Archive for March 2014


Miriam A. Ferguson was married to the governor of Texas in the early part of the 1920s. Unfortunately, her husband was impeached and lost the governorship. He recommended to his fellow Texans that they should elect his wife. And so it was that Mrs. Ferguson, popularly known as Ma, which represented her first two initials, became governor and served two terms.

In her second term, there was a debate about Al Smith, the governor of New York, running for the presidency. Smith was a Catholic. At about this time, there was a proposal that foreign languages be taught in the public schools of Texas. Ma Ferguson disliked that idea. She is alleged to have said that “if English was good enough for Jesus, why isn’t it good enough for Texans?” If Ma Ferguson had done her homework, she would have discovered that Jesus spoke Aramaic. But Texans are generally unlikely to master Aramaic.

In the end, Ma Ferguson was remembered for her remark about Jesus being an English speaker. Carl Shepherd is a Texan who speaks English fluently. After Carl married my younger daughter, he commented that Suzanne had her mother’s looks and beauty, while also possessing her father’s brain. Carl overlooked the many awards given to me by my barbers attesting to my beauty. Obviously, I have tipped those barbers lavishly for their analysis. But Carl still holds the view that his wife has her mother’s looks and her father’s brain.

My daughter speaks English and French fluently. She learned to speak French before she ever went to Texas which avoided the wrath of Ma Ferguson. She is now a lawyer. In our conversation during the first weekend in February 2007, Suzanne informed me that she had a “mild case of glaucoma” in one of her eyes. That news made me feel as though I had been kicked by a horse in my midsection.

There is a reason for my consternation. The Carr clan has had a history of glaucoma which in some cases has led to blindness. It has affected my father, perhaps my grandfather, my brother, and now myself. I heard the figures on her intra-ocular pressure and I agree that, indeed, she has a mild case of glaucoma. Nonetheless, it has always been my objective for her to avoid glaucoma entirely, in spite of our family history with that malady. The fact that she has a mild case is of no moment to me. In point of fact, she inherited the gene or genes from me. No father can do this to his daughter without feeling a heavy sense of guilt.

Glaucoma is an insidious disease which has always been considered as incurable. It can only be contained, not cured. It is passed from one generation to another through heredity. In my case, my blind father passed the gene(s) on to all five of his children who grew to maturity.

When I thought about the news that Suzanne had given me, I was angry at myself. It makes no difference that the ailment had been in the Carr family for generations. I was distraught that my daughter had inherited the gene and I was the one who gave it to her.

My anger quickly subsided when Suzanne spoke to me in matter of fact terms. There was no hysteria on her part whatsoever. Now that my anger has subsided, we will do our best to deal with the situation that has been presented to us.

In her life, Suzanne has had more than her share of difficulties. During her college years, she spent some time at the University of Toulouse, France. A motorcyclist riding off the road hit her and broke both of her legs. Her first pregnancy ended with the loss of one of her twin sons. Her final pregnancy ended in the birth of a special child whom I had a hand in naming. His name is John Eamon, an Irish name. In short, Suzanne has had her share of troubles without having to wrestle with glaucoma, even if it is only a mild case.

Nine years ago when John Eamon was born, I wrote Suzanne and Carl a letter. It quoted one of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s most memorable maxims which is:

“Wealth lost – something lost;
Honor lost – much is lost;
Courage lost – all is lost.”

The glaucoma issue is another case that will have to be dealt with as courageously as Suzanne has done in the past. It goes without saying that Judy and I will support Suzanne in every case.

Now we return to Carl Shepherd’s observation that he married a woman with her mother’s looks and my brain. As my conversation with Suzanne drew to a close, she told me that if glaucoma went with inheriting my alleged intelligence, she would make that choice every time. For an old grizzled essayist, that is about the best news from Texas that these New Jersey ears could hear. I am humbled and flattered.

In the final analysis, my daughter, her husband Carl, and the three boys speak English fluently, which should please Ma Ferguson’s ghosts. Suzanne’s courage should make Professor Goethe highly pleased. And finally, Suzanne’s observation about inheriting my intellect such as it is, even with glaucoma, makes me wonder what I ever did to deserve this courageous daughter. Pleasing Ma Ferguson, Professor Goethe, and this old filling-station attendant is a trifecta that no one can match.

February 8, 2007
Essay 235


I sent a draft copy of this essay to Suzanne to see if she objected to its being distributed. Here is her reply:

Are you trying to make me cry? What a lovely essay. I don’t think I deserve the praise, but happy for you to send it. One of my first thoughts after getting the diagnosis was about Connor, Kevin and Jack and the fact that in all likelihood I have passed this on to them, as they will determine later in life, and as the senior generation in that configuration, I felt guilty. But then I thought as the junior generation in the configuration with you, how silly it is for you to feel guilty. You had no hand in this, your father had no hand in this, I have no hand in this, and life comes with troubles, inherited and otherwise. I’m sure you bore your father no ill will, and you have been a wonderful example of courage to me and the whole family as you have dealt with first the stroke and now blindness.
Nobody chooses their parents, but I do indeed believe I have come out with a substantial net surplus in my genetic inheritance from my father. Except the thinning hair PISSES ME OFF, OLD MAN. And I may have to take that up with you separately.

Until then, this is a beautiful essay and I thank you for it. I love you very much and am proud to be your daughter.


I replied to Suzanne with a further question. It reads:


Now that all three of us are in tears, can we ask you one more question. I would like to include your touching reply when the essay is distributed. I hope you have no objection. It is a moving tribute and I am very proud of it.

Now on to cataclysmic events of the world. Do you believe that the autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith will disclose that she was an original virgin or did she have several hot patches on that delicate instrument? As my olive oil bottle says, I believe she was an extra colossal super virgin from day one.


Suzanne then replies:

Yes, happy to have you include my reply.

We are spending much precious legal time here in the Seton Legal Dept casting the TV movie that is sure to be inflicted upon the Merican public in coming months.

You can perhaps add to this:

ANS: Christina Aguilera or Selena, that Tijuana music star who died several years back
The son: River Phoenix or Kurt Cobain or other applicable young dead star
Howard Marshall: Cary Grant or Peter Boyle
ANS Mother: Ann Margret

Today’s topic is other purported paternity candidates. So far we have:
Mark David Carr
Jared from the Subway commercials
James McGreevey

The reply from New Jersey:

Dear Suzanne,

It wasn’t me. I didn’t knock her up.

Eternally and fraternally yours,
James McGreevey

Suzanne replies:

Perhaps Ted Haggard, then, as he is now fully certified in this regard.

The point in this colloquy is that no matter how bad the news, Irish people always tend to look for humor in every situation. For 800 years,
the English tried to destroy that Irish propensity for humor. They failed and in the end, wound up being George Bush’s poodle. Irishmen say,

“Ireland was Ireland when England was a pup,
Ireland will still be Ireland when England’s time is up.”

“Woof, Woof,” says the poodle. The Irish say “Up the Republic!”


Kevin’s commentary: Mom pretty much has this commentary covered. The very end of this conversation lost me but that seems fine. In related news, I got checked for glaucoma about a week ago and the ophthalmologist found no sign of it yet. Whee!


Those of you who follow these essays know that in recent years there have been a number of essays devoted to women who have my admiration. Women do not have the best of it in this life. From the beginning, their strength is less than that of men and their earning power is often similarly affected. Yet women deal with life’s adversity with great courage. I take the view that men should be so strong.

In this essay, it is my intention to pay a tribute to my own wife. In doing so I intend to seek the help of Henry Louis Mencken, a writer of prose without parallel in the English language. Additionally, I hope to invoke two thoughts that are Irish in their ancestry.

The Mencken fellow we are talking about here began his journalistic career at age 15 in Baltimore. Before he was felled by a stroke in 1948, Mencken was editor of The Baltimore Sun papers. Mencken found time also to own and edit The American Mercury and to co-edit The Smart Set, two quality intellectual magazines that were widely popular during the 1920s and 30s. Aside from those duties, Mencken wrote a substantial number of books bound in hard cover. My last count of the books in my library runs to something like 85 or 87 volumes, all by Henry Mencken. He even wrote a book on poetry under the pseudonym of Owen Hatteras.

Henry Mencken was a bon vivant who enjoyed trans-Atlantic travel to Europe with emphasis on Germany, the land of his ancestors. I believe it is fair to say that between 1920 and 1950, Mencken was one of the gold standards of American journalistic efforts. For my own part, since 1945, I have enjoyed his books and articles in the magazines immensely.

Mencken was a bachelor until he reached the age of 50. During his unmarried years, Mencken spent a good bit of time joshing his married compatriots. At the age of 50, when he should have been entering his golden years, Mencken fell in love with a woman 20 years his junior who was a writer who also lived in Baltimore. The marriage between Mencken and Sara Haardt, from all appearances, was a very happy one. Their life in Baltimore was marked by parties and stimulating conversation, usually with political and journalistic figures.

In about the third year of their marriage, Sara was diagnosed as tubercular. The treatment for tuberculosis at that time in the mid-1930s consisted only of sending the patient to a location where he or she could breathe fresh mountain air. And so Sara spent a substantial amount of time in sanatoria in Maryland, breathing the fresh air that was prescribed for her. The fact is that at that time there was no cure for tuberculosis and Sara’s health deteriorated with her death following in 1936. Mencken was inconsolable.

It is clear that Mencken had Sara on his mind for years. On the fifth anniversary of her death, Mencken wrote these lines: “I will have her in mind until thought and memory adjourn.” On my best day I could not compose a sentence of such elegance. But if there is no objection from Mencken’s ghost, I would like to borrow that line and that sentiment and apply it to my own wife, Judith Anne Chicka.

For the better part of a quarter of a century, Judy has been at my side when legal and medical troubles intruded. She has shown me courage and strength beyond my imagination. Her devotion to me has been done selflessly. My respect, admiration, and love for her know no bounds.

Judy is of Serbian and Irish parentage. I am sorry to admit that I know nothing about Serbian literature. If I did know something about that subject I would try to find a line that expresses my admiration and dedication to her. On the other side of the ledger, I am more familiar with the works produced by Irish writers. Two thoughts come to mind, but neither has an identifiable author. They are simply traditions in Irish literature.

Ireland is an island nation. Because of that fact, it is also a nation where men go to sea to make their living. And so it is appropriate to quote a thought from Irish writings which holds that my admiration, respect and love for Judy will continue until “the seas run dry.”

And then there is the Irish poem Eileen Aroon, which has been turned into a folk song. In one of its final stanzas, the poem/song proclaims:

“Dear are her charms to me,
Dearer her laughter free,
Dearest her constancy.”

The Irish quotes, in my mind, are as elegant as Mencken’s tribute to Sara. I suspect that it will be a long time before the seas run dry, but I can tell you that over the last quarter-century, Judy’s constancy has inspired me. I hope that this traditional thought from her Ulster ancestors is adequate.

Well there you have my thoughts in tribute to my wife. If Mencken were alive and writing today, I suspect that he might be tempted to borrow the line about constancy from its Irish authors. The tributes in this essay to my wife sum up my perception of our relationship over the past quarter century. I have chosen Mencken’s line and the anonymous Irish author’s lines in an effort to express my own thoughts. Their elegance is much greater than anything I could write. As such, this is another tribute to women-kind who have my undying understanding and respect.

March 24, 2007

Kevin’s commentary: I’ve been hoping to find this essay for quite a while. I always knew it had to exist, but I figured that it would be a while before I arrived at it due to the fact that I publish on this site in reverse chronological order.

That said, I’m very glad to see that Pop took the time to write this down. And even as I type this commentary out, I know that Judy will probably be the one reading these words to Pop tomorrow. Come to think of it, that means I can commandeer her voice for a moment to remind Pop: “Hey Ed, you really are one lucky son of a gun to have found me.”

Judy has been a wonderful grandmother and I’m sure an even better wife; it makes me happy to see essays about her.


After my essay on “Whistles” was completed, it struck me that as a matter of equity, there should be a story about bells. Bells and whistles are in the same family of sounds that enhance our lives. So here are my thoughts about bells.

From my earliest days on the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in Clayton, Missouri, bells have been an important part of my life. In those days, some of the cows wore bells around their necks. I assume this made finding them when they were out in the pasture a little easier. But cowbells are among my first memories.

I suppose that starting to school caused all of us to become acquainted with bells. There were bells in the morning that told tardy students that they were late. There were bells that sounded at the time for lunch and another bell a little later which called the students back to their classes. And there were bells that marked “recess time.” At the end of the day there were bells which permitted the students to go home. So a good part of our lives, mine particularly, have been under the control of bells.

These days I usually sit in the car while Judy attends to business with the pharmacy and the mailing of packages. The pharmacy has narrow aisles and I am concerned in my current state about knocking some of their exhibits to the ground, so I stay in the car which is parked adjacent to the railroad station. The electric trains that operate on the New Jersey Transit commuter system, which succeeded the Lackawanna here in New Jersey, seldom sound their whistles as they travel between stations in the suburbs. Quite to the contrary, the engineers give the bells a vigorous workout as they enter a stop and as they leave. That is fine with me because I like to hear train bells.

Fire engines also have large bells to ring. In many cases where they would like to avoid using their sirens, they ring their bells to get traffic out of the way. The sound carries quite a distance and it presages the appearance of the fire engine, an impressive sight. Again in this case, I suspect that the man who rings the bells takes great pleasure in doing so.

When you go to a restaurant and a chef finishes preparation of your meal, he will often ring a bell so that the waiter may pick up the food. Bells like this are usually the sign of good news. Bon Appetite!

For a time in the 1990s, my wife Judy and I rode bicycles. It was our intent to ride the bikes a hundred miles per week. We usually came pretty close to that objective. For reasons of safety we loaded the bikes with horns and bells. Our intention was to make it obvious to any driver that we were also on the road.

The Hellman’s live four or five houses up the street. They have three children. There was a boy named Jordan, who was about three, and Pamela, his sister, who may have been a year older. The eldest member of the Hellman children was Janey, a six- or seven-year old.

When we rode our bikes by the Hellman children, who were often found playing in their yard near the street, the kids would stop us with the intention of blowing the horn and mostly ringing the bells. As we pulled to a stop at the end of the Hellman driveway, Jordan would fly toward us, arms akimbo, to ring the bells and to honk the horn. Closely following was his sister Pamela, who also demanded her turn at ringing the bells. Janey, the eldest, held out as long as she could with her sophistication. When the sophistication gave out, old Janey came over to ring the bells and sound the horns. On one occasion when it did not appear that we intended to stop at the Hellman playground, Jordan, the three-year old, yelled at us, “Hey, come over here!” Now, who can ignore a demand like that?

In hospitals, for example, there is a loud bell which, when rung, will tell people that an emergency situation exists. When that bell is sounded, people know that it is time to get out and seek safety. The same is true is schools and other buildings.

It also turns out that ships have bells too. My experience on the troop ship at Dakar, Senegal, reminds me that not only did the whistle blow as we entered the harbor but that the bell was rung for perhaps four or five minutes. It was a pleasant sound. But I am not an impartial observer. I like bells.

Bells are also used in church services. For reasons unknown to me, Protestant churches seem to feature, occasionally, bell-ringing choirs. The bell ringers seem to be more female than male and there may be as many as 20 of them holding their bells in an upright position, ready to be rung. There are soprano bells and alto bells and baritone bells and base bells. But when they are rung by a choir of bell ringers, I must say that I can make very little sense out of it. But if it suits the bell ringers and if it spreads the gospel, who am I to criticize it? In the Catholic faith, I gather that bell ringing is also an important function, but I am not schooled in that faith. I have no reliable report on bell ringing in other faiths.

There was a point when the Carr family with its young daughters visited Williamsburg, Virginia, to see the sights there. There was an occasion when my daughter of six or seven years used her savings secretly to buy me a small bell in a Williamsburg store. That little girl is now 50 years of age and for the past 43 or 44 years, that bell has sat on a table near my chair. It is one of my most prized possessions.

As one travels around the world, a person is often struck by the universality of bells. They appear in every culture in the known world. The world seems to recognize that bells are an important part of everyday life.

When wars end, bells in almost every church and city hall ring out the news. It is joyous news and when the people hear it, they must know that it portends good fortune. When Paris was liberated, the bells rang. When the Germans were chased out of Rome, the bells rang. When the end of World War II occurred, I happened to be in this country and I can tell you that bells were rung for long periods of time. It was a joyous occasion.

Near our home, almost in the center of Millburn, New Jersey, there is a Catholic church and a school that has a very large bell outside the entrance. When people are married, I have heard that bell ring out the good news. On other occasions, when a child is to be christened, the bell is also rung. On those sad occasions when a funeral is held in the church, the bell rings a mournful sound.

The bell at Saint Rose of Lima Church is located adjacent to the playground for the children attending that school. It strikes me that the kids attending that school are most fortunate in that they can tell the occasion from the ringing of their bell. It signals the start of a new life just as it signals the end of an older life. Perhaps that is a very important lesson to demonstrate to the children who attend that school.

This was not intended to be a research project on bells. More than anything else, it has to do with my experience over a long lifetime with bells. I am very fond of them. In a recent essay which was devoted largely to the tragedy of events in Iraq, I was moved by John Donne’s work of nearly 450 years ago. The work is known by its first line, which is, “No man is an island.” But the significant part of Mr. Donne’s work comes in the final stanza. It holds, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne was an Anglican preacher, a meditator, a producer of devotions, and a producer of sermons as well as poetry. John Donne was right with his work of more than 400 years ago. I suspect that none of us are going to escape this life without the bell tolling.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about whistles and bells. I had never given them much thought until today, but considering them gave me much pleasure. I hope that you share in that pleasure.

January 24, 2007
Essay 229
Kevin’s commentary: A handy essay to go with “WHISTLES.

I’d honestly forgotten just how dominated school was by the bell system. People would synchronize their watches with the school clocks just to know, to the second, when class would end.


Almost all of my friends know that I am a pushover when it comes to trains. They also know that I am a pushover when it comes to folk songs. When those two are wed together, I am largely a basket case. That is what happens when it comes to whistles on trains, but there is much more, involving whistles used by the human species on this earth.

To get back to my love of trains and folk music, sometimes I go around with a folk song throbbing in my head. That song is “Five Hundred Miles from Home.” The first verse goes like this:

If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles,
A hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles,
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.
-Traditional Folk Song

When I hear a train whistle blow, I cannot help but feel a sense of solitude and longing. When I was aboard troop trains during World War II, those lonesome whistles reminded me that I was a lot longer than 500 miles from my home. My home was not a castle by any stretch of the imagination. During the great American Depression, the St. Louis County National Bank did not foreclose on the Carr home, simply because it had so many other foreclosed properties on its hands. Yet it was home to me and those lonesome whistles on troop trains reminded all of us that it might be a long time before we saw our homes again.

In my mind, there are few more impressive sights than to see a steam engine pass on the rails while sounding its whistle. The ground shakes, sparks and cinders fly in the air, and if the engineer or the fireman were to wave at a little boy, it would fill his heart with joy. Even today, for a man in his eighties, the sound of a train whistle brings back poignant memories. Song writers almost always refer to train whistles as “lonesome.” I am unable to argue with that nomenclature. Train whistles which operate on steam are indeed lonesome and while they do not carry for a hundred miles as the song says, they travel a great distance. It always seemed to me that those train whistles traveled further at night than they did during the daylight hours. But no matter how you cut it, the train whistle is a compelling sound that calls forth memories of lonesomeness and being away from home.

My father worked for the Illinois Central Railroad for a time around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. We had a windup Victrola in our living room and one way or another before I was born, my father bought phonograph records of famous train wrecks. Today I have in my possession such songs as “The Wreck of the Old 98,” “The Wreck of the Old 37,” and “The Wreck of the Shenandoah Express.” A well-known singer at the time, Vernon Dalhart, sang those songs and in nearly every one of those cases, the engineer could see doom ahead. He could see a split rail or he could see another engine on the same track heading toward him. On more than half of those records, the lyricist says that “his whistle broke into a scream,” and he was found in the wreckage “with his hand on the throttle and was scalded to death by the steam.” That is pretty macabre stuff, but men who drove steam engines took their lives in their hands every day. And when they had a wreck, Mr. Dalhart would enjoy a comfortable income from the phonograph record that he would make of that event.

Well, so much for whistles on trains for the time being. Boats have whistles too. On the troop ship that took us from Charleston, South Carolina to Dakar, Senegal there was a steam whistle that could be heard for miles around. When we pulled into the port at Dakar, the captain of the troop ship, which was the Santa Maria, named after one of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus, sounded his whistle repeatedly. The net effect was that every spy in Dakar came running to the port to watch us disembark and to try to question us as to where we had come from. We were told that where we had departed from was a military secret. I must have had five or six potential spies querying me about where we had come from in French, broken English, and fluent Arabic. I told them all that I didn’t know where we had come from. That is not a responsive answer, but it got the job done.

Whistles on boats and trains are not the only devices of that sort in existence. Doorkeepers at hotels and fancy apartment buildings also have a whistle which they blow to summon cabs. Those doormen are usually dressed in admirals’ uniforms and make a great production out of summoning the cab, opening the door, and reaching for a tip. It is a ballet-like performance.

Speaking of ballet performances, there are several towns that have policemen who work at intersections and seem to never remove the whistle from their mouths. In the town we live in now, Millburn, New Jersey, there was a policeman who directed traffic at Main Street and Millburn Avenue who was a thorough joy to watch. When he blew his whistle and told someone to make a left turn, he brought his arm up all the way from his knees and pointed at the driver. Literally, there were people who stood on street corners just to watch the performance of this cop. When he retired, he made a living for a while directing traffic at weddings and bar mitzvahs. The sponsors of those events made it clear that the whistle-blowing cop would be on hand, which would ensure a greater attendance at the function. I must say that watching this particular policeman pleased me much greater than any ballet performance I have ever seen.

Now we go back to whistles that are blown by steam. As recently as the 1950s, factories had water towers upon which were mounted whistles usually run by steam. The whistle blew at eight o’clock in the morning and again at twelve noon to mark the starting time and the lunch time. It blew again at 12:30 or thereabouts to summon the men back to work. At the close of the day the whistle blew to sound “quitting time.” For a period in the late 1920s, my father worked at a factory that manufactured bricks to line kilns. If the wind was blowing in the right direction, I could hear the quitting time whistle blow and I would know that after a time my father would make an appearance at our house. If three or four industrial organizations were gathered close together, there was no synchronization of their whistles. One factory might sound its whistle at 7:59 AM while the other would sound its whistle at 8:03 AM. The men who blew those whistles didn’t use a Swiss watch maker. They looked at their pocket watches – no wrist watches need apply – and blew their whistle when their watch said it was time to go to work or time to quit. Where there were three or four or five industrial organizations in close proximity, there was a cacophony of sounds at eight o’clock in the morning and four thirty or five o’clock in the evening as each signaled the start of the day as well as the time to go home. Those were welcome noises which are gone now. I regret that they are no longer part of the American manufacturing scene.

As many of you know, I am a native of St. Louis. When I lived there,St. Louis was widely known as a shoe manufacturing capitol and for its beer bottling industry. Also there were the St. Louis Browns, an American League baseball team which had very little success. As Saint Louisians would say, “First in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League.” The Budweiser plant still operates in St. Louis so I suppose that it is still among the leading producers of beer. The shoe business is long gone as are the St. Louis Browns who departed in 1953 to become the Baltimore Orioles. I have never forgiven Phil Ball for selling that team to the interlopers from Chesapeake Bay.

For two years in the late 1940s, I lived at 2916A Wyoming Avenue in South St. Louis. The “A” in that address indicates that we lived upstairs in a two-family flat. Within walking distance of our flat, there was the plant of the Alpen Brau Brewery. A few blocks away there was the home of the Griesedeick Brothers Brewery. A block or two down the street was the home of Falstaff Breweries, known as the “King of Beers.” The smell of yeast was in the air at all times and I must say it was a pleasant odor. Each one of those three breweries, which accounted for St. Louis being “first in booze,” kept time with their whistles that were mounted on their water towers. As far as I know, those whistles were operated by steam. How they got the steam up to the level of the whistles is something I do not now know anything about. Simply take it from me that they were operated by steam. Once again, there was no such thing as setting your watch by the whistle at one brewery as distinguished from the other two. Perhaps the fellow who blew the whistles had had a beer or two to drink before he remembered that he needed to pull the whistle cord to get the men started or to tell them that it was quitting time. In any case, on days when I was at home it was a pleasure to hear the whistles sound around 5 PM telling the men it was “quitting time” and time for a beer or two. As I look back upon my time in South St. Louis, those whistles and the yeast at the brewery plants provide me with an advanced stage of nostalgia. Those were pretty good times.

Aside from the whistles that come from mechanical devices on trains, ships, and factory water towers, there are whistles that can be made without an instrument hanging from your mouth. As hard as I would try, I never was able to put my two little fingers in my mouth and sound a shrill whistle which could be heard a block or two away. I tried on several occasions but it was a complete disaster. On the other hand, because I have a space between my two front teeth, I can whistle softly. On one occasion, at a conference in Kansas City, during a break, I was standing looking out the window and absent-mindedly I whistled a tune called “Tenderly.” That song was new at the time and I thought it was a fairly riveting piece of music. A woman from Chicago walked up behind me, put one of her hands on my shoulder, and asked me if I could whistle that song again. She was Rosalie Larson. I obliged that request but let matters rest right where they were. But I didn’t whistle much after that.

The post office in our town is located directly across the street from the railroad station. Ordinarily, trains using that commuter passenger line merely ring their bells as they enter and leave the station. Yesterday, I was startled to hear one of the electric engines let out an enormous roar with his whistle. It startled me. When I began to think about that particular whistle, it occurred to me that trains in this country have whistles in the base baritone range. In Europe, the trains have whistles that utter sounds in the tenor, alto, and soprano ranges. European and Japanese trains operate on narrow gauge railways, but I doubt that this accounts for the difference in the sound. But it makes no difference whether it is an American train or a foreign train, when the whistle blows, there is a sense of lonesomeness which I suppose has always been the case.

Well this is my story on a January afternoon about whistles. I have made no attempt whatsoever to research this project and turn it into a learned treatise. I have always liked whistles as well as I have liked trains as well as I have liked folk music. And so when I hear someone sing, “A hundred miles, a hundred miles, I can hear that whistle blow a hundred miles,” maybe it isn’t a hundred miles but who is to quibble. Whistles are pleasant and they come with a full-blown case of nostalgia. Now who can do anything better than that?

January 22, 2007
Essay 228
Kevin’s commentary: Probably my most common whistle-based interaction these days has to do with a train crossing in San Mateo. This particular train always seems to sound its full whistle/horn combo precisely when the engine has positioned itself right next to me.

You can read more on trains and wrecks here.


This is an essay about usages of the English language as employed by soldiers of Great Britain and secondly by soldiers of the United States. Kindly stay with me, rather than turning me aside on the ground that the language used in this essay is scatological and perhaps slightly lewd. Actually, it is nothing of the sort.

I am continually amazed by my memories of service in World War II where I spent a good bit of time flying in support of the British Eighth Army. This took place in Italy. My consternation comes from the fact that after 65 years, words and phrases from that period appear in my vocabulary frequently. Let me give you an example.

In Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, an adjacent town, there is a store that sells European products, particularly from France. All of the items except the bread are frozen. Miss Chicka and I have become devotees of the store called the “White Toque.” The other day after we had patronized the store, the engine of the car was not even started until both of us tore into a crusty baguette. Reverting to my speech patterns of 65 years ago or so, and reflecting the fact that I had served so much time with the Brits, I said that when it comes to baguettes, “The French have that recipe knocked up.”

I am fully aware that in American parlance, being “knocked up” is often the result of sexual relations gone awry. In American English, getting “knocked up” does not often make an appearance in polite conversations.

Ahh, but in the Royal Air Force and the British Eighth Army, being “knocked up” is a superlative condition. There is nothing scatological about it when used in the English version of the language. If an RAF pilot sends machine gun bullets into an enemy truck and it explodes, the pilot will say, “I had that one knocked up all the way.” An English soldier might say to his wife — if he is ever home — that the mutton meal I just enjoyed was completely “knocked up.” (Author’s note: I doubt that any English mutton dinner is worth eating. The soldier was complimenting his wife for other reasons, perhaps with romance in mind.) When Winston Churchill spoke, the members of the RAF or the British Eighth Army, might say, “Old Winnie had that speech knocked up from the start.” So you see, we assign different values to the same English phrase. Being an American, I have to ration my use of the colorful phrase of “knocked up.” But remember in the usage that I became accustomed to many years ago, being “knocked up” is greatly to be admired.

Now we come to the second usage in the English language which is completely American. During my time in World War II, I was pleased to hear expressions that came from obscure locations. A soldier from Tennessee might say that he was “Tight as a June bug” when he had a bit too much to drink. A soldier from the New York area might say, “What goes around, comes around.” There were dozens of such expressions involving the American usage of the English language.

For reasons unknown to me, the word “piss” often appeared in soldier’s expressions. You may recall a story I told in a previous essay involving a Russian immigrant who had gained American citizenship and was serving in U. S. forces. Soldiers never tell each other that they are good-looking, but rather, how ugly they are. When this former Russian native was told how ugly he was, he said, “If you don’t like my face, piss on it.”

As time has gone on, the expressions “pissed off” or being “pissed” appear regularly in speech patterns. Even on cable news, Chris Matthews of MSNBC often refers to “being pissed off” or “being pissed.” So pissed is not as scatological as it used to be.

The case I have in mind now involves the Commander in Chief, the great decider who received the Iraq Study Group report. He thanked the authors, co-chairmen Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton. While he thanked them, he obviously had no intention of putting their recommendations to use. He met with them at 7 A.M. one morning, got their report, ushered them out of his offices and went on with his business. But in the final analysis, as any American GI would tell you, it was Bush’s intent to tell the Iraq Study Group to “go piss up a rope.”

For the past 65 years I have been aware of the expression, “go piss up a rope.” I have spent very little time trying to understand it but if I had devoted much time to it, I am certain that its meaning would still elude me. The fact is that being told to “go piss up a rope” simply means that I intend to ignore you or I intend to disregard anything you have said to me. And that is precisely what the great decider elected to do with the Iraq Study Group Report.

Well, there you have two usages of the English language as propounded by the men of the Royal Air Force and of the British Eighth Army on one hand, and of the American GIs on the other. Neither expression advances the cause of the state of the language very much, but they must have made a significant impression upon me because I have remembered them for so long. I pass these two expressions along in the hope that some of you may shed some light on their meaning. I have no great hope that their meaning will become any clearer within my lifetime, but at least the expressions are there for linguistic scholars like Harry Livermore to wrestle with. But there is one unarguable fact. That is, when it comes to crusty French baguettes, the French have that recipe completely knocked up. Even Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth or Camilla Parker Bowles would have no argument with that soldierly conclusion.

E. E. Carr
January 2, 2007
Essay 227

Authors note: The Harry Livermore referred to in this essay is an honor’s graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa. During his ten years at Grinnell, Mr. Livermore acquired 13.5 degrees. Some of those degrees are Centigrade and others are Fahrenheit. But scholar Livermore has made no effort to explain the forgoing expressions. I hope that he does so during my lifetime.
Kevin’s commentary: What if someone was an expert at getting someone pregnant? Would he have getting knocked up knocked up? What if you were the best at peeing up ropes?


In my life, which has gone on much longer than I ever expected it to, I thought that I had experienced the full range of emotions that occur to human beings. There have been moments of happiness and moments of sorrow. There have been moments that are neither happy nor sorrowful. But it took a six-year-old boy to stop me in my tracks. That young fellow’s name is Fabian, whose parents originally came from Costa Rica.

You may recall a recent essay from this desk entitled “Thanksgiving 2006”. In that essay, I recounted the joy that granting a loan to Fabian’s parents had given me. Granting that loan from Judy and me had provided me with perhaps the happiest Thanksgiving within my memory. It was simply an effort on our part to help these hard working Costa Ricans over a period of hard times. And it is already paying dividends.

Here is how it has worked out. Fabian’s grandfather is 96 years old and resides in Costa Rica. This fall arrangements were made to bring Fabian’s grandfather to New Jersey so that he could see his grandchildren, possibly for the last time. Fabian and his siblings, Esteban and Melissa, seem to enjoy having their grandfather around.

Today, Tuesday January 2, 2007, Jenny, the mother of the boys, made her regular appearance to clean our house. Before she was finished, Jenny related an story involving her son Fabian that has me stopped in my tracks. Fabian, the six-year-old, is faithful about saying his evening prayers. In those prayers, Fabian remembers his grandfather in Costa Rica. He refers to him as his “Grandpa”. But that is not the end of it. Old Fabian goes on to pray not only for his grandpa in Costa Rica but for his, “Grandpa in America so that he can see again”.

Fabian and his brother, Esteban, have visited this house on three occasions and are aware of my blindness. When they arrive and when they leave, both boys come around to shake hands with me. I think they are gentlemen in the making.

When Fabian prays for his “Grandpa in America so that he can see again”, this ancient geezer has trouble holding back the tears. Nobody told Fabian to pray for me and my eyesight; Fabian did that voluntarily.

And so you see the loan that we made to Fabian’s parents is paying dividends already. I had not planned on being stumped by a six-year-old, but stumped I am. Whatever you think about the power of prayer, Fabian got to me. There is no way that I can recall Fabian’s prayers without choking up. And so after 84 years, when I thought I had experienced every emotion that applies to human beings, old Fabian brought me a new one. When a little six-year-old voluntarily prays for me to regain my eyesight, it gives me a reason to stick around for a while longer. I am more than proud to be Fabian’s “Grandpa in America”. How can anybody top that?

E. E. Carr
January 2, 2007
Essay 226?

Author’s note: Learned medical authorities have long since concluded that blindness will be my constant companion. My surrogate grandson Fabian is working to reverse that prognosis. I suggest that L. Jay Katz, M.D., Chief of Glaucoma Services at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and Eric Gurwin, M.D., who holds a lofty title at Summit Medical Group, should keep a close eye on Fabian’s work.

Kevin’s commentary: I met Fabian’s mother the last time I was visiting Pop. She was a kind woman who was very good at making sure Pop kept himself cleanshaven. It was of course very important for him to maintain these experiences.


According to the Bible, Methuselah was a gentleman who lived 969 years.
I know this for a fact because it is mentioned on five separate occasions in Genesis 5, in First Chronicles, and in Luke, Chapter 3 Verse 37. So there is no debate about Methuselah’s age. In 1935, George Gershwin wrote an opera called Porgy and Bess. In that opera there is an aria called “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Methuselah is mentioned in this aria where the verse is cited as:

Methus’lah lived 900 years,
Methus’lah lived 900 years,
But who calls dat livin’
When no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s 900 years.

So you see, it is quite clear that the Bible, George Gershwin and the two lyricists, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward, fully confirm my contention that Methuselah was real and once walked among us all.

On December 22, I had my semi-annual visit with Andrew Beamer, my cardiologist. I did not have the courage to bring up Methuselah, but I did ask him, in view of the favorable result of his examination, how long I might be expected to last, given that I would like to outlive the depression that is now occurring in financial circles. Dr. Beamer seemed to support the idea that perhaps I could outlive the depression but I know that in all likelihood, my life span will not approach that of Methuselah. However, it is quite clear that I am in the late innings of my life. And so I wish to take this occasion to remind my descendants about how they may commemorate my passing. Who knows when the passing will take place if Dr. Beamer refuses to speculate on it? But if Methuselah moved on at 969 years, I am reasonably certain that at some point I will move on as well. Nobody knows the cause of Methuselah’s death because the Bible, nor George and Ira Gershwin nor DuBose Hayward have cited it.

Twelve years ago my wife and I visited Paul Ippolito, the local undertaker, and made arrangements with him for our prepaid funeral expenses. At the appropriate time, Ippolito will see to it that a cremation is carried out and that the residue will be finely ground into cremains. That is simply a wedding of the words cremation and remains and will probably not be found in most standard dictionaries. But once the finely-ground cremains are in the hands of my descendants, I have a wish for their disposal.

My parents were the descendants of Irish immigrants, most likely from County Donegal. During her lifetime, Lillie, my mother, stoutly asserted her Irishness. She had never been to Ireland and when, later in her life, I could afford to support such a trip, she was too frail to undertake that journey. My parents knew only that their ancestors had come from Ireland and my guess is that they were probably farmers. Those early ancestors did not have the ability to read and to write, so wound up when they came to this country as sharecroppers or tenant farmers. But Lillie and her sisters were always quick to flail anything of the British and to cheer anything Irish.

When I was a small child, my Aunt Nora used to question me, asking, “Boy, what would you be if you were not Irish?” I soon learned that the answer to that question was, “I would be ashamed.” During World War II when Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, came to this country, my mother read about it in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. One way or another, she assumed that the Prime Minister must be a big shot in the English church. Her question was, “What gives that Englishman any reason to come here to lecture us about our religion?” As you can see, Lillie and Nora and their sisters gave the English no quarter at all.

Given this set of circumstances, I hope that my passing will provide an opportunity to complete the circle. I believe the ghosts of my parents and their ancestors would be pleased to know that among my final wishes was the desire to return to the place that they had left around the year 1850. They did not leave Ireland voluntarily but rather they were forced to leave because of the famine that overtook Ireland during that period of time. I have two daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren, to whom this message is addressed. These, then, are my descendants. There will come a time when the hand wringing will be completed and those descendants are ready to move on. At some point, I would like for one or more or all of those descendants to consider a return trip to County Donegal, the place where it all started. I realize that this is all symbolism but I hold the unshakable view that a return trip to Donegal would be appreciated by the ghosts of my ancestors.

Specifically, it is my hope that a handful or a small cellophane bag, which would hold a few of the cremains, would accompany my descendants on their trip to Ireland. The international airport in Ireland is located at Shannon, on the Atlantic shore. Once the plane has landed there, I would hope that they would transfer to a Ryanair flight for the trip north to Donegal. Ireland is a small country so the trip would take only half an hour or maybe an hour at most. Once in the city of Donegal, they should locate a good hotel, which the county administrators assure me exist in some profusion.

And then there are two things that I would like to have happen. I am assuming that a car would be rented which would convey my descendants around County Donegal until a likely farm could be found. Scattering my cremains on such a farm would be pleasing, I suspect, to the ghosts of my father, my mother and their parents.

Secondly, it is my hope that my descendants who make this trip would find the last likely spot in Donegal from which our ancestors would have left. Perhaps it would be a train or even a boat. As in the case of the farmland, it would be appreciated if a few of my cremains would be deposited on the spot where our ancestors last left their footprints on Donegal soil.

After this work is done, I hope that my descendants will then turn eastward to a town called Howth, located north of Dublin on the Irish Sea. There they will find accommodations provided by the King Sitric Hotel and by its marvelous restaurant. I have enjoyed many glorious meals in that restaurant, so a handful of cremains might be saved to be used somewhere in the town of Howth.

Once the meals have been consumed, it is hoped that there would be a walk up the hill to the Abbey Tavern, where Irish folk music is played to the delight of its visitors. So you see that I have given my descendants light work in spreading cremains on a farm, on the last spot that our ancestors touched, and on the grounds of the King Sitric Hotel.

The remaining cremains should be spread on the waters of the Hudson River at Hoboken. Primarily because I used that ferry landing for perhaps thousands of occasions on my way to and from my place of employment. The remaining cremains can be deposited on the muddy Mississippi River near the site of the MacArthur Bridge in St. Louis, which I crossed on dozens of occasions – successfully.

I am quite aware that the trip to Ireland is an exercise in symbolism. But symbols are a matter of hope and the makers of memories. Beyond that, it should give pleasure to our ancestors to know that the circle has finally been completed after 158 plus years. Anything that achieves all of these objectives can’t be all bad.

Now, as for Methuselah, who was the inspiration for this essay, there is this much to say. He was not an Irish citizen nor an emigrant from that country. But I suspect that his ghost would also be pleased to know that my descendants could return to Donegal in a symbolic trip and enjoy the magnificent meals provided by the King Sitric Restaurant and the fine dining in Donegal. Any trip, symbolic or otherwise, that accomplishes all of these objectives has to be viewed as meritorious in every possible respect. My only regret is that I will not be around to enjoy the trip and the dining. But I guess that in this case you have to play the hand that you have been dealt. It gives me adequate pleasure to know that my descendants will have specific directions and that they will not be stuck with a small barrelful of cremains.

December 26, 2008
Essay 356
Kevin’s commentary: Hell of a list. I wonder if any other stops would be considered now, five years later. Presumably at least some ashes should be left or scattered on Long Hill Drive, yes? Seems like that might be a humble start to an incredible trip that I incidentally do not want to take quite yet. Maybe in another 800-something years.


In ancient times when one king died or was deposed and there was a period before the new king was crowned, it was called an interregnum. Scholars have told me that this term comes from Latin sources. As I attempt to compose this modest essay today on November 25, the American public wants the interregnum to hurry to an end so that the people who drove us into this monumental ditch will be gone and a new administration with fresh faces will take its place.

As bad as things are at the moment, the burden of this essay is to say that it could be worse. To those whose life savings have gone up in smoke with the stock market, I suppose that there will be a challenge to my thought that maybe things could be worse. But as a survivor of the first Depression of 1929, I try to be philosophical about my lost fortune and will try to tell you that it is possible that things could be worse.

Barack Obama was elected on November 4, 2008. He will have to wait 77 days until he is sworn in on January 20, 2009. Contrast that with the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected early in November and was not sworn into office until March 4, 1933. In that case, there were 116 days that composed the interregnum. During that time, Herbert Hoover, intent upon enforcing the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, pursued moonlighters with fervor until he formally gave up the office. In the case at hand today, Mr. Bush seems anxious to get out of town and before he leaves, he wishes to impress upon all of us that government oversight of the markets and financial dealings is not the answer to all our problems. But it was in fact the absence of government oversight during the past administration that contributed heavily to the problem we find ourselves in at this moment. But soon Bush and his cronies will depart the scene, much later than I would have liked, and will in time be confined to the likes of Herbert Hoover and Millard Fillmore.

So at the outset we are confronted by an interregnum of 77 days instead of 116 days, which will tell you that things could have been worse. On that same theme, can you imagine what this crisis would have amounted to if it had occurred perhaps a year or more ago, when George Bush was in full flower? The Bush team is filled with ideologues who have no concept of how the markets operate. The ideologues are given to simplistic solutions, such as “stay the course” in the Iraq war which has resulted in further casualties.

The ideologues are obsessed with the idea of preventing same-sex marriages as well as the morning after pill. Their obsession with sex and religion does nothing to fix our economic problems. Contrast that with the team that Barack Obama has assembled which is short on ideologues but long on brains and logic. If we are going to fix this problem in our economy, it will come about through brain power, not through obsessions with sex and religion.

So there is one more reason that we should be thankful that the crisis is no worse than it is at the moment. I know that this doesn’t make things all right, but at least it goes to my point that things could have been somewhat worse.

Again as a philosopher, I tell myself that I had no job to lose as those in the financial community did in recent weeks and months. The unemployment rate among white collar workers must be staggering. I cannot help but try to think about where those men and women will turn to find new employment, realizing that thousands of their compatriots are looking for work as well. So I had no job to lose, which I suppose is a benefit in and of itself.

When jobs are lost, generally speaking, health care goes with them. If I had no job to lose, in my case health care is still reasonably well taken care of by Medicare insurance. I know that every increase in Social Security benefits is gobbled up by increases in Medicare premiums but be that as it may, it could have been somewhat worse had I lost medical care and my job as well.

Further on the theme of “things could be worse” is the thought that not having a job to lose means that my mortgage on this house is taken care of. As a matter of fact, I have lived in this house for forty years and the mortgage was retired a good many years ago. So I am not fearful that my loss of a job will lead to foreclosure on this house. That in and of itself is a large relief.

Finally, we come to the thought about educating children, particularly in college. As life has worked out for me, my children are beyond the age of fifty and both have been college educated. So that thought no longer troubles me, which makes it clear that, at least in my case, things could have been worse.

Well, there are four or five thoughts which pursue the burden of this essay, that things could have been worse. I fully realize that offering a philosophical thought that things could be worse does not restore your account at the broker’s office. The same is true in my case as well. But as a survivor of the first Depression, it is the duty of every ancient essayist to point out that there may be other considerations that might make one feel a bit better. But having said that, I am chewing my fingernails down to the white knuckles on my fingers in the hope that Treasury Secretary Paulson will soon get out of town, perhaps, in my hope, immediately. This morning Paulson was attempting to explain how his new stimulus package would work. This man is terribly confused and when he started talking the market was up 130 some points. Shortly after his message was delivered, the market was in minus territory by 60 points. How this man ever became the chairman of Goldman Sachs is a mystery to me, just as it is a mystery why George Bush picked him to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Perhaps the explanation for the Bush action was that he was an old crony who is a rich man. But when Paulson sets out to explain a situation to the financial community and to observers such as myself, his thoughts are thoroughly mangled.

But look at it this way. If we had 116 days to deal with Paulson and Bush during the interregnum, we would still have five days left in November, 31 days in December, 31 days in January, 28 days in February, and four days in March. Boys and girls, as bad as the news is, I am here to tell you that things could have been worse. In the parliamentary system of government, when an election takes place, the newly elected appointee assumes office the following day. I intend to devote whatever is left of my great fortune to promoting the parliamentary means of government as an effort to save the citizens of this great country from the interregnums that have taken place in recent years.

November 25, 2008
Essay 349
Kevin’s commentary: It’s always nice to learn new words. Interregnum is one that I was missing. Now, it’s worth noting that this essay is nominally about how things could be worse, but much of it is spent covering how things could be worse for Pop specifically. I remember having similar thoughts back in 2008, mainly along the lines of “gee, I’m glad I don’t have to look for a job for four years.”

Still, though, even if Pop and I skirted by largely unscathed, 2008 was ultimately not comparable to a 30’s-era depression for many people at all. It was bad, of course, but nowhere near that bad. Unless you were making unfortunate investment decisions, anyway.


This essay on sounds has had a delay in reaching the delivery room. It has remained in the womb of my alleged brain because of a fear that some readers might interpret it as a cry for pity. My thoughts on my non-sightedness were distributed in an essay called “Sing No Sad Songs for This Old Geezer.” That essay was circulated more than thirty months ago. The essay that you are holding in your hand is not a cry for pity in any sense. It is in keeping with the desire on my part that no one should ever sing any sad songs for what glaucoma has done to my eyesight.

It is impossible to write an essay about sounds without referring to the immutable fact that sounds now play an important part in substituting for sightedness. I hope this essay will be an exercise in clinical facts, rather than expressing a desire for sympathy or pity. Speaking of clinical facts, this essay was delivered by a C-section performed by Dr. Ezra, the famed surgeon of Carl Schroth’s Mobile Gas Filling Station in Clayton, Missouri. This may be the first C-section ever performed on one’s own self. So if you are inclined to do so, please read this essay and try to see if some of the thoughts expressed herein match your own.

Last week in the early morning hours, I felt a need to visit la or le latrine. I sleep on a brass bed with large posts on each of the four corners. I took my white cane, which is always at my side, and I tapped it against one of the four posts. The brass bed returned a metallic sound. Following the foot of the bed, I made my way to the bathroom, where the white cane was tapped repeatedly on the tiles of the bathroom floor. A dull sound emanated therefrom. So here in the early morning hours I had experienced two sounds. At that point, I located my talking clock, which told me that the time was 4:01 AM, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. The window was open and I could hear a dog barking. So this makes a total of four sounds in this short nocturnal visit to the bathroom. Dogs do not care about such goofiness’s as Daylight Savings Time, but in any case in this short trip, I had encountered four different sounds. It was at this point that I decided there would be some merit in composing an essay having to do with sounds.

Natural law has provided that dogs are allowed to bark, to whine, and to whimper. They may also lick your hand or bite your leg. On the other hand, Shannon, our wonderful cat of 14 years, rarely had anything to say except when he was stepped on. From time to time, Shannon would purr, but that was about it. Those of us who know a little bit about farming know that cows moo, horses neigh, mules and donkeys say “hee haw,” and hamsters tend to squeak. This is all in accordance with natural law. Professor Doctor James Reese, who has a degree in animal husbandry from the Moody Bible Institute, plans to write a book interpreting these sounds. The proposed book is listed in the New York Times as a mystery.

Leaving the animals with four feet, we find that natural law also provides that two-footed animals enjoy the right to make sounds. The bird feeder in our back yard is swarmed by all kinds of birds who twitter and tweet.
The male cardinal, who is, in my estimation the most beautiful of birds, puts out a grunt as he approaches the bird feeder to enjoy an evening meal at dusk. The woodpecker has his own song, in addition to the sound of peck, peck, pecking. It has always been my great pleasure to hear the songs of the mocking bird. I am aware that mocking birds have a limited repertoire, and there is redundancy in the songs that they sing. Nonetheless, I take great pleasure in their singing from a telephone wire or from the trees.

Speaking of singing, a sound that pleases me endlessly, there is also the sound of the human voice. Opera tenors and sopranos try to hit high Cs; basses try to hit low Cs, and crooners such as the late Bing Crosby and Perry Como croon their musical messages. The juvenile screeching that attempts to pass as rock and roll music is not singing at all. It is an abomination and should be banned from the airwaves and from CDs. If I were asked to name the musical sounds of the human voice that please me most, I would probably choose the magnificent music of Umberto Giordano, who wrote “André Chénier” and a second opera called “Fedora.” The themes and melodies in both those operas are nothing short of gorgeous, which is a term that I am using for the first time in 343 essays.

For reasons unknown to me, I believe that tenors in the opera world are not very tall. To increase their height and to make them appear more manly, some of them wear shoes with two or three inches in the heel. Those build-ups are made of leather, and persons who use leather in the heels of their shoes often make a clicking sound when they walk. Sopranos find this clicking sound entirely seductive, or so I am told.

Our industrial base in this country, including the shoe industry, barely exists now. Shoe making has been farmed out to other nations with low wages. As a consequence, leather heels no longer offer sounds of their own, because they are now made of a composite substance sort of like rubber. Cobblers who used to repair shoes and sing with mouthfuls of tacks may be found only in the unemployment lines. As a younger man, I was a devotee of leather heels and from time to time, I would have taps attached to those heels not to attract attention but rather to absorb some of the wear and tear on the heels themselves. But those days are gone and now I wear shoes from Portugal, Korea, China, and Siam.

Before leaving the sounds of heels, I have an admission to make. When women wear what I believe are called Cuban heels with leather as the main component, and walk on surfaces inside, such as hallways, the tap tap tap of those heels proves very seductive to me. Unhappily and unfortunately, I don’t hear the sound of leather heels much these days. But I am glad that my views on their seductiveness have been made public, which tends to put my soul and gall bladder to rest with great peace.

In addition to operas, there are beautiful sounds that are made by our orchestras, symphonies, and philharmonics as well as by choirs and folk singers. The sounds that come from these sources can keep me entranced for hours and are captivating.

Turning from the world of music, there is a word or two to be said about the construction industry. On this street, there is a lovely house being torn down to make way for a much bigger and lovelier house in its place. The men who scoop up the bricks use a front loader, which has a big broad shovel in the front. From time to time, the driver of the front loader drops the shovel on the street, which causes a sound which is not musical but is impressive. The trucks that trundle up and down the street to haul the debris away have sounds of their own that tell you that they are not to be trifled with.

Next door there is a remodeling project being undertaken where circular saws as well as hand saws are being used. The circular saw has a whine of its own and one can tell when the workers are using hand saws. I am unable to tell you whether the hand saws are cross-cut or whether they are rip saws. But the sound of men sawing wood is pleasant. The whine of the circular saw also tends to remind me of dentists who use the newer high-speed drills. They whine much like the circular saw but they get the job done promptly, whereas the older drills have no whine to them at all but their burring sounds carry into the waiting room and cause apprehension there.

The hammers on the remodeling project have a sound of their own. When the claw hammers hit their target, there is a sharp retort. When the sledge hammers are swung, there is a firm retort. When ball pean hammers are used, a ping emanates.

I have no hope whatsoever of recording all of the sounds that come to mind. But before we go further, there is the cacophony of sounds that come from children playing at recess or at lunch hours. The Saint Rose of Lima School and Church has a playground that abuts the sidewalk which is only a few feet from one of the main streets in our town. When the children play there, they make all kinds of sounds, most of them of a joyous nature. They are having a brief respite from their scholarly duties and are sent by their teachers to the playground to “let off steam”. It has always been my pleasure to go by that corner when the children are playing because it makes me feel inspired.

Three or four blocks from the place where the children of Saint Rose of Lima play, there is a railroad track. Across from the Short Hills Train Station are the post office and the pharmacy. On many occasions when there is a need to go to the post office or the pharmacy, my wife tends to those duties while I sit in the car with the window down. The window is down to better hear the sounds of trains pulling into and leaving the station. Sometimes they ring bells and from time to time they blow their whistles. When a work train passes by, it often uses a whistle whose sounds are in the lower registers of the scale. The sound of the work train whistle is loud and insistent, and tells you that it is important to get off the tracks promptly.

I am quite certain that I have only scratched the surface of the sounds that exist in this world. There must be trillions of them every minute of the day. I cannot hope to list them all. There are sounds of pleasure and sounds of agony. There are sounds of satisfaction just as there are sounds of dissatisfaction. But in the end, I am pleased that the world of sounds exists. The sounds that I hear are basically pleasurable.

We made the decision to buy the four post brass bed years before the scourge of glaucoma took its final bite. Perhaps that was prescient, but I am here to tell you that the sound of the brass bed is now music to my ears. And as for the dog who inspired this essay on sounds to be written, if he can be located, I will give him a copy of this monumental work called “Sounds” for his own pleasure. In the future it is to be hoped that instead of barking at 4:00 AM, he will read this essay and know that the early morning hours are to be reserved for dreams of tranquility.

When I set out to write this little essay about sounds, I clearly bit off more than I could chew. As I said earlier, there are trillions of sounds every second of the day throughout the world. Of the trillions of sounds, my own mind treasures the sound of the ringing of a locomotive’s bell and its whistles and by the sound of children playing. So you see, it does not take much to put me into a pleasant state of mind.

May 22, 2008
Essay 313
Kevin’s commentary: An easy favorite. To me, this essay was an aural version of the phrase “stop and smell the roses.” I depend on sound all the time, but rarely do I just stop and listen. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go up to the roof of my office and give it a shot.


For intellectuals who have no desire to know about sports, perhaps I should explain that the title has to do with a post-season football game. I was baffled myself until I looked into this matter and found that Papa John was a pizza maker serving the tastes of the citizens of such states as Alabama. As I write this on December 27th, the game will be played on Monday at 3 PM on December 29th in Birmingham, Alabama. The fact that the game will be played on a Monday afternoon at 3 PM will tell you that only a handful of the media, including television will be interested in the proceedings.

The opposing teams have records slightly above the 500 mark. North Carolina State, with its seven and five record, must be considered the favorite over Rutgers, the representative of the great state of New Jersey, which has a six and five record. In my own case, I spend about ten minutes over the span of a long season thinking about college football. The games have no interest to me, even though I am a sports fan. But when I found out that Rutgers, a local college team, would be in the Papa Bowl game, my interest perked up.

The major thing that intrigued me was that the purveyor of pizzas, in this case, called himself “Papa John.” Because pizzas have an Italian background, it would seem logical for the people who offer them for sale to call themselves such names as La Strada or La Fortza. But Papa John has no truck with foreign languages. He simply calls his concoctions the Papa John pizza.

A few years back, before pro-football gained a hold on the American sporting public, there was great interest in determining the leading college football team. In those days, the college season ended around December 1st and a selection process followed until there were two contenders. The game that decided the college champion was played on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. But then other promoters got into the act. There was the Cotton Bowl game, played in Texas, and it was soon followed by the Orange Bowl game, played in Florida. In the last several years, post-season bowl games have proliferated. I gather that Meineke, who makes automotive equipment such as mufflers for automobiles, now decided to have his own game. And so I suspect that it is logical that a pizza maker from Alabama would want to get into the act. Clearly, this is a cross-cultural event of the greatest magnitude.

For many years, Rutgers had been tempted by the idea of becoming a major football powerhouse. They have recruited players from all over the country rather than concentrating on New Jersey kids. Rutgers has now built an enormous new stadium, which attracts much less than a capacity crowd. The coach of the team, a Mr. Schiano, is paid a handsome salary, but in a side deal he also has collected a payment of more than $200,000 from the deposed athletic director to keep him contented. A few weeks before the Papa John Bowl game was announced, the athletic director was fired. Now the state legislature, which regards Rutgers football as its own toy, has demanded that the President of Rutgers be fired as well. The two men are Mulcahy and McCormick, and I hesitate to take sides because they are both proper Irishmen.

I have lived in New Jersey since the fall of 1955. It seems to me that every year Rutgers has promised to turn out a football powerhouse, and every year they have limped into obscurity at the end of the season with a record of 500 or less. My thought has been that rather than wasting their money on recruiting football players and building a new stadium, Rutgers should put their resources into building an outstanding educational institution.

Obviously, I have no influence whatsoever on Rutgers and it seems that they are determined to pour wheelbarrows full of cash into their football program. But a curious thought enters my mind at this point. Suppose that an entrepreneur in Milan decided to test chitlins and gravy on his customers. Is it possible that the Milanese restaurant owner would sponsor a soccer bowl game called the La Scala Chitlins and Gravy Bowl? And then let us suppose someone in Rome took the idea of offering po’ boy sandwiches to his clientele. Suppose he were to offer a bowl game of some sort. He might call it the Benito Mussolini Po’ Boy Spectacle. Perhaps the equivalent of the Super Bowl game could be played in Piza. Conceivably, there could be the “Leaning Tower of Piza Hambone and Grits Bowl.” This only seems as fair play to me. If Papa John can offer pizzas to his southern American customers, I see no reason why the Milanese, the Romans and the peasants of Piza could not enjoy the finest products of American cuisine and culture.

My guess is that the Papa John Pizza Bowl contest will pass into obscurity where it truly belongs. But as it makes its passage through history, I wanted the readers of Ezra’s essays to know of its existence. I don’t eat many pizzas but never again will I consume one without thinking of Papa John and his bowl game to be played this coming Monday.

December 27, 2008
Essay 357
Kevin’s commentary: I think Pop would be interested to hear about a Japanese baseball team called the Nippon Ham-Fighters. He may already know of this team, being quite the baseball fan. For the uninformed, Nippon ham is a food processing company over in the land of the rising sun, which bought a team from Tokyo called the Fighters.
When I think of Japanese food, I certainly don’t think of Ham, so maybe these guys are taking steps in the right direction. Maybe someday the Ham Fighters can play in that Po’ Boy Spectacle, and it would be the tastiest game of all time.