Archive for the 2010 Category

ONCE AGAIN, THE ICEMAN COMETH (With Apologies to Eugene O’Neill)

Behind my kitchen chair sits a gorgeous behemoth that is basically silent.  Its color is an iridescent white and it possesses two polished chrome handles.  Among the upper crust, it goes by the name of a refrigerator.  It has always seemed to me that “frigerator” would get the message across but this device insists upon being called a refrigerator.  I suspect that no new kitchens in this country are without refrigerators.  But that was not always the case.

The Carr family had no refrigerator until about 1936 or 1937.  For all the years prior to that time, our needs in the refrigerator business were accommodated by an icebox.  For those rare individuals who do not understand the workings of an icebox, it was simply a device with an insulated box at the top in which ice would be placed.  The rest of the groceries were placed below the ice on shelving on the theory that as ice melts, vapors go downward as distinguished from upward.

The ice in the top of the icebox had to be replaced periodically, on the order of every other day.  To facilitate this end, there was a card given to each owner of an icebox with numbers across each of the four sides.  If the card was placed in one position, the card would read “25 pounds” at the top.  Turned on its side, the card would read “50 pounds.”  Turned once more, the card would read “75 pounds” and, finally, if the card were turned once more, it would read “100 pounds.”  The card was to be placed in the front window of the residence so that it could be seen by the iceman as he drove down the street.

Most of the customers in the St. Louis area were served by the Polar Wave Ice and Coal Company.  The icemen drove flatbed trucks with stakes that prevented the ice from scooting off into the street.  In the morning, the deliverymen would go to the ice factory of Polar Wave and take their load of ice for the day.  It was covered by a tarpaulin which seemed to protect the ice from melting, even in the torrid summers of St. Louis.

The iceman had two basic tools at his disposal.  First there was an ice pick that he used to chip away at the ice so that the proper size could be delivered to the residents who had ordered it through their sign in the front window.  The other tool he had was a set of tongs that he used to carry the ice in one of his hands if that was his pleasure.  I have observed icemen for a number of years and it seems to me that, according to my memory, most of them had a burlap sack over their right shoulder and would use the tongs to take the ice off of the flatbed truck and place it upon their shoulder.  I cannot believe that carrying ice that weighed as much as 75 pounds on the shoulder would be beneficial to the health of the icemen.  But that was their job and in the Depression they were grateful to have employment.

At this point it should be noted that our esteemed and treasured friend, Frances Licht, reports that her father was an iceman when he came to this country.  After a time, he gave up carrying ice up the long stairs for delivery in tenement houses and elected to become a baker.  His name was Kaplan and I think it showed good sense for him to get out of the ice carrying business and enter the baking business.

We did not live in a tenement in Missouri.  We lived in an individual house that had about a 75-foot driveway.  Near the end of the driveway, if one made a left-hand turn, he would encounter about four or five steps that took him to the pantry of the Carr home.  In the pantry stood the icebox.  A hole had been drilled through the floor of the pantry so that as the ice melted, the water that resulted splashed onto this unpaved piece of the property.  Getting 50 pounds of ice from the street, up the driveway and then up the stairs and into the icebox must have taken a great deal of muscle from our iceman, who worked for the Polar Wave Company.  I have never given much thought to how hard the icemen must have worked.  In retrospect, they deserve our respect for making life a little easier in the depths of the 1929 Depression.

Somewhere along the line as an enormous concession to our decadence, the Carr family was introduced to iced tea.  Iced tea was a big drain on the family budget because to make it required chipping away at the ice in the icebox.  This would mean that new ice would have to be bought or else the groceries in the icebox would be unrefrigerated.  From time to time, we enjoyed the delicious treat of having iced tea.  Curiously, some 75 years later, I still enjoy iced tea and I drink it in every season of the year.  I suspect that it is iced tea that has preserved my long life as a senior citizen.

In reciting this piece of American history, I do so with no nostalgia whatsoever.  The use of iceboxes was primitive.  It merely meant that things were kept a little cooler than they would ordinarily be in the hot weather of St. Louis.  And I am here to tell you that if anyone yearns for the good old days, he is more than welcome to them.  For me, I am delighted with my Whirlpool refrigerator and have been for many years.

I said earlier that the Whirlpool was basically silent.  But that comes with a caveat.  If someone trips the icemaker to spew ice into glasses, the Whirlpool makes one hell of a racket.  But that is a small price to pay for the convenience of having the Whirlpool at my beck and call.  I can assure you that it is significantly better than having to chip away at the recently delivered ice to put in the iced tea glasses.  This country and, I suppose, every civilized country has made a great move in providing refrigerants for those items that need refrigeration.  From my own experience, I can tell you that the refrigerator is significantly better than any icebox that was ever invented.


Now let us deal for a minute with the Polar Wave organization.  Its full name was the Polar Wave Ice and Coal Company.  In the summer, they delivered ice to our houses and, in the winter, they delivered coal.  The same men delivered the ice as delivered the coal.  That was another test of the endurance of the truck drivers.  Under our front porch was a large bin where coal would be placed.  There was an opening at the side of the house where a chute could be placed that would permit the delivery of coal from the trucks that brought it to our home.  The trucks would be backed into the driveway and the chute would be attached to the opening in the truck, the other end being placed in the bin which could be opened for coal delivery.  Fortunately, by the time I came along, coal trucks could be tilted to the side, so a five-ton load of coal would be backed up into the driveway, the chute would be attached, and the driver would tilt the truck bed and the coal theoretically would fall into the chute and then into our coal bin.  It never worked perfectly, of course, and the driver had to make sure that the chute was relatively clear or else the coal would be backed up into his truck.  This was a messy operation, with coal chips to be found on the lawn after the truck had departed.

Curiously, I find that the Polar Wave Company is still in existence.  They don’t deliver ice any more, nor do they bring coal to a house.  Somehow they have made the transition to refrigeration and to the delivery of oil and/or natural gas.  As I said in the beginning, buying ice and coal from the Polar Wave Company aroused absolutely no interest in terms of nostalgia.  It simply aroused a thought that tells us that life is easier today than it was 75 years ago.


That is my story on refrigeration, heating, and the Polar Wave Ice and Coal Company.  I regret having to deal with iceboxes and I regret having to deal with coal furnaces.  Furnaces have to be shaken and the ashes scooped out and the ashes delivered to a place that accommodates a walk.  In my case, we lived about half a mile from the nearest streetcar stop.  It was my job to carry the ashes out and spread them in such a fashion as to constitute a path.  I will tell you again that carrying those ashes out was not a pleasurable encounter.

Now that I have recited my encounters with refrigeration and heating, I find that the experience was not an exhilarating one.  It is simply a piece of how life used to be lived in this country.  I hope that those who chance to read this story will give full appreciation to such men as Mr. Kaplan, who lugged 50 pounds of ice up the steps to a fourth-flour apartment in a tenement.  Boys, that is not easy work.  And so I leave you with the thought that this experience with how things used to be may be enlightening.  Perhaps that is about all an old-timer can do.  I am greatly pleased at being able to recite this history but I find it unexhilarating.  And so I suggest that we leave things right where the matter comes to a rest.



February 1, 2010

Essay 435


Kevin’s commentary: With this essay, we wrap up 2010 in Ezra’s Essays. As far as I know, we are now free and clear to move onto 2009, where I think I will go in chronological order. 2013 is posted as it arrives, 2012 was posted in thematic groups, 2011 was posted utterly haphazardly, and 2010 was posted roughly alphabetically. This one concludes the year mainly because it was a corrupted file and it took me some time to recover to working order, so naturally I procrastinated on doing this for as long as possible.

With regard to the content of this essay itself, I’m forced to wonder if my grandkids will enjoy a life that is as proportionately easier than mine as mine is to Pop’s. I’m not sure how that will be possible but I guess if I could predict such an advancement I could make myself rich by patenting and inventing it. Nevertheless I think that at time of press, I have it pretty easy here in 2013 but still I hope that this statement sounds absurd when and if it is read seventy years from now.

The other noteworthy thing here is that this essay touched on depression times, which means in back to back essays, so far as publication on the site goes, we’ve forayed into 2/3rds of Ezra’s taboo subjects, which is a little neat. In my opinion the remaining 1/3 isn’t nearly as interesting anyway, so I consider this a great week in the history of the site.


A casual disinterested observer, noticing that this essay is accompanied by a compact disk, might conclude that this essay is about music.  That casual disinterested observer would be exactly right.  Music makes me feel better and so this essay is dedicated to our well-being, both yours and mine.  If the rest of the world wishes to get in on the feeling good spirit, they are welcome to be the guests of the proprietor of Ezra’s essays.   (Note from Judy:  Songs one and two are reversed on the CD.  Sorry.)

In spite of my extra innings of age, my hearing seems to have remained nearly intact.  And so it is that I am able to enjoy music of all kinds from the opera to country music.  The compact disk that accompanies this essay is basically of folk music with a sprinkling of a little country music as well.  There are four selections on this custom made CD, starting with a selection from Guy Clark, which the dealers in music would probably classify as country.  At heart, Mr. Clark’s piece is a philosophical one.  Clark is a composer who was born in West Texas in the 1940s, who is basically a composer and singer of his own music.

I would like to tell you that my prose is simply prose.  It doesn’t rhyme and could not be set to music.  So whether Guy Clark’s message is country or not is beside the point.  As a composer of music and lyrics, Clark has observed that some days he writes the songs and other days the songs write him.  Literally, songs don’t write Mr. Clark.  When the words don’t come, he says, “Ain’t a damn thing you can do.”  So Guy Clark leads off this little hit parade.

The second selection is sung by John Denver, who is also the composer of “Some Days Are Diamonds and Some Days Are Stones.”  This is also a philosophical piece.  Denver came from New Mexico and in his later years he wandered toward Hollywood and eventually Denver, Colorado.  His music was usually played by a full orchestra.  While the dealers may classify his works as country, the fact is, they had wide crossover appeal and commercial success.  On one occasion a few years back, Miss Chicka and her husband attended a concert by John Denver in the sanctuary of St. John’s the Divine in New York City which was filled to capacity.  We were entranced.

The selection that I have chosen for the enclosed CD is “Some Days Are Diamonds and Some Days Are Stones.”  In the essay that I submitted in the last mailing, I observed that as life progresses, the stones badly outweigh the diamonds.  But as Guy Clark would say, “Ain’t a Damn Thing You Can Do About It.”

Tragically, John Denver died in a crash of his own aircraft in 1992.  At the time, he was involved in a divorce suit with his wife, whom he had seemed to worship in earlier years.  There is a line from the song about diamonds and stones which is probably a tip-off.  That line says, “The face that I see in my mirror more and more is a stranger to me.”  I believe that it is a mea culpa in an effort to absorb the blame for the divorce.  In 1992, Denver had just taken delivery of a new aircraft and he was practicing take-offs and landings.  One of the landings went awry and John Denver was gone.  We will miss his music for a long time to come.

The third song on the CD is one that I wish I had written.  It has to do with the giant ship Titanic.  As the new century dawned, the British set out to build the biggest imaginable ship to serve its trans-Atlantic trade.  You may recall that in 1912 there were no airplanes flying across the Atlantic Ocean and if you wished to travel from London to New York, it had to be done by ship.

Historians tell us that the Titanic left Liverpool Harbor and made a stop or two until it got to Queenstown in Ireland.  At that time, the British occupied the country of Ireland.  They took on a few passengers and then headed out across the Atlantic Ocean for New York.  One way or another, the captain of that ship elected to use the northern route in his passage to New York.  Perhaps it had to do with saving a few hours or days in that the northern route probably was shorter than the southern route.

However, on April 15th, south of Newfoundland, the Titanic ran into an iceberg which ripped a hole in her foredeck, and she sank.  Before all of this happened, the Brits had hinted to the world that the Titanic was going to be an unsinkable ship.  That was not the case.  The loss of life was horrendous.  Of the passengers on the ship, 705 survived the crash with the iceberg.  But 1,523 lives were lost.  According to legend, the ship’s band sat on deck and played “Nearer, my God, to Thee” as the waves drowned them.  Using the northern route turned out to be a colossal mistake and as it turned out the ship was far from unsinkable.

In recent years, Ken Barker, a poet and a lyricist, composed a poem about this tragic accident.   Kevin Evans set it to music and it is the third song on this CD.  Evans sings this song to the accompaniment of his own guitar.  Evans originally came from Nova Scotia and in recent years has become the director of Liam Clancy Productions in Ireland.  Evans is a magnificent guitarist and his voice is a very pleasant one indeed.  If you can listen to this song without sobbing, you are a better man than I am.

Much was made of the loss of human life on the Titanic.  As the song will tell you, lyricist Barker laments the loss of a female polar bear and her cubs.  It is this line from the Barker poem that I have lifted for the title of this essay, “Have You Got Any News of the Iceberg?”  The song is fairly self-explanatory.  I wish that I had been clever enough to even have thought about writing about the polar bear’s tragedy.  But I completely struck out.

The final selection on this hand-crafted CD is “The Orchard.”  The song is sung, again, by Kevin Evans and he is the person who wrote the music as well as the lyrics.  The people around this house believe that “The Orchard” is a magnificent piece of work.

If you are inclined to listen carefully to “The Orchard,” here are a few translations that might help you understand it.  In the first place, much is made about the word “comeraghs.”  It is pronounced “comerah.”  It is an apple that is grown in southeastern Ireland.  Then there is the use of the word “potcheen (pronounced po-cheen.”  The singer mixes potcheen with cider and it tastes “like hell.”  Potcheen is Irish bootleg whiskey made from corn mash.  I suspect that indeed bootleg whiskey in Ireland tastes like hell.

The action takes place in a town called Dungarvan.  Dungarvan is located in County Waterford on the southeastern coast of Ireland.  I believe that all of the rest of the lyrics in “The Orchard” will be clear to you.  Kevin Evans has done a magnificent job of making a song about the location that he now calls home.  This recording was made apparently in a bar in Dungarvan and, as you can tell, it was a live performance.

For those of us involved in the later innings of our lives, there is a line or two that tends to stick in my head.

“Now I am 91; my days are near done.

My Annie is long since gone.

Our days were good,

As well they should,

But it’s time that I passed on.”

So a man with the attitude that “our days were good, as well as they should” deserves some great understanding.


Well, there you have the four samples that are included now on this CD.  Lyrics to three of the four songs are included. We thought that including the song about the iceberg was superfluous.  Those words are very clear.  And I wish to tell you that the more I listen to the polar bear’s lament, the more I tend to join him in his grief.  As a man who writes only in prose, I admire those who can write in rhymes and eventually set their rhymes to music.  I can’t do that but I admire those who do.  And I envy those with arresting voices who can also play a guitar so beautifully.

As you can see, the casual observer who thought that this was an essay about music was quite right.  The hope around here is that you enjoy this music.  If that happens, we will feel greatly rewarded, and if you end up humming or singing a little bit, that is so much the better.



February 4, 2010

Essay 436


Kevin’s commentary: I would very much like to know if Pop has ever attempted to write rhymes. If my mother is to be believed, Pop is a fan of limericks, particularly of the vulgar variety. All I know is that my mother loves creating uncomfortable rhyming ditties and that she has to have gotten that tendency from somewhere. So I am saying that it is possible that such works exist but Pop has not deemed them suitable for publication on this site. We shall wait and see if he has anything to say about it.

On a different note, “Any News of the Iceberg” by Kevin Evans is another one of those songs that you can hear and recognize as pretty music, but that you would never in a million years find on your own. At least I wouldn’t.


Simply put, I expect to be denounced and excoriated for the essay that is to follow.  I am at a loss to tell you if being denounced is a greater penalty than being excoriated.  But I can guarantee you that neither one is pleasant.  As long as I am not castigated, I believe I can withstand denunciation.

A few years back in mixed company, I overheard a lovely woman saying that she expected to change her name.  I took this to mean that she intended to be married.  But this essay has a contrarian view on changing your name, hence the excoriation and the denunciations that are to be expected by this humble author.

Perhaps I am overcompensating for views expressed by an ancient folk song of American origin.  The folk song is called “The Wagoneer’s Lad.”  In these essays I have quoted the first stanza on two previous occasions.  It reads:

Hard luck is the fortune of all womankind,
They are always controlled, always confined,
Controlled by their parents until they are wives,
And slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.

When the lovely woman expressed the view that she wished to change her name, a thought or two ran through my head and still remains there.  Generally speaking, men at the time of marriage are older than their prospective wives.  There can be an age differential of perhaps 20 years in some cases.  In that event, if the woman looks far enough ahead, one might conclude that her fortunes will include widowhood before she takes her leave of this earth.  But brides regularly accept this proposition.

As men age, their propensity for gaiety is diminished.  Their medical needs are greatly increased.  If I may be permitted a personal observation, it is that women age much better than men.  I know that this is subject to ridicule but that is how it seems to this old geezer.  And when men age, usually ungracefully, they demand more and more from their wives.  The demands are rarely ever spoken about; the wives see that their husbands are in need.  When that happens, the women are quick to respond to that need.

When you reduce the whole debate about changing your name, it seems to me that women always come out on the short end of the stick.  Perhaps that is what the songwriter meant when he said, “Hard luck is the fortune of all womankind.”  I know that there is the issue of protection and security in marriages and that is not at all to be discounted.  But on the other hand, there is much to be said for a woman retaining her independence.

Are single women happier than married women?  My guess is that, on balance, most married women would say that they are happier than their spinster sisters.  And do I expect that there will be any decrease in the desire to change a woman’s name?  Obviously, I believe that the answer is, finally, no.  But I thought it was worthwhile to get my views on record in spite of the denunciations and excoriations that will inevitably follow.

In my own case, I am fully aware that as I age, there are many more of my personal requirements that must be met and my wife seems quite responsive in doing so.  But that does not alter the fact that in meeting the needs of older men, women seem to me to be cheated.  My wife meets my needs with great good cheer.  I expect that is more than I would do if the situations were reversed.  But the facts of the matter remain, that women still want to change their names.  I can’t do anything about that except to point out the unfairness of it all to women.

So if excoriation and denunciations wait around the corner, I am ready to accommodate them.  But I still think it was worth this essay to point out the unfairnesses that are the lot of married women.  I rest my case and await the denunciations that might well follow.



February 4, 2010

Essay 437


Kevin’s commentary:  I don’t see any need for denunciations here. I think women endure a lot worse unfairnesses than this particular one, however.

That said it can still be a pretty big frustration. I think even many women who don’t want to change their name ultimately wind up doing so for convenience. For instance, my mother wanted to remain a Carr and did so for many years, but once she had my older brother it became a problem with the various schools and extracurricular activities. I believe that several of such organizations thought she was a nanny or something instead of his mother.


Perhaps the most famous in the genre of blues songs was one composed by W.C. Handy.  That of course was “St. Louis Blues.”  Those of us who list St. Louis as our place of birth do not necessarily go around singing “St. Louis Blues” at all hours.  The composer, Handy, wrote of a man who had lost a woman and that tended to make him feel pretty sad.

In my own case, Sunday afternoons are not a joy to behold.  Even today, long into my retirement, I think about the work week or exercise schedule looming before me and I think about the doctors’ appointments that must be kept.  But today appears to be a gorgeous day with the temperatures hovering near 90 degrees and I am still afflicted by the blues.

I believe the source of my trouble has much to do with the oil slick produced by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico.  Secondly, when I think of the state budgets that are clearly out of balance, I find that the politicians are going to cut teachers short to make up the budget deficits.  It strikes me that if our public schools do not maintain their mission, millions of youngsters will not be properly educated and, if nothing else, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

On the first question, I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of off-shore drilling.  I don’t claim to know much about it, but if Sarah Palin thinks that the proper thing to do is to “drill, baby, drill,” then I am more than likely against it.  I know that we are consumers of energy far out of proportion to our population.  And I also know that we have not made every effort to control our consumption of energy.  Rather than controlling our energy needs, the course seems to be to provide all of the energy that we can consume.

Now the inevitable has happened.  The drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a terrible rupture that is pouring millions of gallons of oil in to the waters there.  This is catastrophic for such people as myself who are great consumers of fish.  As the oil soaks the wetlands, it is inevitable that there will be shortages of fish and that the prices will probably be out of sight.  But more than that, my Sunday afternoon blues have to do with weeping for the people who tend the boats that supply us with our fish.  When this oil reaches the shore, as it will inevitably, it may poison the production of fish and crustaceans for years to come.  I hope that this is not the case.  Looking at it on this gloomy Sunday, it appears that it will be difficult to avoid such an outcome.

We are now several days into the spill by the British Petroleum drilling and I must say at this point, that judging from the news reports, we still have no fix for this terrible problem.  We are talking in theoretics such as capturing the oil in a dome that can be emptied but nobody has such a dome and the talk of emptying such a dome is just that: all talk.  So my gloom on this Sunday afternoon is, in my opinion, well warranted.  When I used to go to Louisiana, I remember that my wife and I were great consumers of po’boy sandwiches.  They are simply fried oysters between two layers of crusty bread.  There is a little remoulade sauce that goes with the po’boys but I am afraid that po’boys may be a thing of the past.  I know that this is a gloomy projection and I hope that things turn out differently.  But for them to turn out differently we need a miracle of the first order and it ain’t coming from British Petroleum (BP).


And now to move on to the second point in this inquiry.  The states running short of money to balance their budgets is another problem that causes me gloom on this Sunday afternoon.  For the states to balance their budgets on the backs of school children is, in my opinion, immoral.  In the state of New Jersey, there are more than 500 municipalities.  A good many of them have their employees on pension plans and must also maintain fire departments and police departments.

Now, on the pension plan, there is a good example in the case of Sharpe James who was formerly the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.  Sharpe was also a state senator and he intended to collect pensions from both Newark and the state of New Jersey.  Mr. James has just completed a term in the state penitentiary because he and his girl friend conspired on a property deal.  Curiously, in that case, his girl friend got a longer sentence than Mr. James.  As far as I know, Mr. James is still collecting his state and city pensions.  For this small state to maintain as many as 400 or 500 generous pension plans just puts our accounting out of balance.  It can’t be done.

In the case of the tax assessor in our town, he has that responsibility for at least four other municipalities in which he sets the rates for taxation.  I presume that they may all tend to pay into a pension plan for him.  But paying double or triple pensions to the tax assessors and double dippers like Sharpe James, it is no wonder why the cities and the state have budget problems.

And so it is that I worry about the leakage of the oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the tendency to balance the state budgets on the backs of school children.

W.C. Handy wrote his song “St. Louis Blues” as a love song.  At one point, he opines that “that woman has a heart like a rock down in the sea.”  Well, here we are with two rocks to deal with.  It will take a miracle for these rocks to disappear, and I am afraid that miracles these days are in short supply.  But let us hope for the best, that a miracle is in our future.  If it happens, we are ahead of the game and if it doesn’t happen we haven’t lost much.  But a miracle is what we need now to stop the flow of oil in the Gulf and to deal with the state budgets.

I wish I could be more exuberant but reality is reality.  I suppose the people at Goldman Sachs look for a miracle to help them with their problems.  But Goldman Sachs is not my problem and judging by their arrogance in testifying before Congress last week, they may deserve whatever happens to them.  On the contrary, I would argue that the fishermen who depend on the Gulf of Mexico and the children of New Jersey and other states deserve a much better fate.



May 2, 2010

Essay 452


Kevin’s commentary:  I remember this event having far-reaching repercussions for a lot of industries. Even the vacation rental industry, in which my father is employed, suffered as a result of reduced tourism to the gulf for quite a while due to the pollution. I am not sure what effect it had on the various fisheries and it seems that despite some long-term damage, things have at least resumed some degree of normalcy.

Nevertheless this spill was handled poorly by all counts. Check out some of the other BP essays around this site for more. Google search actually works better than the site search does, unfortunately.


As a general proposition, I often warn my readers about the essays that appear on these pages.  And so it is that in this case, I will tell you that the essay that follows is about Irish music and also about my father.  My father could not sing worth a lick.  That applied to Irish music as well as to Protestant hymns.  Simply put, he could not sing worth two whoops, which is the equivalent of a lick.

This essay, in my illogical mind, has divided itself into three parts.  The first part is about my father.  The final part has to do with two renditions of “The Orchard,” one by the composer Kevin Evans and the other by Liam Clancy, whom I consider to be the most beloved singer of Irish music in recent years.

In the middle, there are two songs by the Fureys and Davey Arthur, a very popular singing group in Ireland.  While the Fureys are excellent instrumentalists and arrangers of music, none of them can sing worth a lick.  They are a little better than my father but that is being damned by faint praise.

On the last bookend, there are some thoughts about my father, some of which you may have heard before.  But nonetheless, they apply forcefully in the essay that follows.


When you hear the attached CD, you will find that the Fureys have two contributions.  The first is “Belfast Mill” and the second is “Yesterday’s Men.”  It is those two songs that have made me think a great deal about my father, who departed this earth about 52 years ago.

I should state at the beginning that in 47 years’ employment, I have been extremely fortunate in that I have never been laid off or fired.  I am quite certain that there are people who would have loved to have fired me, particularly as the President of the local union, but I escaped for 47 years, never having been laid off or fired.  I know now this was a case of great good fortune.  Other people, through no fault of their own, have had to struggle with unemployment caused by forces unknown to them.  So I am a lucky man, but I have all kinds of sympathy for those who have not been so fortunate.

One of those men who was not so fortunate was my father.  When the Fureys and Davey Arthur sing about the “Belfast Mill” and about “Yesterday’s Men,” my thoughts go racing back to the tribulations that were my father’s misfortune.  My father came to St. Louis, after having been a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad for a while, which was getting him nowhere, and which was backbreaking work.  This was in the days before there were stokers.  My father, as other firemen did, used to take a shovel full of coal and then turn around and put it on the grates on the fire in the steam engine.

He came to St. Louis to work on the World’s Fair, which was supposed to start in 1902. but it was delayed.  The Fair actually took place in 1904.  After the fair finished, my father took employment with Sam and Dwight Davis, the proprietors of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in Clayton, Missouri.  My father had only a second-grade education in a country school but he was a willing worker.  Some time before the year 1910, he became the superintendent of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm.  This job provided only rare days off, because, as you can imagine, the cows have to be milked every single day.  There was one compensation on the fringe side.  The superintendent of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm was provided with a large house on the top of a hill in Clayton, not far from the barns that held the milking cows.  All eight of the Carr children were delivered in that house.

My father liked to be around livestock and apparently he was a success as the superintendent of the Lilac Roost Farm.  However, in 1925, Sam Davis stopped my father in his tracks when he told him that before long there would be trucks that would pick up the milking cows to take them away.  Sam Davis also told my father that he had elected to make a subdivision out of the property owned by the farm.  Further, Davis would like my father to move out of the house provided for the superintendent’s use, because it was to be torn down.  The title of this essay is “Where Shall We Go Now, My Family and I?” which must have been the thought in my father’s mind.  At that point, he had a wife and five children to care for and he found himself not only without a job, but also homeless.

The old man was a go-getter and in a short while, he found employment with the Evans-Howard Refractories.  Evans-Howard manufactured firebricks which was dirty work but provided employment.  When we left the Lilac Roost Farm, my father was able to find a very small house on North and South Road in Clayton, Missouri and squeezed all of us into perhaps four or five rooms.  As I said, my father was a go-getter and he made arrangements with the St. Louis County National Bank to provide funds so that he could oversee the building of a new home about three quarters of a mile south of the building where the Carr children  had all been born.

But bad luck seemed to follow my father.  When the Depression came in late 1929, there was no demand for firebricks and the refractory closed down, never to open again. I hope that you can see why thoughts of my father occurred to me as I was listening to “Belfast Mill.”  The “Belfast Mill” closed down and never reopened.  The same thing happened to the Evans and Howard factory in Brentwood, Missouri.

During the Depression, there was absolutely no work at all to be had.  When the winter came, there was no coal to put in the furnace.  Both my father and I cut trees and split them so that the home on Frances Place in Richmond Heights could be heated.  Wood burns quite a bit quicker than coal, and I can assure you that on many winter mornings, the members of our family had to survive the shivers.

Eventually, after about four or five years of unemployment, my father found a job in University City, which had to do with mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and other matters which tended to make the residents of those buildings feel proud.  As I have related before, in 1947 my father was too well advanced into blindness to climb a tree to trim it.  He stepped on an imaginary branch, and then fell to the ground and fractured his skull.  That was the end of his working career.

My father’s accident happened in the spring of 1947 when telephone workers such as myself were on strike.  When I went to visit him while he was confined to the hospital, my father said that I had been without a paycheck for a while and he had a few dollars that he would like to give to me.  That is the kind of person that he was.  I told him that I had saved some money in anticipation of the strike and that if I ran low in the money department I would come back to see him.

I have said on more than one occasion that my father and I were strangers to the end.  There was never ever an argument between the two of us.  He regarded me as a “strange duck;” but I was one of his children and he loved me.  In my own perverse way, I loved him too.  From the vantage point of 52 years after his death, I can see the travails that he went through having a large family without a job.  And so the songs about the “Belfast Mill” and “Yesterday’s Men” should have been published when my father could have heard them.  I have listened to those songs, which are now provided to all my readers on the CD that is attached.  In my mind, there is a special poignancy about those songs.


Well, so much for my father.  Now we must turn to the two songs that are sung by the Fureys and Davey Arthur.  Listening to at least one of the songs, there is a reference to “craic” Friday nights.  “Craic” is a Gaelic word that has nothing whatsoever to do with cocaine.  It is translated into English as fun or great fun.  “Craic” would occur when men needled each other on a Friday night after a few beers.  “Craic” is usually accompanied by great laughter.  So please remember that “craic” has nothing to do with cocaine.

In discussing my father in the first third of this essay, I can now see that to a large extent we have covered the second part of the essay having to do with the two songs that caused me to think of my father.  The Fureys are a very interesting group of musicians who can play a wide variety of instruments and play them well.  The only thing that is lacking is that none of the Fureys can sing.  But they give it a try.  Their words are intelligible and as you can see from the “Belfast Mill” and “Yesterday’s Men,” they have made a very deep impression upon this old reprobate’s mind as he endures the second Depression of his life.


That leaves us with only the final third of this essay to work on.  Liam Clancy died a short while ago.  Liam Clancy was probably the most beloved of all Irish folk singers.  My collection of records that he has done is fairly extensive.  I never tire of hearing him.  Liam was born in 1935 and in the end, he suffered from a pulmonary disease which I imagine would make it very difficult for a singer to endure.  But in any event, the enterprise that Liam Clancy founded, Liam Clancy Productions, could be passed on to his chosen successor, Kevin Evans.

In my last mailing of essays, there was a recording of Kevin Evans singing his own composition, “The Orchard.”  It has a number of racy lyrics such as making love before marriage.  In that song, the singer is identified as having lived into his 91st year.  Now we have Liam Clancy singing the same song in what I suppose would be called an expurgated version.  There is no reference to making love in the orchard without the benefit of clergy.  In Liam Clancy’s version, he wants to die at the age of 81, not 91.  As a public service, I have provided both versions of “The Orchard” so that you can make your own comparison.

For myself, I declare the two versions a tie.  I like them both and regard “The Orchard” as one of the most important contributions to the musical scene in the past several years.  Remember that the comeraghs are apples grown in Ireland.  The action takes place in a town called Dungarven in County Waterford on the southeast coast of Ireland.  A further translation in both versions is potcheen which is bootleg Irish whiskey.  Anyone who drinks potcheen is entitled to the violent headache which follows, for which I have very little if any sympathy at all.

And so in this essay I have introduced you to the Fureys and Davey Arthur, Liam Clancy, and the songs of the Fureys that made me think about my father.  It might be said that memories of my father hijacked this whole essay but that is not the case at all as I view it.  My father would be glad to be remembered and I am honored to do that.  I am quite certain that he would have liked to have heard the Fureys, Kevin Evans, and most especially Liam Clancy.  But as the saying goes, you never appreciate them until they’re gone.  I regret that my epiphany on memories of my father did not occur while he was still alive.  But in all honesty, my father could not sing worth a lick, even when compared to the vocalists in the Fureys.  But all of the people involved in this essay, including the musicians, were full-fledged Irish.  From my standpoint, that has to count for something.



March 1, 2010

Essay 441


Kevin’s commentary: Heck of a learning experience. Songs, new words, and autobiographical bits I’d never head before.

So far is the CD is concerned, that may have been lost to history. Nearly all of the songs, however, are available on the internet and are well worth listening to.  I personally have experience with the Clancy brothers that goes back all the way to 1990; my father liked to sing me lullaby songs preformed by Makem and Clancy. That particular song was “four green fields” (a very cheery song to sing to a baby) but some of the songs mentioned in this essay have a similar feel.

It’s also entertaining to me to think about the generational differences that become apparent within just a few steps down the family tree. My mother’s father’s father was a hard working man who made ends meet with physical labor and determination. My mother’s father was similarly hardworking, but as a rather “strange duck” he was also intelligent and charismatic enough to rise through the ranks of the union and the AT&T corporation. He got enough money together to let my mother go to college, from which she graduated to become a lawyer. And that chain has continued; I’ve gotten through college and now work at a technology startup. My older brother has his own company. Trying to explain either of our jobs to Pop’s father would be a difficult proposition.

That said, the total generational distance between something as concrete as shoveling coal and something as abstract as doing sales for an internet sales product that didn’t exist two years ago is surprisingly small. What’s more, I think it’s a mistake to assume that any of these professions are more or less worthwhile than any others. Every single day of my great grandfather’s work, he could sit back and feel confident that he had made a train move, or kept a bunch of cows milked and happy, or something similarly tangible. Many days of the week, I don’t know whether or not I’ve actually brought any value to anyone. There is certainly something to be said for all these different kinds of work.


An outsider not familiar with Ezra’s Essays might have read the title of this essay and believed it referred to an international law firm.  That is not the case. The title reflects the fact that this is a country of immigrants.  At the moment none of my readers are native Americans such as Cherokee, Iroquois, and other such tribes. There is one reader named Sven Lernevall who is a citizen of Sweden.  Aside from Herr Lernevall, the rest of the readers of these essays are all the descendants of immigrants.  I freely admit that my ancestors came to these shores because it beat the place of their birth.  They were starving to death during the famine in Ireland.

In recent months or years we have been engaged in the pursuit of citizenship for two immigrants who wish to become citizens of this country.  As I related in an earlier essay, they waited for more than nine years to get a green card which entitled them to become permanent residents.  There will be a five-year wait from that time until they are granted full citizenship.  I hope to be around when that happens.

I cringe when politicians and other public figures proclaim that the United States is the creation of God and the greatest country in the whole world.  The fact of the matter is we don’t lead much of anything anymore.  A large part of the reason for our falling behind has to do with the state of the education of our children.  Our students are being badly outpaced by Asian and European students and we seem to be unable to fix that.  Much of Western Europe, for example, leads us in the production of college graduates.  A few miles east of here in Newark, New Jersey, the graduation rate from high school is an abysmal 11 or 12%.

Certainly in terms of infrastructure, this country is not the greatest in the world by any means.  Other countries have trains that run on time.  The Chinese tested a train just last week between Beijing and Shanghai whose speed reached 300 miles per hour.  The best we could do is the pedestrian route of the Acela which runs between Boston and Washington.  Judy and I have ridden that train and I suspect that the maximum rate of speed barely reaches 75 miles per hour.

It gets no better in the air or on the ground.  Our air transport system is overcrowded and now very expensive.  And our roads are not much better than they were 5 years ago.  Our bridges are sadly in need of repair and replacement.

Aside from not taking care of our educational needs and our infrastructure, we find that the right wing of our political system actively opposes immigration.  Many of them are intent upon finding illegal immigrants and sending them to locations where they may be deported.  This is a tragic situation.  It leads me to the belief that the genius of this country is that we have always taken refugees from around the world and turned them into industrious Americans.  The motto “E Pluribus Unum” which is “From many one” would apply to the United States.  While I deplore what the right wing of our political spectrum wishes to do to immigrants, I applaud what has been accomplished thus far by those immigrants.

For example, look at the restaurants.  Look at what the immigrants have done to introduce other Americans to their native cuisines.  In nearly every town, we can find Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French, Indian, Mexican and other restaurants offering food that has been produced by immigrant chefs.

Aside from the culinary arts, think about what we have gained musically.  There are as many variations in music as there are in restaurants.

For many years I have engaged in the delightful pursuit of where Americans trace their ancestry to.  I believe that I am not alone in thinking about ancestry.  Dr. Blaustein, from the title of this essay, is one who thought a good bit about the ancestry of Americans that he has run across.  For example he and I had a lively conversation about another doctor in the Summit Medical Group named Volpe.  Dr. Blaustein seemed to think that Dr. Volpe was German.  I have been a patient of Dr. Volpe and I know that his name is Italian.  But in any case this is a lively bit of speculation that I engage in regularly.

Now look at it this way.  If we had remained subjects of the English crown, the names of our neighbors would be Mr. Brown, Mr. Jones, Mr. Byfield, and the rest of the English names.  Beyond that, if we had remained subjects of the English monarchy, we would be eating absolutely tasteless food.  When was the last time that you heard a person say that he or she wanted to visit a new English restaurant?  Before I left employment with the Bell System, I had secretaries by the name Scheller, Giovi, and  Impellizari.  That would suggest German ancestors in one case and Italian in another.  So you see the “E Pluribus Unum” part at work.

Perhaps all of this could be expressed in the famous work by Emma Lazarus who wrote the poem that is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  The poem goes:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


We may have our arguments as Americans.  But this elderly Yankee hopes that the spirit of the poem by Emma Lazarus lasts forever.

Now as to the title, Michael Yanacone’s family came to this country from Italy where the name was spelt Iannaccone.  He is an expert at tuck-pointing of brick chimneys.  When we have a need for a Certified Public Accountant, we seek the advice of Andrew Yadamiec, who is the product of a marriage between a Polish person and an Italian.  The third person in the title is Howard Blaustein, a learned physician who specializes in diseases of the lungs.  And finally, Dave Muldowney, also a CPA, represents the Irish contingent.  So you see that we have been working at turning “E Pluribus Unum” into a reality.  And this country remains a nation of immigrants.  What could be better than that?



December 4, 2010

Essay 516


Kevin’s commentary:

In this type of scenario I always think of three core problems.

First is the naturalization process which is both difficult and slow as all get out. This creates pressure on immigrants to come to the country illegally, which damages their reputation as a group and makes them unable to benefit from — and pay into — the system that is supposed to encompass everyone in the country.

Second is just plain xenophobia from American citizens.  The US isn’t the only country guilty of this, but it doesn’t help. I would propose making sure at least every medium-sized city in the states has a handful of good Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, etc places. Evangelism via food seems like a surefire way of doing things.

Last is actually an issue inside the immigrant communities themselves, which increasingly cluster up, become insular, and refuse to really assimilate in the ways to which the American population is largely accustomed. This isn’t bad in a vacuum and actually makes a whole lot of sense but I feel like it still hinders progress on the xenophobia front.



Jake Haberfeld, Jerusalem~ 1983


Most Americans, particularly of the male gender, like to think of themselves as stand-up guys without a need to revert to nuances and/or euphemisms.  There is nothing wrong with nuances and euphemisms, but there is also a virtue in calling things by their proper names.

For reasons unknown to me, and probably to anyone else, the nuances and euphemisms seem to abound in this country about the use of the word “toilet.”  In the rest of the world, there is no embarrassment about asking a stranger the directions to the toilet.  The toilet serves a very important function in our lives.  Nonetheless, we go out of our way to use nuances and euphemisms to talk about it rather than use the word “toilet.”  At the same time, other euphemisms have crept into American speech.  The purpose of this small essay is to review a few of those euphemisms.  I have no great objection to euphemisms or nuances.  But in some cases they strangle the intent of the language.

Let us take the issue of the toilet.  In Great Britain, which is the source of our language, polite society will often refer to the toilet as the “loo.”  Why the “loo” is appropriate and the use of the word “toilet” should be avoided is beyond my current comprehension.

In this country, it is common for us to refer to the toilet as “the john.”  This makes no sense whatsoever, since the use of the word “john” is widely understood and when one asks for directions, they are given immediately.  Somehow or other, particularly Americans are prone to avoid the use of the word “toilet.”  Maybe this essay will bring it back into fashionable use, but probably it will not.

My experience with euphemisms for the word “toilet” started early in life.  In 1928 I started to school at the Forsythe Public School in Clayton, Missouri.  The teacher was Miss Brantley, a prematurely gray-haired woman who was also motherly.  On my first day or two in school, long before I could read or write, I felt a need to take care of relieving myself.  I had picked a likely place with open doors and went into that room.  Before any harm was done, Miss Brantley pounced on me like a hawk, and escorted me out.  My instincts were appropriate in that this room contained a toilet, but the fact remains that it was the girls’ room.  Mind you, it was not the girls’ toilet.  The sign on the door said the “Girls’ Room.”  Miss Brantley took me to the room next door, and explained that boys such as myself were supposed to use the boys’ room.

She told me that in short order I would learn to read, but in the meantime I should look for the large capital letter “B” as in boys’ room which would take me to the proper place for what I had intended to do.  Curiously, some 84 years later in this house in Short Hills, New Jersey, I have almost always referred to the toilet as “the boys’ room.”  Good old Miss Brantley made her mark.

When I went to work as a youngster in the filling station business in the 1930s, we often had a room devoted to the toilet which was called “the restroom.”  My recollection is that in the large Mobil gas station run by Carl Shroth, there were two toilets.  One of course was designated “the ladies’ room” and the other was “the men’s room.”  I took another job in the filling station business with Eddie Williams which had only one room devoted to this purpose.  It was called “the restroom.”  Nobody went there to rest.  It was used mostly by delivery people bringing packages from the major stores in St. Louis to the suburbs.  They would interrupt their frenetic runs to use the toilet in the filling station.  I can assure you that they never rested in that location.  This was the Depression and the department stores could give their delivery people an almost impossible load of packages to deliver.  The fact that they were able to use our restroom or “john” made life more enjoyable for the delivery men.

There are two other euphemisms for the room that houses the toilet.  One is the “bathroom,” even though showers have largely displaced the bath tub.  The second euphemism is the “powder room.”  Men such as the author of Ezra’s essays are disinclined to use that term.  Perhaps those who use those two terms feel a bit more elegant rather than calling it the toilet.  I am neutral in this dispute.

Finally, we go for the last citation on toilets to Jerusalem.  On this occasion, I had invited Kim Armstrong, who was Director of Advertising for Long Lines of AT&T, as well as Tom Maxey, the Vice President from M. W. Ayer, to accompany Jim Hurley and myself on a visit to the Israeli Telecommunications Authority.  Jake Haberfeld was the most gentle man in the world, which covered a fierce determination to destroy the Nazis.  Jake was one of the first men to assist the Zionist Movement in Palestine.  At this point, Jake was the dominant figure in the Israeli Telecommunications Authority.  My essays have revealed a great affection on my part for Jake.

In any event, after Jim and I had taken Kim Armstrong and the Vice President of the advertising agency to a meeting with Jake, there came a time for a break in the proceedings.  Jake knew that Kim Armstrong was new to Jerusalem, and so as the meeting broke up, he approached Kim and said to her, “Would you like to go to that certain place?”  Obviously, what Jake had in mind was the ladies’ toilet.  Kim Armstrong gave Jake the appropriate response but later we had a good bit to laugh at because of Jake’s politeness.  And now we return from Mr. Haberfeld and Israel to domestic locations here in New York.

At fancy New York hotels, the word “toilet” never appears.  The proper word is “restroom.”  I am informed by Miss Chicka, my wife, that in those fancy hotels, the restroom consists of two rooms.  One is for the business of taking care of what needs to be done.  An adjoining room is usually equipped with a sofa.  My sinister mind tells me that is why the women take so long to attend to their duties in the restroom.  Being a proper gentleman, I have never seen this arrangement, so I will have to rely on Miss Chicka for her description of what goes on in the restroom.

On the men’s side, in some hotels in the 1950s or thereabouts, there was an occupation having to do with the passing of hand towels to gentlemen who used the toilet facilities.  There was an occasion when The New York Times celebrated the retirement of such a person handing out towels on his fiftieth anniversary.  The procedure was that one accepted a towel after washing one’s hands and a tip would be given to the gentleman passing out the towels.  I can only say that the occupation of passing out towels in the men’s room was a unique one.  I never aspired to do that job but it is pleasant to know that men can find many ways to make a living in the great city of New York.

I am also told by Miss Chicka that there were places such as night clubs where there were females who handed out the towels to users of the toilet.  In one case, she observed that a woman had brought a small dog to the toilet with her and had asked the attendant handing out the towels to watch her dog while she concluded her business.  There is a correction to this story in that club.  Miss Chicka now informs me that she wanted the ladies’ room attendant to watch her dog while she went to have her dinner.  Boys, I think that this is going beyond the call of duty.

Well, so much for euphemisms as they apply to the toilet.  Euphemisms don’t end there.  There is a certain coarseness to the phrase, “I am eating.”  The proper euphemistic response would be, “I am now dining.”  This may not make the food taste any better but it is always better to use the proper phrase for dining.

Finally it seems to me that there are more euphemisms for the dying process than I ever imagined. Dying is a natural part of life but I can understand the grievers who would refer to it in a euphemistic manner.  One of the best obituaries I have read says, “Asleep in the arms of Jesus.”  The fact is that the man died.  Then there is the famous quotation from Frances Kaplan Licht.  When my great and good friend Irving Licht died, there were those who told Frances that she had “lost” her husband.  Frances’s response was eloquent.  She said, “I didn’t lose him; he died.”  I believe that more such eloquence should be a part of our language as spoken by Americans.

Well, those are my thoughts on euphemisms as they apply to the restroom and to dying or “passing on.”  I am certain that euphemisms make the speaker feel a little bit better.  If that is what it takes to make people a bit more happy, I am all in favor of it.  But I will always remember my great and good friend Jake Haberfeld who asked Kim Armstrong whether she wanted to “go to that certain place.”  That may be the euphemism to end all euphemisms.

My great regret is that Jake Haberfeld and my first grade teacher Miss Brantley never got together.  It would give me supreme pleasure to hear Jake Haberfeld sing Miss Brantley’s favorite song, which was,

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you.
We’re all in our places with sunshiney faces.
Good morning Miss Brantley.

It was my pleasure to know both Miss Brantley and Jake Haberfeld, the squire of Jerusalem.  And if Jake wants to call the toilet “That certain place”, I will accept that as a good usage of the English language.



November 2, 2010

Essay 509


Postscript:  There are two euphemisms for the toilet that must be registered.  My friends who served in the American Navy would never forgive me without my mentioning the fact that in the Navy, the toilet was called “the head.”  I am at a loss as to what that term really means, but I am also at a loss when so many of us refer to the toilet as “the John.”  Now to my Navy friends, I am forced to point out that in the American Army during the Second World War era, the toilet was always referred to in official documents, as “the latrine.”  Latrine is a French sounding word which is much more elegant than the Naval term, “the head.”  So take that, you Navy guys.



Kevin’s commentary:  I am starting to feel like there should be a whole separate “bathroom” category on Ezra’s Essays. Certainly if my mother had a series of essays, that one would feature prominently.


The title suggests that there are two principles involved in this humble essay.  The first is, of course, British Petroleum (BP), an organization that is now hip deep or chest deep in grave trouble.  The second principle is the dermatologist named Gruber, whom you will come to know before this essay is finished.

Taking the principles in order, we start with British Petroleum or BP.  Today is the 37th day of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  I have no intention of reciting to you all of the disabilities that flow from that catastrophe.  We start with eleven men being killed, which is an improvement, because a few years ago, BP was involved in a similar incident in which fifteen men were killed.  As this essay is being dictated, British Petroleum is now attempting to use a device called a “top kill” in the name of shutting off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is generally believed by people in the field that the top kill method will have no more than a 60 to 70% chance of working.  And in the meantime, lives are being destroyed and it will be many years or generations before the gulf returns to normal.

And so we leave BP on the grounds that you will hear great volumes of information about BP on the news broadcast every evening.  Now if the top kill method has only a 60 or 70% chance of working, the thought is that the spill will go on indefinitely.  In that time, I am certain that you will hear more about BP than you may ever want to know.

Now let us turn to Gabriel George Gruber, M.D., a dermatologist of the first order who is associated with the Summit Medical Group here in New Jersey.  Because I am fair skinned and because I am bald, I need the services of a person like Gabriel Gruber on more occasions than I would have wished.  Over the fifteen years that I have been associated withnDr. Gruber, he has been very conscientious in treating my needs in the dermatology process.  During that time, Dr. Gruber has discovered five cancerous growths on my scalp that have required surgery.  I suspect that without Dr. Gruber’s devotion to his work I might be in more trouble than I am.

Now that I am in my high eighties, I have developed some growths on my arms and on my body.  Dr. Gruber has carefully inspected those growths and has pronounced them benign.  He has told me that if I wish to have them removed, it could be done.  But he strongly recommended against it.  I am not a movie star, so having a few growths on my arms or body would be no problem.  But then Dr. Gruber enunciated the basic principles of Gruber’s Law.  He said that if we did not disturb those growths, chances are that for the rest of my life they would not disturb me.  So it is that I have let the growths, small as they are, take place as I have no cosmetic reason to violate Gruber’s law.

Now if we take the case of British Petroleum, we have an instance of British Petroleum violating the Earth to a depth of 18,000 feet.  When they did that, a tremendous force of gases came up the pipes, killing the eleven men, destroying the rig, and sinking it along with BP’s reputation.

I understand the need for fossil fuels.  I must point out that the use of those products in the United States is out of proportion to our population.  If I am reliably informed, we consume about 20% of the world’s energy while we have only 3% of the world’s population.  So you see we have got a major problem.  But in supplying that need for our use, the oil companies have gone further from shore and have drilled in uncharted waters and at uncharted depths.  In the case in point, it would appear to me that British Petroleum would have been much better to have left things alone and to have avoided penetrating the Earth to a depth of 18,000 feet.  As Gabriel Gruber said, “If you don’t bother them, they probably won’t ever bother you.”  BP disturbed the Earth and it struck back with a vengeance.

When nature is offended, it strikes back with strong measures.  I would argue in the case in point that BP violated the law as promulgated by Gabriel Gruber.  It will be many generations before the Gulf of Mexico is ever returned to normal.  The message here is that if a law such as that enunciated by Gabriel Gruber is broken, don’t be offended by what comes next.



May 30, 2010

Essay 454 (again)


Kevin’s commentary: This essay seems to be an extension or further thoughts on a similarly themed essay which you can find here.


Those of you who have followed Ezra’s Essays know that during my childhood I was forced to attend religious services of the Protestant faith.  There were the Southern Baptists, the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, and, finally, the Free Will Baptists.  In the last case, the Free Willers banned musical accompaniment to their hymn singing on the grounds that pianos and organs were not invented at the time of Jesus.  When I pointed out that the church members who attended that church came to it in buses, automobiles, and street cars which also did not exist at the time of Jesus, that more or less made me an instant pariah which was a situation that I happily endured.

But in point of fact, I managed to retire from church-going in my 13th year, which would have been around 1935.  1935 is a long time ago and I thought that by this time the memories of those church services would have long disappeared.  But the fact is that on many occasions, I find myself singing Protestant hymns.  Recently I have been singing or humming, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm.” [Publisher’s note — the linked song is a version covered by David Crowder, an artist I enjoy — not the original]  The words go: “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arm, safe and secure from all alarm…”  It is a simple melody that has existed in my alleged brain for more than 75 years.

On other occasions I am humming or singing or thinking about words to a song whose name I have forgotten.  But the song goes: “I go to the garden alone, when the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear… is the voice of God and God alone.”  When it comes down to actual cases, I don’t claim that I have ever been in communication with God.  There are plenty of preachers who claim that they are in regular dialogue with God.  They are the sort of preachers that I detested as a child.

Another song that I sing is “In the sweet by and by”.  The words that follow are, “We shall meet on that beautiful shore.”  I assume that the songwriter meant the shores of the river Jordan.   However, the river Jordan is in Israel, and this song is about heaven.  But this is a small detail for hymn singers such as myself.

Then there is a hymn called, “Revive us Again.”  Among its lines are, “ Hallelujah! Thine the glory.  Hallelujah! Amen.  Hallelujah! Thine the glory.  Revive us again.”  For many years, I thought that hymn said, “Grind the Glory” rather than “Thine the Glory.”  I was the son of farmers and grinding the glory sounded better to me than “Thine the glory.”   Today when I hum that song, I still say, “Grind the glory.”

Perhaps the most famous Protestant hymn is “Amazing Grace.”  It was written by a sea captain who was involved in the slave trade business and regularly called at a place called Takoradi in Ghana, which used to be called the Gold Coast.  He picked up his slaves and took them to this country or to the Arab nations for auctioning.  It was his contention that there was a terrible storm at sea in which he almost drowned.

I have no idea what happened to the slaves he had aboard his ship.  But at any rate he retired; he went back to England and became a full-fledged Christian and eventually a Bishop in the Anglican church.  His name was John Newton.  I have always had a suspicion about Mr. Newton and his story of being hit by a storm at sea that almost drowned him.  In any case, he wrote the lyrics  to a Scottish tune that he called “Amazing Grace.”  One of the lines is: “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”  I believe that the use of the word “wretch” is an inspiration that I cannot erase from my memory.  Is there a more expressive line in Protestant hymns?  I doubt it.  I know all of the words to “Amazing Grace,” which do not need to be repeated here.  But the line about the wretch is a total king maker for me, a non-believer.  I believe that I am the “wretch” that Newton had in mind.  I am completely fulfilled.

There are several other hymns that bounce around in my brain, which I will not trouble you with here because they might convert you into Southern Baptists or Pentecostals or Nazarenes or Free-Will Baptists.  I will save you from that terrible fate.  But I thought it was an essay to let the world know that while I enjoy my position as a non-believer in religious matters, the fact is that those hymns have stuck with me for more than 75 years or thereabouts.  Why this is true, I have no idea.  My next door neighbor who is a harpist of great renown.  She is now studying the association between music and memory at Cambridge.

So you see there is some social underpinning for the matter of music and memory.  I will leave you with the thought of “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”  I take that personally as a full-fledged wretch, but I also doubt whether John Newton really endured the storm at sea which he said had saved him.  But who am I to say?  I enjoy the music and I enjoy the memories.  So I will go on humming or singing to myself hymns like “Leaning on the everlasting arm” and “Grind the glory.”



May 27, 2010

Essay 456


Kevin’s commentary:

The song that escaped Pop’s memory was called “In the Garden,” and is indeed quite pretty. Thanks to the magic of Google, I just spent the last hour or so listening to various hymns.  So I suppose now they’re a part of my memory as well, though they haven’t been drilled in there to the same extent that they have lodged in Pop’s mind. For the sake of full disclosure, the hymns which I’ve been listening to have primarily been covers as these tend to be of a substantially higher audio quality.

Still, though, there is certainly something to be appreciated.


As it has turned out with my having been born in the United States, my native tongue is the English language.  A good many years back, this language came from Saxon roots.  When it went to England, it became the Anglo-Saxon language.  Now of course it is simply the English language.

My comment here today has to do with two ancient usages of that language as well as a new addition to it.  It strikes me that the English language is now the lingua franca of the world and keeps on growing.  A great and good friend, Sven Lernevall of Stockholm, says that he regards the English language as a rich one.  If Sven says that our language is a rich one, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Lernevall.

At times like this, when the United States is in the midst of a mid-term political campaign, the language becomes even richer.  A good part of the time politicians invent new phrases which over time often become added to the language.  In the instant case, there is a woman in Nevada named Sharron Angle who is running against the majority leader of the United States Senate, Harry Reid.  I guess we will have to say Ms. Angle is given to making wild insinuations against our political system.  She has proposed doing away with Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs.

Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, wanted to run against Sharron Angle, on the grounds that she would be the easiest to defeat because of the looseness of her intellect and language.  On the other hand, Harry Reid is so unpopular in the state of Nevada that at this late date he is slightly behind her in the polls.  If Ms. Angle is elected to the United States Senate, it will be a comedown of great proportions.  But on the other hand it will give satirists burgeoning material for their stories.  (Final tallies gave Reid a very slight edge.)

In the last few days, Sharron Angle has demanded of Harry Reid that he should “man up.”  I am at somewhat of a loss to know what “man up” means, but the innuendo is that it has sexual connotations.  Angle contends that Harry Reid, her opponent, is not man enough to be the leader of the Democratic Party in the United States Senate.  It also suggests that Harry Reid is not man enough to satisfy a woman.  I will not be able to comment on Harry Reid’s sexual performances.  The election is less than two weeks off.  Maybe after that time, “man up” may become an addition to the language or on the other hand it may just be forgotten.  In the meantime Sharron Angle is being copied by a good many of the right-wing commentators.  They would use their political prestige to accuse their opponents of not being “man up” to perform their duties.  I hope that Professor Lernevall will make note of this fact to see if it has added to the richness of the English language.

Now we move to a much more pleasant subject.  Since the 1960s, there is a well-known trio of folk singers called Peter, Paul and Mary.  They are identified as Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers.  All three of them sing, and Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey play guitars.  For the better part of 50 years, Peter, Paul and Mary have given me great pleasure.

I have a device that delivers a condensed audio version of the New York Times on five days of the week.  Miss Chicka is the governor of that device and every day she adds a song at the end.  These songs have usually stuck in my head as I go around thinking about them for days at a time.  As long as it is a Peter, Paul and Mary song, I find that experience quite welcome.  The current resident in my memory is a song called “I Can Hear the Whistle Blow a Hundred Miles.”  Mary Travers performs the lead role on this piece assisted by Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey giving soft vocal harmony throughout much of the song.

Mary Travers died recently after a long bout with cancer.  Her loss was devastating and I will miss her greatly.  In the song of “I Can Hear the Whistle Blow” her voice is pure and unadulterated.  There are no coloratura offerings in this piece; it is just plain old Mary Travers singing that song the way it should have been sung.

As the song draws to a close, there are these lines.

Without a shirt on my back,

Without a penny to my name,

Lord, I can’t go home this-a-way, this-a-way.

That record has been in our collection for perhaps 25 years.  One of the thoughts that haunts me is that Mary Travers is singing “this-a-way.”  It is highly reminiscent of my parents who spoke that sort of language.  They would add the “a” in “this-a-way” to a good many words.  They would say of politicians, “They can’t go on acting this-a-way” for example.  Or they would say to a son, “You can’t go staying out late at night this-a-way.”

That sort of speech has largely disappeared from the English language in recent years in this country.  But I think there is a lyrical and musical content to it and so I repeat, “Lord, I can’t go home this-a-way.”

Now we turn to another construction that seems to come from Appalachia.  People in that part of the country pronounce the word “can’t” as “cain’t.”  I don’t know why this is done but it seems to be a wedding of “can’t” and “ain’t.”   Bill Clinton, the former President, is now on the stump trying to elect more Democrats in this mid-term election.

Clinton is a native of the great state of Arkansas.  Very often in informal sessions, Clinton reverts to the Appalachian influence on the English language.  In a recent speech, Clinton said that having completed two terms as President, he “cain’t run anymore.”  My parents and their rural friends almost always pronounced “can’t” as “cain’t.”  I used to think that the use of “cain’t” reflected poorly on the speaker’s education.  But as time has gone on, I find more people using that expression, particularly Southerners such as Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi.  I am left to say, “What the hell…”  It’s as good as “can’t.”  If I were to marry the Mary Travers lines from “whistle blowing,” I would say, “Lord, I cain’t go home this-a-way.”  That would seem to me to be an elegant phraseology.

My romance with the language of the Anglo Saxons has gone on for more than 80 years.  It is an interesting romance in that I find that as time goes on, I still find it absorbing.  That thought would apply to the use of both “this-a-way” and “cain’t.”

Now we have the new starter of “man up.”  If “man up” ever hangs around long enough to be a rival to “this-a-way” and “cain’t,” I will salute it at that time.  But in the meantime, mark me down as much preferring “cain’t” and “this-a-way” as distinguished from such small fry words as “man up”.  That adds nothing to the richness of the English language.



October 22, 2010

Essay 506


Kevin’s commentary:

Alas, Ms. Angle did not make it. So it goes.

In other news, I think “man up” is okay, though generally it is used to introduce a sexist statement. Nobody ever says that a female should “woman up” and go do something, because such phrasing would inevitably be followed by a stereotype and be frowned upon.