Archive for the Praising Modernity Category


When we parted company at the end of Series 2 of these thoughts that appear while shaving, there was some consideration of my current hometown, Millburn-Short Hills, as a candidate to be wiped out because of wine and fornication. This of course, comes from the Biblical source of Revelations which described what happened to Babylon. It earned the Mark of the Beast.

Millburn-Short Hills is a town or around 19,000 people in northern New Jersey. It is nowhere as big as Babylon at its peak. Millburn-Short Hills has only three major streets that amount to anything. Babylon had hundreds of boulevards and plazas, so comparing the two cities is a gross mismatch. Nonetheless, several of us have joined together to see that Millburn-Short Hills becomes an inspirational force so that wine and fornication will be wiped out. After all, many of us assume that we came within an inch of having the Mark of the Beast applied to all of us in the recent contra-temps involving our New Jersey Governor.

So the essayist approaches the next subject with fear and trembling. It has to do with exposing some intimate female garments to public viewing. We will try to treat this debate with all the sensitivity and civility that can be mustered.

Bra Straps That Are Exposed

My two sisters must have approached their teenage years with consummate confusion. Their mother – and my mother – had a primitive, Pentecostal view of religion. Things that were “of the world” were to be avoided at all costs. And so it was that Lillie, our mother, railed against half slips and brassieres. They were, according to Lillie, not natural and “of the world.” That means they are works of Satan.

This old essayist freely and openly admits that much of these developments came to me by hearsay. After all, the two sisters were 10 years and 14 years older than their youngest brother. About the only direct testimony came as arguments between these three women boiled over.

Lillie’s idea of a decent woman was one who wore no makeup and certainly, no rouge or lipstick. Her clothing buttoned up to the neck. Her dresses were well below the knee. The two daughters, Verna and Opal, rebelled often against their mother’s sartorial tastes. It is probably logical that the two girls bought their own undergarments from their own earnings as soon as possible.

Verna, the older sister, was church-going and lived a largely pious life. She took voice lessons and sang in the St. Louis Grand Opera chorus. Opal was pretty much the exact opposite. She learned to play the piano by ear and became a waitress-singer at Joe Gonella’s Restaurant or saloon. She wound up marrying maybe three times and her occupation was owning professional greyhound racing dogs.

In spite of their different outlook on life, it must be suspected that both wore bras and half slips – even though everybody knew they were Satan’s handiwork. But suffice it to say, that both the pious one and the hell raising saloon singer, covered up the shoulder straps in every case of public exposure. From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, disclosure of a bra strap would cause censorious controversy. It seemed to me that women were more outraged than men to see an exposed bra strap. Perhaps the offended ones believed the strap-showers were flaunting it.

Men were curious, but they pretended to be looking at something else if they were in the company of wives, mothers-in-law, girlfriends or preachers. Maybe men considered showing a bra strap as a tease.

Well, those days are long gone. Women these days show up at the post office or the grocery store in costumes that leave little to the imagination. There are instances where my first inclination is to look away to avoid violating a woman’s privacy. This is the Whole Foods grocery store, not the Horny Harry’s Saloon in Las Vegas.

Nobody asked me to be a referee or an umpire to say exactly how many clothes a woman must wear to be presentable. And so my reactions are greatly muted. But nonetheless, it would be worth the price of admission to hear what Lillie, Verna and Opal would say at today’s openness. They all died several years ago. You may rest assured that at their funerals, not a bra strap could be seen. So in the end, Lillie pretty much got her way.

For this old essayist, my view is that bras and half slips are not sinful inventions. Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar. It would come as a great surprise to me to find the Devil diddling around with female intimate apparel. On the other hand, many of us believe that a bra strap showing is clearly the work of unseen sinister forces that man is ill equipped to understand.

New Jersey’s Roundabout Roadways

As a means of shifting gears from female underwear and the current situation with the resignation of New Jersey’s governor, it may be well to say a few words about the roadways in this state.

In England, many years ago, when highways intersected, the English invented a devilish device known as a “Roundabout.” At heart, the roundabout places a large circle where the roadways come together. The theory is that drivers can stay with the circle until it is time for them to peel off and continue. That, my friends, is THE THEORY. In our mother country, all cars and trucks are driven from the right, but on the left side of the roadway. Perhaps that makes it easier for Englishmen to negotiate roundabouts while avoiding accidents from every quarter.

When highways in the Great State of New Jersey were laid out back in the 1920’s, a commissioner or a governor made the fatal mistake of borrowing roundabouts from England, calling them circles. Most have by now been discarded because of the great number of accidents they cause. It seems to me that here in New Jersey or in England, cars entering the roundabouts do not reduce speed and assume they have the right of way. Those are two fatal mistakes.

There are no signs signaling drivers to stay in a lane. In effect, when drivers enter a roundabout, it soon becomes a matter of bullying or luck that determines how cars will proceed. These devices may have been appropriate for England in days when cars were driven more slowly, but they are completely out of place in New Jersey.

Let me give you an example. On Highland Avenue at the railway station in Short Hills, New Jersey, there is a roundabout that connects with Hobart Avenue, a busy street, and at least two other lesser streets. It has been my observation that Saturday driving is by far the most treacherous day of the week. Young men in testosterone hyped sports cars and SUV’s who have been working in offices all week are out to show how quickly they can exceed 60 miles per hour. This is a formula for disaster.

It is made even more dangerous by the existence of a dark railroad underpass a short distance from the roundabout. When drivers emerge from the underpass, they enter the roundabout and feel no need to slow down – even when making a left turn – because they are following the contours of the roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout, if one wishers to peel off and enter the railroad underpass, he or she must deal with cars on the right side coming from Hobart Avenue.

This is a small example in a small town that is ripe for head-on collisions as well as cars plowing into the side of other cars all of whom can claim they have the right-of-way.

The roundabout in this town must cover a half to three quarters of an acre. There are benches where people may sit on the lawn to watch the near and full collisions. And the roundabout serves another purpose. It seems to be owned by the local government. As Christmas approaches, partisans put up signs extolling the joys of Christmas. It seems to me that people who adhere to the Jewish faith also occasionally put up signs or symbols. Angry letters to the editor of the local newspaper deplore putting up signs that erode the church-state relationship.

Perhaps there is something to be said for reading the handmade signs extolling the benefits of Chanukah and Christmas as a demolition derby takes place in front of them. We dumped the tea in the Boston harbor to show our disgust with the kingship of George III. Roundabouts would seem the obvious next rejection of Merrie Olde England, but there seems to be no movement to abolish them. Perhaps when a Saturday office worker in a souped-up Hummer runs over the religious signs, there may be a movement to do away with the roundabouts. Just remember what the Brits say, “What you gain on the turns, you lose on the roundabouts.”

The Demise of Dear Sir and Yours Truly

This little shaving thought has nothing to do with bra straps or New Jersey roundabouts. It isn’t supposed to. The thought that strikes me today often will have no reference to previous thoughts. When a thought makes a repeat appearance, it is interpreted by me as a spiritual sign that it should be written about to keep the Mark of the Beast away or to avoid the fall of Babylon which was described a little earlier.

This comment which will close the Third Edition of Shaving Thoughts has to do with an ancient custom in English usage which has made no sense since the age of chivalry. In this edition it is asked why in the world should letters start with an obvious falsehood and end with what is known as a “complimentary close,” that is equally outrageously false.

For all the years this ancient essayist attended schools, teachers demanded that every letter start with the greeting of “Dear Sir” or
“Dear Miss Brown” or “Dear Mr. bin Laden.” Every letter was expected to end with a pledge that could never be fulfilled when it is written, “Yours truly.” Is this a marriage where the writer pledges himself to the recipient of the letter as “Truly yours”?

A letter arrived here for example, addressed to “Dear Mr. Carr” with a complimentary close of “Sincerely.” The letter is from my broker. In telephone conversations, we address each other using first names. It is my expectation that both of us are sincere in getting our business done. But here is a form of written address that has survived hundreds of years. For many years now, my reaction has been, “enough already.”

My correspondence studiously avoids referring to anyone as “Dear” in the opening salutation. If it fell to me to write Osama, my letter would simply say, “Mr. bin Laden.” Closing the letter might pose a different problem as there would be a strong tendency on my part to say, “Drop Dead.” No opening “Dears” or “Cordially” or “Sincerely,” or “Yours truly.” Statements of that sort seem completely hypocritical to me, whether to bin Laden or to the local preacher.

If there is something that is complimentary or derogatory, it can be said in the body of the letter. Wouldn’t it be absurd to write a letter excoriating someone and sign it under the complimentary close of “Cordially” or “Sincerely”?

Advancing age and retirement probably make it much easier to adopt the modern form of letter writing that is proposed here. It is easy for me to envision a boss with a 1900’s mind set insisting on “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly.” Ah, but those people must be worked on because continuing the customs that were in vogue prior to the Boston Tea Party profits no one.

It is quite obvious to most everyone that breaking the habits of a lifetime might be very difficult to do. On the other hand, practitioners of the advanced form of enlightened correspondence, will notice a freedom and happiness never known before. Accordingly, trashing “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly” and “Sincerely” comes with high recommendations from this old essayist.

August 31, 2004


“Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar.” A-friggen-men.
I’d put this in the top 20 essays on the site, I think. I gotta get my ‘category’ features working again (I can’t add new ones right now) so that I can designate that appropriately.

The discussion of roundabouts compels me to show you the amazing work of traffic engineering that Burlingame California has invented. It takes all the worst parts of roundabouts, and combines them with the worst parts of a traditional intersection.
Introducing the traffic diamond:

Regarding the last section, I still haven’t completely settled on how to treat greetings and closings for work emails. “Hi bin Laden,” “Hey bin Laden,” etc can seem too informal. But starting a work email with “Dear bin Laden” would be extremely strange. A colleague of mine was criticized by starting an email with “Hey guys,” because Sephora is a largely female company, and apparently “guys” was insulting. Closing is equally awkward. I won’t say “Yours Truly” but I usually default to “Best,” which doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense either. I always like to read it in my head without the comma and line break — “Best Kevin.” This way I can imagine that I’m just closing each email by declaring that I am the superlative Kevin, which is important because there are currently three total Kevins involved in my project alone.


During a recent prolonged hospital stay, I found that the hospital bedroom was largely unheated. It seems to me that, in an effort to save some money, hospitals are now abiding by the New York apartment heating rule. Under that rule, landlords are not obliged to furnish heat until October 1st. In any case, my stay lasted 13 days, during which time I took every device at my command to avoid a cold. My stay involved prostate surgery but with the cold temperature in the room I was fearful of pneumonia.

Fortunately, I was armed with the Vicks inhaler which carried me through the thirteen-day period. The inhaler cleared my head and did much to improve my outlook on life. Perhaps there was an aphrodisiac in that inhaler and, if so, I salute the Vicks Corporation for its inclusion.

When I was a child in prehistoric times, there was no such thing as sulpha or penicillin or any of the miracle drugs that we have today. During cold weather, when a cold was approaching, the only solution was to use the salve, Vicks, on one’s chest. On several occasions my mother prescribed that a helping of Vicks on her finger should also be swallowed. The fact that I am 87 years of age may attest to her acumen in medical matters. But I give the major credit to the Vicks Corporation.

The people who produce Vicks have long been taken over by corporate conglomerates. In this case, it is Proctor and Gamble. When I made a call to their headquarters, I was directed toward a fellow named Steve who was an engaging fellow, and I must say that he learned as much about Vicks as I did.

It seems that in the 1890s, somewhere in North Carolina, there was a druggist who produced a product named Vicks. It became renowned for its ability to hold colds and flu in check. By the time that I had reached the childhood age of six or seven, my mother knew all about Vicks and its efficiency in dealing with symptoms of flu and colds. So she became a partisan in medical matters that favored the Vicks concoction. So today, when I use my Vicks inhaler to ward off a cold, the work done by that unknown chemist in North Carolina who produced Vicks is still paying some dividends.

Today there are several Vicks products. They include Sinex for your sinuses as well as Nyquil and Dayquil for colds, I believe. There is also Vicks Vapor Rub and Baby Rub and Vicks Vapor Cream. Then we have Vicks Formula 44 for flu symptoms and Vicks Custom Care for flu and colds. I have probably told you more than you want to know about Vicks but, based on my experience of more than 80 years, the concoctions turned out by that chemist in North Carolina are efficacious and make one feel a good bit better. It would also help if the hospital got around to turning on the heat before October 1st or October 15th. But that is beside the point here. The fact is that while my prostate took its time in healing, a Vicks inhaler was hard at work. That pleased me no end.

When someone or some product does me a favor, it has been my custom for more than 60 years to acknowledge that fact. I know that this is a belated tribute to the Vicks Corporation or to the Vicks Company but, before time runs out, I wanted to tell the world that the products made by the Vicks people are worthwhile. They were good in the 1920s when I first learned of them, just as they are good now in the 21st century. Any product that can last that long has got to be meritorious beyond belief.

And so it is that I salute the makers of Vicks, even though they are now controlled by Proctor and Gamble which has achieved giant status in the field of medical remedies. P&G also makes cat food, among other things. Be that as it may, in this season of swine flu and other kinds of flu, you can depend on one of the Vicks products that I have named earlier. In my humble estimation, the products produced by Vicks are without parallel.

October 14, 2009
Essay 414
Kevin’s commentary: Oh man, Nyquil is my favorite thing when I have a cold. For some reason my system is extra susceptible to it and it does a fine fine job of clearing cold systems AND putting me soundly to sleep for about seven hours. I was always terrible at sleeping while sick before I realized I could basically just knock myself out via Nyquil. That was certainly a discovery that changed my life for the better, so I’ll join Pop in his salute of Vicks here.


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.



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.