Archive for May 2013


For the past three weeks, a drought has descended upon my being which renders me largely incompetent to write essays.  I trust that the drought is not a permanent condition but is a transient affair.  In the long time that I have been writing essays, droughts have appeared from time to time. 

The title of this essay comes from a song written by Guy Clark, called “Sometimes I write the songs; sometimes the songs write me.”   In the lyrics to that song, Guy Clark makes it clear that when a drought lands upon your soul, there “ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”  For a songwriter like Guy Clark, this is a serious consideration in view of the fact that he writes songs for a living.  If he writes no songs, he suffers a reduced or non-existent income.  So when a drought-like situation occurs to a songwriter, it is a matter of great concern.  In my own case, the drought-like situation has far fewer consequences.  But this case, it causes me to wonder about whether I will ever write any more essays.  The fact that I am writing one here is a testament to the fact that the drought has let up a bit.

I like Guy Clark and I subscribe to his philosophy that when a drought descends upon your soul, your ability to make words into an essay or a song is severely hampered and there “ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”

During the time when this drought has descended upon my soul, several events that offer likely material for an essay have developed.  On one hand, we have, for example, the case of Anthony Weiner.  He is a former Congressman from New York who has now launched upon a campaign to make him be mayor of New York City.   If I may say so, Mr. Weiner is emotionally incapable of being a dog catcher in New York.  From what we have seen over the past couple of months, it is clear that Mr. Weiner is an emotionally distressed individual.  The last thing we need is an emotionally distressed individual running the affairs of the greatest city in the United States.  But be that as it may, Mr. Weiner is hot on the campaign trail, even though it is clear that he is an emotionally disturbed individual.

So that is one case I could have used to write an essay but the drought that descended upon my soul has prevented me from doing so.

A second case comes to mind that also occurred while I was suffering from the drought situation.  The mayor of San Diego whose name is Bob Filner, has a penchant for violating the code of conduct that should prevail between the male and female persons.  For example, there were several occasions when he and the rear ends of his female help came into contact.  There were other cases when he had his hands up between the legs of a female who worked for him.  As a matter of fact, there are eight cases of females saying that Mr. Filner was guilty of some sort of offense upon their persons.  In one instance, he applied a headlock on one of his female workers.

So this is a second case where I could have, absent a drought, launched into an essay about the shortcomings of the mayor of San Diego.  But as luck would have it, I did no such thing, preferring to wait for some juicier details.

The third case involves George Zimmerman, the defendant in the trial that was broadcast over all of our television stations recently.  I have a reasonable understanding of the law and I conclude that Mr. Zimmerman literally got away with murder.  It is clear that part of the law is vague, leaving six women on the jury which acquitted Mr. Zimmerman to take matters into their own hands because they had no precise definition of what he had done.  But believe me ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Zimmerman got away with murder.

Well, here are three cases that I should have turned into essays.  On the other hand, I am quite certain that Mr. Weiner will be back in the news, perhaps as soon as this week.  Similarly, for the likes of Bob Filner, the mayor of San Diego, I place no trust in the two-week period that he claims he is undergoing intensive therapy to keep his hands off of females.

Mr. Zimmerman on the other hand has been stopped for speeding in Texas.  He showed his firearm to the policeman who let him go with a warning.  Like Mr. Weiner and Mayor Filner, I have no faith that George Zimmerman will exist quietly with the rest of us.

As things now look, I believe that this drought will soon pass and I will be back in the essay-writing business.  But as Guy Clark wrote in his song, when a drought happens, “Some days you write the songs; some days the songs write you.”  Unfortunately I am not a songwriter but I wish I were.  But if Guy Clark can survive dry spells, I am certain that before long the dry spell will pass and Mr. Weiner, Mr. Filner, and Mr. Zimmerman will be brought to account.

Before I launched into Weiner, Filner, and Zimmerman, I had one other big failure in an effort to break the drought.  That involved writing about something that I knew.   So it was that I came to write about my blindness.  As happened on at least two or three other occasions, the blindness story cannot be condensed into one essay.  It would take several volumes.  So I failed.

And so in the final analysis, you have the notorious three and my effort to deal with blindness.  Unfortunately, none of these essays ever resulted in my producing plausible material to break the drought.  In this essay, I believe that I am back on track.



July 27, 2013

Essay 758


Kevin’s commentary: Pop is highly prolific. If you’re ever bored while you’re waiting for new essays I would encourage you to read the 250+ that already appear on this website. If you’ve done all that, then the good news is that I post a new one every day! All this to say that while shortages of new material are unfortunate, Pop certainly deserves breaks sometime and I know as well as anyone that writers’ blocks can be difficult to overcome. That said, I’m particularly glad to see that he’s beginning to write again.


As I was growing up, there was one article of faith that had to be observed by my mother and by myself.  It had to do with the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  The Post Dispatch was an afternoon paper, of which there are very few left.  When one of the older children appeared after work at our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri, my mother would ask, “Did you bring the paper with you?”

The St. Louis Post Dispatch, edited by Joseph Pulitzer, was an independent newspaper.  It was often called The New York Times of the Midwest.  I studied that newspaper from stem to stern.  It was a liberal newspaper but it spoke the truth.  For example, mine owners in southern Illinois had an atrocious record for safety.  The Post Dispatch regularly campaigned against them and eventually had the laws changed.

I do not have a formal education, rather an informal one.  The shaping of my language and my outlook on life from an early date have been influenced by such publications as the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  This was the article of faith to which I referred earlier.

Generally speaking, the newspaper was called The Post.  It was rarely ever called The Post Dispatch but was simply called The Post.  Because it took its cue from The New York Times, there was very little frivolity in its pages.  But one thing is quite certain: it did not permit even small obscenities like “damn” or “hell” to appear in its printed copy.  After all, it took its cue from the New York Times which printed only “The news that is fit to print.”  Because I was raised to think that proper newspapers refrained from such things as cursing, I have been astounded by the trends in the young people in their speaking and in their writing.

The subject today is two very mild expressions of off-color speech.  They are “bullshit” and “being pissed off.”  These are widely used expressions.  “Bullshit” is an expression of disbelief in whatever is being said.  “Being pissed off” has to do with being mildly angered at the turn of events.  In the St. Louis Post Dispatch, for example, and in The New York Times those two expressions will never see the light of day.  I will venture to say that at this writing on July 27, 2013, the New York Times would contain no expressions such as “bullshit” or “being pissed off.”

Now as for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, it has been converted by its new owners, who reside in Iowa, into a local newspaper with national news being covered by newswire services.  The Post Dispatch does not have a Washington bureau, for example.  I suspect that the Post Dispatch does not even maintain a bureau in Chicago, which is only 300 miles distant from St. Louis.  It is, as I say, a local newspaper.   I very much dislike seeing a former august publication such as The Post Dispatch being converted into a localized paper.

These days, it is fair to say that “bullshit” and “being pissed off” would raise no eyebrows even when used in polite company.  I am capable of much more salty language than “bullshit” and “being pissed off.”  When I read books that appear in audio form, I am amazed at the number of times that the “f” word appears.  I am accustomed to male speech.  In the American Army during World War II, there were liberal uses of obscenities.  I never overworked the “f” word as I have seen in recent readings.  I take no offense at writings in which the “f” word appears.  I gather that it is a sort of thing that younger people use regularly.  So I am willing to let it go as a custom of younger people.

But one phrase has me buffaloed.  It is the term “cluster fuck.”  I retired from the American Army before there were cluster bombs.  I must assume that the obscenity in question refers to a projectile that, when dropped from an aircraft or fired through the air, releases explosive fragments over a wide area.  Those bombs hold clusters that are dropped in situations where repeated explosions are desired.  All that I can really gather from the word in question is that “cluster fuck” means multiple f… ups.  It replaces the older term used by my generation meaning “f’ed up beyond all recognition” or FUBAR.  I am not now an expert on this subject as you can see.  Perhaps during my military career I would have been able to give a better definition.  But that career ended in 1945.

In summary I will say that the speech of young people and the speech that I find in publications, specifically books, make liberal use of the “f” word.  As I say, I am no pussy in using the “f” word but I insist that it must be used judiciously and in the proper context.

No matter how you cut it, the “f” word or any other obscenities find no place in the former St. Louis Post Dispatch or in the New York Times.  As I said, I am not a pussy but the use of profane language and perversions such as repeated references to the “f” word leave me a bit stunned.  But I am an old man and life must go on.  If young people misuse this language, I will have no choice but to listen to them.

In the final analysis, I always hold out the hope that the New York Times will remain as the paragon of proper journalism.  So far, it has done exactly that.  I would be surprised if I picked up The New York Times and found the expression “bullshit” or “being pissed off.”  But I do not use The Times to further my education.  That is all done now.  I do wish to express your indulgence in my informal education.

The New York Times and the St. Louis Post Dispatch certainly shaped my outlook on life during my formative years.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  I will continue, perhaps, to use mild expressions such as “bullshit” and “being pissed off” as I go further down the road.  But referring to that word having to do with clusters is a bit more than I can stand.  So I will leave it alone, hoping it will die a natural death.



July 27, 2013

Essay 759


Kevin’s commentary: I hope I didn’t inadvertently prompt this essay when I used the phrase in question to describe the multiple issues surrounding any encounter between the media and Levi Johnston, who is an idiot.  Perhaps my language should be somewhat cleaner for publications such as these.

I am confused though — it seems like the Times cannot help but further Pop’s education, as it contains knowledge which he did not have previously. Perhaps he means something different with that phrase.



I am writing this essay in the hopes that it will prove to Tom Scandlyn, Howard Davis and Jim Reese that this old country boy’s tastes have gone to new heights.  As a public service, I will try to save you a trip to your dictionary because the word “posole” is another upscale word for hominy.  I suspect that those of us who were raised during the Hoover Depression may have had their fill of hominy.  The fact that it is now called posole doesn’t mean that it tastes one bit better now than it did back then.

We try to buy groceries on Tuesdays and Fridays and, as a general fact, they are usually purchased from the Whole Foods Market.  The Whole Foods Market was founded on the basis of serving organic food, which in my estimation is nothing more than a fraud.  Seeds have to go into the ground and have to be fertilized with such things as cow manure or the droppings of chickens.  For a store such as Whole Foods to advertise, as they did on score cards beside the main entrance as to the number of organic foods they were offering that day, is, as I said, a fraud.  But nonetheless my wife Judy and I are generally pleased with the offerings of the Whole Foods Market here in Millburn.  Basically, we are attracted to the fact that they have a fish counter that seems to offer unparalleled excellence.

The other day my wife Judy went to the soup counter and encountered a soup called posole.  I must confess that I had no idea what in the world posole meant or contained, or whether its ingredients were healthy.  When the posole arrived at our home, we examined its contents and found that its major ingredient was hominy.

As best I understand it, hominy is a kernel of corn with the seed removed.  This renders it absolutely and totally tasteless.  But it was used in my mother’s cooking, I suppose because it tended to fill up the stomachs of hungry children.  And it probably did not cost much.  In those days of 1933 to 1937, we were not eating many meals at The Four Seasons Restaurant.  Also, it enabled my mother to say, “There are a lot of people in this town or around here who have nothing to eat.”  The fact of the matter is that during those years, there were plenty of people who had very little to eat.

When my wife Judy picked up the story of hominy on the internet, it turns out that it was a dish that goes back to the days when the Indians ruled this country.  Apparently they had perfected a means of removing the guts of the corn kernel.  I will say this in defense of hominy.  It is as close to nothing as you can get.  That may not be a defense of hominy but more likely, it is probably an indictment of it.

Well, in any case, we ate the posole, whose major ingredient is hominy, and were none the worse for it.  But I must say that the instant when my wife placed a bowl of posole or hominy soup in front of me, after 75 years the smell was instantly recognizable to me.  I don’t contend that it smelled poorly but anything made with hominy in it has a distinct odor.  In the instant case, I gobbled up the hominy with no enthusiasm whatsoever.  That was the recollection of Depression days.  But more than likely, the hominy was so tasteless that it recalled few other meals when the ingredients offered so little sustenance.

I started this essay as a means of instructing country boys such as Tom Scandlyn, Howard Davis and Jim Reese in my adventures into great foods.  I thought that posole would baffle them but I am here to tell you that if any dish, regardless of its name, has hominy in it, it is probably not worth preparing.  My mother was such a fan of hominy that its memory is ingrained in my senses.  So I have given you fair warning.  Stay away from hominy and from that fancy word of posole.  It ain’t worth eating.



July 26, 2010



Kevin’s commentary: I had no clue such a foodstuff existed. I suppose I should thank my mother and father for that. I wonder though if this will be one of the new hip miracle foods sometime. Like friggen “kale” — in the last two months everyone in San Francisco has developed a huge hardon for kale and I have no idea why, but it bothers me tremendously.


From time to time there comes a moment when we can make someone else’s life a little bit more enjoyable.  Two Costa Rican immigrants have made several appearances in these essays.  They are Jenny M and Ronald H.  They are married, but in conformance with Costa Rican custom, Jenny retains her maiden name.There are three wonderful H children.  You may recall that in an earlier essay, their boys, Esteban and Fabian, won some medals for their soccer skills.  They elected to give those medals to me as their “Grandpa in America.”  Also, you may recall that Jenny is a housekeeper.

In recent days, there have been some developments that auger well for the H family.  After nine years of waiting, Jenny and Ronald finally received their green cards which entitled them to permanent residency in this country.  It also entitles them to get a driver’s license which opens up new job possibilities for both of them.

Esteban is 12 years old and Fabian is a nine-year-old.  These days it appears that getting through grade school is made easier by owning a computer which assists in producing a better grade of homework.  The situation at home being what it was, acquiring a computer was far out of the reach of these two boys.  Their mother insists that both boys do their homework and get good grades.  They live in Summit, New Jersey, which has a superior school system.  I would not wish to bring home a less than stellar grade and present it to their mother, Jenny.  Jenny is the cop on the beat when it comes to the education of her children.  We say, “Hurrah for Jenny.”

And so it was that Miss Chicka and I were privileged to help these children of immigrants.  Because Esteban is in the sixth grade, he seemed to need a computer quickly.  Miss Chicka had located a good computer and with the few dollars that Esteban had saved, we made up the rest and presented the computer to old Esteban.  As soon as Esteban got the computer, he sat down to compose a thank you note.  Here is what he said.

Hi, Ed and Judy.

This is Esteban.  I wanted to say thank you soooooo much for getting me the laptop.  It is helping me so much and making life easier. Thank you again and God bless you.

Signed: Esteban

When the post Thanksgiving sales came, we thought it would be a good investment to get his brother a computer so that the two boys would be on even terms.  When the computer arrived here, Esteban escorted Fabian into the house.  Fabian saw the name Toshiba on the box.  He did not fully realize what he was doing as he opened the box.  When the laptop computer appeared in all of its wrappings, Fabian’s face was wreathed in beatific smiles.  And here is what Fabian wrote as a thank you note when he got home.  It read:

Thank you Ed and Judy for this computer.  I love it.  It is so awesome.  I love this baby.  Thank you very very very very much.  You guys are the best people in the world!

God bless you guys.

Signed: Fabian H


The worries of the world are many.  Some of the political fighting makes me wish that I could bang some heads together.  But when two young boys are made happier by the presentation of laptop computers, and write thank you notes in appreciation, Miss Chicka and I feel entitled to pat ourselves on our backs.

At least we feel that we have made a difference in these young boys lives.  They are the kind of children that will grow up to be fine citizens of this country.  If they are made happier in the bargain, so much the better.



December 6, 2010

Essay 517


Kevin’s commentary: I read this essay to Jen, and she simply remarked “you come from good people. Something happened to you since then, clearly, but you COME from good people.” I couldn’t agree more. This essay made me very happy when I read it the first time and successfully cheered me up when I re-read it just now. Generosity is in short order these days it seems, and when it appears it certainly merits back pats.


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.



February 14, 2010

Essay 438


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.


I suspect that by this time every American must have an idea of the enormity of the oil spill that is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico.  The spill is of such proportions that we should consider it before long a cataclysmic event. All of which brings me to “Gruber’s Law” that I would like to recite at this time.

For nearly 15 years, Gabriel G. Gruber has been my dermatologist.  Because I am fair-skinned and bald, I see Dr. Gruber on more occasions than I would like.  As I advance into my later years, I have found that there are growths occasionally popping out of my arms and my body that may be troublesome.  When one of these growths happens, I usually refer it to Dr. Gruber, who inspects it.  For several years, Dr. Gruber has reported that the growths are innocuous and should be left alone.  I like Gabriel George Gruber, so I follow his advice.  On one occasion when I asked him about removing the growth, he told me that to do so might bring on consequences that I might dislike.  In so doing, he cited Gruber’s Law, which I will pass on to you.

Dr. Gruber assured me that he could remove these growths but he advised against it.  He told me, “Look, if we don’t bother those growths, chances are that they will not ever bother you.”  The corollary to that line of reasoning might be that if we attempted to remove the growths, there might be consequences that I would greatly dislike.

Now if we transfer the Gruber philosophy to British Petroleum and all of those in the drilling business in the Gulf of Mexico, there may be also something to learn.  If the drillers took the proper precautions and if they did not drill in cases of a depth of 5,000 feet of water, it could well be that there would be no consequences at all.  But in the case in point, British Petroleum elected to drill more than 5,000 feet below the water surface.  That released some methane gas which came up their tubes and resulted in the explosion, killing 11 men.  Beyond that, the drillers had indeed found oil and that oil is now threatening the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a gusher that has been blowing now for more than a month.

It may also be instructive to find that Sarah Palin has not repeated her “Drill, baby, drill” for the length of this episode.

I am aware that I know nothing about drilling for oil under the sea.  And I am also aware that the oil that is produced tends to make us less dependent upon foreign sources.  But be that as it may, the facts of the matter are that the oil is flooding the Gulf of Mexico and no one seems to know how to cut it off.  But it seems to me that Gabriel Gruber’s injunction has some merit.  If we had not bothered the Earth to such great depths, perhaps the Earth would not have bothered us.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Gruber, whose middle name is George, attended Harvard College and its medical school.  I assume that by the time he finished with medical school he was sick and tired of Harvard.  But at any rate, Dr. Gruber is a highly educated man.  And I am proud to call him not only my dermatologist but a friend as well.

Now we encounter Gruber’s Law which holds that, if we do not bother the earth, it may never bother us.  But British Petroleum bothered the earth and set off a series of disastrous events.


May 14, 2010

Essay 454


Kevin’s commentary:  This whole thing was just an unrepentant mess through and through. Turns out it’s really hard to plug a leak that deep in the ocean, because we don’t have a whole lot of equipment rated to 5,000 feet of depth. This is due to extreme pressure and other environmental problems. For a demonstration, you can watch this video of a crab walking along a deep-sea pipe with a small crack in it.


In the summer of 1969, I was working as a lobbyist for the AT&T Corporation in Washington.  Ordinarily such work is limited to three years and I had been there on the order of three and a half years.  So I was not surprised when the instructions from New York were that I should return to that city.  I was more than happy in Washington but there was an inducement to coming back to work for the Long Lines Department in New York City.  That inducement was the widespread belief that I would be promoted to the top labor job at the general headquarters.  But those dreams were unrealized, as the top labor job went to a fellow from Nebraska.

When I returned to New York, I first became the General Sales Manager for the Long Lines Department at AT&T and then I moved to a much more pleasant job having to do with the provision of overseas telephone service.

When I first returned to New York, I of course needed a house to live in.  There were my wife and two daughters, who were doing quite well in school.  I looked first in the town of New Providence, New Jersey, which was my home when the call came to go to Washington.  In the late summer of 1969, there were no houses available in that town.  A realtor suggested that I should look at a property in Millburn, New Jersey because Millburn offered two essential advantages.  One was the excellence of the school system and the second was that Millburn was on the main line of the Lackawanna Railroad which took me to Hoboken and thence to a ferry, and finally after a one-mile walk, to my office in lower Manhattan.  And so it was that I bought this house, where I have lived for 41 years.

Almost directly across the street was a small house on a large lot at the corner.  The house was owned by a widow who had eccentric habits.  There were about two occasions when this widow, late in the evening, would cross the street and put her garbage into my garbage can.  I figured that she was alone and maybe it made her feel good that her garbage was in good hands.

About seven years ago, the widow sold the corner property to a builder named Hank Santangelo.  Hank set about tearing the small house down to be replaced by a much bigger structure.  In the process, Hank discovered that, hidden in the walls of the house, was a small fortune.  It consisted of approximately $5,000.  I don’t know exactly where the $5,000 was hidden, but because Hank had clear ownership of the house at that time, he was entitled to keep the money.  The widow’s eccentricities apparently had caught up with her.

But Hank was a very personable fellow.  If I ever needed to have this house torn down, I would engage him to build its replacement.  Hank constructed a magnificent building on the corner lot.  In it he constructed five separate full bathrooms.  I had expected that when the house was offered for sale, it would be sold to a large family.  But that was not the case.  It was bought by a couple from Summit, New Jersey who had only one child.  Apparently the husband spent a good bit of time traveling.  Now it appears that the child may be in a boarding school, so that the woman, named Vicky, is in this large house with five complete bathrooms.  It may be that Vicky would have a bit of a problem trying to determine which of her complete bathrooms she was going to use.  Now that Vicky and her brood have settled into the large house with the five bathrooms, he seems consumed with altering the interior of the house.  Vicky is a pleasant woman but I have never questioned her as to why there was so much need for work on a house that was new.

The latest incident took place during the summer.  Apparently Vicky and her husband had made the decision to go to radiant heating.  And so it was that the radiant heater people showed up in two different trucks with a large contingent of workers to install the heating in the house with five bathrooms.  They spent quite a while installing the radiant heating; and thoughtfully they had ordered an outdoor toilet while their work was in progress.

Curiously, while the work on radiant heating seems to be nearing completion, the outdoor toilet remains upon the front lawn of their residence.  Apparently the radiant heating installation people did not feel welcome in any of the five bathrooms in that home.  So they brought in an outdoor toilet.  At this point I believe that it has been in place now for the better part of four or five months.

The rental of outdoor toilets must be a prosperous business.  In a quick scan of the advertising on the internet, we find the following organizations offering outdoor toilets.  One is offered by “Gotta Go.”  A second organization offers said toilets under the heading of “Roll-a- Throne Corporation.”  Then there is an offering by an organization called “Pointers and Setters.”  You see that on the subject of outdoor toilets I am offering you some information that you never knew really existed.

Then there is the “Rent-a-Throne” and its companion, called the “Royal Flush Outdoor Toilets.”  Also there is the “Call a Head Company” which is a play on the use of the naval term, calling toilets “the head.”  And finally there is the king of outdoor toilets known as “Johnny on the Spot.”  Outdoor toilets may be rented from a variety of concerns but I think at this point I have given you enough so that when you have a need, you will know where to look.

Now while the outdoor toilet has been in place on the lawn of the fancy house across the street, its use seems to be confined to those who are not involved in the radiant heating process.  I am told that the postmen always stop by to use it.  I have heard the people who cut grass say that they are going to use the outdoor toilet.  Delivery men, such as the United Parcel Service, always seem to use the outdoor toilet when making their rounds.  I suspect that if there were a fire, our firemen would use it as well before returning to the firehouse.

And so at this point I believe that I have told you about all there is to know about outdoor toilets.  If the need ever strikes you that you need to use one, you can look up my address and come by to use the facilities on the lawn of the big house on the corner.  It is only a one-holer toilet, which is a term derived from that era in our lives when we used outhouses.  Whether it is a one-holer or a two-holer toilet is of small moment.  When the need is great, a one-holer such as the one across the street will be a welcome sight.  All of this supposes that you get to it before the postman, the grass cutters, and the delivery guys free it up so that it can be used by ordinary civilians.


November 20, 2010

Essay 513


Kevin’s commentary:  Who knew that the portapotty space was so competitive? And how cleverly-named they are? I suppose that because there are so many different ways to refer to a toilet, the array of toilet-related puns is rather broad. I would deem “Johnny on the spot” particularly inspired.

You may find an update on this toilet from 2011 here. It seems that it stuck around for quite a while.


I hope that it is apparent to all that language is an important part of the human condition.  We use it to reason with one another and we use it to praise each other.  We use language to denounce each other as evidenced by the recent political campaigns.  We use language to persuade each other.  And in some cases we use language as a means of seduction.  So I think it is fair to say that language is an important part of the human condition. 

To an essayist, language is thoroughly vital.  Without language, the essayist has nothing to offer.  And so it is that this essayist tries to keep track of changes in the language spoken by the English-speaking people.

I came across a change in the language spoken by the English-speaking people recently quite by accident.  You may recall that there is a raging controversy going on at this time with respect to security in the airline industry.  The government and the airlines have invested heavily in body scanners that will reveal the naked form to the scanner so that he can detect bombs or hidden materials being brought aboard the airplane.

One of the drawbacks of the body scanners is the matter of radiation.  A number of airline pilots who daily will pass through the scanners as many as four or five times have expressed great concern about the effects of radiation on their bodies.  The authorities have dismissed this complaint as what the lawyers call “de minimis.”  As one who has flown the airlines on many occasions, I would not be so quick to dismiss the effects of radiation as “de minimis.”  In a more recent development, the authorities have now recognized that the pilots and their crews should be exempt from passing through the scanners.

Surely the airlines and the government wish to encourage the use of body scanners because the alternative is much more time consuming.  If, for example, an airline passenger refuses to go through the body scanners which will reveal the naked form to the viewer, the authorities will insist that that passenger submit to a “pat down.”  At this moment, the “pat downs” are a bit vigorous.  The government authority in charge of the pat downs now calls them “enhanced pat downs.”  Curiously, the word “enhanced” is the same word as is used by interrogators in the Iraq War to cover cases of torture.  No one believes that the enhanced pat downs are necessarily torture but vigorous opposition has risen to them.  One female passenger, for example, claimed that the person doing the pat downs actually put her hand on the upper leg of the proposed passenger.  There have been other complaints about the enhanced pat down as it relates to the female breast.  And then there are all of the concerns about body scanners showing the pictures of naked people where they may be examined by the curious.

So it appears that these days if you are going to fly in an airplane, you must not only remove your shoes and belts, but either submit to the body scan, which reveals the naked form to the viewer, or submit to the enhanced pat down.  Now mind you, I have no prurient interest in these gory details.  My interest has to do solely with the effect of the enhanced pat downs on the language that we use.

You see, recently a person described as some kind of minor television performer has told the person conducting the enhanced pat down, “If you touch my junk, I will sue.”  I have no choice as a student of the language but to conclude that the word “junk’” refers to the genitals.  For hundreds of years, the genitals have had proper names.  Over the years, slang and vulgarisms have crept in with respect to the genitals but this old solder thought he knew all of the vulgar words having to do with euphemisms for the genitals.  But I must confess that calling the genitals my “junk” is a new one on me.  I have no idea where that word came from and I hope that it does not enter the mainstream of the English language.  As a custodian of the proper use of the language, I am reporting this to you so that you may be aware the next time you fly of what “my junk” means.

In this respect, I believe that I am doing all of my readers a public service.  While I have all kinds of sympathy for the air crews who must pass through the body scanners several times each day, I must also say that in my case if I were ever to fly again, I believe that I would tell the body scanner to get to work and to make it quick to reduce the effect of radiation.  And I would tell the enhanced pat down artist that “junk” was not a proper usage for the grand and glorious language of the Anglo-Saxons.



November 20, 2010

Essay 512


Kevin’s commentary: I wish we still lived in the day where TSA agents looking at our junk was one of the top concerns when it came to privacy infringement. I suppose by this time the PATRIOT act had already been going for a while.  But instead of fix that or keep the NSA from harvesting everyone’s data all the time, the government actually did take some action when it came to the scanners. There’s a screen on them now which shows what the TSA agents can see, and it’s basically just an outline of your body in green with anything out-of-place showing up in black. Seriously though they can see all they want of said junk so long as they can’t see into all of my data and I’d be happier.  Ugh.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 1, 2010

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

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


Pop’s response:

Hey Kevin,

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



June 6, 2010

Essay 463

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