Archive for the February 2010 Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

E. E. CARR

February 1, 2010

Essay 435

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

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

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

“HAVE YOU GOT ANY NEWS FROM THE ICEBERG?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now I am 91; my days are near done.

My Annie is long since gone.

Our days were good,

As well they should,

But it’s time that I passed on.”

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

 

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

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

 

E. E. CARR

February 4, 2010

Essay 436

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

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

WHY DO WOMEN DO IT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

E. E. CARR

February 4, 2010

Essay 437

~~~

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

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

RED (OR BLUE) BANDANNAS

Those of you who were raised in the precincts of America’s great cities may well have missed out on an article of men’s wear that is usually associated with hard work and/or country ways.  Again, if I may use my father as an example, I would like to cite one article of his clothing that is the subject of this essay today.  My father, of course, came from a rural background and, when he reached the big city of St. Louis, he did not abandon the idea of hard work.  My old man always had the idea that hard work made honest citizens and that dirt on the clothing was an essential part of being a hard worker.  As I have related before, my father in his long career always worked with his hands which were never once soiled by a job in an office.  At the end of the day, he would come home with dirt on his clothing but never on his face.  After the five o’clock whistle sounded, old Ezree would go to a place where he could get out his tin wash basin and wash his face and neck.  No deodorant or aftershave lotion was involved ever.  While his clothes may have been filthy, he cared at least that his person was as immaculate as he could make it.

The men my father worked with in large measure shared my father’s concern about cleanliness.  Many of them had their own tin wash basins and would wash up at the conclusion of the day, after the whistle blew.  But that is not the main subject of this essay.  The main subject is that while they were working and sweating, they usually carried a red bandanna or a blue bandanna to mop off their faces.  In between times, the bandanna could be used for the blowing of noses.  But I would suspect that the bandannas were used primarily to sop up the faces of the men my father worked with and were always found in the right rear pocket of the trousers.

I suspect that that article of clothing would never have been identified as a bandanna.  As a pure guess, I am at this late date saying that he most likely would have called it his handkerchief.  In fact, the bandannas or these large handkerchiefs were used for the mopping of sweat off the brow and/or for blowing the nose.

For our purposes, I will refer to these as bandannas.  I was impressed by the thought that Bill Chicka, who was the proprietor of a hardware store in western Pennsylvania, carried a stock of red and blue bandannas.  I am so informed on this subject by my wife, who was Bill Chicka’s daughter and his clerk.  When the men would put on their overalls, they would often stuff a large handkerchief or a bandanna in the right rear pocket.  Miss Chicka, my wife, agrees that the handkerchiefs or bandannas were always colored red or blue.  Between the two of us, we can never recall seeing any bandanna or large handkerchief in any other color except red or blue.

So, in history, bandannas are large handkerchiefs which served America’s working men from time immemorial.  However, as time marches on, there has been an important development which more or less spelled adios to red or blue bandannas.  I suspect that it all stems from a slogan invented by the Kimberly-Clark Company of Neenah, Wisconsin.  The slogan was “Don’t put a cold back into your pocket.”  The theory was, of course, that people with colds would blow their noses on handkerchiefs and put them back in their pockets.  To alleviate this great medical problem, a new device was invented in the 1920s by none other than the Kimberly-Clark organization.  That new product was only a part of the line of Kimberly-Clark paper products.  It was called “Kleenex.”  For reasons unknown to me, the Kimberly-Clark invention was labeled in the beginning as “facial tissues.”  As a practitioner of using Kleenex, I would say that I rarely use them for cleansing my face.  I use them for blowing my nose.

It was in the 1930s that the Kimberly-Clark organization began to advertise their product as “a disposable handkerchief.”  This was followed by the slogan about putting a cold back into your pocket

I am distinctly sorry that Kleenex was unavailable as I was growing up because I had a bad case of hay fever.  When the ragweed plant came into bloom in early July in Missouri, my nose would stop up and it would be at least October before the blockages would disappear.  In the meantime, there was frequent blowing of the nose as well as sneezes by the carload.  This was such a serious development that during the 1930s with my father out of a job, I was taken to a specialist who had large jars of a red fluid and a green fluid in his laboratory.  Before I knew what was happening, he inserted a tube into my left nostril and gave me a shot to clear my head.  In fact, that shot lifted me off my seat.  He did the same thing with the right nostril with the same result as well.  After I saw the specialist with the red and green fluids, the effect of the hay fever remained almost identical.  But at least my parents tried to give me some relief.

During this period when hay fever afflicted me, I would carry large rags that my mother would launder, using a wash board and then hanging them up to dry until they were what she called “supple.”  Because my nose was so sore from having been blown so much, gentleness on those parts was essential.  At that time, of course, I had no idea that Kimberly-Clark had a product that offered “suppleness” as one of its prime ingredients.

If we fast forward several years to the 1970s, there was an occasion when I found myself in Moscow.  A cold seemed to be on the horizon and I began to ask where a product like Kleenex could be purchased.  I started with the woman directly outside my hotel room who collected keys and prevented strangers from entering my room. She was of absolutely no help whatsoever.  In the end, I figured that the thing to do was to go to the G.U.M. department store, which was the leading if perhaps the only department store in Moscow.  I must say that this was during the era of the Khrushchev/Brezhnev presidency of the USSR.  When I approached the various clerks and asked for something on the order of Kleenex, there was a conspiracy, I believe.  Each one of them pointed to some other clerk who, she thought, would take care of my problem.  Of course there was no Kleenex in the whole Soviet Union.  It took me a while to figure that out.  By that time, I knew that the only hope was to nurse my supply of handkerchiefs until Swissair could get me to Zurich or Geneva.

But times have improved.  At the moment, we are one of Kimberly-Clark’s major customers in that we buy big boxes of Kleenex and have them in the bedroom, in the bathroom, and in other strategic locations throughout this house.  But it seemed to me that at this late date, it is time to pay tribute to Kleenex and the Kimberly-Clark organization.  They have made life, I believe, much more worthwhile.  That was in the day when men like my father and Bill Chicka had to rely on handkerchiefs or bandannas that could be used for wiping the brow as well as blowing the nose.

It could well be that those two old-timers would have pointed out that Kleenex comes only in the color of white, whereas they may well have preferred red or blue napkins or handkerchiefs to blow their nose and wipe their brow.  But that is of small moment.  I am glad that I have been able to pay this tribute to an organization that has made life much more worthwhile.

 

E. E. CARR

February 15, 2010

 

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: As a kid who got cedar fever every spring in Austin without fail, it is hard to imagine making it through those months without a healthy supply of Kleenex. Any bandana that I carried would rapidly have become pretty damn gross.

It occurs to me that Pop made one oversight in this essay, however. He assumed that people raised in America’s great cities would be unfamiliar with bandanas. However, these are a common decorative piece in many gang-related outfits, which can be readily seen in many cities across the US.

PLAISIR D’AMOUR

Today is a cold winter’s Sunday which happens also to be Valentine’s Day.  On occasions such as this, men and women declare their love for each other and, if things work out, the course may be set for their eventual marriage.  Of course, this could be men and men or women and women.  In my own case, I believe that St. Valentine’s Day is a pleasant occasion which marks the march toward springtime.  As soon as we can put our winter of discontent, as Shakespeare said, into the history books will not be soon enough for me.

The title of this essay is taken from a song written perhaps 200 years ago.  It has had many interpretations and many lyrics.  But I believe the proper one is as follows:

“The pleasure of love is for the moment,

But the sentiment of love is forever.”

Basically, on this cold winter’s day, my thought processes or the reasonable facsimile thereof, leads me to think about that song.  Plaisir d’Amour is indelibly linked in my mind with perhaps the finest entertainer I have ever known.  That of course would be George Feyer.  Feyer departed this earth in 2001 when he was in his 93rd year.

Feyer was not only an accomplished entertainer, but he was a gentleman as well.  How I got to know George Feyer may be of some interest.

There was an occasion in the 1960s when there was an arbitration case that had to be tried in New York City.  My recollection is that the hearing was held uptown around the East 60s.  My memory is that it was a contentious hearing that left me in need of a drink when evening came.  And so it was that I found myself in the bar at the Carlyle Hotel.  I was sitting alone and after a while a gentleman came up and asked how I was feeling.  We had a very wonderful conversation and I was astounded to find that the other person in this conversation was none other than George Feyer.  Feyer simply saw that I was alone and without being intrusive, he introduced himself and a very pleasant conversation followed.

After a time, the high-class yuppies moved into the Carlyle Bar and insisted that the management should hire an entertainer known as Bobby Short.  When Feyer took his vacation that year, the management engaged Bobby Short to fill in for him.  On conclusion of that vacation, Feyer was told by the management of the Carlyle that his services were no longer required.  Feyer has remarked on many occasions with irony that this was the most expensive vacation he ever took.

I had no love for the Carlyle because I thought it was overpriced.  On top of that, the society women loved to flock into the bar there and were generally a pain in the neck.  But now George Feyer was out of a job.  His unemployment lasted for a very short time.  Upon learning of Feyer’s freedom, the Stanhope Hotel moved in to engage him for an extended period.  My belief is that engagement lasted for nearly ten years.  When the Stanhope Hotel was sold, the Waldorf Astoria created a “hideaway” on the second floor and hired George Feyer.  And so it was that for a period of nearly 20 years I went to hear George Feyer in all three locations.  He always greeted me warmly.

Upon our first meeting, I asked George Feyer if he could play “Plaisir d’Amour.”  I believe he said, “With pleasure.”  As it turned out, “Plaisir d’Amour” was one of George’s favorite songs.  I suppose that over our period of relationship, I asked George to play that song maybe 50 times.  He always accommodated me and seemed to take great pleasure himself in playing that song.

George spoke Hungarian, French, English, and a few other European languages.  He was born in 1908 but before his life was finished he had endured the occupation of the Germans first, followed by the Soviets in his native Budapest.  He and his wife escaped to Switzerland and then on to the United States.  As a youngster in Hungary, Feyer had studied at the most prestigious music schools.  He knew quite a bit about opera as well as Broadway shows.

George always carried a small blue notebook in his right-hand pocket and when he visited a new show on Broadway in the matinee hours, one way or another he could copy down the lyrics of the new songs being sung.  Feyer was a genius at this.  He was often able to play the hit songs from the new musical the day after it opened on Broadway.

Whenever I had people to entertain, I almost invariably took them to hear George Feyer.  He always welcomed me and told the doorman, Gunnar, to find me a good seat where I could hear the music.  At the top of my list of entertainers in this world, I suppose that I would rate George Feyer to lead the pack.

Later in life, George’s wife came down with cancer and was hospitalized at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute.  No one knew this until long after her death, but every week, Feyer went to the hospital where there was a piano and gave a performance for his wife and her fellow patients.  So it is clear that in addition to his other attributes, George Feyer was a generous man.  When Feyer died in 2001, I wrote an essay extolling his life.  It was part of a series on New Yorkers whom I had come to know over the years.  Feyer remained an entertainer until a few years before his own passing after his 93rd birthday.

And so on this cold St. Valentine’s afternoon, my thoughts had turned to “Plaisir d’Amour” and inevitably those words lead directly to George Feyer.  George has been gone nine years now and we may not ever see his likes again.  But he remains a gentleman to be celebrated at every turn.  It was probably 40 years ago that Feyer explained to me the lyrics of “Plaisir d’Amour.”  I don’t need to look them up in a book because even with my addled brain I can remember them.

“The pleasure of love is for the moment,

But the sentiment of love is forever.”

At this late date in 2010, do you believe that there is a songwriter out there or an entertainer who can top those lyrics?  I will put my money on the great Hungarian, George Feyer, who with his piano and raspy voice gave those lyrics a special meaning.

So when it comes to the love department on a cold winter’s afternoon, I rest my case on “Plaisir d’Amour” and George Feyer.

 

E. E. CARR

February 14, 2010

Essay 438

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Kevin’s commentary: Feyer’s Echoes of Paris is gorgeous. I had no idea that Pop was friends with such an accomplished pianist. I will try to track down the other essay mentioned in this piece and publish it soon.