Archive for the January 2010 Category


My breakfast was interrupted this morning by a report from Washington that Peter Orszag, the Budget Director for President Obama, had fathered a baby child out of wedlock.  He reports that the little child, a girl, is a beautiful creature.  It was also confirmed that during the pregnancy of his girlfriend, Mr. Orszag was romancing another woman, which resulted in their engagement.  My question is, who changed the rules so that someone could impregnate one woman and simultaneously proceed to get engaged to another woman.

I should have listened carefully to the rest of the report from Washington which included the statement that Mr. Orszag had been “engaged in a committed relationship” with the mother of his child. My question has to do with what in the hell does being involved in a committed relationship have to do with making this woman pregnant without the benefit of marriage.  Orszag said nothing about marrying this woman.  Indeed, he is engaged to an ABC reporter who may expect to receive the same cavalier treatment as this unfortunate lady who became pregnant.

In my humble opinion, being “engaged in a committed relationship” does not excuse the failure to buy birth control equipment if those two had no intention of marrying.  Can Mr. Orzak or the mother of his child, tell me what being engaged in a committed relationship has to do with producing a child outside of wedlock.

You may recall an essay I have written recently wherein my father dealt with the question from a young man about the pregnancy between the young man and his girlfriend.  My father said, “Be a man. Marry that girl today.”  I know those are stern rules, but it seems to me that if you want to play games, at least you should buy birth control equipment.  On the other hand, if the woman is your love in life, it would seem to me that now, with her pregnancy, would be as good a time to marry her as any.

As I grew up, there was no such thing as being engaged in a committed relationship.  Committed relationships usually resulted in marriage.  Committed relationships did not result in the woman being stuck with a baby who had an absentee father.

Curiously, the same citation about being in a committed relationship was used by the great stud of Wasilla, Alaska.  His name, I believe, is Levi Johnston and, from all I can gather, his sole claim to fame is that he impregnated the governor of Alaska’s daughter.  News reports claim that Levi Johnston explained on his Facebook page that he was in a “committed relationship” at the tender age of 17 years.  When it turned out that the “committed relationship” had resulted in a pregnancy, Mr. Johnston dropped out of school, tried to become an electrician’s apprentice, and ultimately failed to marry the governor’s daughter.  Unhappily, he was fired from his electrician’s job because of his failure to have a high school diploma.  But in the end, Mr. Johnston “knocked up” the governor’s daughter and declined to marry her.   The resulting child has now celebrated her first birthday, and Levi is making a living by running down his prospective mother-in-law.  He also has posed for nude photos in Playgirl Magazine.

This is one hell of a note, to compare the actions of Peter Orszag, the President’s Budget Director, with the great stud of Alaska.  But there it is.

Peter Orszag and Levi Johnston are not alone in changing the rule of “being a man.”  Apparently John Edwards, who was a senator from North Carolina and who was a vice presidential candidate in the 2004 election, had also fathered a child out of wedlock.  But at least Edwards did not claim that he was in a committed relationship.  I doubt that Edwards would admit that he was in a casual relationship but the facts seem to support the idea that he was also in a committed relationship because the affair had gone on for quite a while.  The inescapable fact is that a child was born and it is now fatherless.  The secondary fact is that the marriage of Edwards and his wife appears to be on the rocks.

I suppose that you may have been hearing about the sexual conquests of Tiger Woods, the golfer.  His marriage is also on shaky grounds, but in his many conquests, I have no report that Tiger Woods ever claimed that he was in a “committed relationship”.  Apparently Tiger wanted to diddle every female in sight, including cocktail waitresses and people of that sort.

There is one other citation having to do with the pregnancy of a female in New York City who had been befriended by Jose Reyes, the stellar shortstop of the New York Mets.  Once the child was born, Reyes bragged about faithfully visiting her when he is in town.  The fact that he is a Dominican citizen probably keeps him away for most of the year, and that child is growing up fatherless.

I know that when men and women get together, there is a high probability that over time sexual activity will take place.  I understand that, and I have nothing against such activity.  But what grates against my nerves is the excuse that “we were in a committed relationship.”  Does being in a committed relationship bar the use of birth control equipment?

I know that there are thousands of cases where the relationship between a man and a woman results in a pregnancy.  My question today has to do with who changed the rules.  Does being in a committed relationship relieve one of the burdens of fatherhood?  I don’t believe so.  If you’re going to play with fire, expect to get burned occasionally.

Well, that is my moral mission for today.  I was raised by the stern rule of my father who said on occasions such as this one, that when pregnancy occurs, the male member must stand up and “be a man.”

As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that if the partners to a pregnancy claim that they were in a committed relationship, the old rules no longer apply.  But figuring out such stuff as this is above my pay grade and I will simply wait to see who gets ensnarled in the pleasures of love.  But no matter how you cut it, these fatherless children may eventually figure out that they have been abandoned, primarily by their fathers.  That, in my humble estimation, is a problem that society ought to avoid at all costs.



January 7, 2010

Essay 431


Kevin’s commentary: I mean, I think there’s a false dichotomy here. The choices aren’t “be married or be an absentee father.” I think if one is really in a “committed relationship” in the real sense of that word — not the politician’s sense, clearly — then there is no problem. It is entirely possible to be a caring and loving father to a child without being married to that child’s mother. I know a few such couples and I don’t find any shame in it.

My qualm would rather be with people using that phrase as a euphemism for “we weren’t using birth control” because that’s absolutely stupid, as Pop eloquently noted.


As a general proposition, by the time my essays have been dictated and reread twice in the proofreading process, I grow sick of them and want them to be completed and mailed.  In the last series of essays, I thought that two or three of them were worthwhile.  One of them had to do with my daughter and her child, my grandchild, lecturing the Texas football team about the use of the word retarded.  Another had to do with the owner of a hardware store here in Berkeley Heights called Lefty.  And finally there was an essay about Vicks.  Vicks is a magic formula that can be spread on your chest or even swallowed when a cold appears on the horizon.

When these essays had been received by readers, several called me with comments.  I thought that they would comment on the forgoing three essays.  But uniformly I was completely mistaken.  The essay on my siblings clearly caused the most comment from my readers.  Mind you, I use the word comment rather than praise.  There may have been praise, but the basic response had to do with comments.

My readers largely took the essay on my daughter’s speech to the Texas football team as well as the story about Lefty, the hardware owner, in stride.  What they wished to comment on was the essay called “Pondering Family Matters.”

You may recall that my younger daughter had mentioned to me that she knew quite a bit about my parents but that she knew very little about my siblings.  And so, to satisfy my daughter’s curiosity, I attempted to write the story of my siblings, of which there were seven in number.  My daughter, for whom the story was written, said that she now understood a bit more about me and my family, and coming from her I thought that was fairly high praise.  But the comments coming from other readers who know nothing of my siblings were a surprise to me.  Apparently they found that essay of some “interest”.  I am at a complete loss to tell you why this is the case, but in the final analysis, a good many readers told me that this was one of the most “interesting” essays that I had written recently.

As you will recall, I write these essays because of a stroke-induced case of aphasia, which prevents my ability to call nouns to mind quickly.  In writing and/or dictating these essays, I try to pay particular attention to three rules which keep me away from forbidden subjects.  The forbidden subjects are the divorce of 1983, my combat experience in the Second World War, and, finally, the Depression of 1929.

I found that in writing the essay on pondering family matters, I was perilously close to violating my rule on the Depression.  The three prohibited subjects that I have mentioned are still too painful for me to recall and I wish to avoid them in their entirety.  But in the essay on pondering family matters, there really was no choice.  The Carr family, at least in my generation, was raised in the era of the 1929 Depression.  I am glad that this essay is now behind me, because I find that there was no therapeutic value in dipping so close to the brim of the Depression of 1929.  What is ironic to me is that here we are, nearly 80 years later, enduring the same sort of circumstances that took place in 1929.  Banks are closing, people are out of work, and there is general unhappiness among the citizenry.

But the point in this essay is that I am thoroughly and totally surprised by the interest that it has caused among my readers.  For the twelve years that I have been writing essays, I have not necessarily avoided mentioning my siblings, but I have not looked for ways to include them in the essays.  The facts of the matter are that there really was no choice in that the Depression was upon us and we could do very little about it.

At the moment, it appears that we can do very little about the current recession or depression, trying as hard as President Obama is to make it go away.

At this point, all of my siblings have died and are presumably angels.  I have only a few nieces and nephews left.  There is one nephew mentioned in the essay who is a callow youth of 74 years.  Bob Carr’s parents were Josephine Mollenbach and my brother Earl Carr.  From time to time, Bob and I talk.  As a matter of interest to old essay writers such as myself, it was Bob Carr who contributed the title of that essay and the birth and death records.  He remembers all of the family mentioned in the essay and I suppose he has some opinions.  But regardless of his opinions, good or bad, Bob concluded in our most recent conversation that “everyone got an honorable mention.”  In point of fact, that is exactly what I intended to do.  Whatever animosity there might have been in years past has long since gone away.

An update on the family would seem to be in order here.  Verna Eva never realized her dream of becoming an opera singer.  She sang solos around the St. Louis area.  While she had a nice voice, I suppose that the professionals did not treat it as of their quality.  Verna married twice and in the end outlived both her husbands.

The second child of Ezra and Lillie Carr was Charlie.  As time went on, Charlie quit his job with his original employer, Emil Kronsberg, and established the Carr Surveying Company, which I presume was quite successful.  Earl Carr worked for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and for a good many years, was the top salesman on their staff in the St. Louis area.

Opal Carr was a tragedy, but in the end she seemed to be doing pretty much as she wished to do, that is, pursuing the racing of her greyhounds.  As time went forward, Opal communicated less and less with her siblings and I learned of her passing, alone in a trailer, some time later.  I deeply regret not being in a position to help Opal through what I assume were difficult times.  I am sorry that Opal’s life took the course that it did, but at this point all I can do is to express my great regret.

In my own case, I worked four years in filling stations, and then got a job as a draftsman with AT&T in St. Louis.  I spent 43 years with the Bell System and achieved a modest amount of success in rising to the Director level, first with the New York Telephone Company, then with AT&T, and, finally, with AT&T Long Lines in its headquarters in New York City.

Bob Carr read my intentions with great precision.  It was my intention to conclude the discussion on family matters by giving everybody an honorable mention.  They were all good people doing the best they could under very trying circumstances.  In the final analysis, what more can we ask?



January 3, 2010

Essay 430


Kevin’s commentary: I just spend quite a while reading the nine-page essay in question but I am not to 2009 yet so I will refrain from posting it for the time being.

That said, it was very good.  In that essay he expressed several of the same thoughts expressed here — namely surprise that his siblings could ever make for interesting essay topics. Given the wide variety of things that Pop seems to like to write about you would think that very little would qualify as too uninteresting to write about, and if that category did exist his siblings certainly would not belong there. But then, the huge age gap probably made his family dynamic very different than what I am used to, so I have no idea.  Still though, they seemed like very interesting people, as did Mr. Bob Carr, who hopefully Ms Chicka would be willing to put me in touch with.



Within the next few days, Barack Obama will celebrate his first year in the office of the presidency of the United States.  I suppose the media will make this anniversary something to remember.  If I may be excused, I would like to add the words of an old essayist to the batch of communications that will be occasioned by the initial anniversary of Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency.

I am not good at grading the performance of politicians in office but if I were asked to do so, in this case my mark would be “incomplete.”  Obviously there are many things left to be accomplished by Barack Obama, including the health care bill for example.  But beyond that, Mr. Obama has given liberals or progressives, as we now call them, reason to pause.  If I thought that he had knocked the ball out of the park on several occasions, I would not hesitate to give him an A for his first year efforts.  But he has not knocked the ball out of the park.  Indeed, there have been occasions when he has bunted or tried to take the pitcher for a walk.  It is those failures, or better, those near failures that cause me to grade his performance in office thus far as “incomplete.”

My apprehension about Barack’s performance is probably shared by many other liberals of my stripe.  Two weeks ago, Frank Rich, the editorial writer for The New York Times, had an essay on Sunday which contained a few lines of major significance.  Those lines are: “.. the American left and right don’t agree on much.  They are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger (Wood’s) public image, a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism, as the right sees it, or spineless timidity, as the left sees it.  The truth may well be neither.  But after a decade of being spun silly, Americans can’t be blamed for being cynical about any leader trying to sell anything.”

The key words in Frank Rich’s article are “spineless timidity.”  Frank Rich is an educated easterner who works for The New York Times. I am an uneducated mid-westerner and instead of spineless timidity, I would suggest that the President may well lack ball power.

At this point I find it necessary, as an uneducated mid-westerner, to explain things about the male anatomy.  In accordance with God’s plans, male members of the human race are born with a scrotum, which houses two testicles.  Whether it is true or not, the courage of males is often attributed to the testicles.  In street talk, the testicles, of course, are called “balls.”  They have lent their name to the title of this essay as cojones, which is the Spanish word for balls.  To say that a man is without balls is to say that he is essentially lacking in courage.  It is for that reason that I have given Barack Obama an “incomplete” mark for his first year in office.  There are no two ways about it, Barack Obama makes beautiful speeches and he is a gifted writer.  But when it comes to holding the opposition’s feet to the fire or a little arm-twisting. Mr. Obama demurs.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is the health care bill.  The thing that is lacking in the health care bill is the public option, which would tend to make the insurance companies perform adequately.  After a year of debate, it is unclear where Barack Obama stands on the public option.  Quite to the contrary, although specifying a public option, Mr. Obama has made it clear through his spokesman that he can live without such a device.  Essentially the health care bill, which is the hallmark of the Barack Obama administration in the first year in office, was left to the devices of Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, and of Nancy Pelosi in the House.  Intense questioning failed to elicit a clear response from the President on where he stood on this important measure.  The House and Senate have produced a mish mash that will now have to be straightened out in conference. From all appearances, what they will produce will not pass the United States Senate.

Now if I may state an important point here, it is that Nancy Pelosi has in my opinion more balls than Harry Reid, the leader in the Senate.  Nancy Pelosi understands the politics of the situation and is not afraid to push her thoughts forward.  But the diffidence of Barack Obama about this most important piece of legislation, the health care bill, has left the troops confused about where he stands.  The primary reason for the diffidence falls upon the President who either is for the public option or against it.  It is more or less a guessing game where Obama stands on his most important piece of legislation.

There are other examples.  Obama came into office promising that the prison at Guantanamo Bay would be closed.  According to Obama, closing Guantanamo Bay was an integral part of his agenda in his first year in office.  Now comes a fly in the ointment.  There is an unused federal prison in the state of Illinois which is now standing vacant.  He proposed that the prisoners from Guantanamo would be moved to this secure facility.  But the Congress made noises to the effect that they would not appropriate the funds to activate the prison in Illinois.  Instead of fighting to make the lawmakers change their minds, even in his home state of Illinois, it now appears that Obama wants to withdraw, and as a result the prisoners at Guantanamo will remain there.    As long as the prisoners stay at Guantanamo it will be a stain upon our reputation throughout the world.  It will also be a recruiting device for all of those Islamic terrorists who trouble us so terribly in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.  But there is no evidence that Obama twisted arms among the Illinois delegation to have them change their minds.  Quite to the contrary, it appears that housing the prisoners in that facility in Illinois may not come to pass at all.  Will this man fight for anything?

But the health care bill and the prisoners at Guantanamo are only two examples that come to mind at this moment.  There are a good many other matters on which the President has failed to make his position clear.  The man was elected to be a leader and not to be a mere cipher.  On too many occasions where his leadership should be shown to the rest of the world, Obama has retreated into his professorial mode and become nothing more than “spineless timidity” as Frank Rich calls this conduct.

My credentials as a liberal go a long way back.  In the election of 1928 the contestants were Herbert Hoover for the Republicans and the Governor of New York, Al Smith.  My parents were torn.  They could not bring themselves to vote for Herbert Hoover but Al Smith was a Catholic.  In those days, to a Protestant couple as were my parents, that was a formidable obstacle.  In the end, however, they screwed up their courage and voted for Smith, the Catholic.  He lost, of course, which set off the first Depression which lasted from 1929 until 1942, at the start of the Second World War.  I view liberalism in politics as a sacred endeavor and I hate to see it messed with by people who lack courage or, if you will, balls.

Obama has accomplished a good bit in his first year in office, but with a little bit of courage or ball power, he might well have accomplished a good deal more.  Our relations with the rest of the world are now on solid footing after the eight-year period when the rest of the world was treated to “cowboy diplomacy.”  But there comes a time when the President of the United States should roll up his sleeves and do the heavy lifting, and that is far from glamorous.  May I suggest to the President that the time has come for him to do some heavy lifting, particularly when it concerns bringing members of his own party into line.  The Ben Nelsons and the Mary Landrieus need to be told that the administration will look for alternatives when it comes to future elections.  At the moment, the Democratic Party acts like 50 or 60 chieftains.  They are all going their own way.  It is high time that Obama makes them go his way.

At the moment, Obama has a majority of 60 seats in the United States Senate.  From all indications, when the elections of 2010 are held, that lead will diminish.  So it is of vital importance that it be used to stop a filibuster by the Republicans.  It could well be that Obama knows something that I don’t know about the voting in the United States Senate.  But it seems to me that he is much too casual about protecting this filibuster-proof majority.

There is one more thought about voting in the United States Senate.  In all of the contests thus far, the Republicans presented a solid front of opposition.  Clearly, it is their aim to destroy his presidency.  The Senator named DeMint from South Carolina has stated that this is the aim of the Republicans to bring Obama to his “Waterloo” and thus destroy his presidency.  Under these circumstances, Obama has continued as though this were a normal democracy where the other side will listen to reason.  Clearly that is not the case.  Rather than pursuing a filibuster-proof vote on the health care bill, for example, Obama and Harry Reid can make things happen by going the other route, called reconciliation, where only 51 votes are required.  My advice to Obama and Reid is to screw up their courage while they still have a 60-seat lead in the Senate and go to the other route that requires only a 51-seat majority.  Ah, but that takes courage and some balls that I am not sure the President and Harry Reid have.  At this juncture on his first anniversary in office, given the nature of the situation with the leaders of the Senate and in the Chief Executive’s Office, we can only hope for the best.

All things considered, Barack Obama on his first anniversary still has my support.  A cynic might contend that there is no one else for that support to be given to.  But at this moment, I am not given to cynicism and I am hoping that Obama pulls a rabbit out of the hat and shows me and Frank Rich some courage that we did not know that he had.

A few years back, Obama wrote a book called The Audacity of Hope.  At the moment I live in the hope, audacity or not, that on the second anniversary of his ascension into the office of the presidency, I will be able to give him an A.  But for the moment, I believe that any honest evaluation would have to give him an “incomplete” on the first anniversary of his presidency.  No one since Franklin Roosevelt has been presented with such a full plate of problems as Barack Obama when he entered office.  He has my support and I continue to wish him well.  But I would advise Mr. Obama that if he showed a little bit more masculinity addressing his problems, those of us who call ourselves liberal would feel much more comfortable.



January 14, 2010

Essay 432

Note:  This essay was dictated before the results of the special senatorial election in Massachusetts were known.


Kevin’s commentary: I actually remember having this conversation with Pop on a number of occasions. Since this essay’s publication there have been a good number of strides taken in the right direction, but of course there are still issues. Guantanamo is still open, for instance.  I remember that when we were talking to Pop, my father mentioned that he wanted Hillary in the White House instead for the precise reason that we needed someone with balls. I am not sure how okay I am with the most important office in perhaps the world being controlled for two decades by as many families. In the unlikely event that Hillary is elected twice, that decade count will increase to almost three.


This is an essay about my military career which ended about 65 years ago.  The essay will necessarily record the incompetence of the United States Army but at the same time will celebrate the decency of one commissioned officer.  This essay is being recorded at this time prior to my brain delivering a “don’t answer” to my questions.  It is also being recorded now because I realize that there are small chunks of my military career that could never be answered by anyone else but myself.  So in one respect, the essay has a public service quality to it.  In other respects, the essay will record a town or two and a battle that frequently escape my memory, but which I have recalled for this essay.

No one should contend that my military service was a gorgeous piece of work.  The Second World War was upon us and I did what I thought every decent citizen ought to do.  In the summer of 1942, I enlisted in what I thought was the United States Army.  By that time, the military authorities had created the “Army of the United States” which was aimed at distinguishing between those who had served before Pearl Harbor and those of us who came afterward.  So my discharge reads that I was discharged from the AUS (Army of the United States) rather than the USA.  I am here to tell you that if you get hit by a bullet fired by a German machine gun, the effect is exactly the same whether you are working for the US Army or the Army of the United States.

In December of 1942, we set sail from Charleston, South Carolina, on a freighter that was named for one of Christopher Columbus’s ships.  It could have been the Nina or something of that sort.  In any event, the two-week trip, or perhaps that should be as many as three weeks, was quite unpleasant.  Enlisted men were required to sleep in bunks piled six in number from the bottom bunk to the top bunk.

Eventually, some time in January, we landed at the port of Dakar, Senegal.  For many years, Senegal had been a possession of France.  This was a period of great turmoil in Europe and the French had been defeated.  Putting it properly, there was no law and order in Dakar.  When the French went down, everything went down with them.

Shortly after our landing, we were moved to a place called Rufisque, also in Senegal.  It was about 25 or 30 miles outside of Dakar.  Within two or three days, a message arrived urgently requesting that aerial engineers with some exposure to machine gun training depart for “detached duty” with the Twelfth Air Force.

At that moment, there was a fierce battle going on in Tunisia at Kasserine Pass where the American First Army was involved in a blood bath.  In short, it became clear that the American First Army was about to be defeated by Field Marshal Rommel’s Afrika Corp.  The idea was to use air power to try to turn back Rommel’s assault.

At that point, Walter Bednar from Cleveland, Eddie Boyce from Brooklyn, and several others of us were placed on detached duty and assigned to the Twelfth US Army Air Force.  There was no formal designation in our departure.  It was simply a matter of “We need you at Kasserine Pass” and that pretty much settled the matter.  In the final analysis, Walter Bednar, Eddie Boyce, and several others of us had spent thirteen or fourteen months on detached duty with the Twelfth Air Force.

Detached duty has great drawbacks.  It means that promotions go to those who are regularly assigned to that air force.  We were considered fill-ins and as a result we flew missions as gunners, often with pilots with whom we were unacquainted.  But, that is what the Army wanted and that is what they got.

It took about a week, if my memory serves me correctly, for the battle at Kasserine Pass to be settled.  Unhappily our First Army had its nose bloodied.  Several of us went on from Kasserine to stay with the Twelfth Air Force through the invasion of Sicily and then to fly missions in support of the British Eighth Army in Italy.

People on detached duty come at the end of the line.  The table of organization in the Army apparently makes no mention of those of us on detached duty.  In any case, our situation was resolved by the American landing in France in June of 1944.  Shortly thereafter, the Twelfth Air Force folded its wings and we were sent back to our regular duty in the Air Transport Command, as the Twelfth Air Force passed into history.

I did not realize at the time that Captain Bell, the man in charge of flight line operations, was aware of the plight of the detached duty men on his roster.  When the time came, I believe, in December of 1944, there was a flight of a C47 from Naples, Italy back to the Douglas factory in California, where the oldest airplane in the European theater was to be recommissioned and sent out on a war bond drive.  With very little fanfare, I was told that I would be the aerial engineer on that flight.  Naturally, I was delighted because I had been absent from my home for more than two years.  But apparently Captain Bell recognized the unfairnesses that had been visited upon those of us on detached duty and picked me as the aerial engineer instead of someone on the regular roster of the Twelfth Air Force.  Naturally, Captain Bell has my undying admiration.

I thought no more about the detached duty business until November of 1945 when it was time for me to receive my honorable discharge from the Army of the United States.  On the morning of November 8, 1945, I arose early and caught the 5 o’clock street car that would take me from my in-laws’ home to the bus station in St. Louis where Army transportation was available to take me to Belleville, Illinois, the home of Scott Field.  In essays previous to this one, I have recorded the bitter argument that ensued when I presented my orders to be discharged.  To put matters briefly, the Army did everything it could to make me re-enlist or get me to join the Ready Reserves.  After 38 months, I said that they were making no headway with me and to please lay off with respect to further involvement with the Army.

I had arrived at Scott Field before 7 o’clock and hoped the discharge would be delivered before noon with the thought that I might take my new wife to lunch that day.  But the discharge was delayed by the haranguing of these people who wished me to stay in the Army.  When there was a reference to my patriotism, I responded with the most vulgar oath in my repertoire.  That produced results and shortly after 7:30PM, the “ruptured duck” signifying a departing soldier, was sewed on to my uniform.  All things considered, the day of my discharge, which should have been a happy one, turned out to be sort of unpleasant.  My mother-in-law was angered because I did not show up for dinner.  Apparently the roast that she had bought had cooled off, which was matched only by the coolness of her greeting when I arrived back in Maplewood, Missouri at her home to have a drink.

The major problem holding up my discharge had to do with the fact that the Twelfth Air Force had not communicated with the Air Transport Command, and as a result none of what I had done with the Twelfth Air Force was ever reported in the Air Transport Command’s history of my service.  This was a case of gross incompetence.  Those of us on detached duty had come to expect that sort of treatment.  I know that in my case as well as in the cases of Eddie Boyce and Walter Bednar none of our decorations had been transmitted to the Air Transport Command headquarters.  Later I found out that a fire on Goodfellow Avenue in St. Louis where the Army records were kept, had destroyed millions of records.  Were my records in that fire? I have no idea.  But the main fact is that the Army stored its records on Goodfellow Avenue, which came as a complete surprise to me.

When the clerk typist was kindly typing my discharge papers, I noticed that he was copying from someone who had a hatful of decorations.  When I pointed that out to him, he said “Forget it; it will look good later on.”  Later on, of course, when I applied for new discharge papers, there was no entry for decorations and that sort of thing.  I also noticed that the Army had given me credit for 28 months overseas.  My calculations had been that I had spent only 26 or 26½ months overseas.  In my great desire to get out of the Army, I thought that this mistake would be useful.  As it turns out, nobody cares whether you spent 26 or 28 months overseas.  So I guess I made a mistake.  I learned not to argue with these people who were trying to type my discharge.

Well there you have the gross incompetence of the United States Army in record keeping.  In fairness, you have to recognize the decency of Captain Bell, who passed over all of his other aerial engineers to give me the trip home.  Captain Bell has my enduring admiration.

Well that is about all I have to say about my service in the Army at this point.  It seems to me that the moral of the story is that if one becomes embroiled in service to the United States Army or the Army of the United States, one should avoid detached duty at every opportunity.  I don’t know whether this is much of a lesson, but it is about all that I have today.



January 27, 2010

Essay 434


Kevin’s commentary: There are elements of Pop’s service about which he will never write, so I am always surprised when I encounter essays that touch on the experience.

It strikes me as somewhat odd that the army would name ships after the Nina and (presumably) Pinta, even though these ships are notable chiefly because they failed to ever reach their destinations.

So far as flying on detached duty goes, it makes very little sense to me that they would split up the gunners from the pilots such that the combinations may not have worked well together.

I have yet to read the essays about the 38-month badgering period but I suppose I will soon, as I work my way back in time through these essays. It seems obnoxious, though.

Speaking of older essays, I hope one day I shall find an essay devoted to Mimi’s parents, because I never met them and I think it could be an interesting learning experience. Also the potential for comedy seems high.


Let me take you back perhaps 25 years when it seemed to me that almost everyone smoked cigarettes.  Cigarettes require fire at their tips.  The fire may be provided by a cigarette lighter, or by a kitchen match, and it can also be provided by matches contained in a small packet that fits precisely in the watch pocket in the jacket of men’s clothing.  In the end, what I am attempting to get to is the advertising contained on those small packages of matches that are usually given out free of charge at bars, hotels, restaurants and other places where cigarettes are smoked.

More specifically, I am getting to the fact that there is no more employment for advertisement salesmen who sell advertising that appears on these packets of matches.  There was a time, well within my memory, when men collected those matches from the toniest places in town to show that they were really men about town.  You may recall that in the period that I am speaking of, there was a club in New York called The Stork Club.  My guess is that men and women regard a packet of matches from The Stork Club as a sign that they have entered the higher levels of New York society.  The same could be true of fancy hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria.  Every bar, restaurant, hotel and club in town was anxious for you to have their match covers which they regarded as an easy source of advertising.

Over the years, I collected a batch of such match covers which I then offered to one of my grandsons.  His mother declined the offer on the grounds that a fifteen-year-old boy would set fire to their house.  I suspect that those matches remain in one of my dresser drawers.  If she now wishes to present them to a sophomore at Northwestern University, I will give her my personal assurance that her house will not be burned down.

In the final analysis, this essay is more of a lament for the men who sold advertising on those match covers.  I imagine that it was a lucrative business for them.  But now that smoking has gone out of style, I suspect that matchbook advertising sales have entered a full-fledged depression.  That is a pretty good outcome when it is considered that smoking is injurious to everyone’s health.  But there are times when I think about my match covers and I wonder what has happened to the men who used to sell advertising on those covers.  I hope that they are adaptable and able to sell other kinds of advertising, because it now looks as though smoking is long gone as well as the matches used to ignite the cigarettes.

Our favorite restaurant offers matches but forbids smoking on its premises.  This is kind of a contradiction in terms, but there is very little more to say about advertising on matchbook covers.

As for my grandson, I will renew my offer to give him some of those match covers which are a piece of what I consider to be a great period in American history.  But I am prepared to be rejected again by my daughter on the grounds that her 19- or 20-year-old might set their house aflame.  I will keep the matchbook covers so that once the grandson attains his majority, he can make the decision for himself.



January 3, 2010

Essay 429


Kevin’s commentary: More on a similar topic here. After that essay, I actually wrote Pop to ask if I were the grandson in question. Had I only just read this essay, I would have known for sure that I was. A small exchange followed between Pop, his daughter, and myself — it is recorded for posterity below:
~ First, from Pop:
Hey Kevin,

As a matter of fact Mr. Shepherd, you are the grandson in question and I regret to inform you of your mother’s lack of faith in your ability to control your emotions.

If you had indeed set the house afire, it would be self defeating because of the match covers that I had laboriously saved would have gone up in the flames. Your mother was unmoved by my eloquence in explaining my position.

You will find that now that your mother and I agree that with the passage of your 21st birthday, that you have become a responsible citizen. In the snail mail, I will send you the match covers that I have left. They are sent in the fervent hope that you will not set fire to the elegant and lavish room in which you find yourself. I would be interested in how you will explain this to your mother.


PS: Please tell us where you live, including the zip code.

~Then, from mom:

I suspect that the matchbook offer was made at roughly the same time that Kevin chose to explode fireworks in the bathtub and then deny that he was smelling the distinct smell of sulphur in response to my questioning from the bottom of the stairs. I therefore came upstairs to the bathroom in question where the smell of sulphur was UNDENIABLE and again lodged an accusation in the general direction of Kevin G Shepherd who decided that his best course of action was the Nixon-endorsed modified qualified hang-out. He proceeded to falsely confess to setting caps off in the bathtub, which was enough to get him yelled at, maybe punished. I can’t remember. But it wasn’t true; he was actually setting off fireworks not caps in the tub.
With Kevin, you must always verify. And don’t give him matches, match covers or lighters. Ever.

~Finally, from me:
They were not fireworks! They were single matchsticks with I believe tinfoil wrapped around them to direct the expanding air from the lit match along a downward channel, thereby propelling them forward five or six inches into the air. Nothing exploded.

PS from Kevin, 5/8/2013 — I found the website with the match-rockets in question. You’ll note it’s hosted on and talks about how useful the project in is exploring “Newton’s Laws of Motion as they relate to rocketry.” It was therefore not wanton destruction but a directed effort to further my own scientific education.


In recent weeks Al Gore, the former vice-president, and his wife Tipper announced that they are going to be separated after 40 years of marriage.  This has set the news hawks and news hens to digging for details as to why the Gores are ending their marriage after such a long time.  I will have absolutely nothing – I repeat nothing – to add to this debate.  My advice to all of us is to “butt out.”  It is none of the public’s business and I am sure that the Gores would appreciate having their privacy respected.

I have a vested interest in the advice to “butt out.”  In my own case, my marriage ended after 37 years.  That marriage was contracted in 1945 so after 65 years I am still at a loss to tell you exactly what happened.  Not only am I at a loss to tell you what happened, I am not in search of questions or second guessing.  The matter is dead.  My former wife is deceased and it is a subject on which I will never write in these essays.

I know that in my own case, when it was clear that Eileen and I were going to be divorced, there were many questions as to why this was going to take place.  I never answered any of those questions.  It was treated by myself as a private matter and that was it.  The lady who tended the counter at the Schait’s Laundry went so far as to ask me what had happened to my marriage.  I told her something to the effect that if I ever figured that out, I might tell her about it, but most likely, I would not tell her.

So if I may offer a piece of advice to the news media in this country or the press of the English where sting operations are the order of the day, I would again say, “Please butt out.”  This is not a happy time for Al Gore and Tipper.  Any inquiries would only deepen their sorrow.

For myself, if I were asked, I would say that the Gores have my greatest sympathy.  I understand what they are going through and I hope that in the end their separation is for the best.  Please in the interim, everyone in this country and in the English-speaking press abroad should kindly “butt out” and leave it to the Gores to settle their own affairs.  The end of a marriage is not a happy occasion.  Inquiries as to why all of this happened would only lead to greater sorrow for Al and Tipper Gore.  As someone who knows a little bit about this situation, I would say that we should let the Gores settle their own affairs.  And in the meantime, everyone should “butt out.”



June 8, 2010

Essay 461


The only thing the media loves more than the personal lives of politicians and celebrities is death, preferably on a large scale. Though I find myself agreeing with Pop here — that the media should probably stay out of it — I also think that I have a bit of a double standard, because I love hearing about things like Sanford’s Argentine lover. So, if we agree that we should keep our noses out of these sorts of divorces, does that mean cutting ourselves off from the circus that is the party of Family Values and the trainwreck that is their personal lives?


P.S. I cannot think of “tipper” without thinking of “Mrs. Tipper,” my uncle’s absurdly spoiled, recently-deceased canine. I am forced to conclude that Tipper is a better dog name than person name. That is all.



The title to this essay is a very practical one. The “abiding” part has to do with some thoughts that have remained in my brain for the better part of 80 years. The “conclusion” part has to do with these statements which allow no room for debate. And, finally, you will be surprised to know that the title of this essay springs from my thoughts about an old Protestant hymn called “Abide with me.” The first verse of that old hymn contains these lines:

Abide with me.
Fast falls the even tide,
The darkness deepens.
Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail
And comforts flee,
Help of the helpless,
Oh, abide with me.

I am not quite sure if the authors of that old hymn view it as the opening lines of an iconoclast’s essay. But the fault lies not with me but with the authors of that hymn. They are the ones who put the abiding conclusions firmly in place in my brain for the past 80 years. Now, having introduced you to a hymn of the Protestant faith, I think that we can proceed with abiding conclusions.

There are six in number. The first abiding conclusion comes from Walter Nollmann, who happens to be our son-in-law. Walter is properly wed to my elder daughter, a fact to which I can attest because I attended their wedding.

For the many years that the New York Jets, a football team, have been in existence, Walter has followed their fortunes assiduously. I am not that much of a football fan because of the brutality involved in the game. But in any event, it seems to me that over many years, the New York Jets have had a tendency to lose their games in the last few minutes. Sometimes the loss involves stupid penalties and other times it involves not being on top of clock management. But be that as it may, Walter Nollmann has made the following abiding conclusion to which I subscribe. Walter has said that, “In the end, you know that the New York Jets are always going to break your heart.” There is no argument about his conclusion. A fact is a fact. And so the fans of the New York Jets always proceed into games knowing that sooner or later the Jets will break your heart.

Now we proceed to an abiding conclusion from a gentleman for whom I have the highest respect. That would be Wayne Johnson.

Wayne is a plumber extraordinaire who has some observations about life, particularly here and in New York. Wayne attended a trade school where he learned the art of plumbing, which he practices with great artistry.

Upon learning of my blindness four and a half years ago, Wayne accepted a cup of coffee from Judy, my wife, and sat down in a living room chair. Early in the conversation, Wayne said to me, “I see you have had a bit of a setback.” From that point the conversation flowed freely and I explained to him what glaucoma amounted to. It was a great relief to discuss blindness openly with a person whom I greatly respect. Compare that to the experience of a treasured friend who had had a mastectomy. She has reported that in some of her conversations with people she has known a long time, they make great efforts to avoid the use of the word “cancer.” An identical avoidance occurs when the subject is blindness. In Wayne’s case, he said that he had observed that I had “a bit of a setback” and that I was doing everything possible to overcome it. As I said, that was four and a half years ago and my memory of that discussion vividly remains with me. It is for that reason that I have included it in my abiding conclusion essay.

Now let us turn to Tom Eadone, who for many years operated a limousine service based in Chatham, New Jersey. Tom was a native of Newark, New Jersey and he distrusted politicians of all stripes. His distrust was well-placed because there are not many politicians blessed with honesty who come from the Newark background. On one occasion, Tom offered this abiding conclusion. Mr. Eadone said, “I never trust a politician who spent more on his campaign than the job would pay him.”

As you can see, those words of caution have long been with us. Regularly politicians up to and including the federal level spend more on their campaigns than the jobs that they seek would ever think about paying them. Michael Bloomberg, who spent an inordinate amount of money to be elected mayor of New York City for his third term, would be the prime candidate for violating Tom Eadone’s rule. But Tom’s cautious thought is a thorough abiding conclusion. Never trust a politician who spends more on his campaign than the job will pay.

The next abiding conclusion comes from my favorite hardware store owner, who goes by the name of Lefty Vincendese. Lefty has survived the landing of 1944 at Omaha Beach. As happens to most of us, as age bears down upon our shoulders, two or three severe ailments have tended to slow Lefty down. He is more than 80 years of age, so that is fully understandable. In recent years, Crohn’s Disease has descended upon Lefty. I gather that Crohn’s Disease is a painful ailment. On one occasion, Judy, my wife, asked Lefty how he was feeling. Lefty responded by saying, “I will never feel good again.”

There seems to be an affinity between not feeling well and aging. If Crohn’s Disease is thrown into the mix, it is entirely understandable why Lefty would say that he does not look forward to feeling good again during his remaining years. The point is that Lefty was not seeking anybody’s pity. He was merely stating a fact that should have been apparent to all of us. After Lefty made that remark, I concluded that it had to be involved in our abiding conclusions. It is one of the greatest.

Now let us go on to a personal involvement of mine. In 1942, when I enlisted in the American Army, there was a six-week period of training in Las Vegas, New Mexico where dust pervaded the drill field as well as the barracks and the mess halls. There was a corporal there who was put in charge of training my platoon. Somewhere along the line, he wanted us to march in an oblique fashion. That means marching at a 45˚ angle as opposed to left flank, which is 90˚, or right flank or straight forward.

Clearly, the corporal was having trouble with what he wanted us to do and at one point I spoke up. I said to the corporal, “I think I can help you.” Instantly the corporal said, “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking. You get paid for doing whatever you are told to do.” That event took place 68 years ago or thereabouts, and I have not forgotten it. Presumably if I had stayed in the American Army I might now be a staff sergeant or perhaps even a colonel. But I elected to leave the Army at the first opportunity. But I have always remembered the thought that “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking.” So it is inevitable that it be included in our abiding conclusions.

The final thought has to do with Dell van Buren Barbee. In a previous essay, I explained that Dell was the car washer in one of the filling stations in which I worked. Dell had two or three years of schooling in a Mississippi school house for black people. I suspect that it was not of the Harvard level. But Dell could make his points reasonably clear. On a cold winter’s day when rain obliterated the Missouri landscape, Dell offered these unsolicited thoughts to me about relations between the sexes. I will clean this up as best I can; I believe you will get his meaning. Dell van Buren Barbee said, “If God invented something better than, he kept it for hisself.” I made no attempt to correct Dell’s grammar because I was overwhelmed by the logic of his remark.

So there are the six instances of abiding conclusions. Many of them have appeared in earlier essays but have never been brought together in this context. I am going to offer these abiding conclusions to my grandsons, which will give them a firm footing as they proceed in life. On the other hand, they may have little value at all. I cannot escape the conclusion that the words “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking” are of inestimable value. If we had clear thinking like that coming from our politicians, we might have avoided the near meltdown of our financial institutions. But then again, perhaps nothing could be done about the recession or depression that is upon us.

This essay started with a Protestant hymn, which is a magnificent piece of music. It can be sung as a solo; it lends itself to duets as well as trios

and quartets, as well as to choirs. And I can only repeat those lines about all of us growing older, saying “Help of the helpless, abide with me.” If there is anything that the deities can work on, it might be to stop the aging process. But I am here to tell you that it ain’t going to happen any time soon.


January 27, 2010

Essay 433

Kevin’s commentary:

This is easily one of my favorite essays that I’ve posted in several weeks.

More on football brutality here.

Regarding politicians and payments, I am not sure it would be possible to find many who fit the criterion of the campaign costing less than the job. The highest office in the land is paid $400,000 a year, whereas the cost of a presidential campaigns runs into the dozens if not hundreds of millions. Now, if that rule only applies to out-of-pocket fundraising, perhaps a few more would fall into the net prescribed but it would still eliminate a sizable chunk. Romney, for instance, would only make $1.6 million as president for four years, whereas he personally contributed around $35 million to his own campaign.

In China that situation is even more interesting; officially, government salaries are very low, yet they are the most sought-after jobs in the country. People will buy a job that “pays” $2,500 a month for a million dollars, because it comes with the power to take bribes and generally be a corrupt asshole and make lots of cash.. A majority of the government in that country is run in this way.

More on  “you don’t get paid for thinking” here and here.