

For all the years this ancient essayist attended schools, teachers demanded that every letter start with the greeting of “Dear Sir” or
“Dear Miss Brown” or “Dear Mr. bin Laden.” Every letter was expected to end with a pledge that could never be fulfilled when it is written, “Yours truly.” Is this a marriage where the writer pledges himself to the recipient of the letter as “Truly yours”?

A letter arrived here for example, addressed to “Dear Mr. Carr” with a complimentary close of “Sincerely.” The letter is from my broker. In telephone conversations, we address each other using first names. It is my expectation that both of us are sincere in getting our business done. But here is a form of written address that has survived hundreds of years. For many years now, my reaction has been, “enough already.”

My correspondence studiously avoids referring to anyone as “Dear” in the opening salutation. If it fell to me to write Osama, my letter would simply say, “Mr. bin Laden.” Closing the letter might pose a different problem as there would be a strong tendency on my part to say, “Drop Dead.” No opening “Dears” or “Cordially” or “Sincerely,” or “Yours truly.” Statements of that sort seem completely hypocritical to me, whether to bin Laden or to the local preacher.

If there is something that is complimentary or derogatory, it can be said in the body of the letter. Wouldn’t it be absurd to write a letter excoriating someone and sign it under the complimentary close of “Cordially” or “Sincerely”?

Advancing age and retirement probably make it much easier to adopt the modern form of letter writing that is proposed here. It is easy for me to envision a boss with a 1900’s mind set insisting on “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly.” Ah, but those people must be worked on because continuing the customs that were in vogue prior to the Boston Tea Party profits no one.

It is quite obvious to most everyone that breaking the habits of a lifetime might be very difficult to do. On the other hand, practitioners of the advanced form of enlightened correspondence, will notice a freedom and happiness never known before. Accordingly, trashing “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly” and “Sincerely” comes with high recommendations from this old essayist.

August 31, 2004


“Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar.” A-friggen-men.
I’d put this in the top 20 essays on the site, I think. I gotta get my ‘category’ features working again (I can’t add new ones right now) so that I can designate that appropriately.

The discussion of roundabouts compels me to show you the amazing work of traffic engineering that Burlingame California has invented. It takes all the worst parts of roundabouts, and combines them with the worst parts of a traditional intersection.
Introducing the traffic diamond:

Regarding the last section, I still haven’t completely settled on how to treat greetings and closings for work emails. “Hi bin Laden,” “Hey bin Laden,” etc can seem too informal. But starting a work email with “Dear bin Laden” would be extremely strange. A colleague of mine was criticized by starting an email with “Hey guys,” because Sephora is a largely female company, and apparently “guys” was insulting. Closing is equally awkward. I won’t say “Yours Truly” but I usually default to “Best,” which doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense either. I always like to read it in my head without the comma and line break — “Best Kevin.” This way I can imagine that I’m just closing each email by declaring that I am the superlative Kevin, which is important because there are currently three total Kevins involved in my project alone.



During this election year, the Bushies say that everything having to do with the economy and jobs are going honky-dory. The Democrats point to three million lost jobs since the Bush Administration took office.

It might be supposed that the count of lost jobs perhaps ought to go up by one in view of the fact that your old essayist has largely been without gainful employment since 1984. And, he has not looked for work for quite a while. Could it be that my situation is part of the so called “jobless recovery”? Or is it shiftlessness? Some say that shiftlessness is a virtue. It would be hard for me to disagree with that line of thinking.

Perhaps it could be said that writing essays is sort of a job. On many occasions, it is certainly not easy work. The pay in dollars is just about zero. When an essay is well received, however, there is greater joy than dollars could provide. There is one other benefit in being a largely unpaid-in-money essayist. You work when you want to. Quitting time is whenever the essayist says it is. And there is no hassle about overtime pay. And, supervision is pretty weak.

So in the end, being part of the “jobless recovery” is not all bad. At least, there is essay work to be done which is more than can be said about some of the jobs we are talking about today. The jobs we are thinking about basically no longer exist. There may be some lone operators who still perform some of the old time functions, but by and large, society has seen fit to discard many of the jobs we should now consider.

This old essayist is struck with a sense of nostalgia about the lost jobs. Nostalgia or no nostalgia, it is fairly clear that the jobs we have in mind are not coming back. But at least we can salute at their demise, because those jobs made our lives more graceful and more comfortable.

Here are some of the jobs that have borne the brunt of the rush to modernize:

Elevator operator
Telephone operator
Filling station attendant
Conductor on buses and street cars
Utility meter reader
Shoe shiners or boot black
Stone mason
Cigar store clerk (endangered)

This is not intended as a complete list by any means. Everyone can probably think of other jobs that have disappeared. It is not a Bureau of Labor Statistics list. It is simply a list that Miss Chicka added to after a faltering start by your ancient essayist.


In 1941, the Long Lines Division of AT&T offered me a job as a draftsman in its Division 5 headquarters in St. Louis. At that point, AT&T rented quarters for its offices in the headquarters building of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at 1010 Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. If my memory is anywhere near correct, the building was 26 floors high. Nearly all Bell System headquarters buildings had 26 floors and were styled in the Gothic fashion. The Vatican of AT&T at 195 Broadway in New York also had 26 floors. No Associated Company headquarters could exceed the Vatican in height.

The building in St. Louis had perhaps 10 or 12 manual elevators. In 1941, all were operated by elevator operators who were responsible to get the riders to the correct floor and to level the elevator with the hallway so that the door could be opened and people could enter and disembark without tripping. My memory is that the doors were manually opened by the elevator operators.

Elevator operators had a round device with a handle on it, about a foot in diameter, to control the ascent and descent functions. As they neared the desired floor, the control was moved to the left to descend and to the right to go up. When the operator was satisfied that the elevator was pretty much even with the hallway floor, the operator would then open the doors. When everyone left the elevator cab, she would manually close the doors. It should be pointed out, that all the elevator operators were female and all wore uniforms.

In those days, jobs were hard to find so the elevator operators cared about their jobs. If they acquired a lot of seniority, they could get in line to become elevator starters. Elevator starters worked in the lobby . They told the operators when it was time to move the elevator. Being a starter paid more than being an operator and had more prestige.

Starters usually stood outside the elevator to direct lobby traffic. Often they would hold one arm on the elevator doors until the elevator was full and ready to move. With several elevators to deal with, the starters became an important function. At department stores, they might even remind potential customers of a sale or of specialty items. The starters aspired to become head starters, but that took a considerable amount of seniority. The head starter controlled assignments for the starters and for operators. He or she occupied a prominent position which reflected years of seniority.

Operators were dressed in uniforms and often, white gloves. Starters and the head starter wore better uniforms. Some of the starter uniforms even had epaulets on the shoulder.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a concerted move in this country to go to automated elevators. The operators and starters were then forced to look for other work. Conversion was a time consuming process with the main work and planning being done by the Otis Corporation who built the elevators. The man running the Long Lines Department of AT&T was a vengeful and a cruel man. Apparently, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area of Long Lines had once crossed Henry Killingsworth, the President of Long Lines. Killingsworth demoted Dick Wheeler, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area, and made him move from Kansas City to New York. He was then given responsibility for conversion of the elevators to automatic in the headquarters building of Long Lines. Dick Wheeler is on my list of all time good guys. Henry Killingsworth is one of my all time villains, ranking somewhere between Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon.

Finally, there was Donna, an elevator operator in St. Louis. For the last three years of my work in St. Louis, the union members made me their local Union President. In that capacity, it was often necessary to meet with the management movers and shakers. Donna extended a warm
greeting to everyone who entered her elevator. Although she worked for Southwestern Bell, a different employer from Long Lines, there were occasions in meetings with management to tell the bosses they were crazy not to hire Donna away from Southwestern Bell. They were told that Donna came from a country town, Bonne Terre, in Missouri’s lead belt and that we believed she needed a break.

Well, the long and short of it is that Cliff Duncan, the Division Plant Superintendent, a good man, said he would give Donna a job working for Long Lines. He did that. She worked hard and mastered the new job. My memory tells me that she also found a husband in the process. Your old essayist retired from match-making after that success.

After a while, Donna’s new boss thanked me for getting him such a hard worker. Perhaps this goes to show that country girls from Bonne Terre (good earth) can make it in the big city. All of us were happy at Donna’s success.


Leaving elevator operators and starters, there should be a word about the people who operated cigar stands in the lobbies near the elevators of large buildings. Such operators could be male or female, but most were male as they were often asked about the relative merits of various cigars.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, cigar smokers did not earn as much as they might be paid today, so sales of boxes of cigars were infrequent. In my experience, older men in their 40’s or thereabouts, might go to lunch and say upon returning to their building, “I believe this would be a good day for a cigar.” So cigars were sold not by the box, but individually.

Cigar stands do not appear much in today’s large buildings. This must reflect a diminished number of smokers. Cigars are sold by stores around town that do a much heavier trade in lottery tickets than in cigars. Cigars have pretty much gone out of style these days. For my money, that is a great development. In my experience, there were three or four occasions when it appeared appropriate to smoke a cigar. Every puff reminded me of how much cigar smoking was revolting to me. It pleased my father, but not his son. Cigars foul the air in an office and make clothing smell bad. If all tobacco products were outlawed, it would be pleasing to those of us who are non-smokers.

A personal thought occurs here. Carl Heidbreder was an AT&T employee in St. Louis who liked cigars. He also liked to have parties on his lawn where great quantities of beer were drunk to go with the cigars being puffed. Carl never invited me to those lawn parties. That suited me well in every dimension. In point of fact, beer comes in only a step or two ahead of cigars in my all-time dislike list.


With that, we move on to telephone operators. The first telephone in the Carr family was a party line. It was Clayton 714-J and of course, the house was in Clayton, Missouri. When the receiver was picked up, a signal would appear on the telephone company switchboard and the operator would come on the line and say, “Number please.” She would then complete the call and occasionally, she would warn you that you had an incoming call or that someone else was trying to use the party line. This was labor intensive in the extreme. At one point, the Bell System claimed that if they did not automate, it would be necessary to hire more women than then existed in the American labor force. And so the telephone system was automated and the “number please” operators had to find other work.

The telephone traffic force was exclusively female until sometime in the 1970’s. What is left of that force is still predominately female with a handful of male operators here and there.

Now of course, other telephones throughout the world can be dialed from the comfort of your home or office. Operators are seldom involved. For several years, there has been no future in being a telephone operator. On balance, that may be a desirable outcome, but it is one more job that has disappeared in our time. As a man who had a lot to do with telephone traffic operations, it is bothersome that this has happened. It might also be added, that women who were involved with telephone operations were the most loyal and active members of my union. In times of trouble, they could always be counted on. That is a very desirable characteristic.


Butchers are like elevator and telephone operators in the march to oblivion. In large part, they have been done in by pre-packaged meats. During the Depression when my mother traded at Gualdoni’s Market, there were two butchers who presided in their blood stained smocks over the meat counter. To a large extent, they were the stars of the grocery business. In a large grocery store today, you might find only one or two butchers. Formerly, they would have as many as four or five butchers, but no more. My memory is that butchers were good guys who liked to joke with customers and other store employees. Even though no meat is consumed at this house, the semi-demise of butchers is a regrettable occurrence.


Filling station attendants are a lot like butchers. In days gone by, every car had the windshield cleaned and the oil and water checked every time gasoline was purchased. Customers were asked if they wanted the pressure in their tires checked and the water levels in their batteries looked at. In the pre-historic days of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, cars needed lubrication and an oil change every 1000 miles. The front wheel bearings had to be worked on at 3000 mile intervals. Cars today do not require such attention. In the meantime, very few if any filling stations attendants now clean the windshields. If my understanding is halfway correct, in all the states except New Jersey, customers pump their own gas. As a former employee of three filling stations, these advances don’t necessarily represent progress, but rather a desire by big oil and the owners of filling stations to make a larger profit. The car owners are in many respects, the fall guys in this proposition. But younger car owners don’t seem to care as they stare through dirty windshields and pump their own gas on rainy or snowy days.


When families had no cars or were fortunate to have even one car, most people rode buses and street cars to work or for recreational purposes. In days gone by, every bus or street car had two transit company employees aboard. One drove the vehicle and he was called the “motor man.” The second employee collected the fares, gave transfers and when everyone was aboard, signaled the motor man that he could proceed to the next stop. He was the “conductor.”

Generally speaking, customers entered the bus or street car at the rear and paid their fare to the conductor. When the riders wanted to get off, there was a button to push which rang a buzzer to tell the motor man to stop. When the conductor had completed his work, he clanged a bell that told the motor man it was time to proceed. Up until the 1960’s and 1970’s, only men were hired for these two jobs.

Perhaps it was World War II or perhaps it was the executives at the transit companies, but from the 1940’s onward, the motor man was increasingly responsible for all the duties formerly performed by the conductors. Obviously, this brought greater profits to the transit companies, because they had no intention to pay the motor man twice as much salary to cover the loss of the conductors.

This is said to represent progress. If so, it means more profits for the transit companies and a less civilized way to get from point one to point two and a greater potential for accidents as the motor man now has so many jobs to do.

If it makes it seem that my thoughts are wed to the old ways of doing things, that is probably quite right. But after all, this essay is about “Jobless Nostalgia.” There was human contact in riding an elevator with an operator, just as there was human contact with telephone operators, transit workers and filling station attendants. There are those of us who miss that human contact.


Now we turn to another attempt by employers to maximize profits. If you look at your electric bill or at your gas bill, you may notice – in fine print – that some readings of your consumption were “ESTIMATED.” The theory is that meters need only be read every third or fourth month and that any short fall may be made up when the meter reader actually does show up. In the meantime, the number of meter readers diminishes and the customer must brace himself or herself for a large bill when the meter is actually read. This has only to do with utility company profits. There is no other reason for this development.

The Halliburton company is in disrepute these days for such things as over-billing the U. S. Government for delivering gasoline. Halliburton also did not help its reputation for honesty by billing the military forces for “estimated meals served.” A company of soldiers eats three meals per day. If the company is 1000 strong, that means Halliburton estimated that the Army ought to be billed for 3000 meals per day. The flaw in this argument of course, is that soldiers don’t stay in one place for every meal. Some are out in the field on combat assignments. Some are in the hospital. Some may die. Some may be on furlough. In tense situations, it is not unusual for soldiers to pass up a meal even after they have returned from combat. The point is that Halliburton, by billing the Army for estimated meals, is clearly cheating the United States Government. But no one seems to care.

Whether it is the utility companies or Halliburton, lots of executives take a short cut to inflate the bottom line.


Let’s leave the world of estimated readings and meals served and move on to another disappearing job. Years ago when shoes were made in this country, they had a sole and a heel that were attached to the upper part of the shoe. When a sole wore out or when the heels were ground down, the shoes were taken to a cobbler who repaired the damage. Cobblers worked in shops with large lathes for trimming and cutting leather. Their hands were smudged with dirt and shoe polish which were the marks of their trade. Cobblers earned their money. They did not have time to watch their investments in the stock markets.

Like so many other manufacturers, shoe companies decided that they could ship the shoe making machinery to Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica or other developing countries where labor rates are perhaps 80 per cent lower than in the U. S. This meant a big boost in their profits. When this was done, there was another development that largely put the cobbler in danger of losing his business. That was the permanent molded sole.

There is a pair of Rockport shoes in my closet. Rockport is a major manufacturer of shoes these days. The shoes were made in Indonesia. Attached to the leather upper, is a VIBRAM sole. It is not meant to be replaced. If the sole should wear out, the shoes will be discarded. They will probably never see a cobbler. The sole is molded into the leather upper so there is no way it can be replaced. When the sole wears out, perhaps my social security check will permit me to buy a new pair of foreign produced shoes. In the meantime, this is another reason why cobblers, like elevator or telephone operators, have a very limited future.


While we are on the subject of shoes, perhaps we should consider another job that has just about disappeared. That would be a bootblack. They are also called shoe shiners. Bootblacks were generally found in barber shops. Even as a young man earning less than $20 per week, it was almost unthinkable to get your hair cut without a shoe shine.

Bootblacks in a barber shop always tried to get to the customer while he was in the barber chair. If the barber finished ahead of the bootblack, which sometimes happened during rush hours, the customer would then be escorted to an elevated stand elsewhere in the shop to finish the work of the bootblack. By and large, bootblacks were not talkative creatures. Often instead of asking the customer if he wanted a shine, the bootblack would wait until the customer was seated in the barber chair and simply touch the shoes while looking at the customer. In most cases, the customers would tell the shoe shiner to proceed.

Many of the barbershops in downtown locations might have as many as two or three bootblacks. As was said earlier, they had an elevated stand where customers could sit. There were two or three big steps upward so that the bootblack could work at waist level on customer shoes. Often, men would go into a barber shop for a shoe shine between haircuts. In big cities, it was possible to visit a bootblack outside of a barber shop. Often these independent bootblacks were found in rail or bus terminals. Shining shoes was their only source of income and they were hardworking.

In these days of disposable shoes, it is pretty clear that having a man’s shoes shined is part of our culture that has been forgotten. Young men of my age group would never call on a young woman for a date with unshined shoes. A man who did that would be banished as uncivilized. The mother of the date would be outraged and would advise her daughter to think about a more civilized sort for her dating.

Bootblacks in barber shops often would greet the customers at the door and hang up their coats and hats. As the customer started to leave the shop, the bootblack would hold the man’s coat and using a curved brush, would brush his hat, called a fedora. At one time the going rate was 25 cents for a shine, which was accompanied by a tip of the same size. If some special service was performed, the tip should reflect that added attention. As you can see, it did not cost much to have a man’s shoes shined so that he was presentable.


It is absolutely clear that this essayist will be told, “You should also have listed this job or that job”. But this poor old essayist has been forced to stand by while the story of disappearing jobs increases daily. Without belaboring things, there are some other jobs gone down the drain or threatening to do so at any moment. Consider money, for a start.

The clerks who used to hand out the so called “weekly insults” are gone now. First, the companies insisted that everyone should be paid monthly or in some cases, paid semi-monthly. They then sent a debit to the employee’s bank and mailed a receipt to the employee. Therefore, goodbye to the clerks who visited every desk every week to pass out checks.

You will notice that the writer avoided the temptation to say “weakly insult” rather than “weekly insult.” And on semi-monthly employees, the writer avoided the trap constructed by our English cousins by refusing to call it the “fort nightly payroll.” Sincere plaudits will be welcomed for sticking to plain English.

One other job having to do with money is bank tellers. Clearly, banks want to do away with them. Fleet Bank now calls them “Service Advisors.” When Fleet merges with Bank of America, 12,500 jobs will be lost. It may be assumed that some of the layoffs will be among the recently named “Service Advisors” and others will see their jobs disappear as bank customers are encouraged and pushed towards more automation. ATM’s (automatic teller machines) and on-line banking will also have an effect on the number of teller positions available.


Stone masons are clearly on the way out. Contractors around here order strips with rocks already embedded in them. It must be assumed that the rocks are genuine fake rocks, but in any case, the strips are glued or fastened on to new structures, and viola, we have a structure with a rock foundation facing as part of the enterprise. In the meantime, goodbye to stone masons who used to cut and place the rocks to form a wall or a foundation on a house.


A secretary used to be a privileged position. It involved taking dictation and error free typing as well as good manners on the telephone and in welcoming visitors to the boss’s office. My informants tell me that personal secretaries are now reserved for big-shot vice-presidents and the like. Lower lever executives type it themselves or dictate their thoughts into a tape recorder rather than to a stenographer. Poor old Katherine Gibbs, the leading school for secretaries, is now teaching how to deal with computers. It may be progress, but there are many of us who doubt it.


In nearly every town in former days, there were restaurants that opened say from 7AM to 6PM. They served coffee and tea and lunch. They may have offered a light dinner. It seems to me that a high proportion of them were run by Greeks. In those restaurants, if a person or persons sat at a table rather than at the counter, a waitress would appear to take your order and then to deliver it, even if it was only coffee. From what any one can gather, those days are almost gone now. If a customer wants a cup of coffee, he goes to the counter (or pours it himself) and once his coffee cup is in his hand, he wonders around the place until he can find a seat at a table. Not very graceful, but the bosses can kiss their waitresses goodbye as they collect their final pay check.


This lament about lost jobs will close with an ode to draftsmen. When AT&T hired me as a draftsman in 1941, there were large sheets of expensive linen paper that were laid on a drafting table and were then filled with India ink lines. It could be a house or it could be plans for a subdivision. After the drawing was finished, it was sent to the printing department where blue prints were made. Getting blue prints of a large drawing might – under forced draft – be accomplished in 30 minutes to an hour, if the blue printer was free of other jobs. On normal days, it was about a three to five hour turn around.

That is changed now. It is all done by computer. If the customer wants a wall moved, it is no big deal. The computer draws a new wall and fits it into the proposed building in minutes. For a draftsman of my era, that would be a least a one or two day delay. The computer can spit its products out almost instantly.

Even though drafting was my occupation, there is no choice but to say the modern method is better. That’s too bad, as draftsmen were among the world’s professionals who worked hard, were highly trained, were afflicted by “weakly insults” from the boss and who told some lousy jokes. One more job down the drain.


As you can see, times are changing and old timers will have to make the best of it. What old timers know and that young, hard-charging juvenile executives don’t know, is that in earlier days, life was somewhat more graceful. And it might well be argued, more enjoyable. What person in his or her right mind would enjoy pumping gas into an automobile during freezing or rainy weather? What person enjoys dialing his telephone and running into a problem, finding himself largely stranded? What person enjoys being stuck in an automatic elevator between floors? The old operators would look pretty great at times of such frustration.

If after you have wrestled with this essay and you feel a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear, then this essayist has achieved his purpose. Not everyone will agree that progress demands that we surrender a graceful and an enjoyable life. For those of us who remember those graceful and enjoyable days, it makes a mighty nice memory.

This essay will close with a story from my grade school days where there was a job that surely ought to have been eliminated. Perhaps it is gone now. If so, that has my heartfelt applause.

The job in question was “elocution teacher.” Elocution was not taught in public schools. To learn that art took an outside teacher paid for by the parents of the elocution student. In the 1930’s, two of my grade school female classmates were taught by separate elocution teachers. Even at 10 or 12 years of age, the two classmates were bitter rivals. Each teacher also considered the other teacher a bitter rival. And the mothers were also enthusiastic rivals, if not bitter rivals. Great theater.

One girl was the daughter of a prominent businessman in Clayton, Missouri, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. The other girl was the daughter of the principal of the only high school in Clayton. Now for your old essayist, it was during the Depression and there was no need for me to enroll in the Boy Scouts, because their dues were something like 50¢ per month. Obviously, there was no money in the budget for scouting or for elocution lessons, which would have been rejected by me anyway. Along with other boys in the Maryland School of the Clayton Public School system, we considered the girls, their mothers and the elocution teachers as gross ass pains.

Nonetheless, every two or three months, because of the prestige of the fathers and because of pressure from the mothers of the girls, we were forced to listen to the latest recitation of the two female students complete with verbal exclamation points and hand waving. As time went on, our teachers in the public schools would declare one girl the winner and then in a subsequent month, the other girl would be called victorious. The losing side, student, mother and elocution teacher, were appropriately outraged with anything less than a resounding victory in every recitation.

The daughter of the prominent business man recited a poem about peach pie complete with arm waving and verbal gymnastics. It was so bad that most the boys told the teachers that in future elocution recitations, include us out. That ended the recitations. If ever a job should have been lost, the first choice among my male and many of our female classmates, should have been teachers of elocution. The thoughts about that lost art had been recessed in my memory for nearly 68 or 69 years. Writing this essay brought back thoughts about how terrible that poem about “Peach Pie” really was.

All is not lost. My recommendation for former elocution teachers is for them to become tattoo artists. People who used to administer tattoos formerly occupied quarters in the sleaziest part of towns. Now, one is sometimes able to get a tattoo in a mall. Perhaps former elocution teachers should concentrate on giving punk singers tattoos of blue birds on the backs of their necks. Punk shouters perform largely naked above the waist which provides a field of dreams for an ambitious tattoo artist. If the former elocution teachers put as much energy and outrage in their new profession, it is my belief that they will go far. And we will be forever saved from having to listen to recitations of elocution students.

This aged essayist laments the jobs that are gone, except for elocution teachers. He salutes them for the happiness and enjoyment that they brought to many lives. In those by gone days, it could be argued that we enjoyed life more, thanks to the practitioners of those lost jobs. When the movers and shakers of American industry decide that retirees such as my self, will be abolished, which they are on the way to do now, perhaps that will be indeed, the end of jobless nostalgia.

April 8, 2004

So this one’s interesting because it touches on automation, which is a subject that I’ve recently taken an interest in. Honestly I think I started caring about it in 2014, when I saw a fifteen-minute video on the subject by CGP Gray. His tone is — as ever — sort of condescending, but he makes a lot of strong points about job creation and replacement. Of course, we’ve always automated to a degree as we’ve modernized, but the scary part of what’s to come is that there’s basically no prospect of creating new jobs to compensate for the ones that we’ll lose. At around the 14 minute mark in the video, Gray looks at the 32 types of jobs that employ the most people; only one of them (computer programmer) is new to the last century. The others, which make up 45% of the current US workforce, are not only all very old, but largely ripe for automation en masse.

It won’t be as simple as a secretary becoming an executive assistant, or finding another job where being organized and good with typing is a benefit. Filling station attendants could be mechanics, draftsmen could learn to use the new technologies of that trade. But automated trucking alone is going to displace millions of people over the next decade or two, and there aren’t going to be a whole lot of other things for truckers do to. The human component just won’t be necessary, much like the bus conductors that Pop mentioned. I rode a bus twice today, and each time I did so by tapping a card against a card reader as I boarded; the driver didn’t have to do anything. The exact amount of the ride was deducted from the balance on the card, and we went on our way. That same card grants me access to every train, subway, bus, and even public ferry in the entire bay area. It’s insanely convenient and practical. So the job of having a dedicated person on each transit vehicle to make change is simply obsolete, and we’re going to see a lot more jobs go that way in the years to come.

I think the trickiest part to adjust to is that we’re going to have to switch up an element of our culture and society that has been taken for granted for years and years; we will have to divorce work from worth. One’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy will have to exist separately from the rights or privileges that are afforded to that person. There just won’t be enough 9-to-5 jobs to employ everyone, starting within the next decade or two. People in that future society who cannot find lucrative work in spaces like technology will need to be taken care of, which means breaking down the stigma of the welfare state, and most likely finding a way to supply a universal basic income to the entire population. There’s just no other choice. Machines and artificial intelligences will mean that output and standards of living will be higher than ever as long as those benefits are getting distributed out.

This is an okay thing. This is an inevitable thing. But we’re really, really not prepared for it. Our politicians love talking about saving manufacturing jobs from going overseas, but computers are going to take away more jobs than companies moving overseas ever could. It’s not even going to be close. But instead we keep the national focus on employment for the sake of employment. China exemplified that more than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

In China, there were incredible amounts of utterly redundant or useless jobs, that clearly existed just to boost employment figures to the benefit of nobody. I remember a mall equipped with motion-detecting escalators, which would start moving as soon as someone stepped on them. But at the start of every escalator in the mall, there was an employee whose job it was to wave her foot over the motion detector to get the escalator started for you. The starting process was nearly instant — it took maybe a second to be moving at full speed. But nevertheless, here were several dozen escalator attendants performing an utterly useless service for the sake of employment. Why not allow them to be automated out, and all the cashiers and waiters in the mall along with them? Then, from all the revenue that the mall brings in, pay that money back out to citizens who can then pursue things that are actually meaningful to them.

When I say “meaningful to them” what I mean is that all the people who are starting escalators, or even driving trucks, would probably choose to be doing other things with their time if that was a comparably lucrative option; if you didn’t have to pick between providing for your family or doing something you like, not a lot of people are going to spend twelve hours a day at a mall, starting automatic escalators up for people. Instead those people could create, or travel, or volunteer, or do something that doesn’t just make them a slave to a wage for the end goal of just “being employed.”

We’re going to have the money to go around. We just have to be willing to distribute it out, and de-stigmatize that practice, which is obviously going to be a huge nightmare. But what other end-states are possible if trends continue like this?


There was such a demand for the first volume of the essay called Musings, that a second one had to be produced forthwith. A large part of the demand came from me. It seems to me that there is a plethora of thoughts that pervade my musings and ponderings now that driving is done only on an emergency basis.

Cell Phone Pandemonium
An Acela train runs between Boston and Washington. All things considered, it is more than a decent way to travel. So far, there are no intrusive body searches that mar travel by airplane. On top of all that, the fifth car of the Acela train is called a “Quiet” Car where loud talking and cell phones are pretty much banned.

Shortly after the November 2nd election, we visited the World War II Memorial in Washington. On the return trip, we found ourselves toward the end of a long line to board the Acela train. All the seats in the Quiet Car were filled and we were fortunate to find seats in other cars on the train.

As we took our seats, it became obvious that a fairly loud hub-bub was taking place around us. The noise came from all those passengers trying to make cell phone calls. We did not need to eavesdrop. The conversations were so audible that they could be heard and understood from several feet away. For example, in the two and a half hours on the return trip, we heard a hospital administrator who described in great detail, the dire financial plight of his hospital. It became clear that his hospital was one to be avoided at all costs.

Directly behind me was a young woman who wished to discuss with her caller, her prospects for marriage. She also had doubts about her wardrobe and her makeup. We may never know whether she landed the prospective bride-groom as she was still talking when we left the train at Newark. If it had been possible to see the make believe husband-to-be, it would be a public service to tell him she talked too much – and in public.

If you ride the Acela train, arrive early and do your best to get a seat in the Quiet Car. Cell phone callers are a bit much and they disturb musings and ponderings.

Congressional Civility
In his post election remarks, Bush made a feeble pass at joining hands with the opposition for the coming presidential term. His efforts were so feeble, that both houses of Congress paid no attention.

In the Senate, Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, went to South Dakota to campaign against Tom Daschle, the top Democrat. There had never been such a case of trying to defeat his opposite number as leader of the opposing party. To top it off, when Daschle made his farewell speech to the Senate, Frist kept nearly all of his Republican colleagues out of the chamber. Frist himself came into the chamber for the last two minutes of Daschel’s farewell speech. How utterly smarmy.

When Arlen Specter, (a Republican) of Pennsylvania, came up for Chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, the right wingers pounded him so thoroughly that he had to retreat from his earlier remark that Bush should send up better qualified judges for appointment. The Evangelical fundamentalists will accept only the repeal of Roe v. Wade. They also want repeal of Social Security and the Medicare laws. Specter is in a difficult position and will not be backed by Bill Frist.

On the House side, Dennis Hastert, the Speaker, refused to call up bills having to do with intelligence reform as suggested by the 9-11 Commission. The bill would have passed easily, but Hastert demands, for the first time in history, that it have a majority among the Republican majority.

One of the committees in the House is chaired by Duncan Hunter of California. Hunter has opposed the intelligence reform bill on the shallowest of grounds. So Speaker Hastert said he would not call for a vote.

There is a strong possibility that Hunter is playing the dog-in-the-manger for George Bush. In a year or two if Hunter’s opposition actually kills the intelligence bill, it will be of considerable interest to see if Hunter is elevated into one of the positions in the White House. That, my friends is the way things are currently being played in the United States government. My musings and reflections are upset by this turn of events.

Does Life Begin at Conception?
In the year 1517, there were people who protested against the Catholic Church. Obviously, they were called Protestants. For nearly 500 years, there have been disagreements in the Christian faith between the Catholics and the Protestants. However, in the election of 2004, there were all kinds of Protestants suddenly agreeing with Catholic beliefs on such matters as abortion and same sex marriage. How much of all this agreement had to do with political expediency remains to be seen.

Late in the campaign, John Kerry, who is a practicing Catholic, announced that in his view, life begins at conception. Kerry simply gave in to outside pressure. There may be theological arguments bearing on this matter, which will not concern us at this moment. What most interests me is the practical effect of life beginning before birth – indeed, at conception. All the cards that are carried in my wallet and all the forms the government sends me, ask me for my date of birth. Under the conception doctrine, none of that will ever apply again. Instead of DOB, it will be DOC.

The only way to establish compliance with the new concept will be for lovers and casual acquaintances to fill out an all inclusive form at the conclusion of each act of love making. It should be on the night table next to the love making bed. Among other points of notification, the form would alert the Census Bureau of an addition to the flock. When sent to the local school authorities, it would alert them to the need for new teachers and to school additions and larger class room space. The form would also apply to drivers licenses, jury duty and entry into bars where alcoholic beverages are sold. Of course, the political parties would have an interest in DOC’s just as the Social Security Administration would want to know about future people to collect benefits.

As you can see, changing from DOB to DOC involves a major undertaking which all depends on the love makers notifying the proper authorities at the earliest possible moment. There are nay-sayers who will ask what if no conception takes place? Those of us who are involved in such demographic matters, will tell you that we have a second form which negates the “NOC,” or “Notice of Conception.” This form which may be found in your local Post Office, is called “ANOC” or “Annulment of Notice of Conception.” E-mail may also be used to file NOC’s and ANOC’s. Prompt notification is the key. All such forms must be filed in sextuplicate copies.

As this important matter is given more thought, it is quite likely that there will be additional agencies of government at all levels that must be served with NOC’s. The important thing to remember is that the success of the Date of Conception Doctrine depends entirely on every lover promptly notifying the authorities instantly so that appropriate planning can take place and Passports issued, etc. using the medical scan for photo ID. Same sex couples will also be required to file a NOC on the ground that miracles do happen.

Every can of Budweiser has a “born on” date to indicate freshness. Does the doctrine of DOC apply also to the Anheuser-Busch Corporation? Obviously, the answer is “yes.” Bud is conceived just like babies.

Lastly, it seems to me as a pre-born-again devotee of religious matters, that replacing DOB (Date of Birth) with DOC (Date of Conception) only gets us part of the way home. To be more holy and more righteous, it is being asked and proposed that we now have a DOI, a Date of Impulse, which leads to Date of Conception. No impulses means no conception. As long as we are engaged in a dive to the bottom on sexual-religious affairs, it seems to me that a DOI and DOC take us backwards into a religiosity unknown to man before.

This whole concept may be more than an ill educated Missourian can master, so wringing of the hands is strongly recommended.

The Private Ryan Foul Up
On Veteran’s Day 2004, the American Broadcasting Company planned to show the prizewinning film, “Private Ryan.” Apparently, the film shows World War II men in combat with all the attendant language that goes with men in a desperate struggle for their lives.

The film was unseen by me but that is of no consequence. In combat situations during World War II, it was my experience that every expletive in the English language was used repeatedly when engaging in combat with the forces of Nazism. In times of rest between combat engagements, every expletive known to me was also used to describe encounters with the enemy.

Let’s get this straight. In war, when men’s lives are on the line, the language does not come from the Reader’s Digest or the Ladies Home Journal or Your Sunday Visitor. In spite of what you may have heard from preachers, men in desperate situations don’t pray; they curse and fight. Those that take time to pray in combat will in all likelihood find themselves and their comrades as dead men. My guess is that in the history of combat in warfare, nearly every soldier finds himself using vile language. That’s the way it is. Anyone who tries to tell you differently doesn’t understand what military service is all about. There may be no atheists in foxholes as the Readers Digest once claimed, but with the language being used by soldiers, it would be difficult to figure that out.

Well, in any case, ABC offered “Private Ryan” to its affiliate stations. Somewhere along the line the American Family Association tried to intervene. In scenes of combat in “Private Ryan,” the “F” word is used on 21 occasions. How horrid! If the film takes two hours, and if the actors portrayed actual soldiers, it is my fairly educated guess that the “F” word and some worse ones would be heard perhaps 2500 times. That’s the way things are. Soldiers are not Billy Graham’s hovering angels. They are soldiers; not preachers.

Not long ago, an essay came from this desk asking whether Americans are colossal prudes. When it comes to ABC affiliates, it appears that 66 of them were scared off by their own prudery or by the prudery of the FCC. Those stations refused to show “Private Ryan.”

Perhaps those stations and the American Family Association may have preferred to see “Snow White” or “Santa Claus” on the Veteran’s Day broadcast. To the idea that some of us believe the fantasy that the world is filled with angels who want to help us with our work, to that extent we are in for a horrible awakening. Ideology cannot replace facts.

A Lament for St. Louis – and Cleveland and Detroit and Newark and Pittsburgh and Kansas City, et al.
In my most recent expeditions to buy shoes, it turns out that foot wear has for some years been produced in Slovenia, Indonesia, Portugal, Ecuador or other foreign locations. As far as can be told, shoe production in the United States is probably pretty close to zero.

In St. Louis, there was a maxim which claimed

First in shoes,
First in booze,
And last in the American League

No one in St. Louis or other similar situated cities is repeating that piece of wisdom anymore. As we have seen, domestic shoe production is largely KAPUT. It certainly is in St. Louis.

When it comes to booze, the big three, Budweiser, Miller and Coors, have driven out the smaller breweries. No more Alpen Brau, no more Heileman, no more Knickerbocker, no more Griesedieck Brothers and no more Falstaff. This is sad news as the big guys swept the table clean.

In St. Louis, the Browns were often contenders for last place in an eight team American League. With expansion, the American League and the National League both have 18 teams. There are three last place teams in each division in both leagues. So there goes one of the St. Louis Browns most significant accomplishments. There is no one last place in the American League any more.

What has happened to St. Louis is symptomatic of dozens of other cities in the United States as the more affluent citizens flee to the suburbs leaving the cities to deal with monumental problems on reduced income. This is bad news for this country. And there will be no help from the Federal Government as cities tend to vote Democratic.

Nearly all of the large cities that we are speaking of supported the arts. The arts can’t exist without patrons and paying customers. There is no such thing as the Far Hills Grand Opera Company or the Bridgewater Symphony Association. Those things belong in and thrive in big cities.

Sad business is what it is. And mighty sad to muse and ponder about it.


And so my musings and ponderings go on apace with the hope that factual situations may be found in the offerings of the American media. As the “Private Ryan” episode shows us, that is often a forlorn hope.

And of course, all of these considerations could lead to a third series on Musings. This is what happens to old geezers who look out of car windows instead of driving.

December 4, 2004


I wonder how Pop would have felt about Saving Private Ryan if he saw it. I can infer that he considered movies in the same way he regarded fictional books — essentially as a waste of time. It’s kind of refreshing to hear him defend one.

He’d also probably be interested to know that small breweries are back big time, even though he wasn’t a beer drinker either. It is no longer “cool” in most urban areas to get a major brand at a bar.

Finally, I’m hesitant to even put the DOC out on the internet. If Trump has a heart attack and Pence takes over, he’d probably take it seriously.


On Friday, after the big Christmas 2002 snowstorm had passed, the people at the opticians called to say my new eye glasses were ready to be picked up. Standing across the busy street waiting for the light to change, a man came up behind me and said, “How about the weather?” As I turned around with the thought in mind to say, “It’s ok now that the snow is out of here”, the words never left my tongue. The man behind me was talking on his cell phone and in point of fact, no question had ever been addressed to me.

As a writer of occasional essays, an event of this kind would probably be the subject of a short note in my files with the thought that someday it might be well to write about cell phone usage in public. For more than five years now, short notes such as this to remind me of events that could be a subject for essays have found a home in my files for future essays. Many of these notes would not support a full essay, so it was my intention to include them in a collection to be known as “Bits and Pieces.” These short essays would stand alone and would not be related one to another. As one “Bits and Pieces” story ended, there would be a line under it and then there would be a new story or essay with a different title.

My first “Bits and Pieces” essay was to start with my recollection of a lovely woman who worked with me in Chicago. This lady had apparently seen hundreds of movies and often, she would answer questions by quoting a line from a movie as though it were her own. No attempt at attribution would be made. And some of her responses were quite enigmatic and puzzling.

Well, as thoughts of the movie quoting woman filled my head, it was inevitable that my mother, who considered going to “picture shows” as a sinful evil causing the American public to stray from righteousness, would come into my mind. That was only one item on my mother Lillie’s forbidden list. Dancing, card playing, Sunday ball games, whiskey drinking, cigar smoking are a few more that were considered as the obvious work of Satan. Of necessity, it seemed that my background or experience with movies was a natural to go with the Chicago lady who responded to questions by using a line from a movie. So my mother became a sort of “Bits and Pieces” issue.

Then, before anyone could put the fire out, the Chicago movie lady caused me to write about one of her fellow workers who had her hair done each week. When she emerged into public view after what must have been three or four hours at the hairdresser, she was a sight to see. Her hair was almost always piled on top of her head to a height of a least three to five inches. There were arches and tunnels through her blond Swedish hair that made Cy Hill, my engineering friend gasp. He considered it not as an artistic triumph of hair styling, but as an engineering masterpiece.

So the thoughts of little essays under the heading of “Bits and Pieces” will have to wait for another day. This one involves the previously mentioned women. I believe it is reasonable to call it “Three Interesting Women.”

Because Lillie, my mother, was older than the other two women, it is proposed that we start with her.


For purposes of honesty and integrity, it is necessary for this essayist to reveal that he has a long standing aversion to the products produced by the world wide movie industry. It is impossible for me to fanticize that some of the plots described to me are worth my while. The advertisements shown on television only increase my animosity. In short, a decent book is 1000 times more enjoyable to me than any movie.

Two thoughts go into my attitude on motion pictures. In the first instance, my parents attended fundamentalist churches like the Pentecostal or the Nazarene or of the Free Will Baptist variety. It would be more appropriate to describe them as primitive as distinguished from fundamental. Among other things, my parents, particularly my mother, tried to ban the children from card playing, drinking, dancing and going to what were called in the 1930’s, “Picture Shows.” Similarly banned was cigar smoking and watching ball games on Sundays.

In the second instance, her bans were observed in the breech once the older children had jobs. My older sister was a regular member of a bridge club that met in our house when it was my sister’s turn to hostess the event. My other sister became a singing waitress in a road house or saloon or tavern run by Joe Gonella in Brentwood, Missouri. My two elder brothers liked bridge and poker and – heaven forbid – they drank whiskey and even worse, they actually danced with girls.

But those older siblings were somewhere between eight and fifteen years older than the youngest member of the family, namely me. So the bans on any type of enjoyment eventually fell on me. While the other Carr children were off on their absolutely sinful ways, it was left to me, a youngster of less than 13 years, to survive my mother’s attempts to make a pietist out of me. The proper phrase should be “to pietize me”, but Webster insists on other terms. She did not succeed in that endeavor to make a holy child out of me, as the thought that I should become a preacher was rebuffed – by me.

At age 12 or 13 years, there was no urge for me to take up dancing, card playing, going out with girls or drinking whiskey. On the other hand, the wealthy kids who attended the Clayton, Missouri Public Schools with me often discussed motion pictures that they had seen at the Shady Oak Theater in Clayton. There was nothing for me to contribute in such a discussion because at age 13 years, a picture show was on my forbidden list. It might be supposed that I devoted my attention to books and baseball as a means of making up for my deficiencies in the entertainment field.

During my 13th year which occurred in 1935, a stroke of genius embraced me. From reading the St. Louis Post Dispatch, it was clear that a new film called, “The Sign of the Cross” was attracting big crowds to theaters in St. Louis. Its release was timed to occur at Easter. So my treasury had a few dollars from cutting grass and baby sitting. My proposition to my mother was that any trip to see a picture show would be financed by me. If anyone was going to hell, it was clear that I would pay that price. You must remember that at age 13, I was in my seventh year of complete religious disbelief, so hell had no fury for me.

Secondly, my mother was told that this was a picture show about Jesus. As far as I know, very few, if any, depictions of Jesus had ever been filmed by Hollywood. My effort were assisted by my sinful brothers who seemed to assure our mother that seeing “The Sign of the Cross” might bring me back to righteousness. They knew me better than that; it was simply a sales pitch to permit me to go see the film at the Shady Oak Theater. So after a time, Mrs. Carr reluctantly said go ahead. She was yielding to the inevitable because she knew in a short time, her last child would certainly become involved in the “ways of the world.”

It would be nice to inform you that the 1935 film “The Sign of the Cross” was a blockbuster. It most assuredly was not. It was an overwhelming 2½ to 3 hour bore. The words I heard in the Shady Oak Theater that day were the among the same ones that I had rejected in my forced encounters with preachers and Protestant religious thought. It might be believed that that first experience turned me off movies forever. In any case, it did not help Hollywood’s cause with me.

My next encounter with movies came during the war in Africa and Italy. Once in a while, the Army branch in charge of morale, would ship us a light hearted film. At the beginning, they shipped us war films which were laughed out of existence. They simply had no relevance to soldiers in combat situations. Later, they sent us some sophomoric films about romance among the high school set. Many of the men told the base communication’s officer that they would much prefer writing to the folks back home as distinguished from another moon-spoon-jitterbug movie. So they were simply shut down. So my GI experience as far as movie watching was a big zero.

After the United States Army reluctantly released me in November, 1945, no movie theaters had me as a customer. There were two major league ball clubs in St. Louis. There was a well know outdoor theater where light opera was presented during the summer months. In the winter, there were hockey games and the Grand Opera Association of St. Louis which offered three productions per year. And there were books and a first class newspaper. So there was no need to look for a picture show, so thoughts of movies never entered my head.

During the war, other soldiers had said that Boston was a good town. Being a “good town” may have been favorable eating establishments. Or it might have been a good bar scene. Or it could have been willing females. So never take the word of a soldier. Go see for yourself. And so the summer of 1948 found me in Boston during a very uncomfortable, humid heat wave. Remember, there was no such thing as
air-conditioning then as we know it today. Hotels responded by providing windows that could be opened. Restaurants had large fans, but it was still hot.

In the midst of a hot humid afternoon, a Boston theater appeared with the promise of being air-cooled. That term probably referred to tubs of ice with fans blowing over them. The picture being shown was the “Babe Ruth Story.” So to escape the humid heat, it seemed that an afternoon with the Babe was our best bet. The movie did nothing to change my view of the offerings of Hollywood. The theater though offered some relief from the heat, but not much. Before long that Boston experience will be 55 years old. It must have satisfied my curiosity about movies because in the intervening 55 years, there has been no temptation on my part to attend a showing of any of the latest Hollywood extravaganzas. As far as motion pictures are concerned, I’ve seen all I care to see. So for the rest of my life, it will be books, newspapers and some essays. Perhaps my mother was on to something when she barred me from seeing picture shows. But remember, it all started with “The Sign of the Cross.”

It was a very different situation with a very nice woman I worked with in Chicago. She must have seen every movie that was released during her working life, including the “The Sign of the Cross.”


For a two year period and starting in 1953 when I was involved with the Chicago #2 Traffic Office, AT&T and the Illinois Bell Telephone Company provided operators who handled long distance calls. Local calls were handled exclusively by the Illinois Company.

In those days, a customer who wished to make a long distance call would dial “211” and a light would be illuminated on the switchboard in front of a long distance operator. All the operators were women at that time. She would answer the signal by asking what number in the distant city you wished to call. If she had a direct unused circuit in front of her, say for a call from Chicago to Milwaukee, she would go into that circuit and the call would be immediately completed. If she had no direct circuit in her switchboard in front of her, say in the case of a Chicago to Reno, Nevada call, she would dismiss the customer. When she reached the called party in Reno, she would call back the originating Chicago customer and tell him to go ahead with his call. Remember, all this was before long distance toll dialing by customers.

Getting the right number of operators into the right positions on the switchboard was an exacting science. All the assignments were broken down into 15 minute segments. The idea was to leave operators in a position for as long as they were not needed in another position, say during the busy hour. In that case, the operator might be asked to move to another location for all or part of the busy hour. Every operator knew exactly where she was going to be at any time of the day because she received a “trick card” at the beginning of her shift which told her where she would be for the duration of her shift.

It is clear that “Trick Card” has picked up some unsavory connotations in recent years. But in the 1950’s, it was the backbone of the system which told operators where to work and for how long. The assignment of operators to work the switchboards was the function of Force Clerks who reported not to Chief Operators, but to the District Superintendent of the Traffic Office. That tells anyone of the importance of the function. The work of the Chief Force Clerk and her staff was complex. It would be difficult for me to remember that their work was ever overturned or even amended. When the Chief Force Clerk would show her work to me every week, I would clear my throat and pretend that I understood it. Before long, she would have my approval. In point of fact, unless you did the work yourself, there was no way for an outsider to improve upon the final result, much less to criticize it.

The Chief Force Clerk, when AT&T asked me to take over the Chicago #2 Office, was a very nice lady who went by the name of Rosalie Larson. If one wishes to engage in polite circumlocution, it might be said that
Miss Larson was of Swedish extraction. The people of Chicago are plain spoken. No fancy stuff for them. Rosalie and many thousands of other Chicagoans were usually identified as Swedes, just as another large group of Chicagoans were identified as Poles. Everyone understood that people such as the ones we are talking about were Americans; the ethnic identification, when necessary, simply made it easier to identify the person under discussion. It was like saying that woman over there in the red blouse. The ethnic identification was just that simple.

Before my thoughts are overlooked or forgotten, Chicago and its people are favorites of mine. It is a first class town peopled by first class citizens. I liked that place so much that a baby Chicago girl was adopted into our family. Soon, she will celebrate her 50th birthday.

Now, back to Rosalie. For reasons unknown to me, Miss Larson apparently spent her off hours in movie theaters. Remember, this was in the 1953-1955 span of years when there was no such thing as a rented movie. If you wanted to see a movie, you went to the theater and paid at the box office to enter the theater.

Rosalie saw so many movies that other AT&T traffic employees would ask her opinion as to what film they should see. Her breaks and lunch hours were punctuated by requests for a review of a movie that Rosalie had seen. Rosalie was an accommodating reviewer of movies. If she ever chased a movie buff away, it was probably while she was wrestling with a weekly force program.

It seemed to some of us that Rosalie spent so much time in movies that she consciously or unconsciously began to talk like characters she had seen. On one occasion that comes to mind, she apparently was asked if she had ever married. Rosalie was an attractive woman and the question was a fair one. Before anyone ever heard of “Ms,” Miss Larson responded by saying, “I called him my husband.” So when someone mentioned the remark to me, it seemed that Rosalie had been married – but who knows? Another person in the office said that the husband line came from a year old film. When it came time for me to report to my next job in New York, I had no idea about the husband – or the lack thereof – in Rosalie’s life. There was no point in wondering about these complications; that’s just the way Rosalie talked.

On another occasion, Rosalie said something to the effect that a certain man was “the other half of the apple” to a certain woman. When this statement was presented to me for discerning its meaning, it seemed to me that perhaps – when an apple is broken in half longitudinally, that only those two apple halves will ever fit together again. That was only my guess.

My father had strong arms from firing on the Illinois Central Railroad as a young man. He often took an apple, larger ones preferred, held it in his hands with the stem sticking upward, and twisted the left half in one direction and the right half in the other direction. And invariably, the apple came apart in two halves. My father always carried a pocket knife. It would have been much more simple to cut the apple in half, but perhaps he wanted to let the children know that he could break an apple in two. In any case, that is where my expertise about apples fitting back together came from. Pretty dubious expertise, I suppose.

As far as anyone could figure out, Rosalie’s line about “the other half of the apple” had to do with a cleaved apple. None of us knew any more than Rosalie’s response. In the interest of fair reporting, it should be noted that at least one of the folks in the Chicago #2 Office said it also came from a movie.

Well there you have it. Rosalie was a nice person who occasionally resorted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer forms of speech. Knowing nothing about movies, it seemed to me that such movie-speak while enigmatic, was pretty colorful stuff. And I never did figure out if Rosalie ever married – or remarried – as the case may be.

Now we turn to a colleague of all of us in the Chicago #2 Office who employed the most innovative hair dresser in Chicago, or as Bertie MacCormick, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune would say, “In all Chicagoland.”


This lady was a fun loving woman who had her hair done once each week. Like Rosalie, Dorothy Anderson was a Swede and perhaps she spent as much on her hairdresser as Rosalie did on movies.

There was considerable interest on Mondays when Dorothy would appear in the office with her latest hairdo creation. As a general observation, it seemed to me that her hair was always on top of her head. There were arcs and spirals and tunnels and round things like spoked wheels all over Dorothy’s head. As was said earlier, Cy Hill, a hard bitten engineer used to marvel at how the hairdresser had fixed Dorothy’s hair to defy gravity. Cy Hill had no hair that anyone could discern so I paid a diminished amount of attention to him.

Cy and some other male cynics who admired the innovations of the hairdresser, nevertheless contended that there was no way for Miss Anderson to recline peacefully, or un-peacefully, in a bed. They argued that the creations on top of Dorothy’s head were so important to her that she must have slept in an upright position in a chair or in a similar device. I took no clear position on this delicate subject. But it seemed reasonable to me that when single men debated about taking her out on a date, the problem of preserving the engineering marvels atop Dorothy’s head would become a significant issue. I listened to the cynic’s discussion, but I had nothing of import to add, publicly. Such a discussion would have run afoul of my mother’s forbidden list.

It has been nearly 50 years since Dorothy attracted all the attention of everyone at the Chicago #2 Traffic Office. If somehow we should meet today, you may be sure that it would be necessary for me to review her latest hair creation. Cy Hill is gone now, but Dorothy ought to have a latter day creation to honor the old engineer and the other interested male cynics.


Well, there you have the story of three women who impressed me back in the 1950’s and, in the case of my mother, back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Whatever happened to my friends Rosalie and Dorothy is unknown to me as we enter 2003. I hope they are happily retired, going to the movies and to the hairdresser or what ever their latter day penchant might now be.

As for my mother, it was not in the cards for me to become a preacher as she had hoped and wanted. On the other hand, speaking of cards, during my more than three years in the American Army, I never ever sat at a poker table or in any other card game. When we were given ration cards for beer from the British run shops (NAAFTI), which were like the U. S. Army PX’s, I always gave my beer rations to someone else. Please don’t consider these acts as a return to righteousness on my part. I was just doing what came naturally to me. Card playing comes in as low as movies with me. I guess the proper word is nadir. And after trying to like beer, it just didn’t become the “other half of the apple.” As for cigar smoking, perhaps five or six cigars found their way into my lips. I hated every puff of every cigar I ever smoked.

So I hope my long departed mother will now view me in a more sympathetic light in view of my thoughts about card playing, movies, dancing, beer drinking and smoking cigars. I believe that my credentials for sainthood are well established and clearly beyond questioning. Perhaps the Protestants will now compose a new eight part hymn or an oratorio to sing my praises far and wide. I might even sing the baritone or bass part of such a hymn of praise.

December 31, 2002


Sorry for the break in essays! It’s been a crazy work week.

I can’t help but feel that Ed didn’t really give movies a fair shot. For a man who disliked both fiction and Christianity, The Sign of the Cross may have represented a poor introduction to the medium. Though, thinking about it, even now I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a movie that Pop would have enjoyed more than a book, so maybe he had it right after all.

Also noteworthy: I’ve been eating apples incorrectly all along. Gotta start just tearing them apart, I suppose.