Archive for the October Category


I am quite aware that it is unseemly of me to dictate an essay on saintly matters and other ecclesiastical thoughts.  Be that it as it may, on this Yom Kippur afternoon that is where my thoughts are headed.

A learned gentleman once said to me that Catholic saints offer some specific qualities.  For example, this learned gentleman felt that there was a saint whose specialty was promoting peaceful deaths.  Most of us who have reached the declining years feel that there should be much interest in peaceful deaths.  Whether this saint will provide such peace is an open question.  However, this unnamed saint, whom I suspect is Saint Joseph, has been in the business of providing peaceful deaths for several hundred years.  The person who recommended this saint is aware of my age and disabilities.  As a matter of fact, he is my long-term cardiologist.

I have no trouble in accepting the advice of my cardiologist on saintly matters.  There are others who would express certain doubts.  For example, my cardiologist is a convert to Catholicism and treats saints fairly matter-of-factly.  I do not know whether he worships these saints.  He merely referred to them as part of his extraterritorial advice.  But in this case, of course, I suspect that because of my age, he thought it would be appropriate to make me aware of someone like Saint Joseph because he thought it would come in handy in the likely event that I would turn up my toes.

But it strikes me that providing a peaceful death is only less than half of the job that needs to be done.  The final hours are presumably the occasion when Saint Joseph or some other saint would interpose to grant relief to the afflicted person.  This is all well and good.  But I ask Saint Joseph or some other saint, “Where were you when I was going through the agony of operations and pills and extensive treatments and worry long before the final hour came?”  I mean no disrespect to those of saintly qualities but I would like to get my question answered of where you were during the agony that led to the final hour.

It seems to me that there is much to recommend in taking the advice of a Moslem cleric who said that from the day we are born, we have begun to die.  I am not a Moslem and have no intention of becoming one.  On the other hand, it seems to me that the wisdom of the Moslem advice has much to recommend it.  For example, I am now in my 90th year.  It feels fairly good or, as we put it, not ungood.  But the signs are everywhere.

While I was dictating this essay, the need rose to use the bathroom facilities.  I am fully cognizant of the fact that I am blind, but that is only part of the story.  The rest of the story is that I thought nothing in former days of getting to the bathroom and wondered why anyone would ask me about it.  In these days, however, getting to the bathroom is a bit of an accomplishment in that there are steps to walk and turns to be made and, above all, there must be adequate time permitted for the bathroom visit to forego accidents.  It simply takes me longer to get from here to there than it used to.

There is one other measurement which is largely finite.  In our basement gymnasium, exercises by Miss Chicka and myself take place on at least four days every week.   The measure of those results of our exercise date back to a year in the 1980s.  The exercise that is performed by myself today is a far cry from what it used to amount to.  As time has gone on, the deficits in the exercise routine have become a bit larger.  I am not ready to call for Saint Joseph or his ministerial operation but I know which way the signs are headed.

Finally, somewhere in the 1980s, Miss Chicka and I purchased bicycles.  That was a wonderful time in our lives because we rode all over northern New Jersey, hoping to achieve in one week 100 miles.  We did not always achieve 100 miles but we came fairly close.  But there was a sense of adventure about riding on unknown roads in the hope that we would eventually come to some location that we had some familiarity with.  At this juncture in life, my transportation is not a regular bicycle, but a stationery bicycle.  One of my other problems is aphasia resulting from a stroke and I very nearly called the stationery bicycle a “sanitary bicycle.”

Well, now look; I probably have taken much more of your time in reading about my lack of oomph in the exercise department.  But I did it for a specific reason, which is to illustrate that once the twenties are gone, we seem to live our lives in decreasing planes of accomplishment.  I am fully aware that I am not the man that I used to be even at age 75.  But as soon as a level of accomplishment is achieved, before long it is outdated.  All of which tells me that the deterioration problem will continue to take place and in the final showdown, I suspect that I will have to seek the comfort provided by Saint Joseph, who will provide me theoretically with a peaceful death.

But my point here is that providing a peaceful death is only half the story.  The rest of the story has to do with providing peace and comfort to those of us who are aging and who are aware of that aging.  In any case I appreciate your spending your time with me to discuss the slow decline in all of our performances.  It may also be that the Moslem cleric had something when he said that from the minute we are born, we have begun to die.  But as I look forward to the close of this essay I can still remember that I have still got my cardiologist who has told me about the wonders provided by one of the saints for a peaceful death.  If you wish to be introduced to my cardiologist, I will be happy to do so.  In the meantime, stay strong, take no wooden nickels, and look forward to the day when Saint Joseph will provide his ministerial blessings upon yourselves.



October 8, 2011

Essay 583


Kevin’s commentary: mention of Pop’s cardiologist reminds me of the first essay on this site.

In other news I had no idea that my grandpa biked a hundred miles a week at anytime near the present. That’s quite an accomplishment. I would say right now I only bike about fifteen to twenty a week because that’s about how much you get when you multiply the distance between my home and my office by ten, then factor in some weekend excursions. So the truth is that I was being outbiked by a rather old man. I suppose this means that I should exercise more.



When I was a child, my friends Charlie Aldridge and Billy Seyfried liked to play baseball.  There were plenty of empty lots which we often converted into ball fields.  There was a problem because the weeds and grass had to be cut down before the ball game could start.  But the only means of cutting the weeds was a hand sickle.  This means that clearing a ball field took a prodigious amount of work.  As a result, the outfield was rarely ever cut.  All of that brings us to the basic burden of this essay.

When a ball was hit to the outfield, there was a problem.  We never ever had a new baseball that would reveal itself to us by its shiny surface.  The balls we played with were timeworn.  If a ball were lost, securing its replacement was a function of persuading one of our parents that we needed a new baseball.

My father who did maintenance work in this large subdivision that he had under his control frequently brought home balls.  The place where he worked represented the homes of wealthy people.  I am certain that the balls that were lost were simply not pursued by the wealthier children.  But in our case, when a ball was hit to the outfield a problem arose.  From time to time, the ball would disappear among the taller grass.  Technically this term is known as a “lost ball in tall grass.”

When I grew up, there were cynics who often described their compatriots who didn’t have a clue as being a lost ball in tall grass.  I would suggest that among politicians there are a good many who are lost balls in tall grass.  I wish that this were not the case.  When you have the remarks of a John Sununu claiming that Colin Powell supported Barack Obama because they are of the same race, that is a good example of a lost ball in tall grass.

I suppose that this section, taken together with an earlier essay, ought to be called “A Lexicographer’s Forgotten Memories.”  But before my race is done I had simply wanted to recall an expression that was used when a ball was lost.  Of course, when I grew up there were several cases, or perhaps millions of cases, when a person in a responsible position was so lost that he was considered a lost ball in tall grass.

Now having delivered myself of these two considerations, I will once more retire until I remember an expression that must be used to complete the lexicographer’s memory of terms that were once vital to our existence.



October 29, 2012

Essay 714


Kevin’s commentary: I very much enjoy this style of short-form essays, honestly.  I sometimes wonder what Pop would have studied in college had he attended it, and more and more I lean toward linguistics or something similar.  I have also noticed that though Pop generally does not take himself very seriously, he likes to end his language essays with what seems like particular hyperbole. But on second though, hell, I don’t know where else I’d learn country speak from the 30s, or a 90-year-old’s take on ebonics, or a handful of archaic ways to refer to a penis, or piles of military slang. It really is something that you can only really hear and believe by someone who has dealt with it. So despite the way Pop tends to close this type of essay, I would contend that his language essays are truly some of the most valuable on the site. Here’s hoping that he keeps him coming.

And Pop, if you’re reading this, an essay about why you are so concerned with lexicography in particular would be well-received by yours truly.


In the summer of 1942, I enlisted in the American Army.  When I took the oath to become a soldier, automatically I became a GI.  The term GI means Government Issue.  The uniforms that we wore, for example, were Government Issue.  There was no such thing as buying a fancy uniform to serve.  The covers under which we tried to sleep, were also called GI.  As you can see, the term GI had a very broad meaning.

Even the jeeps we used had a designation that closely resembled the GIs.  They were called general purpose Government Issue.  That is only to give you an idea of the high significance of the term Government Issue.

Now we get into some basic stuff.  The American Army ran its mess halls to serve as many as three meals a day.  The hygiene in cleaning the mess kits probably left something to be desired.  For example, in one case at a forward base there were steel drums that had the tops sheared off and were filled with water.  They were placed in great bonfires to heat the water.  Following a meal, the GIs, such as myself, would knock off what had not been eaten and would then plunge the mess kit in two or three of those barrels with the hope of cleaning it.  This was the way it was done and you took your chances with diarrhea.

And that brings me to the burden of this essay.  When a soldier such of myself developed a case of diarrhea, he would never say the term diarrhea.  That term was unknown at that time or at least was never used.  The GI with the diarrhea would say that he “had the GIs.”  Sometimes soldiers would get the GIs so bad that they would be disabled for two or three days.  Now I would be shirking my responsibilities as a lexicographer of Army talk by not telling you the following:  Using the term “the GIs” was one figure of speech having to do with diarrhea.  The full story on that condition was called “the GI shits.”  Nobody knows why this term takes a plural ending.  But there you have it in its unvarnished form.

I said goodbye to the American Army in November of 1945.  That was 67 years ago but I still refer to the condition of diarrhea as having the GIs; I rarely use the appendage in the plural.

There are a number of readers of these essays who do not understand the rigors of military life in World War II.  These essays are to be cited as providing vital information about a soldier’s life during that time.

There is no intent whatsoever in citing these terms as a means of folksiness.  The fact of the matter is clear.  When a GI was struck with a case of diarrhea, which occurred more often than I would like to remember, he would use the phrase, “I am having a case of the GIs,” or if he was having a bad time with the diarrhea he would add the last word.

So, having told you about this phenomenon having to do with the excretory function, I believe that my service is now complete.  With the completion of this description, I believe it is now time for me to retire from the scene having to do with the lexicographer’s version of the speech of American GIs.  I hope that none of you are offended.  But remember only this: we won the war.



October 29, 2012

Essay 713


I had no idea.





I had hoped never to have an occasion to write an essay that charges racial discrimination against a presidential contender.  But the facts are clear.  The Republican campaign in 2012 is aimed at vilifying Barack Obama.  In spite of all of his accomplishments, Mr. Obama is vilified for no apparent reason.  I have long suspected that the reason had to do with his parentage, which includes his Kenyan father.  No man can control who his father might be.  To derogate a man simply because he comes from another race is abominable to me.  I am very proud to call people of many persuasions my friends whether or not they are citizens of this country.  But the Republican efforts in the election of 2012 are based largely upon a hatred of Barack Obama because he has black parentage.

I am outraged to record this event.  But the black cat escaped from the bag this week when John Sununu wanted to comment on why Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama.  He fumbled around and eventually said that it was because of race.  As you know, Colin Powell is also black.  In a brief interview with Pierce Morgan on CNN, Mr. Sununu offered these remarks.

“When you look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama…

Well, I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

There you have it.  The Republican campaign defined by its co-chairman John Sununu is based upon hatred of blacks.  I have no problem whatsoever when two candidates are on even ground.  But to have one of them condemned out of racial hatred is much more than I can bear.

John Sununu is a man with a checkered past.  Perhaps this blog, published today, will explain it a lot better than I could.

DAILY KOS, October 27, 2012, Posting by Dave in Northridge:

“I give you the case of John Henry Sununu, the 75th Governor of New Hampshire and White House Chief of Staff under George Herbert Walker Bush.

White House Chief of Staff.  Nothing unusual here, and Sununu was one of the most faithful supporters of Bush the elder.  In fact, Sununu was able to make the President he served look more compassionate and even friendly, as Time Magazine pointed out in the spring of 1990:

‘But sometimes a chief of staff will forget that he isn’t the President, and Sununu began to abuse some of his privileges.  Specifically, he used military aircraft for long personal trips and a White House limousine and driver for shorter personal trips, like a June 1991 trip from Washington DC to Manhattan primarily to go to a stamp auction.’

The Romney people knew about this, and they also knew Sununu wasn’t above bigotry.”

I started this essay by saying that I had hoped that it would never come to pass that a man should be condemned because of events such as his birth over which he had no control.  But I am sorry to report that the Romney campaign has finally let the black cat out of the bag.  I regret that this has happened.  With John Sununu as the co-chairman of your campaign, I would say that you can expect no other.  When I said that he is a man with a checkered past, that was giving him every benefit of the doubt.  When this election is finished – if it ever is – I will have more to say about the racial aspects that have invaded the American electorate.  I had hoped to avoid this subject, but Mr. Sununu has made it impossible to do so.



October 27, 2012

Essay 712


Kevin’s commentary: Thankfully, the race is now finished. I look forward to further observations on the subject. Perhaps he will have something to say regarding Bill O’Reilly’s comments on why Romney lost because the ‘old America’ is gone, having been replaced by minorities who –God forbid — ‘want things’ is telling enough.

Meanwhile I will only note that Obama was vilified, in my eyes, largely because the Republican base is so disparate that it is much easier to unite it against something than it is to unite it for something.


As most Americans will recall, there are eight Associate Justices on the United States Supreme Court.  One of them is Sonia Sotomayor, who originally came from the Bronx in New York City.  Now it is important for readers of these essays to know that no self-respecting fox, raccoon, squirrel, or rabbit has ever inhabited the confines of the Bronx for perhaps more than 150 years.  Sonia Sotomayor now lives in Washington DC and has accepted an invitation from Antonin Scalia, also an Associate Justice, to go hunting this fall.

You will recall that two or three years ago Antonin Scalia took the Vice President, Richard Cheney, with him on one of these hunting trips.  In spite of the fact that the administration had many pieces of legislation before the Supreme Court, it is alleged – mostly by Scalia – that they never ever discussed these cases.  I intend to guard my reputation as an essay writer.   I would tell you to take this assertion by Scalia with a shovel full of salt.

But apparently Sonia Sotomayor has accepted or will accept Antonin Scalia’s invitation to go hunting this fall.  The purpose of the hunting trip is to kill birds such as doves or quails and to have them served for dinner.  The preparation of the dinner, which includes denuding the birds of their feathers, is performed largely by black people who work on the grounds where the hunting takes place.  Of course, I do not have a weight chart to assess the needs of Scalia and Sotomayor for food.  On the other hand, those two justices of the United States Supreme Court are reasonably well paid.  They have at least three months off, from July to October, before they even start getting another set of cases.  During this time off, they can make as many speeches as they wish to supplement their income.  The point is that this hunting trip is being billed as sport, not as an eating adventure.

It was on one of these sporting adventures that former Vice President Cheney shot a friend of his and Scalia’s in the face.  Fortunately, the man survived.  But here we have an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court sponsoring trips for the purpose of killing birds.  I believe that this is a totally inhumane effort at murder.

But apparently Sonia Sotomayor seems to have accepted Scalia’s invitation to go hunting this fall.  The murder of these innocent birds is not a sport at all.  The hunter has a high-powered shotgun.  Of course the birds have nothing to retaliate with.  It is simply a case of murder of these birds.  My hope is that Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor comes to her senses and rejects the invitation to go hunting with Scalia.  I suspect that after one trip with Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor will be impressed with the struggles the birds go through after they are shot.  The birds struggle for life, which is slowly ebbing away.  But Scalia and the other so-called hunters simply remark upon their marksmanship.

Now we shift back to a scene that occurred at least 85 years ago.  There was a dead tree that stood about 150 yards beyond our property in Richmond Heights, Missouri.  During much of that time, my mother kept chickens.  Hawks or other predatory birds would roost in that dead tree and from time to time would swoop down to share the food or most importantly to kill my mother’s chickens.  My father had a shotgun.  As I recall it, he was an excellent marksman.  The birds would sit on a dead limb of this tree.  My father would take aim at them and would invariably kill them on the first shot.  So no more dead chickens until the next time a hawk decided to kill my mother’s chickens.

There came a time when I was probably five years old that I asked my father why he did not shoot the other birds that flocked around our home.  My father, as I recall it, was greatly offended.  He said, in his country speak voice, “Them birds did nothing to harm any of us.  They love their lives as much as you love yourn.”  The word “yourn” is a contraction involving the words yours and own.  If he had been a scholar, he would have said, “They love their lives as much as you love your own.”

The words that came out of his mouth are typical of country speakers who say, “They love their lives as much as you love yourn.”  Those words have stuck with me for all of the ensuing 85 years.  I have never owned a gun nor do I ever wish to go hunting.  I cannot imagine any man who has survived a wartime experience attempting to go hunting.  But as you know, Antonin Scalia never served one day in the uniform in the military forces of this country.

At this date, an invitation from Scalia to Sotomayor is more or less tentative.  Sotomayor is a lady and I doubt that she would take my advice, in which I would say to Scalia, “You can take your invitation to go hunting and cram it.”  But she is a lady.  But I sincerely hope that she will find a way to avoid accompanying Scalia as he murders birds in the interest of sport.  That, my friends, is a miscarriage of justice of the first order.



October 27, 2012

Essay 711


Kevin’s commentary:  Hunting has generally struck me as pretty pointless for the idea that Pop outlined. Once we sorta got past the bow and arrow there doesn’t seem to be all that much skill involved.  If your gun’s good enough, it presumably takes some effort to miss. Unless you’re a vice president.

The second part of Pop’s story which mentions hawks also made me think about how cool it would be if most bird hunting was still done with OTHER BIRDS. That’s how they used to do it. And how they still did it rather close to Pop, namely at the JFK airport, until very recently. Check out the article here.


When I was a child, my parents forced me to attend a succession of churches.  First there was the Southern Baptist, followed by the Nazarenes, followed by the Pentecostals and finally the Free Will Baptist Church.  During this period in life, as I have told you on many occasions, I disliked or rather loathed church attendance.  But from time to time, preachers would announce that there would soon be a revival.  The revivals were conducted by traveling evangelists.  I do not ever remember them converting sinners who were roaming the streets of suburban St. Louis.   The revivals were aimed at the church members to get them a lot more excited about church attendance.  I always thought that the evangelists who conducted the revivals were hucksters.  They were not so much interested in the church members going to Heaven as they were in getting their fee and moving on to the next church which would sponsor a revival.

But now we come to Pat Robertson who bills himself as a televangelist.  This is a wedding of course between the words television and evangelist.  I thought in my youth that the people who conducted the revivals were nothing more than hucksters or frauds.  Now in my old age, my opinions have only hardened in that evangelists have a new medium, television, to reach the gullible.

For several years Pat Robertson has conducted a television program that appears, as far as I know, every morning.  It is called “The 700 Club.”  Where that name came from, I have no idea.  But if he wishes to sue me because I have adapted a variation of that title for this essay, he would find that my assets are locked up in a blind trust.  Old Pat will not realize what an adversary he has until he runs into a man who is entitled to say that his assets are in a blind trust.  Pat is not dealing with somebody like Mr. Romney, because I can attest to the fact that my assets for the last seven years, such as they are, are in a blind trust.

But Pat Robertson has taken me a bit off course in starting this essay.  The burden of this essay has to do with the fact that this is my 710th essay.  I started writing essays, as you know, in an effort to repair the damage to my brain which had been caused by a stroke.  That was back in 1997.  Now, 15 years later, I feel a bit liberated.  My compulsion is to turn events in my long life into essays.  And of course, I am of the opinion that Pat Robertson, whom I believe is a zealot, will probably not sue me.

When I reached the 700 mark in my essay writing, I was unaware of it.  As it turns out, the 700th essay written at this desk had to do with radishes and my luncheon with Charles de Gaulle.  I wrote this as a fictional piece, but the more I think of radishes and Charles de Gaulle, I am of the opinion that perhaps it might really have happened.  In any event, Kevin Shepherd, who keeps track of these sorts of things in running his website, has pointed out to me that the 700 mark has been crossed.  As I have said, I write these essays because Shirley Morganstein of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation told me to do so.  Shirley opened her own business years ago and has not told me to stop writing these essays.  So I suppose they will probably continue.

We have a distribution list of about 20 or 25 people who receive these essays.  They seem to like them, or at least that is what they tell me.  Recently Kevin Shepherd built a website which makes distribution of the essays a good bit easier.  I was greatly encouraged to learn that people browse around the website and sometimes run across my essays.  One recent one had to do with “AWK und Stalies.”  It is about my association with Al Kunberger, now unfortunately deceased.  The bakery owned by his father sold day-old merchandise and called them “stalies.”  As it turns out, one of the responses was from a browser who said in effect, “Al Kunberger was my grandfather.”   If my essay writing brings pleasure to the browsers and regular readers, I am greatly gratified.

Whether the essay writing has done anything to repair my brain is a subject for my readers to determine.  It may be that I have dedicated my efforts in writing these 700 essays for no good purpose.  On the other hand, the comments of my friends who read these essays are of such a nature that I am encouraged to keep on writing them.

Now we are in the advanced stages of communications.  My grandson, Kevin Shepherd, has established a website where people can read as much as they want of these essays.  But beyond all of that, writing these 700 essays has kept me from stealing cars.  As you know, Newark, New Jersey is the stolen car capital of the world.  Writing these essays has kept me from stealing cars and taking them for joyrides.  The fact that I have been blind for seven years really makes no difference.  I have to write these essays to depress the urge to steal automobiles.  In my 90 years, I did not steal automobiles on any occasion but I do not wish to take a chance.

So that is the story of my passing the 700 mark in essay writing.  In my 700th essay, there was a situation in which Madame de Gaulle came from her kitchen in exasperation and said to her husband, Charles de Gaulle, “Now would you pass him the effing radishes?”  That remark may have been fictional but I can think of no other fitting remark to end this essay as I head toward my 800th production.



October 27, 2012

Essay 710


Kevin’s commentary: Speaking of Pat Robertson and religion, he very recently went on a news broadcast and defended the idea that the world was more than 6000 years old, much to the surprise of many viewers of the 700 club. I was impressed. Typing that, I realize it’s somewhat sad that I find something so easy and so obvious impressive, but hey. Check it out here.

And, for good measure, here’s an even better (read: cringe-inducing) clip where Pat Robertson talks about porn. It’s a winner.


More on topic, huge congrats again to Pop on so many essays. At time of publication he’s already passed 720 — well on his way to the big 800. I can’t wait to see him get there.


At this point I have written a few essays beyond the 700 mark.  It is possible that it is a repeat of an earlier essay, but I doubt it. And in any case, it is a pleasant memory which obviously bears repeating.

In 1955 my employer decided that he had a promotion for me and I should leave the confines of Chicago.  And so it was that my wife at the time and my 14- or 15-month-old daughter arrived in New Jersey.  We had determined that New Jersey would be the place where we would live.  Our want ad was answered by a fellow who owned a five-acre farm.  As it turned out, he was leaving to pursue divinity studies and he wished to keep the farm under his control.  The farm was a well-known establishment called the Rickenbacker Farm which abounded in berries of all kinds and outbuildings that were in good shape.  My daughter, known as Blondie, alias Ellen Maureen, took to farm life with great enthusiasm.  The house was a bit old.  It had a large room on the second floor near my daughter’s bedroom.  There were a table and some chairs in this room.  Immediately Blondie decided that she would have endless tea parties.

Now, the tea parties were not totally tea parties but they consisted of a pot of water filled from the tap, which she considered her tea.  A good many people were invited to Blondie’s tea parties.  I remember a woman from Chicago who had worked with me in Chicago Traffic visiting the home.  Her name was Ann Hincks, who was then about 58 or 60.  Ann Hincks was an Irish woman who fell in with Maureen’s tea party idea with great gusto.  She stayed on the farm for perhaps two or three days, long enough for her to be inundated with tea parties.  Ann Hincks was a good Irish woman who spoke tea partyese.

When Ann left, there was a neighbor named Jesse Neilsen, who lived on the next party south of us.  Jesse and Blondie formed a bond.  Jesse had a picnic table on her back porch where she often canned vegetables.  Jesse was very much like Ann Hincks in that she could talk to Maureen, her discussions being interspersed by salvos of laughter.  Jesse’s husband, Chris Neilsen, sat on a stool behind Maureen and from time to time he laughed so hard that he had to steady the stool.  Now mind you, all of these discussions were of a very serious nature.  As I reported in an earlier essay, it was Chris who cut a path with his scythe so that Maureen could traverse our home to Jesse’s place.

Now that I have told you about Ann Hincks and Jessie Neilsen, where do I fit in?  When Maureen’s mother tired of Maureen’s tea party activities, I was often drafted to be a recipient of the tea being served.  Remember, this tea came right out of the spigot in the nearby bathroom.

But I was not an easy customer to satisfy.  When Maureen served me a cup of the imaginary tea, I often would tell her that it was too hot.  She would take a sip and say, “It is not too hot.”  Then on another occasion when Blondie would serve me a cup of tea, I would announce that it was too cold.  By this time, Blondie knew that I was just a trouble maker.

Then there were other occasions when I would sit at Maureen’s table and order a cup of tea and, when it was produced, I would announce that it was “too just right.”  At this point, Maureen gave up all hope of my eternal salvation.  We both knew that I was just kidding but at Maureen’s tea parties this was a serious business.

Well, time has gone on.  At this juncture, Maureen is flirting with her late fifties in terms of age.  I would suspect that our good friends Jessie and Chris and our great friend Ann Hincks are probably no longer with us.  But before these essays are finished, I wanted to establish that there was a time when the phrase “too just right” was in vogue.  In spite of our being moved from Chicago to New York, the years on the farm were happy years.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the farm was located next to a Catholic church.  By this time, nearly two years after we arrived in New Jersey, Maureen had a sister known as Spooky Suze.  One day there was a knock on our kitchen door and when it was opened, a priest from the church came in.  His mission was to tell us that the church had acquired the property that we had been renting.  He was a very nice fellow.  He played with Maureen and also held her sister.  He wanted to make it clear that we were under no pressure to move out of the house and find other quarters.

As it turned out, there was a new development in this town of New Providence which appealed to us and we bought a home there.  I shall never forget the decency that the priest of Our Lady of Peace showed to us.  It is one of the high points as I recall the events of that time.  Good old Blondie did not invite the priest to have one of her cups of tea.  I am quite certain that if she had done so, the priest would have announced that it was “too just right.”  He would have joined me in that assessment.

But the fact is that gregarious Blondie did not offer the priest a cup of tea.  If she had done so, perhaps we would still be living on the farm.  So that is the story about “too just right.”  I hope that it brings gladness to your heart or to your esophagus or some other vital organ.  Always remember that the tea from the tap could be too hot or it could be too cold or probably it may be “too just right.”

These events happened sometime in the 1955 – 1957 time period.  I wanted to record my observations in an essay before I grew too old to remember them.  If you order a cup of tea somewhere and pronounce it “too just right,” do not expect that the waitress will be pleased with you.  And so, on that note, I conclude this essay about Blondie, Ann Hincks, Jessie and Chris Neilsen, and, regrettably, the priest from Our Lady of Peace who did not share in the tea drinking.  Maureen lives in New York now and the next time she comes around here, I will remind her that she owes a cup of tea to the priest from Our Lady of Peace church.  I suspect that she will be pleased.


October 22, 2012

Essay 709


Kevin’s commentary: Another favorite, easy.  First off, the idea of my aunt being anywhere but New York city, much less a farm. I probably could not think of someone less suited to a farm if I tried, but apparently she did it. Beyond that, it brings me some weird happiness to think about Pop playing with his kids who are now in their fifties. Or mid thirties, in the case of my mother, according to her.


In the late 1940s, I found myself in Boston.  I had always thought of Boston as being among one of the cooler climes.  But this was in August and I found myself sweating profusely.  As a final resort, I repaired to a movie theater that offered some sort of cooling.  I am not sure at this time whether the term “air conditioning” had been invented.  But at any rate I found myself trying to be cool and watching a movie called “The Babe Ruth Story.”  You will recall that the owners of the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.  Bostonians have always contended that that [sic] is why they won no pennants for something in excess of 50 years.  But the air conditioning, such as it was, in the movie theater was not much help and shortly thereafter I returned to the hotel, which was also without air conditioning.

Before we go further, it might be helpful to deconstruct the term “air conditioning.”  It was a term that came into general use, according to my memory, sometime in the 1930s.  Basically it applied to fans that moved the air, which was a bit better than nothing.  The fact of the matter is that if we refer to heating in the winter, why should there not be a word called “cooling” in the summer?

It was in this period of time when there were movies that were shown to people in automobiles.  There was no such thing as an air-conditioned movie theater at that time, so the next best thing was to go to movies whose patrons never left their cars.  Similarly, there was widespread eating in automobiles.  Rather than going into a restaurant on the hot days in August, people would gather at drive-in restaurants to consume a meal.  I have had some of those meals and I must report that they were a bit less satisfying than the meals served in restaurants.

The United States is not a tropical country yet a part of it has sections where the temperature will reach the upper nineties Fahrenheit during the summer.  And so a lively business had sprung up post-World War II in the so-called air conditioning business.

Now before we go further, I have no great quarrel with the term “air conditioning.”  It seems to me that if we have heat in the winter, why do we not have coolness in the summer?  But we are stuck with the term air conditioning.  So much so is this the case that any house offered for sale need only use the initials AC to announce that it is air-conditioned.

Europeans for whatever reason have determined that there is not much of a need for air conditioning.  Over the years I have spent several summer weeks in Europe and I tend to agree with the Europeans.  Not long ago I asked my great and good friend Sven Lernevall to take a look at the houses that were offered for sale in Stockholm.  He reported back that of 33 or 34 residences offered for sale, none of them advertised that they were air conditioned.  But the fact of the matter is that Americans do not wish to be troubled by high temperatures.  They insist upon having their homes and offices cooled.  I suspect that there is a reason why Europeans advertising a house for sale for example in Stockholm would not offer air conditioning whereas in this country in Texas and in some sections of Florida the heat becomes insufferable and air conditioning is a must.

Now, look at it this way.  To use myself as an example, I grew up in an un-air-conditioned home and had no idea about air conditioning until I bought a new house in New Providence, New Jersey.  The house cost $26,000 in 1957.  It was a new home and I thought that even here in New Jersey, which is above the torrid zones, I could escape without air conditioning.  But nonetheless, after a few years I thought that it was necessary to air condition the house.

Now, as I say I grew up in homes which were un-air-conditioned.  I attended schools that were un-air-conditioned.  I went to doctors’ offices that were un-air-conditioned.  In short, until after I returned to this country in 1946 or 1947, there was no such thing as air conditioning.  Once the move started to air-condition homes and offices, there was no stopping it.  I suspect that today, if a home were offered for sale with a sale price being above $20,000, it would have no takers without air conditioning.

I think that is probably enough on the subject of cooling our homes and offices.  We turn now to the heating side of this equation.  Apparently Europeans and Israelis, to name two examples, are much hardier folks than the average American.  I offer two examples.  Sometime in the late 1970s, I was invited to a new home to attend a party with several of my colleagues from the Irish Telecommunications Authority.  As the end of the evening approached, we were seated in the living room around a small small small peat fire that projected no warmth to the inhabitants.  But the Irish paid no attention.  Apparently they had come equipped with sweaters or perhaps they are simply tougher than Americans.  I remember to this day the cold creeping on my shoulders and hoping that soon the evening would come to an end.

Similarly, on another occasion I was invited to a home in Israel.  That home was in Jerusalem.  Apparently, as in the case of the Irish home, it had no central heat.  My teeth did not really chatter but they were within one millimeter of chattering.  In this country, the question would have been, “Shall we set the heat at 75º or a little higher?”  That was not the way it was done in Ireland or in Israel.

So as I said, I was raised in a home without air conditioning and as far as the heat went, it was a function of our well being.  We were well enough off to buy coal, which tended to last all evening.  But when we had to depend upon wood, the fire in the furnace would peter out about midnight.

And so I do not recall “the good old days” when it comes to heating and cooling.  Even here in New Jersey, which is well beyond the torrid zones, I have found it necessary to air condition my homes and to provide them with furnaces that are in good order.  But if we are to take the examples of the Irish and the Israelis, who seem to have no central heating in their homes or offices, it appears then that the Americans have indeed gone soft.  If the rest of the world challenges us on our alleged softness, I would remember the cold nights in Missouri, where I was born, when the fire petered out at about midnight.

In the summer, the temperatures in the great state of Missouri would often approach 100ºF.  Because St. Louis is under the influence of the humidity of the Mississippi River and the Missouri River as well as the Merrimac River, all of which contributed to misery for its citizens.  Taking one thing with another, I do not long for the days of summer when we had no cooling devices.  I am glad that those days are gone.

Similarly, in the winter I do not long for the days when it was necessary to stoke the furnace in the hope that it would not run out before daybreak.  It is alleged that this country has an endless supply of natural gas so the winters are pretty much taken care of.  Electricity feeds our air conditioners in the summer, so that is taken care of too.  But whether or not Americans have gone soft, I plead no defense.

I suspect that visitors to our homes and offices in this country might think why we make such a big deal about our heating and cooling.  On the other hand, if we can cool our homes and offices, it lends much to the effort to make our lives a bit more pleasant.  So with that thought, I conclude that it may be that Americans have gone soft, but what are you going to do about it?  When the temperature reaches 100ºF in the summer or when the temperature goes to 20ºF in the winter, I am greatly pleased by the sound of the air conditioner in the summer and the furnace in the winter.  If that makes me a softie, I would say, “So be it.”   I am comfortable and that is all that matters.


October 22, 2012

Essay 708


Kevin’s commentary: Man, as an essay-categorizer this one put me in a bit of a pinch. I have a tag for these essays that I really enjoy using called “Objections to Modernity” but this one is just the opposite. However, celebrations of modernity isn’t going to be nearly a big enough theme to merit its own topic, so I guess in the end I will file it under the “objections” tag anyway but have this little clarifying note to explain that decision.

Meanwhile I always appreciated the value of AC, having grown up in a part of Texas that routinely hangs out at over 100 degrees for several months at a time. Until I went to college in the Midwest, I actually had no idea that buildings without AC were even things that existed.  The notion of one had simply never occurred to me. The other side of this coin though was that heating was pretty much unnecessary, but just under three weeks ago I moved down to a house in Mountain View whose owner does not believe in turning on the heating. Turns out that a 63 degree house is pretty miserable, so I’m now the proud owner of a space heater and I too could not be happier with it.


As soon as I could after the war, I returned to work for the AT&T Corporation in St. Louis.  It may not have been the wisest move I ever made but Congress had passed a law that provided that those of us who had worked in industry prior to military service should be reinstated.

AT&T rented quarters from the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in the headquarters building at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis.  Across the street was a small delicatessen operated by three Greek fellows.  The father was a man in his late fifties or sixties who had completed the immigration requirements.   Two of his sons worked the counter of the deli.  Because it was so close to the telephone company, it did not lack for business.  My recollection is that this delicatessen did not serve dinners.  It started early in the morning, and somewhere around 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock they were done for the day.

The sons who worked the counter of the deli were engaging men.  They were both about my age, which would have been 23, 24, or 25 years.  Both of them had served in the United States armed forces during the Second World War.

The elder son was a husky fellow who did not waste much time with customers if they did not know what they wanted.  After a short time, he and I became good friends.  An incident took place between the elder son and myself in the early months of 1946.  At that point, the Second World War was very much on everyone’s mind.  Certainly it was on the minds of myself and the man who worked the counter at the deli.

There came a time when during a lull in the business at the counter the elder son turned to me and asked a personal question.  He knew of course that I was away during the war years.  He looked directly at me and said, “You were in the Army.”  I told him that I had so served.  He then asked me, “Did you ever get kissed?”  I knew exactly what he meant.  He was asking whether I had ever been shot during my service in the Army.  I told the older son who worked at the counter that as a matter of fact I did indeed get kissed.  I explained to him that it was not a bullet that got me kissed but an anti-aircraft gun spraying white hot flak during the bombing raid on Ancona on December 8, 1943.

Flak is an acronym.  I do not know what the initials F L A K stand for anymore.  After all, this was about 70 years ago.  When the German gunners shot at us flying overhead, the shells would explode and flak would go in every direction.  I suppose the German gunners on the ground hoped that the flak from their shells would kill or injure us.  Secondarily, they hoped that the flak from the bursting shells would cripple an engine.

Flak was a continuing worry for all of us.  When a shell exploded, small segments heated white-hot would penetrate the surrounding air.  I was “kissed” by one of these elements of flak.  When I answered the question about being kissed, the man who worked at the deli counter told me that he had been shot in the foot or leg.  So here we were, young men less than 25 years of age, discussing how we had been kissed.

But it seems that even after the passage of 65 or more years, I was glad to be able to answer the fellow who worked the deli counter, letting him know that I understood what getting kissed really was.  From that date forward, he and I enjoyed a close relationship.  I suspect that if he has survived he would be, like me, in his nineties.  I would not be surprised if for the bulk of his life he was running a restaurant or a deli somewhere.  But wherever he is, I hope that he is alive and, more than anything else, I wish him well.  He was a hard-working fellow as were his father and his brother.  When you ordered a cup of coffee, at least for me he would keep the cup filled until I showed signs of leaving.

That is my story at this very late date about getting “kissed” and about the existence of flak.  I suppose that flak would kill as many soldiers as bullets.  Obviously I don’t have an account of that relationship.  But they shot at us and we shot at them in the nature of war.  Those days are gone now and I wish that they would never ever return.  If you are ever asked about getting kissed or about flak, you now have the necessary ingredients to formulate a comprehensive answer.  As for me, I am pleased with the fact that “getting kissed” is no longer a concern of mine and that is the way I like it.



October 20, 2012

Essay 707

Postscript: Flak is an acronym for the German word Fliegerabwehrkanone.  Even Hitler himself would have trouble spitting this word out.


Kevin’s commentary: One of Pop’s recent favorites, and for good reason.  You can check out a quick video on Flak weapons in Europe here. Having watched it I think of the phrase “getting flak” for something and immediately hope that I never get to experience this in a literal way. Simultaneously I can say that I’ve never been kissed and I’m rather happy about that.



This essay about Purgatory comes about because of my insatiable curiosity.  It is not meant as a diatribe against the Catholic belief.  On the other hand, it is meant to determine what is meant by Purgatory and what we must do while we are here on Earth to enjoy the benefits or lack of benefits of Purgatory.

There was a time about eight or nine years ago when on Monday evenings Miss Chicka, my wife, and I would watch a program on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).  I suppose that we watched this program on Monday evenings for about four years or thereabouts.  The main attraction was that the EWTN program featured a woman called Mother Angelica who was entertaining in herself.  We were primarily interested in a news program run by Aaron Brown who was an erudite fellow who came on after Mother Angelica.  As far as I know, Mother Angelica never met Aaron Brown but it seems to me that they were a duet made for broadcasting.  Mother Angelica was a glib spokesman for the Catholic Church who attracted viewers such as myself because of her Irish wit.

Unfortunately Mother Angelica had a stroke that deprived her of speech.   She was succeeded by a strict constructionist named Johnette whose last name was of eastern European origin.  Johnette was very much like Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court in that she wanted to know exactly what the writers of Bible verses really meant.  The fact that we are more than 2,000 years past the writing of the Bible made very little difference to Johnette.  She was still looking under every nook and cranny to determine the true meaning of every word in the Bible.

Remember we only watched this program on Monday evenings.  During the time that Mother Angelica ran the program, it had two priests who discussed various interpretations of church doctrine including Purgatory.  Clearly they accepted the idea of there being a Purgatory at the end of the line.  But they were not enthusiastic about discussing the virtues of Purgatory.  They more or less said, “Here it is.  Believe it or not.” Clearly they were not endorsing spreading the gospel about Purgatory.

All of this happened when I could still see, which was under the reign of the previous Pope, preceding Joseph Ratzinger.  I believe his name was John Paul.  For more than seven or eight years, I have been pondering the doctrine of Purgatory.  When Joseph Ratzinger assumed the Papacy, he announced that he wished to take the Church back to the second century.  It is possible that in the second century of the Common Era, Purgatory was not a doctrine of the Catholic faith.

In any case, during the reign of Joseph Ratzinger, there has been much less attention paid to the prospect of Purgatory.  So before the idea of Purgatory goes by the boards, which it may never do, I wanted to hear of the virtues of Purgatory.  I had thought that under Joseph Ratzinger who seemed to want to take the Church backward, we would have more concentration on Purgatory.  Ah, but that is not the case.  Ratzinger is a fellow fairly high in his eighties who may just have forgotten this doctrine of the Catholic faith.

But no matter.  My curiosity led me to question what Purgatory is all about.

Apparently, Purgatory is a step short of Heaven.  If I understand correctly, once a person is good and dead, he will proceed to Purgatory where his sins will be purged from him.  This of course is the reason for the title of Purgatory.  The question then follows.  Suppose that the Pope or some other high official in the Catholic Church expires so that he winds up in Purgatory.  Let us also assume that he has kept the vows of celibacy for his entire life.  He has not even winked at a comely girl.  My curious nature demands to know how long such a person would serve in Purgatory.

The next question involves who administers Purgatory.  Is it God Himself or has he delegated this to Jesus?

The next issue involves me personally.  If a non-believer such as myself gives up the ghost, is he floating around until his fate is ultimately determined?  I know that some of my readers would say that Ezra should proceed directly to Hell.  But that is not a charitable view.  To whom should I present my case for going directly into Heaven?  I do not subscribe to the idea of Purgatory.  I would cite that lack of belief for my entry directly into Heaven.

Now according to the priest on EWTN, there have been cases where souls have lingered for many many years in Purgatory.  Presumably these supporters have been so conflicted and have not prayed hard enough or have not supported the Church in its holy works so that the person incarcerated in Purgatory should be released.  I am wondering whether or not there is a list of those in Purgatory and the number of days or years or millennia along side their names to show how long they have been in Purgatory.

As you can see, my curious nature was aroused by Mother Angelica.  If she believed in Purgatory or not is open to dispute, I suppose, because Mother Angelica, as a result of her stroke, can no longer speak.  But for me, as part of my continuing education I would like to know what the virtues or non-virtues of the doctrine of Purgatory are.

Now there is one other aspect of Purgatory that has to do with semantics.  Prior to my leaving to serve in the Army from 1942 to 1945, I did not know of the existence of the word laxative.  The word that we used in those days was purgative.  Later on, when I returned from the Army I suppose that I was corrected by a female in the family who said that the proper term for a purgative was now called a laxative.

When I was a small child, my older sister Opal and I attended a baseball game at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  As part of a promotion project, handfuls of a laxative called Feenamint were passed out.  Feenamint came in very small tablets coated with sugar.  They were much like the so-called P K Chewing Gum that existed for a long time with the rest of the Wrigley products.  My sister Opal let me have a Feenamint and I barely made it home, thus avoiding a colossal disaster.


Well, this is the end of my inquiry into Purgatory and purgatives.  As I stated at the outset, I do not mean for this inquiry to be anything more than an attempt to satisfy my own curiosity.

For all the years of my life, curiosity has led me to attempt to educate myself.  And so it is that if there are those of you who read these essays who are so inclined to educate me on the virtues or even the non-virtues of Purgatory, you will find me a willing listener.  Again, my intention is not in any way to demean those beliefs.  My intention is simply to learn.

And now, having stated my case, both for curiosity and learning, I will retire to my chair in the living room and await the responses from those who are more accomplished in the field of religious belief, particularly Purgatory, than I am.  I am willing to listen to all comers.



October 20, 2012

Essay 706


Kevin’s commentary: First essay published after the storm! This essay and eight of its brothers were held up by Ms. Sandy.  I am no more experienced than Pop is, here, I’m afraid.

My question about Purgatory has to do chiefly with timelines. Since those who die live on eternally in the afterlife, and eternity is a rather long time, and Christians probably don’t subscribe to ideas like the heat death of the universe and even if they did I’m sure heaven would be exempt… I simply wonder whether Purgatory works on astrological or human timelines. If a trillion trillion years is an infinitesimally small slice of eternity, who is to say that even a minor sin won’t land me in Purgatory for some insanely long, yet finite amount of time? I guess that it’d still be decently interesting though, since you’re in the only place where the whole population is gradually rotating through. In heaven and hell you have new entrants, sure, but there aren’t really that many other places to go. Unless there’s like, social climbing in heaven? Heaven’s heaven? Concentric circles, dante-style? It’s all unclear.

I’ve always wondered too, what happens if an asteroid or something hits Earth, or there’s a nuclear war or something of insanely epic scales that kills all humans and almost eliminates all life on the planet. After a few hundred million years, lets say the life that survived whatever happened is in a position to re-evolve sentience. Now, such creatures would at least be DNA-based and a little bit like us. They would probably re-derive arithmetic and calculus and physics and whathaveyou but what they almost certainly would not re-derive is the story of Noah’s ark, Adam and Eve, and especially not the magic man from millions of years ago and his book that tells you how to get into heaven.  Would the criteria for heaven change to accept these new creatures? If not, would Puragatory just gradually empty into heaven, and then that’s just locked in for the rest of time? Who is the last person to leave purgatory? Does he lock the door on the way out?