Archive for the January Category


On a few occasions, these essays have introduced you to Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher.  She was the one who wore high-buttoned shoes and loved to recite English poetry to the consternation of her students.  Miss Maxwell was also a bear cat on hour-on-hour learning the rules of English grammar.  Diagramming sentences provided a thrill to Miss Maxwell that must have been indescribable.  When she reached the end of the sentence structure, she had a beatific smile on her face.  Like most of the boys in her class, I was un-taken by Miss Maxwell’s attempt to teach us English grammar.  On my graduation from the eighth grade in January of 1936, I began to unlearn the lessons that Miss Maxwell had tried to teach me.  I suppose that those events are more than 75 years behind us now.

In all of the ensuing years, I have never found a person who worried about what word would modify some other word.  I had a 43-year business career where I was called upon to make perhaps as many as 1500 presentations.  I tried to speak with due regard for the grammar of the English language but I must say that unlearning the lessons that Miss Maxwell tried to teach me was a good investment.

The burden of this essay has to do with what I believe are prefixes.  Maybe that is not the technical term, but it will do for the purposes of this essay.

Now to introduce you to another old friend of this writer, Sven Lernevall, who is now the Count of Umea.  When Sven was asked about his use of the English language, he said, “English is a rich language.”  I do not doubt what Count Lernevall had to say about his evaluation of the English language.  I have found that when Sven says something, you can take it to the bank.  But if we take the thought about English being a rich language to the use of prefixes, we can turn it into “un-rich” or “non-rich.”  That of course reverses the meaning of richness.

To carry that one step further, there is a candidate in the Republican primaries for the Presidency of the United States who is rumored to be gay.  I would contend that most of my friends are either un-gay or non-gay.  So the English language is very utilitarian.

Now we turn to another matter having to do with our children.  It goes back more than 50 years.  We have two daughters who, as they were growing up, were tow heads and it was difficult to tell one from the other.  In point of fact, they looked exactly like sisters.  But the facts are that one was adopted and the other arrived by some sort of divine intervention.  From time to time, Eileen, their mother, and I were asked, “Which one is the adopted one?”  If I had had my wits about me, I would have pointed to the one daughter and said that she was the un-adopted or non-adopted child.  But in those days I did not have my wits about me and so I was required to tell the truth.

But now let us go on to other forms having to do with the “non” business.  Here in the great state of New Jersey, it is patently obvious from my wearing sunglasses and using a white cane that I am non-sighted.  Nonetheless the authorities in this great state require me to carry a non-driver’s driver’s license.  It costs $26 and lasts for only four or five years.  When the time to renew the non-driver’s driver’s license came up for renewal, I said to the governor, “You know what you can do with your non-driver’s driver’s license.”  It is still in my wallet and I still carry a white cane and wear sunglasses.  If I am ever required to produce this magnificent document, I will voluntarily point out that it is a year or two overdue but that does not change the stupidity of having a non-driver’s driver’s license.

Recently I composed an essay whose title was “Non-Sightedness.”  Non-sightedness is of course a euphemism for blindness.  It seems to me that non-sightedness takes the edge off of the word blindness.  Blindness is a harsh word.  My contribution to the English language is non-sightedness.  I hope that word stays around for quite a while.

I believe at this point that all of my readers are attuned to the un or non business.  Actually, however, the use of the un or non has been here probably as long as the English language has existed.  I suppose what I am doing is merely expanding it to include such terms as un-rich or non-sighted.  But as time goes forward, I hope that you will see other opportunities where the prefix of “un” or “non” would be appropriate.  If that were to be the case, it would bring joy to this old by-passed heart.

And if the term “un” or “non” is indeed not a prefix, I will beg forgiveness from Miss Maxwell when I see her in heaven.  It follows that all English teachers who are bear cats about English grammar go to heaven, particularly those who can expertly diagram sentences.  It is doubtful that all essayists like myself will ever reach those shores, but I intend to do my best to finally make Miss Maxwell proud of me.

Note: to the non-partisan, non-fiction, non-essential, non-pareil, non-unique, and non-gay… Miss Chicka also contributes the wonderful word of nonsense.

Here are some final thoughts which are non-pareil, meaning having no match or equal, unrivaled.  The word pareil means similar, alike, uniform or equal.  I like non-pareil the best because it is also the name of a candy!



January 16, 2012

Essay 625



Kevin’s commentary:

Two more language essays today.

Upon seeing the last part of this essay, I decided that I was curious as to the last time Pop actually ate candy. He doesn’t seem like the type to have a sweet tooth. So Pop, if you’re reading this, definitely let me know how much of a candy-eater you are.


The title of this essay suggests that it will be about the Catholic Church.  At the outset, it should be stated that the author of this essay, who is also the editor of Ezra’s Essays, is not a Catholic and has no intention of becoming one in the near future.  But in this essay, I am pleading for justice to aging Catholics of great rank in the church.

Those of you with long memories may recall the Second World War, which took place between 1939 and 1945.  The United States was involved in that war from December 7, 1941 through August 16th of 1945.  On the German side the war ended in May of 1945 with the defeat of what Hitler called The Third Reich.  Japan, the third member of the Axis powers, held out until August 16th of 1945.  For Italy, the second member of the Axis powers, the war ended sometime in 1944.  In point of fact, the Italian army was never considered a military machine.  One can say in laughter about war that the Italian Army was, more than anything else, a laughable army.

Towards the end of that war, the Germans were desperate for manpower.  Hitler presided over the drafting of 16-year-old youths as the war drew to a close.  One of the youths drafted was a fellow named Joseph Ratzinger.  As many of you know, I was also in that war on the American side.  My service was inAfrica,Sicily, andItaly.  When Herr Ratzinger was drafted, the war was taking place inGermany.  The facts of the situation are that Joseph Ratzinger served in the German army and I was a soldier in the American army inItalyorNorth Africa.  It is entirely unlikely that Herr Ratzinger and I knew each other or even traded shots at one another.

As time went on, Herr Ratzinger and I both tended to age a bit.  But age is a welcome addition in the Catholic Church.  Late in his seventies or very early 80’s, Herr Ratzinger was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  With that, Herr Ratzinger had proceeded to dizzying heights in his career.  My life’s venture was more prosaic in that I retired at around the age of 62 to become a world-famous essayist.

But at age 62, Herr Ratzinger was considered by the Catholic Church as a mere rookie.  After a time he was promoted to the rank of cardinal.  Then in his late seventies or early eighties, he became the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  I might comment at this point that in the service of the Church, a person of 65 years is considered a youngster.

But now we fast forward to the Christmas season of the year 2011.  At this point, Herr Ratzinger, who is now the Pope, had to preside over the Christmas mass which has traditionally been said at midnight.  In deference to the Pope’s age, themidnightmass was recited at10:00 PMrather than atmidnight.  I can imagine that the saints as well as the Holy Ghost looked askance at what was taking place inRome.  Themidnightmass was taking place at10:00 PM instead of midnight.

I know of no real provisions for recitation of the mass at midnight.  I would suggest that no rule of the Catholic Church was breached by the recitation of the mass at10:00 PM.  By custom, the mass has come to be celebrated atmidnight.  But I see no reason why this was a scandalous event.  It took place at10:00 PMin deference to Herr Ratzinger’s desire to go to bed.  Now look here.  I was in the same war with Herr Ratzinger and I am about four years older than he.  I can assure you that I have no desire to stay up until midnight for a religious ceremony, or anything else of a religious nature.

I am aware that Roman Catholics throughout the world will be outraged when I say that I see nothing wrong with the Pope turning in two hours earlier.  After all, he is an old man who is a veteran of the German army.

I believe that as such he is entitled to a full night’s sleep.

I never thought that in my long life I would come to the defense of a former German soldier.  Long after the war, I met at least two German soldiers and they were quite likeable.  I have no idea whether Herr Ratzinger would fall into this category.  But I am prepared to say that as an old man, which Herr Ratzinger is, he is entitled to sleep.  Beyond that, I would believe that a young Cardinal, monseigneur or some other official, would be a perfectly satisfactory substitute for Catholics who wished to stay up until midnight.  I am assuming that such a person is old enough to know where the bodies are buried but will be on the shady side of age 70.  Perhaps a young Cardinal age 75 to 78 could be found to recite the midnight mass on Christmas eve.

In the end I suppose that Catholics all over the world will take sides on this question, but I am also assuming that the bulk of them will join me in saying that Herr Ratzinger is entitled to a 10:00 PM mass as opposed to a midnight mass.  For the record, I have never met Herr Ratzinger.  But knowing about the physical deficiencies that accrue with age, it is my tendency to wish him well.  And as for myself, I never thought that I would be required to come to the defense of a German soldier.  Ah, but the Lord must work in mysterious ways.


January 27, 2012

Essay 629




It’s the site’s first Pope Day, ladies and gentlemen! Pop has actually written so much about the Pope that there will have to be a second day devoted to his Holiness in the near future — there are two more from 2012 alone.  I think perhaps my grandfather hopes that if he writes enough about the Pope, God will hear it and communicate Pop’s opinions to said Pope via the red phone or whatever the Pope uses to talk to God.

(Semirelatead nerdy Chinese sidebar — the character for “King” is wang: 王 where the top tier represents Heaven, the bottom Earth, and the middle the lord who acts as the intermediary that ties them all together through the vertical stroke.  As I was writing that snarky bit about the phone just now, it struck me that this Chinese idea of king describes pretty much exactly what the Pope is supposed to do, so I did a quick check on the Chinese word for Pope (“religious emperor,” no shit) and lo and behold there it was. It’s the bottom part of the second word: 教皇.  I felt pretty proud about predicting that.)

And now a second thought occurs to me, namely that I could not be doing a worse job of making this site screen-reader friendly if I tried. God knows what Pop’s software is going to do when it finds Chinese characters. I’ll investigate.



As I was showering this afternoon, some bizarre thoughts entered my mind.  It is fairly clear to me now that as we advance into old age, a role reversal becomes more apparent.

Let us take the example of major league baseball players who are performing at a plateau of considerable excellence.  When that excellence begins to fade, the manager or owner summons the ball player to the front office and informs him that he will be demoted to the minor leagues.  If he is lucky, he will wind up in the class AAA league, which is the best of the minor league system.  If he is unlucky, he will be assigned to a lower level league.  Old age is very much like the system that we use in baseball.  Once we have proved that we can no longer function at the higher level, accommodations have to be made and, in baseball parlance, we are “sent down” to the minor leagues.

There is nothing that can really be done about this phenomenon.  When the legs, the arms or the eyes give out, we are lucky to simply hold onto what we have, giving up aspirations to go higher.

Now so much for the baseball analogy.  We must now turn to other analogies having to do with advancing years.  My thoughts today turn to the layaway plan used by department stores.  The housewife who sees a comforter or blanket for which she does not have the full price may invoke the layaway plan.  That plan in effect allows her to make a preliminary purchase.  That comforter or blanket will be paid for by whatever the widow is able to scrape together from her Social Security check.  When the last payment is made on the comforter or blanket, the aged customer will go to the “Will Call Department” behind which stands a gentleman with a green eyeshade.  He will open the window and say, “What do you want?”  The customer will say, “I have come to claim my comforter.”

The man with the green eyeshade will say to the customer, “You are advanced in years and you will never use this comforter to its full extent.”  At that point, the man in the green eyeshade will slam the window down, catching the fingers of the aged customer.

Those of us in the advanced age department should have gotten used to this treatment long ago.  But that is not the case.  It is like a grade-school operation.  Let us suppose that you are in the fifth grade and every day you eat your vegetables and do your homework.  Upon graduation day, the principal will tell you that you are demoted to the fourth grade.  Old age is an exercise in not going forward.  But to quote Guy Clark, a country song writer, there “ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”  So we do our exercises, eat plenty of vegetables, and don’t drink, but on graduation day the principal will say, “You’re a year older; therefore you must retreat a step.”

As long as this system prevails, old agers will have to content themselves with merely holding their own.  I have long since reached this conclusion but no matter what the logic is, when I exercise I try to outdo my last performance.  Like the advancing years, it is like a series of plateaus.  Much like the major league ball player, when the limits of one plateau have been reached, we are demoted to the next plateau down.

That is the way the system works, and it has been going on since prehistoric times.  But oldsters such as myself can do little about it.  We will have to accept Guy Clark’s advice when he says, “There ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”  I wish that the reverse were true.  But the facts are that no matter how hard we try, when old age takes a bite out of your leg, about all you can do is to hold it tight and hope for the best.  And do not worry about the fellow in the green eyeshade who slammed the window down on the hand of his customer.  That, my friend, is the way the system works.



January 5, 2012

Essay 624



This one is pretty sad, honestly, but I thought it was particularly well-written.

On my end, in the past week or so that this blog has been active, I’ve as of today read every essay that Pop has written in 2012. At this rate I’m going to get way way way ahead of my publishing schedule, and then I’ll have to reread them all when it comes time to post them here.

There are worse things.