Archive for the January Category


Umeå is an important Swedish port on the upper reaches of the Baltic Sea. The pronunciation of its name has always been in doubt for those of us who do not speak Swedish. Some English speakers call it Oomea while others refer to it as Youmea. This is quite understandable in that Swen of Umeå has assured me that one of the syllables in that word is unpronounceable by English speakers. I am no longer troubled by my inability to pronounce the name of that important city properly.

Sven Lernevall is my old and treasured friend. Umeå, of course, is Sven’s birthplace. In 1935 or thereabouts, Sven of Umeå began his study of the English language. This took place at the Hans-Sven Christian-Lars Andersson School Number One located on Birgitt Nilsson Street. As a result of years of study, Sven speaks English perfectly, as does his wife Ella. Sven’s prose in English is a joy to read. It is both entertaining and clever. So when Sven tells me that English is a rich tongue, I believe him.

In this essay, I intend to offer you examples of the richness of the English language as spoken by two Americans of African heritage. Toward the end of the essay, there will be examples of two prominent Caucasians whose English is largely abominable. Now, let us see what the first speaker has to say.

Charlie Rangel, who has represented a U.S. Congressional District in Harlem for perhaps 40 years, has a minimalist view of George Bush and his administration. Last week Charlie Rangel observed, “George Bush has exploded the myth of white supremacy forever.”

I can only say to Charlie, “That says it all.”

The second quotation comes from a fan of the Washington Redskins football team and was delivered back in 1968. In Washington, DC, there are many people who view the Redskins’ fortunes as more of a religion than an exercise in sports. I was a lobbyist for nearly four years in Washington, and every government official I contacted assumed that I had season tickets to the Redskins’ games at Griffith’s Stadium. In point of fact, I did. But those tickets had to be rationed, because there were only eight games to be played at home and I had many more contacts than that in government. Attending the Redskins’ games, I found myself sitting behind a portly woman who had a stentorian voice. This lady followed every move on the field and commented on its execution in a loud voice that could be heard through much of our section of the stadium.

Now, before I go further, it will be incumbent upon me to explain the rules of American football to my Swedish friends. As a matter of fact, I will only explain one rule, not all of them. The offensive team is given four tries, called downs, to make an advance of ten yards. A yard is 36 inches long, while a meter is 39 inches long, which will serve as a pretty good comparison. If the offensive team achieves the goal of advancing the ball ten yards or more, they are awarded with another set of downs. If they do not do this, they are forced to give up the ball. To measure the advance toward a potential first down, two men with poles linked by a ten yard chain stand on the sidelines. One man marks where the ball starts in play and the other man marks where a first down should occur. Obviously, these people are called “the chain gang.” When the referee or other officials have doubt about whether a first down has occurred, they call for the chain gang to come in and to measure the advance of the ball. And that brings us to my portly friend with the stentorian voice.

Remember I said earlier that Redskins’ fans have a religious flavor to their support of their team. On the field right in front of us, there was a dispute as to whether a Redskins’ runner had advanced the ball ten yards to a new first down. In all such situations, the referee and the head linesman go to the sidelines to the chain gang and bring the chains in to measure. That did not set well with my portly friend with the stentorian voice. She said, “Don’t f—* around with that measurin’ s—*. He made it.” For those of you who are wondering about the asterisks, the first asterisk rhymes with “luck,” and the second rhymes with “spit.”

The head linesman heard this remark by my portly friend and was convulsed. Needless to say, I almost fell out of my chair with laughter. But, as I remember it, she was absolutely right. The Redskin runner had made a new first down.

So there you have two excellent examples of the richness of the English language. Maybe the fact that both were uttered by African Americans may tell you something.

Now we turn to two examples from high officials in the American government who are Caucasian. The first is George Bush. Mr. Bush refuses to pronounce English words as they are written. An imaginary sentence from The Great Decider might go like this: “The Seketary of Defense has failed to reconize the nucular storm that causes the secular, or is it sectarian, violence in Iraq.” The fact is that English is not a rich language for George Bush. It is his nightmare.

Mr. Bush’s opponent in the 2004 election has his demerits too. In a speech a month ago, which was typed out and which was laid on the lectern before him, John Kerry made a joke to some young men that if they did not study well they would wind up in Iraq. The whole context and the whole point was aimed at George Bush. Nonetheless, after Kerry spoke, the White House claimed, without any merit, that Kerry was demeaning the troops in Iraq. They demanded an apology. Although the reference was clearly and totally to George Bush, Kerry actually apologized. That man has lost his cojones as he has served in the United States Senate.

Bush and Kerry both attended Yale University in New Haven. I have asked the Connecticut authorities to lift the university’s accreditation to teach English. These two men could not hold a candle to Charlie Rangel or to my portly friend at the Redskins’ game.

Well, there you have my thoughts about English being a rich language. I have no fluency in any foreign tongue so I must take the evaluations of Ella and Sven Lernevall seriously. I deeply regret that Sven was not sitting beside me when the portly lady delivered her lecture to the officials at the Redskins’ game. He would have considered her remarks and the words of Charlie Rangel as great additions to the richness of the English language. As far as Bush and Kerry are concerned, I can only use Charlie Rangel’s remarks as a template. I must observe that Bush and Kerry have exploded the myth of the superiority of an Ivy League education totally and forever. And that’s no joke.

January 31, 2007
Essay 227

Authors Note:
The Chancellor of Grinnell College in Iowa has sent me an angry letter about scholar Harry Livermore. The Chancellor says that I failed to mention doctoral degrees conferred on candidates who achieve the third degree or the nth degree. He further notes that I failed to mention the graduate truck driving school where candidates are given doctorates for successfully completing 90 degree and 180 degree turns. The Chancellor has my abject apologies.

Kevin’s commentary: Pop should have learned his lessons about Ivy league schools before he sent his daughter to one, presumably. Ah well, she turned out fine.

Now I feel like I’ve done commentary on this one before but I could find no evidence of it on the site, so I’m sorry if this feels like a repeat to you as well. Hell of an essay, though — I love the ones on language.


When anyone has lived as long as I have, it would be foolish to claim that there have not been some mistakes along the way.  The Great Decider may differ with that conclusion, but he is busy trying to extricate the United States from the mess he has created in Iraq.  These are some of my mistakes, which are not necessarily of major league caliber.

The title has to do with a baseball metaphor.  When a pitcher throws a pitch that the catcher has no hope of catching, the official scorer will rule it a wild pitch. On the other hand, if the pitcher throws a pitch that the catcher should have caught and he misses it, the official scorer will consider it a passed ball.  In my existence, there have been more than one or two wild pitches and a similar number of passed balls.  Let me tell you about them.


This incident took place in Moscow.  It happened after Stalin died and there were a succession of strongmen  such as Brezhnev and Khrushchev.  Moscow was always a dismal place for American travelers. In this instance, Howard Pappert and I found ourselves in Moscow at the end of a long two-week trip.

I felt a cold coming on and my supply of Kleenex, which I carry in my pockets, was running low.  Stupidly, I set out one afternoon to locate a new supply of Kleenex.  In point of fact, there was no such thing as Kleenex in that era in Moscow nor all of Russia.

Outside our rooms near the elevator was a stern woman who gave us the keys to our rooms and who demanded them back before we left the hotel. She was a no-nonsense person who, I thought, was part of the Secret Police apparatus.  I showed her my pocket-sized pack of Kleenex and hoped that she could tell me where I could buy another package.  She had no interest whatsoever and in effect told me to get lost.  That is what I did.

It had always been my belief that the largest department store in Moscow would carry such an item.  That large department store was called G.U.M.   When Howard and I found the G.U.M. department store, it turned out to be an enormous warehouse with high ceilings and with clerks whose main function seemed to be to refer you to another clerk. The Russian clerks did not inform the prospective buyer that they had no such item, but rather they referred you to another clerk who was equally unhelpful.  After four or five such interviews, I concluded that the G.U.M. department store had no Kleenex.  If an investigator had been called in, he would have informed me that there was no Kleenex factory in the Soviet Union, as it was called then.  And he would have informed me that the Russians would not import this item.  One such clerk thought that I had lost my sanity when I demonstrated to her that the Kleenex could be blown on and then thrown away into a waste basket. This must have seemed entirely wasteful to this female clerk, who must have regarded American ways as wasteful.

I made do with whatever Kleenex that were left and when Howard and I boarded the Swissair jet for the flight to Warsaw at six o’clock the following morning, we were happy people.  After shots of brandy were offered by our Russian hosts and then by the steward on the Swiss airliner, my on-coming cold seemed to disappear.  So much for Kleenex in the Soviet Union or, as it is now called, Russia.


Now, we turn to my experience with the International hotel industry.  Because American travelers stay in hotels, there is a natural affinity between the telephone industry and the hoteliers.  The custom at the time was for the hoteliers to add enormous surcharges on calls from their establishments  back to the United States.  In many cases, the hotel would add a surcharge of more than 300%, which was all profit for them.  AT&T mounted a campaign called Teleplan, with the thought that if the hotels would quit the imposition of enormous surcharges, AT&T would run advertisements in this country informing travelers of that fact.  This would mean more business for the hotels and it would mean more business for AT&T’s international operations.  The first two agreements  covered all hotels in Israel and in Ireland.

The International Hotel Association held two meetings a year in exotic spots.  One of such meetings was held in Katmandu, Nepal.  Because I was to make a speech at this convention, I asked that our suppliers in this country prepare scarves and neckties with the Teleplan logo on them to be offered to the attendees at the International Hotel Association meeting in Katmandu.  Obviously there was some expense involved because these were intended as keepsake items.  When the neckties and scarves were finished, the manufacturer brought them around to show me what had been done and also to show me the large box into which these items were to be placed to be mailed to me at my Katmandu hotel.  The scarves and neckties were impressive.

I should have known that there was trouble in the air when I was informed that it would be necessary to pay the Nepalese Customs Office a substantial sum of money.  I believe the rake-off came to nearly $100. When the box containing the scarves and neckties did not show up in Katmandu in time for me to use them, I went to the Post Office.  There I found the box that had been shown to me by the manufacturer of the scarves and neckties, and it had been torn apart.  There was not a single item left in the box.  The clerks at the Post Office began to offer me degraded English until I finally arrived at the thought that very few things get through Nepalese customs without being pilfered.  I was out my $100 as well as the scarves and neckties.  Cal Tuggle, who accompanied me on this trip, claims that on the streets of Katmandu, he saw dozens of beggars and bicycle-riding boys with Teleplan scarves around their foreheads and wearing Teleplan ties.  But Cal Tuggle wears glasses and I am sure he was quite mistaken.

In the final analysis, the speech went well but it would have been better had we had scarves and neckties.  And there was a view from our hotel rooms of Mount Everest.  I know Katmandu is a long way to go, but where can anybody else find a view of Mount Everest?  The lesson I learned was to never, never trust the Nepalese custom’s office.


There is a third gaffe on my part which qualifies as either a wild pitch or a passed ball.  On October 31, 2005, following the unsuccessful surgery on my eyes, I intended to retire for the evening.  I was led to the bathroom by a licensed practical nurse so that I could brush my teeth. Being newly blind, I assumed that it would be easy for me to hold my toothbrush in my left hand and spread the toothpaste on the bristles with my right hand as I had always done.  This was a great mistake.  The toothpaste went everywhere except upon the bristles.  There was toothpaste on my hand as well as on the washbasin.  For the next eleven days while I was still in Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, brushing my teeth was a struggle. Finally my wife suggested that as a child, she used to put toothpaste on the index and middle fingers of her right hand and wipe it on the lower teeth in her mouth.  I thought this was a juvenile thing to do but my attempt to brush my teeth had now reached desperate proportions.  So I tried the Miss Chicka method and it seemed to work. Since that time, I have used her method to the exclusion of all others.


All of this brings to mind the example of Charlie Windsor (nee Wettig) who bears the title of Prince of Wales in the English Monarchy.  For years it was alleged that on his trips to the bathroom, Charlie was accompanied by at least one or two footmen.  When he went to brush his teeth, Charlie the prince held out his toothbrush and one of the footmen would spread the paste on its bristles.  Biographers have not settled upon whether Charlie brushed his teeth or whether one of the footmen did the scrubbing.  It is ironic that a footman is expected to brush the teeth of the future King of England.

The Prince of Wales remarried about 18 months ago to his paramour of 35 years, Camilla Parker-Bowles.  The British Official Secrecy Act prevents us from knowing whether Camilla performs the services formerly provided by footmen or whether the footmen are still at work.

Upon my release from the Wills Eye Hospital, I returned home and searched the want ads in the Star-Ledger of New Jersey newspaper. Unfortunately, there were no footmen advertised as being willing to work on a commoner such as myself.  Perhaps this may be another case where illegal immigrants will perform work that Americans refuse to do.  In any case, after 16 months, I still put the toothpaste on the forefinger and middle finger of my right hand and wipe it off on the inside of my lower teeth.  No longer do I worry about spreading the toothpaste over my hand or the washbasin.  Whether this constitutes a wild pitch or a passed ball, I will leave it to the official scorer to make his determination.

Well, there you have three examples of wild pitches and passed balls. All of them involve your old essayist. I intend to keep the wild pitch and passed balls category open for future gaffes.  With the 2008 presidential race warming up already, I am quite certain that within a month or two I will have more gaffes to report.  These will keep the official scorer and the Great Decider busy until the new president takes office.  If the new president has “WP” or “PB” after his/her name, you will know that he or she is one of us.


January 30, 2007
Essay 232
Kevin’s commentary: You know, I don’t recall another essay of a similar name cropping up anywhere between this one in 2007 and the 2014 essays. I will of course take this to mean that Pop has made no mistakes since then. As evidence of this claim, in part of a note to the family recently, Pop wrote that “I hope that I have not offended any of you and I do not think that I have offended any of you. If you think that I have, stand up and I will try to knock you down.” To my knowledge nobody had to go up to New Jersey the next day to be knocked down, which is obviously a good sign.

For better or worse though the part of this essay that stood out to me the most was the news on Kleenex. I grew up in Austin and was prone to getting Cedar Fever in January, a month in which I invariably ran through boxes upon boxes of tissue. To this day you would be hard-pressed to find me without a Kleenex in my left pocket. That said, when I read the news about their nonexistence in the soviet union, I thought of two things.

First, did they use disposable napkins, or were the napkins all cloth? If they were disposable I feel like they make decent enough substitutes for Kleenex, as do paper towels. If cloth napkins were used, that’s pretty damn close to a handkerchief, an item which I have never personally made use of but certainly would do the job. Finally if all of these options failed, certainly there must have been toilet paper available. Did you inquire after the GUM store’s best two-ply?

P.S. Today I uploaded a very unique picture to the essay published yesterday, “MAKING FRIENDS.” I wish today that we could claim to be a friend of “all Arab nations” as we could then.


Making friends has always come easily to me. I find that a handshake and calling the other person by his name tends to open the door to new friendships. Showing an interest in what the other person is doing or where he has lived tends to promote that friendship.

My father did not have that gift at all. My mother was an accomplished friend-maker. My brother Earl, an insurance salesman, made friends by the score. My other elder brother Charlie, who was given to lecturing on religious matters, enjoyed much less success in friend-making. I don’t work at it; it is simply a part of my nature.

If I were to do an analysis of my attempts to make friends, I believe that much of it would flow from being brought up during the destitution that marked the American Depression and from being an enlisted man in the United States Army. With that background, I have long since been accustomed to disappointments and rejections. Making friends, particularly among those who do the heavy lifting in this life, has tended to be one of my responses.

When I speak of heavy lifters, the best example I can give you is of one of our garbage collectors. This neighborhood is located about 300 feet from a wooded water reserve where wild animals such as deer and raccoons tend to live. Garbage put out at street level in a plastic bag will not survive the night. It will be torn apart by the animals seeking something to eat. For this reason, the plastic bags are placed in a garbage can or, in polite language, a garbage receptacle.

In the morning, if the garbage men reach our garbage before I go out to retrieve the can, they take the plastic bag and put it in the back of their truck. On the other hand, there are times when the garbage men are a little late and, when I go to retrieve the can, I take the garbage out and put it at the curb side.

Tending to the garbage in my current condition is one of my major accomplishments. I pride myself on finding my way down the 90-foot driveway, taking the plastic bag out of the container, and then, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks that line the driveway, returning to the garage. It may not seem much to anyone who retrieves garbage cans, but to me it is one of my triumphs.

You may remember an earlier essay entitled “Thanksgiving 2006.” On the Wednesday morning before the Thanksgiving holiday, I arrived at the garbage can at about the same time as the garbage collector showed up. I reached into the garbage can, pulled the plastic bag out, and handed it to the refuse collector. He thanked me for my efforts. As he turned to walk toward his truck, I said to him, “Hey, come back here. I want to shake your hand and wish you a happy Thanksgiving.”

The refuse collector came to me, took off his glove, and we wished each other to have a happy Thanksgiving. One way or another, I am convinced that the refuse collector genuinely meant it when he said that I should enjoy the coming holiday. I know that I meant it when I expressed those wishes to him. Before this essay is finished, there will be a reprise about that same garbage man.

Before we reach the reprise, I believe it would be fair to site an example of making friends and one of making non-friends, or in plain English, making enemies. First the friend making example. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt met with King Saud of Saudi Arabia on a heavy U.S. cruiser off the shores of that country. The King and the Muslims in the Arab world understood that the American President was not their enemy but intended to deal fairly with them. The result was a low price for oil and the friendship of the nations in the Arab world.

While the President of the United States was meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, there were raging battles in much of North Africa. Basically, it was the United States First Army pitted against the vaunted Afrika Corp of Germany under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During those battles, all of us who flew in combat carried a letter addressed to “Every Noble Arab.” A copy of that letter, which I have saved from early 1943, is included. To my knowledge, the Arabs did not turn over downed American airmen to the Germans but rather directed them toward water, food and rescue. I was the beneficiary of such treatment in early August of 1943. The Arabs have a long tradition of hospitality and American airmen were the recipients of those gestures. The United States profited from having the Arabs on our side during battles that would determine the fate of our invasion of Europe.

On the other hand, it grieves me to report that there are examples where making non-friends or perhaps enemies, seems to be in vogue. My former employer of 43 years communicates with all of its pensioners rarely except to ask us to support their efforts in an enactment of legislation. While AT&T is silent on the communications front, it has unilaterally imposed a draconian increase in the drug benefit program amounting, in many cases, to as much as 300%. This is no way to make friends, particularly among retired people who ordinarily would view AT&T in sympathetic terms. Simply put, the new AT&T could have made friends with its pensioners but it has decided to do otherwise.

Well, so you see, what the U.S. Government did under Franklin Roosevelt merits applause, and what AT&T has done, merits stony silence.

Earlier I had promised a reprise of the garbage collector incident, but upon reflection, it has grown by a factor of one. I find that my friendships with people who labor at the bottom of the social structure are very rewarding. The men who work in the produce section, the woman who sweeps the floor at the market, the waiters at restaurants, and the men who sell gasoline for our cars are my friends. They are the people who do the heavy lifting.

There is Rita, for example, a domestic who speaks limited English, who walked by me on her way to work. When she saw me getting the garbage containers lined up to be taken back to the garage, Rita became my friend and insisted that she would take them. Perhaps it is a fact that those garbage cans are friend makers. Rita is certainly one of my new found friends.

Now to complete the story that I had promised in the opening paragraph, we return to the refuse collector whom I met before Thanksgiving and met again today, January 30th, 2007. Every other week it is necessary to take a second garbage container to the street to carry bottles and cans so that they may be re-cycled. This morning when I went to the street, the recycle people had already been there but the garbage had not been picked up. As I maneuvered to get the recycle container in a spot where I

could bring it to the garage, the garbage truck came to a stop at the foot of our driveway. As it turns out, the man who had become my friend before Thanksgiving was on the back step. He came over to me and gave me a warm greeting and said that he would take care of the garbage in the plastic bag. He then replaced the tops on the garbage container as well as the recycle can and said to me, “Where do you put these? In the garage?”

I protested and said something to the effect that this is my job and that you guys have plenty to do trying to complete your run. But there was no point in arguing with this fellow. He grabbed both containers and headed for the garage. I tagged along, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks. When I arrived at the garage, he had just completed putting the two containers well inside the limits of the garage. Once again we shook hands and held each other’s arms, and wished each other a happy new year.

I know this fellow is not a Phi Beta Kappa candidate and I know that he is not in the hunt to become the next president of the United States. He is a man who does the heavy lifting. I am privileged to call him my friend. And I am ashamed that I do not know his name.

So you see, making new friends is not a difficult task at all. For this nation, it would be helpful if we had more friends rather than enemies who wish us ill. I am sorry that my elder brother Earl was not here to see my encounter with the refuse collector. Old gregarious Earl would have held the refuse man in his arms and would probably have invited him to dinner. During dinner the refuse man would have probably insisted on Earl selling him an insurance policy. Earl, who was blind as I am, was a good man.

In my case, I feel blessed to be able to make friends so easily. Which brings to mind the quotation from William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Courtyard Revisited,” which is “Count where man’s blessings most begin and end. My blessing is that I have had such friends.” A man or a person who is blessed with good friends such as Rita and the refuse collector, is a lucky man. I consider myself to be among the most fortunate of men.

January 30, 2007
Essay 233
making friends
Kevin’s commentary: You of course won’t remember the essay from Thanksgiving 2006, because it hasn’t been published yet, but that’s okay. I was actually going to link this essay to one called “Matter of Dignity” that I’ve read a few times before but it also turns out that that one is from 2006 as well. Perhaps I’ll publish it next anyway.

In any event I’ve always thought that this was one of the coolest things about Pop. And you have to be careful how you think about it, because otherwise it might seem condescending, but it truly isn’t. Pop isn’t stepping off any sort of pedestal to come down and acknowledge the people who make his life easier, he actively seeks them out to thank them and learn as much as he can about them. There’s something very different there than, say, the pro athlete who high-fives a ball boy at a sports game, though this sort of behavior also seems to elicit a lot of praise.


The title of this essay is perhaps misleading in that only a small portion of it has to do with athletic supporters. Primarily it has to do with the stupidity of the federal government and the great state of New Jersey in demanding that every automotive driver have a photograph on his driver’s license. This seems to flow from a provision in the so-called Patriot Act. What my photograph on a driver’s license has to do with patriotism is beyond the ken of this old World War II veteran.

I first came to New Jersey in 1955 and went to the motor vehicle office to apply for a driver’s license. There was no eye examination, nor did anybody test me for my driving skills. No one asked me if I was color blind or did I have emotional fits when confronted by demanding situations. For all the years since 1955, New Jersey has issued me a driver’s license upon my payment of their fee. At no time has anyone ever examined my eyes or tested my driving skills. For those of you who have been unaware of recent events, I am now a blind person. Ah, but that did not prevent the federal government and the great state of New Jersey from demanding that I go to my nearest Motor Vehicle Office to renew my driver’s license with my picture on it.

Recently, the great state of New Jersey concluded that if every driver’s license had a photo on it, it would deter terrorists and stop crime completely. Now everyone knows that terrorists are often called Islamic Fascists who ordinarily operate with full beards and mustaches. I strongly suspect that terrorists would probably shave those beards and mustaches to have their picture taken for their driver’s license. Be that as it may, my confidential sources have told me that Osama Bin Laden fainted when he heard the news about New Jersey requiring photographs on drivers’ licenses. In perfect Arabic, Osama said, “This is the end of my terrorist operation.” So you see, New Jersey is doing its part in the so-called War on Terror.

The government has encouraged people who sell airline tickets, for example, to ask for identification and the photograph on the driver’s license will satisfy that request. While I have no great plans to travel abroad, it seemed to me that I could be a patriot and make my contribution to the War on Terror by having my picture on my alleged driver’s license. And so it was that my wife Judy took me to the nearest licensing bureau to undergo the bureaucratic process to gain a non-drivers driver’s license. Upon entry to the driver’s license bureau, we were given a card and whenever the number on the card was called, we would report to the proper clerks. There were at least three places where we had to report. Fortunately, Judy was with me and could read the number on the card. If that were not the case, I suppose I would still be sitting at the driver’s license bureau waiting for my number to be called.

I had a sense that there were large numbers of people working in the licensing bureau. The thought also went through my mind that here I am, with no hope of ever driving a car again, appearing before an army of licensing agents for this great state. It struck me also that my taxes are paying the salaries for this army of agents and that in due time I will be forced to pay for their pensions. That is not a pleasant thought at all.

Nonetheless, we reported to the first station and underwent a degree of processing. Then I was led to another set of chairs and waited for my number to be called a little later. Finally, after about 45 minutes, my number was called the third time. This was the climax of the whole operation in that my photograph was taken to be placed upon my non-drivers driving document.

Ordinarily my wife Judy signs receipts for me because I can no longer see them. But an officious lady at the traffic bureau insisted that I had to sign it myself. Predictably, I ran out of room because I couldn’t see the confines of the place I was supposed to sign. My signature, which appears on my non-driver’s license, has two “E”s and part of a “C” with the rest not being recorded. But that’s what the representative of this great state demanded that I do. In the end, she acquiesced as Judy signed it. Upon hearing this latest development, Osama fell into a deep coma.

The new non-drivers driver’s license is now in my wallet and whenever I am confronted by officials, I can show them the new license which proves that I am not a full-fledged terrorist. There is one drawback in that there are other cards in my wallet and I am unable to select the one that needs to be shown to the proper authorities. The authorities don’t want to see my Master Card or my social security card. They want to see my non-drivers driver’s license which assures them that I am not a terrorist.

When the whole exercise was completed, I presented the representatives of the great state of New Jersey with a check signed by my wife for $24. It might be observed that, after 51 years, there was no one there to judge my driving skills nor was there an optometrist to see about my visual acuity. I had often thought these items were important when operating a motor vehicle but apparently New Jersey thinks otherwise. The last step in the process was to present my former driver’s license and have the official punch a hole through it so that it could be identified by any arresting officers if I were to be caught driving a large truck or a racing car. In that respect, New Jersey is right on the ball.

In 2005, the New Jersey authorities issued me a card which attests to my blindness, and they have given me a blue card to be hung on the rear-view mirror so that a car I am riding in may be parked in a preferred space. I suspect that an arresting officer might notice the blue card hanging from the rear-view mirror and inquire about its origins. Again, the Great State of New Jersey has given me documents that attest to my blindness as well as a non-drivers driver’s license. In all of the civilized world, where can you find authorities as goofy as the ones here in New Jersey. Baghdad? Moscow? Katmandu? The North Pole?

In sum and substance, New Jersey is leading the fight on the War on Terrorism by having all the drivers and non-drivers carry a card with their picture on it. It is quite likely that this development will cause Osama to become a Christian.

The other day when Judy and I tried to open a new savings account at the bank that I have used for 25 years, the branch manager asked for me to present my driver’s license. I was sitting there with my sunglasses and my white cane in front of him. I believe he was thoroughly embarrassed at this faux pas which bothered me not at all. When I presented my non-drivers driver’s license, the account was opened. This is what I call participating in the war on terror to the fullest extent.

All things being equal, it strikes this old grizzled veteran as an exercise in being ensnarled in one’s own jockstrap. That is the way this state and this country operate.

Now to make the title of this essay somewhat more valid, I will report that when I entered high school, one of my friends either bought or was given an athletic supporter. When he took it into the boys’ locker room, older boys assured him that it was in fact a nose guard. My informants tell me that this youngster took the supporter home and wrestled with it for a day or two before an older boy revealed what it was intended to do. Whenever I think of New Jersey and its driver’s license requirements, the sight of this youngster comes to mind with his trying to figure out where the holes are for his arms so that the nose guard would be in place properly. But that was just one boy. In New Jersey, we have an army on the payroll attempting to unsnarl their jockstraps. But I am deeply comforted by the card in my wallet, which resides on my left hip, which is a non-drivers driver’s license. Every American should be so comforted.

January 31, 2007
Essay 231
Kevin’s commentary: People credit Obama’s leadership with Osama’s death, but in reality the terrorist leader had been crippled for years as a direct result of Pop’s efforts.

P.S. We’re introducing the long-overdue “funny” tag. Hopefully it’ll get some good mileage out of 2007. Cheers!


After my essay on “Whistles” was completed, it struck me that as a matter of equity, there should be a story about bells. Bells and whistles are in the same family of sounds that enhance our lives. So here are my thoughts about bells.

From my earliest days on the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in Clayton, Missouri, bells have been an important part of my life. In those days, some of the cows wore bells around their necks. I assume this made finding them when they were out in the pasture a little easier. But cowbells are among my first memories.

I suppose that starting to school caused all of us to become acquainted with bells. There were bells in the morning that told tardy students that they were late. There were bells that sounded at the time for lunch and another bell a little later which called the students back to their classes. And there were bells that marked “recess time.” At the end of the day there were bells which permitted the students to go home. So a good part of our lives, mine particularly, have been under the control of bells.

These days I usually sit in the car while Judy attends to business with the pharmacy and the mailing of packages. The pharmacy has narrow aisles and I am concerned in my current state about knocking some of their exhibits to the ground, so I stay in the car which is parked adjacent to the railroad station. The electric trains that operate on the New Jersey Transit commuter system, which succeeded the Lackawanna here in New Jersey, seldom sound their whistles as they travel between stations in the suburbs. Quite to the contrary, the engineers give the bells a vigorous workout as they enter a stop and as they leave. That is fine with me because I like to hear train bells.

Fire engines also have large bells to ring. In many cases where they would like to avoid using their sirens, they ring their bells to get traffic out of the way. The sound carries quite a distance and it presages the appearance of the fire engine, an impressive sight. Again in this case, I suspect that the man who rings the bells takes great pleasure in doing so.

When you go to a restaurant and a chef finishes preparation of your meal, he will often ring a bell so that the waiter may pick up the food. Bells like this are usually the sign of good news. Bon Appetite!

For a time in the 1990s, my wife Judy and I rode bicycles. It was our intent to ride the bikes a hundred miles per week. We usually came pretty close to that objective. For reasons of safety we loaded the bikes with horns and bells. Our intention was to make it obvious to any driver that we were also on the road.

The Hellman’s live four or five houses up the street. They have three children. There was a boy named Jordan, who was about three, and Pamela, his sister, who may have been a year older. The eldest member of the Hellman children was Janey, a six- or seven-year old.

When we rode our bikes by the Hellman children, who were often found playing in their yard near the street, the kids would stop us with the intention of blowing the horn and mostly ringing the bells. As we pulled to a stop at the end of the Hellman driveway, Jordan would fly toward us, arms akimbo, to ring the bells and to honk the horn. Closely following was his sister Pamela, who also demanded her turn at ringing the bells. Janey, the eldest, held out as long as she could with her sophistication. When the sophistication gave out, old Janey came over to ring the bells and sound the horns. On one occasion when it did not appear that we intended to stop at the Hellman playground, Jordan, the three-year old, yelled at us, “Hey, come over here!” Now, who can ignore a demand like that?

In hospitals, for example, there is a loud bell which, when rung, will tell people that an emergency situation exists. When that bell is sounded, people know that it is time to get out and seek safety. The same is true is schools and other buildings.

It also turns out that ships have bells too. My experience on the troop ship at Dakar, Senegal, reminds me that not only did the whistle blow as we entered the harbor but that the bell was rung for perhaps four or five minutes. It was a pleasant sound. But I am not an impartial observer. I like bells.

Bells are also used in church services. For reasons unknown to me, Protestant churches seem to feature, occasionally, bell-ringing choirs. The bell ringers seem to be more female than male and there may be as many as 20 of them holding their bells in an upright position, ready to be rung. There are soprano bells and alto bells and baritone bells and base bells. But when they are rung by a choir of bell ringers, I must say that I can make very little sense out of it. But if it suits the bell ringers and if it spreads the gospel, who am I to criticize it? In the Catholic faith, I gather that bell ringing is also an important function, but I am not schooled in that faith. I have no reliable report on bell ringing in other faiths.

There was a point when the Carr family with its young daughters visited Williamsburg, Virginia, to see the sights there. There was an occasion when my daughter of six or seven years used her savings secretly to buy me a small bell in a Williamsburg store. That little girl is now 50 years of age and for the past 43 or 44 years, that bell has sat on a table near my chair. It is one of my most prized possessions.

As one travels around the world, a person is often struck by the universality of bells. They appear in every culture in the known world. The world seems to recognize that bells are an important part of everyday life.

When wars end, bells in almost every church and city hall ring out the news. It is joyous news and when the people hear it, they must know that it portends good fortune. When Paris was liberated, the bells rang. When the Germans were chased out of Rome, the bells rang. When the end of World War II occurred, I happened to be in this country and I can tell you that bells were rung for long periods of time. It was a joyous occasion.

Near our home, almost in the center of Millburn, New Jersey, there is a Catholic church and a school that has a very large bell outside the entrance. When people are married, I have heard that bell ring out the good news. On other occasions, when a child is to be christened, the bell is also rung. On those sad occasions when a funeral is held in the church, the bell rings a mournful sound.

The bell at Saint Rose of Lima Church is located adjacent to the playground for the children attending that school. It strikes me that the kids attending that school are most fortunate in that they can tell the occasion from the ringing of their bell. It signals the start of a new life just as it signals the end of an older life. Perhaps that is a very important lesson to demonstrate to the children who attend that school.

This was not intended to be a research project on bells. More than anything else, it has to do with my experience over a long lifetime with bells. I am very fond of them. In a recent essay which was devoted largely to the tragedy of events in Iraq, I was moved by John Donne’s work of nearly 450 years ago. The work is known by its first line, which is, “No man is an island.” But the significant part of Mr. Donne’s work comes in the final stanza. It holds, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne was an Anglican preacher, a meditator, a producer of devotions, and a producer of sermons as well as poetry. John Donne was right with his work of more than 400 years ago. I suspect that none of us are going to escape this life without the bell tolling.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about whistles and bells. I had never given them much thought until today, but considering them gave me much pleasure. I hope that you share in that pleasure.

January 24, 2007
Essay 229
Kevin’s commentary: A handy essay to go with “WHISTLES.

I’d honestly forgotten just how dominated school was by the bell system. People would synchronize their watches with the school clocks just to know, to the second, when class would end.


Almost all of my friends know that I am a pushover when it comes to trains. They also know that I am a pushover when it comes to folk songs. When those two are wed together, I am largely a basket case. That is what happens when it comes to whistles on trains, but there is much more, involving whistles used by the human species on this earth.

To get back to my love of trains and folk music, sometimes I go around with a folk song throbbing in my head. That song is “Five Hundred Miles from Home.” The first verse goes like this:

If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles,
A hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles,
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.
-Traditional Folk Song

When I hear a train whistle blow, I cannot help but feel a sense of solitude and longing. When I was aboard troop trains during World War II, those lonesome whistles reminded me that I was a lot longer than 500 miles from my home. My home was not a castle by any stretch of the imagination. During the great American Depression, the St. Louis County National Bank did not foreclose on the Carr home, simply because it had so many other foreclosed properties on its hands. Yet it was home to me and those lonesome whistles on troop trains reminded all of us that it might be a long time before we saw our homes again.

In my mind, there are few more impressive sights than to see a steam engine pass on the rails while sounding its whistle. The ground shakes, sparks and cinders fly in the air, and if the engineer or the fireman were to wave at a little boy, it would fill his heart with joy. Even today, for a man in his eighties, the sound of a train whistle brings back poignant memories. Song writers almost always refer to train whistles as “lonesome.” I am unable to argue with that nomenclature. Train whistles which operate on steam are indeed lonesome and while they do not carry for a hundred miles as the song says, they travel a great distance. It always seemed to me that those train whistles traveled further at night than they did during the daylight hours. But no matter how you cut it, the train whistle is a compelling sound that calls forth memories of lonesomeness and being away from home.

My father worked for the Illinois Central Railroad for a time around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. We had a windup Victrola in our living room and one way or another before I was born, my father bought phonograph records of famous train wrecks. Today I have in my possession such songs as “The Wreck of the Old 98,” “The Wreck of the Old 37,” and “The Wreck of the Shenandoah Express.” A well-known singer at the time, Vernon Dalhart, sang those songs and in nearly every one of those cases, the engineer could see doom ahead. He could see a split rail or he could see another engine on the same track heading toward him. On more than half of those records, the lyricist says that “his whistle broke into a scream,” and he was found in the wreckage “with his hand on the throttle and was scalded to death by the steam.” That is pretty macabre stuff, but men who drove steam engines took their lives in their hands every day. And when they had a wreck, Mr. Dalhart would enjoy a comfortable income from the phonograph record that he would make of that event.

Well, so much for whistles on trains for the time being. Boats have whistles too. On the troop ship that took us from Charleston, South Carolina to Dakar, Senegal there was a steam whistle that could be heard for miles around. When we pulled into the port at Dakar, the captain of the troop ship, which was the Santa Maria, named after one of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus, sounded his whistle repeatedly. The net effect was that every spy in Dakar came running to the port to watch us disembark and to try to question us as to where we had come from. We were told that where we had departed from was a military secret. I must have had five or six potential spies querying me about where we had come from in French, broken English, and fluent Arabic. I told them all that I didn’t know where we had come from. That is not a responsive answer, but it got the job done.

Whistles on boats and trains are not the only devices of that sort in existence. Doorkeepers at hotels and fancy apartment buildings also have a whistle which they blow to summon cabs. Those doormen are usually dressed in admirals’ uniforms and make a great production out of summoning the cab, opening the door, and reaching for a tip. It is a ballet-like performance.

Speaking of ballet performances, there are several towns that have policemen who work at intersections and seem to never remove the whistle from their mouths. In the town we live in now, Millburn, New Jersey, there was a policeman who directed traffic at Main Street and Millburn Avenue who was a thorough joy to watch. When he blew his whistle and told someone to make a left turn, he brought his arm up all the way from his knees and pointed at the driver. Literally, there were people who stood on street corners just to watch the performance of this cop. When he retired, he made a living for a while directing traffic at weddings and bar mitzvahs. The sponsors of those events made it clear that the whistle-blowing cop would be on hand, which would ensure a greater attendance at the function. I must say that watching this particular policeman pleased me much greater than any ballet performance I have ever seen.

Now we go back to whistles that are blown by steam. As recently as the 1950s, factories had water towers upon which were mounted whistles usually run by steam. The whistle blew at eight o’clock in the morning and again at twelve noon to mark the starting time and the lunch time. It blew again at 12:30 or thereabouts to summon the men back to work. At the close of the day the whistle blew to sound “quitting time.” For a period in the late 1920s, my father worked at a factory that manufactured bricks to line kilns. If the wind was blowing in the right direction, I could hear the quitting time whistle blow and I would know that after a time my father would make an appearance at our house. If three or four industrial organizations were gathered close together, there was no synchronization of their whistles. One factory might sound its whistle at 7:59 AM while the other would sound its whistle at 8:03 AM. The men who blew those whistles didn’t use a Swiss watch maker. They looked at their pocket watches – no wrist watches need apply – and blew their whistle when their watch said it was time to go to work or time to quit. Where there were three or four or five industrial organizations in close proximity, there was a cacophony of sounds at eight o’clock in the morning and four thirty or five o’clock in the evening as each signaled the start of the day as well as the time to go home. Those were welcome noises which are gone now. I regret that they are no longer part of the American manufacturing scene.

As many of you know, I am a native of St. Louis. When I lived there,St. Louis was widely known as a shoe manufacturing capitol and for its beer bottling industry. Also there were the St. Louis Browns, an American League baseball team which had very little success. As Saint Louisians would say, “First in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League.” The Budweiser plant still operates in St. Louis so I suppose that it is still among the leading producers of beer. The shoe business is long gone as are the St. Louis Browns who departed in 1953 to become the Baltimore Orioles. I have never forgiven Phil Ball for selling that team to the interlopers from Chesapeake Bay.

For two years in the late 1940s, I lived at 2916A Wyoming Avenue in South St. Louis. The “A” in that address indicates that we lived upstairs in a two-family flat. Within walking distance of our flat, there was the plant of the Alpen Brau Brewery. A few blocks away there was the home of the Griesedeick Brothers Brewery. A block or two down the street was the home of Falstaff Breweries, known as the “King of Beers.” The smell of yeast was in the air at all times and I must say it was a pleasant odor. Each one of those three breweries, which accounted for St. Louis being “first in booze,” kept time with their whistles that were mounted on their water towers. As far as I know, those whistles were operated by steam. How they got the steam up to the level of the whistles is something I do not now know anything about. Simply take it from me that they were operated by steam. Once again, there was no such thing as setting your watch by the whistle at one brewery as distinguished from the other two. Perhaps the fellow who blew the whistles had had a beer or two to drink before he remembered that he needed to pull the whistle cord to get the men started or to tell them that it was quitting time. In any case, on days when I was at home it was a pleasure to hear the whistles sound around 5 PM telling the men it was “quitting time” and time for a beer or two. As I look back upon my time in South St. Louis, those whistles and the yeast at the brewery plants provide me with an advanced stage of nostalgia. Those were pretty good times.

Aside from the whistles that come from mechanical devices on trains, ships, and factory water towers, there are whistles that can be made without an instrument hanging from your mouth. As hard as I would try, I never was able to put my two little fingers in my mouth and sound a shrill whistle which could be heard a block or two away. I tried on several occasions but it was a complete disaster. On the other hand, because I have a space between my two front teeth, I can whistle softly. On one occasion, at a conference in Kansas City, during a break, I was standing looking out the window and absent-mindedly I whistled a tune called “Tenderly.” That song was new at the time and I thought it was a fairly riveting piece of music. A woman from Chicago walked up behind me, put one of her hands on my shoulder, and asked me if I could whistle that song again. She was Rosalie Larson. I obliged that request but let matters rest right where they were. But I didn’t whistle much after that.

The post office in our town is located directly across the street from the railroad station. Ordinarily, trains using that commuter passenger line merely ring their bells as they enter and leave the station. Yesterday, I was startled to hear one of the electric engines let out an enormous roar with his whistle. It startled me. When I began to think about that particular whistle, it occurred to me that trains in this country have whistles in the base baritone range. In Europe, the trains have whistles that utter sounds in the tenor, alto, and soprano ranges. European and Japanese trains operate on narrow gauge railways, but I doubt that this accounts for the difference in the sound. But it makes no difference whether it is an American train or a foreign train, when the whistle blows, there is a sense of lonesomeness which I suppose has always been the case.

Well this is my story on a January afternoon about whistles. I have made no attempt whatsoever to research this project and turn it into a learned treatise. I have always liked whistles as well as I have liked trains as well as I have liked folk music. And so when I hear someone sing, “A hundred miles, a hundred miles, I can hear that whistle blow a hundred miles,” maybe it isn’t a hundred miles but who is to quibble. Whistles are pleasant and they come with a full-blown case of nostalgia. Now who can do anything better than that?

January 22, 2007
Essay 228
Kevin’s commentary: Probably my most common whistle-based interaction these days has to do with a train crossing in San Mateo. This particular train always seems to sound its full whistle/horn combo precisely when the engine has positioned itself right next to me.

You can read more on trains and wrecks here.


This is an essay about usages of the English language as employed by soldiers of Great Britain and secondly by soldiers of the United States. Kindly stay with me, rather than turning me aside on the ground that the language used in this essay is scatological and perhaps slightly lewd. Actually, it is nothing of the sort.

I am continually amazed by my memories of service in World War II where I spent a good bit of time flying in support of the British Eighth Army. This took place in Italy. My consternation comes from the fact that after 65 years, words and phrases from that period appear in my vocabulary frequently. Let me give you an example.

In Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, an adjacent town, there is a store that sells European products, particularly from France. All of the items except the bread are frozen. Miss Chicka and I have become devotees of the store called the “White Toque.” The other day after we had patronized the store, the engine of the car was not even started until both of us tore into a crusty baguette. Reverting to my speech patterns of 65 years ago or so, and reflecting the fact that I had served so much time with the Brits, I said that when it comes to baguettes, “The French have that recipe knocked up.”

I am fully aware that in American parlance, being “knocked up” is often the result of sexual relations gone awry. In American English, getting “knocked up” does not often make an appearance in polite conversations.

Ahh, but in the Royal Air Force and the British Eighth Army, being “knocked up” is a superlative condition. There is nothing scatological about it when used in the English version of the language. If an RAF pilot sends machine gun bullets into an enemy truck and it explodes, the pilot will say, “I had that one knocked up all the way.” An English soldier might say to his wife — if he is ever home — that the mutton meal I just enjoyed was completely “knocked up.” (Author’s note: I doubt that any English mutton dinner is worth eating. The soldier was complimenting his wife for other reasons, perhaps with romance in mind.) When Winston Churchill spoke, the members of the RAF or the British Eighth Army, might say, “Old Winnie had that speech knocked up from the start.” So you see, we assign different values to the same English phrase. Being an American, I have to ration my use of the colorful phrase of “knocked up.” But remember in the usage that I became accustomed to many years ago, being “knocked up” is greatly to be admired.

Now we come to the second usage in the English language which is completely American. During my time in World War II, I was pleased to hear expressions that came from obscure locations. A soldier from Tennessee might say that he was “Tight as a June bug” when he had a bit too much to drink. A soldier from the New York area might say, “What goes around, comes around.” There were dozens of such expressions involving the American usage of the English language.

For reasons unknown to me, the word “piss” often appeared in soldier’s expressions. You may recall a story I told in a previous essay involving a Russian immigrant who had gained American citizenship and was serving in U. S. forces. Soldiers never tell each other that they are good-looking, but rather, how ugly they are. When this former Russian native was told how ugly he was, he said, “If you don’t like my face, piss on it.”

As time has gone on, the expressions “pissed off” or being “pissed” appear regularly in speech patterns. Even on cable news, Chris Matthews of MSNBC often refers to “being pissed off” or “being pissed.” So pissed is not as scatological as it used to be.

The case I have in mind now involves the Commander in Chief, the great decider who received the Iraq Study Group report. He thanked the authors, co-chairmen Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton. While he thanked them, he obviously had no intention of putting their recommendations to use. He met with them at 7 A.M. one morning, got their report, ushered them out of his offices and went on with his business. But in the final analysis, as any American GI would tell you, it was Bush’s intent to tell the Iraq Study Group to “go piss up a rope.”

For the past 65 years I have been aware of the expression, “go piss up a rope.” I have spent very little time trying to understand it but if I had devoted much time to it, I am certain that its meaning would still elude me. The fact is that being told to “go piss up a rope” simply means that I intend to ignore you or I intend to disregard anything you have said to me. And that is precisely what the great decider elected to do with the Iraq Study Group Report.

Well, there you have two usages of the English language as propounded by the men of the Royal Air Force and of the British Eighth Army on one hand, and of the American GIs on the other. Neither expression advances the cause of the state of the language very much, but they must have made a significant impression upon me because I have remembered them for so long. I pass these two expressions along in the hope that some of you may shed some light on their meaning. I have no great hope that their meaning will become any clearer within my lifetime, but at least the expressions are there for linguistic scholars like Harry Livermore to wrestle with. But there is one unarguable fact. That is, when it comes to crusty French baguettes, the French have that recipe completely knocked up. Even Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth or Camilla Parker Bowles would have no argument with that soldierly conclusion.

E. E. Carr
January 2, 2007
Essay 227

Authors note: The Harry Livermore referred to in this essay is an honor’s graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa. During his ten years at Grinnell, Mr. Livermore acquired 13.5 degrees. Some of those degrees are Centigrade and others are Fahrenheit. But scholar Livermore has made no effort to explain the forgoing expressions. I hope that he does so during my lifetime.
Kevin’s commentary: What if someone was an expert at getting someone pregnant? Would he have getting knocked up knocked up? What if you were the best at peeing up ropes?


In my life, which has gone on much longer than I ever expected it to, I thought that I had experienced the full range of emotions that occur to human beings. There have been moments of happiness and moments of sorrow. There have been moments that are neither happy nor sorrowful. But it took a six-year-old boy to stop me in my tracks. That young fellow’s name is Fabian, whose parents originally came from Costa Rica.

You may recall a recent essay from this desk entitled “Thanksgiving 2006”. In that essay, I recounted the joy that granting a loan to Fabian’s parents had given me. Granting that loan from Judy and me had provided me with perhaps the happiest Thanksgiving within my memory. It was simply an effort on our part to help these hard working Costa Ricans over a period of hard times. And it is already paying dividends.

Here is how it has worked out. Fabian’s grandfather is 96 years old and resides in Costa Rica. This fall arrangements were made to bring Fabian’s grandfather to New Jersey so that he could see his grandchildren, possibly for the last time. Fabian and his siblings, Esteban and Melissa, seem to enjoy having their grandfather around.

Today, Tuesday January 2, 2007, Jenny, the mother of the boys, made her regular appearance to clean our house. Before she was finished, Jenny related an story involving her son Fabian that has me stopped in my tracks. Fabian, the six-year-old, is faithful about saying his evening prayers. In those prayers, Fabian remembers his grandfather in Costa Rica. He refers to him as his “Grandpa”. But that is not the end of it. Old Fabian goes on to pray not only for his grandpa in Costa Rica but for his, “Grandpa in America so that he can see again”.

Fabian and his brother, Esteban, have visited this house on three occasions and are aware of my blindness. When they arrive and when they leave, both boys come around to shake hands with me. I think they are gentlemen in the making.

When Fabian prays for his “Grandpa in America so that he can see again”, this ancient geezer has trouble holding back the tears. Nobody told Fabian to pray for me and my eyesight; Fabian did that voluntarily.

And so you see the loan that we made to Fabian’s parents is paying dividends already. I had not planned on being stumped by a six-year-old, but stumped I am. Whatever you think about the power of prayer, Fabian got to me. There is no way that I can recall Fabian’s prayers without choking up. And so after 84 years, when I thought I had experienced every emotion that applies to human beings, old Fabian brought me a new one. When a little six-year-old voluntarily prays for me to regain my eyesight, it gives me a reason to stick around for a while longer. I am more than proud to be Fabian’s “Grandpa in America”. How can anybody top that?

E. E. Carr
January 2, 2007
Essay 226?

Author’s note: Learned medical authorities have long since concluded that blindness will be my constant companion. My surrogate grandson Fabian is working to reverse that prognosis. I suggest that L. Jay Katz, M.D., Chief of Glaucoma Services at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and Eric Gurwin, M.D., who holds a lofty title at Summit Medical Group, should keep a close eye on Fabian’s work.

Kevin’s commentary: I met Fabian’s mother the last time I was visiting Pop. She was a kind woman who was very good at making sure Pop kept himself cleanshaven. It was of course very important for him to maintain these experiences.


[Note from Kevin: this is not a true “Ezra’s Essay.” The title was supplied by me; I hope Pop approves. Of course the rest of the essay was written by Pop but not for general publication. But as someone currently embroiled in the job search and having to meet people and speak quite a bit, this bit of writing offers advice which strikes me as topical. It is one of many such non-essays to be published in the coming days. Pictures will come when I can find a good camera with which to photograph the relevant articles to which he refers.

As a side note, Pop mentions that wearing the velvet-strapped watch was not an option for him. I am guessing it is because its straps are rather small. Funnily enough I just discovered that fits me rather well because I have obnoxiously skinny wrists. Unfortunately the watch has long since stopped. Weirdly it chose to do so at 2:42, which is notable to me primarily because it was the time that my baby book claims that I was born. Which I wouldn’t remember if my favorite numbers were not 2 and 4, and had I not been born on the 24th. But all this is neither here nor there. Without further delay –]


Monsignor Kevin,

In this box there are four items. One is a series of speaking notes that I made for my speeches over the years. Another is a watch. You can tell them apart because there are no moving hands on the notebooks. Your mother, with her Ivory League education, may help you with the identification. And finally, there are two DVDs. One is Dick Hichol’s retirement at which I was the MC. The other is my retirement party. Your parents were present on the second occasion.

The notes are cryptic. For example, “bxn” means business. The notes were only intended to remind me of the next series of thoughts that I wanted to offer.

The notebooks were compiled by my secretaries in the last few years that I worked for AT&T. When I returned from my enlistment in the American Army, I soon found out that AT&T was trying to screw its employees, particularly the veterans, so I arranged to join the union. In not many years I became the vice president, the president of the local covering two states, an executive board member, and a national negotiator for the union. It might be observed that in 1945, AT&T intended to screw its employees. In 2007, their conduct has not changed. They are still at it, particularly on the drug benefit program.

Starting out in the labor union business was the best training a speechmaker could have had. It was rough and tumble and any mistakes that were made were called to the speaker’s attention. Fistfights were not unknown in labor union meetings. I learned then and there that reading a speech was a fatal mistake. It had to be delivered extemporaneously or only with a handful of notes. Otherwise the audience lost interest in what was being said.

I suspect that in the 45 years I worked for AT&T, I may have made 400 speeches. When I was in the management of AT&T’s labor relations, there was a threat from the Teamsters which people in the Bell System wanted to hear about. Many of my speeches had to do with the threat from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

There is no record of the speeches I made until 1955 when I went to New York to assume my job in the management of AT&T’s labor relations. Later, my secretaries gathered many of my notes and then assembled them in the form you see. These notes represent only handful of the speeches that I made. ON no occasion did I ever read a speech from the podium. I either delivered it extemporaneously or using some of the notes that are in the book. I would refer to the notes only to refresh my memory for the next point. Notes were used largely on those speeches that would take a half-hour or more.

There is a DVD which has to do with my retirement and with the retirement of Dich Nichols. I think you will notice that I rarely used notes in these presentations.

When a speech is read to an audience, you will find that the listener’s attention will be diverted to newspapers, notes and gossip. Delivering a speech extemporaneously will cause them to give you their full attention even if it is only to see if you make a mistake. I send you these notebooks only for the purpose of seeing to it that, as you go through life, I hope that you will recognize the importance of preparation. The idea is to know what you are going to say as well as what your opponents might want to say as well. But in the final analysis Kevin, when you look at these binders, I want you to think of preparation, preparation, preparation. Of course, it takes works to prepare. But if you are going to succeed you must prepare as fully as you can.

Also included in this package is a watch that I used when many of these speeches were delivered. I quit wearing a wristwatch in 1944 when I had a watch with a metal band that came into contact with two live poles on an airplane generator. I was trying to balance the output of those two generators. The electrical contact nearly melted the metal band. From that day forward I used no watch at all, or I carried it in my coat pocket.

This watch was given to me, as I recall it, on my 30th anniversary year with AT&T. It is a first-class watch but it has velvet straps. There is no way that the straps can go around my wrist. Consequently, when traveling or offering a speech, I carried the watch in my right hand coat pocket. When the trip was finished, I put the watch back in my dresser drawer.

I might observe that my father believed that any man who wore a wristwatch was less than masculine. He did not know of the term “gay,” but that is what he had in mind. He also considered anyone using safety raors in the same light. Straight razors were the only shaving devices he approved of, even after he became blind.

Well Kevin, I send these items to you because I have long since designated you as the historian for the family. They are intended for your use. You may show them to anyone who wants to see them, but in the final analysis, they are meant for your use and safekeeping. Maybe somewhere down the road you may look at the ibnders and it will remind you to prepare your rosy little ass off. And if you ever use the watch when you debate or make a speech, I hope it reminds you of your grandfather, and the fact that if I ever read a speech to a meeting of a labor union, I would be courting being tarred and feathered.

Well Kevin, this is about all there is to say at this juncture. Remember to prepare, prepare, prepare, and while you are doing that, I hope you are staying as strong as possible. That will permit me to enjoy my eternal visit with Jesus and to also utter the Biblical injunction by saying, “On with the rat killing.”


January 25, 2007



Pop’s response to this entry:

Hey Kevin,

I read your latest entry and derived a good bit of satisfaction from it.  It has always struck me that the way to succeed, at least in my endeavors in the labor relations field, was to prepare, prepare and prepare so that I would rarely be taken by surprise.  

I still think that this is good advice, particularly with the line of preparing your rosy little ass off. 


PS from Judy:  Obama could have used this sound advice from Pop before his first debate.