Archive for the June 2010 Category


Steven Sondheim is a magnificent composer of music.  A few years back he wrote a Broadway play called “A Little Night Music.”  The most prominent song in the play “A Little Night Music” is called “Send in the Clowns.”  I will not bother you with the full lyrics but I must tell you that the final line in the song “Send in the Clowns” is “Don’t bother; they’re here.”  The House of Representatives hearing yesterday, June 16, and the negotiations between BP and the President that preceded it by one day have provided us with an ample supply of clown stories.

Let us take them in chronological order.  The Chairman of BP, which used to be called British Petroleum, is a gentleman named Carl-Henric Svanberg.  Apparently he had a face-to-face negotiation with Barack Obama and the result was that BP will set aside $20 billion to recompense the people on the Gulf of Mexico who had suffered so terribly.  English is not Chairman Svanberg’s native tongue.  I assume that his native tongue is Swedish.  But he could have been better advised.  When Chairman Svanberg left the negotiations with Barack Obama, he had a statement to read in which on at least two occasions, he referred to those he was trying to help as “small people.”

This has caused a storm because nobody in the United States, including midgets and people such as former Labor Secretary Reich at less than five feet, likes to be called small people.  Over the years I have had several friends in Sweden, all of whom spoke excellent English and would never have made a mistake such as this.  But old Svanberg got carried away after having agreed to make a deposit of $20 billion and called the people he was trying to help “small people.”

I don’t regard myself as a big person, either in size or in importance.  I think of myself as an average sort of fellow.  I suspect that there are millions of other people who have the same opinion of themselves and those at the lower end of the economic scale might hate to be called small people.  But that gaffe was small and was soon overshadowed at the Congressional hearing by BP Chief Executive Officer and Joe Barton, a Representative from Texas.

The Chief Executive Officer of BP is named Anthony (Tony) Hayward.  His testimony is, among other things, that he is paid $6 million per year.  Tony Hayward sat on the witness stand in front of the committee of Congress and suffered a terrible case of forgettery.  The Chief Executive Officer said that he was “not in on that decision”; he “couldn’t remember” or perhaps it was below his station in life to make “that sort of decision.”

A commentator last night concluded that Tony Hayward denied participation in more than 65 decisions that were made leading up to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.  Tony Hayward speaks excellent English, as befits a Doctor of Geology from the University of Edinburgh.  But when it comes to decision making, old Tony was simply out of the room and can’t remember anything.  In Missouri, we have a term for the likes of Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward.  It is a liar.

Finally, Congressmen were reading their preliminary statements.  Joe Barton, the Representative of the Sixth District of Texas, presented himself as the chief clown of clowns.  This is a significant district in Texas, which includes Arlington, Ennis, and Crockett.  Barton has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Relations from Perdue University.  Before being elected to Congress, he was the natural gas decontrol consultant for the Atlantic Richfield Oil and Gas Company.  So you can see that he is no ignoramus, but a fairly educated man.

Joe Barton’s opening statement, the lead Republican on the committee, was awash in apologies to none other than BP.  He accused the President of the United States of “shaking down” British Petroleum and called the $20 billion a “slush fund.”  This happened slightly before noon.

The committee was in recess to take a vote in the House of Representatives for about 40 minutes.  When the committee reconvened, Barton was called on, ostensibly to take back his apology of the morning.  In point of fact, the leadership of the Republican Party had bashed Barton for what he had done in issuing an apology to BP.  They told him that he would either retract what he had charged as a “shake down” and a “slush fund” or they would remove him as a vice-chairman of the committee he was on.  In trying to withdraw his apology, Barton only got in deeper.

He accused those who listened to his apology in the morning of having misconstrued his meaning.  In so doing, the word “construction” took three flops out of him.  In the end, I suppose, we were told that the policy did not really apply because we had “misconstructed” his meaning.  Barton is now the laughing stock of the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Independents of the entire political structure.  He must have followed the example of George W. Bush who during his Presidency, once told his listeners that he should not be “misunderestimated.”

But Barton has provided one valuable service.  He has supplied all of his opponents with a rich tagline because of his apology to BP.  I plan to call Barton and tell him that the apology to BP is not enough.  On behalf of the American people, he should apologize to Great Britain because we were unkind to King George III.  I am certain that he can use his education at Perdue University to “misconstruct” an elegant apology.

I believe that Stephen Sondheim, if he is still alive, should record the events of recent days.  Mr. Sondheim would probably conclude that

Mr. Svanberg, Tony Hayward, and Joe Barton are indeed the clowns of clowns and should be recognized by the King of Sweden, the magnificent Queen of England, and the Republican Party of the United States as such.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical was a tender love story.  In the case of Svanberg, Tony Hayward, and Joe Barton, I can assure you there is no love lost.  Love is a serious subject and should not be relegated to the likes of these three ultimate clowns.



June 20, 2010

Essay 466


Kevin’s commentary: And on top of all this, I’m guessing this essay was written before the whole “I just want my life back” line came out. I guess the combination of stress and constant media attention makes people say really, incredibly stupid things.

GIVING A (Insert Adjective) RAT’S ASS

In 1942, we were at war with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.  In the summer of that year, I joined or enlisted in the American Army.  During that period dating back to 1940, there was a draft system in place which compelled young men to submit to military discipline in, most likely, the American Army.  There are pluses and minuses in the draft system, but I believe that on balance, at least from a linguistic point of view, the draft system worked to my advantage.  It gave me exposure to the culture of young men throughout the United States who used expressions that were of considerable interest to me.

The title of this essay is taken from soldiers who came from the southern states or from Indiana.  The fellow from Indiana was named Gertener.  Southerners and the people from Indiana used colorful metaphors and “giving a rat’s ass” was one of them.

Now we proceed to the real purpose of this essay.  On Saturday, June 12, I thought that it was my patriotic duty to listen to the opening game of the World Cup series in soccer or football.  Why we call it soccer when the rest of the world calls it football is beyond me, but in any event, on Saturday, June 12, the United States was matched against England.  The point that is most significant here is that England claims to have invented football or soccer.  That is fine with me, but I wish to tell my British compatriots that, after listening to broadcasts of soccer or football games, it is a boring, boring, boring game.

There were two reasons primarily for my tuning in to the broadcast of the US-English game.  In the first place, I am an American who still thinks that King George III of England was a complete fraud.  Secondly, I am not only an American, but my ancestry is thoroughly Irish.  On grounds of both American citizenship and Irish ancestry, there is no reason to love England.  But as I have done in other World Cup series, I have attempted to force myself to listen to the broadcast of games involving the United States and England and other countries.  A few years back, when I could see, I attempted to watch the games.  Now, in blindness, I am forced to rely on radio accounts.  After 15 minutes of listening to the US-English game, I was thoroughly frustrated.  My XM radio, which seems to bounce signals off the moon, was covering the game in South Africa.  The announcer was British and, because of the slowness of the action, I could follow the events reasonably well.  England scored the first goal, which the announcer, as all announcers do in soccer, let out a cry of “gooaaal.”  It took him perhaps a minute between the first syllable and the last syllable to say there was a “g-ooooo-l.”  All announcers tend to do this I think, but I must comment that it is thoroughly stupid.

A little while later, the United States scored a goal, mainly because the English goal keeper was thoroughly screwed up.  My English announcer made it clear that this goal keeper was worthless.

So after 15 minutes of complete boredom, as I had done four and eight  years ago, I turned the radio off.  The silence in the room was about as interesting as the soccer match between the US and England.  I may return to listen to a broadcast later on in the World Cup series out of patriotism and quite certainly I again will be bored.

The English have a penchant for inventing boring, boring, boring games.  Consider cricket, where matches go on for a day or two.  Consider their invention of golf.  I cannot imagine anyone becoming excited over a golf game.  How about the British invention of polo?  Beyond cricket and golf, there is the wonderful world of tennis.  To my ears, listening to a description of a tennis match is, as my friend from Indiana would say, “not worth a rat’s ass.”  The same could be said about polo and cricket and other English games.  Why in the world do the English invent such stupidly boring games?  I have no answer but I can also say with great accuracy that the broadcast of these games will tell you that they are not worth a rat’s ass.

This same description could also be used for yacht racing, particularly with Tony Hayward of the BP oil spill in command.  Yacht racing is one more boring English game.

To dress up this expression, I have made arrangements in the title for an adjective to be involved before the words “rat’s ass.”  It can be an obese rat’s ass or a skinny rat’s ass or a voluptuous rat’s ass.  I leave it up to my readers to invent their own adjectives, knowing that the expression “rat’s ass” will be enlightening and illuminating.  Even Gertener from Indiana might be surprised.

There are two English games that seem to want to avoid the use of the word “zero.”  The first is soccer, where the term that is used for zero is nil.  The second is tennis, where the word for zero is love.  It seems to me that young men who are on the make could get these terms confused between soccer and tennis and romance.  It could well be that a young man with romantic intentions might say to a woman who was similarly inclined, “Why don’t we go to my hotel room and make nil?”  Of course, he had love-making in mind, but with the World Cup now in session, he would then confuse the term nil for love.  I dislike these two games sufficiently that I have never made this mistake.  But by the time the finals in the World Cup are played two weeks from now, we may well find the young swain trying to persuade a comely female to make nil with him.  Stay tuned for further bulletins.

This then is my report about Americans of Irish ancestry once again trying to become interested in the World Cup games.  I have done my best but I cannot get over the feelings that the broadcast of such games is thoroughly and totally not worth a rat’s ass.

Andrea Mitchell, who is a prominent NBC commentator, would refer to this expression as the “A word.”  Another commentator I heard spelled out the word “ass.”  As a peasant, I have no trouble whatsoever in pronouncing such words as rat’s ass.  The World Cup will take two weeks to complete the games because there are 64 teams involved.  If you wish to become thoroughly bored, you may listen to them, but I am here to tell you that such broadcasts are not worth a luscious rat’s ass.

The same goes for broadcasts of golf, tennis, cricket, polo and yacht racing.   Rule Britannia.  Britannia rules the waves.  “Like hell they do!”



June 19, 2010

Essay 464


Kevin’s commentary:


Those are fighting words, if ever I heard them! Well, at least, they would be fighting words if I gave a rat’s ass about any of the sports mentioned. I feel confident though that if I were a supporter of cricket, golf, yadda yadda then I would react strongly to this essay. But let’s up the ante a little bit – I think that while golf and soccer take the gold and silver medals for most mind-numbingly boring games of all time, baseball probably picks up the bronze. At least polo has horses, and tennis moves quickly!  I realize this may displease the author of Ezra’s essays, who always hoped that his grandsons would grow up to be big league pitchers and shortstops and what not. But the fact remains that a game where nine tenths of the time is spent watching a pitcher mill around on the mound and spit is not an engaging one.


I think the point here is that very few (read: zero) sports are actually engaging in their own right, but rather depend on specific loyalties to build and retain viewership. For instance, people who used to play baseball, or feel loyalty to particular cities, or whose families have traditionally supported a given team, or who have a favorite star player, or whose friends predominantly socialize during baseball broadcasts, or whathave you will invest some time to learn the subtleties of the game for this reason. The more in-depth that one knows a game and its players, the more rewarding it is to watch the professionals excel. This is true for any sport, and is the reason that I can watch a Starcraft broadcast for hours on end but can’t watch a soccer match for the life of me.



Curiously, the oil spill by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico brings to mind the fate of the Mary Ellen Carter.  That boat was Irish and presumably it served in the fishing trade.  According to the song, as it approached its harbor the captain was drunk and the ship hit a rock and sank.  The owners of the Mary Ellen Carter collected their insurance and told the sailing world that they were done with that small boat.

Members of the crew were put out of work when that decision was made.  With the abandoned craft on the bottom of the harbor, those crew members set to work to raise her.  Eventually they succeeded but in the process, they had all sorts of trials with the insurance companies and the ship outfitters.  Their trials are neatly summed up in one lyric from the song.  That lyric holds that “smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go.”  The Mary Ellen Carter was raised from the harbor and put back into service.  It is a standard folk song in the Irish repertoire.

But as I began to think about that line about smiling bastards, it dawned on me that the BP company that is responsible for the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the modern day “smiling bastards.”  You may recall that at the beginning, BP assured us that it was a small leak and that it would soon be taken care of.  As time went on, the so-called “small leak” grew into something on the order of 100,000 barrels of oil being released every day by the gusher at the foot of the BP drilling.  But the Chief Executive Officer of BP assured us at every step of the way that in a matter of a few days, this still could be taken care of.  The language he used was a superb example of great enunciation in that he spoke in paragraphs.  Tony Hayward, who is the Chief Executive Officer of BP, lied to us about how much oil was escaping from his drilling and he lied to us about the prospects for its cleanup.  And so it seems to me that the sinking of the Mary Ellen Carter, which occurred early in the 20th century, has happened to us again.

Tony Hayward and his companions have misled and lied to us for the two months that the oil spill has gone on.  So I think it is reasonably fair to conclude that in the case of BP, there were “smiling bastards” lying to us everywhere we went.  I am sorry to conclude with this thought but the message is inescapable.  We have been lied to by an Englishman who spoke perfect English and smiled a little bit.  But nonetheless he simply lied to us. When he was finished lying to us, he went home to England to participate in the racing of his yacht.  Tony Hayward and his corporation, BP, are simply lying bastards of the first order.  If they smiled while they were lying, perhaps they were smiles only of self-satisfaction.



June 21, 2010

Essay 486


Kevin’s commentary: I believe this is the song in questions. You don’t just stumble into music like this much these days. You kinda have to know what you’re looking for.  I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for songs that actually tell stories, and this one is a prime example. I had forgotten at the BP mess went on for as long as it did, but these essays have done a good job of reminding me. Hayward’s comment about just wanting to resume life as normal bugged me the most, if I recall.


Last week, which would have been the early part of June 2010, there was an announcement by two high-level vice presidents of the General Motors Corporation, that they were going to get rid of the “Chevy” trademark.  As most Americans would do, I interpreted that to mean that General Motors was going to rid itself of the Chevy brand.  In recent years, General Motors has dropped Pontiac and Oldsmobile, and a few years earlier they dropped the LaSalle brand, which was a smaller Cadillac.  In the meantime, they have sold Saturn and Hummer.  I was beside myself wondering what in the hell General Motors was up to in dropping the Chevrolet brand.

I was not the only one who was up in arms about this decision.  It turns out the dealers of Chevrolet were aghast at what they perceived as General Motors dropping them.  Can anyone in his American right mind believe that the country would be better off if the Chevrolet brand didn’t exist?  Absolutely not!

As it turns out, 24 hours later, General Motors announced that all it was to do was trying to get their dealers and the public to use the name Chevrolet rather than Chevy.  That is where the stupido, stupido heading of this essay comes into focus.  For 75 years or more, General Motors has labored mightily to get its product, the bottom of the price ladder, to be called Chevy rather than Chevrolet.  Those of you who have two gray hairs (of which I have none) will recall Dinah Shore singing “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”  Chevy has been an integral part of American life for more than 75 years.

In 1937, as a 15-year-old, I had saved my money from Schroth’s filling station so I had somewhere more than $50.  The lovely lady in Richmond Heights or Clayton, Missouri, announced at the filling station where I was working that she would be willing to sell her Chevrolet coupe for $50.  I scraped together every resource I had and I paid her the $50.  That bought me a 1931 Chevrolet coupe which I must say, as I look back on it, was a tremendous investment.  In 1941, I sold that coupe to my friend Talis Leocopolis for $50, the same price I had paid for it.  That little car gave me excellent service and never broke down.  The girl I was romancing thought it was great stuff.

So much for history.  Let us move forward to the magic year of 2010.  Two vice presidents of senior rank in the General Motors Corporation announced that henceforth, the Chevy brand should be called the “Chevrolet” brand.  The fact of the matter is that the public and myself heard only the first part of that announcement and assumed that General Motors was stupidly going to abandon the Chevy line of cars.  It was done with good reason because in the last few years General Motors had dropped the Oldsmobile, the Pontiac, the Saturn, and the Hummer.  Why anyone would want to drop the Chevy line is incomprehensible.  Within 24 hours, a mistake was realized by General Motors and they said, “Forget the whole thing, please.”

The two vice presidents who had signed the letter about the Chevy brand must have been off on their own and immediately found themselves isolated.  More logically, it could be that the two vice presidents were devoid of marketing experience and wanted to purify the Chevrolet brand by calling it Chevrolet rather than Chevy.

Those two vice presidents must have felt terribly alone when the uproar from the dealers and from the buying public reached the ears of the Chairman of General Motors, who is now Ed Whitacre, an import from the chairmanship of Southwestern Bell, which acquired AT&T.  I am not sure that Whitacre has any recognition of the value of the Chevy brand to General Motors.  He is an import from AT&T and as far as I know he has had nothing to do with the automobile industry.

Because AT&T puts a heavy reliance on engineers, mainly electrical engineers, I suspect that Whitacre rose in the Southwestern Bell Corporation oblivious to the forces of marketing.  That is my supposition.  But consider this fact.  He let that announcement be made by his subordinates for which, as Mr. Obama would say, he ought to have his ass kicked.

Over the years after my 1931 Chevy, I have owned other Chevrolets which all gave pretty good service.  As I became a little more affluent, I was able to buy Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles, and hard as it is to believe, I eventually wound up with a Cadillac.  The Cadillac was absolutely the worst car I ever drove from General Motors or anybody else.  It wasn’t worth a lick.

If I were running the General Motors Corporation at this moment, I would be inclined to call those two vice presidents in and give them walking papers. What they did was stupid beyond belief and for letting this happen, Chairman Ed Whitacre deserves to have his ass kicked as well.  So let me assure all Americans that the Chevy brand will continue to be produced and that there is no opprobrium for calling that car a Chevy.  I leave you now as I hum, in my mind, the words to “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” which is of course the Chevy brand.



June 16, 2010

Essay 465


Kevin’s commentary: I read an interesting discussion the other day about car branding. Specifically it had to do with the question: why do some brands, like Hondas for instance, make easy-to-remember model names like “Accord” or “Civic,” whereas more luxury brands tend to just use model numbers and letters? The consensus reached was that the luxury brands want to be known as a brand, and would rather all their cars just be united under that umbrella of, say, “Lexus,” where lower-end cars need to stick their model names into the minds of the general population.  I’m not sure if it was right or not but it definitely was interesting.

Similarly I think that “Chevy” is the more low-end term, whereas a push towards calling everything a “Chevrolet” would just be a halfhearted attempt to do what, for instance, Audi is doing. Not a great idea, if you ask me.

Also, it’s crazy that a car used to be something you could buy for fifty bucks! Inflation is nuts.


I deplore the name “little people,” but it was bequeathed to us by Leona Helmsley, the wealthy woman who, at the end of her life, controlled the predominant interest in the Helmsley hotel chain and real estate.  Throughout her life, Leona made other people as uncomfortable as possible.  Upon her death, rather than giving money to old or indigenous people or the sick or the wounded, Leona specified that twelve million dollars should be devoted to the care of her dog.  There was a time when Leona had to pay some taxes and complained that taxes are for “little people.” 

Throughout my life, such as it is, I have considered myself one of the “little people.”  Looking back on my career, I may have been happiest between 1945 and 1951 when I was the union president in St. Louis and a member of the bargaining team that bargained with AT&T.  I found that there was a practice of many years standing which required that people in the construction gangs, those at the low end of the pay scale, have $7 a week deducted from their wages, which was known as a “board and lodging equivalent.”  When I reached the bargaining table, I demanded to know if company representatives had similar deductions from their vouchers.  I knew very well that when executives traveled, they turned in all of their expenses and were fully reimbursed.  There was no such thing as a “board and lodging equivalent.”  One of my triumphs is that at the end of the 1951 bargaining session, AT&T reluctantly agreed to give up that practice.  These were small people in the eyes of the company because they performed work with their hands, as distinguished from those who worked with their minds and heads.

AT&T could not have been really mad at me because at the end of the bargaining session in 1950, the company offered me a promotion to a supervisory job in Kansas City.  In the end, four years later I wound up at the same bargaining table that had been used in 1951, on the other side of the fence.  I tried to see to it that all of the time I held that job that the “little people” were protected.

And so with that background of my propensity for “little people,” let us proceed.  I am now at the end of the 8th decade of my life and my views have not changed about “little people.”  For example, on Tuesdays and Fridays, when we go grocery shopping, I find that I am greatly cheered by the “little people” who greet me as I tour the produce and fish departments at the Whole Foods Market.  Paul Byfield, Garth and Allrick Simmons, and Owen Gaynor are Jamaicans trying to make it here.  The Jamaicans are given to great humor and I thoroughly enjoy them.  Then there is Gregorio Russo, an Italian immigrant, as well as a collection of people at the fish counter probably born locally, who also greet me warmly.

There is the case of a restaurant that we regularly use, where the help is all Ecuadorian.  Those fellows from Ecuador are very solicitous of me and put horseradish on my oysters and cut up my food so that I can eat it properly.  And because of my service with the American military, they always bring one extra desert to be split between myself and my wife.

At the moment, there is a great crisis in the Gulf of Mexico involving a tremendous oil leak.  The men who are trying to fix the problem by stuffing mud down it are “little people.”  The movers and shakers who conspired as supervisors to shave expenses are, I suppose, the “big people.”  Obviously I wish for that hole to be stopped but it will probably come about largely through the efforts of “little people.”

Over the years I have known only two what might be called “big people.”  First there is Charlie Brown, who was Chairman of the Board of AT&T, whom I knew earlier in life and then I had the pleasure of introducing him at a retirement party for one of my colleagues. Charlie responded by referring to me as “Fingers” Carr, which was the name of a prominent piano player and entertainer.  Charlie Brown was a regular person with no pretense of exclusivity.

I also knew Lou Hagopian who was the head of the NW Ayer advertising agency.  Lou and Charlie were “big people” because they never lost their sense of starting as little people.  This essay is about those “little people” identified by the dishonorable Leona Helmsley, “The Queen of Mean” as she was called by the New York Daily News.  Leona was anything but a “little people” and was widely disliked, I suppose by even her husband.  My friend Tallis Leacopolous, whom I grew up with, had a thought for people such as Leona Helmsley.  He said that Leona Helmsley’s excrements to her smelled like ice cream.  I am not an expert on the subject.  But I will tell you this: “little people,” the ones who build the automobiles and dig the graves and shovel snow, are people that I have always admired and want to help.

Well, so much for “little people.”  The “little people” of Jamaican origin and of Ecuadorian origin and of Italian origin etc. are the ones who brighten my life in these last years.  For brightening my life and giving me a few laughs along the way, I am indebted to them forever.


June 1, 2010

Essay 458
Kevin’s commentary:
Man, I was hoping that this one was going to be about midgets. How does Pop feel about midgets? The world may  never know.
In the interim my respect for Pop’s attitude toward the less fortunate is well documented but I can reiterate it here. I think more of the “big” people would be better off if they took a play out of Pop’s book in their interactions with the “little” people in their lives.

My chief takeaway here is that Pop used to be called “Fingers.” I wonder when the last time anyone called him that was?


Pop’s response:

Hey Kevin,

You inquired about the last time I was introduced to society as “Joe Fingers Carr.” When I reached New York in the 1950’s, there was an orchestra leader who also played the piano called, “Joe Fingers Carr.” He was not a top flight entertainer in the style of Eddy Duchin, but he remained employed as an orchestra leader for perhaps two or three decades. I do not play the piano. Nonetheless, in introductions where I was to speak, Charlie Brown, the Chairman of the Board of AT&T, always worked in a reference to me as “Joe Fingers.” The last time that I was introduced by Charlie Brown as Joe Fingers Carr was at the Nichols retirement party in about February of 1984. I was the Master of Ceremonies at the Nichols’ farewell party.

Charlie Brown was a great and good man who unfortunately came down with Alzheimer’s Disease, probably in the late 1980’s. brown and I seemed to hit it off quite well. He absorbed a fair amount of my needling bullshit, which he returned in kind. I’m glad that I was considered a friend of Charlie Brown. Sometime when you are here Judy will play the DVD of the farewell party for you.



In the fall of 1997, Shirley Morganstein was the Director of Speech Therapy at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, New Jersey.  In November of that year, I had a stroke that had spared my limbs but had left me with a galloping case of aphasia, which is why I consulted Shirley Morganstein.

Thirteen years later, in 2010, I am still afflicted with the problems of aphasia.  For example, I ride a stationary bicycle in the downstairs gym.  I cannot name that stationary bike without thinking first of a store in Summit, New Jersey, called the Siegel’s Stationery Shop.  I take diuretics to prevent congestive heart failure.  I cannot think of the word congested without first thinking of the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, which tells me of the congestive part.

On one occasion, when my wife went to the post office to mail some items, I asked her, when she returned, if she had put her umbrella in the mail.  Aphasia never goes away.  With practice, the brain can try to overcome it.  I am convinced that aphasia will be with me until I become an angel.  Until that time, I suspect that I will be writing essays, as Shirley Morganstein first suggested.  The point is putting the brain to work, which is why these essays are being written.

In the past thirteen years I have composed something more than 475 essays. While I still had eyesight, I wrote them out in longhand, and my wife Judy typed them.  Five years ago, when my sight was lost, I began to dictate them on a tape recorder.   I have worn out the original tape recorder and at this point, I am on my fourth tape recorder.

As it turns out, one of the readers of Ezra’s Essays is a gentleman of 92 years who was a former vice president of the NW Ayer advertising agency.  He is also a veteran of the Eighth Air Force, of World War II fame.  More importantly, he comes from the gorgeous state of Missouri.  My reference here is to a man named Howard Lawrence Davis.

In recent weeks, Howard Davis has strongly suggested to me that he knew of my career with the telephone company and he knew a bit or two about my military career, but he knew nothing about the years I spent in the filling station business.  I pointed out to Howard that I had included some incidents from the filling station business in other essays.  Howard insisted that the business of filling stations be treated as a separate part of my career.  So it is that this essay is about the cumulative four to five years that I spent working in filling stations.  Today those filling stations are sometimes or often called service stations.  These days, you do not receive much service from a service station.  The essence of this essay has to do with the extensive service that we provided our customers at the filling stations where I was employed.

It is at this point that the business about Jesus becomes significant, hence the title.  For all of my childhood, I was forced to attend religious services which lasted from 9AM until at least 1PM every Sunday morning.  In many cases there were evening services as well.  I should tell you that I was unhappy that I was forced to listen to preachers who spoke in terms of great illogicalities.  They spoke of how Joshua stopped the sun in its tracks and lengthened the day into nighttime.  I believed at that early age of eight or nine that such a thing was plainly impossible.  But it was preached as a matter of faith.  I have great doubt that Jesus could walk on water, and that Jonah survived three days in the belly of that great fish.  And I have many other doubts about the theology that was being presented to this youngster.

The end of the story came about when I was thirteen years of age.  At that point, the preacher in the Free Will Baptist Church gathered all of the youngsters from ages three or four up through my age and demanded that we should sing a stupid hymn called “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.”  I made a vulgar reference to what the preacher could do with his sunbeam and I refused to be involved in the singing.  When we reached the car that would take us home, I informed my father that I was not ever going to come back to that or any other church for the rest of my life.  I was a muscular chap at that point because of the many hours spent with my father cutting trees, sawing them, and then splitting them to provide wood for our furnace because we could no longer afford coal.  My father was not a violent man but he knew that if he attempted to discipline me I would resist it, so he more or less acquiesced in the inevitable agreement that church services were not for me.

I knew that my parents would never agree to my simply taking Sundays off and lolling around the house.  The discipline I enforced upon myself, which would apply to all of my siblings, was that in a case such as this, I should go to work.  And so it was that I went to Carl Schroth’s Mobile gas filling station and asked Mr. Schroth if I could spend Sunday mornings wiping windshields.  Mr. Schroth listened to my story and there were guffaws from him all along because Carl Schroth had had similar experiences with the theology profession.  And so it was that, in the beginning – to borrow a line from Genesis  – I worked at the Schroth station wiping windshields to start my career.  In those days, in 1935, customers were coddled endlessly.

The price of gas was about the same at all the stations, but the difference came as a result of the services that were offered free of charge.  When a customer appeared who requested gas, we were instructed to always check the oil level in the crank case.  Beyond that, there was a radiator to be looked at to see whether there was enough water.  In the wintertime, there was a hydrometer that was used to check the state of the anti-freeze in the radiator.  There were at least five tires, including the spare, to be checked.   In this dog-eat-dog atmosphere, every service station tried to outperform the others.  That was fine with me, because it gave me a chance to learn about the business and provided me with a spot to begin a career to replace the Sunday morning church going.

At the Schroth filling station, there was a permanent canopy from the offices of the station itself out to the pumps.  There was also a driveway beyond the pumps that was unprotected from the weather.  When a customer wanted to use the unprotected part of the driveway, the attendant had to stand in the rain or snow to pump the gas into his tank.  But nobody complained.

In those days, hoods were raised separately on both sides of the engine compartment.  There was no such thing as a unified hood as we have today.  The hoods were raised to check the oil level in the crank case.  On some models, the dip stick bayonet was located on the left-hand side and on other models it was on the right-hand side.  A potential customer could recognize an experienced filling station attendant if he knew which side of the hood to raise to check the oil level.  I soon learned how to do that.

If we were permitted to do so, we would not only check the tires to see that there was enough pressure, we would also look at the battery.  At that time, batteries were located in the front compartment, usually below where the passenger or driver put his feet.  It was a matter of raising the mats and finding the battery and unscrewing the four cells to see if there was sufficient water.

There was a method to this madness about checking oil levels and tires etc.  The idea was to sell some oil or even a tire to the customer.  My colleagues, Charlie Kosta and Bob Litzenberger, were very adept at persuading customers that they needed another quart of oil, a new tire, or a new battery.  So you see that in the filling station business, I learned my trade thoroughly under the tutelage of Carl Schroth, Charlie Kosta, and Bob Litzenberger.

I also learned that when it came to checking the fluid in the radiator, it was important to keep your head away from the exposed stack once the cap was removed, particularly in wintertime.  At that time, most people used antifreeze based on an alcoholic content.  When the radiator and the engine became hot, the antifreeze would boil away.  There could be foam and pressure coming out of the radiator.

But beyond that, after 1936, there were cases when the caps on the radiator were often ornamental.  It was incumbent upon us to know that if there was a radiator inside, we should not twist off the ornamental hood ornament.  So you see, learning all of this stuff was fascinating to me and it beat the hell out of attending church services.

Now let us go on a little bit more about Carl Schroth and his customers.  The filling station was located at the edge of the estate holdings in the St. Louis County area.  Carl’s customers were affluent people who did not care much whether there was a Depression or a recession or any other downturn in the economy.  They were usually very well fixed and by driving their convertibles with the tops down they showed how the rich folks lived.

That brings me to a recitation of some of the idiosyncrasies of Carl Schroth.  He always referred to himself as “Yours truly” rather than the personal pronoun of I or me.  It took me two or three weeks to figure out who “Yours truly” was.

At that time, the hernia was called a “rupture.”  For one reason or another, Carl decided that he was ruptured and rather than find a truss, he decided to use a very novel replacement.  Plywood came into being at about this time.  The plywood sheets are not of great thickness but they are of great strength.  So it was that Carl, to deal with his rupture or hernia, bought a piece of plywood and fashioned it so that it could be inserted in the front of his pants.  I am quite certain that it hurt when he sat down but that is not the point in this story.  There was a young socialite who came to buy gas from Carl, who was manning the pump.  After he had filled the tank, Carl stood beside her and plunked the plywood board in the front of his pants and said to the young woman, “How about them apples?”  I am sure that she was thoroughly surprised. But in point of fact, it was very difficult to be angry with Carl Schroth for any length of time.  The business about “How about them apples?” had reached one more customer and to this day, whenever I see a piece of plywood I think about Carl fashioning the truss and putting it down the front of his pants.

Another story about my experience in the filling station business took place with one of those wealthy customers whom I described a little earlier.  This gentleman owned a sixteen-cylinder Duesenberg automobile which was a touring car.  That meant that the top level of the car was canvas and could be rolled back.  The rest of the car was enormous.  The hood itself must have been eight feet long.  In any event, twice each year this gentleman, whose name I do not remember, would bring the car to Schroth’s filling station and leave it for at least two days while we washed it and polished it, using the compound calling Simonize.  Mind you, as the youngest man on the staff, I was given the job of cleaning the white sidewall tires on the wire wheels.  This car had six wheels, four on the ground and two in wheel wells in the fenders.  Each of those rims below the wire spokes had to be cleaned with a special brush.  On a nineteen-inch wheel, that is a lot of wheel to clean.  We did that twice yearly and I assume that Schroth charged this gentleman a hefty amount of money.  In any case, I was tired of dealing with the Duesenberg”s white side wall wire wheels.  But Simonizing that car after washing it and doing the wheels was a major undertaking.  Unfortunately, I was never in a position to drive the Duesenberg, but when the owner came to pick it up, it made a wonderful bubbling sound as he pulled out of the filling station.

Another episode that contributed to my education in the filling station business had to do with a place called Lake Forest.  Lake Forest was a lovely subdivision on the southwest corner of Clayton and Hanley Roads.  In this subdivision, there were several large homes that at the time looked like castles to me.  There was certainly some exclusivity about living in Lake Forest, much of which had to do with the single-lane road that connected the estates.  Shortly after going to work for Carl during the winter when I was perhaps fifteen years old, we received a call late in the evening about a person who had gone off the road in a snowstorm and was stuck.  It was during the holiday season.  So Carl, Charlie Kosta, and I went to pull him out.  This happened about one and a half miles from the station where we worked.  It was snowing and when we arrived at the scene of the mishap, it was soon determined that we could not winch him out using the front bumper alone.  He was in too deep for that.

So it was necessary for someone to get under the car and put a chain around the axle of the front wheels.  In those days, the two front wheels were on axles.  Naturally I was nominated to get on my back in this wet weather and get the chain around the axle.  I did that.  The operation was a success and we winched the car out of the ditch and onto the roadway.

It turns out that Carl had told the owner of the car he would charge him something on the order of $15 to $20.  Granted, in those days, that was a large sum of money.   But then, when the car was safely winched out, the owner said that he was not going to pay $15 or $20; he was only going to pay $10.  There was almost nothing more to say.  Carl opened the door, determined that the car was in neutral, and released the emergency hand brake.  Charlie Kosta went to the right front fender and Carl pushed on the frame that held the left front door.  Soon I realized what was going on and I was in charge of pushing the car from the radiator.  So, instantly, when the man told us that he would not pay us the full amount, we shoved his car back into the same ditch from which it had been pulled.  In legal terms, this is known as restoring the status quo ante.

There was also a sad occurrence for me in my young career as a filling station worker.  On another cold and snowy day, a call came in from a female customer of ours who had suffered a flat tire on a lonely country road.  I was sent on that mission to replace the flat tire.  I used the 1928 Packard tow truck and found the customer huddling in her car because of the cold and wet weather and snow.  It was a very difficult operation to get the jack under the car because of ruts in the road.  Eventually I wound up putting the hydraulic jack directly under the differential and lifting the car that way.  Before I did that, I had loosened the lugs that held the wheel onto the car to avoid pushing the car once the wheel was raised.  I also asked the customer to step out of the car while the operation was taking place.

The problem with lifting the car with the differential as the focal point is that both rear wheels are lifted off the ground.  Beyond that, differentials are housed in round casings, and the lifting part of the jack is flat.  This means that any disturbance between the jack and the differential could cause the car to slip.  This is what crushed wrists and arms are made of.

Changing a tire under these circumstances is a delicate operation.  Great care must be taken to avoid having the car coming down on your hand as the tire is changed. Eventually, in spite of the cold and the snow, I put the spare tire on the right rear wheel, and in so doing had laid the flat tire off on the side of the road a few feet behind where I was working.  At the conclusion of installing the spare tire, the lady thanked me very much and I got in my tow truck, which provided very little relief from the snow, and returned to the station.   What I had done was a cardinal sin.  I had left the original tire of this Buick automobile by the side of the road and failed to bring the flat tire back to the filling station.

Later that night and again the next day, I realized what I had done and so I returned to the scene, looking for the wheel and the flat tire of this new Buick automobile.  But it was no where to be found.  I was simply distraught.  Schroth told me that I was responsible for this and that he would hold me accountable when it came to the money business.  I suspect that in those days a wheel for a Buick automobile with a tire on it was worth perhaps as much as $75 to $100.  I was making $15 a week, so you can see how long it would take to pay it off.  In the end, Carl relented and I contributed maybe $15 or $20 for the wheel that was lost.  But that never again happened to me, because I saw to it that it would not happen ever again.

And so my education in the filling station business continued apace.  After I had worked for Carl for a while, I wondered why he had not paid me.  It turns out that he had a unique system consisting of a safe buried beneath his desk that all of us had access to.  When we needed money, we would go in to the safe and take some out; we would leave a note as to how much we had taken.  This was a preposterous arrangement.  Rather than paying us, that was the way Carl did business. But if Carl Schroth was the boss, which he was, and that’s the way he wanted to do business, there was no objection on my part.  But it took me quite a while before I caught on to the fact that paying myself was the only way to do it, rather than waiting for Carl to pay me.

I worked for Carl from some time in 1935, part time or full time, until a little after January, 1940.  At that point, I was considered a full-fledged filling station worker and an offer came from a Sinclair station down the road which would pay me $17 per week.  So I left Carl and went to work for Eddy Williams at the Sinclair station.

Williams was the person who, not long after I arrived there, was driving his new Chevrolet up a road called Eager Road.  Eager Road ended at Hanley Road.  Apparently Williams did not see the stop sign or the fact that the road ran out.  So it was that he drove his new car into the showroom of a lumber company.  Whether he had had too much to drink or was sleepy, I never found out.  But I did come to know that the name of the filling station was changed the next morning to a new name, The Friendly Service Station.  I also believe that there was a transfer of property to his wife.  So you see that I not only learned a little bit about the filling station business, but I also learned something of the legal profession as well.

My job was to work from noon until 9:00 PM each day but on Sunday I was to open the station and to man it until 1:00 PM when it closed.  In the beginning, I had been granted Monday as my day off.  Eventually, I negotiated with Williams to take Thursday as my day off.  That is the same day as housemaids were given their day off.  At that time, I was courting a housemaid.  The romance department will have to wait for a subsequent essay.

Working for Ed Williams was a straightforward proposition, which I liked. The fact that I was alone in the evenings and on Sundays gave me a sense of responsibility for a mere 17 or 18-year-old youngster.

As I have recited before, there was a car washer named Dell van Buren Barbee, who also worked for Ed Williams.  Dell had probably graduated from the second grade in a Mississippi school room but he was possessed not necessarily of book knowledge, but of practical knowledge.  On rainy days when there were no cars to wash and business was slow, Dell and I had a bit of a gab fest.  On one occasion, as I have reported earlier, Dell told me that if God had invented something better than f…ing (sexual intercourse), he had “kept it to hisself.”  I thought that this was a masterly presentation of the thought process of Dell, and I never ever bothered to try to straighten out his grammar.  For all I know, God may be a female, in which case the old thought would have to be reconstituted.

I worked for Williams until September of 1941 when an offer came, courtesy of my former drafting teacher, for a job at AT&T.  It was a drafting job and it also paid $17 per week.  But it was for a 35-hour week.  So I took the AT&T offer and, again, looked for filling station work for my weekends.  The first person I asked about weekend work was a man named Harold Bauer, who ran a Standard Oil (Indiana) filling station.  Like Carl Schroth, they also served a very wealthy clientele.

Harold and his older employees had a fixation about putting grease anywhere near the interior of automobiles.  So I was forbidden while I worked there ever to sit in a customer’s automobile.  Instead, I found myself lubricating front wheel bearings, which was a filthy job.  Mark, who was pretty much in charge over the weekend, had me on the front wheel bearings.  In the end, I diddled myself because I was working for Harold on Saturday and half a day on Sunday for only $5.  At that time, I needed no more experience but I did find out that Mark, a graduate of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, was not my biggest fan.

Now, before we wrap up, there is one more thought to express here.  Howard Davis, who asked for this essay, is a lucky man because I am still alive to produce it.  The reason is simple.  At my first job in the Schroth filling station there were four lanes of concrete running in front of the establishment.  The station was located at the corner of Clayton Road and the North and South Road.  You will be amazed to find that the North and South Road ran in those two directions.  There was an electric traffic signal that controlled traffic on these two very busy roads.

The first two lanes of the Schroth station connected Clayton Road with North and South Road.  If you were standing in the station, there were these two lanes before reaching the gas pumps.  These were protected overhead by a permanent structure.  The third lane was unprotected and the fourth lane contained only the Packard tow truck with big signs on it advertising the Schroth filling station.  Drivers on Clayton Road who desired to turn right on North and South Road had a penchant for driving through our driveway in an effort to miss the stop sign.  Similarly, drivers on North and South Road who wished to make a left hand turn on Clayton Road were often tempted to use the Schroth driveway to avoid the electric stop sign.  I soon learned that it was necessary to look both ways when stepping out of the office to serve a customer.  I don’t remember anyone being killed by the people illegally using our driveway, but there were some very close calls.  It is for this reason that I say that Howard Davis is a very lucky man because I am still around to dictate this story after dodging the speeding cars in the Schroth driveway.

Well, look, there you have it.  I worked in filling stations from some time in 1935 until April or May of 1942.  Although this is longer than four or five years, that is all I claim because some of it was part-time work.  In the final analysis, I learned a lot about automobiles as well as learning a lot about life.  Filling station work is not for the genteel of society.  It is a rough and tumble job with long hours, often performed in snowy or rainy weather.  You may recall my story about pushing this ditched fellow back into the ditch as well as leaving the rear wheel from the Buick lying by the side of the road on a rainy or snowy afternoon.  All of this was done because there was no possibility for me ever to attend college at that point during the Depression.  When push comes to shove, this was a matter of survival and I was fortunate to be employed by Carl Schroth, Eddy Williams, and Harold Bauer.  I still think highly of those men and I am glad for the opportunity that I had to work for them.  And as you can see, I had an opportunity to gather some interesting war stories along the way.

So, Howard Davis, this is my story about my career as a filling station attendant.  I hope that you find it interesting.  It still brings together the whole career I had working in the oil and gas business.  I think upon review that you will find that the title of this essay is appropriate: it all was because of Jesus and my dislike of attending church services on Sunday morning.  Had it not been for that, I may well have become a stock broker or an insurance mogul or somebody like Bernie Madoff.

But I took the hard route and in the end I do not regret it.  I am happy with the way things have turned out.  It gives me pleasure to dictate this essay.  It is a look back which provided me with several giggles.



June 6, 2010

Essay 463

Kevin’s commentary: This was one of the longest essays I’ve published in weeks, coming in at right around 4,600 words. It is the mother of all filling station essays, and touches on points briefly mentioned in a number of the other filling station essays that you can find under its tag here. I wonder if this filling station still exists, and if so who owns it or works there. Perhaps Pop knows these things and can give an update on his old place of employment.


The cast of characters in this essay is humungous.  I have no idea what humungous means, but youngsters use that term and it is a lot better than some of their other expressions.  Now on to the characters.  First there were my playmates, Billy Seyfried, Timoteo Marcellan, and Charlie Baldridge.  Beyond those playmates, there is my brother Earl and his wife Josephine as well as Joe D’amico, and Freddy, the bartender of Margarita and Bianchi’s Restaurant.  So this is a multifaceted essay which was suggested by none other than Howard Lawrence Davis, my long-time friend.  I have to accommodate Mr. Davis because he is 92 years old, and he comes from that grand and glorious place, Missouri, which I am told is pretty close to heaven.

The story goes back to perhaps 1930 or thereabouts.  At that time, I had three playmates, all about eight or nine years of age.  When we finished with our games, we went to a Skelly filling station run by a gentleman named Mr. Stack and his wife.  Mr. Stack and his wife lived upstairs over the filling station because this was the Depression and that’s about the best they could do.  Mr. Stack kept an ice box on the outside of the station, and he purchased 25 pounds of ice every day from the Polar Wave Ice Company.  In the beginning, he stored Coca Colas in this ice box.  You may recall that Coca Cola at that time was in a glass bottle that contained only six or seven ounces.  That was not enough for hungry ball players.  Our thirst was quenched by the introduction in 1930 or 1931 of Pepsi Cola.  Pepsi Cola came in twelve-ounce bottles and it tasted pretty much like Coca Cola.  There was a jingle on the radio which said something about Pepsi Cola hits the spot.  I am not sure what spot it had to hit, but for thirsty ball players such as my companions and myself, the twelve-ounce bottles truly hit the spot with great force and accuracy.  The second line in the jingle was, I believe, “For a nickel you get a lot”.

Let me tell you a little bit about my boyhood chums.  First there was Billy Seyfried.  His father was a chauffeur who drove executives from one of the leading St. Louis department stores called Stix, Baer and Fuller. The executive used a large Lincoln automobile, which was parked outside of the Seyfried home.  I suspect that some passersby would have concluded that a rich man lived there.

Billy was born with a harelip and was never able to get it fixed as a child.  He talked a little different from the rest of us, but all of us were very impatient with anyone who criticized old Billy’s speech.  I lost sight of Billy somewhere along the way.

My mother died in 1961.  Who showed up at the viewing (a monstrous process) but old Billy Seyfried.  Billy and I sat and talked for maybe an hour.  He had become a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinal minor league organization and was out of work because, in the Cardinal organization, you either won or got thrown away.  It was determined that Billy would never make the major league team and so they terminated his contract.  Billy was a great guy.  I regret very much that he had a harelip and never got to the big leagues.


The second companion was a youngster named Charlie Baldridge.  Charlie could not pronounce my name, which is Edgar.  He could not get the “d” and the “g” in the proper order and so he always referred to me as “Eggie.”  His father was a pressman for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which was a good thing because in the Depression, the newspapers provided a very safe place to work.


The third companion was named Timoteo (the Spanish equivalent of Timothy) Marcellan.  We called him Timo.  His father was a Spanish buyer of mules for the Spanish Army.  He married an American woman whom I believe was formerly a waitress.  Timoteo’s father was a wonderful man who played baseball with us, and tried to teach us how the soccer ball should be handled.  He and his son were excellent soccer players.


When the Spanish Civil War broke out, something happened to the Marcellan family.  They left us and were, I believe, headed back toward Spain over the objections of Timoteo’s mother, who spoke no Spanish.  Timo was a wonderful kid.  We missed him.

During that time, whenever we had an extra nickel, we would repair to Mr. Stack’s filling station and treat ourselves to the champagne of bottled sodas called Pepsi Cola.  The advertising for Pepsi Cola indicated with great subtlety that it was as tasty as Coca Cola, that it had all of the ingredients that pepped you up, and, more than anything else, that it came in a twelve-ounce bottle as distinguished from “that other brand” which came only in six- or seven-ounce bottles.

One of the persons who was persuaded by all of this advertising was my older brother Earl.  In later years, Earl started drinking Pepsi Cola.  Old Earl was very fond of mixing his bourbon whiskey with Pepsi Cola.  I can assure everyone that bourbon whiskey with Pepsi Cola is a hideous drink.  But Earl and his wife Josephine were great believers in Pepsi Cola.  I shook my head.

There was an occasion when Earl and Jo came to New York and I took them to dinner at a place called Bianchi (the name for white-haired gentlemen) and Margarita’s.  The bartender at that place was named Freddy and he was a connoisseur of everything.  He was a great companion to talk to.  The owner, Bianchi, was a taciturn man who never left the cash register.  When he had to tend to problems of urination, he locked the cash register until his return.  Old Bianchi trusted absolutely no one.

His wife was Margarita, who at that time must have been approaching the age of 80.  Each evening for six nights, Margarita would appear as though she were a diva in a low-cut gown, even though she was now quite plump.  On occasion, she would insist upon singing a song.  Her voice had left her perhaps 20 years earlier but nonetheless she plowed through arias and we all applauded, which only made things worse because she thought that we liked her voice.  I might also say that Margarita wore her evening gowns which demonstrated a major amount of cleavage, which on an 80-year-old woman was not a particularly toothsome sight.


Now back to where we were when I took Earl and Josephine along with Eileen, my wife at the time, to Bianchi and Margarita’s for dinner.  They were intent upon drinking bourbon whiskey with Pepsi Cola.  The fact, as explained by Joe D’amico, our waiter, was that the restaurant had no Pepsi Cola.  At that point I intruded and suggested that they should drink Scotch whiskey because it lacked the ingredients of bourbon whiskey which tended to make people sick.  They wound up ordering Scotch whiskey at my suggestion but insisted that it be served with ginger ale, which was the substitute for Pepsi Cola.  My big brother Earl announced that he and his wife considered Scotch whiskey atrocious.

Our waiter at Bianchi and Margarita’s was a young baritone named Joe D’amico.  Joe had a strong baritone voice which he used to sing arias and Italian love songs.  He was a great performer.  In New York, it is mighty tough to get a break in show business.  So Joe waited on tables at Bianchi and Margarita’s and during the evening he would sing a few songs and people would tip him.  He made two records, both of which we now have, but in the end, I lost track of Joe and I regret that happening.

Well, that is my story about the rivalry between Coca Cola and its challenger Pepsi Cola.  This essay was suggested to me, as I said, by my old friend Howard Davis, who will not let a Pepsi Cola near his lovely lips.  I have explained to Howard that Pepsi Cola is the official drink of the Missouri graduate students and of the great state of Missouri.  But Howard, who is married to a diminutive woman of Czech origin who has acquired an excellent British accent, will not touch the drink that provides long-lasting benefits, namely Pepsi Cola.

I have enjoyed doing this essay at Howard’s urging because it has revived some ancient memories of my playmates when I was a child.  There were old Billy Seyfried, Timoteo Marcellan, and Charlie Baldridge, who still could not pronounce my name of Edgar the last time I saw him.  For old timers such as myself, it is very pleasant to be reminded of childhood days and the champagne of bottled drinks, Pepsi Cola.  It hits the spot so I am told.



June 10, 2010

Essay 470


Kevin’s commentary: It is a shame that clearly nobody told Pop that ginger ale is, in point of fact, vastly superior to both Pepsi and Coke and should always be acknowledged as such. I can at least feel better about myself now that he is aware.  Then again Pop isn’t much of a soda drinker at all these days, so I guess it is not much of a contest.

Moreover I am somewhat surprised with this discussion of whiskey/burbon and cola. I thought that much like Gin and Tonic always have and always will go together, I assumed that Coke’s partner has been and will always be rum.  Whiskey and Coke (or Pepsi) indeed sounds nasty. I will make a point of not trying it.


When I had an exalted position with AT&T, I would refer baffling questions to my secretaries.  Three of those secretaries remain in touch and I would probably refer my current Father’s Day bafflement to them.  Those three are Althea Scheller, Pat Impellizari, and Lorraine Grant Murray.

My first bafflement has to do with the term, used quite often in news reports, “some skin in the game.”  When this expression is used, my mind automatically goes to circumcision.  As best I can figure it out, “some skin in the game” means taking a risk.  If I were to bet against you in a poker game, I suppose I would have some skin in the game.  If, on the other hand, I were a soldier in Iraq and survived that experience, I might live to tell you of my work there which was backed up by my skin in the game because I had been there.  My three former secretaries are much more attuned to the thoughts of younger people, so I would refer that question to them.  But always remember that when I am told of “some skin in the game,” I think of circumcision.

My second thought has to do with a non-bafflement situation.  It has to do with the expression “a carbon copy.”  Those three former secretaries would have no trouble whatsoever with this question.  It used to be that when typewriters were used, a thin piece of carbon paper was placed between two sheets of paper; that is the way we made a second copy.  There were instances in which you were dictating a lengthy memo and having it typed.  It would be necessary for me to make a change or two, in which case the secretaries would have to erase or alter the four or five copies behind the original.  I knew that secretaries disliked doing this and I tried always to keep subsequent thoughts and alterations to a minimum.  But I wish it to be clear that “carbon copy” is not part of my Father’s Day bafflement.  I understand that term completely, even though it has gone out of fashion.  In addition to understanding “carbon copy,  I even understand what “Wite-out” means.

Now, as Father’s Day 2010 draws to a close, I ponder whether Tony Hayward is wondering whether he will have a job come the morrow.  It is fairly clear to me that old Tony has become a monstrous embarrassment to the BP Corporation.  The yacht racing that Tony enjoyed following his testimony and return to England is a complete bafflement that defies any logic.  My guess is that Tony, the Chief Executive Officer of BP, might consider locating his nearest office where he can enroll on the dole, as the English have it.  He testified that he made $6 million in his job as CEO last year, but I doubt if that will go on much longer.  The baffling question is why they have kept Tony Hayward on for so long.

And finally, can anybody explain to me what “spot on” means?  I hear commentators on radio and television using this term, but its meaning completely escapes me.

And so those are my bafflements this Sunday evening.  My former secretaries will read this essay and will conclude that old Ezra is as dense as ever.



June 20, 2010

Essay 467


Kevin’s commentary: I’m sorta glad that ol’ Tony has been off the map for a while. That guy was just a constant mess.

“Spot on” just means “exactly” or “precisely.” I think it comes from the same sentiment as hitting the nail on the head.

Finally with “skin in the game” I think football — the old pigskin. But I don’t know much about that either.


My efforts recently have been consumed by writing a song, which is the title of this essay.  Sometimes the song seems to be a lullaby and at other times it becomes a dirge.  But with the President now in the ass-kicking mode, perhaps it becomes a march or a patriotic song, such as “America the Beautiful.”

Let us start at the beginning.  First, today is the 50th day of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and there is no end in sight.  There is confusion about the rate of the spill, which British Petroleum wishes to minimize.  All appearances are now that the spill will continue into the fall and I believe it is firmly and clearly established that British Petroleum is a liar of the first order.  Should we put all the executives of British Petroleum in jail?  Nobody else knows what to do because there are no oil experts in the employment of the United States government.  What a dilemma!  It is a lot like my trying to compose a lullaby that turns out to be a dirge.

Secondly the news brings this week stories of the Israeli raid upon a flotilla of ships that were clearly bringing help to the residents of Gaza.  The residents there have been under a blockade by the Israeli government and there are contentions that the Gazans are short of food and medical supplies.  One of the ships that was raided by the Israelis carried wheelchairs.  In the opinion of this old supporter of Israel, I believe it is fair to say that the Prime Minister, Netanyahu, is in over his head and is flailing.  Perhaps if the United States government were to tell Netanyahu that we would no longer pay him a $3 billion handout each year, it would bring him to his senses.  But Netanyahu is the basic reason for my proposed song turning out to be a dirge.

Now, aside from the oil spill and the Israeli situation, we need to know that over the weekend Rush Limbaugh contracted his fourth marriage.  Present at the ceremony were luminaries such as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Rudy Giuliani, and Clarence Thomas.  Newt has only three marriages to his credit.  Karl Rove is the detested advisor to our former beloved President, George W. Bush.  And what in the world is Clarence Thomas, a Justice of the Supreme Court, doing at this wedding, which was a partisan event.  First, Scalia goes duck hunting with Dick Cheney and now we have our only black Justice throwing his arms around the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  This makes your old essayist in a mood to vomit.

Now the fourth issue is that the stock market has taken another nose dive.  What used to be called the Dow Jones average is now about 9800, which, compared to a month ago, puts it 1200 points behind.  This ain’t no lullaby; it is a clear-cut dirge.

In the final event of the recent weekend, I find that Barack Obama was interviewed by a television performer named Matt Lauer.  I have never seen Matt Lauer.  Apparently he works for the National Broadcasting Company.  He is widely quoted.  Lauer said something along this line to the President, “I have heard people say that it is time for somebody – namely you – to kick some butt.”  To which Obama replied in effect, I need to find out just which ass to kick.   I can only say, “Good for Obama.”  This is the first time he has shown feelings that assuage my left-wing Democratic soul.

Far from the impression that Obama made on my psyche, I intend to name my new musical composition “When It Is Ass-Kicking Time Along the Potomac.”  My hope is that the song will be revered as is “America the Beautiful.”  But that remains to be seen.  I really do not have a melody or a harmony for this wonderful work.  But trust me; I believe that when you finally hear it, you will find yourself humming it until it puts you to sleep.  Thus it becomes a lullaby as well.




June 8, 2010

Essay 460


Kevin’s commentary:

Since I have not found any evidence of this song’s completion in later essays I am forced to conclude that Pop is still working on it. I hope he hurries up with it before Obama’s last term in office is complete. The Dow is up past 15,000 now, however, so maybe the tempo of the song will pick up somewhat.


After Tony Hayward finished his grueling testimony before a House committee, he flew back to England, most likely in a private jet that BP owns.  Some time on Friday or Saturday, Hayward was told that he had been replaced on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by a Mississippi State graduate who formerly was his underling.  His new duties in London are obscure to say the least, and I suspect that in time Mr. Hayward will leave BP with the excuse that he wants to spend more time with his family.  In point of fact, BP may well have washed its hands of Mr. Hayward.

But please waste no tears on Mr. Hayward.  On the Saturday following his testimony, Mr. Hayward attended a yacht race.  One of the yachts in the race was a 52-footer which belonged to no one else but Tony Hayward.

While the yacht race was going on, Mr. Hayward was contemplating his future.  We don’t know the outcome of those musings nor do we know exactly where his yacht finished in the race.  I gather that his yacht is named “Bob,” which is neither here nor there.  The point is, that while the oil was still gushing from the BP pipe in Louisiana, Mr. Hayward was enjoying himself at a yacht race.  At this point, I hope that no one will question why the British upper class is disliked and/or hated.  The people in Louisiana are drowning in BP oil. But does Hayward, the CEO of BP, give a damn?  The answer is, probably not.

Now that we are done with Hayward, the next target is Representative Joe Barton of Texas.  You may remember him as the one who, during the hearing this week, accused Obama of conducting a Chicago style shake down operation on BP and having BP contribute a $20 billion “slush fund.”  The people in Texas cannot be relied upon to deal with the likes of Joe Barton.  I hope that for the rest of his life, Joe Barton is regarded as a clown for his remarks about the shake down and the slush fund.  Barton is a consummate fool.

Well, this is another story about clowns.  I end this essay by saying about the clowns, “Don’t bother; they’re here.”


June 22 2010

Essay 469


Kevin’s commentary: In the end, I suppose Hayward got his life back, so I guess he wins. His job, at this point, he can probably continue to do without.