Archive for May 2014

CELIBATE SEX

My wife, Ms. Judith Chicka, says that the title of this piece is a non-sequitur. And she is a descendent of the Serbian royal family so she should know what she is talking about. On the other hand, it is my belief that the title is nothing more than an oxymoron.

The Bishops of the American Catholic faith are meeting in Washington this week. Their annual meeting has been held in Washington for many years. When I worked as a lobbyist for AT&T in the last half of the 1960’s, the meetings were covered in great detail by religious reporters from the Washington Post and the Washington Star. I have always been an avid reader of newspapers so I followed the developments at the Bishops conference with some interest. In spite of the fact that I am not a member of the Catholic faith, it was interesting for me to read about the dialog that took place at the conference.

Several years after I left Washington, I began a long standing wrestling match with an ailment called aphasia. That ailment makes it very difficult to call people’s names to mind. It seems to affect other nouns as well. To recall certain names to mind, I am obliged to use other references. For example, the word persimmon did not register easily in my brain for more than three years. I finally connected it with Simmons mattresses, so I can now recall persimmons to mind. Recently I had a problem with the words “inferiority complex.” In that case, I remembered Sherwin-Williams paint which said that their paints were superior. The opposite of superiority is inferiority and from that I have been able to figure out the term inferiority complex.

Now to go back a few years, my reading of the Bishops conference led me to believe that they had an active interest in purgatory. Purgatory gave me fits trying to recall that name recently. I am now able to do that by thinking of the Black Draught purgative, now called laxative, which then leads me into the word purgatory. I know this is a long way to get from here to there, but that’s the way it has to be done for those of us who have lesions in the brain resulting from a stroke and seizures. For those with long memories, Black Draught came in a small yellow package and a small amount was mixed into a glass of warm water. My recollection is that the purgative produced almost immediate results.

Now that I can remember some of the words that have to work in this essay, we can proceed to discuss celibate sex.

In the Bishop’s conference this year, there seemed to be extensive debate on sexual matters. The first had to do with homosexuals and the second had to do with contraceptives.

It took a long time, perhaps centuries, for the church to acknowledge that homosexuals existed. It took them another eon to admit that some of them were Catholic. In my own view, I find this amusing because some of the most creative people known to me were homosexuals.

In any case, the Bishops debated about homosexuals again this year and decided, by a vote of about two to one, that homosexuals were acceptable provided that they did not have homosexual relations. In other words, gay and lesbian folks are accepted by the Bishops so long as they don’t engage in the relations of their sexual desires. I do not know what the Bishops would conclude if a homosexual person set out to enjoy heterosexual sex. That aspect apparently did not occur to the Bishops.

This is a little like inviting a fat man to a banquet and telling him that it is okay to stand around or perhaps even to sit at the table, but please don’t eat the food. Homosexuals are moved by the same desire for relations with other like-minded people, much as heterosexual people are also moved.

I wonder what the Bishops would say to a young heterosexual who engages in what we call normal sexual relations. Is he less sinful than the homosexual who engages in gay or lesbian sex?. I am a bit confused by the Bishop’s vote which turned out to have a substantial minority. Were the minority voters simply saying that homosexuals had no right to be in the church or were they saying that it is permissible to have homosexual relations? It is probably well that no Americans of Irish descent such as myself should be a pope because we would say that it is hard to find the sin. Folks of our sort would say, “Be happy” and come to church every Sunday and don’t miss the Parish bingo games each week.

Now we turn to the second part of the Bishop’s discussion this week which had to do with the use of artificial contraceptive devices. As expected, the Bishops came down foursquare against the use of those instruments to prevent pregnancies. My inquiring mind would turn to a question of whether a heterosexual male would have sexual relations with a heterosexual female and use one of those dreaded and evil contraceptive devices. The question would seem to be how many violations of the Church rule are involved.

Does having sexual relations outside of marriage constitute a sin?. Secondly, if the couple were to use the devices, would that constitute a second sin?

The Bishops conceded that only 4% of married Catholics actually use the approved natural birth control methods which rely upon relations outside the females fertile period. It seems to me that the natural method works best when one or both parties are sterile. But whether this is the case or not, I am amazed at the amount of time that the aged celibate Bishops spend on sexual matters. I would have thought these things would have been furthest from their minds. In my own view, the Bishops should return to debating about purgatory. What is it? How long do people have to stay there? Do some sins keep you in purgatory longer than others?

I am intrigued by all of these matters when I think of Monsignor William Clarke, the former Rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, who had a so-called “secretary” who worked for him over a period of more than 20 years. In the divorce proceedings involving his secretary and her husband, it was agreed that the woman spent weekends with the Monsignor and often took vacations with him. There was no claim that Monsignor Clarke and the secretary refrained from sexual relations. We simply don’t know what happened. On these long weekends and vacations, are we to understand that the Monsignor and his secretary were only discussing details of life in purgatory? In the final analysis, I suspect that she was guilty of adultery, but is that where it ends?

If the Monsignor and his secretary engaged in relations using an artificial birth control device, does that constitute two sins? Would it have been better for them to produce a child outside of marriage? Or several children?

Monsignor Clarke, the former Rector, also had a home on Long Island where he spent his weekends. I assume that any children that he might have had would be given a parochial education and would grow up to be good citizens. But now we have the question of whether his secretary was guilty of adultery and was he guilty of violating his vow of celibacy?

I am, at this late date in life, longing for the Bishops to go back to discussing all the aspects of purgatory. I think that they are out of their depth and in over their heads when they begin to discuss matters of a sexual nature. I am at a loss to know why they do this but I suspect that the director of the annual Bishops conference must use the sexual matters as fillers. In other words, if he has a gap in the proceedings, the director of the Bishops can call for a discussion of gays and lesbians and those who are intent on lovemaking among heterosexuals.

What the Bishops conference should address is whether Msgr. Clarke ever eventually made an honest woman out of his alleged secretary or did he send her out on her own to pursue her skills at shorthand and typing. Ahh, but the Bishops are hung up on gays and lesbians and those evil, wicked condoms. But no matter how you cut it, the Bishops have provided me with excellent entertainment for the past 40 years. For that I am truly grateful.

E. E. CARR
November 16, 2006
Essay 217
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: The way I see it, the purgatory question and the contraceptives question have a lot to do with one another. If a sin is a sin, then for instance lesbian sex which doesn’t involve contraceptives would be just as bad as heterosexual sex with protection, right? I get that the ten commandments and other such sins would have a certain weight to them, but once you get past those then how do you compare the gravity of one sin to another? Thankfully, the answer is whatever you want it to be because the concept of sin is bullshit. Phew.

On a different note, I read somewhere that when stroke victims regain things like speech and mobility, the process of doing so necessitates the brain to form brand new cognitive pathways around disabled tissue. So I think that in a way, connecting persimmon to mattresses in order to recall it is an example of this reformed pathway in action. The part of Pop’s brain that used to let him access that word is dead/disabled/fused, but now he can get to it through a different route. That route may have one more step but at the speed of neurotransmitters that difference is imperceptible.

HAS ANYONE ASKED THE PATIENT?

The title of this piece is not intended to annoy or provoke a negative response from the American medical profession. Quite to the contrary. These pieces, having to do with medical conditions, are offered in the hope that they may add to the knowledge of what is known about the body. In effect, these essays deal with the effects of conditions as they relate to a patient. The researchers have had much to say, as have had the pundits in academia. The pharmaceutical industry has not been reluctant to offer its thoughts. Doctors from time to time have also contributed to the body of knowledge having to do with medical practice. What is missing here is a response by the patient. Somehow, the patient seems to have been overlooked in this debate. So these essays go to the point of trying to explain the effects of the conditions that are associated with strokes, seizures, and blindness.

I have no academic credentials that would enable me to explain the causes of these reactions. I can only relate to the effects of what has taken place in my own case. It is my hope that this information will add to the body of knowledge about these three conditions. They are written in a conversational style which I suspect some of you may welcome as a departure from the highly technical clinical studies that are offered to physicians. The longest word in these essays has to do with a medical procedure called a trabeculectomy. But that word is a commonplace among ophthalmologists.

The story should start probably in 1987 when I had a coronary artery bypass graft performed by Dr. Eric Rose at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. There were no aftereffects from that operation. In 1992, there was a transient ischemic attack (TIA) that left my left arm limp for about 36 hours. That started my regimen of taking cumadin at a level of around five milligrams per day.

At the end of 1997, it was determined that I needed an aortic valve replacement. The surgeon recommended that I discontinue the use of cumadin in preparation for that operation. He suggested, “Lay off for five days.” However, on the fourth or fifth day I had a stroke. Fortunately the stroke did not affect my limbs but it did leave me with a substantial case of aphasia.

In the ensuing years there were three or three and a half seizures, with the last one occurring in May of 2004. As you will note if you read these earlier essays, the effects of the stroke and of the seizures were to wipe out significant pieces from my memory.

After the stroke of 1997, I became a patient at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation here in northern New Jersey. As a means of exercising my brain, Shirley Morgenstein, the Director, suggested that I should write essays. Some 200 essays or more have now been written on various subjects and the collection here comes from the output of these adventures into prose.

Going down the line, there are four essays having to do with blindness. For better or for worse, my family has been afflicted with glaucoma, which resulted in blindness to my father and to my elder brother and now to me. In the first essay called “Fading to Gray,” written about 18 months before blindness finally occurred, you will note the inevitability that blindness posed in my case. The ensuing essays were called “Sing No Sad Songs for This Old Geezer,” which was intended to announce the fact that I was now blind to my friends and associates. At the six-month mark of my blindness, there was an essay called “Are You Going to Believe Me or Your Lying Eyes?” That of course is a remark by the famed comedian Groucho Marx. As I completed the first full year of blindness, I dictated the essay called “It’s Only the First Inning.”

Again, I hold no brief for explaining what causes strokes or seizures or blindness. These essays are offered simply to reflect the views of a patient. It is my hope, obviously, that they may offer in some way a contribution to the body of knowledge about these three conditions.

And so, I have answered my own question, that is the title of this piece. I have asked the patient and these six essays represent his response.

Finally, I wish to state that my medical problems have been well taken care of by caring physicians. First there was Eric Rose, whose CABG operation is now approaching the completion of its nineteenth year. That may be a record for CABG operations and I am grateful. Then there are the ophthalmologists such as Eric Gurwin of the Summit Medical Group and Jay Katz of the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. I have great respect for both of these men. Then there is Andrew Beamer, a cardiologist who is not only a fine and decent fellow but a good friend. Many others in the Summit Medical Group have kept me alive and kicking as I enter my 85th year. And at last, there is Richard Robbins, an ophthalmologist who was prosecuted for fondling seven women. He made two mistakes: he fondled a lady cop and he contended after this broke in the papers that in touching the woman’s chest he was searching for signs of future eye problems. Even I know that signs of future eye problems are found on the scalp not on the chest. I offered to testify at Robbins’ trial but was turned down by his attorney. In any case, the point is that I have great respect for the medical community and for the work it does. I suspect I would not be here if it were not for that.

E. E. CARR
July 26, 2006
Essay 205
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: The following essays to be posted to this site will be the ones referenced in this essay. I know “Sing no sad songs for this old geezer” well; it is an Ezra’s Essays classic. I do not believe I have read “It’s Only the First Inning,” among some of the others mentioned, so I look forward to those.

I’m reminded of a quote here, by a man named Charles Bukowski. He titled his book “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Pop has seen a hell of a lot, so to speak, of fire. Blindness in one’s old age, strokes, seizures, aphasia — not easy things to brush off. But he hasn’t really complained, just as his father didn’t complain.

MAIL CALL

This essay has an air of inevitability about it. If a pitcher stands on the mound and expectorates on the baseball, the batter should know that the next pitch will inevitably be a spitball which will start out at waist level and sink to his shoe-tops by the time it crosses the plate.

There is also an inevitability about essay writing. If an event happens only once in 61 years and involves the Girl Scouts, it is inevitable that an essay must be written about it. The unwritten essay will say to the author, “If you don’t write me, I will write the essay myself.” And so there is a degree of inevitability about this essay. Let me try to tell you about it.

Soldiers of every nation will tell you that, next to going home, they look forward with great anticipation to receiving mail from there. That, of course, is why this essay is entitled “Mail Call.” In my case it ordinarily took at least two to three weeks for a letter mailed from my home in St. Louis to reach me in the African and Italian theaters of war. I am speaking of course about the Second World War.

The letters were collected at a military post office in Miami, Florida called an APO which means Army Post Office. Following the APO was a three digit number which directed the mail to the proper location. For example, When I served in Italy or in Africa, my mail was always addressed to the APO number in Miami. I assume the clerks at the APO in Miami separated the letters by the APO number into the varied designations and placed them into heavy canvas sacks. From that point on, they started a torturous journey involving several countries.

The planes that carried the mailbags were usually C-87’s which were the cargo version of the B-24 bombers. The first stop was Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico. The second stop was at Georgetown, British Guyana. The enlisted men’s barracks at Georgetown had small lizards that crawled over the supporting beams for the roof. I made three trips through Georgetown and never enjoyed a nights sleep there in any case.

The next stop was over jungle growth so heavy that if an airplane were lost there, it would be almost impossible to find it. The tall trees and the jungle growth would seem to simply absorb it. The flight from Georgetown was aimed at Natal, Brazil. If fuel was running a little low, the airplane could put in at Belem, Brazil or at a place called Fortaleza. At Natal, Brazilian salesmen were permitted to enter onto the flight lines to sell such things as perfume and their Natal boots. I bought a pair of Natal boots but never wore them on a flight. If it were necessary to use a parachute, when the chute opened, in all likelihood the boots would come off the feet. Consequently, I flew wearing Army high top shoes.

From Natal came the first ocean hop to a little known place in the South Atlantic called Ascension Island. It is a one mile square island which consists almost entirely of volcanic ash. A runway had been constructed amid the ash heaps which permitted it to a have a long runway. If the airplane missed the center line of the runway, there was a good chance that it would scrape the sides of the channel with one of its wingtips. Ascension Island, as I have said before, is one of the five loneliest places in the world. It was a British possession when the Americans took it over largely for the use of Pan American Airways. Today, that island does not even appear on most maps. I suspect that it is without inhabitants and no one seems to care about it anymore.

From Ascension Island to the next stop was Accra in British West Africa in a country called the Gold Coast. Since the early 1960’s, that country is now called Ghana.

When the mail reached Accra, it was separated into two sets. One shipment went north into North Africa and the Italian theatre of war, with several stops on the way. The second shipment headed eastward to the foot of the Himalayan Mountains to be delivered to those troops fighting the Japanese. Many stops along the way occurred at American bases at such places as El Genina and El Fasher in the Darfur region of the Sudan. It ended with delivery to the forces in the eastern-most province of India called Assam.

The arrival of mail at a post overseas occurred about once every 10 days. But if we were very lucky, there might be a weekly delivery. But on average, the mail arrived between ten days and two and one half weeks.

In those days there was no e-mail, of course. The only means of correspondence was letters and postcards. In late 1943 or 1944, the post office developed a thin sheet of paper called a V-mail. V-mail is a single thin piece of paper onto which you could write your message and fold it so that there was no envelope required. Mail in those days cost only three cents for a first-class letter. I believe that those V-mails addressed to soldiers required no postage.

Weight was very important because the mail was carried on cargo planes. The mail usually was an added starter after the rest of the cargo had been loaded. If there was no room for mail on the first flight, it had to be held for subsequent flights, which accounts for the delay in delivery. Obviously, the drawback to using V-mail was that the writer could not say much at all on one small tissue-like piece of paper.

When mail arrived at a base, the word would spread very quickly. The sack would be taken to the squadron headquarters and at lunchtime or when the work was finished for the day, the squadron clerk opened a window in the Quartermaster’s Office and then yelled “m-a-i-l c-a-l-l.” Within instants, perhaps forty or fifty men would show up right outside the window. As the squadron clerk called your name you were expected to answer out “Hyoh.” It was never a case of saying “I am here” or “That’s for me.” Everyone learned that the proper response was the single syllable “Hyoh.”

If your friends were away on a mission or at work, it was a solemn duty to claim their mail and to bring it back to the tent or barracks. On top of that, whenever the missing soldier returned to the tent or barracks, it was appropriate to tell him that he had some mail waiting for him. That would cause everybody’s face to light up.

Getting the mail from the squadron clerk was not always an easy task. It required that the mail be passed overhead from one hand to another until it reached the proper recipient. Once it was in the recipients hand, it was a sacred duty to take the mail back to your tent or barracks and to distribute it where it could be found easily. The point here is that receiving mail in the army was an extremely important operation. One did not walk around the base with a letter for another soldier carelessly tucked into his pocket. That would have been a gross error in etiquette.

Well now that I have told you about the importance of mail to soldiers, I will tell you a little about a mail delivery that I received on November 8, 2006. I knew that Veterans Day would come along in a few days but I was not paying any attention to it. On November 8, 1945, I receive my honorable discharge from the American Army. As Veterans Day, formerly called Armistice Day, came and went over these six decades, no one made a fuss about it. There were no congratulatory telephone calls or postcards. Perhaps there might have been a march now and then by the local American Legion Post or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, that is about as far as it went.

In all those 61 years since my discharge from the American Army, no one ever said to me that they appreciated my service in our Armed Forces. But to be honest, I never expected anyone to offer good wishes on Veterans Day. When the Second World War came along, I thought it was my duty to volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. It was as simple as that and after my discharge I had no relationship with the armed forces. I do not attend reunions nor did I ever join a VFW Post or a veterans organization of any kind. I had done my duty and it was my intention to get on with life.

This November 8th was a different story. One afternoon the doorbell rang and my wife answered. Two Girl Scouts from Troop 132 of the Glenwood School asked my wife if a veteran lived here. She replied that that was the case. At that point the Girl Scouts gave my wife a small bag with a letter and some presents. The presents were a large pencil with stars and stripes on it and a lapel pin. In addition there was a magnetic marker to hold things against the refrigerator, for example. It also had a flag on it.

When my wife read me the letter that the Girl Scouts had written and presented me with their gifts, tears came to my eyes. After all of these sixty-one years, the Girl Scout Troop 132 of Glenwood School remembered. How can any old soldier not show some emotion when he receives such a gift? It is no wonder that my eyes had some tears.

Here is the letter that the Girl Scouts wrote to me:
mail call 1 resized

Here is the letter that I dictated to my wife in response to the letter from the Girl Scouts:

Girl Scouts of America
Millburn Troop 132, Glenwood School
Short Hills, New Jersey

Your gift brought tears to my eyes.

In the summer of 1942, I volunteered to join the United States Army. I was honorably discharged more than three years later, coincidentally, on November 8, 1945. Your gift was delivered on the 61st anniversary of my discharge.

I am very appreciative of your gift because in all of those years from 1942 to the present, no one has ever given me a gift for my service in the United States Army. I thank you very much. And I will treasure your gift for as long as I am around.

All best wishes to the Glenwood Girl Scouts, Troop #132.

Stay strong,
signature

 

And finally, here is the letter that my wife attached to my letter:

To the Girl Scouts of Troop 132,

Ed Carr, my husband is an essayist. He wrote the attached essay “They Never Betrayed Me” to tell his daughters – for the first time – what had happened on the air raid that led to his imprisonment and his subsequent rescue by the Italian Partisans. Perhaps this will give you a flavor of what our fliers endured during World War II.

I am also including a VHS tape having to do with a plaque in New York that honors some of my husband’s co-workers at AT&T who were killed in World War II. This tape was made as part of a project of the Library of Congress in Washington to preserve the memories of WWII.

Perhaps the essay and the tape will give you a better idea about my husband’s service in the American Army. He is too modest to send these, but I will. My husband, who is now blind, was very touched by your gift.

Best regards,
Judith A. Chicka (Mrs. E. E. Carr)

So you see, when the Girl Scouts delivered their letter to me, it was inevitable that I should have a response. It was inevitable that I would write them a letter telling them how much I appreciated their gifts. I am certain that those two Girl Scouts will grow up to be good and thoughtful citizens. They were thoughtful in this case to have remembered me for my service in a war that, from their standpoint, must be thought of as a prehistoric conflict. If there were tears associated with these developments, I would say that they are well deserved.

Now about that spitball pitcher. The spitball was outlawed several years ago but it is alleged that a good many pitchers still throw it. If you are ever in a batter’s box and you think the pitcher is going to throw you a spitball, it is recommended that you move up in the batter’s box and try to hit it before it starts its downward flight. The chances are that you will miss the spitball but unfortunately that’s the very best advice that I can give you. There are teachers who rail against the use of the word spit, but for all of the years that I have been associated with baseball, I have never heard of a pitcher throwing an expectoration pitch. So spitballs and inevitability are the backbone of this essay.

E. E. CARR
November 14, 2006
Essay 216
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: A favorite’s favorite. Good on the girl scouts for remembering, and on Pop for replying. I’m a little annoyed at myself in the past for not saying anything over years and years of Veteran’s days (I was pretty self-absorbed at 16) but I’ve done a little bit better recently. Reading about the war — and the linked essay in particular — definitely opened my eyes a little bit.

That said, “They Never Betrayed Me” is a very intense essay for a bunch of girl scouts. Conversely, the first part of this essay was a really nice window into some of the few brighter moments during the war. I wonder if instant communication takes anything away from the happiness of getting mail these days. I doubt it.

DIGESTIVE DIFFICULTIES AND THE WAR ON TERROR

The king of Crawford, Texas, George III, has frequently said that he consults with outside experts on monumental decisions, but in the end he says he relies on his “gut feelings.” Reliance on King George’s gut feeling has brought on the disaster in Iraq and the so called war on terror. While King George says that he consults with other people, the fact is that he consults with Cheney and Rumsfeld, and primarily, his guts. His “gut feeling” has led us to the invasion of Iraq, quite simply the biggest blunder in American foreign relations in our history.

In the early 1990’s when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the chief decider’s father gathered a coalition of nations which resulted in the route of Saddam’s army. The rich Middle Eastern nations also picked up the tab for the costs of the war in Kuwait. When the route of Saddam’s army in Kuwait was complete, there was much consternation to the effect that the Allies should have pursued Saddam to Baghdad to overthrow his regime. Shortly after the war, George Herbert Walker Bush, the father of the Chief Decider, and his gifted National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, wrote a book. In that book there are these lines which explain why the Allies did not seek to go to Baghdad and overthrow Saddam:

“We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well… Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”

(emphasis mine)

The turmoil envisioned by the Bush-Scowcroft writings has now come to pass in spades. The United States is a pariah among all nations, Muslim, European and Christian. The former Secretary of State, James Baker, a confidant of the Bush family, reports that in prior years, people often inquired of him as to why George Herbert Walker Bush did not pursue Saddam to Baghdad. Now that events in the Middle East have proven the probity of the Bush-Scowcroft assessment, Baker now reports that no one asks him that question anymore.

The fact is that King George of Crawford conspicuously rejected his father’s advice saying, “I rely upon a higher father.” It must be assumed that the higher father is either God, Jesus or the Holy Ghost. By saying that he relied upon a higher father, it is clear that one of those members of the divinity ordered the invasion of Iraq. Thus, our war in Iraq takes on the trappings of a holy crusade.

So you see, King George of Crawford did not rely upon his father’s advice. He relied a upon his gut feelings when he ascribed it to members of the Christian divinity.

By relying upon his gut feelings instead of the wisdom of his elders, King George of Crawford has brought to fulfillment the prophecy of Henry L. Mencken. In 1925, Henry Mencken was the most noted author of prose in this country, being an editor, a critic, a reporter and the author of some 80 or more books. Henry Mencken’s view of the American presidency went into this statement about its eventual prospects:

“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.”

– H. L. Mencken

What we have here is that the American system has produced a president who relies on gut feelings, which is clearly a moronic gesture. King George of Crawford is indeed a moron and a very dangerous one.

I have consulted with learned physicians in the eastern half of the United States. I have even had a clinical discussion with Dr. C. J. Whitman who is a specialist on ileocolectomies. Every single physician I have consulted has stated that in the digestive system, there are no brain cells. Brain cells are in the head. They are for thinking. The lower digestive system serves quite another purpose.

Unanimously, the physicians that I have consulted have said that the king of Crawford’s gut feelings are clearly the result of cramps, digestive problems or more than likely, irregularity. They have prescribed “Black Draught” for quick action or, for gentle relief of gut feelings, there are always Carter’s Little Liver Pills.

So there you have the chief decider relying and not only on his gut feelings but on a higher father than George Herbert Walker Bush. These are the actions of a dangerous moron. The lives of millions are in the balance. There is no room for a dangerous moron to rely upon his gut feelings as he guides this country into more dangerous misadventures.

E. E. CARR
December 2, 2006
Essay 270
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Seems like Pop didn’t get quite enough off his chest with this essay, since this one came out shortly after. I knew that the older Bush had the opportunity to occupy Iraq but didn’t, but had no idea that the predictions for the outcome of such an event could be so accurate. Though I guess they were a little obvious, knowing what we know about how nations generally react to being occupied.

“WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BELIEVE: ME OR YOUR LYING EYES?” – Groucho Marx

Nitpickers may say that Groucho should have used “Whom” instead of “Who,” but they are not writing this essay so the quotation stands as it is. The quotation is an apt one because my eyes last summer became AWOL permanently and now my eyes are often sending me imaginary visions of trees, water glasses, and the dashboards of automobiles and aircraft. So you see, my eyes are indeed lying to me just as Groucho said. There will be more on this subject a little later.

This is a realistic assessment of blindness which is usually a negative subject. Blindness does not conjure up visions of cheerfulness but on the contrary it stirs up thoughts that are unpleasant. I had resisted writing this essay for some time because it may sound to some as a cry for pity. I had no intention of ever seeking pity in any of these essays at all. On the other hand, as far back as when I was in Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia last fall, this essay was saying, “Hey, author, write me!” The essays that said “Write me!” finally wore me down and so I have arranged to try to set my thoughts about blindness down here in this essay headed by the Groucho Marx quote.

One of the drawbacks about writing about blindness is that it has an oxymoronic tilt to it. This essay will not go into the scientific reasons for blindness. I am not qualified to do that. On the other hand, I am eminently qualified to speak about the effects of blindness.

Some six months now into blindness, I am amazed that other people can really see. For example, Judy and I frequently weigh ourselves in the morning. It takes me eight or nine minutes to do the weighing process once I negotiate my way into the other bedroom where the scale is located. I was amazed this morning when Judy announced her weight after only perhaps 30 seconds. What I had forgotten is that Judy can see and I cannot.

I try to make my essays as objective as possible, but this essay is a subjective piece of work which involves my own personal blindness. Hence the oxymoronic quality to the work. I will try to make my account as objective as possible while recognizing that subjective thoughts may intrude here and there.

This account will lend itself in some cases to a narrative form of telling, while in other cases it will require single entry sentences. It is being dictated, of course, without notes so it is a free-form essay. I hope you will stay with me as we try to get from here to there on a subject that really inspires no one.

To my knowledge, there are no blind comedians, but we will make this as light-hearted as possible.

As we explore my blindness, it would be helpful perhaps to understand how we got from where we were to where we are now. My blindness is completely a product of glaucoma. It is not a matter of over-eating or over-drinking or staying out late at night; it is a hereditary matter. Glaucoma is an ailment that is incurable. It often results in blindness and it is passed from one generation to another through heredity. My father lost his eyesight in his early sixties. My older brother lost his in his mid-seventies. Two other of my father’s children died at age 60 or thereabouts and did not stay around until blindness descended on them. In my own case, total blindness was held off until my 83rd birthday.

Since 1964, I have been a regular visitor to ophthalmologists’ offices. From them I learned about intra-ocular pressure (IOP), which is measured in a mysterious way. There is an instrument which records mmHg (millimeters of mercury). If the pressure in your eye is under 20 mmHg, ophthalmologists will tell you that your glaucoma is being controlled. Once your intra-ocular pressure passes the 20 mark, it is said that your glaucoma is no longer being controlled. In the 1990s, the intra-ocular pressure in my left eye exceeded 40 of those mmHg’s. All kinds of drops were administered over a period of years and there were laser treatments. At the end, there was a trabeculectomy . All things considered, a trabeculectomy is the end of the line. In effect, it works like this. The eye generates aqueous fluid. If that fluid does not have an opportunity to leave the eye through a network, pressure will build up and if it persists long enough, such as mine, it will destroy the optic nerve and blindness will result. On April 1, 1994, I submitted to a trabeculectomy and there was a hemorrhage that ruled out further eyesight in the left eye.

Now to the extent that there is any levity in this arrangement, the ophthalmologist who recommended the surgeon to me was later convicted of fondling seven women. The doctor’s mistake was that when the prosecutor sent a female officer from his staff to him for an eye examination, the ophthalmologist fondled a cop. In the end, he lost his license and nobody knows what he is doing now. Upon his arrest, he contended that future eye problems could be detected by an examination of the female chest. There is no scientific literature that will provide support in this regard. But I think his doctrine has much merit.

So I operated with only my right eye for eleven years. You will note that my left eye was lost on April 1, 1994, which was April Fool’s Day. As time went on, the pressure in the right eye built. And in the end, it exceeded 40 mmHg. After scores of drops and the laser treatments, the IOP remained in excess of 40 and so there was no choice but to submit to another trabeculectomy, this time on the right eye. By that time, I knew that my sight was on the way out.

There is a three-way bulb next to my bed, with the top being 150 watts. As my sight dimmed, I could look at that bulb, which was illuminated, without any pain. Over a period of a few days, say two weeks, the illumination in that bulb tended to decrease significantly. So I submitted to an operation, to a trabeculectomy, at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and, once again, a hemorrhage occurred and sight was lost in the right eye. There are only two eyes issued to each person. So the second trabeculectomy failed on October 31, 2005, which was Halloween. Now if anybody can make a joke out of this, one eye was lost on April Fool’s Day and the other on Halloween.

That is enough history. The point is that glaucoma will result in more blindness as time goes on. There is a thought that it would yield to stem cell research, but you are aware of the hostility of this current administration to the use of stem cells, so I suppose blindness will be even more prevalent in the future than it is today.

The major factor about blindness is that I have no usable eyesight at all. In cases such as mine, there is no reference point whatsoever. For those of us with complete blindness, it is necessary to touch something, either by hand or with the walking stick. You will notice that blind people tend to stick to walls that they can follow around a room. Crossing the room where there is open space is a heavy challenge. Now, for example, behind our garage is a space that may measure 50 feet one way and 35 feet the other way. If I were turned loose in the middle of that area, I could touch nothing, either with my hand or with the walking stick. I would have absolutely no idea as to whether I was walking north or south or east or west. That driveway has Belgian blocks on three sides of it. If I managed to locate one of the Belgian blocks, I still would not know where I was because there are two other sides which also have the Belgian block border. The most sinking feeling to a blind person, such as myself, is when one reaches out and touches nothing. That is a cause for some sort of panic. In that case, logic will only go so far. In that situation, I would be forced to call for help in an effort to find the garage or some other place where I am supposed to be. This is a function of blind people not having a point of reference.

There is another matter which has to do with what blind people see. I am afraid I will have to give you a mixed answer to that one, because there are times, particularly in the night, when I see nothing but blackness. Absolute blackness. On the other hand, during daylight hours, often a white haze develops before my eyes. The white haze means that I can see nothing, any more than I could in total blackness. But all things considered, I feel a little better having the white haze rather than enduring the total blackness. As I am dictating this essay, there appears to me to be a white sheet about eight or ten inches directly in front of my face. I know there is no white sheet there but that is what I see at the moment. In other cases, what I think I see ranges from blackness to whiteness to grayness.

If I were to offer testimony about my blindness, I would say that during the day about 10 or 11 hours is total blackness and the rest of the time is a matter of grayness blending into whiteness. As most people will tell you, a person can be blinded from too much light as opposed to no light at all. That seems to be the case here.

On four days of each week, I try to exercise on a stationary bicycle and on a treadmill. As a general rule, the dials on those two exercise machines appear to me to be readable. Of course I can not read them at all. When I go to touch them, they are much removed from where I thought they should be. They usually appear to me to be brighter than I would have thought them to be, but in any case while the instrument panels on both machines appear ready to be read, the fact is they are simply illusions. I can close my eyes and the illusions still remain. Perhaps my brain is seeing it, but not my eyes.

So you see my lying eyes, as Groucho would say, mislead me every day when I use the stationary bicycle or the treadmill. But that is not the end of it. When I sit down at the kitchen table for a little while, very often I will see imaginary water glasses parked in front of me and to my side. One day I counted 13 of those imaginary glasses. Now I like decaffeinated iced tea, which is served in a tall glass, with my evening meal. Every other glass on that table is also a tall glass, just like my iced tea glass is. It is necessary for me to say, “Those other glasses are imaginary,” and reach out until I touch something cold which I know would be my drink, not the imaginary ones.

Here lately, trees have become quite a phenomenon. Trees in my imagination grow out of parking lots and the other day, when we sat down in our lawyer’s office at a conference table, two eight- or ten-inch trees grew out of the conference table itself. They were so realistic that I tended to look around them, knowing that I couldn’t see, but that is the normal reaction of anyone trying to see a person on the other side of the table.

Speaking of the dinner table, there are two three-year-old boys – all imaginary – dining next to me. One of them wears glasses, and they are so real that at times I am tempted to reach out and grab and hug them a little bit. Once again, it is a matter of those lying eyes.

Since July of 2004, Judy has done the driving in the Carr-Chicka family. Now that my imagination is at work, my lying eyes tell me that there is an instrument panel which is positioned directly in front of me that would do credit to the biggest bomber that we have in the Air Force fleet. I see dials and gages and switches and all that sort of things that go with an instrument panel. The curious part about this is that if I close my eyes, those images remain, just as they remain for the kids dining next to me, and the glasses on the table. It makes no difference whether my eyes are open or closed; I still see those images.

And so I hope you understand why Groucho Marx’s comment about lying eyes was selected. My eyes lie to me regularly. While I appreciate all of the glasses, the kids, the dials and gages of the aircraft instrument panel, it would be a pleasure for me to make them go away and permit me to stare into just plain grayness or light gray or even whiteness as in the sheet now stretched in front of me.

Now you may remember that I told you that some of my recollections would be offered in a narrative form and others would be offered, as we would say, in single bullets. Here is a bullet before I go on to the next subject. From time to time, in my blindness, I may hold a drink, for example, in my right hand and tend to knock it loose with my left hand because I can’t see where my hands are headed. There is also the fact that blind people have trouble deciding what to do with their hands. There are no newspapers to hold or books to read, so the blind person simply is at a loss about what to do with his hands. In my case, as you can see, once in a while I tend to use my left hand to knock a drink out of my right hand accidentally.

There is one other aspect having to do with conversations. When you, a sighted person, greets or meets a blind person, it would be very helpful to identify yourself or use some other association that would let the blind person know to whom he is speaking. For example you might say, “This is Joe Jones…” or “I am your favorite brother-in-law.”

During the conversation it would also be helpful to let the blind person know where you are located, either by shaking hands or by touching him occasionally. A blind woman, Laurel King, from the New Jersey Commission of the Blind, sat at our kitchen table and from time to time she would reach out and touch me so that I knew where she was, because she also is blind.

Finally, upon taking your leave, it would be most helpful to say that you are leaving rather than let the blind person talk into open space. Otherwise, the blind person may continue talking to no one in particular or to the wind. That is somewhat embarrassing.

In engaging a blind person in conversation, please do not avoid the use of the word “blind” or “blindness.” I know I am blind and the person speaking to me knows it also. Any attempt to avoid the use of those two words makes the conversation stilted and largely meaningless.

One of the best conversations I had early in my blindness occurred after Wayne Johnson, a plumber, was told by Judy that I had become blind. He came up to the living room to have a cup of coffee and, when I stumbled in, he said, “Well, I see you have had a little setback.”

I answered, “Yes, that’s right, but we are going to do our best to get around it.” The conversation then proceeded in its normal fashion with Wayne, who is a good and fine friend. Please don’t speak to blind people in such a fashion as to make conversations artificial and non-gratifying.

One of the best presents that I have received since blindness overtook me occurred when the New Jersey Commission for the Blind visited the house and brought me a cane. The first one had roller bearings on it and was not particularly useful, but the second one was very useful. When I was released from the hospital in Philadelphia, we bought a cane at the Liss Pharmacy in Summit, which turned out to be much too short. The one from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind is the appropriate length for my height. Clearly, I was astounded that a state agency would visit me and present me with canes on two separate occasions at no expense to me. The canes are a very valuable addition to my getting around. I appreciate them greatly.

The next subject to be discussed here is “Don’t Get Cocky,” a title suggested by Eva Baker, the person who turns my mumbles into this tape recorder into typed script. When a young man stands on the center line of a basketball court and announces that he will sink the next shot, touching nothing but net, he is a cocky person. This being winter, I am very much housebound except for occasional trips to shop and to go see various kinds of doctors. When I attempt to go from one room to another, there are times when the effort flows flawlessly. If I become cocky and think that I have that sort of trip locked up, there will soon be a reckoning. The next trip could be a clearcut disaster. This house is a split level building, which has four staircases in it. Two of them are six steps, one of them is a seven-step staircase, and the last one is a nine- or ten-step staircase. It would take a very little misstep for me to fall down one of those staircases. So I try to avoid being cocky, but there are occasions when I think I have mastered a trip from here to there only to find out that it is fraught with danger. The evidence is clear that cockiness can result in a great failure.

There is one other phenomenon that obtains here. Walls move, doors move, and the kitchen counters which used to meet at ninety degree angles now meet at obtuse or acute angles. All of these things are imaginary and very confusing. In the basement, there are five or six steel pillars which support the middle of the house. On the way downstairs, I can locate each one perfectly. But while I am exercising, those pillars move. Furthermore, the stationary bike and the treadmill, which were aligned on a north to south basis, are now canted from northeast to southwest. I know these are illusions, but that is the way it appears to a blind person.

Cockiness also carries over to a chair I use to sit on in my dressing room when I put on my shoes and socks. It is an armchair and on one occasion I located one of the arms and sat down next to it. Unfortunately it was an outside arm and I wound up sitting on the floor. That was an embarrassment and it carried a great danger to my health. So the answer to a blind person is, “Never become overconfident, and certainly never become cocky.”

Now we turn to eating or, as the socialites say, dining. I had not realized how much sight contributed to the enjoyment of food. When one sticks a fork into the okra and finds out that he is really eating mashed potatoes, there is a distinct surprise.

One of the major moves has been to substitute plates with platters having individual bowls. The main dish, say fish, is cut up and placed in one. Another bowl may have okra and another might have string beans. Judy tells me where they are placed, saying at twelve o’clock or six o’clock or three thirty or something like that. Locating a fork or a spoon is not always easy to do. Suddenly there is a tendency to lose items of food somewhere between the bowl and my mouth. It might be hard to believe, but I often miss my mouth by half an inch or so. That means that there is a tendency to pick up the bowl and hold it closer to the mouth. A second tendency has to do with finishing that particular item as quickly as possible. This means that instead of alternating the fish with the okra, the okra is consumed largely at once because I can locate the okra bowl and the fork that goes with it. Dining first on the fish and then the okra and something else is a bit of a luxury.

By all odds, the most important instrument at the dining table is a large spoon, as in a soup spoon. When the fork fails to take food to the mouth, the large soup spoon can be depended upon to do that. We patronize an Italian restaurant here in Millburn where the waiters, knowing of my blindness, cut up my linguine and other pasta so that it can be scooped up with the large spoon. I have no use for a knife any more, so the soup spoon becomes a very important dining instrument.

I know that this has been a fairly solemn report, so a little humor might be in order here. In Philadelphia, during our six trips down there, when we prepared to leave the Wills ophthalmologist, we both went to the restroom to prepare for the two- or two-and-a-half hour trip home on Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s Turnpikes. Judy ordinarily would open the door to the men’s room and shout, “Is anybody in here?” On one occasion, a man answered, “Yes, I am.” He must have been washing his whole body because it took him ten or fifteen minutes to finish. In other cases, when there was no answer, I would enter the men’s room and go about my business as best I could while Judy stood near the towel rack. On one occasion while Judy was standing there and I was attending to my business, a gentleman walked in and took one look at Judy. He said in apologetic tones, “Oh, I am sorry,” and then he turned around and tried to take off. Judy told him that she was in the wrong restroom and he was permitted to take care of his problem. As it turned out, he was a nice gentleman who helped me after Judy departed.

Now, another matter having to do with taking care of things. A few years back, it was recorded that Charles, the Prince of Wales, would go into his bathroom and hold out his toothbrush while a footman spread the toothpaste on the bristles of the toothbrush. It was never clear whether Charles brushed his teeth or whether the footman did it for him. Very soon after my blindness occurred, I discovered that it is virtually impossible to hold a toothbrush in one hand, the cap also there, and spread toothpaste on the bristles and replace the cap on the tube. In what appears to be a childlike arrangement, to avoid all of this turmoil, I now squeeze a little bit from the tube onto the middle finger of my right hand and stick it in my mouth when I am ready to brush my teeth. No more of this business of trying to locate the bristles on the toothbrush. For me it can’t be done. I regret seriously that, being an American and of Irish descent, I have no footman to perform these duties for me, so I must do it myself. I hope that recitation of this event will not distress you too much.

There are two more observations that should be included here. Children who meet me are oblivious to the fact that I am blind. They simply do not give it any consideration at all, but that is not to say that they are rude or anything. They simply do not credit the fact that I can’t see. They play their games and run for the elevators and all that sort of thing, which has a distressful quality to it, but in any event they are not aware of my blindness. On the other hand, there are the reactions of grown people. People, generally speaking, are very considerate of my blindness. They hold doors for me. I suspect that at the Coumadin Care Center I am taken out of turn because I do not spend much time in the waiting room. There is another aspect to it, in that one of the clerks at the reception desk at the Summit Medical Group tells us to please go have a seat in the waiting room while she tears off the medical papers and brings them to us. Then there is a woman named Ruthenia who works for the podiatrist. She doesn’t wait for me to show up in the podiatrist’s office; Ruthenia comes out to the waiting room to collect me and lead me in to the proper place in the podiatrist’s office. It might be observed that Ruthenia has a blind sister. So all in all, I would clearly have to say that grown people are very considerate and polite.

If I have not mentioned it before, I should observe that one of the major assistants to blind people is the cane. It gives you some idea of what lies a few feet ahead. Of course, it is nothing like seeing, but it is better than nothing. I suspect that if a survey were taken among blind people, they would identify the cane as perhaps the most important device they have to help overcome blindness when it comes to mobility.

Now about other matters. One of the boons to the blind is the advent of talking clocks. We have several around this house that tend to keep me up to date as to what time it is. If that were not the case, I would be at sea because I can read no clock at all. There is an interesting aspect about the talking clocks in that the voice that speaks the numbers is clearly Chinese. She pronounces the word “five” as “fi.” She pronounces “fifty” as “fitty.” It is a pleasure to hear her go to work at five minutes to six, when she says, “The time is fi fitty fi.” Well, I can’t be too critical about that because I do not speak any Chinese, including Mandarin or Cantonese.

This has been a long essay and it has not been a particularly inspiring one. It is my attempt to deal with the realities of blindness. Nobody thrives in blindness. Blindness may help you in the use of logic and it may be of assistance when it comes to learning patience. But blindness never ever contributes to tranquility. The blind person is often convinced that the next step may involve disaster. Blind people count steps, so it is not recommended that you speak to them when they are climbing or descending steps. When they are walking on flat ground, you would probably find them to be laconic, because they have their minds on “Where is the street?”, “Where is the Belgian block that announces the street?” and “Where are the steps that must be surmounted?” Blind people have a lot of things to worry about that do not occur in sighted people, hence the lack of tranquility I mentioned earlier.

For all of the drawbacks of blindness, it is my recommendation, as it was during the Second World War, that all of us should keep in mind what we have left, not what we have lost. When I hear of the soldiers from Iraq who have survived bombings and who have permanent brain damage and other disabilities, I find it important to remember what I have left rather than what I have lost. The young men coming back from Iraq are scarred and will be tortured for life by their injuries. The fact that this is an unnecessary war only makes one feel more regretful about the injuries suffered by the soldiers.

Before this essay concludes, I wanted to pay a tribute to my wife, Judy, who has been with me throughout this long ordeal. She has been an exemplar of devotion to me. She has taken over most of the things I used to do, such as retrieving the garbage cans because I have no idea where they might be. She has taken over the checkbook and all of the financial arrangements because I can no longer write a check that the bank will honor. Simply put, I did not know what devotion really meant until blindness surrounded me last fall. Without my wife Judy, I suspect I would be in some sort of county home rather than being here at this house. I did not understand fully how much devotion could be shown by one person to another. If I survive this trial of blindness, it will be exclusively the work of my wife Judy and the team of people who help us out.

Finally, I want my readers to know that this essay is simply an exercise in the realities of blindness. It does not alter in any respect the year-end message that I wrote over the recent holidays. It had always been my intention to take stock of where I stood at the six month mark of my current blindness. I would not want you to read this essay with the thought that reality is overwhelming old Ed Carr. It is not so at all. But it is important that we don’t go about this business of blindness with a Pollyannaish attitude. Reality is reality and it must be recognized. The fact that is important is that courage must be present to overcome the realities.

In previous years during my career in the labor group at AT&T, I was asked to make a number of speeches throughout the country primarily having to do with the threat of the Teamsters moving in on the unions in the Bell System. My advice, usually, was filed under the heading of “Brains and Guts.” It seemed to me that there were plenty of brains in the Bell System to deal with the Teamster threat, but the question had to do with whether there were guts or courage enough to surmount it. My efforts were devoted to promoting the use of courage.

There is one citation from the philosopher Goethe, a German who had much to say about courage. Goethe observed, on one occasion, the following:

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

I think Goethe clearly had it right. If courage is lost, there is no hope. In this case, I want to assure all of my friends that much courage remains and I do not intend to surrender without a fight. The realities of blindness, as recorded in this essay, are not happy ones. But they can be lived with, and are no reason for surrendering ever.

E. E. CARR
March 13, 2006
Essay 183

NOTE from Judy: It is now April, and Ed has started taking the garbage out to the street, finding the cans in the morning at the end of the 90 foot driveway, and retrieving the newspaper from the front porch. A sighted person takes it for granted, but it is an accomplishment for a blind person.

~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I saw that this one was a 16-pager so I opened up a notepad document so I could write some comments as I went through and read. It’s the first time that I’ve needed to do so. It seems that as I dive deeper into the past, the average essay length skyrockets. This is a good thing, because it means that although I am starting to approach the end of the essays, there is a rather huge amount of content still waiting for me.

There is in fact a blind comedian named Chris McCausland who is pretty good! I watched two of his stand up sessions, and noticed that his stories heavily feature sound imagery, but he makes no explicit mention of his blindness. I dug a little deeper and found this: “Although Chris McCausland is blind, it doesn’t feature in his material. He says that there’s nothing more boring than a fat man doing only fat jokes, so he doesn’t do blind jokes so as to connect with the audience better. In fact it’s usually limited to a simple disclaimer at the beginning of the show so people don’t think he’s drunk.”

I found the black haze / white sheet example to be particularly interesting, because it made me remember what someone told me about those who are born blind. He said “a blind person doesn’t see black, they see nothing. They see exactly as much as you see out your elbow.” But in Pop’s case, it seems like he does indeed “see” black, which is pretty neat! I think this is pretty clearly attributable to the fact that he went blind late in life, and had a working set of eyes for eighty-odd years. Still though, I didn’t have a clue what Pop was actually seeing these days.

The most fascinating of all was the ghost images though, for sure. I had no idea that that sort of thing happened. When he reads this, hopefully he can clarify whether or not this is still happening (eight years later) or if these types of false images faded over time. I’ll be sure to include any response I get.

This is the 3nd essay in a series on blindness.
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SING NO SAD SONGS FOR THIS OLD GEEZER

top of sing no sad songs

When it became obvious that my sight would be permanently impaired, Judy and I faced a small concern about how to announce it to our friends and people whom we deal with in various functions in a business sense. We had no intention of sending out cards announcing my blindness, but on the other hand, it donned on us that we should at least tell friends what had happened.

The matter more or less came to a head by a note received by Judy which was nothing less than a sympathy card. When we left for Philadelphia prior to the trabeculectomy, an operation at the end of October, I had been scheduled to have a teeth cleaning at the local dentist. Judy called the dentist’s office to cancel that appointment, the thought being that we would reinstate it when we returned. We have now been back for the better part of a month, and we have had other things to do and have failed to reinstate that appointment.

The dentist’s staff must have concluded that I had died. For further proof, there was an obituary published in the Star Ledger reporting the death of a person, believe this or not, named Edward E. Carr. He was a World War II soldier, was a POW and many of the details that applied to him also would have applied to me. Apparently the staff at the dentist’s office concluded that I was that fellow who had gone to be an angel. Judy received a card with all kinds of sympathy and promised that the prayers of the dental staff would be with us and God would guide us with his hands.

Now this became serious business, so we had to tell some people that I had lost my sight and not my life. As a matter of fact, for more than 70 years I have been expecting blindness.

When I entered Clayton High School in January of 1936, I went to the library and looked up the meaning of the word glaucoma. I found that it was an incurable disease and was passed from one generation to another through heredity. For the last 70 years, I have been expecting that glaucoma would result in some sort of blindness if I lived long enough. I not only lived long enough, but I have outlived my father and my brothers and so while I was trying to outlive glaucoma, it snuck up on me and did its damage this Fall. The fact that the glaucoma took a bite out of me at age 83 doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, but I look at it as a natural chain in the course of my life.

My father lost his sight somewhere in his mid-sixties. My brother lost his sight somewhere in his mid-seventies and I had been very fortunate to have kept some sort of sight into my 84th year. So I guess if you look at it in some respects, I am a very fortunate fellow.

So sing no sad songs for this old reprobate geezer. If there are sad songs to be sung, please save them for the kindergarten children who are also afflicted by blindness as a result of glaucoma. Save those sad songs for a 40 year old nurse we met at Wills, who has two young children whom she hopes to see graduate and perhaps marry before her sight is lost. Glaucoma is an insidious disease that seems to defy a cure. So if there are sad songs to be sung, save them for the children and the women with two children whom she wishes to see graduate from school and marry. I have had 83 years of mostly pleasant memories that I can call upon, so I consider myself as ahead of the game.

In the final analysis, my blindness has something to do with my father. He spent the last 12 or 13 years of his life in total blindness as a result of glaucoma. He was a religious man and he was an exceedingly proud man. It was his view that it would be beneath the dignity of Jesus to lift his blindness. It must have been that he assumed that Jesus had imposed this burden for some purpose that he did not know. In any case, my father never ever asked to be relieved of his burden. He simply bore it as decently as he could. He often referred to it as a “bloody nu-san-nance.” I know that nu-san-nance is not the right pronunciation of nuisance, but in his country way, my father made his point quite clear. In any event, it would dishonor my father if I were ever to whimper about blindness that I have held off for the better part of 84 years.

Blindness at this stage is something to be accepted philosophically. I’ve had a good run at life. My work is done, my memoirs are written in nearly 200 essays, so there is not much left for me to say. I am married to a lovely woman who has guided me through this experience. All things being equal, I am not happy that blindness has descended on me, but it is my intention to do the very best I can to live with it, even to overcome it. And maybe giggle once in a while at my mistakes such as trying to crawl out the tile wall in the shower instead of the glass doors.

I am the same person I was before total blindness decided to afflict me. For example, I enjoy the company of males who like to needle me. Gregorio at the food market doesn’t mince words. The other day, he told me “Eat this.” So I ate it. Then he said, “Eat this”, so I ate that. Gregorio started off almost crying when he saw my condition for the first time. Gregorio has now returned to his usual manner of treating me like the peasant that I am.

Yesterday, Judy and I went to a restaurant where the co-owner, Mario DeMarco, learned fully of my condition. While we were waiting for our order to be completed, Mario offered coffee or some other drink to help pass the time. When we demurred, Mario thought some more and then he said with his impish needle, “Hey man, want to watch some television?”

Someday I’ll think of a proper response and I’ll lay it on Mario for that remark. There is an Irish author named William Butler Yeats. In one of his works, Yeats has this line,

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.”

William Butler Yeats, The Municipal Gallery Revisited

Those friends have sustained me through their words of encouragement and indeed their needling me as blindness has progressed. I greatly appreciate that. And as for sad songs, there are people who really need and deserve them. I hope that this short message informs you of what has happened and presents my outlook as a positive one.

In the meantime, Judy and I send this year end greeting with the hope that you are staying well and also staying strong. Warm regards from both of us.

E. E. CARR
December 14, 2005
Essay 174
bottom of sing no sad songs

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: Hopefully Pop enjoys the pictures at the top and bottom of this essay; I went to a lot of trouble to add them. Honestly though I actually made this mistake as recently as 2010, when I had returned from a trip to China. I had had a rather unfortunate encounter with some Chinese police, and they made me delete all the pictures that I had taken of the political protest that I had been (poorly) photographing. I recovered the images off the drive later, and when I was talking to Pop about it, at one point I said “I’d love to show you the pictures that I got back!”

Now of course my brother and mother were in the room at the time and they burst out laughing at me. Clearly Pop would not have had much use for the pictures, but I stand my sentiment that I did WANT to show him, regardless.

Pop has dealt with his blindness, in my opinion, as well as could be expected. And true to form, he’s put up with everything without much complaint. This of course is not the Shepherd way; we do not suffer in silence. If my dad, for instance, went blind then there would probably be daily bitching about it, just for the sake of bitching.

This is the 2nd essay in a series on blindness.
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TRUE CONFESSION OF A MARRIED MAN

Preachers of all sorts generally contend that confession is good for the soul. I have never paid much attention to those preachers on confessions or on any other subject. On the other hand, the Commander-in-Chief and the Chief Decider of the United States seems to pay considerable attention to what preachers have to say.

The Chief Decider and the preachers contend that men have souls much as they have tonsils and appendices. When the Chief Decider took office, he met with Vladimir Putin, the head man of Russia. Bush, who has no training as an ophthalmologist, looked into Putin’s eyes and pronounced his soul to be in heavenly shape. No other mortal human being can understand how this determination was made. Since Bush looked into Putin’s soul, the chief executive of Russia has taken it upon himself to undo the democratization of Russia. Bush must have seen Putin’s soul dressed in its Sunday best.

Recently the Chief Decider of the United States went to Iraq and stared into the eyes of the new Prime Minister there, Mr. Maliki. He announced that by looking into Maliki’s eyes, he could determine that he was a fine and brave fellow. At the moment that this essay is being written, the Bush administration is trying to figure out how to chase Maliki out of office because he has not quelled the insurrection in Baghdad. So much for Bush as an ophthalmologist. And so much for Bush as a reader of men’s souls.

I think it is fair to conclude that the Chief Decider of the United States has not had a base hit in six years in office. If he keeps staring into people’s eyes as he has done so far, he may complete his term without ever getting a scratch infield single.

No one has ever looked into my eyes and seen my soul because I haven’t the faintest idea where it might reside. Nonetheless, if confession is good for the soul, I intend to unload a mea culpa that I have carried for the better part of 80 years. The fact that I am happily married to a lovely women really makes no difference. I confess that for all of my life, I have had a separate love affair. This love affair involves another party, specifically with trains. If Bush had looked into my eyes and soul, perhaps he could have divined my errant behavior because on occasion, my eyes and soul sing the Wabash Cannonball, a powerful train song.

Perhaps it dates back to my birth on the Lilac Roost Farm in Clayton, Missouri. Lilac Roost was situated on a small hill overlooking a valley where the railroad tracks crossed North and South Road. You see, in Missouri, we are not given to fancy names. The full name of that highway was North and South Road. It simply ran in those two directions. But here lately, some enterprising politicians have attempted to call it Brentwood Boulevard. As long as I live, the road will be called North and South Road, which includes an aptly named passage known as “dead man’s curve.”

The tracks that ran in the valley below the Lilac Roost Farm served freight trains. For reasons unknown to me, the engineers always blew the train whistle as they approached the trestle over North and South Road. I suppose they did that while Lillie Carr was delivering her seventh child into the hands of Dr. Leon, the family obstetrician. So the lonesome sound of the train whistle has been in my ears from the first instant of my life. If life begins at conception, as some people believe, my life may have been affected by that sound before my birth.

At about the age of four or five, I could walk to a place on the hill and watch the trains pass. Mainly, the tracks were used by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In common parlance, that road was known as the MOPAC.

I can remember being thrilled when the engineers, leaning out of their cabs, would wave at me or pretend to shoot me with their fingers. Sometimes the fireman or other trainmen would wave to me as well. So you see, my love affair started early, and it was strong. It remains today with great strength.

As I grew older, my father occasionally told me of his life as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad. Basically, the Illinois Central runs from Chicago to New Orleans, some 900 miles away. In those days, as the last of the 1800’s disappeared and were replaced by the 1900’s, the trains ordinarily were powered by steam engines. In back of the engine was a coal tender. The fireman’s job was to scoop up a shovel full of coal from the tender and throw into the firebox under the boiler. If this sounds like back breaking work, it was.

My father stayed only a little more than a year with the Illinois Central, because he determined that he would be shoveling coal or doing some other kind of train work for more than 15 years before he had an opportunity to become an engineer. He only had a second grade education, but he concluded that was a bad deal.

My father worked out of a division point on the Illinois Central called Kankakee, Illinois. For those of you interested in trivia, there is a song of recent vintage called, “The City of New Orleans” made popular by Arlo Guthrie and later Willie Nelson. The Illinois Central named its trains after the towns it served between Chicago and New Orleans. In the song, “The City of New Orleans,” Steve Goodman, who wrote the music and the lyrics, rhymed “Kankakee” with “odyssey.” I am no song writer, but that is a remarkable achievement. I could never have figured out a rhyme for Kankakee.

It was not my father spinning tales of life on the railroad that involved my love of trains. He considered that life a dreary one of shoveling one shovel of coal after another into the firebox of the steam engine and, from time to time, peering out the other window opposite the engineer, to read signals. If anything, my father tended to put a damper on my enthusiasm for trains.

While my love of trains was not encouraged by my father, he was a collector of phonograph recordings having mainly to do with well-known train wrecks. In the era of steam engines, many of those wrecks seemed to end with the engineer being scalded to death by the steam. That is what happened to the most famous engineer of the time, Casey Jones. He is remembered in the song of the same name:

“Casey Jones, mounted to the cabin,
Casey Jones, with his orders in his hand,
Casey Jones, mounted to the cabin,
And he was going to take a trip to the promised land.”

Pretty macabre lyrics.

In our living room was a windup Victrola. Between 1915 and 1925, my father bought about a dozen phonograph records having to do with trains. Unfortunately, all of them had to do with train wrecks with titles like “Wreck of the Old ΄97,” and “The Wreck of the Shenandoah Express.” One of the verses sticks in my mind even today. It says:

“There is just one more message
From the engineer, I guess.
Tell my wife I’ll meet her in heaven,
Don’t wait for the Fast Express.”

In this case, the engineer was hurrying home to tend to his dying wife. He rounded a curve and the train left the tracks, and killed him. Sad news all around.

Those records must have been popular at the time, because they propelled the singer, Vernon Dalhart, into national prominence. My father was not a macabre sort of person; I believe that in buying those records he was attempting to pay tribute to the train crews that were lost. Those records are still in my possession today.

As I grew older, I got a job as a draftsman with AT&T in its St. Louis Division headquarters. One of the bosses sat where I could hear his voice because he was largely deaf. Donald Wass would summon his secretary and tell her to get him a room on the Pennsylvania Railroad train that would depart from St. Louis at 5:00PM and would arrive in New York City around 9:00AM the following morning. For better or worse, I thought that was a romantic way to live. Mr. Wass would show up at Union Station in St. Louis, he would board the train and order a drink. After a time, he would sit at a table with a starched white table cloth and be served by attentive waiters. After dinner, he could retire to his room, undress, put on his pajamas, and sleep until he approached New York City. For a young 19-year-old like myself, that seemed like a wonderful way to live.

It is my memory that the dining cars and sleeping cars were staffed by the Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters. In the middle of the last century, A. Phillip Randolph, the president of that union, became a very important figure in the American Federation of Labor. Mr. Randolph’s union was the only complete Afro-American union in the AFofL.

In 1941, the United States went to war with Japan and Germany. Like so many others that age, I was drawn into that war through an enlistment in the United States Army. The Army shared my love of trains.

First there was a trip from St. Louis to Las Vegas, New Mexico for basic training, followed by a long rail journey to Coral Gables, Florida. The Embry Riddle School of Aeronautics was entrusted to make 100 of us aerial engineers. Upon completion of that training, the Army sent us back to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we wasted two weeks before being sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to board ships to take us to the North African theatre of war.

The Army dictated that much of this cross-country train travel should be accomplished with drawn window shades. It was also marked by two stops at Hutchinson, Kansas, late at night, where we found women volunteers boarding the trains to offer us apples and cookies. Because of the hour of the night and the fact that soldiers in those days had no pajamas, the refreshments were received by the soldiers in their skivvies. No one seemed offended.

Railroads were an important means of transportation of passengers and freight in Europe. It is for this reason that the air forces of the United States spent much of their time in bombing railroad marshalling points behind enemy lines. My airplane was shot down on December 8, 1943, in such a raid on the marshalling point south of Ancona, Italy. After my rescue by the Italian Partisans, I returned to duty.

In December 1944, I was picked to be the aerial engineer on the crew that brought the oldest plane in the European theatre from Italy back to the place where it was manufactured in San Bernardino, California. The plane was a C-47, known in civilian life as the DC-3. It was manufactured in 1935 by the Douglas Corporation.

Getting from San Bernardino to my home in St. Louis, where I was permitted to take a five-day furlough seemed to take forever, but in the end, the railroads got me there. So, as you can see, trains played an important part in my military enlistment.

Many years passed between my discharge from the Army, my return to AT&T, and the arrival of the AT&T job that took me to many countries around world. The rest of the civilized world depends heavily on rail transportation even today. In Europe, if a train is scheduled to arrive at 5:42, the engineer is expected to pull that train into that station at 5:42. If he is a minute late, or a minute early, there will be comments. In Europe and in Japan and even now in China, trains run on time and are thoroughly dependable and their train technology is far ahead of our own. They are clean and they are a decent place to eat.

Contrast that situation with what we find in the United States. The people in Congress seem not to understand the importance of railroads. This administration, for example, had set out to gut the rails. There are few resources for development of new railroad technology. For the years since World War II, the railroads have been largely on there own. To survive, they have had to merge, and the names we have known over the years such as MOPAC, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Illinois Central have long since disappeared. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. In a war time situation such as World War II, there is no way that we could have moved people and freight from one place to another without the railroads. Gutting the railroad budgets is a totally short-sighted and disastrous policy.

Given a choice on trips of 500 miles or less, I would always prefer to take that trip on a railroad. The pressures of time and the pressure to meet schedules dictated that air travel was the way to go. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to board the New York express train at 5:00PM in St. Louis as Don Wass did, order a drink, have a delicious meal, and then retire to my bedroom to be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the train, all attended to by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

My commuting around here for many years was on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The trains were old but they generally ran on time. In bygone days, the DL&W had a poem produced about it:

“Said Phoebe Snow, about to go,
Upon a trip to Buffalo,
My gown of white will be alright,
Upon the road of anthracite.”

From that poem, the Lackawanna railroad was know as the “Route of the Phoebe Snow.” For many years, I sat on those trains and pretended that I was on the way to San Francisco or New Orleans or some other exotic location. I rode the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (C&NW) in Chicago and after moving to New York, it was my fate to ride the Lackawanna and the Lackawanna Ferry. Unfortunately, commuter trains don’t take you to exotic places. They take you to Hoboken, New Jersey. But riding the commuter trains failed to dampen by love for railroads. In fact, it made it stronger. And so you see, the Confessions of a Married Man has to do with his love of railroad travel. If there is a more melodic sound in this world than the strains of a train whistle going through a valley late at night, I am at a loss as to what it might be.

Where we live now in New Jersey, we don’t hear the lonesome sound of the train whistle much anymore. We have to settle for the engineer ringing the bell as he pulls into and out of every commuter station on what is now known as the New Jersey Transit System. That title certainly does not carry the cache of its predecessor, the Lackawanna. I would prefer the train whistle but ringing the train bell is an acceptable substitute.

And so you see, now that I have made my confession, my soul actually feels 64% better. I wish I had done it earlier.

We told you about the engineers, the firemen, the trainmen and the Pullman porters. Now it is time to meet a most important personage on train travel, the conductor. And the conductor says…..

All Aboard!

A-l-l-l-l A-b-o-r-a-rd !

E. E. CARR
October 23, 2006
Essay 212
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Turns out The City of New Orleans is a nice song! Definitely worth listening to.

Now I’m pretty sure that Judy is not too bothered but Pop’s confessions but perhaps she’ll weigh in. Maybe she likes trains too, forming some sort of love triangle. Who knows.

I’m riding plenty of trains these days a subway every work day, and a bina-fide, choo-choo style train every time I go visit my girlfriend in the south bay area. That train is of course called the Caltrain and departs on time reliably from San Francisco. If only it were as reliable at arriving to and departing from every other stop on its line.

Finally, I’d say that Putin’s recent actions toward the Ukraine put Bush’s eye-to-soul reading prowess at a solid 0%.

FADING TO GRAY

As this essay is being started, it is a cold, rainy, Sunday afternoon in late April. It means that most people are home bound which is the bad news on a Spring weekend. The good news is that the Boston Red Sox took three straight from the New York Yankees over the past three days which makes the record read for the young 2004 American League season, Red Sox 6, Yankees 1.

The city of Boston does not have a grip on my psyche as my original home is probably more than 1300 miles away. The Red Sox players seem like pleasant fellows from what is seen on the television screen. Taking one Yankee player with another, they generally seem like decent people. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posado, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez look like men who would make good next door neighbors. The problem is that all those affable Yankees play for the most despicable figure in sports, George Steinbrenner. The Yankee owner plays in the largest U.S. market and has more money than anyone else in baseball. When Steinbrenner covets a player on another team, he makes it known that he would be able to pay that player much more than he could make with his current team, so the player or his agent angles for a trade or waits until he can become a free agent and the Yanks can sign him. The Yankee payroll for 2004 is now at $183 million for its 25 player roster. They pay Rodriguez $25 million per year. Jason Giambi, the ham handed first baseman, is paid at the rate of $17 million per year. And so it goes.

Steinbrenner is the rich kid who is unwilling to compete with everyone else on a fairly even footing. He is the guy who wants to buy the whole candy store. He is the owner who wants to win every pennant and every World Series. And so my heart is buoyed by his Yankees loosing six of the first seven games played with its foremost rival, the Boston Red Sox.

It would have made me happy to produce another essay about baseball, a subject that is well known to many of us. But that is not to be. This essay is about the possible blindness that could overtake this old essayist someday before his ancient body gives out. My mind has no room for messages from angels or from the Holy Ghost, and the thought that some preternatural event may take place is similarly doubted. On the other hand, the similarities in the current situation with the situation in April, 1994 are too striking to dismiss. On that occasion, the left eye was blinded in an effort to perform a trabeculectomy. Now the same situation tends to loom for the one remaining eye.

Before we go further, there are two or three points that should be made. A few years back, Harry Reasoner wrote a book called, “Before the Colors Fade.” Reasoner was a popular television personality and was one of the first interviewers along with Mike Wallace and Morley Safer on the Sunday CBS program, “60 Minutes.” Reasoner sensed that his life was drawing to a close and wanted to say some things to his family and to his viewers. Unfortunately, Reasoner was right. He died not long after “Before the Colors Fade” appeared in bookstores.

If somewhere down the road blindness should overtake me while my bones are still ambulatory, there will be no need to publish something about my take on life. The file cabinets here are filled with my views on a large variety of subjects. If anyone wishes to explore what my thinking may have been on subjects such as religion or politics or war or baseball, my essays are immediately available. In essence, my memoirs have been written over a period of more than 45 years in letters, speeches and more recently, in essays.

So point one is that even if total vision loss eventually occurs, my work is basically done. Everything that needs to be recorded has largely been recorded, so there is no need to be greatly concerned as ophthalmologists become an even more prominent part in my life.

Now that is point one. My work of recording is now largely done. The second point is that NO ONE should feel sorry for me. The problem of glaucoma has been present in the Carr family for many years. In other words, it was clear to me that sooner or later, glaucoma would probably take a more serious bite out of my eyes. If you look at it as old soldiers do, there is merit in taking life one day at a time. If there is life upon awakening, that is an occasion for joy. If my sight holds up for a few more days, then that is also a cause for some joy. If, somewhere down the road, it fades and perhaps gives out, then we will have to face that eventuality when it happens.

Glaucoma has plagued my father and my siblings for many years. At the age of 60, my father could no longer work and became housebound by his blindness. The best surgeons in St. Louis, the Post brothers, operated several times on my father’s eyes, but in the end he became blind. There were five Carr children who lived past childhood. All five contracted glaucoma. In at least one case, my brother’s vision had been so reduced as to approach blindness. In 1969 at the age of 47, glaucoma took root in my eyes. So no one should feel sorry because of any “sudden development.” It has not been “sudden” at all. It has been expected for all my adult life.

My view is that as my 82nd birthday approaches, the ability to read, to write and to drive a car are still with me. No matter how you cut it, that is 22 years beyond the mark reached by the father of the Carr clan. So you look for upbeat factors wherever they can be found.

So point two is that the possible approach of vision loss is not a recent development. Quite to the contrary, incipient blindness has always been an unhappy consideration in my mind. And people around me should be happy that it has been held at bay for such an extended period.

Now the third point has to do with events in April, 1994. Glaucoma is an inherited disease or ailment. It doesn’t come from over-eating or drinking to excess. Some preachers, nuns, rabbis and prominent politicians have glaucoma. It can’t be prayed away or legislated into oblivion.

Simply put, the eye contains a fluid called aqueous humor. The humor flows throughout the eye and empties through the trabecular meshwork. It the drain becomes blocked, pressure in the eye increases. Unless the pressure is released, damage to the optic nerve will take place and loss of vision will occur.

All of this buildup in pressure is unaccompanied by pain of any sort. My father had no warning. When he realized his sight was in jeopardy, the progression was far down the road and surgery seemed to be his only option. All of this was in the 1930’s. For the five Carr children, all of us were painfully aware of what might happen to our eyesight and we moved to deal with it. Unfortunately, even with first class treatment, glaucoma often proceeds.

Now, there is the sense that surgery which may again be required. That brings back memories of the unfortunate experience that occurred in April, 1994. For nearly three and a half years, my AT&T duties had taken me to Washington, D.C. That would have been from February, 1966 until September, 1969. My duties involved dealing with officials of the U. S. Government, which many people call “lobbying.” It is tempting for me to say that lobbying with politicians gave glaucoma to me, but that is not a very convincing case.

When my wife and two daughters returned to New Jersey, we settled in Short Hills primarily because of the superior Lackawanna Railroad connections to New York City. At that time, the leading ophthalmology group around here was the Short Hills Ophthalmology Group. There were three principals: Gerald Fonda, John Kennedy and Charles Ball. All were products of the New York University School of Medicine.

Before leaving Washington, an ophthalmologist there had told me that my eyes had “incipient glaucoma.” That was not good news, but it was expected news. So when we were settled in the Short Hills house, it became my business to visit John Kennedy, one of the founders of the Short Hills Ophthalmology Group. My relations with Kennedy were cordial and productive.

In 1992 or there about, John Kennedy said he had had enough and elected to retire. His successor was a young fellow who also came from NYU. His name was Richard Robbins. In the next year or so, Robbins and Ball performed cataract surgery on both eyes, with the left eye posing a continuing problem. After a time during which Robbins tried drugs and laser treatments to get the ocular pressure down, particularly in the left eye, Robbins concluded that surgery to perform a trabeculectomy would be necessary. He was an NYU graduate who came well recommended by John Kennedy, so there was no effort on my part to seek a second opinion.

The object of a trabeculectomy is to carve out an exit that will improve the flow of aqueous humor fluid out of the eye, thus reducing the pressure. The man Robbins selected to perform the trabeculectomy was Ivan Jacobs of the Eye Care and Surgery Center in Watchung, New Jersey. Robbins was asked by me if he would trust his sight to
Ivan Jacobs. After some pause, Robbins said he would. It is my belief that Robbins could not have known much of Jacobs’ work which probably accounted for his hesitancy in answering my question as to whether he would trust Jacobs with his own eye sight.

In any case, Jacobs set out to perform the trabeculectomy. There was an introductory meeting with Jacobs at which time he seemed to regard patients as bothersome. It is quite obvious that his attitude as well as his so called “Surgery Center” should have turned me off, but things had progressed this far, so they went ahead.

On April 1, 1994, Jacobs started with the trabeculectomy. Perhaps 8 or 10 minutes into the operation, my ears picked up Jacobs whispering that a choroidal hemorrhage had taken place. That was the end of the trabeculectomy and the end of sight in the left eye.

The third point to be made here is that pressure in the one remaining eye is reaching levels that will probably soon take a toll on the optic nerve. Dr. Eric Gurwin is doing everything to bring the pressure down short of another surgical trabeculectomy. If those efforts are unsuccessful, then this may be a replay of April, 1994 – with a better outcome to be hoped for.

The efforts of Dr. Gurwin to avoid the need for surgery are substantial. It goes without saying that my case is in much better hands with Professor Gurwin rather than with Richard Robbins and Ivan Jacobs.

So the three points to be made as an underpinning to this essay are that if loss of vision occurs, my memoirs have been written. There is not much more to say. Secondly, no one should feel sorry for me. If it happens, it has been a long time coming and at my age, there is not a lot that needs to be seen anymore. And finally, the third point is the progression of events in the one remaining eye today that seem to be closely following the April, 1994 script. We hope for a better outcome.

Before we proceed further, you may find your mind tingling about the name of my earlier ophthalmologist, Richard Robbins. You may recall in an essay of mine, that Robbins was convicted by his own admission of guilt in fondling females in his care. He was spared jail by probation, but he was labeled a sex offender, an appellation that will stick with him until he dies. His practice has been sold and it is unclear what he is doing in terms of employment.

With all that background established, it is time to look at the next step. Aside from a regimen of drugs, Eric Gurwin has introduced a device called a “Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty” commonly called an “SLT.” According to the brochure, “SLT works by using laser light to stimulate the body’s own healing response to lower your eye pressure.” If SLT works, then surgery may be avoided. If it fails to work, that puts me pretty much back where we were. In any case, it’s too soon to tell. Let’s see if Professor Gurwin has something else up his sleeve. If he has, that’s all to the good. If there is nothing short of surgery, perhaps it will go better than in 1994. Dr. Gurwin has suggested that if surgery is required, he will send me to a hospital in Philadelphia. Such a hospital is a far cry from Ivan Jacobs’ Surgical Center in Watchung.

If darkness eventually overtakes me, it won’t make me happy, but it is something that can probably be dealt with. Consider this story of the Lackawanna Ferry and the total blackout that occurred in New York City late in 1964. It could have been 1965, but my guess is that the total shutdown of electricity happened in November, 1964. And consider my initial response to a stroke in 1997, which will be discussed later.

In the blackout, street lights did not work. Elevators did not run. Subways stopped in their tracks about 5:45PM. In short, nothing electrical worked. On that occasion, it was my custom to board the Lackawanna Ferry to carry myself and other passengers across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey, there to catch the Lackawanna Railroad. This was before the Carr family moved to Washington, so my destination was New Providence, New Jersey. It was warmer than usual that evening, so it was inviting to sit outside. On the second deck of the ferry, which was unlighted, it was possible to sit outside with illumination coming from lights ashore. As it so happened, there was a seat at the very rear of the ferry which provided an unobstructed view of Manhattan. Looking to my left, it was possible to see a long distance up the river to the George Washington Bridge. Looking to the right, it was possible to see almost to the tip of Manhattan. The thought occurred to me about how lucky commuters on the Hudson River Ferries were and the secondary thought was about how peaceful it was. This, of course, was before we were underway. In any case, travel on ferries has my complete endorsement.

As Manhattan Island was being admired, everything went completely dark. To the best of my knowledge, there were no lights to be seen anywhere. Absolutely none. It never dawned on me to look to the west where the Jersey shore was alight as usual. Manhattan absorbed me as it must have for other commuters. In my case, however, staring into the pitch darkness on the New York side of the river, it occurred to me that blindness had set in. The immediate problem was getting off the ferry if my eye sight was gone. Before long, it became apparent that the lights on the ferry were working and indeed, my eyesight was normal, which was a great relief.

During those instants or minutes when there was nothing to be seen, it was not my desire to scream that my sight was missing, but rather, it was my rehearsing how to feel my way to find the steps to get down to the first deck and to seek help in getting me on the train to New Providence when we reached Hoboken.

As was said, if blindness happens to me, there will be no attempt to curse the darkness, but rather, my efforts will be devoted to dealing with the new eventuality.

Now the stroke story. A few days after the 1997 stroke, the outcome was far from clear. The stroke had not bothered my limbs up to that point, but my speech was pretty mangled. The thoughts that formed in my brain either refused to come out in speech, or it often came out in an unintelligible fashion. Later, it appeared that the stroke had caused a lesion in the brain which results in aphasia, the condition which causes garbled speech or completely forgetting what one wishes to say.

On a Sunday morning, Carl Shepherd, one of my sons-in-law, came to see me at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N. J. We walked around the floor of the hospital. It seemed to me that being able to walk with Carl Shepherd immediately after a serious stroke, was good news. If my speech was screwed up, so be it. As an old soldier would say, “Hey man, we’re still alive so anything is possible.” Don’t count your losses; count what you have left.

As time has gone on, there have been wrestling matches with aphasia. Sometimes aphasia wins, but now, aphasia more often comes out on the short end of the stick. As in the case of supposed blindness on the ferry, it is always my view of seeing how an ailment or a disability can be dealt with as distinguished from giving in to it and calling on the Gods to take care of things.

If worst comes to worst and somewhere down the road my sight should disappear, there is much to be said for dealing with that eventuality if it happens. There will be no histrionics and no one will be asked to pity poor old Ed. Old Ed has lived a long life kept in working order by the efforts of the Summit Medical Group and other physicians. The working order includes a heart by-pass operation performed by Eric Rose at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, a new aortic valve arrangement donated by a pig and installed by Alfred Casale in Morristown. Also there is a pacemaker placed by Andrew Beamer, formerly a student at Duke University and a resident at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston. If Gurwin can pull the eyesight trick off, we will be well ahead of the game and Eric Gurwin will be a hero. Nonetheless, this essay is being written now in case anything should go astray.

My essays almost always end with a reference to where they began. In this case, we snuck into blindness by using baseball as a peg to hang the story on. Most baseball players, particularly hitters, have sharp eyes. There are no poorly-sighted ball players. If Professor Gurwin gets all of us through the next few months and avoids vision loss or even blindness, perhaps George Steinbrenner may be asked by me to sponsor a team in a vision impaired league. My job will be Umpire in Chief. My duties will be performed without glasses. Steinbrenner is often an owner with limited vision for the people he hurts. Maybe ownership in a vision impaired league is what Steinbrenner always needed.

Now as to my happiness for the Red Sox early in the 2004 season. Boston is a good club and it has a very nice manager. And Boston is a very nice city. But my heart has always belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals, perhaps the only perfect team in a perfect city in organized sports. There may be some quibbles about that from one Cubs fan, we all know, but those are the facts, plain and simple.

E. E. CARR
April 25, 2004
Essay 99
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: It is at amazing to me that Pop possesses a level of introspection that is sufficient to exactly predict how he would react to a major change to his lifestyle. He said “If darkness eventually overtakes me, it won’t make me happy, but it is something that can probably be dealt with… there will be no attempt to curse the darkness, but rather, my efforts will be devoted to dealing with the new eventuality.” As far as I know, this is pretty much exactly how things shook out.

However, I can’t help but find it a little funny that despite predicting his emotional reaction to what could justifiably be called a “crisis” to the tee, Pop also thought that his “work of recording is now largely done” before he had even hit the triple digit point in the essays. Of course close to eight hundred essays were written in total. As of right now, five hundred and eight of them are available on this website. It is a guarantee that the rest will be available within one year of today (which is actually May 30th, not May 25th).

This is the first essay in a series about blindness, both before and after it occurred.  You can find the introductory essay here, and the subsequent essay here. The existence of this series may be surprising given that Pop said in this essay that there was “no need to publish something about my take on life”  Even champions of introspection can’t bat a thousand all the time, I suppose.

BOXSCORE ON THE WAR ON TERROR:

After every professional sporting event, a box score is kept. The box score records how many runs and hits there were, how many shots were taken, how many assists there were, and such things as passed balls, and wild pitches. A box score on Bush’s war on terror as 2006 draws to a close would look something like this.

American sources report that there have been more than 600,000 Iraqi deaths since the war started. Bush contends that that figure is “not credible.” When it comes to credibility, Bush has major troubles of his own. The blood of those Iraqi deaths are on George Bush’s hands. If we lost that many people in this country, it would be the equivalent of losing the city of Seattle, Washington.

Since the war started, more than one million Iraqis have left their home country to move to neighboring Arab states. The passport office in Baghdad now stays open on weekends to handle the demand for travel documents. In effect, the Iraqi middle and professional classes have been wiped out, leaving only the very rich and the very poor to remain. George Bush alone is responsible for this phenomenon.

The coalition forces lost more than 300 men distributed among the British, the Spaniards, the Italians and the Poles. At the end of November, our losses stood at 2,900 dead with more than 20,000 wounded. If the war were to continue to the end of Bush’s term, which he says it will, there will be 5,000 killed and perhaps 35,000 to 40,000 wounded. The cost of the war so far has exceeded $350 billion. This is called “staying the course.” And George Bush is responsible for these deaths and this waste of our financial resources.

The figures in Bushes box score in his war on terror, as it relates to Iraq, has caused millions of people, particularly in the Arab countries, to conclude that George W. Bush is the world’s supreme terrorist. To believe that a president of the United States has fallen to such depths is unbelievable and unspeakable. At the same time, an objective observer would find it most difficult to disagree with this melancholy and dismal assessment.

E. E. CARR
December 4, 2006
Essay 221
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Kevin’s commentary: This was initially just a rider on the previous essay but I decided it was worth it’s own separate post since it had a title instead of a P.S.

While not the MOST unfortunate figure here, that $350 billion was the one that made me shake my head a little bit. We knew how much of a national drain the war would be from the start, and had accurate information about its cost the whole way. And yet still someone looked at it and said “yeah, keep this up.”

I think it’s a little extreme to call Bush “the world’s supreme terrorist” given that his intentions are not really to terrorize anyone (except potentially the terrorists themselves, I suppose), but presumably rather are just vengeance-driven/divinely inspired. A dumb reason to go to war, but far different from specifically attempting to spread panic among civilians. The fact that that’s is exactly what happened in a lot of the places we occupied was considered to be a nasty side-effect of the holy mission, I guess.

WAR ON TERROR

The news from Washington, particularly the White House, tells us that we are fighting a war on terror. This old under-educated, inarticulate clod is baffled by that description. What war are we talking about? And are the American people genuinely terrorized? The imprecision of the language in the so-called war on terror is immense.

When a man tells me that I am in the middle of a war on terror, I am obliged to ask who is the enemy who is terrorizing me. Three and a half years after the invasion of Iraq and the claims of “Mission Accomplished”, I am still baffled. Who is this monster that threatens to destroy the American government and our way of life?

The people I know and correspond with do not seem to be terrorized of anything. The Bush administration asks no sacrifice from its citizens. On the other hand, it offers them tax cuts in the middle of a war on terror. While this alleged war is going on, Bush takes his vacations and rides his bicycle. This may be the most peculiar war on anything that this old country boy has ever seen or heard about.

The American people could well be terrorized by acts of nature or a number of other influences. For example, the people in California and the West who worry about firestorms being blown by Santa Ana winds, will likely be terrified at the thought of losing their houses and their lives. People who live along the Gulf Coast or in Florida may be terrorized by the advance of a new hurricane. The folks who live in the ghetto may well be terrorized by the armed gangs that rob and kill people. The point I am making is that there are any number of things that might terrorize the American people but the Bush administration does not include them in his so-called terror war.

The imprecision of the language leads me to conclude that the war on terrorism is either a myth or a complete fraud. If, as we are told by the Commander-in-Chief, Iraq is the central front in this war, then I must conclude that the war is irretrievably lost. If we are lucky, we will escape from a stalemate in Iraq after having lost troops at the rate of 75 to 100 per month. If we are losing troops at that rate, how can we say we are winning this terrorism war? Today, can anyone take a peaceful stroll down the capital city streets of Baghdad, which they could do under the hated Saddam?

The mythical proportions about the war on terrorism flows from our political leaders and from some generals who present rosy pictures of progress in the Iraqi war. The fact is clear that we are not making progress; we are clearly losing.

You may recall Mr. Cheney’s remark about the insurgency being “in its final throes.” You might also recall Mr. Cheney’s remark to the effect that we would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators and that people would throw roses at us as our troops marched down Broadway in Baghdad. Cheney appears to be the chief maker of myths in this unfortunate armed conflict. Doesn’t anyone in this administration speak the truth? Any reports of progress are the essence of myth-making.

This leads me to conclude that, on one hand, the war is a myth and is being kept afloat only by those who say give us another 18 months and the Iraqi army will take care of everything. Does anyone believe these pronouncements?

The fact of the matter is that the Iraqi Army will never defend American interests in the Middle East and shouldn’t be asked to do so. Whether we like it or not, it is a myth to believe that the alleged Iraqi Army will successfully prosecute George Bush’s war.

The second myth is that a democracy in Iraq will cause the rest of the Arab world to democratize also. The so-called war on terror is being fought in Alice in Wonderland proportions. Does anyone believe that the Egyptians would overthrow Mubarak or that the Syrians would overthrow Assad simply because Iraq adopted a democratic government? This is myth making of the first order.

Now let us turn to the thought that the war on terror is a fraud. The fact is that the war on terror is a Karl Rovian fraud to give George Bush the powers that we have never before extended to any American president. As long as Karl Rove and Bush can claim that there is a war in progress, the American public will be reluctant to turn out such a president. This is precisely what happened in 2004.

The fact here involves the administration claiming extraordinary powers to spy on people and to listen to their communications. It also involves denying the writ of habeas corpus to the prisoners we hold at Guantánamo Bay. And finally, the fraud permits this president, George Bush, to engage in torture even though he says that it doesn’t exist. To claim that our prisoners at Gitmo and around the world have not been tortured amounts to nothing more than the feces de la toro. The “advanced interrogation methods” that we are proudly using are nothing more and nothing less than torture.

Further, it appears to me that the so-called war on terror is basically a war on Arabs and the Muslim faith. For a while, the mantra of this administration was the “Islamic fascists.” When the administration refers to the people with whom we are engaged in Iraq, they commonly call them “the enemy.” If I were a neutral observer, it would be clear to me that the enemy is the Arabs and the Muslim faith. It would also be clear to me that this is nothing more than a revival of the Crusades.

If we were so interested in stamping out terror, why didn’t we pursue Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and try to catch him? If Osama is the heart of evilness of this world, he should have been dealt with a long time ago. But Osama remains free and there is no indication that he will soon be captured. If the destruction of the World Trade Center was an act of terror, which it was, it would be our duty to pursue and punish the perpetrators. But that we have not done. If the war on terror is going to be successfully prosecuted, Osama will have to be caught. Clearly, Osama is not in Iraq, but that is where we have taken the war.

And while we are dealing with Osama, it seems to me that there are a good many other leaders who terrorize their citizens as well as those of neighboring countries. Try Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What about Castro and Hugo Chavez here in the Western Hemisphere?. And what about the events in the Darfur region of the Sudan? If we are looking for terrorists to bring to justice, there are plenty of them.

It has always been my habit to follow international developments closely. I have followed the so-called war on terror from its inception. In the final analysis, I must conclude that it is a myth of the highest proportions in that we are being told that progress is being made while we can see from our newspapers and television screens that progress is going backwards.

And I must also conclude that the war on terror is a fraud because we are not being told the truth. Its costs are being concealed. Nor do we know what it has done to the equipment of the Army and Marine Corps. We certainly know what it has done to American prestige around the world. Friends, if this is not a fraud, I don’t know one when I see one.

The war on terrorism further detracts from our image abroad. I doubt that any Western European, for example, would cheer our efforts because sophisticated people know that this is a war with mythical and fraudulent proportions.

Mr. Bush is in Hanoi today where he made a statement to the effect that, if we lose this war, it will be because the American people have lost their will. In other words, if we lose this war it will be our fault not the fault of the great and gorgeous George Bush. Are you ready for another “Mission Accomplished” statement? Or do you want to stick with the war being “In its final throes”?

E. E. CARR
November 17, 2006
Essay 218
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Kevin’s commentary: The “War on” rhetoric has become incredibly popular in the last several years. It commonly heralds failure, like in the cases of the War on Terror or the War on Drugs. Turns out it’s hard to wage wars against concepts and objects. Christians like to whine about the “War on Christmas” every winter, even though there isn’t one, and just yesterday I saw a video entitled “War on Boys,” which was a poorly-titled but nonetheless interesting piece about how we educate boys these days.

I guess everything has to be a war these days, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s that print and broadcast media increasingly default to sensationalism to get attention, and calling something a “war” is an easy way to do that while simultaneously granting the reporter immediate access to the framework of “winning” and “losing” since that’s what you do with wars — even (especially?) if those terms make no sense in the context of the particular “war” that we’re talking about. Headlines like “Losing the War on Christmas” are easy to churn out and probably get a ton of clicks. Fill up a video with a few clips of local companies that have stopped using the word “Christmas” in their advertising, splice in a few outraged suburban moms, and you’ve got a story for a slow winter news day.

Of course, the reality is that businesses started to use “holiday” instead of “Christmas” in their marketing as soon as they realized that there are a lot of non-Christians in America, and those people are probably more likely to buy your stuff when you don’t snub them with your terminology before they walk in the door.