Archive for July 2013


In a recent essay, I deplored the fact that the tags were missing from the backs of my recently purchased tee shirts.  This resulted in my putting the shirts on backwards about 35 to 40% of the time.  So I wrote to the president of the Nordstrom company and told him that whoever made the decision to remove the tags from the backs of the shirts should simmer endlessly in hell. 

My daughter, who is a Texas lawyer and should know about such things, assured me unequivocally that when that letter arrived in the Nordstrom headquarters in Seattle, it would be dispatched immediately to the wastebasket or to the furnace that heats the headquarters building.  But my daughter was completely wrong, which takes her out of the running for a seat on the Supreme Court to succeed David Souter or even Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, if they decide to do the proper thing and retire.

After a wait of a few weeks, I received a reply from Blake Nordstrom, the head man at that company.  In effect, he said that they had not given much thought to this when they took the tags out of the backs of the shirts.  But more than that, Mr. Nordstrom promised that if I took my tee shirts to his manager here at the Mall at Short Hills, New Jersey, they would be fixed.

This essay, then, is to tell all of my readers that the Nordstrom organization is an honorable one.  They have always stood by their products, which is a notable attribute these days.  So if any of you are intending to buy a complete ensemble of clothing, I would recommend that you give the fashions at Nordstrom a close look.  They stand behind the items they sell.  They seem to be honorable people.

Here is the letter that Mr. Nordstrom sent to me.




What this all boils down to is that I have been a customer of the Nordstrom organization for 25 years or so and, based on this experience, it looks like I will continue being such a customer.  Perhaps if our banks, the stock market, and our automobile companies had the outlook on life that the Nordstrom corporation has, we would not be in the difficulties that embrace us today.  And so a robust salute goes from this corner to the standup people in the Nordstrom organization.



April 19, 2009

Essay 377

Postscript:  Shortly after this essay was dictated, my wife went to our local Nordstrom’s store to return the tee shirts as well as to buy three more.  She was treated with great courtesy by everyone. Those people include Glenn Bellman,  manager of the Short Hills store; Cathy Catuogno, manager of Men’s Furnishings; Clarence Digamber, an associate in men’s clothing and finally, the most important one of all, Nadio Gritsai, the seamstress.   All six shirts now have tags, but given my current disability, I am unable to read what they have to say.  But that is not the point.  They tell me where the back of the tee shirt is located, for which I am very grateful to all the people in the Nordstrom organization.

Kevin’s commentary: Pop was born in the wrong age. He is a natural Tweeter or Yelper, just too late to know it. He’s the kind of guy who writes to companies who do well AND companies who do poorly.

As for the t-shirts, clearly the solution is just for Pop to start wearing V-neck shirts. In serious I’m glad Nordstrom was so willing to fix Pop’s problem, and that they took the time to respond to him. For the record, almost all of my t-shirts are now tagless and I much prefer them this way.


When the United States began to sink into the quagmire that engulfs our banking industry, the stock market, and our fortunes, most politicians contended that we were only in a recession.  Those of you who have been reading Ezra’s essays for a few years will be aware that for more than a year I have called this a full-fledged depression.

History has a way of repeating itself.  In the 1920s, we had Warren Gamaliel Harding, Calvin Coolidge (called the Silent One), and the eminent Herbert Hoover.  It was a time when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and unions that were intended to improve the lot of the poor were barred.  The result was the depression of 1929.

To a large measure, the Bush years were a replica of the 1920s.  We owe our misfortune at this moment to people like Senator Phil Gramm who railed against every oversight of the banking and financial community.  When Bush declared war on Afghanistan and also reduced taxes, he induced Alan Greenspan, the head economist, to announce that this was good for business.  The combination of the war in Afghanistan, the reduction in taxes, and the lack of oversight of our banking and financial industries produced a downtown in our fortunes.  The politicians pronounced this a “recession.”  Now that the government is in the hands of the Democrats, there is a much more realistic view.

It is clear that we are in the grasp of a full-fledged depression that may last for as long as five years.  We got here by the profligacy of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney who announced that “deficits don’t matter.”  May I say to Mr. Cheney that “the hell they don’t!”  So that one candle at the end of this long tunnel has to do with our description of the current situation as a depression rather than as a temporary recession.  At least some of us have the terminology correct.

A second reason for hope is that our religious institutions have not taken notice of our financial mess.  They are going about the business of worshipping the gods without any concern for the financial mess that we now find ourselves in.  At least we are not being subjected to the religious thought that if we prayed hard enough, the financial mess would be lifted from us.  I do not hear any call from the Catholics that novenas would fix the financial situation.  There are no calls from the Protestants to the effect that there should be a gigantic pray-in as a means of persuading Jesus, the Holy Ghost, Allah, or some other creature to lift us to financial prosperity.

And so as the stock market heads south, this old essayist wishes to say that there is a faint light coming from a candle at the end of this long dark tunnel.  We are now told by many economists, including Paul Krugman,  that this is a depression, which is what it was all along.  Furthermore, in a day or two Barack Obama will unveil a budget that actually includes such stuff as the cost of the war in Iraq.  Under the Bushies, the budget was published exclusive of the cost of what we were wasting in Iraq.  Now we will have financial truths in terms of what we call our situation and in our budgeting process.  And at least so far, the preachers have refrained from calling for Jesus to lift us out of the depths of our despair.  Jesus, the Holy Ghost, Allah, or other celestial figures had nothing to do with our current financial mess.  It had to do with Senator Phil Gramm, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of those clowns who believed that deficits don’t matter.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that we are dealing with our affairs now in a logical, pragmatic way.  Unfortunately the last eight years have been totally wasted.  I hope to live long enough to see this country returned to a degree of prosperity.  But that may not happen until I become a full-fledged angel.  But in the meantime, I am greatly pleased by the fact that we are injecting realism into our financial situation.



February 23, 2009

Essay 370


Kevin’s commentary: The deficit this year is supposed to be much smaller than in has been in the past years.–finance.html

However this is to say nothing of the national debt, which continues to accumulate. Also, being the smallest since 2008 still means it’s the 5th biggest of all time. So there’s that.


There is an oxymoronic quality to this essay which I hope will meet with your favor.  The oxymoron has to do with a writer whose belief is in non-belief, who then publishes an essay in praise of preachers.  But that is what I intend to do in this essay about preachers.

For more than 66 years, I have paid attention to preachers who provided intelligent thoughts.  It may well have started when, in my 18th year, I became an avid listener to the Mormon Hour Broadcast on Sunday morning radio.  There was a speaker there named Richard Evans, who delivered a five-minute sermonette that was not sectarian in nature.  At the time, I was paid $17 per week by Ed Williams, the owner of a filling station, but I devoted part of my wages to buying the works of this Mormon fellow, Richard Evans.  From that time forward, I have continued my interest in preachers who tended to make sense.  From my point of view, a goodly proportion of preachers preach nonsense.  This essay is dedicated to those who speak in logical terms that can be accepted by thinking listeners.


John Shelby Spong was the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  Bishop Spong has authored perhaps 35 books on religious matters.  His writings are believable because he does not contend that the Bible is the unmistakable inspired transcript of God’s remarks.  Bishop Spong points out that the Bible was written over a period of 300 to 400 years and that in some cases it became a political instrument, as in the case of the King James Version.  There are those who have said that Bishop Spong is not really a Christian because he does not accept all of the biases and superstitions of that faith.  But for my money, Bishop Spong is an intelligent speaker and preacher, which is why he is included in this essay.

There is a schism in the Episcopal Church having to do with the Bishop in New Hampshire named Robinson who has been living for many years in a homosexual arrangement with his lover.  Bishop Spong argues that Bishop Robinson’s conduct has no bearing on whether Episcopalians will be admitted to heaven.  I agree with Bishop Spong, but in passing I must state that my lowly social status never qualified me for membership in the Episcopal Church.

Next among intelligent preachers we come to a pair of Presbyterians.  The first is Benjamin Franklin Hall, who was the pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri when I became aware of him.  Dr. Hall became famous in the St. Louis area because he delivered cogent sermons and he finished the business at hand by the stroke of noon on Sundays.  In the winter of 1941, I invited a young woman to attend a service at Dr. Hall’s church.  That was what we call a “two-fer” in baseball parlance because it impressed her as well as her mother.  Before long, this young woman became a singer in the choir at the Central Presbyterian Church.

As time went on, I joined the American Army and in August of 1945, I was given a short furlough prior to my leaving for Greenwood, Mississippi to prepare for the invasion of Japan.  Fortunately the war ended before my departure and it was many years before I was able to see the beauty of Japan.  Upon this furlough, before we knew that peace would be declared in the war with Japan, it was determined by my prospective wife, her mother and, most forcibly, my sister that we were to be married by Dr. Hall on August 16.  Dr. Hall was attending a conference in Holland prior to this great occasion when he received an urgent message from his church.  It seems that one of the choir sopranos had concluded that she was pregnant by Dr. Hall and she wanted the world to know about it.  Unfortunately, Dr. Hall panicked and resigned the pastorship that he had worked so hard to achieve.  As a result, our wedding was conducted by Herman Schusler who could most aptly be described as a lost ball in tall grass.

As it turns out, the choir soprano misinterpreted the feelings in her womb.  There was no child there at all.  But the cat was out of the bag and Dr. Hall had resigned with his reputation in tatters.  He returned to his native North Carolina where he began to sell books to the school boards there.  Legend has it that he became a champion book seller and probably earned much more than the Presbyterians would ever pay him.  But the moral is clear and consistent.  Never trust a soprano on affairs of the heart.


The second Presbyterian is Peter Marshall.  Dr. Marshall had the pastorship at the Presbyterian Church on New York Avenue in Washington DC.  In the 1940s, the Republicans invited him to become a Chaplain of the United States Senate whose duty it was to recite a prayer before each session.

I became aware of Dr. Marshall and followed his remarks as closely as I could, given the distance between Washington and St. Louis.  But, fortunately, his remarks were published in several books, all of which I bought.  In one prayer to the United States Senate, Dr. Marshall used these words: “Save us from the sin of worrying lest stomach ulcers be our badge of lack of faith.”  Dr. Marshall uttered those words more than 50 years ago, but they aptly describe the situation we find ourselves in today, facing a downturn in the American economy that rivals the Hoover depression of 1929.

Peter Marshall was an intelligent man whom I suspect Bishop Spong would have liked.  Time Magazine did a piece on Dr. Marshall in 1949, which is attached to this essay.  I hope you will take time to read it because the writers at Time Magazine produce prose that is clearly superior to my own.


Thus far, we have introduced my readers to a Mormon, an Episcopalian and two Presbyterians.  Now, it is time for the Catholics.  When it comes to intelligent expressions, few people spoke more lucidly than Pope John  XXIII.  It was John the twenty third who dragged the Catholic Church from pre-historic times into the late 19th or early 20th century.  Among other reforms, Pope John authorized the Masses to be said in local languages rather than in Latin.  Pope John XXIII was an exceedingly bright man who could laugh at himself and whom I hope is well on his way to sainthood.

There was a second Catholic named Monsignor Fulton Sheen.  At the end of his career, I believe that the Pope promoted Monsignor Sheen to a bishop.  Some of you with long memories will recall that Bishop Sheen always wore a floor-length cape and that his midriff was covered by a black satin cummerbund.  I liked Bishop Sheen’s comments because they were delivered with a bit of a flair and showmanship.  He did not persuade me to abandon my efforts at birth control, but Sheen had the Irish ability to laugh at himself.  For all of his showmanship, Bishop Sheen was an intelligent man who represented the best that the Catholics could offer.


In more recent times, I found that there was a program originating in Birmingham, Alabama on the The Eternal Word Television Network   (EWTN).  The glue that held the ETWN broadcast together was a woman in her sixties or seventies called Mother Angelica who headed an order of nuns.  She never thundered at her audiences that unless they paid attention to her, they were all heading for Hell.  She said simply, “Here is the right thing to do.  I hope that you do it.”

It seemed to me that Mother Angelica must have had as much as five hours of face time on the ETWN broadcasts.  Between her sermons, she also sold religious articles such as bookmarks and other paraphernalia that were associated with the Catholic Church.  But most importantly, while I did not become convinced of her theology, she was able to laugh at herself.  Although she was in her seventies, Mother Angelica was a giggler.  I was not about to adopt her theology, but from time to time I found her fascinating.


The unfortunate part is that five or six years ago, Mother Angelica had a stroke which left her totally speechless.  She is now confined to a nursing home where performers from EWTN regularly visit her room to console her.  For a woman who was gifted when it came to communication with others, the stroke must have come as a very cruel blow.  But, again, she was an intelligent person because she could make fun of herself.


Well, there you have a Mormon, an Episcopalian, two Presbyterians, and three Catholics.  Their speeches did not inspire me to take up their theology.  For example, the Presbyterians used to believe that the instant a child was conceived, it became the subject of predestination.  Before the lovers could depart from the bed or the back seat of a car, the child that they had conceived was headed to Heaven or to Hell and nothing could be done about it.  That was the essence of predestination which Presbyterians adopted.  I thought a great deal of Peter Marshall and Benjamin Franklin Hall, and I never heard them preach on this subject.  But that’s what always lurks in the back of my mind.


On the other side of the coin, there are preachers that are instant turnoffs.  Consider Jerry Falwell from Lynchburg, Virginia and Pat Robertson, who is given to announcements straight from God.  Robertson announced after Hurricane Katrina that it was God’s answer to women appearing with their breasts exposed during the Mardi Gras parade that year.  Perhaps the most sinister is James Dobson, who has a radio program from Colorado, and bragged during the Bush administration that Karl Rove had him on his speed-dial telephone.

Taking one thing with another, it would appear fair to a person such as myself that preaching in this country comes from only a handful of intelligent men.  What disturbs me most is that a good many preachers do not respect the dividing line between church and state.  That is eminently true of the Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson trio.  They are sinister men whom Barack Obama ought to ignore.

In this essay, I have not quoted any remarks by people who subscribe to the Jewish faith.  I have neglected to do so because I am not as familiar with that faith as I should be.  That faith has existed for more than 5,000 years and its wisdom is completely undeniable.  I am a non-believer in religious affairs.  On the other hand, if I were ever to become a believer, I trust at the moment that the Jewish faith might be an appropriate place to go.  In the meantime, I am being schooled by two excellent teachers.  They are Mrs. Frances Licht and Mrs. Eva Baker.

When I am ready for my Bar Mitzvah, I will let all of you know so that you can come and celebrate with me.



February 23, 2009

Essay 369


Kevin’s commentary: I actually went to church with my girlfriend the other day because she was going to a new one for the first time, and the preacher there had some really reasonable things to say. She was also a women, so I would contend that the “handful of intelligent men” statement isn’t entirely accurate. Of course this sermon was immediately followed by the kinda cultish chanty baptism of a 3 year old — boo — but the sermon itself was well done.

The Pope mentioned in this essay and the current Pope are also pretty great, as far as Popes go. The current one is even okay with atheists, which is neat.


As I am dictating this essay, it is approaching the end of October.  When I worked in the filling station business, the people who owned the filling stations ordinarily would set out to buy antifreeze at this time of year. 

As everyone will recall, the radiators on automobiles are almost always located near the front of the automobile.  This means that they enjoy the use of the fresh air before it is circulated to the rest of the car.  Looking back perhaps 80 years or so, I can recall that at this time of year that there were always radiators that did not have antifreeze in them.  It was a certain bet that on cold winter nights that if the car had been parked outside, the radiator would freeze.  It has been a long time but I can recall seeing automobiles approaching with great plumes of smoke coming from under the hood.  My memory tells me that when an automobile did not have antifreeze in it, the water in it froze.  It was generally a freeze that caused the smoke because the radiator did not have enough fluid to cool itself.

There were two kinds of antifreeze in the late 1930s.  The cheaper one had to be checked regularly to see that it had retained its efficacy.  At that time, a new product appeared on the market which advertised itself as permanent antifreeze.  The permanent antifreeze was expensive, so it was avoided by car owners.

It was a common sight to go into a filling station and to see hydrometers being used as a means of testing the antifreeze.




When a car that had a frozen radiator due to the lack of antifreeze was brought in to a filling station, we would ask the driver to spend a few minutes with us because we had to first drain and de-ice the radiator.  Now if it was completely frozen, there were great consequences.  But that did not happen often.  Once the commotion under the hood had been contained, we would inspect the radiator to see any signs of leakage.  At that point we knew that the owner of the car was a candidate for either the one-time antifreeze solution or the permanent antifreeze.

It looks as though I have entered a period of nostalgia with my dictating a story about my mother’s expression of “Well, well, I declare” and a second essay about frozen radiators.  If that is the case, I will not deny it.

These days, automobiles come with permanent antifreeze in them and there is no need to use a hydrometer to test them.  That has not always been the case.  So this essay is a tribute to those days prior to 1946 when putting antifreeze in your car radiator was a necessary and vital function.  With that thought, I will now salute the manufacturers of radiators that do not require constant surveillance even in colder weather which we are now experiencing.



October 23, 2013

Essay 773


Kevin’s commentary: I like the nostalgia essays, though the mechanical / filling station ones always make me feel a little bit ignorant. For instance, I know how antifreeze works from a chemical perspective but I don’t think I’ve ever bought any or put any into my vehicle, whose name is Larry.  I suppose he has the permanent kind but I have to wonder what kind of antifreeze manufacturer decided that that kind would be a good move. I guess you have to have to price it high enough to compensate for a lifetime of selling the cheap stuff yearly?


If my mother had lived, she would now be 131 years old.  But of course she didn’t live.  Curiously as I grow older I am given to thoughts about my mother.  I suppose we enjoyed a normal relationship as much as could be expected under the circumstances.  My mother came from Golconda in Pope County, Illinois.  She retained her rural ways until her death at nearly age 80.

There was one expression that she used fairly often.  When someone would tell my mother about an event she would often respond by saying, “Well, well, I declare.”  I have not the foggiest idea what her declarations might have been.  But in any event, it was an expression of wonderment.  Perhaps the conversationalist with my mother would tell her about a man who was, let us say, seven feet tall.  Lillie Carr would often declare, “Well, well, I declare.”  I am not certain what her declaration would be.  It was her expression of wonderment.

There was a woman of about her age named Mrs. McGivern who would come over to our house where she could enjoy a cigarette while my mother chewed snuff.  The contention was that the tobacco in cigarettes and snuff would not have been permitted to grow had it been contrary to God’s wishes.  As they sat chatting on our front porch, I often heard Mrs. McGivern and my mother get into a conversation.  When Mrs. McGivern for example would tell her about something that caused some wonderment, my mother would declare, “Well, well, I declare.”

My mother died in 1961, so she has been gone a long time.  But occasionally I think about the expressions that she used.  It does not follow that “Well, well, I declare” was a monumental feat of linguist skill.  It was simply no more than a throw-away line during which my mother would continue her conversation with the likes of Mrs. McGivern.

That is perhaps not a monumental effort but I thought that from my standpoint I would like the phrase “Well, well, I declare” memorialized.  Why I think that it needs memorialization is beyond the point.  It simply is an expression used by my mother to express astonishment.  So with that, I leave you to your own devices.  For my part, I will stay with an exercise in nostalgia.  And my guess is that before long Tom Scandlyn or Howard Davis will read this essay and they will say that their mothers used something of the same sort to express astonishment.  So I leave you with my thoughts about Lillie Carr and her expression of “Well, well, I declare.”



October 23, 2013

Essay 772


Kevin’s commentary: That is a phrase that I have never heard in real life. My only exposure to it comes from old-timey cartoons where it is invariably spoken by a proper southern lady. My little brother uses “oh wow” as his default vocalization to express the same. I like to think that this represents generational improvements in word economy.


As I have told you on several occasions, my friend Sven Lernevall, a resident of Stockholm, often told me that “English is a rich language.”  Listening to the President of the United States who speaks extemporaneously, he frequently resorts to the words, “you know.”  The fact of the matter is that I don’t know.  If I knew, there would be no point in telling me what I already know.

This is simply a time killer while the speaker thinks about a new thought.  I believe that the President of the United States is an eloquent speaker and he has no reason to resort to the words “you know.”  But when he is speaking extemporaneously, if you listen closely, he will often use the words “you know.”

I do not wish to be on Mr. Obama’s case.  He is a very bright person whose wife ought to kick him in the ass every time he uses the words “you know.”  The fact is that I don’t know and I am waiting for the President to tell me what I should know.  But when he tells me, “you know,” I wish to tell him, “Sir, I don’t know.  Will you tell me what I don’t know?”


Now we turn to the second part of this monumental essay.  It has to do with the English phrase “on me.”  My wife, the venerable Miss Chicka, frequently uses this term.  You may not be aware that in my later years, I have all kinds of plumbing devices to help me survive.  One of these devices has to do with a tube that carries the fluid away from my body.  From time to time, Miss Chicka uses the phrase, “This tube is in the right place but it should not ‘turn on me.’”  Again, the “on me” is a superfluous verbiage and in some cases it may be confusing.  But this is common usage in this country and I take the phrase “on me” with as much good grace as I can.

Well, that is your English lesson for today.  The phrases “you know” and “on me” look like they are here to stay.  In particular the phrase “you know” seems to have found a place in the American lexicon.  I suppose that this really tells you that in my 92nd year, I have nothing more constructive to do than to observe the speaking habits of the President of the United States and of my wife.  As it is, my wife would be lofted to the heady heights of the President and, after all, she has this essay named after her.    What more could anyone ask?



October 21, 2013

Essay 771


Kevin’s commentary: When I first read the title of this essay I was pretty baffled. I was trying to figure out some twisted grammatical structure into which that sentence would fit. I came up with none. Pop’s elementary school teacher who he brings up so frequently would frown on such a title.

Anyway, you can find my thoughts on “You know” here: and I have very little opinion on “on me,” so this will be a proportionately short commentary. Cheers!



I have no way of telling you whether eternal life really exists.  I cannot tell you about this condition because I have not yet died.  However, when the time comes for me to answer the roll call up yonder, there will be certain things that I will miss greatly.  Naturally I will miss my wife as well as my children, grandchildren and friends.  But also I will miss the sound of music.

For someone as unschooled as I am in the field of musicology, I am very fortunate in that I take great pleasure from all kinds of music.  I enjoy symphonies as well as grand opera.  I take great pleasure from folk music of every country.  A good barbershop quartet causes me to rise to my feet and cheer them on.  Perhaps the greatest music has been written to celebrate religious events.  At this point I must say that my enthusiasm for music does not embrace rock ‘n roll or hip hop music.  That music is basically just noise.  It is repetitious and pointless.  Without harmony and melody and a story line, music means nothing to its listeners.  That is the case with respect to hip hop and rock ‘n roll music.

I became involved in grand opera because I was anointed to escort my older sister home after performing in the chorus of the Grand Opera Association of St. Louis.  Attending the opera required me to put on a shirt and tie and a coat, of which I had one.  Verna Carr  was 15 years older than I was and I believe she sang in that chorus for two or three years when she was in her early 20s.  So I must have been 10 to 12 years of age.  One way or another, the music of grand opera entranced me and now in my 87th year, I am still enchanted by the music of grand opera.  I am not much entranced by German opera or the Russian ballet.  But Italian and French operas are an exquisite treat for my ears.

There is a special place in my heart reserved for black choirs.  When those choirs sing a spiritual, I am moved to recall those familiar words.  And of course Irish folk music, often bawdy at times, always arouses me.  It is hard to believe but the Clancy Brothers, for example, have lost three of their quartet.  Only Liam is left and you will be amazed to know that Liam is now in his early 70s.  What happened to the Clancy Brothers who only yesterday in my imagination sang, “Isn’t It Grand, Boys, to Be Bloody Well Dead?”


Today, my great and good friend Howard W. Pappert called me from Venice, Florida to tell me that he had seen an old friend of ours perform.  Apparently there was a symphonic performance at the Sarasota Concert Hall at which the lead violinist was a man that we had seen in Budapest in the late 1970s.  He led an orchestra, Howard told me, of several other violinists and cellists who played their music entirely without having the music spread before them.  They played from memory.  I suppose that after performing for 30 or 40 years, having the music spread in front of you is unnecessary.  Good old Howard thought enough of that performance that he called me to tell me about it.  I am simply sorry that I was not there to witness it myself.

When my time is finished, I will take my leave of this earth as gracefully as possible.  When that great event occurs, I hope that there is appropriate music being performed.  One suggestion would be to have a performance by Samuel Ramey, the lyric bass who has a range that is unrivalled.  Another might be to have that occasion marked by a performance of the opera Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano. The aria “Patria Mia” has always aroused me.  Perhaps if it is played as I am carried away, it may arouse me to keep on keeping on.  But no matter how you cut it, good music has always been a source of great enjoyment to this old codger.



February 18, 2009

Essay 368


Kevin’s commentary: I think this is the first essay that I’ve encountered that makes mention of Mr. Pappert. I hope to see more of him as I dig into older essays.

Patria Mia is indeed rather pretty.

Now that the bottom of the essay is covered, I think it’s worth moving up to the top. I think it is a gross over-generalization to say that all hip hop and rock music lacks plot or melody. I hope Pop understands this and is just exercising his right to be a curmudgeonly old man.

As a counterexample in hip hop or rap, I’d point to Aesop Rock’s “No Regrets,” which trades a very clear story for just about everything else. I suppose Pop’s objection would be on the melody front. “Same love” by Macklemore, though not my favorite artist, meets both criteria. On the rock front pretty much most classic rock fits the bill. Billy Joel and Bob Dylan for instance are both “rock” and are both story-heavy as a general rule.




It is the standard belief of preachers that confessions are beneficial to the soul.  My religious beliefs or lack thereof bar me from knowledge about the soul.  However, yesterday, February 17, brought three confessions that must have benefited every soul known to man or cattle.  The first was a confession by Alex Rodriguez, the $30 million ball player.  The second was a confession by Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of the Governor of Alaska, who dawdled her one-month-old child on her lap as she made her confession.  The third admission came from your old essayist who was moved to speak in spite of his lack of ecclesiastical training and study.  Now on to the confessions…

Alex Rodriguez is the highest-paid baseball player in the history of man.  His pay is $30 million per year and he has other outside income from a series of buildings that he rents to apartment dwellers.  We are told that Rodriguez is very quick to evict those who fall behind in their rental payments.  Rodriguez contends that he is a pal of Warren Buffet and that he moves in the higher financial circles of this financially strapped country.

Yesterday was the first day of training for the baseball clubs.  Instead of going about their training exercises yesterday, the New York Yankees found themselves listening to a press conference by Mr. Rodriguez at which he made his startling confession.  Rodriguez conceded that he had used banned substances some four or five years ago while he played for the Texas Rangers.  He confessed that an unnamed cousin bought the unnamed drugs in the Dominican Republic, brought them to this country and used them to inject Mr. Rodriguez’s behind for a period of years.  Mr. Rodriguez contends that since he joined the New York Yankees four or five years ago, he has been as clean as a hound’s tooth.  At the press conference, follow-up questions were not permitted.  Hard-bitten sports reporters laughed at the explanation of the unnamed cousin who gave shots to Mr. Rodriguez’s buttocks.

On several occasions during the so-called press conference, Mr. Rodriguez said that he was “here to take his medicine.”  No one is clear on what Rodriguez meant by the remark about taking his medicine but, as you can see, this $30 million ballplayer called a press conference to confess.  If confessions are good for the soul, Mr. Rodriguez’s soul must be bursting out of his chest or head or wherever the soul is located.


The second confession has to do with Bristol Palin, who is the 18-year-old daughter of the Governor of Alaska.  I am not one to spill secrets but it is reasonably clear that Bristol Palin had a child out of wedlock.  Her lover was a fellow student at the Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska.  Under ordinary circumstances, this gentleman, Levi Johnston, would be told by his elders that the proper thing to do was to be a man and to marry that girl as quickly as possible.  But Levi was having none of this marrying business.  In his final year of high school, Levi dropped out and announced to the world that he was going to the North Slope to become an apprentice electrician.  He worked at that trade for a month or two, until it was discovered that a high school diploma is needed to become an apprentice electrician.  So Levi was fired and I suppose that he is now hanging around the night clubs and concert halls of the great city of Wasilla, Alaska.

But this story is not about Levi Johnston.  It is about the confession of Bristol Palin.  You may recall that a few years back, when O. J. Simpson was being tried, one of the major commentators on that trial was a woman named Greta Van Susteren.   Greta had a legal degree but she turned to reporting the news about O. J. Simpson.  From that point on, Madame Van Susteren went to work for the Fox Broadcasting Company.  Apparently, she had made arrangements to interview Bristol Palin with the interview being scheduled for Tuesday, that fateful day of confessions.  During the interview, Bristol dawdled her one-month-old son on her lap.  My memory is that the boy’s name is Trig.  On the other hand, I am not sure about that name because he has an uncle named Track or something of that sort.

But dawdling the boy on her lap is a peripheral exercise.  The main event was that Bristol Palin said, “Abstinence is unrealistic.”  You may judge Bristol harshly but she practiced what she preached.  And she did it without the use of contraceptives.  It is quite clear that Bristol Palin says that abstinence is unrealistic.  I couldn’t agree more.  But her doctrine comes apart in the second phase, where contraceptives are supposed to be used.  We can’t go on populating the earth with love babies because abstinence is unrealistic.  But at least Bristol Palin has had her own hour of adulation by the Fox News people.

So much for Bristol Palin.  It is hoped that she and Levi will make wedding plans for some time in 2009 which will rival the wedding of Jenna Bush, the daughter of the late and lamented George W. Bush.


Now we turn to my own confession, which had to be dragged out of me by my sense of innate fairness.  For many years, when I was a young swain, whatever “swain” means, I attempted to date several women around the St. Louis area.  In every case, I tried to persuade those young females that abstinence was totally and thoroughly unrealistic.  Why such a truth, so evident to me, was unpersuasive to those comely females in the St. Louis area is something that I will never understand.  It remained for Bristol Palin to enunciate those words that abstinence is thoroughly and totally unrealistic.  Unfortunately, I was generally unable to persuade the women of the St. Louis area of the truth of that statement.


For the better part of 70 years, my soul has been burdened by the thought that I should make this confession.  In doing so, I find that my soul has been excited and enriched by my confession.  Beyond that, I sincerely hope that the souls of Alex Rodriguez and Bristol Palin are similarly benefited.  I am not trained in ecclesiastical procedures but now that this burden has been lifted from my soul, I would hope to meet some of those beautiful women who turned me down so many years ago.  With my confession, there may be a case to be made for second thoughts.  We will all have to be patient and see how things turn out.



February 18, 2009

Essay 367


Kevin’s commentary:

“Swain” is one of those words that I didn’t know I knew. There are a lot of these. If someone gave me ten years and had me write down every word that came to mind, that one wouldn’t make it. I’m not sure there’s a point to this train of thought beyond ‘language is hard.’

For those curious, A-Rod’s drugs came from Florida. Human Growth Hormone is a nasty thing.

Finally, I feel it would be remiss to mention some ladies who Pop had run-ins with who would certainly agree with Bristol’s confession. They hung out in a ball room, and you can read their story here.


Giving titles to the essays that are produced at this desk is not an automatic function.  I suspect that most people would believe that after the essay is written, it would be titled.  My mind works in a perverse way.  I ordinarily title the piece and then go on to write it.  I suspect that many people would hold that the essay must be written before it is titled.  But doing it backwards seems to have worked for me over a period that goes back to the days when I was Vice President and President of Local Union 6350 of the Communications Workers of America.  In any case, the title for this essay is a fairly crafted one for the essay that is proposed here.

In this essay, I propose to marry a spiritual with our current economic situation.  In an effort to provide clarity to this situation, I should mention that until recent years, a “spiritual” was really called a “Negro spiritual.”  That art form, which was really a musical art form, arose from the involuntary servitude that white men and women visited upon the black race.  Those slaves hoped and prayed that sooner or later, their slavery would be lifted and that they would then enjoy life, even if it was the eternal life that preachers tell us occurs in heaven after death.

I am a great fan of spiritual music because it provides harmony and melody.  And nobody provides better spiritual music than a black choir.

For three or four weeks, I have been hounded by a spiritual called “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  That spiritual has hounded me so much that I am sitting here on a Sunday morning trying to write an essay that will please my spiritual hounder.  In the essay that follows, the improbable marriage takes place between the spiritual and the current economic situation that assails all of us in this country as well as worldwide.

One of the knocks on spiritual music is that there is repetition in its verses.  But remember these songs were sung by unlettered singers and they used repetition as a means of making their message unmistakably clear.  In the “Motherless Child” spiritual, the lyrics go as follows:

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
A long way from home, a long way from home.”

When that song is sung, the phrase “a long way from home” is extended.  There is a second verse, which goes as follows:

“Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
A long way from home, a long way from home.”

Every spiritual known to me contains repetitive lines.  That is the nature of the music.  Spirituals are not like a Puccini aria or even a Broadway show tune.  They are an unusual art form which happens to have a religious connection.  While I have no involvement with religious connections, I have from my childhood a love of spiritual music.

Now we proceed to the improbable marriage.  It seems to me that when a man has lost his job, as is the case these days, his masculinity is seriously threatened.  I assume that when a female loses a job, the injury to her inner self is no less harmful.  Losing a job means that there may be no point in getting up in the morning, because there are no trains or buses to catch to go to the place of employment for a job that does not exist anymore.

When a couple see that their house is the subject of foreclosure, I suspect that they might well say, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”  Their total life savings are probably tied up in that house, and in a short while it will belong to someone else, perhaps a hustler who preys on people who have lost their homes.

And then there is the issue of health insurance.  Losing a job is only the beginning of the grimness here.  When a job is lost, inevitably the health insurance goes with it.  I am flabbergasted at the cost of health insurance.  It is an extravagant expense but a necessary one.  When a man or a woman loses a job, and the health insurance goes away, he or she must pray that the children do not need hospitalization and a doctor’s care.  Again I must say that in this instance, the person who has lost his job and health insurance must feel like a motherless child.

A political note must be introduced at this point with respect to the cost of health care.  A few years back when J. Dennis Hastert was the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, there was a vote to include drugs along with Medicare premiums.  Dennis Hastert was under the control of Tom DeLay.  The vote in the House was extremely close and was held open for more than three hours while DeLay twisted arms in an effort to prevent the United States government from bargaining with the pharmaceutical manufacturers to get lower prices.  In the end, DeLay gave a Representative $100,000 for his son’s campaign for another House seat and the vote was passed.  One of the reasons why the cost of health insurance and drugs is so astronomical is because, by law, the United States government is forbidden to bargain with the pharmaceutical manufacturers.  This, my friends, is preposterous in the extreme.  But it has been brought to you by Tom DeLay, J. Dennis Hastert, and the Republican administration who guided the fortunes of this country for the last eight years.

As you can see, it is my belief that when a person loses a job and faces the formidable task of finding a new one, while wondering how he will feed and educate his family, he must feel like a motherless child.  I am sure that people in that circumstance will conclude that they are a “long way from home.”

Needless to say, I hope that this depression is lifted in my lifetime, which is now not measured in decades but in much shorter periods of time.  It seems to me that Barack Obama is running the only game in town if we are to escape the clutches of this depression.  I wish him well in every respect.

Now as for the improbable marriage, I hope that it is reasonably clear that there are a lot of unfortunate people who are entitled to feel that they are like motherless children.  As a survivor of the 1929 Hoover depression, I deplore and hate what has happened to this country.  But Obama is attempting to build a strong structure, not like the house of cards that has collapsed on us all.  Again, I hope it is understood that feeling like a motherless child is clearly applicable to those of us who are paying the penalty for events that were beyond our control.  And so the marriage between the spiritual “Motherless Child” and the current depression may not be so improbable after all.

I have now put the motherless child nagging behind me and I am moving on to another beautiful spiritual called “You Better Get a Home Ina That Rock, Don’t You See?”  I devoted a part of an essay to that song but it is so good that on this Sunday morning I am going to my chair singing, “You Better Get a Home ina That Rock.”  Spirituals are great music.



February 15, 2009

Essay 365

POSTSCRIPT:  The wonderful woman who transcribes my essays went to the trouble to look up the full lyrics to getting a home in that rock.  Her name is Eva Baker and I believe she subscribes to the Jewish faith.  Perhaps if Mrs. Baker continues to be exposed to my thoughts about spirituals, she may be tempted to take up the faith of the Southern Baptists.  Realistically, that is a long way off and I know in my heart that it will never happen.  Nonetheless, here (see next page) are the lyrics to the spiritual that I am humming this morning.


The Weavers
Pete Seeger

I’ve got a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,
I’ve got a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,
Between the earth and sky, I thought I heard my Savior cry,
Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.

Rich man Dives, he lives so well, don’t you see, (twice)
Rich man Dives, he lives so well, when he dies he has a home in hell,
He had no home in that rock, don’t you see.

Poor man Lazarus, poor as I, don’t you see, (twice)
Poor man Lazarus, poor as I, when he died he had a home on high,
He had a home in that rock, don’t you see.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don’t you see, (twice)
God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time,
You better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.

Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,(twice)
Between the earth and sky, I thought I heard my Savior cry,
Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.


Kevin’s commentary: Once again 2:30 am finds me listening to old spirituals that I would never have otherwise stumbled across. Give this version of “Sometimes I feel…” a listen. I think I liked it better than “Home in that Rock,” honestly, but then again there are bound to be differences across versions.

When I worked as a managing editor in my college newspaper, one of my duties was to come up with pity headlines to make people want to click on articles. I was awful at them. If only I had read this essay sooner, perhaps I could have asked Pop to help me come up with them.


David Brooks is a scholar in his mid fifties who writes a twice-weekly column for The New York Times.  Brooks is also a frequent guest on television shows.  It is clear that Brooks has a background of being a teacher, a lecturer and a scholar.

A year or 18 months ago, Mr. Brooks was an avid Republican who apologized for the excesses of the Bush administration.  In recent columns and appearances as a guest on TV shows, Mr. Brooks has shown that he no longer waves the flag when George Bush stands to speak.  For that, I compliment him.  This shows a capacity for growth.

However, in his op-ed contributions to The New York Times, David Brooks goes out of his way to use two words that tend to baffle me.  Those words are “dork” and “wonk.”  I gather that a person who is a dork or who is given to “wonkishness” is some sort of an intellectual.  Brooks himself is an intellectual who needs not to use obscure terms to describe other intellectuals.

I make no claim whatsoever to being an intellectual of any sort.  But I am disturbed and displeased when an intellectual such as Brooks uses a term that only he understands and implies that the rest of us don’t comprehend what is going on.  As Brooks has now adopted a more egalitarian view of life as opposed to being a Republican partisan, I have come to like him a good bit more.  But he would do us all, including himself, a favor if he were to forget words such as dork and wonk in his future writings and comments on television.  In the final analysis there really is no adequate substitute for plain English.

There is one more thought in addition to my comments on David Brooks having to do with the word “surreal.”  Commentators, particularly females, use that term to describe an other-worldly feeling.  But the more they dip their head in the surreal cesspool, they will find that I am retreating to another station where people speak plain English.

As we enter the brave new world of 2009, Americans and their new President are presented with challenges of an unparalleled sort.  Those of us who try to speak English plainly may hope that in the new year we will not be confronted with wonk or dork or surreal.  But that is just a hope and I am reasonably certain that before 2009 is done, we will have to deal with wonk and dork and surreal once again.



January 5, 2009

Essay 358


Kevin’s commentary: You know, ‘wonk’ might be a pretty ambiguous insult but I think ‘dork’ and ‘surreal’ both certainly have their place in conversations today. Sometimes I don’t know where Pop develops the ire towards certain bits of diction that he feels so passionately about.