Archive for April 2014


When someone speaking to me works the phrase “critical mass” into a sentence, this illiterate mangler of words tends to believe that there is a degree of condescension in the conversation. It is much like a former AT&T colleague using the phrase “pro-active.” My impulse was to say, “What the hell does that mean?” But be that as it may, 1928 was a year of critical mass as well as a pro-active year for this young resident of a suburb of St. Louis. During the summer of 1928, I achieved the advanced age of six years. The St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant and were shutout by the New York Yankees in the World Series of that year.

One of my major achievements during 1928 was to enter the Forsyth School in Clayton, Missouri. When my mother’s seventh child reached the advanced age of 6 years, my mother produced a Bible that said that I had reached the “age of accountability.” That means that unless I were saved, I would be on my way to hell within an instant after my demise. To avoid that situation, she took me to a grove of trees near our property and instructed me to fall on my knees, close my eyes and pray. She also suggested that if my prayers were successful, Jesus would appear and/or speak to me and I would be saved. The rocks were hurting my knees and no one came from Heaven to appear before me or to speak to me. I concluded that the only way to avoid this torture was to announce that I was indeed saved. My mother threw up her arms and there was great celebration. What my mother did not realize was that from that instant forward, I had become a non-believer in religious ritual. Next summer will mark the 80th anniversary of that cataclysmic event. There have been no interruptions in this long streak of scoreless innings.

So religion is one of the issues I wish to touch on in this essay, with the other being politics. Those of you who live in large cities where subway trains operate must know about the doctrine of the third rail. There are two rails beneath the train that the wheels turn on. Between or beside those two rails is a third rail which supplies electrical power to the trains motors. When one touches the third rail and another metal object, he ordinarily will be turned into toast. Burnt toast. In this humble little essay, I hope to avoid that fate. But who knows? Perhaps critical mass will overtake me and I will become pro-active.

It has always been my belief that when religion invades the field of politics, both are corrupted. Democratic governments are secular institutions and should not observe the faith-based beliefs of religious zealots.

In 1928, the presidential contest involved Governor Al Smith of New York, a Democrat, and Herbert Hoover, an engineer from California. Al Smith was a Catholic, while Herbert Hoover reminds me much of Richard Cheney. When the votes were counted, Smith lost, largely because Evangelical Christians deserted him and would not vote for a Catholic. My mother and father agonized for a while about their vote. They were lifelong Democrats but this was the first time that they had ever been confronted by a presidential contender who was a Catholic. In the end, they voted for Al Smith. The southerners, who had at the beginning of that decade imposed prohibition upon the American citizenry, either did not vote or voted for Herbert Hoover. The Great American Depression was, of course, the result.

Again, my argument is that when religion invades the secular field of government, both are corrupted. During the current administration, George Bush has encouraged the promotion of faith-based initiatives. It is hard to believe, but on his public payroll there are office holders who are responsible for carrying out faith-based beliefs.

It is quite clear that the religionists, particularly the Evangelicals, do not believe that there is a separation between church and state. They feel free to corrupt the government with their faith-based zealotry, but they will resist until death the idea that the government should cross into their territory by taking their tax exemptions away, for example.

When promoters of Evangelical thought such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson speak, Karl Rove and his acolytes take notice and pander to them. Senator John Danforth, who was also the Ambassador to the United Nations, a preacher, and a Missouri Republican, commented recently that the Christian conservatives had become nothing more than an arm of the George Bush administration. With that, Senator Danforth resigned and went home to Missouri. Good for Senator Danforth! Unfortunately, his successor was John Bolton.

My argument is fairly straight forward. Faith, according to the dictionary, is a system of beliefs unsupported by fact. If someone wishes to believe that Joshua stopped the sun in its tracks, that is a belief and it is certainly not supported by any facts that we know of. If someone of faith wishes to believe that Jonah spent three days in the belly of that “large fish,” that is also a matter of faith. I suspect that Jonah would have been eaten up by the gastric juices that reside there. If someone wishes to believe that Joshua indeed stopped the sun and that Jonah cavorted in the belly of that great fish for three days, that is all well and good, provided that it stays on the church side of the church-state division. Faith-based beliefs have no reason to exist in the government of a secular state such as the United States. If one of our significant politicians, such as the President, truly believes that Joshua could stop the sun, and that Jonah spent three days in the belly of that fish, it is my belief that he has no place in a secular government.

There are nations that have no church-state division. Many of them are Islamic and are found in the Middle East. Iran with its ayatollahs and Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi influence over the affairs of that country, are two such examples. In those cultures, women are regarded as property and have no rights at all because of the dictates of the religion.

My argument is simple. It holds that the American government is a secular government that should not be influenced by the desires of the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons, and the James Dobsons. They belong on one side of the church-state relationship and have no reason for being in the secular affairs of the government. But that is not the way it works. George Bush has pandered to the Evangelicals, indeed to the worst elements of the right wing zealots, who comprise his base. And we are the poorer for it.

Turning to politics, I am again obliged to point out that Henry Mencken had it right when he wrote in 1925 the following lines:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Unfortunately, I would suggest that George Bush fits the prescription outlined by Henry Mencken in every detail. He is not only a moron, but an arrogant one as well. Our treasury has been squandered and we are involved in a needless war in the Middle East that will have no end while Bush is in power. Bush attends none of the funerals of the nearly 4,000 American service people who have been killed. He simply rides his bicycle on his Texas ranch.

So you see, in this essay I have attempted to deal with first religion and then with politics, and as a result, I have stepped on the third rail at least twice. If any of you are offended, I will understand that, but it is in the interests of the United States that the Evangelicals be confined to their pulpits on Sunday mornings and should not have a back door entry to the highest circles of the American government. By stepping on two of the third rails, I hope you understand the title of this essay which is “The Third Rail Squared.”

This essay has been boiling inside my head for quite a while and I am pleased that it has now been committed to paper. If anyone can show me that the Evangelicals have withdrawn from their effort to cross the church-state divide, and secondly, if someone can demonstrate to me that George Bush is indeed not an arrogant moron, I will concede that critical mass has been achieved in a pro-active manner.

November 22, 2007
Essay 207
Kevin’s commentary: Loving the Mencken quote. Though if the president really was going to represent our inner soul, he’d probably do what the majority of the country wanted. If memory serves, Bush struggled a lot with that in later years.

In other news, Pop really, really hates the word proactive.
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
Exhibit D


This morning I managed to cut my leg in a minor manner. When I assured all concerned that the leg would not have to be amputated, I simply said, “It is all right. It just smarts.” I suspect that the use of “smarts” in that sense must have reappeared in my vocabulary after an absence of perhaps 70 years. But “smarts” is not a bad word at all. I think it describes the situation accurately.

When Hillary Clinton elected to enter the current presidential sweepstakes, she said to anyone who would listen to her that as soon as she was president, the “war in Iraq will be stopped.” Within a few weeks, Madame Clinton was quoted as saying that she believed the war in Iraq would go on until 2013. I would remind those of you who are good at subtraction that the year 2013 is six years from now. I suspect that her boast about ending the war in Iraq was what my ancestors would have called “bosh.” Bosh is another of those unused words that seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years. But when it comes to politicians, bosh is a remarkably resilient and descriptive word.

In a previous essay, I mentioned another forgotten word, which is purgative. Purgatives are required when constipation takes place. In recent years, “purgative” has been cast aside and we have used the word laxative. Now, however, “laxative” has run out of favor and we have the words “soothing relief.” It seems to me that “purgative” was a reasonably decent word in spite of its meaning to the average ill patient.

In the earlier essay, I believe I commented that the accurate term “grave yard” has been replaced by “cemetery.” Here again there is a euphemism when you see advertisements that tell you that “You may lie in peace forever in the rolling hills and meadows of The Joyland Cemetery.” That’s all bosh.

A fifth English language musing that has tormented me is the word “yonder.” There are no two ways about it, I like the use of “yonder.” Since the earlier essay was completed, I began to think about an ancient hymn called, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” In many instances, choirs, particularly black ones, sing this in what is known in musical terms as “the call and response mode.” That fashion of singing will have, for example, the sopranos and the altos singing the first line, and holding the last note, while the tenors and baritones respond by repeating that same line. The females will then offer the next line, to be followed with a response from the male choir members. When they reach the line about “I’ll be there,” the entire choir will sing that line in unison. The call and response singing is a lovely way of getting a hymn sung.

As I am dictating this essay, I am distracted by an earworm that shouts loudly, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” I have no expectation that this old essayist will be among those summoned for the final celestial roll call but listening to that old hymn, particularly when sung by a black choir, is, pardon the expression, music for the heart.

While I have been diverted from dictating an essay on English language musings, I feel a need to comment on another previously issued essay about the noise that passes for music in our grocery stores. Judy and I shop at two overpriced markets here in Millburn, New Jersey. We go to those markets, even though they are overpriced, because of the friendship of the workers. There are Jamaicans, Ghanaians, Columbians, Italians, and people from the exotic climes of Newark and East Orange, New Jersey. The music that is piped in is vulgar in the extreme. It demonstrates that our music has taken a dive to the bottom. What young people listen to these days is nothing short of being abominable. In the first place, music is played at ear-splitting levels. There may be two electric guitars that are played by young men who know one or two chords which they repeat endlessly while they shout their messages. The drummer, who has the principal part in what is called music these days, is not allowed to just keep time. The drummer sets the course of the music. Curiously many of the so-called bands appear naked from the waist up. I have no idea what that contributes to their musicality, assuming that there was musicality in the first place.

The noise that emanates from the loudspeakers does not tell a story, as most songs do. It is repetitive in the extreme. For example, here is a song that I just composed as I was dictating this essay. It is called “I Wanna Make Out Wit’ Chu, Baby.” The Berlitz people have looked at the phrase, “Wit’ Chu” on several occasions and have concluded that it means “with you”. So in proper English the song would be called, “I Want To Make Out With You, Baby.” These words are sung rapidly four or five times. They are followed by a chorus, which would be “’cause it makes me feel so good.” So the whole song is “I wanna make out wit’ chu, baby, ‘cause it makes me feel so good.”

In subsequent verses, the song I have just invented goes on to say that the singer wishes to make out not only with you, baby, but with your sister, your mother, your aunt, your hairdresser, your dress maker, and your dietician.

In the old days, which weren’t so long ago, songs were harmonious and told a story. With rock and roll and the hip-hop way of singing, words have lost their meaning and music is the poorer for it. The so-called bands with their shirts off would have no idea what to do with “When the roll is called up yonder.”

When the noise from the loudspeakers becomes so apparent that I must take note of it, it is my desire to get out of the store as quickly as possible. This is self-defeating because a soft waltz, a love song, or even a hymn would keep people around where they might buy something beyond what they have on their grocery list. But be that as it may, American music – which is not really music at all – has taken a downward spiral toward the bottom. Even military music sounds great in comparison. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about this uncivilized behavior. But old soldiers must live with the hope that, given some time, decency will prevail. In my case, I hope I am around when that day arrives.

November 29, 2007
Essay 273

Postscript: A further thought now appears in that when two men are friends with each other, they often “josh” each other. For example, when I asked Wayne Johnson, the plumber, how he liked my new haircut, he said, “I believe the barber took too much off the top.” So joshing is another expression of friendship that does not appear in many vocabularies these days.

Finally, there was Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, who loved to use the word “metrics” when a perfectly decent word such as measurements would have sufficed. Then there was the occasion in Iraq when an enlisted man asked Rumsfeld why the vehicles driven by the United States Army had to be up-armored by metal they found in the Iraqi junk yards. Rumsfeld answered tartly, “You go to war with the army you have; not with the army you might want to have.” That was, in the dialects of Missouri, a “snotty” observation. I believe the reference to “snotty” is obvious to everyone. But why are things now supposed to be up-armored? I expect that this old soldier is losing his touch with the language of the Army of the United States.

Kevin’s commentary: See this essay for more on the grocery stores. As to the quips about ‘what young people listen to these days’ being terrible, I’d posit that each generation has intelligent and idiotic music and this one is no better and no worse than those which have come before. Today for every artist like Nicki Minaj cranking out masterpieces such as ‘Stupid Hoe‘ there’s another band like Arcade Fire telling a story, or The National writing poetry. But oftentimes the most popular music that gets played is the music which appeals to the lowest common denominator, and is often the most mindless. This reflects more on how marketing work than on the tastes of today’s generation.


Hundreds of years before I became an essayist, there was a grand summit meeting held on the grounds of what would eventually become the Buckingham Palace in London. It was attended by all of the reigning gods, kings, archangels, head rabbis and prophets, as well as by the leading preachers and politicians of the day. The grand summit conference also included the ancestors of Vice-President Dan Quayle, Yasser Arafat and O.J. Simpson. Basically the outcome of the grand summit conference was that it was decreed that henceforth November would always automatically follow October. There would be no April or May late in the year because November presaged the onset of winter.

For many Americans, the arrival of November is bad news indeed. It brings on a miasma that causes dropsy, sleepiness and nervousness. Within my experience, when October slides silently and seamlessly into November, the illness of miasma always arrives. Fortunately, it lasts only for perhaps five months. In any case, the debilitating illness starts as the final out is made in the current World Series. Once that final out is accomplished, every baseball fan knows that there will be no Major League Baseball on a regularly scheduled basis until five months hence. Baseball games are not played in November, December, January, and February. There are exhibition games in March, but that counts for very little. So there is a long period of unhappiness that must be endured until the first balls are thrown at the beginning of the new baseball season starting on or about April 1 of the succeeding year.

I have endured this terrible ailment for about 80 years. In 1926, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series that provided me with my very first memories. As a four-year-old St. Louis boy, I was wondering why my older brothers were dancing around the house and yelling. It turns out that in the seventh game of the World Series played in New York, Jess Haines was the Cardinal pitcher. His special pitch was a knuckle ball which is not thrown with the knuckles but with the finger tips. By the seventh inning of that seventh game, Jess Haines’s fingertips were worn to nothing but bloodiness. With the bases loaded with Yankees, Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis second baseman and manager, summoned Grover Cleveland Alexander from the St. Louis bullpen. Alexander was known as a man who seldom passed up a drink, and he had pitched the sixth game, which was a victory for the Cardinals. He had no idea whatsoever that he would be called upon to relieve in the seventh game. Nonetheless, Alexander was summoned to the mound, and was facing the feared Yankee slugger, Tony Lazzeri. It is widely believed that Alexander, when he entered the game, was suffering from a delicious hangover. Be that as it may, Alexander struck out Lazzeri and then went on to pitch the eighth and ninth innings, which cemented the first World Series victory for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Now if you come from St. Louis, as I do, or surrounding territories, you will realize that baseball is a religion to most Midwesterners. In subsequent years when the Cardinals appeared in the World Series in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1934, the students in the Clayton Public Schools were summoned to the gymnasium to hear radio broadcasts of the games that were then being played. In those days, of course, the games were played in the afternoon and the whole World Series was completed shortly after the first week of October. Today, with the intrusion of television, the games are played at night, often in frigid weather, and are rarely completed before the end of October. But for the students around St. Louis, learning could be postponed until they heard the broadcasts of the contests or the World Series involving the Cardinals. By doing so, a religious obligation was observed.

Now we come to the 2007 World Series. The contestants were clubs from Boston and Denver, in which I have no everlasting interest. But the World Series is an influence in my life. I can still remember the jubilation that took place in the 1926 World Series, when the Cardinals defeated the vaunted Yankees.

But when the final out was recorded in the World Series of 2007, it occurred in only the fourth game of that series. The World Series could have continued at least three games longer, but the Boston club made a sweep of it and took their trophy and went home. Perhaps that was a blessing because the players might well have suffered from frostbite had the games continued. All of this meant that the last outs were recorded earlier than expected and that the miasma that accompanies me in my winter solstice would arrive earlier. Now when nighttime comes, there are no baseball games to listen to. I make an attempt to listen to basketball and hockey games, but I find myself going to bed early because my interest is sliding.

These last two years, my New York grandchildren have subscribed for me to a satellite radio which sits on the table next to my chair in the living room. On that radio I am able to listen to out-of-town baseball broadcasts that are of great interest. For example, the Philadelphia commentator is Larry Andersen, an old relief pitcher. Andersen comments upon the strategy of the games and he gives you an unvarnished view of not only his home team but also the visiting teams. When the New York Mets played in Pittsburgh, the Pirates were in last place and it was reflected in the comments of their announcers who seemed bored and wanted the game to end as soon as possible.

In Houston, when the Mets visit there, there are endless comments about which church group is attending the game that night. Apparently the Houston Astros make an attempt to sell their tickets to Christian groups. As far as I can determine, the attendees at the games are limited to groups of the Protestant faith. There are no representatives from the Catholic Church or from the Jewish faith. The Houston Astros are a sad team and by not subscribing to attendance at the games, the Roman Catholics and the Jewish worshipers are showing excellent taste.

In any case, my satellite radio has provided me with many memories. In addition to being able to follow the game, it brings back my younger days when there was no such thing as television. In St. Louis, there was only Johnny O’Hara on radio station WIL, and France Laux on KMOX, who provided the broadcasts. I believe I join with many others who contend that radio reports are superior to those that are offered on television. And so I am indebted to those future Major League grandsons for their contribution to my summertime enjoyment.

This is being written during the first week of November, which is when my case of miasma has me in its grips. This comes about from the fact that I know it will be five months before the St. Louis Cardinals or the Mets or the New York Yankees begin their regularly-scheduled games. This agony has gone on now for 80 years, since 1926. There is no relief for the pain it causes. But I try to reason with myself that come next April the agony will be over. And so we make it from one winter to the next.

The fans of the Chicago Cubs give me hope. They have not celebrated a World Series victory of any kind since 1908. If my mathematics are correct, that will provide the fans of the Chicago Cubs with 100 years of shut-outs. If the Chicago Cub fans can hang on for 100 years, the least I can do is wait until next April. At that time, an umpire will yell, “Play ball!” and the first pitch of the new season will begin. At that moment, my agony will be lifted and there will be seven months of joy that will surround me. I suppose that five months of agony to be followed by seven months of joy is a pretty fair trade-off. In any case, I will mark off the days on the calendar until spring arrives in these parts.

Finally, a word or two about the title which is, of course, “The Hot Stove League Blues.” That term comes from people sitting around places such as hardware stores in the winter time with their feet up on a railing around the wood stove, trading stories about possible baseball trades and firings. It has been a long time since we have heated our stores with wood-burning stoves, but nonetheless the term remains in constant use today. So when somebody tells you about the Hot Stove League blues, you will always know that he is referring to a wood-burning stove around which people are trading stories and living in the hope that the cold weather will soon go away, that spring will arrive, and that there will soon be an umpire saying, “Play ball!”

November 7, 2007
Essay 268
Kevin’s commentary: Pop should be thankful for the onset of TV, if televising the games has made the baseball season several weeks longer! Also, he should investigate the possibility of a southern-hemisphere baseball league; maybe they have one with a season that runs on an opposite schedule.


When the British post office delivers copies of this essay to the former Camille Parker-Bowles and her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, both of them will pounce on the title as a redundancy or as a tautology. That it is a redundancy and a tautology, I fully agree. But it seems to me that the new word I am adding to the English dictionary is worthy of being called a new neologism. In any case, it is better than the folks who say “revert back” or the people who add an unnecessary “u” in the middle of nuc-u-lar power.

The word “nunce” appeared to me in a heaven sent spontaneous manner as I awoke. There was no forethought or afterthought. It just happened. As soon as it happened, I knew that the English language would be greatly enriched.

The new word flows from my experience over the past several years with night sweats. As time has progressed, it has been necessary for me to keep at least four pajama tops on a hook in a closet to be used when the former pajama top becomes wet with sweat. During a week, I may enjoy two full-fledged night sweats along with three or four moisturizers that nonetheless require me to change the top of my pajamas. On a good night, I am able to sleep without having to change the top of my pajamas. But that happens rarely, say no more than once a week.

The medical profession has been of absolutely no help whatsoever. When they are asked about what produces night sweats, they throw up their hands and in all candor, I must compliment them for their honesty because they say that they simply do not know. They do not know what causes them nor do they know how to fix it. So people with night sweats continue to have night sweats. Perhaps it is a function of the male menopause.

When morning comes, I usually comment that this was a two-pajama-top night or a three or a four one, depending upon how much the night sweats afflicted me. But this week there was an occasion when I slept all the way through.

When my wife noticed in the morning that I was wearing the same costume as when I went to bed, she asked, “And how many times did you change your pajama tops last night?”

Without thinking, I instantly answered her, “Nunce,” meaning not once. And so an addition to the English language was born.

I am inclined to let the night sweats go forward, if they contribute to further additions to the language of our forefathers. I have consulted with neurologists, cardiologists, urologists, dermatologists, and even a Lebanese podiatrist. He was from Lebanon, a country near Jordan, and it is not to be confused with being a lesbian podiatrist.

So as you can see, if the night sweats continue to contribute to the lexicon of the English language, I guess I say, let us have night sweats. But “nunce” seems to me to be a contraction that ranks with “don’t” and “can’t” and “couldn’t.” As such, they are to be treasured not only by Queen Elizabeth and her new daughter-in-law, Camille Parker-Bowles, but those two women might wish to instruct Charles, the Prince of Wales, on its proper use. There are those who call the Prince a Dunce, but I believe that even he can master the use of this new neologism.

Now that we have settled the issue of night sweats and the new language addition of “nunce,” let us turn to a word called “lagniappe.” Lagniappe is a Cajun word meaning something extra. If a bartender offers you some peanuts to go with your drink, that is lagniappe. If you go to a ball game and if it lasts more than nine innings, that is also lagniappe. What I am suggesting next is another case of lagniappe which has to do with the intrusive “r” in the English language. This can occur in several instances.

Let us consider the speech of New Englanders. They might say, for example, “My mother-in-lawr sawr an idear that would be helpful around the house.” What I want to know is where did that intrusive “r” come from? Is that lagniappe? I am baffled by what the intrusive “r” adds to these words.

Midwesterners such as my mother might put the intrusive “r” a little earlier in the words she used. For example, there are many cases where people pronounce the name of the capital of the United States as “Warshington, DC.” There are others, such as my mother, who said that on Monday she had to “warsh” clothes. I have no idea where the intrusive “r” in those words comes from. But there it is.

On Sundays, my parents attended church where one of the favorite hymns was, “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” Both of my parents pronounced that word as “warshed,” which I believe would have detracted from the ecclesiastical underpinnings of that ancient hymn.

And then we have an intrusive “r” at the end of words that end in the letter “a.” There are those, particularly in the eastern sections of the United States, who might say that they saw a man from “Africer” or that he was sailing to “Americer.” John F. Kennedy was one of those who put the intrusive “r” on words like Africa and America. He also pronounced the name of the island nation 90 miles off our southern coast as “Cuber.” What I would like to know is how Mr. Kennedy would have dealt with one of my favorite vegetables which is okra. Would he really have pronounced it as “okrer”? He was a Massachusetts blue-blood who seldom saw okra on his plate, but it would intrigue me as how he would have pronounced that word. Would Eva, the gentle lady who transcribes these essays, also be called “Ever” by JFK?

These are merely cases of lagniappe which have intrigued me for years. As in the case with the physicians in the foregoing part of this essay, I can find no lexicographers who are familiar with the intrusive “r,” just as I can find no one who can fix night sweats.

Well, there you have my story about the new word, “nunce,” as well as the lagniappe story about the intrusive “r”s. I am not sure that they add much to your enjoyment in reading this essay, but I hope that they make Queen Elizabeth and her daughter-in-law smile once in a while. And for all I know, it may be that Queen Elizabeth has night sweats just as this below-the-salt Irish commoner has them. Up the Republic!

The author of the forgoing essay has a Hebrew name which Bostonians would pronounce as “Ezrer” and is married to a lady known as Ms. Chicker. Is there any more to be said about the intrusive “r”?

October 25, 2007
Essay 265
Kevin’s commentary: I’d add that Beijingers and Bostonians have more in common than is commonly realized. The Beijing accent is famous for its semi-random use of the “r” sound in everyday words. For instance, if I was to ask where my friend was, I would ask “Wo de pengyou zai na li” with ‘na li’ meaning ‘where.’ Beijingers would ask “Wo de pengyou zi narrr?” because apparently the “li” sound is too inconvenient to make.

Similarly the first time I lived in Beijing, I lived by the North East gate to the university — the “Dong bei men.” Invariably when I told the cab drivers where I lived, they’d nod and say “ah, dong bei marrr.” So maybe there’s something just inherently appealing about appending that sound to words that don’t need it.


At the end of time when historians finally record all of the philosophical thoughts produced by American scholars, it is likely that the contribution of Miss Kay McCormick will be excluded. It may be that her thoughts are excluded simply because she is a woman. On the other hand, it may be that her thoughts are not included because she has no academic credentials. She did not attend Chicago University in her home town, nor did she ever attend classes at the Cook County Community College, a school widely known as the Four C’s. Yet Miss McCormick had a philosophic thought that must have occurred to every rational old-timer.

The story starts during the latter part of the great American Depression. At that time, jobs were almost impossible to acquire. Kay McCormick was underage, so she borrowed her older sister Katherine’s birth certificate and applied for a job as a junior telephone operator in the AT&T offices in downtown Chicago. The job paid around $12 or $13 per week. Because she used her sister Katherine’s birth certificate to gain employment, this young lady was known until her retirement as Kay. Her actual name is Helen. Over the years, Kay, who used to be Helen, worked her way up through the ranks. She was a junior operator, an operator, a junior service assistant, a service assistant, and an assistant chief operator, and, finally, a chief operator. I am here to assure you that any woman who endures this ordeal and emerges as a chief operator is a tough one. But in spite of all of the travail, Kay McCormick never lost her sense of humor. I always found it a pleasure to visit with Kay in the telephone operating rooms at the number one office in Chicago.

Phil Coulter, the Irish composer, wrote that “the minutes fly and the years roll by.” The years did roll by for Kay McCormick and eventually she retired with more than 45 years of service with AT&T. Kay never married. What usually happens in cases such as this is that friends move away and some die. So after a while, the old-timers are pretty much left alone. And so it was that a few years ago I wrote a Christmas card to Kay McCormick. I suppose she was in her 88th or 89th year. She responded with a very cheerful letter which included the phrase that “I don’t know why I have hung around so long.” As things turned out, it appears that Kay did not hang around much after that letter. There were no more letters from Chicago and I assume that her days of hanging around were finally over.

Recently I had an interview with the world-renowned physician, Andrew Beamer. Professor Beamer is a doctor of medicine as well as a Fellow of the American College of Cardiologists. Now that I have passed the age of puberty, as the conversation drew to a close, I included Kay McCormick’s remark that perhaps at my age, I had hung around too long. The remark was intended not as a throw-away line but as the observation of an 85-year-old patient. I suppose I should have kept my remark to myself because the physician began to question me about depression. I have no clinical signs of classic depression, but it was entirely reasonable for Professor Beamer to pursue that line of questioning. In the end, I more or less agreed to write an essay on the pluses and minuses of being 85 years of age and the attendant mental difficulties that accompany such an aged person.

Again, as I have stated earlier, it seems to me that anyone of my age and with my medical background is entitled to a period of gloomy thoughts. Those gloomy thoughts are rational and logical. Any 85-year-old man who believes that he can run a four-minute mile is delusional.

A person of this sort is entitled to believe that we went to war with Iraq because of its possession of weapons of mass destruction. He is also entitled to believe that the mission there was truly accomplished. Further, he is entitled to believe that the Iraqis would welcome us with roses and kisses, and that the farthest thing from their minds would be an insurgency. And finally, he is entitled to believe that the insurgency is in its “final throes.”

I am not delusional but I have a realistic outlook on my length of life. I have no intention of harming myself as a means of bringing the end more quickly. I do not intend, for example, to hire a cab to take me to US Highway 22, where among the porn shops I might find a gun dealer. When the gun dealer would point out that my blindness would prevent me from truly enjoying what the army calls “a piece,” meaning a gun, I would intend to reply that Vice President Cheney insists that all of us have a second amendment right to carry a gun. The second amendment says nothing about blind people, so I insist on having a gun.

Even in my days in the American Army, I was uncomfortable around guns. I was issued a Colt 45 caliber, but only carried it on two or three missions because it had the reputation of the gun that couldn’t shoot straight. In the final analysis I am uncomfortable around guns and have never owned one.

Now, on the other hand, I find that there are numerous reasons why I am determined to stick around for a while. Kay McCormick had no family and her friends were gone. I have a family, including a wife. It would be disastrously short-sighted for me to hasten the end of my life because of my enjoyment of the company of my wife Judy. As long as I collect my pension, it makes things a little easier for her and for myself. So in the first instance, I expect to continue to “hang around” because it is helpful to my wife. At such time as I become a burden on her, there will have to be another evaluation.

It is my intention to hang around for the foreseeable future because of my relationship with my daughters and their husbands. If I were to go away, it would take a long time before that hurt would vanish.

Then there are my five grandchildren. They are all good guys. The ones in New York are going to be professional baseball players after they graduate from college, or so I hope. The oldest grandson has mastered the Japanese language, which is a monumental undertaking. Another grandson is a champion debater in Texas. And then there is the most lovable guy in the world, old Jack Shepherd. It would be a cruel piece of work for nine year old Jack to recognize that he no longer had a grandfather.

Jack has a mild case of Down’s Syndrome, and when we are together he comments that the two of us are bound together because we both have a disability. Jack is an expert in handholding and in writing letters expressing the thought that someday I will be able to see again.

On top of my family, there are many friends who are concerned about me and seem to care a lot. Just this week, Tom Scandlyn paid a visit here that was most enjoyable. From time to time, other friends call me to buoy my spirits. I still maintain an active relationship with Sven Lernevall, who is a Swedish humorist and philosopher.

And then there is Esteban and Fabian, sons of Costa Rican immigrants who consider me as their “American Grandpa”. And finally, I take some degree of pleasure from writing essays which are often the memoirs of my life. My curiosity about life remains. For example, I am now contemplating an essay on “Whiskers.”

At least for the short term, I intend to hang around, as Kay McCormick would say, if for no other reason than to see the Bush administration roundly defeated in 2008 and their miserable secrets exposed. I have always been a student of history and I have long since come to the conclusion that George W. Bush is absolutely the worst president that has ever been visited upon the American people.

So you see, I have many reasons to hang around. If that were not so, why am I down there in the basement four days a week exercising? Is it to be assumed that those 70 minutes per exercise are intended to end my life? Quite to the contrary: the exercises are there to prolong life.

Any man who reaches the age of 85 years and does not contemplate what might come next is, as I said earlier, delusional. If anything, I am a realist. My experiences in World War II made me familiar with death. I know the sinking feeling when I looked at the empty cot next to me that was occupied last night by an enlisted man. All things considered, death is part of living. I accept that. When things are added up, I believe that there is more for people in my situation to live for than to die for. Above all, I wish to live for whatever contribution I can make toward making my wife’s life easier. And I know that my children and grandchildren would be greatly hurt by my passing. But a man has to make a rational and logical assessment of his life at 85 years. And if that assessment is logical and rational, there may be no reason at all to suspect depression. I am not giggly as my life draws to a close but I am determined to be a pragmatist.

In the end, I propose a toast to Kay McCormick, who probably never heard of the medical term “depression.” If she did, she would have applied it to the economic circumstances that existed at the time she was looking for a job. But in any case, it was her remark about having hung around a little too long that provided the hook for this essay to be written. Any comment that provides such a hook is entirely laudable. If an 85-year-old person with a history of serious illnesses in the past does not ever suffer a degree of depression, that person may be eligible for psychiatric help.

September 17, 2007
Essay 261
Kevin’s commentary:
Kay’s note seems to have left a heck of an impression on Pop, since it was brought back up in another essay in 2009 which you can read here.

I’m quite pleased that Pop has made it through the end of the Bush administration; I didn’t realize that it was an explicit goal of his. He’s made it through a hell of a lot of things, really, and yet most of the relationships mentioned in this essay seven years ago have persisted. We hear plenty about old Sven, and a man named Harry Livermore is on Pop’s speed dial. The capacity to build lasting friendships seems like the mark of a good guy to me.


Richard Cheney is the rotund and sparsely beloved Vice President of the United States. The civilized world regards him with no affection whatsoever.

During the last week of November, Mr. Cheney had a bout with atrial fibrillation. This is a cardiac condition that, if left untreated, could result in grave damage to the heart muscle and perhaps injury or death to the person who owns that heart muscle. Atrial fib is a common occurrence among cardiac patients. Once it is properly diagnosed it can be remedied by having a cardiologist apply an electric current to the heart and shock it back into its proper rhythm. To the person who owns a heart with atrial fib, the sensation is that of an engine missing fire on several cylinders and perhaps backfiring on some of the others. All things considered, atrial fib is not a desirable condition.

Mr. Cheney has had several bouts with atrial fib. The latest diagnosis was made and, after he was transported to a hospital and given the shock treatment, the rhythm in his heart was restored. From that point forward, we are told that his heart purred like a three-cylinder engine or like a Lawn Boy power mower. According to White House sources, the same people who brought you weapons of mass destruction and “mission accomplished,” Mr. Cheney went home from the hospital, shaved, and appeared in his office at his usual 7:00 AM starting time. It is quite likely that Mr. Cheney appeared at his office to guard against Congressman Henry Waxman making further inroads on the Valerie Plame CIA outing case. Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald had promised Waxman that he would give him the papers in that case. But we find now that Cheney and the White House have blocked that move.

In any case, Mr. Cheney, with his heart rhythm fully restored, resumed thinking about the war in Iraq. You may recall that at the beginning, Mr. Cheney assured us that we would be welcomed as liberators and further down the line, he counseled us that the insurgency was in its final throes. I suppose that a person in his position, with all the pressures on him, is entitled to make a few monumental mistakes. However, when Mr. Cheney entered the vice presidency, he found that the Bush administration started to pee away trillions of dollars that the Clinton administration had in the Treasury. Mr. Cheney assured the rest of us, including the financial community, that “deficits don’t matter.”

At the outset, I believed Mr. Cheney implicitly. I concluded that if deficits don’t matter, my quarterly payment of income tax to the government would fall in that category of non-applicable deficits. At the beginning, the Feds were polite to me, pointing out that if I did not make my contribution, they would be unable to pay salaries to the President and the Vice President and to members of Congress. The people at the Internal Revenue Service were not enthusiastic about my reference to Mr. Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter.” In the end, they proposed to send the FBI and the CIA to Short Hills to have me flown to Syria or Egypt, where waterboarding is merely the start of an “enhanced interrogation procedure.”

When my real estate taxes came due here in Millburn Township, I asked the tax collector, Jerry Viturello, “If deficits don’t matter, why am I making this payment to you?” He replied that if I failed to make the payment, the Millburn cops would be there shortly to have me thrown out on White Oak Ridge Road, a very busy street.

So you see that if deficits don’t matter, it must apply only to big shots, such as Mr. Cheney and his cohorts. After having been rebuffed by the federal government and by the Millburn tax collector, I called my old friend Jake Birdsall, who is the resident philosopher in the city government of a town called Peculiar, Missouri. Jake is a gravedigger by trade, but he lectures at the Peculiar County Community College on philosophy. I told Jake, the philosopher/gravedigger, all of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Cheney’s belief that deficits don’t matter. Almost immediately, Jake offered his cogent viewpoint to me. Jake said, “Any man who says that deficits don’t matter is as full of spit as a Christmas goose.” Obviously, I had to sanitize the operative word in the early part of that sentence because my essays are used as textbooks in the Peculiar County Seminary. We can’t have prospective men of the cloth uttering vulgarities that have been with us since the beginning of time. So the final word is that, as Jake framed it, “Anyone who says that deficits don’t matter is as full of spit as a Christmas goose.” Jake also pointed out that deficits have consequences, terrible consequences.

We are learning about those consequences right now. The value of our dollar is so low that we will soon be down there with the Mexican peso. The British pound that used to trade at one dollar and a half now costs us two dollars. The European Euro which opened at about seventy cents now takes a dollar and a quarter to buy one. The Canadian dollar, which in my lifetime has never exceeded seventy-two or seventy-three cents, is now worth ten or fifteen cents more than the American dollar. Jake the philosopher, is absolutely correct about Mr. Cheney being as full of spit as a Christmas goose. He is even more correct when he says that attitudes like Cheney’s are utter madness. Every time we buy gasoline, wine, cheese, or any other commodity, those consequences are obvious.

So much for Mr. Cheney, his atrial fib, and Jake’s assessment of his financial acumen.

At the moment there are two other individuals of American renown who come to mind at this sitting in the first week of December. The first is Senator Larry Craig, the Senior Senator from the great state of Idaho. I am sure that you are aware that Senator Craig has confessed to and tried to “unconfess” the act of making a homosexual pass at an undercover officer in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. When he tried to “unconfess” that act, he merely intensified the efforts of the Boise Idaho Statesman, a newspaper, to investigate whether he was in fact a homosexual. Please bear in mind that this corner here has no debate about homosexuality. They can lead their gay life and I can lead mine without interference from anyone. The point is that Senator Craig has uniformly voted against every bill that would even remotely benefit gay people. Simply put, Craig is a hypocrite in the extreme.

Now Craig has stirred up a hornet’s nest, and the newspaper from the capital city of Idaho has produced at least four or five men who have told the newspaper that they had sexual encounters with the great and glorious Senator Craig. They not only told of those encounters but they described the details, which would not make the approved reading list in the Peculiar County Seminary. In point of fact, Craig has been caught dead to rights. All of this simply goes to show that Jake, the gravedigger/philosopher, was absolutely right when he said, “Actions have consequences.” In the Craig case, those consequences might involve his departure from public life earlier than the January 2009 date that he had proposed.

There is one other thought about a man who has stirred up the newspapers and is now suffering the consequences. That of course would be Rudolph Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani, who is the reputed leader among voters for the Republican nomination for President in 2008, is in fact a sordid spectacle among New Yorkers who can remember his term in office. While he was in office, he had an affair with his so-called “public relations director,” whom he installed in a high-level position in the New York City Visitor’s Bureau. She remains there today. But beyond that, Mr. Giuliani entered into an affair with a woman who had a summer house in the Hamptons. The affair went on for quite some time and she is now his third wife.

Under the police laws of New York City, the mayor and his wife and children are entitled to round-the-clock protection by the police department. Mr. Giuliani has now stirred up the New York Daily News, a Republican paper, to the point where it is reporting on all of the events that took place during the grand affair with the current Mrs. Giuliani. Having twenty-four-hour protection by the New York City police department is not without some cost. While Mr. Giuliani was snuggling and cooing with Mrs. Nathan, his mistress, in her condo in the Hamptons, the New York City police detectives who accompanied him were collecting regular and overtime pay. According to receipts, those same cops were treating themselves to man-sized steaks and chops.

Obviously, the New York city police department became involved in substantial expenses while they were guarding Mr. Giuliani while he billed and cooed with Mrs. Nathan in the Hamptons. To cover these expenses, the costs were assigned to obscure New York City departments. For example, the Loft Commission had more than its share. The Loft Commission, I suppose, has to do with regulations concerning building lofts. Now that these expenditures have come to light, there is a scent of blood in the water. Rudy’s explanation for these expenses is thoroughly lame. He contends that the New York police department is slow in paying its bills but that the Loft Commission, for example, is quick to pay its bills. Hence he had the expenditures sent to that commission with the people who run lofts eventually trying to collect their money from the police department. Ray Kelly, the current Police Commissioner in New York, says that this is preposterous. Equally preposterous is Giuliani’s claim that it was the police department, not himself, that suggested round-the-clock protection for Mrs. Nathan shortly after this sordid affair began.

The point that is being made here is the same one with respect to Cheney and deficits and with Senator Craig and his hypocrisy. In the first place, “you don’t stir up a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Mark Twain made those remarks in the year 1900. They are as appropriate today as they were then.

Beyond buying ink by the barrel, there are consequences. Giuliani’s poll readings have been taking a beating in the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency. When the full extent of Giuliani’s gaffs become obvious to the rest of the United States, it is my belief that he will have a difficult time in becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency.

Before this essay ends, it should be pointed out that while he was romancing Mrs. Nathan, Giuliani held a news conference during which he fired his wife. Donna Hanover heard the news and was stupefied. But in fact he shed her as his second wife and took on the twice-divorced Mrs. Nathan. Losing a wife as lovely as Donna Hanover is another consequence of his actions.

Two other thoughts come to mind here. One involves the former police commissioner, Bernie Kerik, who is now under a sixteen-count indictment from the federal government. If there is a more disreputable character in this saga, it would be Bernie Kerik. But he has endorsed Mr. Giuliani’s story of assigning expenditures to an obscure commission within the city government. Curiously, the Comptroller says it just ain’t so.

Secondly, Mr. Giuliani has earned the endorsement of Pat Robertson, the preacher who says that he regularly talks to God. At the time of the September 11 disaster, Pat Robertson announced that God permitted the destruction of the World Trade Center because New York City permitted homosexuals to live their lives without discrimination from the authorities. According to Robertson, that’s why the World Trade Center was knocked down and why the Pentagon had its damage too.
Mr. Giuliani has gladly accepted the endorsement of Pat Robertson and even went to his headquarters in Virginia to get it. Does this man’s pandering have no limit?

There you have, in the cases of Cheney, Craig, and Giuliani, three instances where consequences have mattered. For every action, there is a reaction, which is the principle that brother Newton proposed at the beginning of time. Upon closer examination, this old former soldier and essayist must conclude that all three of those clowns are indeed as full of spit as a Christmas goose.

December 3, 2007
Essay 275
Kevin’s commentary: In an essay full of awful people, I’m glad we got to be introduced to the philosodigger/graveosopher. He seems like a great dude and I would have been happy for him to take over the the job of pretty much any politician mentioned above.


My mother spoke no foreign tongues. The grammar of English, her native language, gave her enough trouble. Yet she was a master of “country speak.” She was the one who said, when she was full of food and drink, that she was “full as a tick” or “tighter than a June bug.” It was also my mother who said on the annual February 22nd celebration of our first President’s birthday that we were celebrating “George Birthington’s washday.” And it was Lily Carr who used the term “bass ackwards” to describe a move that was plainly in error. Modern purists today would conjugate that term to be “bass ackwardlyness.”

That description comes to mind almost every time when I do the grocery shopping with my wife. In the last three or four years, grocery stores have begun to play upbeat rock-and-roll and hi-hop music over their sound systems. This is nothing more than noise which the average listener would consider unintelligible. The singers are mostly screamers. There is no tune that I can discern. I can only conclude that the upbeat tempo of the music is designed to make the workers in the food market move at an increased pace. But that is where the bass ackwardlyness sets in.

If I were a merchant selling food or anything else, I would want my customers to linger with the thought that aside from what they had originally come to buy they might see something else and purchase it as well. The upbeat rock and roll music flies in the face of such a philosophy. The net result, in my case, is merely to hasten my exit from the store. There is no tranquility in this noise from the loudspeakers. When I hear that music, together with the screams of two-year-olds as well as the announcements that “Joe Doke, please report to the shipping department,” I am moved to cut short my visit and leave the store.

The upbeat screamers are for children who tend to play their music at the loudest decibels available. There is a mistake there in that what I hear is not music at all. It is screaming and noise. The owners of King’s and the Whole Foods Markets could take a lesson from Nordstrom’s. Nordstrom’s occasionally has a grand piano played on the first floor of their emporium. For example, the piano players at Nordstrom’s offer soothing music from composers such as Debussy and Gershwin, that encourages customers to hang around and listen and to shop a little more. And if one takes the time to listen, he might find a shirt that he did not intend to buy when he came in the door.

If the upbeat go-go music offered by King’s and Whole Foods is intended to make the help work harder, I believe that it is a lost cause because the help has long ago turned off the noise in their ears. They simply ignore it. The end result is that customers such as myself find ourselves being hurried through the store in an effort to avoid further exposure to the noise. From a marketing point of view, this is bass ackwards retailing.

I am indebted to Lily Carr for providing such an apt title for a situation that did not exist in her lifetime. Lily sometimes mangled the English language, but I am sure that if she were around today she would tell retailers such as King’s and Whole Foods that they are going after their customers in a bass ackwardly fashion. If Lily Carr were to deliver this message to the management of those two concerns, it would be delivered with her finger shaking an inch from their noses. And so I am grateful for Lily Carr providing a precise term for a condition that afflicts her seventh child and her last son. I suspect that Lily Carr would say that this noise is my just punishment for not becoming a Baptist preacher. That may well be the case but when the grocery store noise is coupled with television in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices, the torment clearly goes too far.

May 25, 2007
Essay 256
Kevin’s commentary: I’m beginning to think that I should create a tag specifically for essays concerning grocery store noise. It would now have three entries, including this one and this one.

This essay reminds me of an oft-repeated Shepherd family story in which we were trying to get dinner outside Disney World park. We wound up in some sort of Disney-affiliated bar (which is a thing that I didn’t know existed) which was playing “Jammin” by Bob Marley on repeat. There were no other options that were still open for dinner, so we put up with the constant refrain of “we jamming we’re jamming we’re jamming we’re jamming” through the entire meal. Toward the end, Mom speculated that this was Disney’s way of keeping anyone from getting too hammered at the resort. Unless you REALLY like Bob Marley, most people wouldn’t hang out in that bar for more than a drink or two.


Donald E. Wass was a fellow that you should not have known. Mr. Wass was humorless in the extreme. He was a low-level supervisor in AT&T’s Engineering Department in St. Louis. His responsibility caused him to have frequent conversations with other engineers in New York. Those conversations were so loud that work in the rest of the office was pretty much arrested until he completed his conversations. In point of fact, Mr. Wass was severely hearing-impaired.

His deficiency in the ability to hear caused him also to send TWX messages to New York on a frequent basis. TWX is similar to today’s facsimile. The TWX operators in St. Louis had a card cut for the return address because of the frequency of messages that Mr. Wass originated. Unfortunately, they made a small mistake in that they spelled his name as “Donalde” and they assumed that “W” was his middle initial and of course his last name became “Ass.” So it read “Donalde W. Ass.” The rest of the engineering office thought that this was a matter of great hilarity, including me. But that was not true in the case of Mr. Wass. He threatened to have the operator caught and fired, which never happened.

In any event, Donald Wass was often summoned to the head office in New York. A clerk would come to his desk and he would tell the clerk that he wished to have a “roomette” on the five o’clock Pennsylvania Railroad (known as the Pennsy) to New York, so the matters could be discussed in person in New York on the following day. As a young man of 19, I could envision Mr. Wass sitting down at the starched table cloth in the dining car on the train and eating a large steak followed by a cigar. Little did I know that before my career was finished, it would be my duty to visit major cities in this country as well as all of the principal capitols in the civilized world. But however you cut it, Mr. Wass was as humorless as a hornet.

All of these thoughts about Don Wass and visiting foreign cities came into focus when, in one of our Saturday night concerts, my wife played a CD from “On the Town,” a Broadway play by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For many years Comden and Green were the prominent producers of lyrics and librettos for Broadway shows. Their use of the English language was inspiring. One of the songs from “On the Town” is “Lonely Town.” Listening to the Comden-Green lyrics to that song, with the music by Leonard Bernstein, is about as good as it gets in a Broadway show. If I may impose, here are the lyrics to “Lonely Town.”

“A town’s a lonely town,
When you pass through
And there is no one waiting there for you,
Then it’s a lonely town.

You wander up and down,
The crowds rush by,
A million faces pass before your eyes,
Still it’s a lonely town.

Unless there’s love,
A love that’s shining like a harbor light,
You’re lost in the night;
Unless there’s love,
The world’s an empty place
And every town’s a lonely town.”

I have traveled enough to know that every town, no matter how big or small, has the potential for being a very lonely town. London was no exception. And so it was that I found myself at Heathrow Airport outside of England’s capitol at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I felt I had no real choice in the matter because when an American is asked or required to attend a meeting in the United Kingdom or on the continent of Europe on a Monday morning, he is obliged to leave home on Saturday evening, and travel overnight to his destination. No matter how much the spouses protest or the children throw tantrums, there is no choice but to get to London or whatever city is involved on Sunday to avoid yawning all the way through the meeting on Monday. One other drawback. Hotel keepers believe that their patrons tend to sleep in on Sunday morning and as a result they do not ask the housemaids to start to work until later in the day. As a result when early arrivals appear at the hotels, they are told that “Your room is not yet ready. Please have a seat in the lobby.” The seat in the lobby will be occupied until 11 or 11:30 or noon time until the housemaids do their work.

And so it was when I alighted from my flight from New York to London, that I was in an inferior mood knowing that I would have two or three hours to kill in the lobby of The Grovener Hotel until the housemaids had vacuumed the rugs and tucked my pillows in properly. As I walked out of Heathrow’s airport terminal, I saw a group of four or five taxi cab drivers waiting for passengers. As I strode to the head of the line, a driver stepped out and said, “Good morning, Yank. How are things in the colonies?” Fortunately I had my wits about me and I replied to him, “Good morning, mate. Things in the colonies are looking up now that we have learned to drive on the right side of the road.” He and the rest of the cab drivers knew that they had a soul mate. The ride to the hotel was inspiring. The driver and I talked of American and English politics, and of our days in the armies of the US and the UK. And suddenly London was no longer a lonely town. I had been welcomed by a new friend. I smiled as I sat on the couch in the Grovener Hotel until my room was ready, somewhere after 11 o’clock that morning. But the point is that London was no longer a lonely town, even on a Sunday morning.

Lonely towns become friendly towns when one finds a good companion. When I began to travel to the Scandinavian countries, I soon met Sven Lernevall in Stockholm, who remains my friend until this day. Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen are not winter vacation destinations. The sun makes an appearance for only a short time each day. But people in the Scandinavian countries are welcoming, and in spite of the weather, somehow Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo are no longer lonely because, as the song says, friends “were waiting there for me.”

Sven Lernevall is well into his 80s now, as I am. But he has not lost an ounce of his sense of humor. Donald Wass could have taken a lesson or two from Sven Lernevall. Recently I inquired of Sven about the proper form of address when one speaks to a stranger in Sweden. It appears that the Swedes use the term “Herr” as do the Germans when they wish to address a stranger. But that is not the end of it. Here is an email message from Sven explaining to me the various forms of address in Sweden.

“Yes, the equivalent of mister is herr. But we seldom use the word herr (or fru, mrs) anymore. When, for instance, they refer to someone in the parliament they do not say herr statsministern (mr prime minister), only statsministern. And they do not say herr Reinfeldt (our prime minister) but Fredrik Reinfeldt. We more or less abolished titles 40-50 years ago. Nowadays we address everyone by the familiar word “du” (you). Formerly we could say Ni to someone, even in singular, if we wanted to show courtesy (like the Germans use Sie or the French use vous). But in Swedish du is only singular i e when you talk to one person, ni is plural i e when you address yourself to several persons. We have not reached that far as you have in English where the word you covers both du and ni.”

“If you understood anything of the linguistic lesson above, just tell me.”

So you can see that Sven has lost none of his sense of humor, which makes him a good companion and which makes Stockholm anything but a lonely town.

In response to Sven’s exercise in the Swedish language, I could only reply that here in New Jersey, when two people are involved, the term “youse” appears often. The bartender would say to a couple, “What would youse two like to drink today?” That is not as good as Sven’s explanation, but it might serve him well the next time he comes to Newark or Camden.

For many years after World War II, I had avoided going to Germany. One way or another, I found myself in Munich with Howard Davis, another former American soldier. Howard was a Vice President of the N.W. Ayer Advertising Company, which had been retained by AT&T for many years. Howard Davis likes a beer now and then. I have no love of beer or any cravings for it. Nonetheless we wandered into a saloon where the tables were placed at about waist level or higher. It was obvious that the tables were supposed to accommodate six to eight standup drinkers of beer. Howard and I were by ourselves until we were joined by a German man dressed in workingman’s clothes. After a swig or two of beer, he looked at me and said in German, “Amerikanischer Soldat? (American soldier?)” I answered in perfect German, “Ja.” He then inquired as to whether I had ever been a POW and I said again, “Ja.” As it turned out he spoke reasonably good English because he had been a prisoner of the British for a large part of the war. After a few more beers the three of us were boon companions and Munich was no longer a lonely town.

Finally there is a town called Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is straight out of a movie set. The streets, as I recall them, were unpaved. Every shopkeeper was friendly and I expected to meet Billy the Kid at every intersection. Alice Springs at that time, in 1980 or thereabouts, had a population of less than 10,000. I am at home with Australians but on this occasion we were warned that we were going to Alice Springs in February, the height of the hot season. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees are quite common in that part of Australia. I was told by the know-nothings in Sydney that I would soon run away from Alice Springs because of the heat and the provincial nature of its offerings. That was not the case. There was a woman who ran a small shop where I wandered in, and by the time I finished my shopping she had sold me a didgeridoo, a great felt hat with the insignia of the Australian Mounted Police, and a necklace of shells strung on a string made by aborigines. I suppose I have trumpeted the virtues of Alice Springs ever since that visit and I regret that I have not been back there since 1982 or 1983. But nonetheless, while there are many lonely towns in this world, I am here to tell you that Alice Springs is not one of them. For those of you who are interested, a didgeridoo is allegedly a musical instrument played by the native Aboriginals.

In the final analysis, it is not hard to become lonely when one is far from home and without companions. Arab cities provide very little warmth for foreigners who are suspected of being Christians. Of all of the Arab capitols that I have visited, only Cairo is really welcoming. All the others are in fact “lonely towns.” But in the rest of the world, the difference is friends. When you are visiting a place, and “there is no one there to meet you,” that is a prescription for a lonely town.

When Don Wass ordered his roomettes on the Pennsy Railroad to go to New York back in 1941, I wondered if I would ever get to Gotham. But in those years, I have lived and worked in New York, and have made many friends there. It is clearly not a lonely town. It seems to me that a large part of avoiding loneliness and lonely towns has to do with your making an effort to call people by their names or shake their hands. I understand loneliness and I understand lonely towns. But with a little bit of luck, that loneliness and the lonely towns can be turned into friendly places. The key is friendship, which is what Sven Lernevall and the London cab driver and the Munich beer drinker and the people of Alice Springs showed to me.

Donald Waas, nee Donalde W. Ass, is now a largely deaf angel. Betty Comden and Adolph Green died within the past three years. We will hear no more of their lyrics or their librettos. What a shame!

November 29, 2007
Essay 272
Kevin’s commentary: An instant favorite. This one really hit home for me. It was striking for me how much different Beijing — a city I love — felt the second time I was there, when I didn’t have a circle of fifty friends with me. I wrote the following blog post soon after arrival:

Pop is damn good at making friends, though, and I’d imagine that in his heyday not many towns wound up being lonely for him. I’ll have to work a little more on that talent.


The United States government has its hands full in dealing with the war in Iraq. There is also the problem of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gasoline prices going through the ceiling, the bust in real estate prices, and the failure of the Attorney General and his chief assistant to answer questions put to them by the Congressional Judiciary Committees. Nonetheless, Gonzales’s Department of Justice in Washington is hell bent on pursuing Deborah Jean Palfrey on charges that her escort service in Washington is nothing more than a front for prostitution. For the record, it is the belief of every sophisticated human being that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. It has existed since the beginning of time and it will continue to exist until the world goes up in smoke. But the Department of Justice, under the infallible leadership of Alberto Gonzales, is determined to wipe out good old Deborah Jean Palfrey. She claims that all she is doing is running an escort service in Washington which also provides erotic fantasies for the outsized egos of its demanding customers. Given a choice, my vote would go inevitably to Deborah Jean Palfrey.

This is a morality essay. Every morality essay must have an author that is pure in heart. I confess that during my school days I ogled at several “dirty little books.” Those dirty books were small items measuring about three inches by four inches and were kept hidden from parents and teachers. At the time, Popeye was a popular cartoon, also called the funny pages, with his girl friend Olive Oyl. There was another comic called Maggie and Jigs. These dirty little books had nude drawings of Maggie and Jigs and Popeye and Olive Oyl in compromising positions. Most of the readers thought the dirty books were funny rather than being salacious. To atone for my looking at those little books, I have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo, Beijing, and Perth, Australia, and I have even considered appealing to the religious authorities in Umeå, Sweden. So as you can see, having confessed my sins, my heart is pure and I am in a perfect position to write this essay.

The thrust of the government’s case is aimed at Deborah Jean Palfrey. Deborah Jean is a simple woman who buys all of her clothes from Sears and Roebuck. She wears low-heeled shoes that lace up over her cotton stockings which are rolled at just below the knee and secured by a rubber band. Deborah Jean owns no half slips; she wears the full slips that her mother used to make out of flour sacks and wears only cotton house dresses. Deborah Jean wears no makeup and certainly no earrings or necklaces. Her hair is long and is curled in a knot because, under her religion, it is a sin to “bob your hair.” She wears no rings on her fingers and her glasses usually come from the F.W. Woolworth dime store. So you see, Deborah Jean is in fact a very simple woman.

For the past several years, Deborah Jean has operated an “escort” service in Washington, D.C. Presumably when men go to Washington, D.C., they are often invited to formal dinners and Deborah Jean Palfrey performs a commendable service by providing them with female escorts. At this point, I might add that I was working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for nearly four years and attended many dinners, but it never occurred to me to call an “escort” service for someone to accompany me. I suppose that just shows how naïve a country boy could be when thrust into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Washington, D.C.

Upon closer examination, it appears that Deborah Jean’s escort service supplies some other services as well. It was discovered during the preliminary hearings on the suit against her that her girls claimed to be college-educated. It was further disclosed that for three hundred dollars they would perform erotic dances for 90 minutes for their clients. Under the arrangement with the escort service, the girls split the fee with Miss Palfrey. Miss Palfrey strongly insists that she has no idea whatsoever as to whether the erotic dancers also engaged in sexual relations, and she has no intention of asking a question on that score. Miss Palfrey says this is a matter between her escorts and her clients.

Ah, but now we have Deborah Jean’s ace in the hole. Over the years, Deborah Jean has collected a catalog of two thousand telephone numbers of her clients. I suspect also that she has made arrangements to gather their credit card numbers as well, but that point is not clear at this writing. Apparently Deborah Jean does not have a computer that is able to track down telephone numbers and turn them into names. To overcome this deficiency, Miss Palfrey has given 20% of the list to ABC News and they are trying to turn the telephone numbers into names of people. So you see Miss Palfrey is holding a monstrous ace in the hole.

When ABC News began its search of telephone numbers, it brought down two very large birds with one shot. The first person on the list turns out to be a former commander in the United States Navy who had engaged Miss Palfrey’s offerings. He is Howard Ullman. The former Commander Ullman contends that it is all a mistake and that he did not engage the services of Miss Palfrey’s escorts. Therefore, no sexual activity took place.

About two weeks after the foregoing denial, Commander Ullman has recanted his earlier testimony and says that indeed he did engage Ms. Palfrey’s escorts and that sexual activity took place. Perhaps his earlier denial was a source of agitation to his conscience.

When the Iraq war started, Commander Ullman was the author of the effort to “shock and awe” the Iraqis. The Iraqis did not go into shock and awe by our bombing campaign, but they lived long enough to see Commander Ullman having his own case of shock and awe by the disclosure of ABC News.

The second of the two who were shot down by ABC News, was the Deputy Director of the U. S. Department of State. He is Randall K. Tobias, married, 65 years old and at the State Department he was outranked only by Condoleezza Rice.

Now we come to Randy’s duties at the State Department. Randy was in charge of seeing to it that foreign governments promoted abstinence-only programs. He was also in charge of denying applications for funds from the United States for governments that encouraged or endured prostitution. Now may I ask you, how would a representative of the United States government go, for example, to the Congo and preach that every long-distance truck driver should abstain from sexual relations and that he should decline the offerings of prostitutes? Here we have a case of the United States government slaughtering people by the hundreds in Iraq, allowing thousands to die in Darfur, and demanding abstinence-only programs in the rest of the world.

Randall Tobias is a familiar name to most of us who worked for AT&T. At one point, after the reorganization following the Telecommunications Act of 1984, Randy was in charge of AT&T – Communications. This was a major appointment in that he controlled the fortunes of a very lucrative part of the business. In later life, good old Randy was also the Chairman of Ely Lilly. He also served for three years as President of the Board of Trustees of Duke University. It might also be observed that another one of his functions as Deputy Director of State was to promote fidelity in marriage. So Randy is a significant figure to be brought down by the first shot out of Miss Palfrey’s list of telephone numbers.

Randy did the only decent thing, and resigned his job at the United States Department of State. He at least had the decency to get out of town, which is what Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General, ought to do as well. Now I am not Randy Tobias’s ophthalmologist, but it appears to me that Randy must have been extremely near-sighted. Late at night, Randy has offered the thought that he needed a massage. Ordinarily, men would look under the massage offerings in the classified telephone directory, but Randy’s eyes must have given out before he ever reached the M’s. Instead his eyes came to rest on Miss Palfrey’s escort service, so he called them to send over a girl to perform a massage operation on his delicate frame. I must warn you that if you believe what Randy has said, there is a lovely bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn that I will sell you at a very decent price.

Randy has insisted that there was no sex involved. I suppose he merely got his massage together with a little erotic dancing and that was it. If Randy says there were no sexual relations, as a former AT&T employee I am obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. Every former employee of the AT&T Company and its Associated Companies as well as the Bell Labs is bound by the Boy Scouts Oath of Honor. So if Randy said no sex was involved, then I am prepared to endorse that position with fervor.

The executives at ABC News have belatedly concluded that they are in the business of providing news rather than looking up telephone numbers from Miss Palfrey’s list. Before they reached that conclusion, their efforts had yielded the names of officials at NASA, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, military officers and a “career Justice Department prosecutor.” So you see, Commander Ullman and Randy Tobias merely led the list of those exposed by Deborah Jean’s telephone list. She still holds 80% of the list so perhaps surprises are yet to be announced.

The author of this essay wishes to make one more confession, which will establish that his heart is as white as the snow. This old author came from St. Louis where morals existed on the highest plane in concert with prostitution which took place in several downtown residential neighborhoods. During the Depression years of the 1930’s, in many of those buildings, a small red light would appear in the front window. Obviously, every cop in St. Louis was a Boy Scout who contended that his job was to direct traffic and not to disturb those nice people who had a red light in the window. If old Randall Tobias wanted to extend his program of abstinence, he should have been engaged in St. Louis. I can assure Mr. Tobias that there were several places that could have used his services to extend his program of abstinence and fidelity. But the burden of my final confession has to do with my discharge from the Army of the United States.

When November 1945 rolled around, I found myself on a creaky, antiquated bus heading for St. Louis from Memphis, Tennessee. My ultimate destination was Scott Field, where I would be honorably discharged from the Army of the United States. The bus was packed to the gills, and I found that my seatmate was a young woman, probably in her 20’s. She was also headed for St. Louis and it soon became clear that she was a prostitute and regarded St. Louis as “the big time.” She offered me her services which she said could be accomplished at rest stops in Blytheville Arkansas or in Sikeston, Missouri. I politely declined her offer which is what Commander Ullman and Chairman Tobias should have done in their encounters with Deborah Jean’s escorts. So you see, my heart is pure, which enables me to recite this tale about Madam Palfrey.

Well, there you have my thoughts about the prosecution of Deborah Jean Palfrey. If Deborah Jean goes to jail, may I ask, does this mean the end of prostitution around the world? Does it mean the end of erotic dancing in men’s hotel rooms? Does it mean that when men are examining the yellow pages looking for massage parlors, their eyes will wear out earlier in the alphabet and make them call an escort service? Does Miss Palfrey’s prosecution mean the end of legal prostitution in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Copenhagen as well as many of the other cities in Europe? Are the manufacturers of red light bulbs going to be bankrupt?

In point of fact, Randall Tobias was a fraud, as is the abstinence-only effort by the United States government. Whether the purists in the U. S. government believe that prostitution can be stamped out, the fact is that the world’s oldest profession will be here long after they are gone. So now I retire to my radio to wait for Deborah Jean Palfrey to play her “Ace in the Hole” to bring down another corpulent fraud with self induced ego.

Perhaps if Deborah Jean Palfrey, with her cotton stockings rolled up to her knees and in her house dress, is successfully prosecuted by our federal government, I can only say that in this country, there ain’t no justice.

May 10, 2007
Essay 251
Kevin’s commentary: She was convicted of money laundering in 2008 and sentenced to five or six years in jail. Soon thereafter the poor woman turned up dead. The case was ruled a suicide, but there exists a decent amount of evidence that this was not the case. Probably the most compelling evidence was her repeated public insistence that she would never commit suicide. Unfortunately I think her “ace in the hole” was too valuable and potentially too damning. If there was no foul play, that is perhaps an even greater tragedy.


Some years ago, Frank Mullin and Pat Downey found themselves in the lobby of a plush hotel in Kuwait City on a Thursday evening. Frank Mullin was an old hand in dealing with Arab nations. This was Pat Downey’s first trip with Frank as his assistant. Those who travel in the Middle East know that Friday is the Muslim holy day. Generally speaking, workers spend some time in the office on Thursday morning but by noon they are gone. The restaurants seem to follow that same practice. Of course, none of them come to work on Friday, the holy day.

At this time, there were no English language newspapers in Kuwait City. The only papers and magazines were in Arabic and the sellers of those publications quit work at noon on Thursday as well. Television was new at that time but on holy days, which included Thursday and Friday, the fare on television was religious in nature and totally in Arabic. The owners of the hotels would provide meals for their travelers but they were served at a specific time and if one dawdled a little bit, one would miss a meal. That was a tragedy because there were no restaurants open other than those in the hotel.

And so it was that Frank Mullin and Pat found themselves on a Thursday night in a situation that I am sure they regretted. It was a case of botched airline schedules rather than planning to be in that Arabic city on that particular occasion. At about nine or ten that evening, Pat and Frank were sitting on a plush couch in the lobby of the plush hotel. Pat turned to Frank and asked him, “What is there to do in this town?”

Frank gave Pat a succinct answer. He said, “You are doing it.” That answer told Pat Downey that he was in for another full day of lonesomeness and boredom.

It seems to me that lonesomeness is a close relative of boredom. Perhaps the psychoanalyst will dispute that conclusion, but I suggest that lonesome people may also be afflicted with boredom.

I am certain that lonesomeness afflicts men as well as women. However men have more outlets, apparently, than women do. They can go to a bar or to a ball game by themselves. To go to a bar or a ball game, the lonesome female would ordinarily have to recruit another lonesome person to go with her. This is not always easy to do.

AT&T was a large organization which provided an opportunity for determining who was a lonesome person. For a time when I worked at the headquarters in Manhattan, there was a secretary who sat directly outside my office. She was the secretary for a good friend of mine named Charlie Miller. Her name was Audrey W. and when addressed, Audrey would reply in tones that suggested that she might be thinking of something else. She was an attractive woman but her friendships with other women on the floor seemed non-existent. Audrey for all intents and purposes was a lone wolf. At the going-away party for her boss, Charlie Miller, I was the master of ceremonies. The going-away party had a little drinking and a lot of fun. For better or for worse, Audrey did not join in either the drinking or the fun-making. I am sure that she was fond of Charlie Miller, but she hung around the edges of the crowd. I had no thought of ever inviting Audrey to speak on that occasion because it could have embarrassed her. As far as I knew, Audrey was married, but as an amateur psychiatrist she always struck me as a lonesome person. Perhaps she was bored as well.

A related case, again at AT&T, is a woman named Marie Datre. When there were office celebrations, such as the Christmas party or a going-away party, Marie would always be on the fringes of the crowd. For the three years we shared the same office, I tried to be pleasant to Marie and occasionally draw her out. No luck.

Marie was single as far as I could tell, and I suspect that if there were a wedding or funeral, she might make her presence known but then would grab a seat against a wall. After a time, I confined my remarks to Marie to “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and let it go at that. Marie was a lonesome person and there was not much that I could do about it. I concluded that if Marie ever wanted to be married, she would have to show a little more animation. Marie died last year and I suggest that she was lonely to the end.

In this town, there is a woman named Jill whom I suspect is now in her early fifties. For many years I have seen Jill and her mother shopping at one of our big markets. She seemed exceptionally close to her mother and in recent years, it appears that her mother has died. Jill seems to be on her own. Her lonesomeness takes a different path from that of Audrey W. or Marie Datre. In Jill’s case, clerks at the grocery store, the post office, and the tax collectors’ must dislike to see Jill coming. Jill is capable of talking the arm off of one of these clerks. Again, as an amateur psychiatrist, I conclude that Jill misses her mother. But I am here to tell you that if Jill ever seeks to acquire a husband, which I am sure she has done, her constant chatter would drive him off in an instant. I almost forgot that Jill also spends a considerable amount of time jawing with the tax collector. Jerry, the tax collector, is a pleasant person and I suspect that he might welcome these conversations with Jill because not many people have nice things to say to old Jerry. But Jerry is married and is the father of two or three children so if Jill has him on her prospects list, she must cross him off.

The final woman I have to offer as an exhibit of lonesomeness is Ida. I suspect that Ida is a woman well into her seventies or early eighties. She shops at the food market, apparently every day. The clerks in the produce department at the Whole Foods Market tell me that Ida makes an appearance every day and if she does not show up, they become concerned about her. From all appearances, Ida is a widow or a spinster. There is no man in sight. But again, as in the case of Jill, Ida’s lonesomeness takes the form of endless conversations with the clerks at the market. Apparently the clerks there do not always understand what Ida has had to say. They nod and say “Yes.” When they wish to break off a conversation with Ida, they typically say, “I have to go to the back room.” But that ploy does not always work. Ida keeps on talking.

Gregorio Russo is the first produce clerk one sees when entering the Whole Foods Market. Gregorio has had his many conversations over the years with Ida. Far from being turned off by her verbosity, Gregorio once told me that “She is a lonesome woman.” I reached the same conclusion as Professor Russo. She is a lonesome woman and perhaps it is the clerks at the grocery store that provide her with the means to express her outlook on life. The clerks listen to what Ida has to say and nod. In doing so, I am convinced that they are providing a decent and honorable response in keeping Ida alive.

Well there you have my views on several lonesome women. My wife relates that she knew a lonesome man who married a lonesome woman. The marriage did not result in their becoming more gregarious; they were just two lonesome people living together. I have no idea what will cure lonesomeness and I am certain that there are people who would not be interested in any cure that might be available. They seem to be happy as they are, I suppose. But as I leave you, I hope that you will always listen gently to the words of lonesome people such as Jill and Ida. They need to talk to overcome their lonesomeness and by your listening, you are providing a welcome therapeutic service.

When I took over the International Correspondence job, it occurred to me in looking at the records that Frank Mullin had been responsible for the Arab countries for perhaps three or four years. One day I went to Frank’s office and offered him the thought that there was an opening in Europe or in the Pacific, and asked him if he would like to look at green grass rather than sand. Frank said, “I’ll think about that,” and he pondered it perhaps for two or three days. In the end, Frank came back to me and said that for the future he would prefer to stick with the Arab countries. He also said that for the future he would learn not to spend Thursday and Friday evening in an Arab capital. That would save him answering the question, “What is there to do in this town?” by saying, “You are doing it.”

Some people are lonesome and some are bored. I am at a loss to tell you where to draw the line.

June 3, 2007
Essay 259
Kevin’s commentary: I consider myself rather lucky to be born in an age where basically the sum total of human knowledge can be carried around in one’s pocket on a daily basis. Makes it a lot harder to be bored. Nominally the internet can help you be less lonely too, I guess. At least can give you people to talk to!

Also, is it bad to admit that I had no idea that a “tax collector” was still a thing that existed? When I think of a tax collector, I think of feudal England, and some guy coming to harass the serfs for their silver. My “tax collector” is Turbotax, an online program. Is Jerry like a repo man? Is he there to make you pay after you’re delinquent? Are there enough tax dodgers in Short Hills, NJ to make this a full-time job?