Archive for the March Category


Last Sunday night the President of the United States held a dinner to which veterans of the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war were invited.  Obviously the President could not have all of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to one dinner.  I do not know how the veterans were chosen to gather for this dinner.  But nonetheless Mr. Obama made a very decent effort to recognize those who had fought in those wars.  As a former soldier, I can only say to the President, “Well done!” for inviting those soldiers to dinner while they are still alive.

After Mr. Obama invited these veterans to dinner at the White House, I began to think of the circumstances that surrounded the end of World War II.  As you are probably aware, along with several other million Americans, I was a veteran of that war.  In this case, the contrast with the way in which the World War II men were treated as distinguished from the invitation to dine at the White House was significant.  In the Second World War, all of us knew that once we were sent overseas to engage the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians, our tour of duty would last until the end of the war.  Soldiers had a sardonic sense of humor.  They would say, “If you don’t wind up in a body bag, and if you can outlast Mr. Hitler, you may come marching home some day.”

As it turned out, the war ended on August 16 of 1945.  I happened to be in the United States at that time, and I cannot recall that there were any parades or festivities to mark the occasion.  The war had finished and we were all anxious to get back to what we had wanted to do before we were interrupted by World War II.  This is purely a suspicion.  I suspect that if the war had ended when Franklin Roosevelt was still President, most of us would have turned down an invitation to the White House on the grounds that we had been away too long and we preferred to go home to meet our families.

This is not a put-down of Franklin Roosevelt.  On the other hand, you will recall that Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt upon his death.  I suspect that an invitation at the end of World War II to come to dinner at the Truman White House would have received almost universal acceptance.  Everyone knew that Harry Truman was an ex-GI and in my case, he came from my home state of Missouri.  But in point of fact, there was no invitation to the White House or any other house.  It was our determination to leave the military service as quickly as possible.

My date of discharge from the Army at the end of World War II is dated November 8, 1945.  You may recall that when I left to join the American Army, the Bell System effectively dropped me.  This action occurred because I had enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted.  So I suppose I was put into a file that really didn’t exist called “Abandoning His Job.”

However in the fall of 1944, Congress passed a law which provided that people in my circumstances would be entitled to re-employment once the war was finished.  So it was that toward the end of November, 1945, I presented myself to AT&T for re-employment.  If they were glad to see me, they kept those emotions completely muted.  I did not expect great jubilation upon my return to work after having been at war for 3½ years.  But I believe it would be fair to say that the forces in the engineering group at AT&T Long Lines in St. Louis had the feeling that they had made it through the war without the intrusion of veterans returning.  For perhaps six months to a year, we were treated sort of as intruders.  AT&T had made no specific plans for our return.  In my case, I was given a desk right in front of a boss named John Baxter.

Baxter was essentially a loudmouth.  He was from Texas and I suspect that he resented intruders in his organization.  AT&T welcomed me home by giving me absolutely nothing to do.  Yet even though the war was over, they continued the practice of having four hours of overtime twice each week.  So I was spinning my wheels with nothing to do until the overtime period arrived.  On these two occasions, I would spin my wheels more.  This was the low point or nearly the low point in my return to work.  But I was determined not to let John Baxter have the satisfaction of running me off.  After the first six months or so, things picked up and I was given meaningful work to do.  However I have never forgiven the miserable bastard, John Baxter, for his conduct toward myself and other veterans.

So you see, we had no glorious homecoming from World War II.  There were no parades or things of that sort.  Jesse Neff, a crippled construction worker, probably said it best.  Jesse said, “Now that the war is over, the veterinarians are returning.”  Jesse was a good guy and I had no intention of telling him that with the war being over the “vegetarians” would be returning.


From this point on in this essay, there will be no continuity from one thought to another.  This is a pastiche of memories of that chaotic time when we were all trying to find a place to live and an automobile to drive.  Cars and apartments were few and far between.


Another memory has to do with loudmouths.  John Baxter, who I suspect was about 42 years old, a pre-eminent loudmouth, sat directly behind me.  My loathing for John Baxter has already been recorded.  But in the St. Louis office, Baxter was joined by three other loudmouths.  First there was Don Wass, who was forever tinkering with his hearing aid.  For a short time, I was reporting to Don Wass.  The high point of our relationship occurred when Don sent a letter to the typing pool and one way or another the “W” in his last name appeared over in the margin.  The stenographer recorded his name as Donald E. Ass.  Wass was basically an ass and he thought that this was very unkind.  But at least he had a reason to talk loud.

A few desks in front of Don Wass was another low-level supervisor named John Leff.  Leff chewed a little tobacco and he kept a spittoon within easy reach.  People would confer with John Leff and would often kick the spittoon with a resounding thunk in the office.  None of us looked up any more because we knew what had happened.

The final member of the quartet of loud speakers was Rolland Crow.  This fellow hated physicians and often wrote to them complaining and asking, “When are you going to quit practicing and do some real work?”  He dictated on a wax cylinder.  It must have required some effort to transcribe in view of the fact that he was continually shouting at the machine.

So we have John Baxter, Don Wass, John Leff, and Rolland Crow.  When those four got to work, it was largely impossible to think.


There are two other stories that come to mind with the return to work at AT&T in St. Louis.  The first has to do with my friend Frank Stuckey, who had been drafted during peacetime and then again during World War II.  Frank was about 36 or 37 while I was 23 or 24.  Frank and I became good friends.

For a time, Frank and I were given a special assignment.  During this special assignment we were required to inspect property records, which were maintained by the accounting department.  On this one occasion, Frank and I went to see Miss Anita Kemper, who was the old maid of old maids.

Frank and I approached Miss Kemper and asked to see a book in which she kept property records.  This was not an unusual request.  We were respectful.  Both of us referred to her as Miss Kemper.

Miss Kemper had a temper.  On this occasion, she more or less let loose of her temper.  She said to Frank and me, two World War II combat veterans, “You should know that I can’t do a thing for you at this time of the month.”  Frank and I tucked our tails between our legs and came back later at a time when it was not “this time of the month.”


And then there was a time when I worked for Bill Knapp.  Bill was a great guy who had reached the rank of Captain in the United States Army.  He also lived in Texas but he was quiet about that thought.  While I worked for Bill, I was elected to the Vice-Presidency and Presidency of the local union.  Bill told me after I had held the presidency for six months or so that, “You ain’t tore your pants yet.”  That was a commendation that I greatly appreciated.

But here again, Bill had been in the Army and when he returned, I accidentally found a letter that was not meant for me.  It was from Bill Haywood to Nelson Fisher, who was Bill Knapp’s boss.  Haywood seemed to think that the reason Bill Knapp got along so well with his employees was a suspicious mark and that he should be watched. Once again, I repeat the title of this essay: “Welcome Home?”

There are dozens of others incidents which occurred in the immediate post-war period.   And so the invitation to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has provided me with some pleasant memories.  Of course not all of the incidents would cause pleasant memories.  For example, I still detest the loudmouthings of good old John Baxter.

But in time, those unpleasant memories tend to fade and I am left with the much more pleasant thoughts of Frank Stuckey and myself beating a retreat from Miss Kemper.


Now with respect to our treatment by AT&T, my analysis over the years suggests that AT&T, in 1942, considered itself of equal importance or more important than the United States Army.  This accounts for the fact that AT&T dropped me when I enlisted in the American Army instead of waiting for the draft.

When we returned after 1945, there were no welcome home signs and we had to fight to get back into the main stream.  Ah, but in the end things turned out fairly well.  And so I say to the fellows from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, “We are glad to have you back.  Welcome home.”



March 8, 2012

Essay 639


Kevin’s commentary:

I am curious, in the days before the internet, what people would do to “spin their wheels” at work when they didn’t actually have work. Hopefully Pop will see this and shed some more light upon this mystery.

I’m always shocked to hear how veterans are treated in a country that is as generally pro-war as ours is. We’re all for going out and killing things, and if you ask, everyone everywhere ‘supports the troops’ but it’s oftentimes highly unclear what that means. But from the treatment of returning veterans to the protection of active soldiers a la the body armor fiasco, it seems very much that the troops remain unsupported at home and abroad.  A strange state of affairs indeed.


Pop’s response:


This is a two part answer regarding the questions asked earlier.

In the days before the internet, when there was nothing to do, my acquaintance Charley Pickrel made little gadgets at his desk, ostensibly to handle incoming correspondence.  I tried to look busy probably unsuccessfully by having a piece of paper in front of me.  I also made trips to the mail room and to the lavatory.  Killing time in this fashion is a laborious piece of work.  When I first came back to Long Lines, they were observing the war time custom of spending four hours twice a week in overtime.  This meant that I had to kill as much as twelve hours a day on the overtime days.  All things considered, it would be much better to have work to do as opposed to simply killing time.  But that is what the company wanted right after the war, and that is what they got.

Now with respect to support for the troops.  I was painfully aware once the war was finished, that support for the troops had taken a nosedive.  In the final analysis, it is every person for himself.  For example, there were those of us who needed help from the Veteran’s Administration to treat war wounds that plagued us into civilian life.  The world’s worst place to go was in a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in February of 1946.  Military authorities make it extremely difficult to get treatment.  It is every man for himself at least during the post war years.

My contempt for the military authorities in this country knows no bounds.  I volunteered as you know, but once the war was finished the Army went to prodigious lengths to try to make me re-enlist.  They found very few takers among the volunteers to serve in war time.  I am at a loss to tell you why we are a belligerent people but I would refer you to the Republican Party who wishes for us to intervene in Libya, Tunisia, Iran and lately in Syria.  I was a poor dogface GI who knew that my life could be lost in these interventions.  I say “no thanks.”



For a number of years, I have kept two dictating machines on a table near my desk.  On the left side, there is a machine that I use to dictate what I hope is the final product for Mrs. Baker, the transcriber.  On the right side, there is a machine that keeps notes for titles for future essays.  This afternoon, I will try to take a few entries on the notepad and try to turn them into a single essay.

Now, with respect to the title, I realize there is probably a redundancy.  The term “quinella” comes from horse or dog racing.  Because I do not frequent dog racing or horse racing tracks, there may be a bit of confusion as to the actual count of the subjects that I will submit for your inspection this afternoon.


The first subject will be called “Virgins: Consummate and/or Perpetual.”

This story has to do with professional football.  The most successful quarterback, perhaps of all time, is a fellow named Peyton Manning.  For the last ten years, Mr. Manning has played for the Indianapolis Colts and has set all kinds of records.  However, last year he suffered a neck injury which kept him out of competition for the whole year.  When it came time to think about the 2012 season, the Indianapolis Colts decided that they no longer needed Mr. Manning.  However, his services were very much desired by several teams around the league.

The long and the short of it is that Peyton Manning was signed to a lucrative contract by the Denver Broncos.  The fact is that the Denver Broncos already had a quarterback named Tim Tebow.  Mr. Tebow had a spectacular career at the University of Florida, which he continued into his first year in the National Football League as a member of the Broncos.  Having two quarterbacks, the Denver Broncos traded Tebow to the New York Jets.  This means that they have transferred their problem with the dual quarterback situation to the Jets.

Mr. Tebow is a flamboyant character who wears his Christianity on his sleeve, on his pants, on his socks, and on any other garment that he can find to advertise his Christianity.  As soon as the trade was announced, Mr. Tebow cited a small clause of his contract that entitles him to get payment of about five million dollars if he is traded.  Stupidly, the New York Jets paid half the cost so that he could be released to them.

What the New York Jets are going to do with two quarterbacks, one freshly signed to a long-term deal, is open to question.  Mr. Tebow seems to think that he knows where he is going.  After the trade was announced, Mr. Tebow, the one who wears Christianity all over his uniform, said that he was a complete virgin and expected to remain in that state until his marriage.  There is no date set for his marriage.

The fact that Tebow said that he is a virgin will cause players and spectators in New York to comment endlessly.  I suppose that the Jet opponents, as they line up, are going to be asking, “Hey Tebow, are you getting’ any?”  The plain fact is that you do not walk into a professional situation in New York and announce that you are a virgin and expect to remain such until marriage.

The Jets already had a quarterback named Mark Sanchez, who must be feeling a bit left out.  He had just signed a three-year contract with the Jets and apparently the fact that the Jets acquired Mr. Tebow took him by surprise.  It took nearly every spectator by surprise as well.

The fact that Mr. Tebow has announced his virginity will be the subject of speculation and catcalls throughout the coming season.  I do not listen to pro-football games but given this amalgam of ingredients, I may start to listen to the Jets games in hope of hearing some hilarious comment.  I would say that it took surprising naiveté for Tebow to announce that he was a virgin and expected to stay that way.  But as I say, I will look forward to the coming of the 2012 pro-football season and hope to overhear some of the catcalls and the remarks of the reporters.

Well this is one bookend of the quinella that we have started for today’s essay.


I forgot perhaps to tell you in the beginning that these miniature essays have no relation to each other.  They are separate thoughts.  So that brings me to the question of church pews.  On Friday at noon time we attended, as we have for many years, a concert at the local Presbyterian Church.  There is nothing religious about these concerts, which are known as the “Brown Bag Series.”  Theory is that someone in Summit, New Jersey will bring lunch in a brown bag to hear the concert.  When I retired 28 years ago, I was wandering around Summit, New Jersey and happened to see a sign in front advertising the “Brown Bag Series.”  The concerts last only 45 minutes so that people can get back to work.  The ladies in the church make some nice sandwiches.  After Judy and I were married and she had retired, she became an enthusiastic supporter of the “Brown Bag Series.”  But that is not what I have in mind in this essay.

I am not a connoisseur of church pews.  Basically speaking, I am only acquainted with the church pew situation at the Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey.  From time to time, we attend concerts in sanctuaries in some other churches as well.  But the question that I must ask is, “Why are the church pews so damned uncomfortable?”

In the church pew situation at the Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey, there is absolutely no way that a man can be comfortable in the church pew.  I find that I am being bent over with my head sort of touching my knees.  I have attended concerts in the Presbyterian Church as well as in one Catholic Church.  I am here to report that every church pew is designed for torture.  I realize that there are many situations when the pews are supposed to hold sinners.  But I am in the church pew merely to hear a concert.  No more, no less.  When I leave the church pew at the end of the concert, I breathe a great sigh of relief.  But if the church pews are arranged for the discomfort of sinners such as myself, I would like very much for them to turn into comfortable chairs during the concerts that take place in the sanctuaries.

I know that nearly every church has pews that demand endurance from the torture that takes place when they are sat in.  I know that this will make no difference as to the comfort of the church pews but I thought it would be well to register my objections to their uniform torture.


The next subject in this extended essay has to do with names.  One of the distinguished gentlemen at the Summit Medical Group in the internal medicine department is named Lloyd Alterman.  There may come a time when I will ask Dr. Alterman what role the second “L” in his given name really means.  If he spelled his name “Loyd” the pronunciation would be identical.

While we are on the subject of names, we should give consideration to the name Aaron.  Again I must ask what the second “A” lends to the pronunciation of this name.

For some time at the Summit Medical Group, I have been a patron of a fellow named Dr. Tar.  When he has the time, I will ask him why he should not spell his name as Tarr.  On the other hand, Dr. Tar seems to be doing quite well using only the three-letter word.  But I should not press that case too far with Dr. Tar because the spelling of my surname has two “r”s in it.  I must ask what the second “r” lends to the pronunciation of Carr.


Now I hope that you will remember that each subject is sort of a different essayette.  I hope that you will recall that these essayettes have no underlying relation to each other.  They simply come from my notepad and I wish to dispose of them.

Now we turn to a Republican who wishes to succeed Barack Obama.  His name is Rick Santorum.  If I may say so, Santorum is a complete dunce.  Last week when he visited Puerto Rico, he announced that his listeners should all speak English.  The fact that Puerto Ricans have been speaking Spanish for perhaps 300 years made no impression upon this dunce, Rick Santorum.

A contrary position on speaking English can be cited.  Take my relationship to Antonio Salazar.  Antonio speaks English.  His father Romelio, does not.  But when his father and I meet, the greetings between the two of us could not be more cordial.  When we shake hands, I know that Mr. Salazar wishes the best for me and I wish the best for him.  If I have not pointed it out before, Romelio Salazar, as far as I know, speaks few words of English.  That is not quite true because he understands instructions.  But I suspect that he could not write a sentence in the English language.  The point is that he is a genuinely decent person who will not be made more so by his ability to master the English language.  Mark this one down as another flub by a dunce, Rick Santorum.

The final thought in this small series of essayettes would have to do with the Roman Pope visiting Mexico and then Cuba.  I have always called the Pope by his proper name of Joseph Ratzinger.  The fact that he has adopted a second name is of no consequence to me.  When we were engaged on the battlefield in the Second World War, his name was Joseph Ratzinger.  Joseph Ratzinger will remain his title until he passes on.

I should say at this point that this is the other bookend for the virgin series.  We started with a little essayette about Tim Tebow and we finish it with Joseph Ratzinger, presumably both are virgins.

I have no connection with the Catholic Church but I assume that the Pope is a virgin.  At the age of 16, he was drafted into the German Army and was instructed to shoot fellows like me.  Fortunately, by the time Ratzinger was inducted into the German army, I had more or less departed the scene literally and repaired to Accra, the big base in Africa.  And so it was that Ratzinger did not take a shot at me nor did I take a shot at him.

But now the Roman Pope is intent upon touring Latin America.  Curiously, when he was elected to the Papacy, there were many people who said that because of their superiority in numbers, the Papacy should go to a Latin American.  But those things are above my pay grade and at this point I must wonder what the Pope is doing in such places as Cuba.

As everyone knows, the Castro brothers have dominated Cuban affairs for more than 50 years.  They are out-and-out Communists.  I suppose the Pope will get some rousing cheers in Mexico and then in Cuba.    Ratzinger is now 85 years of age and celebrates midnight mass on Christmas Eve at 10:00 PM rather than waiting for midnight.

There is one other aspect about Joseph Ratzinger and his service in the German army.  During his service in the German army, he volunteered, as I understand it, to become a member of the SS. The German for SS is SchutzStaffel, which translated literally means Protective Squad.  The Nazis regarded the SS as an elite unit, the Praetorian Guard, with all SS personnel selected on the principles of racial purity and unconditional loyalty to the Fuhrer of the Nazi Party.  The name SS is the most hated name by the Jewish population in this world.  The SS was given the task of completing the Holocaust.  As you might expect, that point is not emphasized in summaries of the Pope’s career.   Ahh, but this old soldier remembers.


And so it is that we started this disjointed essay with the comments about Tim Tebow who is new to New York as a reputable virgin.  And we closed it with Joseph Ratzinger whom, I believe, is an 85-year-old virgin as well.  And so my notepad is a bit lighter and I hope that your intellect has been stirred by my recollections not only about virginity but also about church pews and that sort of thing.  When the notepad fills up again, I suspect that there will be another essay or other essayettes as disjointed as this one was.



March 26, 2012

Essay 642



Kevin’s commentary: Since this essay was a slew of random thoughts, the comments will be likewise arranged.


For the many of you out there who read Pop’s thoughts on Mr. Tebow’s virginity and thought to yourselves “gee that was great but there just wasn’t enough of it!” — a few months after authoring this essay he revisited the subject in a full-length essay. It is here.

As far as church pews are concerned, it is my feeling that the church wishes parishioners to always be paying attention and not going to sleep. The same demand can be reasonably made of concert attendants, I suppose.

As far as I am aware, the second “R” in Carr was useful primarily to derail schoolyard taunting. I have it on good authority that children would often come up to my mother and sing “Carr, Carr, C-A-R // Stick your head in a jelly jar” which of course would be very hurtful to Suzanne’s delicate feelings except that they were misspelling her name. So there’s that.


On a finally separate note, you may have noticed a recent slowdown in the pace at which essays have been uploaded. This was due to Jen visiting San Francisco for just shy of two weeks, and my duties in being a diligent host, tour guide and boyfriend all in one kept me preoccupied. She’s just arrived home safe in New York, and now posting frequency ought to continue as before.


Over the years I have introduced you, my readers, to the various members of my family.  In total, there were eight children.  Martha and Ruth, born in 1920 and 1924, were probably stillbirths.  That was a subject that the children were never encouraged to ask about.  Also in 1924 there was the death of my brother, who was 11½ years old.  He died from pneumonia and appendicitis, both of which would pose no problems for physicians today.  Of the remaining members of the family, I suppose that in retrospect I have devoted less time to my eldest brother, Charles H., than to any of my other siblings.  On this occasion, I will try to even up the sibling count.

That would mean that my brother is a secondary issue.  The primary issue in this essay has to with music and particularly railroad music.

If my memory is correct, I spent the last half of the 1960s in Washington, D.C.  My brother Charles H. had a daughter who lived in Virginia with her husband and two small children.  On one occasion, Charles H. and his wife Rose, together with his daughter and son-in-law, visited with us in our home in Bethesda, Maryland.  I suspect that this is where Charles H. made up his mind to send some ancient phonograph records to me.  Those phonograph records, recorded around 1920, are the subject of today’s essay.

Before we get to the music, there is the matter of the title of this essay.  When I left for the army in 1942, my eldest brother was called Halley.  Apparently upon his birth, Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky and my grandmother recommended to my mother that this should be his name.  And it was done as my grandmother recommended.

So I left to pursue my soldierly duties in 1942 in the belief that my brother’s name was Halley.  Upon return from the Army in 1945, I found that Halley had morphed into Charlie.  And so it was that the surveying firm located in Clayton, Missouri was called the Charles H. Carr Surveyors.

Now as to the second part of the title to this essay, Charles Halley frequently referred to me as “Little August.”  I suspect that Charley used that title to refer to me because I was born in the month of August.  But in retrospect, Charlie himself was born in August and I suppose he referred to me as Little August which means that he must have been Big August.

Now I had very little cause to complain about Charley’s changing his  name from Halley because until I joined the American Army, my parents and siblings referred to me as Junior.  This of course was because I was named after my father.  When I returned from my Army duties, I took great delight in watching my siblings and their mates trying to call me Ed or Eddy.  They simply did not believe that Junior was the appropriate title for a soldier.  Today I carry on discussions and correspondence with one of my nephews who always addresses me as Uncle Junior.  When I send things to Robert J. Carr, I always sign them as coming from Uncle Junior.

As far as I know, my brother Charlie had no musical talent.  Perhaps I should say that he never showed it to me.  Probably he took after my father, who used to shout the words to the hymns rather than singing them.  Charlie, in addition to his expertise as a surveyor, was also a craftsman.  Sometime after Charlie’s visit, there arrived at our home in Bethesda a wooden box.  Charlie had constructed this wooden box to hold photos and several pieces of what I would call priceless Americana.

At this point, there should be one more intrusion.  Around 1900, my father worked as a fireman for the Illinois Central Railroad.  That railroad started in Chicago and ended in New Orleans.  This was in the days of steam engines.  The duty of the fireman was to shovel enough coal into the furnace to cause the steam engine train to run.  My father seldom talked about his railroad days.  I suspect that one of the reasons was that he viewed it as a failure in that he didn’t stick around long enough to become an engineer.

The fact is that in 1900, ordinarily it would take a person spending 15 years as a fireman before he was promoted to engineer.  Ezra Senior decided to look for greener pastures and he found them in preparations for the 1902 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  I know that the Fair didn’t open until 1904, but that was a small triviality.  So my father had quit railroading at an early age and, after he worked on the World’s Fair, he found work at the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm.  After a time, he became the superintendent of the Lilac Roost operation.

This apparently was a prestigious position which my father celebrated by buying phonograph records, which were new at the time, perhaps to celebrate his most recent success.  He also bought a machine to play the records on.  It was called a Victrola.  It was manually operated with a crank which caused the records to spin.  As I recall it, the records were played one at a time.  When one record was finished, it was necessary to replace that record with another record.  In the early days of recording, there was no such thing as long playing records.

And so, after this delay, we now reach the music which is the main burden for this essay ever to have been written.


There are a total of five recordings having to do with train wrecks and a doleful song called “In the Baggage Coach Ahead.”  In that recording, apparently the singer laments the fact that his wife has died and that her remains are being carried by the baggage coach ahead.

So this is doleful music but hang on.  Apparently it was what my father enjoyed as he recalled his railroad days.  I deeply regret that the final song, called “The City of New Orleans,” was recorded after his death.  That song is a much happier song than the six ancient recordings.

As we opened the box that Charlie had sent us from his home in University City, Missouri, it was obvious that he had taken all precautions to see to it that the records arrived in Bethesda, Maryland in the same condition that they had left his home in University City.  On a curious note, I have preserved that box that the records came in.  The records arrived about 45 years ago and I have no intention of losing the box that they arrived in.  Maybe that gives you an idea about Charlie’s Carr’s craftsmanship.

You will notice that each of the records selected by my father had to do with train wrecks.  When steam engines were used to pull trains, the fireman sat in the front cab of the engine across from the engineer and if there was a wreck, he would inevitably be a casualty.  I do not know whether this is what drove my father to buy train wreck records, but it is the only logical explanation that has ever come to mind.

Now, on the CD that accompanies this essay you will find these songs.  The first recording is of “The Wreck of the Number Nine.”  The second is “The Wreck of the Royal Palm.”  The third song is “The Wreck of the Southern Ninety-Seven.”  This is followed by “The Wreck of the Old #5,”  “Jim Blake” and “In the Baggage Car Ahead.”  Finally, there is Willie Nelson’s recording of “The City of New Orleans.”   I believe that I have listed the songs more or less in proper order.

Now before we get to listening to the music, the artist is Marion Try Slaughter, also known by his stage name of Vernon Dalhart.  According to his biography, he selected those names because they were the names of two neighboring towns in Texas.  Mr. Slaughter/Dalhart was born on April 6, 1883 and he lasted until September 15, 1948.

Apparently Mr. Dalhart played his own guitar and from time to time you will hear some intrusions by a harmonica.  I am convinced that Dalhart had the harmonica in front of his lips and played it when there was an interlude in his music.  On top of that, you will also notice that from time to time, Mr. Slaughter/Dalhart whistles.

As improbable as it seems, Mr. Dalhart also appeared in operas.  According to his biography, he appeared in “H.M.S. Pinafore” and the Puccini opera, “The Girl of the Golden West.”  I am a fan of opera and I believe that this is a performance that I would like to hear.  In substance, I do not believe that Mr. Dalhart was much of an opera singer.  But who is to say?

And so for the moment we will then go on to the final song called “The City of New Orleans.”  Naming trains after cities was a glorious quest, but I believe that it came along after my father left the railroading business.

But in this case the singer is Willie Nelson who is widely known, mainly for country music.  If I were asked, I would say that this song, “The City of New Orleans,” is the greatest railroad song that ever lived.  But no one has really asked me.  And so I leave you to enjoy the six old-time songs as well as “The City of New Orleans.”

Now a final thought about my brother, Charles Halley Carr.  I can’t really hold that I saw much of Charlie as I was growing up.  He was about 14 years older than I was and he married at an early age.  I might also tell you that he was a good guy and that he was bald-headed and that he liked to smoke cigars.  I part company with Charlie on smoking cigars.

Well, that is the story about the ancient phonograph records that Charlie Carr sent to me.  As I said, the box that they came in still remains in my possession.  Perhaps if a music lover, particularly of railroad music, turned up, I might let him admire the box.  In the final analysis, this is the first time that the recordings bought by my father around 1920 have ever appeared as a group.

My father was a religious man who believed in the after-life.  Perhaps he is up there among the clouds and he would appreciate hearing the melodies of “The Wreck of the Royal Palm” or of Jim Blake who thought, “Tell my wife that I will meet her in heaven; don’t wait for the fast express.”  I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to play “The City of New Orleans” for my father or for Charlie.  It might have counteracted the dour recording climate produced by the train wreck records.  But in any case, I am pleased that these seven songs are together again and I hope that my father has been honored by this collection of music.  My brother Charles Halley has also been honored for delivering the records to me in that magnificent hand crafted box.


March 17, 2012

Essay 640



Family night.

The Wreck of the Number Nine —  Whelp. Trainwreck music.

The Wreck of the Royal Palm. — couldn’t find it; maybe Judy will send it.

The Wreck of the Southern Ninety-Seven — looking for better quality.

The Wreck of the Old #5 — can’t find

Jim Blake —

In the Baggage Car Ahead —  (Legitimately really sad)

The City of New Orleans — As Pop says, much nicer.



At the moment, we are concerned – or at least the Republicans are concerned – with the outcome of the presidential nominating process.  The early leaders in the Republican primary contest have largely dropped out, leaving only four people.  There is the favorite, Mitt Romney.  He is being challenged closely by Rick Santorum.  Then we have the perennial candidates like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.  We would all like to think that we are living in enlightened times.   But if you listen to the blathering of Rick Santorum, there is doubt.

From what I have gathered, Rick Santorum has warned us that, “Satan has us squarely in his cross-hairs.”  There have been several occasions on which Santorum has made this remark.  I suppose that under any Santorum administration, we should all forego contraceptive devices and other worldly pleasures.

But I am not so much worried about the current campaign.  What I am worried about is the idea that Satan still lives.  More than anything else, Rick Santorum is a Catholic.  We would have expected these remarks to come from some back-woods Baptist who believes that Satan is just around the corner or in every pool hall in the United States.

Are we left to believe that Satan has been granted eternal life?  May I ask, does anyone fear to meet Satan somewhere along the road?  As you can see, I had long since dismissed the idea of a Satanic preacher greeting us in the so-called afterlife.

For a Presidential aspirant to contend that Satan is a real creature is nothing less than mind boggling.  Here is a man who, I believe, has graduated from law school.  For him to contend that Satan has us in his cross-hairs is a bit more than this mind can assimilate.

All of the old questions arise as to whether Satan is too old to stoke his “fiery furnaces.”  And again the question arises as to how Satan lives when all of the other Biblical characters seem to have passed on.  The Republican primaries are not noted for their intellectual achievements.   But here we have a former Senator with a law degree contending that Satan has all of us in his cross-hairs.  For some reason, Santorum says that the residents of the United States have been singled out.

May I make a suggestion?  I would suggest that the idea that Satan has us in his cross-hairs would have an opposite effect.  I suspect that it will increase the incidence of non-belief more than religiosity.  For us at this late date to live our daily lives in fear of a Satanic preacher is more than the normal mind can comprehend.

So I would suggest that in the Republican primaries, the end result might be a great increase in the belief in non-belief.  I would have no objection to this outcome, but I am sure that it is not what Santorum has in mind.  In the unlikely event that Santorum becomes our next President, please head for the hills before Satan grabs you in his fatal embrace.


March 9, 2012

Essay 640


I was under the impression that all angels are immortal, an Satan is a fallen angel, so nominally he should be immortal too.

My question is why he is still portrayed as some sort of adversary to God, who is pretty much by any definition omnipotent. Omnipotent people shouldn’t have enemies or adversaries because they can just make any enemies they have disappear. So either God is not omnipotent, that is not strong enough to rid himself of satan, or God is content with Satan exactly the way he is (because God would have made him be something different, otherwise). The former one seems conceptually impossible but the latter makes sense if you think about it — Satan punishes those who commit evils. Which means he’s doing exactly what he should be doing, and God is a-ok with that.

So why, then, are Christians so mad with the guy?




I expect that most of the readers of Ezra’s Essays will recall that on religious matters I am a complete and total non-believer.  It all started on the morning of August 4, 1928 when I reached the age of six.  On that occasion, my mother announced that I had reached “the age of accountability.”  The age of accountability has, I believe, some religious meaning but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

In any event, she took me by the hand and led me to a grove of trees near our back yard and instructed me to get on my knees and pray.  She said that before long, Jesus would notice me and would come down and save me.  There were rocks where I was kneeling and I could hear the voice of Charlie Baldrige playing baseball.  I greatly preferred baseball to being saved, even if it was by Jesus himself.  I soon figured out that I would be kneeling on the rocks until I announced that Jesus had saved me.  Even at age six, my mind was working full tilt.

When I announced that I had been saved by Jesus, my mother took me in the house and removed the sun suit that I was wearing and preserved it for many years.  In short order, my mother discovered that my conversion was short-lived and that I was a non-believer, somewhere around the age of eight or nine.  I have never discovered what the age of accountability means but in those early years I practiced no religion of any sort.

I know that you have heard this story before but I need to tell it to set up the rest of the essay.  It seems to me that those who practice religion often ascribe magical powers to God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or some other deity up there in the sky.  I am being a bit vague about this because it appears that religionists don’t agree on who exercises the ultimate power.  But in any case, my recent visit to the cardiologist has set me to wondering.  The cardiologist is a convert to the Catholic faith but I am not so sure that he is dogmatic about religion.  As a matter of fact, I do not believe that this is the case.  But let us assume that all the affairs of man are in the hands of God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, or some such other deity.

After a very pleasant visit with the cardiologist, I began to wonder about the afterlife or things in the great beyond.  If we are to assume that God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or whatever is in charge of every decision, particularly with respect to life and death, a question arises.  There are two parts to this decision.  Let us state that Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old in Sanford, Florida who seemed to be minding his own business when he was shot and killed by a vigilante for no apparent reason.  At this point I must ask if the killing of Trayvon was in accordance with God’s will.  It seems to me that George Zimmerman made the decision to kill Trayvon Martin.  Apparently he did not consult with any of the deities.  So we see in this tragic death that men can pre-empt the deities whoever they may be.  George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, which is apparently the end of the story.  There was no conversation with Jesus or anyone else.  Trayvon is gone now and we can only hope that in time George Zimmerman will meet the justice that he needs.

So ends the death side of the equation here.  Let us now look at the birth side.  Perhaps I am out of touch on this matter, but if I recall properly it was the intention of boys who seduce young ladies to make love to them  and to neck with them.  I suspect that the word “neck” is unknown to young readers, of whom I have almost none.

But in any case, the necking occurs often in the back seat of automobiles.  One thing leads to another and before long it is quite possible that some sort of intercourse may occur.  This has no heavenly adornment.  It only means that two teenagers had what used to be called “the hots” and proceeded to do what is normal under the circumstances.  If the two teenagers have failed to take precautions, there is a possibility that a pregnancy will follow.  In that case, unless the child is aborted, there will be a live delivery and the population of the world will go up one.  The point I am making is that God, Jesus, or the Holy Ghost had no say in this matter.  It is simply a matter of two teenagers having “the hots” and making a connection.

Now this leads to one other point in this essay.  If the deities have no say in births or deaths, as we have seen in the two examples, what about extending life?  When I visited the cardiologist the other day, he inspected the records of my pacemaker.  Simply put, the pacemaker enables me to continue living because it encourages the heart to pump harder when it really wants to slow down.  Now I arrive at the ultimate question of this essay on divine providence.  Is the pacemaker, for example, used to thwart God’s will?  In all likelihood, without the pacemaker at some point or other I will keel over and die.  I suspect that those who are attending my funeral would say that this is all in accordance with God’s will.

Certainly they cannot say that Trayvon Martin’s death was the decision of the deities.  It was a decision totally and solely of George Zimmerman.  And with respect to bringing a new life into this world, the deity was also uninvolved.  The two teenagers in the back seat of the automobile having unprotected sex are responsible for this new birth.

So you see that visits to the cardiologists ought to be limited.  More than anything else, it seems to me that in matters of life and death the future rests in the hands of man.  It was not foreordained that Trayvon Martin should die two or three weeks ago.  And for the teenagers, it was not foreseen by the deities that a new life had occurred.  The new life was brought about totally and solely by the actions of the teenagers.

Finally I must ask the question whether the cardiologists and other health providers are working in accordance with God’s will.  It is a great relief to me not to have to answer that question because to a non-believer the answers are quite evident.

And so I will end this essay with the thought that since my encounter with the deities on my sixth birthday, I have been a non-believer faithfully all my life.  In that long life I have never never attempted to convert anyone else to my beliefs.  I think it would be fair to say at this juncture that other people with strong religious convictions have ceased to attempt to convert me.  And so we have a draw in this situation.

On a good many occasions, I have contributed to the musical program at the Presbyterian Church where Judy and I attend concerts.  I have never pointed out to the recipients of those contributions that the contribution was obtained from a non-believer.  The church accepts the money, which makes me pleased.  And I am pleased by the music they provide.  Now I ask you what could be fairer than that.



March 27, 2012



Picking a first essay for the site took far longer than it should have.  I ultimately selected this one for a few reasons: first, because it features in-your-face atheism from literally line one, which I think Pop would like; second, because it gives readers a good idea of his style of humor.