Archive for August 2013


In the great game of baseball, if a fielder lets a ground ball go between his legs or if an outfielder fails to catch the ball and the runner winds up on third base, it is called a three-base error. Errors of this sort are to be avoided like the plague.

But I am involved in such a situation, which has to do with the state of medicine in this country. In previous essays I have told you about error number one, which is the failure of the pharmaceuticals to provide a cure for glaucoma. Glaucoma blinded my grandfather, my father, my elder brother, and myself, and because it is a hereditary disease I have passed it on to my daughter. I regret the last step immensely. On the other hand, it is a hereditary disease and there is no cure for it, so there is little that I can do about it.

The second part of the three-base error has to do with the failure of the pharmaceuticals to provide a cure for arthritis. In a recent essay I went to some lengths to describe the mother of all arthritis attacks that descended upon me over the July 4th holiday. In the end I was told by a well-known orthopedic specialist that I was essentially screwed. There is no shot to take care of it nor is there a pill.

So I returned to my basement gymnasium and with great difficulty mounted my stationary bicycle and began to ride it. It was painful but over a period of time the pain tended to diminish. The mother of the last arthritis attack lasted a bit more than two weeks.

The final star in this crown of three-base errors is night sweats. Clearly, the medical community simply has no idea what causes them. But it does no good to lower the temperature in the bedroom because night sweats will appear when they want to, regardless of the temperature. They may descend upon my body at any time of the year. On other occasions, I will go for several weeks without the night sweats. The fact is that night sweats are going to do their thing and nothing can be done about it.

Over the years, I have consulted with nearly every profession in the medical community. I have consulted with primary care physicians as well as specialists in neurology and diseases of the heart. The fact of the matter is that those physicians with their expensive training simply do not know what causes night sweats. Some will not admit that fact but others, when you get to know them, will quickly concede that they do not know what causes night sweats.

Some nights the sweats happen only once. There are other occasions when my pajama top will have to be changed on as many as four times during the night. Curiously, the night sweats do not occur during the day time and are confined to the hours when one should sleep. There are times when it is a matter of the night shirt becoming simply moist, and there are other occasions, rarely, when the night shirt becomes drenched. These sweats started when I was in my 70’s, but here I am, staring at 87 years, still suffering from night sweats.

So here I am telling you about arthritis, glaucoma, and night sweats. I am afflicted by all three and if any of you have an idea as to the solution to my three-base error problem, it would do my heart good to hear from you.

But life goes on. I rarely mention my complaints to the medical professionals any more because I know that they are helpless to do anything about them. About all that I can ask of you is that the next time you witness a baseball game and a fielder blunders and permits a three-base error, you will send sympathy and warmth toward him. He knows that he has made a grave mistake and will do everything in his power to atone for that blunder.

But in the final analysis, you should not extend wrath toward him or to the physicians who have failed to provide cures for arthritis, glaucoma, and night sweats. Instead of anger, I suppose we should all take the Biblical injunction that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.”

Well, I am not going to compete with the Holy Scripture which tells me that this essay has come to an end.

July 28, 2009
Essay 401
Kevin’s commentary: So the top question on my mind, especially coming off of the email that Pop just wrote me today, is this: when blind people dream, what is that like? I imagine this answer is much different for people who are born blind versus those who become blind much later in life. I ask because I have only woke up sweating at night once or twice, and in both instances it has been because of a vivid dream. It sounds like Pop’s condition is separate from any dreams he might have had, but the question remains: can he see in his dreams? What does the world look like?

Bonus note: I heard that when people who have been deaf all their lives think, they SEE themselves signing in their heads, instead of having a voice in their heads. I find stuff like that fascinating.


I know that this essay will arouse some antagonisms but it has been in my mind for several months and it must now be dictated, regardless of the outcome. The essay here will have to do with the best workers, and those who seem to enjoy life in the fullest.

According to my estimates, the best workers in the world come from Costa Rica. I know that there will be yowls that say that we have been short-changed, but in my humble opinion the hardest working people come from Costa Rica.

Our grass is cut by Costa Ricans, including a man who is now in his 64th year who leads a crew. Our house was painted by Costa Ricans who did a remarkable job. In the winter, snow is shoveled by Costa Ricans. Our home is cleaned by a Costa Rican woman. When there is file work that has fallen behind, my wife employs a Costa Rican woman to do her filing. Simply put, if I had to name a choice for the hardest working people, I would be obliged to say that the Costa Ricans win that title. This is done with no disparagement of any other race or culture. If you ever have a chance to hire a Costa Rican, perhaps you will see what I have in mind.

Now the second category has to do with the people who seem to enjoy themselves the most. Without a doubt, in my humble opinion, that title is won by the Jamaicans.

When I go to the Whole Foods Market in Millburn, I am welcomed by the men in the produce department who cheer me up by their banter. There is Paul Byfield, Allrick Simmons and his brother Garth, and Owen Gaynor, who is now a baker. On many occasions I have entered that market in a mood that is less than exuberant but by the time I leave, the Jamaicans engage me in their banter and I am hooked and feel better.

Jamaicans are tough on anyone who is not present at the moment. They will say, for example, that their comrade is not present today because the probation officer came to visit him.

When it comes to European style football, there is an enormous argument between the Jamaicans and the Italians. Gregorio Russo, another produce employee, points to the World Cup that reminds the Jamaicans that they have won nothing of that sort. But all of this is done in good fun and by the time I proceed through the produce department and go to the fish counter, my spirits are usually uplifted. How in the world can you knock a place that makes you feel better, even if it is only a grocery store?

And so it is that I submit that Costa Ricans are the hardest working and the Jamaicans as most joyous about life. If there are other entries as the hardest working and the most joyous people, I will be glad to consider them. But for the moment I am pleased with my choice of the Costa Ricans as the hardest working people and the Jamaicans as those who enjoy life more than anyone else.

July 28, 2009
Essay 403
Kevin’s commentary: This is going to come off as a little smart-alecky, probably because it is a little smart-alecky, but so is Pop so I think it’s all fair. Ezra wonders how one could possibly knock a grocery store that makes him feel better — it’s fortunate that I have two essays on hand to help him answer that question!

On topic, the Jamaicans should be content in being the fastest runners around. Soccer is boring as all hell but when you run, at least you get somewhere.


Editor’s note: This is a response (written 12/17) to my commentary on this essay. This was the commentary —

A moving piece, to be sure. I wonder though — the toilet might have been the last thing Pop saw, but I wonder about some of the other absolutes. What’s the prettiest thing that he remembers seeing? The ugliest? Has the memory of how any objects look faded away? Is there anything in particular that he has no idea what it looks like, or anything that he couldn’t possibly forget even if he wanted to? Hopefully he’ll see this and answer a question or two.

Read more of Pop’s thoughts re: toilets (because why wouldn’t you want to do that?) here.


Hey Kevin –

I saw the questions after the Ode to a Commode and this is my answer.

I hope you will excuse the thoroughly disjointed response that I am about to make.  Early in life I realized that glaucoma runs in the Carr family.  And I knew that if I lived long enough, it would blind me.  The fact of the matter is that I did live long enough to be blinded by glaucoma.  My elder brother Charles Halley, died earlier in his sixtieth year so he was no one to judge when I would become blind.

On the other hand, the third brother in line was Earl and he became blind somewhere in his seventh year.  I lost one of my eyes to a trabeculectomy in 1994.  I believe it was the left eye.  My right eye held out and gave me sight until 2005, which would have been my 83rd year of life.

However, in that year, the lights went out.  I had plenty of warning that this would happen so I was not unduly surprised.  In the beginning I regarded the loss of sight as a challenge.  But as time went on, the loss of sight has turned out to be a large pain in the ass.

I do not recall many of the procedures that took place prior to my loss of sight.  Perhaps this is a mechanism that prevents unpleasant subjects from coming up.  In any case, the loss of sight has turned out to be a monumental problem and becomes more so each passing day.

For example, one of the problems has to do with balance.  I am unable to see shifts in the road which would cause me to lose balance.  If you want to experience this, you can close your eyes tightly and try walking across the room.  The other issue is concentration.  If I am walking from my chair in the living room to my chair at the kitchen table, I cannot daydream or lose any concentration.  My mind must be on the subject of balance and direction from point A to point B.  there are landmarks along the way such as a familiar object that will remind me that I am on the right or wrong path.

One thought as we go forward is that it does not matter how many times I get from point A to point B, the challenge still exists every time I stand on my feet.  I fear for the day when I am no longer able to stand.

Now to get to your questions.  What I am about to answer will be a disappointment because I do not recall what was the prettiest thing I ever saw.  Time has eroded that memory.  Things that go through my mind are the first appearances of my daughters, old Blondie and Spooky Suze.

I have seen a lot of things in my travels throughout the world but none of them are overwhelming memories at this time.  They simply exist and I can do nothing about them.

Now as for the ugliest thing I ever saw, I simply do not remember, and that is a good thing.

Things I have forgotten:  I have forgotten the local roadways and towns.  If Judy mentions a specific house that is being torn down or remodeled, I cannot picture it.  She might start by saying, “Do you remember that old cemetery on Springfield Avenue in New Providence?”  The answer is that, mostly, I do not.  For example, I have forgotten what downtown Millburn and downtown Summit look like.

Things I have no idea what they look like:  our Honda Accord.

Things I could not forget even if I wanted to (which I don’t)…Shannon, our beloved cat.

As for the issue of blindness, it is not a matter of the world going dark so much as it is a matter of looking and seeing absolutely nothing.  Tonight I went to the front door not to look out, but to feel the rush of fresh cold air on my face.

During the Second World War, we were opposed by Adolph Hitler.  I would not wish blindness to befall Mr. Hitler who has gone to the ages.  But the fact of the matter is that as much as I disliked Adolph Hitler, I would never want blindness to come to him.  I believe that sentiment describes my feeling about blindness.

I realize that this is a disjointed response.  But I also believe my remarks on Adolph Hitler sums up my feelings about blindness.  It started off as a challenge but it ended long ago with my thoughts that it is now endurance.

I realize this is disjointed response to your question Kevin, but it is the best I can do for now.   As you can tell, Judy has helped me with this exercise and I would suggest that as things go forward, she is your best resource as to how I am doing.

There are several hundred other thoughts about the drawbacks of blindness which I do not wish to recall at this time because they are depressing.  Those are all good questions, Kevin, and they are worth thinking about.



Kevin’s commentary on the commentary:  I wasn’t disappointed in this whatsoever. The only shame is that Pop doesn’t know the beauty of his Bump Enhancer. For our readers who are interested in Shannon, this is the only picture of her that I have access to at this time.  I feel like Pop probably had a lot in common with that cat. Quiet and attentive.

This isn’t an official essay but it’s still a favorite. I’ll have to ask  more questions in the future!


The explanation for this current title will probably appear before the end of this essay. This means that those of you who wonder why this lovely title exists will have to hold on for a while and it will give you a vital interest in the outcome of this little piece.

Over the 11 years that I have been writing essays, there have been a number of occasions when I have touched on third-rail subjects. Those subjects, of course, are religion and politics. In this essay, I propose to touch on another third-rail subject which may arouse visceral emotions. The subject is assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

I know that this can generate emotions based largely on the teachings of your religion. But it is a subject that is worthy of our attention because it is timely. As citizens age and acquire new ailments, it is clear to me that the thought of assisted suicide may well occur to those who are in constant pain. If they elect to end their lives, far be it from me to criticize them. I am not an advocate of assisted suicide but I can envisage the times when it may be well for people to consider ending the torment of pain by ending their lives.

The case comes into focus in the deaths of Sir Edward Downes and his wife earlier this month. Sir Edward was a noted British conductor who had enjoyed great success. He was a major interpreter of the works of Giuseppe Verdi and the Ukrainian composer, Sergei Prokofiev. The record suggests that he conducted 93 concerts in the famous Covent Garden auditorium in London. Beyond that, he was for a considerable period of time the conductor of the British Philharmonic. For his work in music, he was awarded a knighthood, which is an extraordinary achievement. He was 85 years of age. His wife was 76 years of age and was in the last stages of cancer, which had bedeviled her life in recent years. Sir Edward and Lady Downes made an arrangement with an organization in Zurich, Switzerland to end their lives. According to their children, who witnessed the event, minutes after sipping a cocktail, they fell into unconsciousness and in ten minutes were pronounced dead.

There is one other aspect about the health situations of the Downes couple. Sir Edward was losing not only his ability to see but also his ability to hear. I can tell you that a blind man who cannot hear is in serious trouble. A man who cannot read a musical score and cannot hear it would probably have to forfeit his job as a conductor. And he will lose the ability to listen to music forever. So the Downes couple had serious problems and wished to depart this vale of tears together. This led to the appointment with the Zurich agency, which charged them about $6,500 each.

I cannot find it in my heart to condemn Sir Edward and Lady Downes. To the contrary, I applaud them for their decision and the fact that it was carried out in accordance with their wishes. To put my views succinctly, I am not an advocate of killing people at $6,500 a clip. On the other hand, for those who are terminally ill and are suffering great pain, it seems to me that having a means to die peacefully is the most humane thing that we can provide.

My experiences in World War II have a lot to do with my viewpoint. When one of our gunners was hit by 30-caliber or 50-caliber machine gun fire, it literally tore him apart. In those cases, I can remember a person or two begging to die as soon as possible.

But 65 years have passed since World War II and its survivors are aging and have contracted all sorts of ailments. I suspect that those who are bedridden and confined to wheelchairs may well give a thought to a humane way out. Others may simply have lost their zest for living. In my own case, I am not terminally ill and hope to avoid that condition. But if that condition arrives, I would hope that there would be an alternate means of death rather than enduring a long and costly illness prior to death. That simply makes sense. As you can see, I am unrestricted by religious prohibitions on causing an untimely death. If that time ever arrives for me, I would hope that the religious authorities would mind their own business.

Before this essay is complete, it seems to me that a personal note is called for. I am, as most of my readers know, blind. If I lost my ability to hear, it would be very nearly catastrophic. I listen to music and for five days each week The New York Times in a condensed audio version is read to me by a recording device. When I became blind, there were four books on the shelf near my chair that were to be read. I now, as you may have guessed, buy books that provide an audio version.

There is a bit more to it. I sleep in a four-poster brass bed. When I arise, I fumble with my white cane until the end of the bed is located by striking the cane against the brass post. At that point I know to turn left to go to the bathroom. The cane of course makes no sound while I tread on the rug, but as soon as the bathroom is reached, the cane tells me that there is a tile floor and that then positions me. A white cane is a poor substitute for eyesight but for the sightless that is all there is. But it is a good bit better than nothing, which would be the case if loss of hearing were involved. I do not wish to trouble my readers with my personal problems, but I hope that this disclosure may tend to provide understanding for the decision that Sir Edward and Lady Downes made. It is a cruel choice but again I will say that in my heart I cannot find it possible to criticize them. Much to the contrary, I salute their courage.

Now as for the title of this essay: at the outset the thought occurred to me that if under the Roe v. Wade, umbrella a woman can do as she wishes with her body, it would seem to follow as a matter of consistency, that an old-timer in pain and agony could do the same. There are those who will say, much to my regret, that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. And there are others who will say, with respect to females, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. And so I have blended these two thoughts, which results in the hobgoblin making the sauce for the gander. It seems to me that a little levity at the end of a very serious essay might be required. And so it has been provided.

July 28, 2009
Essay 400
Kevin’s commentary: For more on the subject, see here: — my thoughts there apply equally well here. The critical difference is that this one has a bizarre yet fitting title. The word “hobgoblin” is criminally underused these days.

I also have just realized that I’m rapidly approaching the halfway point to the Essays. Exciting stuff! I’ve published 343 to date, counting this one.


Seven or eight years ago, the pain of arthritis descended upon my back and legs.  I sought advice from the Summit Medical Group, which has a staff of renowned physicians.  After a time, I visited the orthopedic department and saw Dr. Corona, who listened to my symptoms but who did very little else.

I told Dr. Corona that when I retired, a blackthorn cane of Irish ancestry was given to me by Althea Scheller, a lovely person with whom I had worked.  The blackthorn cane permitted me to navigate enough so that I could keep my appointment with Dr. Corona.  Corona was a man of few words.  The translation of what he had to say was essentially that “You’re screwed.”  He declined to give me cortisone shot just as he declined to prescribe a pill.  I found that the effects of that arthritis attack could be lessened by the extent to which I used my stationary bicycle.  In a period of perhaps two weeks, the pain tended to dissipate.

Now, seven or eight years later, the mother of all arthritis attacks occurred on July 3.  This of course was a long weekend which celebrated the Fourth of July.  Once again, the Althea cane was pressed into service.  But there was some difficulty in doing so.  My white cane, which tells people of my blindness, offers no support whatsoever, so I have no choice but to maneuver the two canes to get around.

I have learned my lesson with Dr. Corona so this time I selected the orthopedic physician who also works for the Summit Group by the name of Dr. Mirsky.  Dr. Mirsky was considerably better at communication than Corona had been and had taken care of a case of bursitis last November.  One shot of cortisone and the bursitis seemed to be taken care of and I wandered about pain free.  When the second mother of all arthritis attacks occurred on July 3, I hoped that Dr. Mirsky would perform the same miracle.  Mirsky is a brighter guy and a more modern man than Corona was.  But after a series of X-rays took place, which Mirsky examined, he in effect told me to go home and sweat it out.  He had no magic bullet.  He had no cortisone shot that would fix arthritis nor did he have a pill to take care of it.  As I dictate these lines, the last of the mother of all arthritis attacks has dissipated so that I can exercise and move about a little bit more freely.

What concerns me at the moment is that I am certain that other older people also have severe cases of arthritis which break out from time to time.  Yet in all of the debates now taking place before the Congress of the United States about health benefits, the pharmaceutical industry has not moved to produce a magic bullet or a magic pill.  Those of us who suffer from periodic arthritis attacks are left to get along as best we can and, in my case, it is done with the use of the Althea blackthorn cane.  My guess is that arthritis is a wide-spread ailment that afflicts thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of American citizens.  Yet there is no shot or pill to contain it.

When the AIDS epidemic happened a few years back, the pharmaceuticals were intent upon going to work upon it and solving it.  From what I now understand, several years later, the AIDS epidemic has been contained and there are drugs that can treat the disease.  May I suggest that in this civilized country, there are more people suffering from arthritis than from AIDS.  That last statement was a gamble on my part but I think it is well worth while.

On the other hand, glaucoma is a disease of the eyes which eventually almost always results in blindness.  The pharmaceuticals have done very little to produce a drug that will eliminate glaucoma.  I suspect that some of it has to do with numbers.  According to L. Jay Katz of the Glaucoma Institute in Philadelphia, there are about three million people who are under treatment for glaucoma.  He suspects that there are perhaps at least three million more who have not yet been diagnosed.  I suppose it is clear that this small number of people makes it un-worthwhile for the pharmaceuticals to invest major amounts of money to cure the curse of glaucoma.  But I understand the cost/benefit analysis and while I may not like it, I understand it.  But what I do not understand is that if millions of Americans are suffering from arthritis, so little seems to have been done about it.

Before leaving the glaucoma story, I must say that the pharmaceuticals have produced some drugs that relieve the pain and postpone the blindness which eventually occurs.  It is not a cure, and perhaps there will never be a cure for glaucoma, but any attempt to put off the day of blindness reckoning is greatly appreciated.

So in the final analysis, I offer these thoughts.  When the mother of all arthritis attacks is visited on your frame, then get a blackthorn cane and, if you want to see Dr. Corona, you will find out that he will put it succinctly, “You are screwed about doing anything about it.”  On the other hand, if you suffer such an attack, you can visit Dr. Mirsky and receive a much more thorough examination, but the outcome will be the same as with Dr. Corona.

My parents many years ago used to tell me of people who had been crippled by rheumatism.  I am reasonably certain that rheumatism and arthritis are identical diseases.  And if you have a position of influence with the pharmaceutical industry in this country, it would be greatly appreciated if you would encourage them to develop a shot or a pill to alleviate the pain.  I regret bringing this bad news to other people suffering from arthritis, but all I can offer you is the blackthorn cane, the stationary bicycle, and the words of physicians who say, in essence, “If you get the mother of all arthritis attacks, you are essentially screwed.”


July 18, 2009
Essay 399


Kevin’s commentary: Seems like developing an effective arthritis disease is a no-brainer. I guess that the industry has tended more toward general use painkillers? I see tons and tons of painkiller ads on the TV; maybe those have gotten strong enough for use in combating arthritis. Hopefully something useful has cropped up in the last four years.


For a short time, I have debated between the current title of “It Ain’t Natural” and another title, “Ez-ree Revisited.” But in the end I selected the title of the business about naturalness. There is a certain amount of nostalgia in this essay because it has to do with the original Ezra, my father. Ezra Senior departed this vale of tears at this time of the year in 1958. This means that he has been gone now for 51 years, but one way or another a thought or two about his memory keeps slinking into my alleged brain.

The fact of the matter is that my father and I were strangers to the end. I never exchanged a cross word with him, nor did he with me. But no matter how you cut it, we were never reading from the same page. He was given to fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, which even at age 6 to 10 or 12 years, I found absurd and laughable. Of course, I never laughed about it when my father was present, but by the time I was 7 or 8, he had concluded that church going for me was not going to save my soul. I shared that viewpoint.

In spite of our differences in outlook on life, I find that after the 51 years following his death, I still think of him. It is not an obsession but from time to time, some of his thoughts creep into my consciousness. For example, I remember the time when I was 8 or 9 years old, when a young man interrupted my father’s work on the garage doors. The younger man told my father that it appeared that his girlfriend was pregnant. My father’s words still ring in my memory. He stood up and said, “Boy, be a man. Marry that girl today.” For all of his lack of education, my old man was a standup guy. He played by the rules, and I suspect that he was mightily offended that this young fellow had brought this problem to him. He would have expected this young man to do the proper thing without outside encouragement.

On another occasion when he was killing crows, I must have asked him, when I was 6 or 7 years of age, why he did not shoot other birds. He said that the crows were stealing corn from the chickens that we kept in the backyard and that this would teach them a lesson. As for the other birds, he told me in words that still are embedded in my memory that he would not bring harm to the other birds because “they loved their lives just as much as I loved mine.”

I wish the old man would have been around to instruct Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court and the former Vice President of the United States who periodically went to vacation spots where they would slaughter birds of all sorts to augment their diet. Scalia and Cheney never appeared to be starving. They considered their expeditions to slaughter birds as “sport.” A sport which results in murder is murder and not sport at all. In effect, the old man’s words to me after 85 years made a great impression.

There was another occasion in 1947 when the six-week telephone strike was taking place. I worked for the telephone company at that time and was an officer in the union there. Midway through the strike my father, as part of his job, was trimming a tree and in his blindness stepped on a branch that did not exist. He fell from the tree and fractured his skull. He was 66 years old at that time. One day when I went to visit him in his room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Clayton, Missouri, he told me, “You haven’t had a pay check for quite a while. I have some money and I want to give it to you.” I did not accept the money, as I had saved in anticipation of the strike, but I told him that I appreciated his offer very much and if the strike lasted much longer, I would come back to see him. So you see, in spite of the strangeness in our relations, the old man wanted to be sure that one of his own was taken care of.

But there was another side to the original Ezra Carr. He was given to mispronouncing words which I concluded probably was deliberate. For example the word “exercise” was pronounced by Ezra as “ex-ree-cise”. Perhaps he used that construction to make it close to a rhyme with his name which was spelled Ezra but which he pronounced as “Ezree.” My elder sister, Verna Eva, frequently chided my father’s pronunciation of English words which only caused him to dig his heels in and to reject her advice. I never tried to correct my father’s pronunciation of English words because I knew that it was pointless and I knew that some 70 or 75 years later I would be writing these essays. Those mispronunciations would come in handy as subjects for these essays.

My father also had a penchant for denouncing progress in the course of human affairs. For the last 12 years of his life, he was blind as a result of the hereditary disease, glaucoma. He sat in a red velvet chair in the living room of our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri and had only the Atwater-Kent radio to entertain him. He used the radio sparingly. It was not a matter of use of the electricity but he thought that various advances in the human condition were not natural. Among those advancements in the human condition was air conditioning. My father denounced air conditioning as “It ain’t natural.”

Then there was the matter of automobile engines. The old man drove cars that had six cylinder in-line engines. The term “in line” means that the pistons are arranged in a straight line from front to back. When Henry Ford produced a V8 engine in his 1931 or 1932 models, the old man said that “It just ain’t natural.” He predicted that V8 engines would cause undue wear on the piston rings which permit escape of the crankcase oil to the exhaust. I am quite certain that Henry Ford had thought of this problem before the cars were produced. But there is this much to say. When I was in the filling station business, whenever we saw a Ford car with a V8 engine approach the gas tanks, we knew that the owner could be sold a quart of oil. The engines on Ford automobiles kept the oil companies rolling in prosperity.

Well, so much for my nostalgic thoughts about the original Ezra. Like every man, he had his flaws but he was a standup guy who did the best he could for his marriage and his children. He died after a long period of confinement in his bed for reasons that now escape me. At his funeral service, the man who had comforted him in his spiritual needs during his confinement was Hurley Fitzwater. He was what was called by my mother a “jackleg preacher.” That means he had no theological training but just rose from the congregation and started preaching.

At the time of my father’s death, Hurley was approximately 60 to 65 years of age. At the funeral, he felt called upon to deliver a sermon called “There the Sun Shall Not Shine.” I have never figured out over these many years what the hell Hurley Fitzwater was talking about. I suggest that my old man, regardless of his religious bent, would have been just as mystified as I was and the rest of his friends were.

In the final analysis as I think about my father’s life, he did what the rest of us have to do, which is to play the hand that we have been dealt. I suppose that he could have played his hand better, but at this late date I will not criticize him in any way. I will remember him as a standup guy who did the best he could under circumstances that were not generous to him.

July 18, 2009
Essay 398
Kevin’s commentary: I think this is the first essay I can think of where Pop liked a title so much he used it again later on. Of course an exception can be made for the multiple iterations of “The language of the anglo saxons” but those usually have numerals appended. The fact is that there were several other things that Ezra senior considered to be unnatural, which you can read about in this essay’s sequel if you’re interested.  My impression of my great grandfather remains the same — an upstanding fellow to the end, even if he may have had somewhat antiquated views. These essays actually constitute 100% of the things that I’ve ever heard about the man. I’m very glad that I have them.


In earlier essays, there was a tribute to railings and to our bashful commodes, both of which bring joy and comfort to our lives. In that same spirit, I believe it is time to pay tribute to fans of all kinds.

For the first twelve or thirteen years of my life, I was forced to attend religious services on Sundays, offered in succession by the Southern Baptists, the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, and, finally, the Free-Will Baptists. Attending those services gave me a case of supreme angst, which of course is a word that I did not know at the time. However, those services provided me with a start for this essay. So it appears that there was some merit in my exposure to the Christian religion.

On the back of the church pews in nearly every case was a ledge on the railings which held a hymnal and perhaps the King James Bible. But in the summertime, which in St. Louis, my home, started in April, it also held another important commodity. There was also a fan. It was not electric, of course. It was provided to give some small degree of comfort to the un-air-conditioned churches in which the fundamentalist services were held. In all of my church going, I will tell you that these fans were always given as a donation from the local undertaker. The back of the fan had his name in bold print. I suppose this was to condition the church goers that they would eventually need his services and that they would be inclined towards the donor because he gave them comfort in the hot climate of St. Louis. As a curious observation, the fans were almost always used by women. They were never used by men or their children. I have no idea what this means but that was always the case.

In those Depression days, there was no such thing as home air conditioning. There were a few ineffectual fans that were unable to cool us off. In my case, I discovered that there was often a breeze blowing between the back porch and the garage. My secret was soon discovered by my parents and that is where they held family conclaves in the summer.

St. Louis is located on the banks of the Mississippi River and is about six miles downstream from the Missouri River. These two rivers lend their humidity to the already moist air. Hotels had no air conditioning and provided only a small electric fan until about 1950. A male guest donning a freshly starched shirt might well discover that the collar had wilted by the time he had dressed and gone to the dining room for breakfast.

So much for St. Louis and its humid climes. When it comes to electric fans, may I suggest that this house may be over-fanned but it is a comfort to those of us who reside here. The house was constructed in 1958 and clearly had no air conditioning at all. At the top of the steps, there is a large fan with blades of about 14 or 15 inches in length. On my first visit to this house, while I was still looking for a property to buy, I saw a toggle switch and turned it on. Instantly, the owner of the house at that time came forth to protest that the fan should be turned off. She was well within her rights because that fan could pull the ashes out of the fireplace which is located two levels below the fan itself.

The rest of the house now has fans galore. For example, in the attic there is a thermostatically controlled fan that is engaged when the temperature reaches 85˚ or more. Its objective is to pull hot air in the attic and expel it from a nearby window. When my daughters lived here, there was a large room on essentially the third floor of this split level house that was difficult to air condition. As a result, electric fans were used to remedy the situation. Moving down a level is our bedroom, which has a swivel fan that is used in those cases when it is judged that air conditioning is not needed. In all of the bathrooms, there are exhaust fans to take the humidity out of the room.

Moving down to the lower levels, there is an exhaust fan above the stove that expels hot air and keeps it from coming into the room. There are also fans in the kitchen as well as the living room to provide comfort on those days when it is questionable that air conditioning is needed.

In the basement where our so-called gymnasium is located, there are fans galore. My wife has one fan and I have the use of two or three more.

In the basement there is an electric fan associated with the heating and air conditioning system that moves hot air in the winter and cold air in the summer up to the other quarters of the house. On the back porch, there is a ceiling fan which makes it possible on hot days to stay there. In the garage our car has a fan attached to the crankshaft which cools the engine. This is a very important fan because if it failed to operate, the engine would seize, and the car would be useless.

Well, so much for this house. But perhaps old-timers will remember when offices were un-air conditioned. There were always debates about how far the windows should be opened and in those days there was a brisk business in paperweights aimed at holding down papers on desks.

Before concluding this essay, I need to say a few words about a wonderful friend, Walter Fennessey and his relationship to fans. Walter was responsible for telecommunications arrangements with the sub-Saharan region of the world. One day in 1982, Walter proposed a trip to four of the countries that he visited regularly. It was a frigid day in New Jersey and the thought of going to Africa gave me a warm feeling. So I told Walter, “Why Not?” On December 24, 1997, I wrote an essay called, “Why Not?” to record the events on that trip. Here is one paragraph from that essay that relates to fans.

So now here is my friend Walt Fennessey who is sweating mightily at 4000 to 5000 feet. And I am too. When Walt saw the cabin door to the crew quarters open, he could see the Engineer. And so he planned to ask him to please give us some more air conditioning. The Engineer was fanning himself with a large magazine. Upon hearing Walt’s request, he located another large magazine and passed it to Walt. That was the air conditioning.

Walter was a wonderful person who unfortunately is now deceased. When I think of fans, my thoughts inevitably turn toward Walter Fennessey, a good man who sweat in the beat up airplanes flown by African Airways.

In this small essay, I had no intention of going into the structure of fans. My intention, on the other hand, was to call attention to the fact that fans contribute greatly to our comfort and well-being. I think it is fair to say that they have brought joy to all of our lives, particularly those who can remember the days when there was no air conditioning.

And so now, this old essayist feels better that he has paid tribute to fans. On the other hand, he still remembers the manual fans donated by undertakers to the churches. Would it be fair to assume that the undertakers deducted their donation to the churches for fans from their income tax? I hold no position on this last question, but with the coming of air conditioning it is probably a moot one in any case. But as everyone I hope will agree, fans bring joy to our lives and as such should be widely celebrated.

July 16, 2009
Essay 396
Kevin’s commentary: I don’t know what strikes Pop to write this sort of essay, but I’m glad it does.

Growing up in Texas in the 90s, I actually didn’t realize that air conditioning was an optional thing. I thought houses just came with air conditioning in the same way that they come with, say, roofs. If you don’t have one, you’ve got something that looks kinda like a house but is in fact something much less.
Upon going to school in Chicago I was expected to sign up for dorms. A big selling point of the dorm I chose was that it had been recently fitted with an AC system. I actually took this as a bad sign — since AC was a default in my mind, bragging about an AC system is akin to saying “your dorm room comes with windows that you can SEE THROUGH.” Point being that if you even need to mention these things you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Turns out you don’t really need AC in Chicago, especially if you’re not there during the summers. Lesson learned. Heaters, though, are quite nice to have around in every room.


Over the years, the telephone service provided by the Verizon Corporation was interrupted frequently. In one case, over the Memorial Day holiday of this year, service went out on a Sunday and we were told, according to the recorded announcement, that it would not be restored until Wednesday. I found this, as an old telephone man, to be outrageous. As it turned out, the service was restored on Tuesday, and the Verizon Corporation gave us a credit for the lost time.

I am not particularly interested in getting credit for service that is not delivered, but I do wish to have continuous service that is uninterrupted by frequent outages.

And so it was that in May, I wrote a letter to the chairman of the Verizon Corporation, whose name is Ivan Seidenberg. I told the chairman that the trouble with our outages traced to a junction box nearly a half mile from our home. The junction box, according to technicians who had been at the house, was overloaded and when telephone workmen found need to enter it, they often left several dozen or more homes without service. My letter was reasonably respectful but I pointed out to the Chairman that in the old Bell System, there was a spirit of service. It would have been unconscionable in those days to leave customers without service for as much as four days over an important holiday.

The letter to the chairman, of course, was in May and here it was now approaching the middle of July. I had heard nothing from them and I was prepared to write in another letter. Suddenly someone on the Chairman’s staff discovered my letter and set out to make things right. This gentleman not only offered to fix our problem, but he offered to give us a fiber optic cable which would not have anything to do with the overloaded junction box. In truth, I thought that this person was making a promise that he could not keep.

That was, I believe, on a Tuesday and on Thursday, July 9th, two technicians showed up and started to work. They were very polite people and told us that we would be without service for four hours, but in the end we would have a fiber optic cable to service our phone. That is exactly what happened.

After they left, one way or another, one of our phones had no dial tone and could not be used. When that was reported, within hours a technician showed up with a tool that put our phone back in service. The fact that the technician was named Dennis Mooney, a first-generation American-Irishman, could not hurt in this transaction.

This essay is an attempt to set the record straight in that in my most recent set of essays, there was one that was critical of the Verizon Corporation. Perhaps it was the letter to the chairman of Verizon that turned the trick. But I want to set the record straight, that we now have fiber optic service and we are greatly pleased. I have not told my neighbors about my letter to the chairman. I intend to hold that close to my vest to see if the good service lasts for a while. But when push came to shove, it was the letter to the chairman that produced the grand result, for which we are grateful.

It seemed to me that recording the results of the latter day visits by the Verizon Corporation would tend to set this matter straight. I am delighted to alter the record so that perhaps people may think a bit more kindly of the Verizon Corporation than they would have after reading my recent essay on the subject.

July 19, 2009
Essay 397
Kevin’s commentary: Okay, well this is a good piece of news. Of course the earlier essay to which this one refers can be found here. Those who were not paying attention might instead think that the other essay went by the same title, Setting the Record Straight (1.0) which was also very good.

The fact remains that for a longtime employee of AT&T, Pop’s decision of service providers (if there was a decision involved) seems rather traitorous. I realize that there was an act of some sort which transferred his service to Verizon, but I wonder if it would be possible to switch back to AT&T nowadays? Or perhaps that’s too much work for no real reason, especially if he has fiber optic cable now. Either way I’m happy things worked out.


I would like to borrow a small amount of time to tell you about a wonderful woman from Chicago who provided the title to this essay. The story really starts in February, 1953 at 4919 West 69th Street Terrace, located in the thriving metropolis of Prairie Village, Kansas. We did not have zip codes at that time but had they existed, I am sure that they would include the number 9 in my address.

One Sunday morning I answered the doorbell to find my former boss, Harry Livermore, standing on my doorstep. Harry had just recently been promoted to a much bigger job running the AT&T Traffic Office in Chicago. When Harry entered our living room, he got to the point quite quickly. He told me that he wanted me to join him in Chicago. I thought Harry was a great boss and a good man, so I immediately agreed to prepare myself to move to Chicago. The Prairie Village house was put on the market and after six weeks or so it sold for nearly $15,000. That was the price that I had paid for it excluding all of the improvements that I had made in the 18 months that I had lived there.

In Kansas City, we had only two full-time Chief Operators. In Chicago, there were perhaps 25 Chief Operators, which will give you an idea of the size of the promotion that Harry Livermore received. Among the chiefs was Kay McCormick, whom I judged to be a woman perhaps ten or twelve years my senior and who ran one of the offices there, as switchboards were then called, that served the downtown business section. Within a short time, I found out that Kay was a first-generation Irish woman who had a knack for making other people feel important.
In point of fact, however, Kay McCormick was not her proper name. During the early stages of the 1929 Depression, Kay had borrowed the birth certificate of her older sister named Katherine. So AT&T hired this under-age operator under an assumed name and gave her the title of junior operator. She was known henceforth as Kay McCormick, not Helen McCormick her proper name, for the rest of her long career. In succession, Kay became an operator, a junior service assistant, then a full service assistant, and then an assistant Chief Operator. Eventually she was given the title of chief, with the responsibility for running one of the most important traffic hubs in Chicago.

When I visited the operating room, I always made it a point to spend some time with Kay McCormick. Putting it quite simply, I liked her and she had the knack of making people around her feel better. In 1955, I was transferred to a labor relations position in New York City, which limited my tenure in Chicago to the 1953-1955 time span. When business took me to Chicago, as it often did, I made it a point to have dinner with Kay McCormick. She was a delightful dinner companion. Then we lost touch, as Kay proceeded to age 65, at which age AT&T required everyone to retire. After a span of several years when there had been no communication with Kay, one of the former managers gave me her address. By this time, I assume that Kay was well into her eighties. After a time, Kay replied to my year-end greeting.

Essentially what she told me was that her family had died over the years, and that her friends had moved away or had also expired. She had never married and for all the years of her life she was basically alone. In the gentlest fashion available, Kay told me of her unhappiness with the divine creators who had let her stay here so long. My educated guess is that Kay was about my current age. This letter was all done in a spirit of good fun and she found that rebuking Jesus and the Holy Ghost were well within her province as a former Chief Operator. Among the lines in Kay’s letter was the thought that “there is no reason left for me to stay here.” Curiously, those words are repeated in a recent Irish love song called “Steal Away” which only came to my attention this year.

Kay McCormick’s relatives and friends had departed and she was alone, which made it logical for this lovely woman to say, “There’s no reason left for me to stay here.” I have a great understanding for Kay’s viewpoint. The vicissitudes of aging, such as aches and pains, leave me sometimes wondering whether there is “no reason left for me to stay.” On the other hand, I quickly remember that I have a devoted wife, two daughters and two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren. Kay had none of those advantages.

In spite of the ailments and illnesses that advance aging brings, I think I will hold on for a while. When I ride my stationary bicycle in our makeshift gymnasium in the basement, the daily mileages tell their story. It is not a matter of improving but of merely holding my own. But in the final analysis, as my age grows larger, I still keep my medical appointments, of which there are many, and hope for the best. All the while, I will treasure Kay McCormick for her realism in telling me, as she approached somewhere near her nineties, that “there’s no reason left to stay here.”

Kay was a wonderful person, even though she carried an assumed name for all of her adult life. Subsequent letters to Kay drew no answer so I assumed that Kay had died and that she had made peace with the celestial powers who had left her here a bit too long. I simply hope that her passing was peaceful. A wonderful person such as Kay McCormick should have a happy ending to her existence in this vale of tears.

July 16, 2009
Essay 395
Kevin’s commentary: The standard search terms turned up nothing in the way of obituaries, which is either a good thing or a sad one. They also tell me that I should say “Ezra Carr” or “Ezra Edgar Carr” more in these essays (instead of just Pop) so as to boost our search engine results. Oh well.
Kay seemed like a special woman and it is a shame that she wound up alone. That’s a hell of a scary way to go.

As a side note, I’m still fascinated by inflation. Combined with real estate bubbles and the geographic locations in which I’ve opted to live, it is almost nonsensical to think that if I brought my current life savings back to Pop’s time I could almost buy a house with them. Right now they’d barely be 1/100th of the requisite amount.

For more on Livermore:


If any of my Republican friends desired to cast a ballot in the 2012 Presidential election in favor of Mark Sanford, I suspect that they will be sorely disappointed. As we now know, Mark Sanford is the governor of the great state of South Carolina who abandoned his duty to go court his girlfriend who happens to live in Argentina. The fact that Governor Sanford is married with four children did not seem to bother him. Beyond that, the courting occurred on the weekend that we celebrated Father’s Day. What is disturbing is that he abandoned his duties not only as a father and husband but also his duties to the state of South Carolina.

He topped all of this off by saying that he was hiking the Appalachian Trails. To that end, he put hiking boots in his automobile which, I suppose, were to be sighted upon his return as evidence of his outdoor activities.

But what Governor Sanford did not know as he had been exchanging steamy emails with this woman in Argentina was that they had fallen into the hands of a newspaper called The State, which publishes in the capitol city of Columbia, South Carolina. How the emails fell into the hands of the newspaper is undisclosed. But it is obvious that it knew of his plans from beginning to end.

When Governor Sanford appeared back in this country after a five-day absence, a young female reporter was at the Atlanta Airport to meet him. I imagine that Governor Sanford’s heart must have stopped when she identified herself as a reporter for the Columbia newspaper.

Look at it this way. Governors have real jobs. While he was gone, there was a small tornado in a South Carolina town that he should have known about. All sorts of things happen which governors must be able to respond to. But for five days Governor Sanford was AWOL. From what we know now, he was in the arms of his lover in Buenos Aires.

For all intents and purposes, Governor Sanford has abandoned his marriage to a very bright woman. She has asked him not to come home again, so he is wandering alone in the mansion provided for governors in Columbia, South Carolina.

If I were to revert to the language that we used as World War II GIs, I would have to say that Governor Sanford has messed up big time. His wife seems done with him and there is no great welcome for him in Argentina. So he is attempting to carry on as though not much had happened at all. Governor Sanford seems mistaken in the belief that he can abandon his job and his marriage and go to Argentina and come back without consequences prevailing. I have been asked by two or three persons what would cause a man to perform in the manner that Governor Sanford has performed for the past few days. I claim no expertise at all but I will offer in a cleaned-up version a thought about why men do this.

In the American Army, older GIs have said, “An aroused and an erect member of the male genitalia has no conscience whatsoever.” I will tell you that it took some scrubbing to make that quotation available for Sunday School teachers and the pristine readers of Ezra’s essays.

In dictating this essay, my wife informs me on this Monday afternoon of June 29 that there are other female members involved in Governor Sanford’s exploits. All I can tell you is that Governor Sanford is hell bent on becoming the most notorious nitwit of all time.

June 29, 2009
Essay 394

Kevin’s commentary: Turns out there have been plenty of government officials trying to take that title from ol’ Sanford. From Carlos Danger aka Anthony Weiner taking pictures of his junk, to the current mayor of Toronto admitting to regular cocaine usage, to fucking John Edwards being generally horrible to his cancer-stricken wife… politicians oftentimes do a wonderful job of keeping up their reputation as greedy, selfish, power-hungry assholes.