Archive for the October 2010 Category


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without a shirt on my back,

Without a penny to my name,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



October 22, 2010

Essay 506


Kevin’s commentary:

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

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


Article VI of the United States Constitution provides that there shall be no religious test required of anyone aspiring to work for the United States government.  This applies to any office from local dog catcher to the presidency.  For example, in 1942, I sought a position as a private in the United States Army.  There was no religious test required.  On the other hand, I was told that I should go catch some of those German bullets flying around and that I was not paid to think; I was paid to do whatever I was told.

Article VI of our Constitution states an idealistic position.  When it says that no religious test should ever be required, that is the idealistic provision foreseen by the founders who wrote the Constitution.  But in practice, the American electorate tends to impose all kinds of religious tests as well as those of racial and regional qualities.  What is stated as an ideal state of affairs in Article VI is not necessarily how the American electorate goes about its work.  All kinds of tests are applied to applicants for political positions.  In the final analysis, what it comes down to is that the electorate often seems to want its candidates to be “just like me.”  If I am a Baptist candidate and the electorate comes to know that, then the Baptist vote may well turn out in overwhelming numbers.

On the other hand, the current President of the United States has a Muslim middle name.  In spite of the fact that he attended the United Church of Christ pastered by the controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright for 20 years, the American electorate discounted that and many among our number have concluded that Mr. Obama is indeed a Muslim.  For the record, I should state that I do not believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim in any respect.  Apparently his father may have considered himself a  Muslim.  There is no evidence that the faith of Mohammad is embraced by his son.

It seems to me that every aspirant to be president has to answer the question about his religion.  This not only flies into the face of Article VI of the Constitution, but I would consider it an affront to my dignity.  But the candidates willingly state their religious preference and in many cases use that preference to drum up support for their candidacy.

The Constitution was written by bright men, some of whom were atheists.  Benjamin Franklin was among these and it is widely thought that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were not enthusiastic churchgoers.

When the American Declaration of Independence came about in 1776, there was a general revulsion against the Anglican Church, which was the official religion of the British monarchy.  In the year 1536, King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife.  She was the widow of his elder brother.  When the authorities in Rome told King Henry that he was stuck with his wife, he had a violent reaction.  King Henry told the Pope that he was withdrawing adherence to Catholicism for all of his subjects.  That was only the beginning.  King Henry went on to name himself as the custodian of the faith of Britain.  And so, since 1536 we have had the Anglican faith, which is a rival to the Roman Catholic faith.

Those who were charged with drawing up the United States Constitution wanted no part of internal squabbles between Rome and London.  And so they decided that no religious tests should ever apply for those aspiring to office in this country.  If there was such a thing as the chief dog catcher of the federal government, there would be no religious tests required of aspirants to that job.

For a very long time, people who ascribed to the Catholic faith were not really welcomed into the highest of political circles in this country.  As a matter of fact, it took 184 years before the first Catholic was elected to the Presidency.  That of course was John F. Kennedy.  In this atmosphere where no religious tests would ever apply, various religions in this country proliferated.  I can remember in 1928 when Al Smith, a Catholic who was the Governor of New York state, ran against Herbert Hoover.  My parents agonized over the decision about whom to vote for.  They were Democrats.  To cast a vote for a Catholic gave them agony.  But in the end, that is exactly what they did.  There must have been many others who shared the opinions of my parents.  Herbert Hoover was elected, colorless as he was.

What this tells you is that as recently as 80 years ago, the feeling about aspirants to federal office who shared the Catholic faith had a hill to climb.  Herbert Hoover presided over the Great Depression early in 1929.  I suspect that Al Smith would have made a superior President.  These days we honor Al Smith with a formal dinner here in New York every year.  But Herbert Hoover is long since forgotten.

It would please me no end to have the fact of political life in this country without a statement of who belongs to what church.  But I know that will not ever happen during my lifetime.  We are determined to find out a person’s religious preferences early in the game.  What do religious preferences have to do with competence?  In the case just cited, Al Smith was clearly more competent than Herbert Hoover.  But the American electorate in its desire to elect a man “just like me” gave the nod to Herbert Hoover.  The result of that election of course was the disastrous Depression starting in 1929.

At the moment, I do not believe that we have many aspirants to the Presidential office who are Catholics.  The candidates all seem to be huddled in the safety of the various branches of the Protestant faith.  The idealism that is expressed in the sixth article of the Constitution is hardly born out by the actions of the American electorate.

Do any of you suspect that a Jew could aspire to be the President of the United States?  I would suggest that Michael Bloomberg would make an excellent candidate for the office of President.  It is interesting to note that I am not even sure that Mr. Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, is a Jew.  On the other hand I am convinced that Michael Bloomberg is a competent man who could run this country’s government with a degree of excellence.

But because of his name and, I suspect, his religion or lack of religion, the fact is that Mr. Bloomberg probably will not ever have a chance to be a candidate for the Presidency.  As you can see, I am a free thinker when it comes to competence.  I wish that there would be another amendment to the Constitution which bars reference to religious affiliation.  But that is not the case, and we should all regret that.

If a man like Bloomberg is denied the Presidency, do you think there would be any chance whatsoever for a Muslim?  My guess at this time is that a Muslim who sought the Presidency of the United States would be taking his life in his hands when he appeared on the stump.

Do you think a candidate who has no religious preference whatsoever stands any chance of election?  If I were ever to seek the office of the Presidency, I would have to say that in terms of religious preference, I would say “none of the above.”  I suspect that those who subscribe to a religion of any kind would judge me instantly.  If they rejected me because of my lack of competence, that would be one thing.  If on the other hand the electorate rejected me because I did not express a preference for a religion, that would be something else.

And so it goes in the matter of religious preferences.  I believe that the United States Constitution is an idealistic instrument which has been distorted in the daily practice of the American electorate.  I take comfort in the fact that even though I know better than to aspire to the Presidency, there is no official state religion for me to adopt.  I continue to believe that the electorate wishes to elect a person “just like me” largely regardless of the competency being involved.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a scholarly gentleman from New York who represented that state in the U. S. Senate for many years.  Mr. Moynihan was a brilliant person who had some thoughts on the American electorate.  He once observed that the American electorate is divided between class, race, and region.  In this instance, Mr. Moynihan goes a bit further than my observations about religious preferences.  If you read the polling results that have occurred with the mid-term elections of 2010, they will tell you that Mr. Moynihan was on to something.   Polls divide the tallies between white folks and other people, and they go much further by aggregating those with a college education and those without.  I suppose that those with college degrees consider themselves of a class that is superior to those without the college degree.  That may well be the case.

The second point of Mr. Moynihan’s observation was that we certainly are divided by race.  The Republican Party is basically now southern based.  In my humble estimation, antipathy toward Barack Obama stems primarily from his African-American background.  The vehemence of his opposition can only be explained by the thought that his race makes him inferior in their eyes.  I hold no such views, of  course.  And if there is any inferiority, I say that it goes to the likes of a collection of Senators and Representatives from the old Confederacy.  Obama has had a superior education and his accomplishments are numerous.  That is of small consequence compared to the fact that Southerners, particularly Republicans, view him as a black man.

As to Mr. Moynihan’s third point about region, I can understand that as well.  I would suspect that there are a good many voters in the mid-West who would reject or at least question a man who came from New York or New England.  That is a sad commentary.  I believe that Mr. Moynihan was onto something in this case as well.  When such prejudices trump competence, this country is the loser.  It makes no difference to me where a man comes from, or his region; I am looking only for competence.  But I may not be a true example of the American electorate.  I believe that they wish to give their vote to somebody “just like me.”

Finally, aside from Mr. Moynihan’s point about class, race, and region, can any of you ever believe that in your lifetime a homosexual President could be nominated, much less elected?  I think it will probably take another 80 or 300 years before that will happen.

Well, these are my thoughts about the American electorate.  I hold the view that the American electorate is looking for somebody “just like me” to put into office.  In my own case, a person “just like me” would come with much baggage.  I would want somebody like Daniel Patrick Moynihan to be my representative.  Aside from the fact that Moynihan was a learned gentleman and could have represented me better than I could represent myself, I must also observe that Moynihan was an Irishman.  So you can see, I am probably back just where we started from, in that I want somebody like Moynihan to run things in this country.  So I want somebody, in this case an Irishman, just like me.

Perhaps Moynihan and Bloomberg would have made an unbeatable combination.  If that ever came to pass, having both Bloomberg and Moynihan on the same ticket, I guarantee that my vote would have been with them. But in the meantime, the idealism expressed in the Sixth Article of the Constitution will continue to be distorted in its practice.  Unfortunately, even Moynihan and/or Bloomberg could not straighten out this violation of the spirit of the Constitution.



October 22, 2010

Essay 505


Kevin’s commentary:

I don’t think it’s going to be 300 years.  I think it will be probably two or three generations, which is ideally how long it’s going to take for the bigots to die off.  The real question is whether the first gay president will be elected before the first atheist one. Maybe we could get a gay atheist, just to piss off the shambles of the Republican party that exist at such at the time.

A Jew is going to make it to office way before then. Someone’s going to need to fix the budget eventually, after all.

…in other news I hope there isn’t a hell because now I’m definitely going there.


This essay purports to comment on the conduct of females in restaurants which has come to be disturbing in some cases.  Before I am accused of bias against females, I would cite at least two points in my defense.  Those of you who have read Ezra’s Essays over the years know that I am a fierce defender of the right of females to control their own bodies and lives.  Few things make me angrier than male preachers and clerics deciding what is moral and legal for women to do.  Secondly, I would like to point out that my mother was a woman.  My wife is a woman.  My daughters are women and so are my sisters.  I hope that these two factors will destroy any contention that I am writing this out of bias against women.

When my wife and I go to a restaurant to enjoy a meal, it is usually at lunch.  The bulk of our luncheons take place in the town of Millburn, New Jersey where we now reside.  We now rarely go out for dinners any more.  It may be that I am becoming sensitive in my old age, but to me a restaurant meal is something to be enjoyed.  I regret the fact that on several occasions the chatterings of other female guests make enjoyment of a meal unenjoyable.

There are two occasions that I will cite to make my point.  In this town we have a theater called a playhouse which offers matinees on Thursdays.  Matinees during business hours of course attract female viewers.  That is all well and good.  I am a great proponent of theater offerings.  On the other hand, when a collection of females meets in preparation to have a meal and then to see the matinee performance, the enjoyment of other diners is put at risk.  This is so much so that my wife and I refuse to consider luncheons on Thursdays in local restaurants.

I presume that these women theater goers see each other regularly.  But when they meet for lunch, they act as though they have not seen each other for a lifetime.  When little jokes are told, the laughing is uproarious.  And then there are those women who seek to dominate the discussions.

Goodness gracious, I am all in favor of women enjoying themselves at lunch.  When it reaches a point that other diners cannot communicate with the waiters, it is time to dampen the celebration.

There is another example in which two or three women meet for lunch and are accompanied by children.  When the mothers become engaged in conversation, the children become restless and often start to wander around the restaurant.  Frequently the mothers are asked whether the children may have this or that desert.  The mothers are so engaged in their conversation that they often say that it is all right.  Recently we had a disastrous luncheon at a new restaurant in Millburn.  The mothers were engaged in loud conversations while their children wandered about the restaurant.  In addition to that, it being a warm day, the door was open.  This place is located on Main Street where there is a hill to climb shortly after leaving the restaurant.  Aside from the chatter between the two women and their children, we had to listen to motorists, particularly truckers, who were revving up their engines in preparation for climbing the hill outside the restaurant.

I am not particularly expert on the subject of negotiations with females, but it seems to me that if my memory is correct, men often have a proposition to offer their female companions.  It may be a trip to Bermuda, or it may be simply to persuade the female to accompany the man to his hotel room.  Under the circumstances I have described, such as the pre-matinee luncheon and the meeting of mothers with their children, I cannot imagine a man finding an opportunity to proposition his girlfriend.  This of course is a great loss to mankind.  Restaurants ought to be kept quiet so that such propositions are properly heard.

Well, those are my thoughts about chattering women.  I will remind you that if you have read Ezra’s Essays, you know that I am a fierce defender of the right of women to control their bodies.  More than that, I again point out that my mother, my wife, my daughters, and my sisters are all female.  I believe that those are circumstances which make it thoroughly impossible for anyone to claim bias by this author in his treatment of females.

I suppose that what I am looking for is a little less exuberance when females dine, the thought being that they should concentrate on the meal that they are about to enjoy.  And if a flattering proposition occurs somewhere before the desert course, the woman should consider that a complete dividend.  All of this goes to prove that George Washington said that “Silence is golden.”  I am also told that General Washington was not opposed to propositions made in restaurants to comely females.



October 1, 2010

Essay 499


Kevin’s commentary:

Oh man, this one just SCREAMS “Ed wrote this.”

One of the most famous Shepherd-family-stories about Pop comes from the late 1980s, when my older brother was still a toddler. We were visiting Pop and Judy and for some reason, Connor got up very early and found himself eating breakfast with just Pop, who at the time was watching the news. Connor was babbling incessantly about nothing useful, as he is still wont to do, and eventually Pop resorted to bribing him with additional Cheerios to shut him up. I think that this is a brilliant ploy and may attempt to make the same bargain with my grandchildren.



If you are a close follower of the essays that come from this desk, you may recall an essay done last spring.  It was called “I’m Gorgeous Inside.”  It had to do with a for-sale sign on the house immediately adjacent to this one which had an appendage to the for-sale sign which said, “I’m Gorgeous Inside.”  Instinctively, when reading such a sign, I would say, “Yeah, but how about the outside?”

The house next door has now been on the market for a little more than six months.  Something must be wrong there because two houses up the street have been constructed and have been sold.  Their price was in the vicinity of $3 million each.  When that part of the sign saying “I’m Gorgeous Inside” was removed within the first thirty days, the fact seems to be that apparently no one wishes to buy that house.

The original asking price was one million eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  There have been two reductions.  The price is now one million six hundred and ninety five thousand dollars.  But still no buyers appear with that kind of money in their pockets.

I don’t propose to be an expert on real estate sales in this corner of New Jersey.  But in the case of the current owner, something must be wrong.  When they bought the house, as in most cases, they undertook a major renovation of both its exterior and the interior.  I am told that the exterior of the house now has sort of an avant garde appearance.  No less an authority than Miss Chicka told me that if the prospective buyer were riding around the neighborhood with a real estate agent and came to the house next door, he or she would say from the street that they were not interested in that house and add “Let’s go on.”  The on-line real estate description has been revised.  It now says: “Highest quality appointments, deep park-like property, valet parking for the midtown direct trains and Millburn schools number one in New Jersey.”

That sounds like a pretty good sales pitch.  Whether we like it or not, it hasn’t moved the house.  When a prospective buyer reads that transcript, he will find out that the house has been on the market for a bit more than 180 days.  In Short Hills, that is an excessive amount of time for a house to be on the market, even in this environment.  So, from the beginning the prospective buyer will wonder why the house has not moved yet.

I know a little bit about selling houses in that I worked for AT&T.  They frequently transferred employees from one city to another on behalf of the company.  In my case, I had moved from St. Louis to Kansas City to Chicago to New York to Washington and then back to New York and then to New Jersey.  Along the way I sold two or three properties that I was fortunate to move in less than a month.  My next-door neighbor now has had this house on his hands for six months.  He does not seem to want to cut his losses.  I would be more than willing to help him sell the property, but in point of fact neither he nor his wife has ever exchanged a greeting of any kind with me.  They apparently treat the other neighbors in the same fashion.  And so he seems to go it alone.  He must have deep pockets, which I doubt, but that is the state of the record.

In the renovation of a perfectly decent house, it was turned into a futuristic design.  In the kitchen, for example, according to photographs there are no chairs; people sit on barstools.  It appears that red has been used excessively in decorating the gorgeous interior of the house.  According to my sons-in-law, who have some experience with real estate, the exterior of the house is a bizarre concoction of an architect’s dream.

If I had my way, I would have hoped that the next-door neighbor would have sold that house months ago.  If he would talk to me, I would be willing to help him.  He came from Brooklyn to this address.  I suppose that he remodeled the house according to a picture or some such thing in a fashionable magazine.

If the inside is still gorgeous, we will have to rely on the testimony of a buyer not yet found.  Yet the house was put on the market in the spring and here we are now approaching the Thanksgiving and holiday season.  Children have gone back to school and selling a house during the holiday season is no walk in the park.

Our neighbors have not been belligerent.  They simply have not reached out to their other neighbors for help at a time which must be a struggle for them in trying to unload this property.  I suspect that the house was remodeled to their specifications and was going to be a great source of joy to them.  But whatever sense of joy will have to come from a prospective buyer, of which none are on the horizon.

So that is my interim report on the gorgeous house next door.  More than six months have passed since it was placed on the market.  If it were my house, I would be agonizing over the fact that a buyer has not yet appeared.

The price for the renovated house is now pegged at one million six hundred and ninety five thousand dollars.  If any of my readers are moved and have a lot of cash and would love to move next door to me and Miss Chicka, this is your opportunity.  I suspect that the silence will be deafening.  In April of 2011, the house will have been on the market for a full year.  At that time, I will give all of you readers an opportunity to become our neighbors.  Opportunities such as this don’t come along every day in the week.  So cash in your war bonds and your savings, and invest in Short Hills property at 504 Long Hill Drive.  Whether you will be happy there remains to be seen, but remember, you would be living next door to Ms. Chicka and myself, which in itself is a great honor.



October 22, 2010

Essay 507


Kevin’s commentary:

Dear Judy,

If it is possible to acquire one, I hereby request a picture of the facade of the house in question so that it may be posted here.




Volume III

When I set out to write this essay, I thought my recollections could be contained in an essay of maybe six or eight pages.  But as it has turned out, my recollections have now reached a total of three volumes.  I believe that I have spent as much time as I wish to spend on this project, and so this will tend to be the final volume.  Or if I can’t sleep well, by recalling other remarks, there may be a fourth volume.  We will have to see.

When I enlisted in the American Air Force, which was then under Army control, I wound up at the base in Coral Gables, Florida in 1942.  The purpose of the base was to teach me and my fellow citizens air craft maintenance with the thought that we would end up being Aerial Engineers.  This was war time and the school, called Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute, had so many students that they put a second shift on to accommodate us.  The instructor that we had knew just about all there was to know about aircraft engines and he spoke in a country fashion.  I was not turned off by his manner of speech because I suspected that he really knew what he was talking about.

Working the second shift in darkness was a bit of a problem.  The instructor warned us about walking into airplane propellers.  In this case, the propellers on the engines were called “club propellers” which would not move the engines forward.  They were simply attached to the end of the drive shaft to imitate what a real propeller would do.

Nonetheless the instructor warned us that we were working in twilight and if we backed into an aircraft propeller, it would make “hamburger meat out of you.”  The story about hamburger meat has stuck with me for the 68 intervening years and I have yet to answer the question about whether it was a tautology or a simple redundancy.  The instructor made his point so clearly that it has remained in my mind for 68 years.  Every instructor at all levels of education should strive to achieve that level of endurance.


The next quotation came from a native of Newark, New Jersey who was accustomed to the political battles that took place in that town.  His name was Tom Eadone.  Tom ran a limousine service that I used for all of the years that I was traveling abroad.  Tom and the driver that he hired made sure that I never missed an airplane because of their failure to arrive at my house.  On one occasion, Tom said to me, “Any politician who spends more to get elected than the job will eventually pay him, is not to be trusted.”

This brought to mind the story of Meg Whitman’s campaign to become the governor of California.  Newspaper estimates at this point suggest that she has spent of her own political capital something on the order of $140 million.  The California governorship certainly is not going to be a profitable one for Meg Whitman.  If I lived in California, I would make certain to vote for Jerry Brown, the former governor, on the grounds that Eadone’s rule should not ever be violated.


Another remark that was made to me came from Donald Zoerb, who was my instructor for the four years that I took his drafting class at Clayton High School.  Mr. Zoerb was a wonderful teacher and I never missed any of his classes.  On a day when I did not have drafting, I skipped school and went to downtown St. Louis.  My recollection is that I witnessed a performance at the Garrick Theatre which was then a burlesque place.  One way or another, the school found out about my skipping school and imposed some sort of penalty.  When Mr. Zoerb found out what had happened to me, he remarked very dryly, “The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”  That remark was made to me around 1938 or 1939, which gives it a lifetime of something on the order of 70 years.  I always remember that the wheels of justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine. I am indebted to Don Zoerb for imparting this piece of wisdom that I have obviously taken to heart.


I would prefer now to end this essay with some remarks about glaucoma.  I hope that these remarks are not a downer, because by the time I am finished I think that you will notice a clever remark made by a 92-year-old Missourian who now resides in New York City.

The Carr clan has long suffered from the effects of glaucoma.  It made my father blind just as it made my elder brother blind.  And so for the last 50 years, I have visited a good ophthalmologist in an effort to stave off blindness.  When I was transferred from Washington back to New York, there was an ophthalmologist here in Short Hills named Richard Robbins.  Robbins treated me for a while, although it became clear that the pressure in my left eye was so great that I had to have a trabeculectomy.  This procedure involves cutting open a trap door in the eyeball to let the excessive pressure escape.

Robbins had suggested that the trabeculectomy ought to be performed by a fellow he knew named Ivan Jacobs.  Jacobs and I never were playing from the same page but nonetheless I went ahead and let Jacobs perform the trabeculectomy.  But before the operation I had inquired of Robbins whether or not he would permit such surgery to be performed on himself or his own family.  Robbins assured me that he would.  That was an incorrigible mistake, because Robbins barely knew Jacobs.

Shortly after the operation began, I could hear Jacobs saying, perhaps to a nurse, that there had been a choroidal hemorrhage.  I knew that the choroidal hemorrhage meant the end of my eyesight.

That was in the left eye and significantly the operation took place on April 1st, 1994.  Remembering that date is essential to understanding the remark made by my fellow Missourian.

The hemorrhage was followed by a series of examinations by physicians in various hospitals in New York and Philadelphia, but in the end it meant the demise of my left eye.  And when that happened, I bid goodbye to Richard Robbins and began to patronize a fellow in Summit, New Jersey named Eric Gurwin.  After I left the care of Richard Robbins, he was found to have fondled some of his female patients.  He hired the best criminal attorney in northern New Jersey.  He avoided jail time but in the process he lost his license to practice ophthalmology.  This was a heavy blow to Robbins.  As a matter of interest, in the several years that Robbins treated me, I can assure you that he never once was guilty of fondling of my precious body.

So now I am under the care, since April 1st, 1994, of Eric Gurwin of the Summit Medical Group.  Obviously I had only one eye at that time but I did all that I could to protect its sight.  In my eyes, Gurwin is a hero because he tried everything to preserve the sight in my one remaining eye.  There were good days and some bad days in his treatment but I knew that Gurwin was determined to do all he could to preserve the sight in my right eye.

In 2005, the pressure in my right eye began to mount and we tried every conceivable drug that was available on the market to control the pressure.  To give you an idea, the pressure in the right eye should be at 20 or below.  That means that the glaucoma is being controlled.  When the pressure exceeds 20, it is called uncontrolled glaucoma.  In my case, the pressure in the right eye regularly was in the 40 degree range and toward the end it was on the order of 50.  It was at this point that Gurwin said to me, “You better go see Katz.”  Katz is a surgeon who works at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.  He is widely known for his work on glaucoma.

I got along famously with Dr. Katz.  We talked sports and a little of his family history as well.  It turned out that Dr. Katz’s father was also blind from glaucoma and that he himself has the disease.  I hope that his outcome is better than mine.  Nonetheless, Gurwin’s advice that I had better go to see Katz was well founded because Dr. Katz soon concluded that the only way to save whatever sight I had would be a  trabulectomy on the right eye.  For all intents and purposes, I was largely blind at that point.  When I reported to the Wills Eye Hospital for the operation early on the morning of October 31st, 2005, I arose from the cart that was to take me to the operating room to use the men’s restroom.  Howard Davis, my old friend, has asked me what the last thing I ever saw was.  The last thing I ever saw was the commode in the restroom at Wills Eye Hospital.

Dr. Katz had just about completed his work on the trabeculectomy on the right eye.  At the end of the operation, another choroidal hemorrhage occurred.  While heroic efforts were made by all of the staff at the Wills Eye Hospital to save some sight in that eye, their efforts were largely in vain.  Now remember that this happened on October 31st, 2005, which, incidentally, is Halloween.

There were many trips to Wills after the trabeculectomy in the hope that some sight could be regained in the right eye.  But that was not to be the case.  Dr. Katz and the people at Wills did everything within their power.  I have nothing but praise for them.  However, somewhere along the line, after the second episode, I had a conversation with my long-time friend Howard Davis, who is even four years older than I am.  Howard reviewed the case and came to a conclusion.  He reasoned the left eye was lost because it had been operated on on [sic] April 1st, 1994 and the second eye was lost due to an operation on October 31st, 2005.  Reason led him to believe that the first operation took place on April Fool’s Day and the second operation took place on Halloween.  Mr. Davis’s counsel was that I should no longer permit operations on my eyes on holidays such as April Fool’s Day and Halloween.  I accepted his advice even though I knew that I had no more eyes to operate on.  Two is the number of eyes that is specified for each human being and, by submitting to operations on April Fool’s Day and on Halloween, I had put them greatly at risk.

In the final analysis I have nothing but praise for the work of Dr. Jay Katz in Philadelphia and Dr. Eric Gurwin in the Summit Medical Group.  I owe those two people thanks for preserving whatever sight I had for as long as it could possibly last.  My advice to all of you is, “Don’t submit to eye operations on either April Fool’s Day or on Halloween.”


This concludes my recollections of remarks that were said to me or about me.  I am certain that there are many more remarks that will have to remain unrecorded in this essay.  But all things considered, for 88 years I have had a fairly respectable life.  I have tried to enjoy it all and mostly I have tried to apply a sense of humor to the remarks that were made about me.  And there were some lessons that I have remembered.  I remember, “You don’t get paid for thinking,” and “If you stick your tail in an airplane propeller, it will make hamburger meat out of you.”  All that I can tell you is that it is worth the wait of 88 years to gain those vital pieces of information.


So I leave you with the thought that I have taken from my longtime friend, Nathanial Fritz, a phrase-maker in his own right.  At this point, old Nat would have said, “On with the rat killing.”  After sober reflection, I cannot improve upon the sentiment of what Nat Fritz has said.  And so for now, I will adjourn my thoughts on “He said, she said, they said.”



October 3, 2010

Essay 502


Kevin’s commentary: along with an extremely vulgar sense of humor, I inherited Pop’s terrible eye genes via my mother who also has them. So while this advice doesn’t serve Pop so well anymore, I’ll be sure to pass it along to mom and keep it in mind myself.

On a bonus note I got to figure out where on with the rat killing comes from!! So many emails and essays make marginally more sense now. I wonder if Pop knows where Nat got it from?



This is the second volume of “They Said That?”  This essay will lean heavily on my experience in the labor relations field and on my work as an attendant in the filling station business.  In the labor relations field, there are some rich quotations.


There was a division accounting manager for AT&T in Atlanta who demanded that his clerks give unwanted overtime to the company.  One clerk, Retha B. Queen, gave birth to a child and she wanted to go home from work on time to attend to the needs of that child.  The accounting manager was Gray Madrey, who told Retha B. Queen that “We don’t have time for frivolities such as home life.”  I believe that you can understand that when it came time to arbitrate that case, we made sure that Gray Madrey was nowhere to be found.

At that point, I was the Labor Relations Manager, a job I held for seven years.  The company conceded the outcome and Mrs. Queen began to work normal hours.  My recollection is that Gray Madrey was transferred to a headquarters location and soon retired.  Good riddance!


A second arbitration case involved Augie McCoy and Floyd Evans, who worked in the St. Louis district office.  Augie McCoy had a coveted job as a line inspector, which required him to walk every mile of the pole line and the cables to insure that troubles in his district were fixed.  Each inspector had a small pickup truck given him for his work.  I believe it must be said that Augie McCoy was less than diligent in pursuit of his duties.

His boss at the time was a gentleman named Floyd Evans who had once held the inspector job himself.  I was very fond of Floyd Evans and soon became infected with the country style of his speech.  As we were preparing for the arbitration case, Floyd Evans was asked a question about Augie McCoy to which he replied, “He has set in that truck so long that his legs is growed together.”

The arbitrator in that case came from New York and aside from his legal practice, he taught law at New York University.  The company counsel was a gentleman named H.W.W. Caming.  He had graduated from Harvard Law School.

Caming was certain that the New York arbitrator could not stomach that line coming from Floyd Evans.  Caming thought that the line was too inelegant.  I was the Labor Relations Manager and I intervened as strongly as I could to overrule Caming.  I told Caming that anything artificial coming out of this Evans’s country-boy style would strike the arbitrator as contrived and artificial.

When the case was brought to trial, Floyd Evans repeated his remark about Augie McCoy “setting in his truck so long that his legs just growed together.”  The arbitrator came within half an inch of laughing out loud and made a note of Floyd’s comments.  I am absolutely certain that in his law practice and in his teaching of law at New York University, the arbitrator would cite that line on many occasions.  I believe that this is the king of country speech and is to be treasured.


Now we turn to my misspent youth as an attendant in filling stations.  I first went to work for Carl Schroth, who ran a Mobil gas station catering to a largely wealthy clientele in Clayton, Missouri.  I was a youngster at the time and not familiar with the ways of the world.  You may recall Carl as the man who used a piece of plywood in the front of his pants instead of buying a truss for his ruptured intestines.  On more than one occasion late in the day Carl would say to me, “Eddy, you are much too valuable a man to be walking the streets of St. Louis.  I want you to work tonight.”  Would you believe that I bought that line on perhaps half a dozen occasions?  I pumped the gas and fixed the tires while Carl, the owner, went home to have dinner with his wife.  But I was flattered to know that Carl thought that I was much too valuable a man to be walking the streets of St. Louis.

In later years, I moved to a Sinclair station run by Eddy Williams.  The car washer at that station was Dell van Buren Barbee.  Dell had a second-grade education in a segregated Mississippi school.  In spite of his lack of formal education, Dell was possessed of practical knowledge.

On a cold rainy afternoon, Dell van Buren Barbee and I were sitting in the office of Eddy Williams’s Sinclair filling station.  There was not much to do in view of the rain that foreclosed the washing of automobiles.  As our bull session proceeded, Dell said the famous quotation that I have used for many years.  Dell said, “If God invented something better than effing, He kept it to hisself.”  I thought that that [sic] remark contained superior wisdom.  Dell may not have been a graduate of an Ivy League college, but when it came to common sense, old Dell was right there.  That remark was made in about fall of 1940.  It has survived in my memory for more than 70 years.  It might be said that you don’t get wisdom like that every day.


And finally, we turn to the speech of my mother.  She greatly disliked, or even hated the British for what they had done in their 800 year occupation of Ireland.  This is a thrice or quadruple told tale.  On the morning that I left home to go to Jefferson Barracks to enlist in the American Army, my mother told me about trying to take care of myself in these perilous times.  I told Lillie, my mother, that we would have all kinds of help from other nations.  I mentioned the French and the Poles.  She was always fond of people from Poland.  And then, stupidly, I mentioned the British.  In a stern voice, Lillie said to me, “Do you mean the English?”  I must have shrugged my shoulders in response.  At that point, Lillie said to me, “In that case, Son, you will have to do the best you can.”   With that, she turned around and marched from the driveway back into the house and I was left to ponder once more her hatred of the English on my two hour street car trip to Jefferson Barracks to enlist in the American Army.


As you can see, my memory is long on remarks that have been addressed to me.  But nothing cut more than the stupidity of my having brought up the British Army who would be our allies.


Now we proceed to Volume III of these recollections.



October 3, 2010

Essay 501


Kevin’s commentary:

Searching for most of these phrases in quotes on Google next to the phrase “” will turn up, in some cases, entire essays devoted to the topics and phrases raised here.

Related to the post about the British,  I am somewhat confused. So far as I know, Lillie Carr was not herself an immigrant.  Her family had been in the country for at least one generation if not many more. Hopefully Pop can be of use in clarifying this point. That being the assumed case, I really don’t understand too well the utter contempt for the British. Sure they were assholes to Ireland a few hundred years ago but — again to the best of my knowledge — they never wronged Mrs. Carr personally during her lifetime.

I mean, you’re reading the words of a kid whose favorite bedtime song was “four green fields”; British douchebaggery toward the Irish has been being drilled into my head since I was a few months old, but I still just can’t bring myself to get riled up about it.


 Volume I


I regret to say that in my case I went through the age of puberty a good many years ago.  Living a long life has its pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, there are many recollections that remain in my mind and which, taking one thing with another, constitute pleasant memories.  The unpleasant ones tend to be overlooked and, I hope, forgotten.

This essay could be long and thus may be divided into parts.  It has to do with recollections of things that were said to me or about me or about some current event.  Those statements have intruded upon my memory, and in this essay I hope to recall a good many of them.  I suspect that if you have read Ezra’s Essays closely, you may recognize that, in some instances, the remarks made to or about me are familiar.  The idea in this essay is to put all those remarks into a series of essay so that they may be found by going to one place.

In this collection of thoughts or remarks made to or about me or about some current event, you might find familiar thoughts as well as four or five new thoughts that have never been recorded in my essays. With that background as a base, suppose we launch into an exploration of things that have been said to me or about me or comments made upon a special event.  I wish to point out that there is no order, chronological or otherwise, in these remarks.  They are recorded as my memory recalls them.


No memory of mine can be complete without a statement made to me which was really a demand which took place on a dusty afternoon in the summer of 1942 on a hot and dusty day in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

With the country being at war, I had enlisted in the American Army.   On that occasion, I was undergoing basic training.  The training consisted of marching perhaps eight or nine hours a day with the instructors urging us to keep the lines straight and also not to be confused between the left foot and the right foot.  I thought that this was a grossly goofy way to prepare to meet the German army, the Japanese army and navy, and all of the other forces that were to be deployed against us in World War II.  But on we marched, with the corporal in my case urging us to keep the lines straight in the hope that we would be noticed by a colonel who would then pronounce us fit for battle.

My low regard for the American Army started at that moment.  We had mastered forward march and by the left flank and by the right flank successfully.  The turns in these cases were 90 degree turns.  At that point the regular army corporal who was our instructor decided to teach us some fancy marching.  It was called an “oblique march,” which amounted to nothing more than turning at an angle of 45 degrees rather than 90 degrees.  The corporal became hopelessly confused and I tried to be helpful.  In this confusion, I said to the corporal, “Corporal, I think I can —-.”  What I intended to say was, “I think I can help you.”  The corporal cut me off and said, in a loud stentorian voice, “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking.  You get paid to do what you are told.”  That incident happened more than 68 years ago.  It remains fresh in my memory.  I think that it qualifies for this essay which has to do with “He said that…”

While we are on Army stories, there is this one from two or three years later than the “You don’t get paid for thinking” remark.  It took place at a major air base in Accra in the country that is now called Ghana.  In the beginning, this was a British base which had been taken over by the American Air Force.  I can remember that I was assigned to the barracks called G-17.  There may have been 40 or 50 soldiers in our wing of the barracks who for a time were regularly regaled by an aircraft electrician who liked to show pictures of his wife.  The main attraction was that his wife was quite buxom.  The buxomness did nothing for this aircraft electrician who was located in a barracks several thousand miles away from home.  When he bragged about how this buxom woman turned him on, there was an elder statesman in that barracks.  His name was Werner Friedli.  Werner had been drafted into the army to fill out a quota by his local Chicago draft board that had been determined by Army Headquarters in Washington.  Werner was 37 or 38.  The rest of us in that barracks were probably aged 22 to 23, so Werner was the elder statesman.

As time went on, Werner had had enough of the electrician’s bragging.  Finally he said to the electrician, “Tell me, what can you do with a large breast that you cannot do with a small breast?”  This was a put down to end all put downs.  From that time forward, we did not receive reports about the buxom wife.  I can only hope that when the electrician got home, he and his buxom wife lived happily ever after.  In the meantime, I thought that Werner Friedli was a worldly man who enunciated the remark about the buxom wife in grand fashion.  I thoroughly liked Werner Friedli.  I liked him even more after his remark to the electrician.

I told you at the beginning that there is no chronological order to these memories.  If you jump light years ahead, there is an attendant at the Whole Foods Market in Millburn, New Jersey, who had become a special favorite of my wife and myself.  Jackie tends to be a bit loud and she is quite willing to share her opinions with everyone in the vicinity.  I am very fond of Jackie.  We kibitz back and forth about my desire to have liquorice.  Recently I was told by Paul Byfield, another attendant at the store, that a customer had searched at great length for a product that he wanted to buy.  The search was in vain and Jackie told the potential customer, “If you don’t see it, we ain’t got it!”  This clearly comes under the heading of “She really said that?”  Jackie, a tough black woman, is among my good friends and her philosophy of life inspires me.

I believe that these samples of “They really said that?”  are enough of a start that they will provide three or four more essays.  And so at this point I believe I will adjourn the first essay on “They really said that?” and try to prepare for future editions.




October 3, 2010

Essay 500


Kevin’s commentary: Parts 2 and 3 coming soon! This is a great little series.

Now, I misread the very end of this essay at first and got the impression that Jackie told Pop that if he didn’t see it, they didn’t have it. Of course this would be about as problematic as me offering to show Pop pictures of my 2010 trip to China. Thankfully for everyone he has a very good sense of humor about these things.


This essay should properly be called, because of its shortness, an essayette.  Cerumen is a reasonably important health problem and I would not want the shortness of this essay to detract from its importance.

If the truth were known, it would disclose that the proprietor of Ezra’s Essays is now prepared to throw its readers a curve ball.  Cerumen is, in point of fact, in common parlance called earwax.  I am a copious producer of cerumen or earwax, and I hope that the production of cerumen will continue until I become an angel.

I believe that the people who practice the art of ear, nose, and throat medicine will tell you that if earwax builds up, it will block your hearing.  I have also been told by physicians who practice that art that nothing should be inserted into the ear to remove the earwax.  Over the period of my long life, I have ignored that advice and have used hairpins and/or paperclips to remove the earwax as it builds up.  And my hearing continues to be normal.

A few years ago I went to the specialist of ear, nose, and throat at the Summit Medical Group because I thought that earwax was building up and impairing my hearing.  His assistant gave me an extensive test, which apparently I completed successfully.  The physician, when he looked at my ears and the results of the tests, said to me, “What are you doing here?”  In spite of the rough beginning to my interview with the physician, we became fairly good friends.  He agreed to clean out what he could find of the earwax that had been building up or so I thought.

In recent days, I have begun to be curious about cerumen or earwax.  There is no medical emergency of any kind but I pursued this subject purely out of curiosity.

The Mayo Clinic has a web site that should satisfy my curiosity.  Here is what the Mayo Clinic says.  The web site says that cerumen is healthy in normal amounts. It is a self-cleaning agent with protective lubrication and anti-bacterial properties.  The web site goes on to say that as we chew, the excessive amount of earwax is moved toward the outer ear, making it easy to remove.

So earwax is a lubricating device with anti-bacterial properties.  I did not know that earwax served such an important function.  When I remove my excessive earwax with my bobby pin, I will discard it with much more respect.

Well, this is a short essay which will be called an essayette.  The fact that it is so short will not detract from the importance of the topic.  And if I really threw you a curveball, I have few regrets because of the importance of this subject on health.  On top of that I expect that very few of you knew that the proper name for earwax was cerumen.  In that way, I have contributed to your cultural edification.



October 11, 2010

Essay 504


Kevin’s commentary: Pop’s expectations were correct.

On a side note, I have no good category for this essay, aside from “short.” That will have to suffice.