Archive for June 2014

Obituary: Ezra Edgar Carr passed away on June 11, 2014

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Ezra Edgar Carr passed away at his home on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Ed was born in Clayton, Mo., in 1922; he was the youngest of eight children, five of whom survived childhood. As a child, he was so shy he was once sent to the Missouri School for the Deaf under the mistaken impression that he could neither hear nor speak. After high school, he went to work for Schroth’s filling station, and then to AT&T as a draftsman.

At age 19, Ed enlisted in the Army Air Corps in WWII and served as a gunner and an aerial engineer, flying in A20’s and C47’s. During his two tours of duty in North Africa and Italy, he was shot down twice. One of these incidents resulted in him being held in an Italian POW camp, from which he escaped. He returned to AT&T after the war with no great fondness for the way the Army treated enlisted men.

Ed was soon elected the president of the local CWA union and after a national bargaining session for the union, was quickly promoted to AT&T management where he eventually led the AT&T bargaining team on the other side of the table. His negotiating acumen and diplomacy led to Ed’s representing AT&T to the US Government in Washington, D.C. and then to telephone companies and foreign governments around the world as Director of International Operations.

The hallmark of Ed Carr was his uncanny ability to make friends everywhere, be that with the staff at the local supermarket or with dignitaries around the world.

In the 1950s, he and first wife Eileen welcomed two daughters, Maureen and Suzanne. He had already developed his lifelong love of books and music, and would walk lower Manhattan on his lunch hour, looking for out-of-print books by favorite authors HL Mencken or AJ Liebling or collecting Clancy Brothers or Bud & Travis albums. A shameless literary thief, Ed told his two little girls that he was responsible for the immortal New Yorker cartoon “Hello, I am a pelican, my beak can hold more than my bellycan.” He also invented a unique method of distributing Fig Newtons that left his cookie pile double that of either girl.

The 80s and 90s brought retirement, marriage to soulmate Judy Chicka, and the arrival of five treasured grandsons. Ed and Judy traveled extensively and rode their bicycles over northern New Jersey. In the last 15 years, Ed battled the effects of a major stroke and then blindness, but never lost his biting wit. He dealt with these challenges as best he could, fighting aphasia by writing hundreds of essays, collected at ezrasessays.com. He surely would not have survived these last years without the devoted care and advocacy of Judy.

A fierce Irishman, Ed would often recall telling his mother Lillie that he was leaving to fight in WWII and that he would be fighting alongside the (distasteful) Brits. “Well,” his mother said, “then you must do the best you can.” And so he did, his whole life.

Ed is survived by beloved wife Judy Chicka, daughters Maureen (Walter) and Suzanne (Carl) and grandsons Connor, Kevin, Andrew, William and Jack. Thanks to his many friends, doctors and health aides for their attentive care in his last years.

When Irish people take leave of each other, they often have a glass to mark the occasion. A few lines of this Celtic thought from an Irish farewell song.

“For all that I have done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall,
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.”
-Irish Traditional

~~~
The linked essays above represent some of my favorites on the site so far. I have about two hundred and twenty others. You can find them all in a giant list of favorites here. A less-terrible way to browse these should be available soon.

Read the original obituary here.
Read Pop’s thoughts on obituaries here, including a go at his own written in 2008, which I’ll paste below for convenience with the date replaced:

Mr. E. E. Carr cashed in his chips on June 11. The chip-cashing occurred in a bawdy house in Millburn, New Jersey. His body was found by several mistresses in a palatial suite on the 20th floor, surrounded by empty champagne bottles and dishes that had held caviar and foie gras. Evidence of rampant lovemaking was everywhere. When the undertaker arrived, he discovered that $1,000 bills were sticking out of every pocket of Mr. Carr’s jacket and pants. A waiter reported that Mr. Carr had tipped him $5,000 for providing his final meal, as it turned out. Mr. Carr also said to some of his guests of the female gender that he shouldn’t drink all that champagne but in the final analysis, he said that this was the way to go. He will be terribly missed by his dozens of loving mistresses and preachers of all sects.

His estate is estimated to be worth nearly a billion dollars, which will be used to establish upscale bawdy houses in all of the major cities in New Jersey and in his native Missouri.

EHHH… WHAT’S THAT YOU SAID?

Here is a little Missouri story that has no effect on the current state of the world. It is memorialized here not because it is a great story; but rather, as time takes its toll on my brain, I may forget all about it. So if I write these thoughts down now, when the television screen in my head goes to black, perhaps I can revive this story and enjoy it again.

In 1928 when I was six years of age, I was enrolled at the Forsyth Grammar School in Clayton, Missouri. The Forsyth School was given that name because it was on Forsyth Avenue. The Maryland School was named after the street it was on, just as the DeMun and Bellview Schools were named after the streets on which they were located. The Clayton school system took a very practical approach in naming its grammar schools. Some schools are named after dead educational heroes, but I suspect there were no such heroes in Clayton, so the street name became the name of the school.

In 1928, the Clayton School System offered no kindergarten classes. I can’t remember when such classes were offered, but when I started to school, the first grade was where it all began.

The Forsyth School had been built in the 1880’s, but it was well kept with janitors who seemed to care. It had wooden floors and walls. In today’s world, I suspect that the Forsyth School would be considered a fire trap, and maybe it was. But for more than 50 years, it got the job done.

Miss Brantley taught first grade. She was a real lady. She wore dresses and sensible shoes. Blue jeans were unknown then and if they had been discovered, Miss Brantley would have had no part of them. Miss Brantley was single, as were all the teachers in that school. When a teacher married, she left school teaching. That seems like a silly rule to me, but that is the situation that prevailed at least until 1940 when I graduated from Clayton High School. At age six, I was not much of a judge of women’s ages, but I suspect that with gray hair, Miss Brantley was pretty close to 50 years of age.

In looking back on that situation, I am convinced that Miss Brantley sensed that I was not one of the many rich kids in that class. As I recall it some 73 years later, she was very good to me.

There was an occasion when, being unable to read, I wandered into the girls restroom. Nature called and I simply took the first restroom that came along. Within a minute or two, Miss Brantley found me and gently guided me to the boys restroom. She made no fuss about the incident and I was never embarrassed about it. As I say, she was very good to me.

Shortly after the first grade classes started, Miss Brantley taught us a song. It went:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
We’re all in our places
With sunshiny faces,
Good morning Miss Brantley,
Good morning to you.

A little song that sticks with you for 73 years can’t be all bad.

While all of this was taking place, I was a red hot St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan. In 1926, the Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. It was the first trip for the Cardinals to the World Series. The mighty Yankees had been there many times. The series went seven games with four of those games being played in Yankee Stadium. The final game was played on October 10, 1926, which is just 75 years ago.

Jesse Haines pitched into the seventh inning. Jesse used the knuckleball quite a bit. By the seventh inning, his fingertips were bleeding, and after he got two men out, he found the bases loaded. The next hitter was Tony Lazzeri, one of New York’s most feared hitters. Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis manager called for one of his oldest pitchers, Grover Cleveland Alexander to relieve Haines. Legend has it that Alexander was suffering from a head splitting hangover. Legend or no legend, Alexander struck out Lazzeri and the Cardinals went on to win the game and their first World Series. St. Louis went wild that night.

My brothers, who were much older than I, made such a fuss about the Cardinal victory, that this is my first memory at age four, of anything. I don’t know if Alexander struck out Lazzeri with a fastball or a curve. I just recall there was such joy in our house, that I remembered that incident from 1926 and I remember it to this day.

The incident that forms the recollection for this story happened when I was seven or eight years of age. If my memory is anywhere near right, the teacher in second grade at the Forsyth School, promoted me ahead of time in January, 1930, so I was in a third grade class with kids who were six months older than I was. In Clayton, classes were divided so that children born before September first started in the fall semester and children born later entered school in January. So every class had an “A” and a “B” group. Everything seemed to go well with the third grade work, but apparently I did not say much of anything during the class. This had to do with my shyness and the thought that I might make a mispronunciation in speech. My parents were not good role models because they often mangled the English language. So, I sat back and watched.

Another reason for my silence probably had to do with intimidation. Clayton was a wealthy town. The merchant class of St. Louis had their residences there. Lawyers and doctors who practiced in St. Louis resided in Clayton. The kids around me were affluent beyond my wildest dreams. When it rained, mothers or chauffeurs would pick up the students. On the other hand, I still had a three mile walk to my home whether it was sunny or snowy or rainy or close to zero or anything else. That’s just the way things were. Other poor kids had trouble dealing with the weather, so I was no different. If anything, I felt sorry for the kids from the orphans home. They really had a tough row to hoe.

One incident of intimidation sticks out after all these years. Several other boys were discussing bathing. One of them said he took a shower every day. The others said that was their schedule and some said on hot days, they took two or three showers every day.

Water cost money at our house. The gas required to make the water suitable for bathing had to be paid for. Showers were out of the question. We did not have one. Instead of a shower every day, we had a bath once a week. And often to conserve water, I had to bathe with my father. So maybe you can see how talk of showers and baths would make me feel inadequate and promote silence on my part. Intimidation can be a powerful force in a young child’s life so I had little to say.

Soon someone of the teachers concluded that I was deaf. I am not sure why they came to that conclusion, but I was told to take a note home to my parents which asked for permission to send me to the Central Institute for the Deaf, located on Kingshighway Boulevard in St. Louis. The teachers at the Forsyth School could do no wrong, so my parents concluded that I was hearing impaired – with no evidence to support that thought – and gave permission for me to go to the deaf school. Through this whole procedure, I said nothing, which is probably what got me into the deaf school in the first place.

Now there are more pluses than minuses in this equation. You will see why as we go along. To start, there is nothing wrong with my hearing at age eight to age seventy eight. I’ve had employment physicals, Army physicals, check ups and hospital stays. In none of those instances has anything been found wanting in my hearing. So I headed for the deaf school knowing that I was fine but telling that to the teacher or teachers who wanted to send me to the deaf school, would have fallen – so to speak – on deaf ears. (How do you like that bon mot Howard Davis?)

There was no such thing as being driven to the deaf school. My mother did not drive. If my father or my brothers took off from their jobs, they would have been docked or fired. Remember, this was 1930 and the depression was starting to take a bite out of everyone. So the school gave me a street car pass good on every street car. I gave it back after each trip to Central Institute for the Deaf and it was given back to me prior to my next visit. My recollection is that I made six or eight trips to the deaf school.

Kingshighway Boulevard is one of the main North-South streets in St. Louis. It was six lanes wide with street car tracks in the center of the right of way. From Clayton, leaving school, I took the University line to the Forest Park line which took me to the school. Getting off the street car was not a big problem as there was space before crossing the three lane North bound traffic on Kingshighway. The traffic people in St. Louis had placed large, permanent signs in the general vicinity of the street car stop, warning of deaf children using the stop. I suppose if a driver hit a deaf child on that street, it would not go very well for him or her, although there weren’t many women drivers back in 1930.

After alighting from the street car, automobiles would come to a full stop as the alleged deaf child – in my case – made his way to the deaf school. Knowing that we were deaf, drivers would signal that they were going to remain stopped while we crossed the big street. Some drivers waved and mouthed greetings. I can’t ever remember a car crowding one of the kids going to Central Institute. They usually waited until we reached the side walk before driving away. Getting off the street car and having cars stop for you and wishing you well was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old.

In the school, most instructors or teachers had tuning forks. Sometimes they would talk loudly or whisper from in front, on the side and from the back of our heads to see if we understood what they were saying, but mostly they used the tuning forks. They would ask the patient to shut his eyes or they would more often offer a blindfold. Then they would plunk the tuning fork near an ear, or I suppose on top of or in the back of the head. After it was plunked, the instructor would ask, “What ear did you hear that with?” I must have answered their questions appropriately because after six or eight sessions of about an hour each, it was concluded that they could find nothing wrong with my hearing, at least I got no treatment. So I was sent back by the Central Institute for the Deaf to the Forsyth Grammar School in Clayton with my alleged mysterious hearing impairment still intact. Or maybe Central Institute claimed that I had been cured. Nobody ever told me much of anything about my dreadful problem.

But now there was a real plus in this arrangement. Each year the Cardinals and the other major league team, the Browns, accepted applications for memberships in their Knot Hole Gang groups. I was equipped with both the Cardinals and the Browns groups. Generally speaking, not many games were sellouts and youngsters with Knot Hole Gang passes were permitted to sit along the left field lines near the bleachers. There were no night games in those days. Games usually started at two to three in the afternoon. I don’t know why the games started so late, but that’s the way it was.

Ordinarily, Central Institute would let me go around 2PM. Using my unlimited street car pass, I went back to catch the Forest Park street car being sure to wave at the cars that stopped as I crossed the street. A short distance away, the Forest Park line crossed the Grand Avenue line and soon I found myself at Grand Avenue and Dodier Street, the home of Sportsman’s Park where the Cardinals and Browns played. I saw most of the games from the second inning on. When I wanted to leave, I presented the unlimited street car pass to the Grand Avenue Line, the Forest Park line, the University line and then to the Kirkwood-Ferguson line.

My parents never had an overwhelming interest in my treatment at Central Institute for the Deaf. I told them about the tuning fork episodes and about the loud and soft conversations, but that did not take long. I did not tell anyone at the Forsyth Grammar School about my experience at the deaf school because I assumed Central was keeping the school filled in on my “progress.” And mostly I never told anyone about going to the ball games. I almost got caught a few times when other boys would discuss yesterday’s game. If I were to say, “He was out by a country mile,” they would say, “How do you know?” I guess that I was able to suppress my superior knowledge about the games I had seen, for to disclose it would have been a disaster.

Somewhere along the line, the teacher in the third grade said I would not be going back to the deaf school. I suppose she thought I had been cured. So I took my 20/20 hearing back to the classroom and no one ever mentioned Central Institute for the Deaf again. So you see, there were many pluses in my expeditions to the deaf school.

—-

A more recent thought about Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Cardinal pitcher. When Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he invited Ronald Reagan to lunch in his office. Reagan had recently been sworn in as President of the United States. In a tour of his office O’Neill pointed to his desk and said that it had been used by Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland was one of Reagan’s predecessors as a President of the U. S.

Reagan said, “Oh yes. I know all about him. I played him in a movie about his baseball career.” O’Neill said he meant Grover Cleveland, the former President. Reagan dismissed him by repeating that he had a good time playing in the movie about Grover Cleveland Alexander. O’Neill gave up.

E. E. CARR
October 8, 2001
Essay 22
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: This is the first essay I’ve published since Pop’s death yesterday. There is a lot that I would like to say on that subject but I’m struggling to write about that right now, so I’m doing this instead. Please bear with me.

About this essay itself — not only is it funny as hell and one that I certainly heard a few times growing up, it represents part of a bit of a hot streak that he was on with his essay-writing in 2001. By that I mean this essay was immediately followed by what he considers to be his favorite essay he ever wrote, which of course is worth checking out if you haven’t read it yet.

“I’M EVERYBODY” – VERNON LUDLOFF

It may very well be that this essay should be entitled “Back to the Future.” In my current situation, I am of course unable to see the action taking place on television. I listen to the dialogue on television and in many cases, I can determine who the speaker may be but in other cases I have to ask my wife or other people around me as to who is the speaker.

In baseball games, which I have long prized, I miss the beauty of a fielding gem or the swing of an expert batsman. On the other hand, I do not appreciate the chatter that comes from television announcers that has very little to do with the game in progress. It seems to me that there is idle chatter having nothing to do with the game that takes place until the proceedings are finished. Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez, two Met heroes, are examples of announcers who chatter endlessly about other things than the ball game taking place in front of them.

I said that this essay ought to be about going back to the future and that had to do with my replacing the television set with a radio. In the 1926 World Series, the Saint Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in seven games when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri in the ninth inning and my home town, Saint Louis, went absolutely wild. My recollection of the celebration of that game is the first memory that I have in my memory bank. From that time on, I have been a fan of radio and now I find that the people on radio broadcasts are much more to the point and have fewer distractions such as interviewing fans and asking which kind of ice cream do you like at the ball park.

Growing up in Saint Louis meant following the Cardinals, and to a lesser extent the Browns, religiously. The games were broadcast live from Sportsmans Park where both the Cardinals and the Browns played. When the Browns or Cardinals were out of town, the telegraph reporters gave summaries about the state of the game to the announcers in the Saint Louis radio stations. These reports would have been about the score of the game and it might even include such things as who hit a home run and who struck out whom and so forth.

On days when the Cardinals or Browns were out of town and there was no local game, telegraphic reports were sent to the radio studio and it was up to the announcer to recreate the game using his imagination. The announcer might say that the pitcher is winding up and he is ready to throw the ball, but then there might be an interruption in the telegraph process and the announcer would be stuck there with the pitcher holding the ball for several seconds. Under this arrangement, the announcers were able to give very artful demonstrations of the play in progress even though they had not seen it.

Remember, these were Depression times and the radio stations could not afford to send their announcers to the games being played in other cities. They had to rely on telegraphed reports. Hence, the need to recreate the ball game.

During most of the years as I was growing up, there were two announcers in Saint Louis who were the sports directors of the station and who were also the announcers of the ball games of the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Saint Louis Browns. On KMOX, a powerful station, the sports director was a man named France Laux. Further down the dial was a radio station, WIL, where the announcer was Johnnie O’Hara. Laux was a straightforward announcer who, I suspected, had no sense of humor at all. He had trouble recreating the games that were sent to him by telegraph. O’Hara, on the other hand, was a gregarious fellow who seemed to love recreating the games right out of his mind as he got a telegraph report. If the telegraph report said that the pitcher threw a strike, O’Hara would say that he wound up and that he delivered a spitball to the outside corner. That is clearly not what the telegraph report said, but that was what O’Hara colored it to be.

France Laux also, as sports director of KMOX, had a program called “Stars of Tomorrow.” In that program, Laux would visit neighborhood industrial teams and high schools and would interview their star players on a cumbersome piece of equipment that would record their thoughts which he would play later on his sports program. At that time it was a very complicated process. On this one occasion, when I was playing in an industrial league game on a Sunday, France Laux appeared early in the proceedings to interview our fleet center fielder, Vernon Ludloff. Laux would start the interview by saying, “And what star of tomorrow do we have here?” The star of tomorrow would say his name and would then say hello to everyone. In this case, France Laux asked Vern Ludloff, “What star of tomorrow do we have here?” and Ludloff got his script mixed up. Vernon was supposed to say, “Hello everyone, I’m Vern Ludloff.” In point of fact, Vernon said, “Hello Vernon Ludloff, I’m everybody.” France Laux did not use that quote on his broadcast that evening or any other evening. So I guess that Ludloff fell from the stars of tomorrow array.

In recent years, on television there is a tendency to use attractive young women who know nothing about the game being played, and ask them to give a two-minute report in-between innings or, in football games, between periods and time-outs. Even the best broadcasting team that I know of, which consists of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, have been inflicted by their management with this device. On occasion when the attractive young woman begins her spiel, she will often fail to end it before the next batter comes to the plate. So far, that sort of arrangement has not come to radio. It afflicts only television. These young women are nice to look at but they add nothing to the game; indeed they detract from the game.

My New York grandchildren gave me an XM Radio for Christmas in 2005. On that radio, I can hear classical music, a better class of country music, music from the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as ball games from all over the country. Because it is a satellite radio, I can keep track of billiard games on the moon, cricket games on Saturn, and pool playing on Venus. It is a remarkable radio that has provided me with unheard of pieces of important information.

So in the end my problem with my eyesight is not all that bad because I get a better description of the games from radio. There is more straightforward talk about the game in progress as well as the rumors involving the players such as trades and that sort of thing that may be taking place at the time. Actually, at this point, while I do not have an option to watch television, I must say that going backwards many years to the radio broadcast has its merits. I don’t miss television all that much any more and I have come to again appreciate the skill of the radio announcers. And finally, I must admit that without radio I would not have been able to hear Mr. Ludloff tell everyone that he was everybody. That memory is 65 or 66 years old and it is nowhere near being forgotten. So if you go to Saint Louis and run across Vernon Ludloff, please tell him “I’m everybody.”

E. E. CARR
June 6, 2006
Essay 196
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: The essay of the beast: 6/6/06! I was thinking as I read this essay that if Pop went back to the future with his satellite radio, I suppose that I’ve gone “forward to the future” by completely replacing television in my life with the internet. However, even internet broadcasts of games that I follow have unfortunately been afflicted by the “interview babes” who know next-to-nothing about what’s happening, and are rather there chiefly to be seen. So I guess that department is a win for the radio all around.

Pop’s memory continues to astound. I would be hard-pressed to come up with the names of any local media personalities from Austin, and that was only six years ago. I guess I really just never had much reason to pay attention to them, and I preferred music to talk shows whenever I was in my car, which of course was the only place where I was ever exposed to radio.

As far as ol’ Vernon is concerned, I wonder what he’d think if I told him that upon reading the title to this essay, I thought I was about to get an essay about a profound philosophical observation. I expected to hear Pop’s take on a person making a statement about, perhaps, empathy for others. But no, he was a not-quite baseball star who couldn’t keep his lines straight — which honestly makes for a better essay anyway, most likely.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE AFRICAN BALL GAME

The title of this essay is a bit misleading because at the time this game took place, Africans played no baseball at all. On the other hand, it is a celebration of a game played by GI’s late in 1944 or 1945 between two clubs whose managers disliked each other with such intensity as to border on hatred.

The game was played on a dusty diamond located on the British airbase at Accra, Ghana. Ghana, at that time, was called the Gold Coast. By the time the game was played, the Americans at this joint British-American base far outnumbered the Brits and, in effect, it was more of an American base than a British base. Nonetheless, we drove on the left-hand side of the road and we were paid in British West African pounds sterling.

Both teams had to make the ball last for the entire game and, if my memory is correct, we were furnished only a choice of two bats. Gloves were hand-me-downs that had to be returned to the Recreation Department at the end of each game. The stands holding the spectators could accommodate about 20 or 30 persons. The benches for each club were strictly nothing more than benches; they had no backs. One was arranged along the third baseline and the other was along the first baseline.

The leaders of the two clubs could not have been more unlike each other. The leader of the “Office Workers” was a man named John Lewis whose forces went to work in the offices of the administration wearing freshly-pressed khakis. The leader of the “Overloaders” was dressed in fatigues and his men did the manual loading of cargo aboard the many airplanes that flew out of Accra to bring supplies to the European front on one hand and to the Japanese front on the other. The head man of the Over Loaders was known as “Red” Sabbatis. Red came from the Boston area and was celebrated because he had once signed a minor league contract with either the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Braves.

Somehow or other, long before I arrived at Accra, there was bad blood between John Lewis and Red Sabbatis. The games between the two clubs were used to express that anger.

John Lewis was an older fellow, probably in his late thirties or early forties. How he ever got into the military is something I do not know. But John was a very straight-laced fellow who argued with umpires and expected to win every argument. I had no animosity toward John Lewis, but on the other hand I had no warm feelings for him. It gave me a degree of pleasure to beat his club.

Red Sabbatis, on the other hand, was a working man’s kind of fellow whom everybody seemed to like. I liked Red quite a bit. I liked Red even though he played shortstop, which was one of the positions that I had often played. All things considered, Red was a natural born leader not only of the ball club but of his Overloaders’ work crew working on the flight line.

The catcher on the Overloaders was a left-handed fellow named Prozak. I never recall hearing him referred to as anything but Pro or Prozak. If he had a first name, it escaped me. Prozak had been a six foot four inch left-handed pitcher and an outfielder and a first baseman in the semi-pro ranks and also had been given a tryout by one of the clubs around the Boston area. Prozak was very close to Red Sabbatis. Prozak caught the pitcher on the Overloaders using a first baseman’s mitt. Unfortunately, catcher was the other position that I normally played. So the options of playing shortstop or catching were denied to me because of the seniority rule and the fact that the manager played one of those positions.

Somewhere along the line, there was a fellow named Shorty who stood probably a little less than five feet tall. Shorty rolled his own cigarettes and appeared to always have a hangover. Shorty attended most of the ball games played at this dusty field and, from what I could gather, he understood baseball quite well.

The third baseman on the Office Workers’ team was a fellow who let you know that his background included wealth and a college education. He wasn’t particularly snooty about all of this, but he seemed to reflect the thought that he was a little bit better than the rest of us. I never knew his name or at least I can’t recall it, so we will refer to him as Van Cleef.

The rest of this cast includes Walter Bednar, a pitcher from Cleveland who was a thoroughly lovable guy. The third member was Eddie Boyce, an infielder from Brooklyn who was a little touchy because he spoke pure Brooklynese. When he addressed two people, for example, he would refer to them as “youse guys.” I liked Eddie Boyce quite well.

As it turned out, Walter Bednar, Eddie Boyce, and myself came to Accra late in the proceedings because we were returning from our Detached Duty in Italy with the Twelfth Air Force.

The Overloaders were an established team when we reported to Accra. The three of us played on another team for a game or two, with which Red Sabbatis made an offer to the three of us, to join the Overloaders. Walter Bednar became the pitcher, Eddie Boyce became the third baseman, and I was required to play second base, a position I thoroughly disliked.

The game was called softball but in point of fact the ball was anything but soft. It was simply a larger version of a baseball. It could be hit for more than three hundred feet and the ball stung if caught without a glove.

Because Accra is only five degrees above the Equator, the sun shines most of the time and the weeds grow all of the time. Games could be played late in the evening. The sun and the rain in the Equatorial Zone provided lots of rain which meant that the vegetation grew at an alarming rate all year long.

That takes us to the field itself. There were tie-downs for each of bases which meant that they were held in place fairly firmly. There was no pitcher’s mound, of course. The field was dusty most of the time except when it rained. The outfield was an interesting piece of work. In right field, a road ran along the edges of the field and on each side of the road were two drainage ditches, perhaps two and a half to three feet deep. Because of the vegetation that grew in those ditches, it was difficult to find out exactly where the ditches were. It was not unusual to see an outfielder back up and slide into the ditch and largely disappear.

In center field, about 350 feet from home plate, was the base morgue. The morgue was associated with the base hospital and there were some center fielders who were wary of the morgue and did not like to chase balls hit in that direction.

In left field, there was an obstruction very much like the wall in Fenway Park in Boston. The base at Accra had a large hospital which was built in a series of separate wings. Most of the wings or wards were about 100 to 125 feet in length and extended from a central structure. In this field at Accra, there was a ward that extended for about 70 feet into fair territory with the remainer of the ward in foul territory. The patients in this ward had no radio or television, of course, so they watched our ball games with great interest. That wing was a place where patients with venereal disease were treated. Soldiers have a wry sense of humor and always referred to the venereal disease wing as the “country club ward.”

Well, that is enough about the circumstances of the game that is under discussion here. Late in the game, John Lewis’s Office Workers had tied the score and had men on first base and on third base. The runner on third base was the disliked Sergeant Van Cleef, the wealthy man. Apparently John Lewis had flashed a signal from his perch on the bench, which he never left, to the runners for a double steal. Walter Bednar fired a fast ball to Prozak and the runners on first base and third base took off. Prozak came up firing to me. His throw had all of the earmarks of a major league fast ball. I caught the ball running in, about chest high, and fired it back to Prozak. With great good fortune, the ball was caught in Prozak’s mitt, six inches above the ground in front of home plate. An instant later, Van Cleef slid in to home plate and was called out because of the fact that Prozak had the ball and Van Cleef slid into it.

I was astonished when John Lewis, an argumentative fellow, did not dispute the call. I was also amazed that Van Cleef simply got up, dusted himself off, and walked to the bench. There was absolutely no argument that he was out and Lewis and Van Cleef accepted that fact. I was greatly surprised that they didn’t dispute the call.

In all of my baseball playing career, my throw to Prozak was probably the hardest I ever threw and certainly it was the most accurate one in my history. When we gathered around the pitcher to discuss the runner on second base, I had thought that Sabbatis and Prozak would praise my throw that saved the run. In point of fact, those two men simply took the point of view that that’s what I was expected to do and they offered no praise whatsoever. Eddie Boyce and Walter Bednar patted my behind and said, “How to go!”

That night in the barracks, Shorty, the guy who looked as though he had a perpetual hangover, was describing the game to three or four other GIs who lived in that barracks with all of us. Shorty contended that the throw from Prozak to me and my throw back to Prozak were the hardest that he had ever seen in his life. And he was full of admiration. When I walked by, Shorty asked me had I seen the game. When I told him that I was the second baseman, Shorty had trouble believing it. Prozak was probably six inches taller than I was and a lot heavier, so he could understand a throw coming from Prozak to me but my return throw was launched by a smaller fellow and Shorty simply could not believe that a man could throw that hard.

But now we come to the moral of this long story. In all of the games played by the Overloaders for the rest of that year, neither Prozak nor Red Sabbatis ever mentioned the throw. I was not dismayed by their failure to comment but I thought that the play on Van Cleef was worthy of attention of some kind. While those two teammates offered no praise whatsoever for the play in question, praise came from a very unexpected source.

In the mess hall, I was eating my dinner out of my mess kit and facing the back of the mess hall. I was distracted when someone tapped me on the shoulder and sat down opposite me. He complimented me on my throw to Prozak. Of all things, it was John Lewis, the Manager of the Office Workers whom the Overloaders genuinely disliked. Lewis sat down to eat his meal, dressed in his usual freshly-pressed khaki uniform, and started to discuss the game. Within a few minutes, along came Van Cleef with his mess kit, and sat down beside me. He touched me on the back and complimented me on throwing him out.

I was never particularly attracted to John Lewis and Van Cleef but I did not hate them as Sabbatis and Prozak did. I thought they were a little “uppity” but I let the matter rest there.

So the moral of this story about an African baseball game is that you never know where praise might come from. Similarly, those who are expected to give praise may not do so. This may not be the most startling revelation, but there it is. From that date forward, I looked at people in a little different light. If John Lewis and Van Cleef were decent men, which they were, then there must be hope for the rest of mankind.

And by the way, my memory tells me that the Overloaders won that game by one run. The men in the “country club” ward were greatly pleased with the outcome of this African ballgame.

E. E. CARR
May 26, 2006
Essay 191
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I… I don’t have any experiences like this. There seems something so pure about it, I don’t know. The kind that bleeds nostalgia, that I’ve only ever seen in movies. Something that you can only get with a bunch of guys who need a distraction in a place a long way from home. I also think that this essay is actually helped by the dictation style; Pop’s voice comes through incredibly clearly.

Maybe stuff like this is still happening around me, and I’m just so far removed from the sporting world that I don’t see it? Seems likely. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m largely useless in any sport where you have do something that isn’t about running really quickly. Since baseball already has designated hitters sometimes, maybe I should propose the position of designated runner.

ON FEAR AND DUTY

When it comes to fear, this might be the first essay you will ever read which does not make an allusion to Franklin Roosevelt’s thought that we have “nothing to fear but fear itself.” In this essay, I propose to comment on three kinds of fear that are prevalent today.

Under ordinary circumstances, I avoid entering a cage full of hungry Bengal tigers out of the fear that they will eat me alive. Fear for one’s personal safety is paramount in every human being.

There is a second kind of fear which is practiced by preachers and by politicians. The preachers tell us that unless you submit to their ministrations, you will be bound for an eternal life in a place called hell. The fact is that nobody knows anything about eternal life. Nor does anybody know where this place called hell is supposed to be located. Enlightened observers give no credence to eternal life or to the existence of hell.

The politicians tell us, as is the case today, that only they can protect us from horrible harm such as the World Trade Center disaster. Condoleezza Rice has said, “Who could imagine anyone flying an airplane into a building?” I might remind Madame Rice that the Japanese perfected that art during World War II. They were called kamikaze pilots. Some night when they are alone together, Harry Livermore, who commanded the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, might enlighten Ms. Rice on this particular subject.

There is a third kind of fear which we are now experiencing. This primarily is the fear of what the most intellectually challenged politicians refer to when they call Muslims, “Islamo Fascists.” But let me take you back a step or two to explain this particular fear and its ramifications.

My last job with AT&T was Director of Correspondent Relations. Simply put, this job entailed dealing with all the other countries of the world on telecommunications matters.

It was my custom to personally visit the other authorities around the world to discuss and solve telecommunications matters. If there were no problems to solve, the meetings were to promote good relations with AT&T. In all cases it was my duty, as I saw it, to maintain harmonious relations with people all around the world. Some were Christians, some were Buddhists, some were Jews or Hindus, some were Muslims, and some were atheists. I met with all of them on their own turf.

Some of the places we visited were welcoming and some were forbidding. And some had a nightlife and others had none. Some had excellent restaurants and some had none. Witness most of the Arab cities that were on our travel itinerary.

At the end of 1981, I believe, I found myself together with two of my staff members in a meeting in Algiers, Algeria. Clearly the Algerians regarded this as an important meeting. They had only recently thrown off the French yoke and were eager to establish themselves as a significant nation on the world stage.

As the meeting convened, a gentleman walked into the room who seemed to have authority over the other Algerians. It is my belief that he was the new Foreign Minister for all of Algeria.

After introductions were made, I took it upon myself to thank this important figure for what the Algerians had done. The Algerians had persuaded the Iranians to release our prisoners after 444 days of their captivity by the Iranians. I told him that I could not speak for the American government, but that I spoke for the American people. I told him that we were very appreciative and that the Algerians had the thanks of every American.

The Algerian Foreign Minister said simply, “Mr. Carr, it was our duty to do that.” In other words, the Algerians, a Muslim nation, felt a duty to intervene with another Muslim nation to free American prisoners from our embassy in Tehran. As a matter of interest, the American prisoners being freed were in all likelihood Christians and Jews. The foreign minister knew that as well as I knew it. It was an extraordinary gesture by the Algerians, a Muslim nation.

I knew a good bit about Algiers because, at that time it was my custom to arrive early in the city where the meeting was to be held and to either walk or take a taxi to the place where we were to convene. I had no intention of becoming lost on the way to the meeting the following morning. It was my aim to nail down where the meeting was to take place and to see a bit of the city.

This practice led me to walk extensively around cities of all kinds, particularly Arab ones. In Arab cities there is virtually no nightlife to speak of. There might be a restaurant or two here and there, but the place to take your meals in an Arab city is usually at the hotel.

In walking around places like Algiers, Rabat, Tunis, Cairo, and Amman, Jordan I felt no fear whatsoever. But remember, this was in 1981.

I have only been entertained in one Arab home. That was in Bahrain. Yet in the meetings I have had with the Arabs, when they have taken us to dinner, it was apparent to me that they meant us no harm whatsoever. The Arabs take great pride in providing their guests with hospitality. They were interested in better relations between the two countries and between the telecommunications authorities in those countries.

Those good feelings today are probably gone. It would take a man much braver than I am to walk unescorted down the streets of Rabat, Algiers, Aleppo, Oran and Damascus, day or night. I’d leave out Cairo as I suspect that it is still a fairly safe place to visit but I would not rule out the occasional religious zealot who would take a shot at an American.

Identifying an American traveler in any city absurdly easy to do. Upon checking into a hotel, the clerk, without exception, will ask for your passport, which will be returned in an hour or two. In that hour or two, the clerk, if he is so inclined, could conceivably identify the American to member of his religious or tribal sect. Under those circumstances, the American would be easy to find and would be easy for one of those “Islamo Fascists” to deal with.

The point here is twofold. The United States government has identified the so called “Islamo Fascists” as our enemies. The Arabs have every reason to believe that we are hanging the Fascist tag on all of them. In instances such as this, the foreign governments would have no duty or obligation whatsoever to be of any help. If the current situation had existed back in 1981 when I met with the Algerians, they would not have lifted a finger to free the American captives.

Secondly, an American visiting an Arab country would no longer be free to enjoy himself because of fear of being injured or killed. This is nothing more than a byproduct of the Bush administration’s view toward Muslims. The Muslims conclude that if the American government dislikes Arabs so vigorously, and is joined by the Vatican from time to time, it would be logical to harm the American visitor because they could be viewed as the enemy of the Arabs.

I regret that the movers and shakers in the current administration have created this atmosphere. From the Muslim point of view, I can fully understand why they, in turn, have hostility toward Americans. And furthermore, with the increasing immigration of Muslims into Europe, it would not be surprising to find an American killed by one of those alleged Islamo Fascists in a place such as Rome or Paris.

So this is a new fear that must be endured by Americans going abroad. It is an unhappy circumstance that should never have happened. But as long as we “stay the course” in Iraq, this will be our fate. And as long as we support unequivocally Israel when it punishes Lebanon and the citizens of Gaza, we can expect only hostility from the Muslim nations. America can do better than that. I look forward to the day when I can walk unescorted and unafraid through the streets of Algiers and the other Arab cities. We have a long way to go to make that happen.

E. E. CARR
October 14, 2006
Essay 211
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well I guess these years, the strategy was just to hope that the Arabs would be the bigger men in these types of situations. Turns out to have been a relatively safe gamble. I remember being relieved though when the administration changed, and one of the reasons was that I hoped our international reputation would start to improve. I believe it has, though maybe not as quickly as I would have liked.

MILLBURN AND TERRORISM | Everybody Has A Story

Advancing age seems to have done considerable violence to my memory. From the time I started to school, it was my belief, which I thought was shared by all other Americans, that this was a nation of immigrants. As it turns out now, people who seek asylum in this country are more often regarded as terrorists, rather than somebody who can contribute to our well being.

The mood in Washington these days, and in the no-nothing branches of our electorate, seems to reflect antipathy toward every person who wishes to come to this country. This flies into the face of what this old essayist always believed. It had been my view that even the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, if you go far enough back, came into this country as immigrants. In my case, my immigrant ancestors came to this country because, as the Brits would say, we were “stahving” at home due to the Irish Famine of 1845-1855. Starvation was a real motivator for many of our ancestors, and it continues to be so to this day in much of the rest of the world.

Unhappily, the mood in Washington is to sponsor vigilantes to patrol our borders, aimed particularly at keeping out immigrants from Mexico and Central America. There is even a preposterous proposal to build a fence from the Pacific Ocean all the way east through Texas to keep the immigrants out. Remember the Berlin Wall? Unfortunately, some of those immigrants are desired by the vigilantes who want to offer them below average wages to do their grunt work. The proposed area of the fence is now policed by vigilantes wearing cowboy hats, radio telephones, spy glasses and binoculars.

When an “immigrant-terrorist” is sighted, the vigilantes man their heavy duty SUV’s and talk to their headquarters on their high-powered field telephones to report finding another potential terrorist invading our sacred soil. More often than not, when they reach him, they will find him dying of thirst, heat, dehydration and exhaustion. What he is doing here is not a function of terrorism, he is simply looking to find a job to support himself and his family. Even our uptight British friends would say that these are not terrorists, but are people who are indeed stahving at home in Mexico and Central America.

The point in this essay, aside from the attitude in Washington, is that our current hometown of Millburn, New Jersey, would seem to be a beehive of immigrant terrorists, each of whom has a story to tell you about how he got here. For example, if you start at the western edge of Millburn, there is a Kings grocery store. A few years ago, I fainted in that grocery store largely due to the absence of a pacemaker. One of the people who attended to me and helped to revive me was an immigrant from Jordan named Hassan Khalid. For several years, Hassan and I have been friends. Last year when Ramadan occurred, I shook hands with him and wished him a happy Ramadan. He told me that mine was the only expression for him to enjoy Ramadan that he had received and that he appreciated it very greatly. I trust Hassan who gives me samples of apples and other fruit as I walk through the place. Hassan is an Arab, of course, but as far as I can tell, he is no terrorist of any kind. He is just a nice man who came here because he could not earn enough in Jordan to support himself and a family that he hopes to acquire sometime down the road. So Hassan is one of those people who read the Koran, but who is a man who contributes to the idea that we are a nation of immigrants. It is not just European immigrants, that phrase also includes Arabs as well.

Moving eastward in Millburn, we come to a well known restaurant named Basilico. Its owners are two people from Imperia, Italy, by the Ligurian Sea, who attended cooking school together and who came to this country sometime around 1985. As they prospered, they took over a hardware store, formerly run by Harvey J. Tiger, and established an Italian restaurant which has always appeared to us to be of excellent quality. The owners, Mario DeMarco and Angelo Delbecci, are immigrants and they wouldn’t have any idea of what to do if somebody dubbed them as terrorists. Those two fellows would retire to their kitchen and arm themselves with wooden spoons rather than with rifles.

Angelo and Mario, in keeping with the tradition of immigrants, have hired other immigrants, in this case, from Ecuador. Most of the people who work for them, and I would assume that it is now close to 15 or 20, come from Cuenca, a town west of Quito, in Ecuador. Their service is impeccable, and they are fully employed, and as far as I can tell, not a single one of them has ever given thought to being a terrorist. They are simply hard working people, thousands of miles from home, trying to earn a few bucks to send to their wives and parents so that they may prosper also. Some of them have already started families here.

Since my blindness, the two headwaiters, Caesar and Jesus, have made special efforts to prepare my food so that it can be eaten easily, which I appreciate greatly. This is Italian food prepared by Ecuadorians and eaten by an Irish-American. Isn’t that what July 4th is all about?

Angelo and Mario and the Ecuadorians pay their taxes, and are ideal citizens. If someone is looking for a terrorist, he would be well advised to steer clear of the restaurant Basilico. And everyone who works at that restaurant has a story to tell about leaving home and coming to this country to find work and to prosper.

Going eastward a mile or so, we come to the Whole Foods Market. There the produce department and the fish department are peopled largely by men who have come here from somewhere else. For example, the senior produce worker is a fellow named Gregorio Russo, a native of Italy. Gregorio has been here so long that he has actually done time in the American Army during the Vietnam War. Next to Gregorio’s stand in the market is a Jamaican fellow named Paul Bywater. Paul is a fellow who thinks that Amazing Grace is the finest hymn that he can think of because it reminds him of his mother. I have told Paul that it would have been a fine thought for his mother and my mother to meet and to sing Amazing Grace together. Paul just wants to get along in this life and he is a simple immigrant who has no thoughts about terrorism and who is a cheerful fellow.

A close friend of Paul is Garth, another hard working fellow who handles at least two jobs that I know of. He is a Jamaican, as is my good friend Owen. Owen has a goatee and he is a hulking sort of figure that might give you some thoughts about avoiding him on a dark night. Owen, quite to the contrary, is a gentle, gentle person. He is a Jamaican and he has no ideas about terrorism. All three of these Jamaicans came here to work, pay taxes and to prosper. None of them has ever given terrorism a single thought.

For quite a while, the boss in the produce department was a gentleman named Maurice. When I asked Maurice where he was from, he said, “From the Bronx.” I told Maurice that was silly; where were you before you ever got to the Bronx? He said, “You wouldn’t know anything about it, I am from Guyana.” I replied, “From Georgetown?” Maurice bubbled all over. He said, “How do you know about Georgetown? That’s my hometown.” I told him that as a soldier in 1944 and 1945, I passed through Georgetown on three occasions, so I know a little bit about it.

One of the reasons Maurice was taken back was when I told him that the barracks for the enlisted men at Georgetown was populated largely by lizards. Everyone slept under mosquito netting in that transient barracks. The lizards would crawl around on the rafters near the roof and seemed to bother no one, except seeing them kind of gave people an uneasy feeling. On a rare occasion, a lizard would lose his footing and fall on top of the netting which covered the American soldier. That resulted in some pandemonium. I reminded Mr. Maurice that Guyana was a new name. When I was there, it was called British Guyana. Now they have run the Brits off, so it is simply Guyana.

Moving from the produce department, there is a fellow named Michael who takes care of nuts and seeds and all that sort of thing. Michael is a very gentle fellow who comes from Accra, Ghana. Moving a few feet further into the fish department, we run into Daniel Commodore, also an immigrant from Accra.

As it turns out, my overseas military service ended with a tour in Ghana which was then known as the Gold Coast. There wasn’t a lot of gold in the Gold Coast, the gold was slaves. West of Accra is a port called Takorodi. That is where the slaves were taken, beaten, handcuffed and loaded onto slave ships headed for the United States as well as to Arab lands.

When my service took place in 1944 and 1945 in the Gold Coast, the Brits were very, very firmly in charge. They required every black man to refer to every white man as “Master.” I asked Daniel if he remembered such a formality. Daniel said that he did not, but his father certainly did. The Brits, for all of their genteelness, were very rough conquerors, and that’s what they were in British West Africa. But Michael and Daniel have no thought other than making a living as opposed to any idea of terrorism. They just want to get along.

There are two other immigrants who deserve attention at the Whole Foods Market. One is Carmen from Bogotá, Columbia, and César from Lima, Peru. They speak limited English, but it is clear they have a story to tell and it is not about terrorism.

Until her recent promotion, Carmen toured the store with her broom and dustpan to keep it tidy. Cesar is an elegant gentleman who chases grocery carts and also bags groceries. These appear to be humble jobs, but apparently, they are better than what they could get in their home countries.

Now in addition to the people from Ghana and Jamaica and all those other places, there are two other fellows that need mention here. One is Tariq, who became the father of twins a year ago and Larry, a gentle fellow who never fails to greet me when I enter the store. I expect that Larry and Tariq are the sons of immigrants too, in that their ancestors were slaves, perhaps from the Gold Coast.

And now we come to our friends from Costa Rica. Antonia Salazar cuts our grass in the summer and plows our snow in the winter. In the meantime, Antonio constructs brick flower boxes around our trees which are most attractive. Jenny, another Costa Rican, takes care of cleaning the house. They are both raising their families in this country. Their ambitions for their children are identical to the ambitions for native born Americans, namely to see that their children are well educated and placed in a position to succeed in life. It strikes me that Costa Ricans are the hardest working people of any immigrant group with which I am familiar. They work hard and they seem to be honest. So I salute them. And as far as I can tell, you won’t find a single terrorist in the whole population of the Costa Ricans in New Jersey.

It is clear that the anti-immigration mood that prevails in Washington, is slightly out of kilter.

All things considered, with all of the immigrants, good old Millburn must be the terrorist capital of the United States. We could use some of those spy hunters with their SUV’s, and their big floppy hats to question these fellows as to their terrorist intentions.

So as you see, everyone has a story. It is clear that these people came here in the hope that they could do better here than they could do in their own homelands. They are no different from the Mexicans who are trying to cross our borders simply to improve their lot in life. That is precisely the reason that my ancestors came to this country. At least with the starvation and the famine in Ireland, they came to this country in the hope that they could care for their families. That is what Ellis Island is all about. And that is what we are known as, a nation of immigrants. All things considered, I welcome immigration because it brings new blood into this country which could prove quite vibrant. I am not fearful of terrorists at every turn. I’ve long since passed that point and think everyone else should also.

The point in this essay is that “Everybody Has a Story.” I am happy to learn of those stories because they are interesting on one hand, and inspirational on the other. A man who leaves home for the purpose of improving his lot in life and for his family, is in my estimation a hero.

The name of this essay is “Everybody Has A Story.” Indeed the refugees who came to Millburn have those stories. Their native language ranges from Arabic in Jordan, to the Ga language in Ghana. It includes the Spanish and the Italian languages. And finally, those stories may be told in the lilting accents of Jamaica and British Guyana. All of these refugees who found a place in Millburn have a story to tell and absolutely none of it embraces terrorist activities.

E. E. CARR
January 13, 2006
Essay 176
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I’m a little bit ashamed now that I grew up near a grocery store and knew the names of nobody there. It’s funny though that just today, my little brother was in Istanbul and posted a picture on Facebook of himself and some waiters who took so much of a liking to him that they asked the chef to bake him a special loaf of bread with his name on it. Jack makes friends everywhere he goes, as does Pop. I think it’s a respectable quality to have.

I would take the essay one step further and contend that not only are most immigrants AS patriotic and well-behaved as your average American, they are often MORE patriotic and well-behaved. I think of it like this: When I went to high school at Westlake in Austin, I never gave one shit about the sports there. Sports weren’t interesting to me at all and going to Westlake was 100% a function of where my parents had decided to live. However, when I applied to Northwestern and went to live in Evanston, I found myself caring much more about the fortunes of the University’s teams — because I had chosen them. Every immigrant who comes here seeking citizenship has CHOSEN the US out of hundreds of other countries and taken a big gamble on this country. That isn’t true for native residents. It truly is a shame that these guys get the short end of the stick so often.

COMPASSION BEYOND ALL REASON

This is an essay that was run over by the events of this week. For two or three weeks, it had been my intention to write an essay having to do with civility. I had thought that the title of the proposed essay might be, “Civility, Decency, and Compassion Toward Others.” But as I said, the events of this week left that essay pretty much flat on the ground.

In the proposed essay of a week or so ago, I had thought about commenting on the absence of civility in today’s society. And I had thought also that in Washington there is an air of questioning the loyalty and patriotism of people who do not agree with a particular political point of view. Those thoughts had to take second place in view of the events this week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Civility is the mark of intelligent men and women in the daily course of their affairs. In the last few years, I have been struck by the absence of civility in politics as well as in the conduct of people I had observed. For example, Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, commented on the lack of civility among members of his own race. Herbert pointed out that in the lyrics of the songs sung by the screamers who claim that they are producing music, the lyrics contain several obscenities. Other black people are referred to in these lyrics as “niggas.” Women are commonly called whores. Bob Herbert deplored this trend in the music of black people. I was aware of those lyrics. I was aware of those lyrics, and I too deplore them. They simply are not civil and the alleged music is also clearly uncivilized.

There is a child of 12 years who lives across the street from us who obviously is a problem child. He is an only child and he is given to ringing doorbells and disappearing. The game is called “ding, dong, ditch.” His loud mouth when he is playing near the street is disturbing. But that is not the full reason why I wanted to include him in this essay on civility. On two occasions, we have heard him refer to his mother as a “bitch.” If that boy were my child he would be shredded.

The incivility has also taken a major foothold in the federal government. As events in Iraq begin to move in the direction of an all out civil war, politicians and shrill commentators on radio have departed from decency in that they accuse others of treachery and lack of patriotism if they do not agree with the views of the current administration. Rush Limbaugh, a convicted drug offender, leads the charge in this respect. People in the Bush administration disparage the patriotism of anyone who questions the absolutely dubious value of their judgment in the pursuit of the Iraqi war. Tony Snow, the right-wing political hack who is now the spokesman for George Bush, leads the charge from the White House.

When George Bush and Richard Cheney accuse others of lack of patriotism, it causes most citizens to shake their heads. During the Vietnam conflict, Bush fled to the National Guard and was never involved in military service. Cheney took five deferments and, like Bush, he had no part to play in the military. Cheney claimed that he had “other priorities” at the time. For those two men to question the patriotism of anyone, particularly those of us who served, is astonishing.

So we see that civility these days runs at a high premium. It took a shooting by a deranged person in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to bring it all back into focus. The shooter was a man named Charles Carl Roberts, IV, who took several guns and 600 rounds of ammunition to a one room Amish schoolhouse. Judging from notes he had written to his wife, he planned for a long armed standoff. In the end, Roberts killed as many as six or seven small girls by gunfire. These children ranged in age from seven to thirteen years. In my estimation, I cannot imagine a more horrible crime being committed. My life has been blessed by having two daughters. If anyone had threatened them in any way, it would be my intention to deal with him very sternly, including killing him. I suspect that every father feels about his daughters as I do. Simply put, you don’t fool with any child free of penalty.

Today is Friday, October 6, 2006. Funerals for several of the children were held late this week. It is reported that the children were buried in plain pine boxes wearing new white dresses which their mothers had sewn for their interment. It is also reported that one funeral took place in a barn and another Amish funeral took place in the basement of a house. Obviously, the Amish are plain people.

When word of the shootings was announced, condolences and contributions poured in. People around the country offered their prayers for the dead and injured Amish children and also contributed something approaching $600,000 for the Amish families. The Amish grievers who had lost their children stayed true to their belief in simplicity and generosity. They informed those who wished to pray for the departed children that their prayers should also include Charles Robert’s widow and his children. And next, they seem determined now to give some of the donated money to the children and to the widow of Charles Roberts as a means of sharing.

I am largely flabbergasted at their gesture. It reflects a generosity of civility that goes beyond all reason. My respect for the Amish as a people knows no bounds. They have no electricity in their homes. They drive horses and buggies rather than automobiles. They live a starkly simple life. Yet when it comes to showing civility, decency and generosity, there is no one to match them.

On the days when the little girls were being buried, there seemed to be no sympathy coming from the White House. The Commander in Chief of this country’s armed forces said nothing, but instead, devoted himself to Republican fund raisers in California and other places. The First Lady spent the day in Buffalo, New York, campaigning for a congressman whose chief of staff had quit that day in the Mark Foley matter. I suppose it gives testimony to the fact that generosity and civility often have no place in the American political system.

I grieve for the Amish for the loss of their little girls. I stand at attention and salute them for their civility, decency and generosity in a time of great strife. The Amish are not strange creatures at all. They are brave and decent people in all respects.

So I hope you see what I mean when I told you at the outset that my plans to write an essay on civility were clearly run over by events on the ground. When the funeral for the shooter, Charles Roberts, was held, 75 mourners attended the service. Half of the mourners were Amish. I suspect that the Amish represent civility and decency at its best.

E. E. CARR
October 6, 2006
Essay 209
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Kevin’s commentary: That was an incredibly decent thing for them to do as a community. I don’t remember this event well — mass shootings are far more common than they should be in this country — but damn, giving money to the shooter’s family is a lot to ask.

BE A MAN

William Meredith Carr must have had a terrible hangover on October 10, 1881, because he named his newly born son Ezra Edgar. That mistake was compounded when in 1922, that Ezra passed that name on to me. It has always been my belief that only the Holy Ghost or Moqtada al Sadr has a more regrettable name.

The original Ezra made a point in 1934 or 1935 which bears examination as we are looking for a way to end our involvement in the Iraqi war. On a Sunday afternoon, I was sweeping out the garage while of my father tried to adjust the doors so that they would close more tightly. As my father worked, a young man approached and presented him with a problem. I could overhear the young man saying that he had a difficult situation that he did not know how to resolve. But my father, the one with the second grade education, listened to the young man intently. When it was my father’s turn to speak, he said simply, “Boy, you must be a man. You must take responsibility and be a man.” I was only a few feet away and I could hear this exchange and the advice that was offered.

Now as we are floundering in our attempt to extricate ourselves from the Iraqi war, it seems to me that the idea of being a man has wonderful merit. The person who could now be a man is our Commander-in-Chief, Chief Executive and Chief Decider. That, of course, is George W. Bush.

We undertook the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation, under the auspices of the president of this country. The rest of the world and most of us in the United States now refer to this conflict as “Bush’s war.”

At the moment, one week before the midterm elections, Bush is preparing the way to blame the Iraqis for the future of their country. We invaded Iraq, destroyed the infra-structure, imprisoned thousands of people, installed several governments and created general turmoil. Now as the citizens of the United States grow impatient, George Bush is saying in effect, “It’s not my problem; the problem belongs to those Iraqis.”

The application of my father’s rule of “Being a man” starts with George Bush saying that the war was his idea, it was a whopping mistake, and that he is assuming full responsibility for it. Bush should grant that it is not the Iraqis problem to solve, but his to deal with.

Next, Bush should say that this is a thoroughly unwinnable war. His father and Brent Scowcroft tried to tell him this in a book that they wrote in the early ‘90’s. Bush said that he did not listen to his own father, but rather relied upon a “higher father.” It must be assumed that Bush was in a dialogue with the Holy Trinity.

When Bush assumes responsibility for starting the war and for ending it, he will then be fulfilling my father’s wish of, “being a man.” Unfortunately, Bush’s track record of being a man is virtually nonexistent. When the Vietnam War came, Bush used his family connections to jump 500 other candidates to get into the Texas Air National Guard. Before long, he copped out on the National Guard and in effect, never served one day in military service. He left that to people like John Kerry.

When George Bush is confronted by strength, he folds. About three years back, Bush, for example, threatened to put import duties on European steel. When the Europeans threatened to put a similar tariff on fruits and vegetables imported from places like Florida, Bush folded. Bush is only a strong man when he sends other people into battle to get killed.

After Bush says that he will be a man and assume responsibility for starting the war, he then will have another responsibility for ending it. This again is another opportunity to be a man.

When men make a wrong turn in their automobiles, they tend to compound the mistake by driving faster in the hope of seeing a familiar landmark. Women, on the other hand, will recognize their mistake and will stop and turn around. What we need here is for Bush to say that this war was his idea, it is an unwinnable war, and that our troops should be withdrawn immediately.

The point that is obvious here is that our presence in Iraq as an occupation force is the major cause of this conflict. If we were to withdraw, the major irritant in this war would be removed. This point is backed by many generals in the British and the American armies.

Obviously, I am aware that a civil war could very well follow. On the other hand, what we have now in Iraq is a smoldering civil war. A full-fledged conflagration is soon to follow whether we stay or leave. My belief is that sooner or later the Sunnis and the Shias will either work out an accommodation between them or there will be a civil war to settle matters. Whether we stay or leave, merely means postponing that settlement or that war. The Sunnis and Shias have been in a murderous dispute for more than 1400 years over who is the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed. At this late date, our occupation is simply another irritant in this dispute between two religious groups.

George Bush and the British have never had an inclination to learn from history. For more than 800 years, for example, the English nation occupied Ireland. For all of those 800 years, the Irish nation fought back. Finally in 1922, the British withdrew from Ireland under a peace treaty which left six counties under British domination. While the rest of Ireland is peaceful, the six counties in Ulster remain a hotbed of conflict. George Bush and Tony Blair should have learned about the fundamental failures of occupation as they attended those elite universities. But apparently, they neglected to do so.

Once our troops are at home, I am well aware that other nations may try to fill the vacuum. That is precisely the price that we must pay for such a foolhardy adventure in Iraq. We must accept the beating that we will probably take from the oil producing nations and we must accept the responsibility for rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq that we have ruined. This is another opportunity for Bush to be a man and to step up and say that we will assume the responsibility, however heavy the cost.

Once our troops are at home and we no longer give the no-bid contracts to companies such as Halliburton, we may be able to deal with the poverty in this country. We may also be able to redeem some of the U.S. debts that the Chinese and Japanese now hold. The best estimates are that indebtedness to those two Asian countries will cost us $300 billion in interest per year for years to come. That is a tough nut to crack.

Now we get to the heart of the proposal of being a man. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman designated certain czars to get things done. For example, there was a czar who presided over the aircraft industry. Under that arrangement, Henry Ford, who operated the enormous Ford plant at River Rouge in Dearborn, Michigan, turned it into a plant to manufacture B-24 bombers. Thousands of bombers came out of that plant and others throughout World War II. There was a will at the presidential level and America responded. In this war, there is no will and no response. Bush contends that we can go on having tax cuts and that there is no need for this generation to redeem our indebtedness. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

Now we must make a start to reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. If we were to name a czar for the oil industry who does not respond to direction from Cheney or Bush, we would be sending the first signal to all of those “Islamic fascist” countries who now hold us hostage. Once we became non-dependent upon Arab or Muslim oil, those countries would lose their stick over us and would recede to 17th or 18th or 19th century levels. It is not easy to do but in fact, Brazil has done just that thing. Brazil is not dependent upon Arab or Venezuelan oil. I suspect that we can achieve the same result if we have the will and the leadership to do it.

When we announce to the world that the United States is not going to be held hostage by the oil producing countries, we can then move to appoint another czar having to do with motor vehicle production. There is no need whatsoever for this country to have automobiles with 400 hp engines to move them. Those automobiles should be very heavily taxed on the order of $25-$30,000 each. There should be a premium on production of automobiles such as the Toyota Prius. Of course there will be screaming but the need is great for us to declare independence of the oil producing countries.

To set an example, Bush should stay at home and not fly Air Force One all around the country. That plane, like all planes of its size, consumes enormous amounts of aviation fuel. He should, for example, avoid taking a trip from his often used vacation home in Crawford, Texas to Washington just to sign a piece of legislation having to do with Terri Schiavo. That trip probably cost the American taxpayers about $500,000. On top of that, it was enormously wasteful of our resources.

After setting an example by putting Air Force One partially in the hangar, Bush might also be a real man and tell the owners of stock car racing they will have to curb their ways. Stock car racing consumes a monumental amount of fuel. It involves one high-powered car chasing another one around an oval circuit endlessly. The sport, as it is often called, is very popular in the South which is where much of Bush’s electoral support comes from. If he wishes to be a man, Bush can put an end to stock car racing until this country becomes oil independent of the Arab nations.

Well there you have it. The idea is to assume responsibility for getting this country into a war that has been judged a colossal mistake. Many observers contend that taking this country into Iraq was the most colossal mistake in the history of the American enterprise. Once responsibility for that war is assumed under the “be a man” doctrine, we can save the cost of our exorbitant occupation in Iraq. Once our troops are home, we can devote our energies to becoming oil independent. Until that day comes, Arab countries will always have our foreign policy in the palm of their hands.

And while we are at it, we might set an example for the rest of the world by returning Guantanamo Bay to the government of Cuba. GITMO has a thoroughly despicable in the rest of civilized society brought on by the torture of prisoners and by their indefinite confinement without trial. Perhaps it was Shakespeare who said it best. “Out damned spot” which is what we should do for Guantanamo.

Again, after we assume the responsibility for what we have done to Iraq, we can concentrate on settling or attempting to settle the dispute between the Israelis and the Arab nations. Slogans won’t do it. What we need is to show the Arab countries that we intend to treat the Arabs and the Israelis much more evenhandedly than we have done in the past. We can no longer stand by and do nothing while the Israelis reduce the infrastructure of Lebanon to ashes. We can no longer stand by and watch the Israelis capture and imprison as many as 40 members of the Palestinian government. And we cannot remain silent while the Israelis hold several thousand people in Gaza under starving conditions while we have no comment on it. Clearly there must be an expression from the president of this country that it is our intention to treat the Arabs and the Israelis more evenhandedly. That is what “being a man” is all about.

Well there you have an outline for bringing peace to Iraq as well as to the United States. It will cut our outgoing expenses enormously and it will reduce the loss of life on both sides. When Bush was told that the loss in Iraqi lives involved as many as 600,000 people, he replied, “That has no credibility.” The fact of the matter is that George Bush has no credibility. That estimate of Iraqi lives lost comes from American, not Iraqi, sources. So let us hope that Bush either becomes a man or that he is replaced by someone who will assume that responsibility.

I realize that there is very little hope that the plan of “being a man” will be adopted under this administration. The Bush plan seems to be to “stay the course” regardless of the lives that are lost on both sides and the money that is just dribbled away. While there is not much hope that the plan will be adopted any time soon, we avoid it at our own peril. Whether we adopt this plan now or later is only a matter of time. Before we are finished, it is obvious that we will have to end the occupation of Iraq and that we must undertake the enormous effort to become independent of oil producing nations. Anything that does not embrace these two points may well cause the bankruptcy of this country within the foreseeable future.

So you see, all of this flows from my father saying to a young man that he should “Be a Man.” When I enlisted in the American Army in 1942, some 15 to 18 months ahead of my date with the draft board, my father called me aside on the Sunday before I left. He gave me a silver dollar with the date of his birth on it. That was, of course, 1881. He said, “Carry this and you will never be broke.” I carried that silver dollar until December 8, 1943 when it was taken from me by the German prison officials at Rimini, Italy. By joining the American Army well ahead of my date with the draft board, my father was saying to me, “You are doing what a man should do.” I took that as the highest praise that my inarticulate father could offer.

When I returned it to the United States in 1945, I arranged to get another 1881 Silver Dollar to replace the one that had been lost to the German prison authorities. I carried that silver dollar in my pocket for so many years that it was hard to see the eagle on the coin. It now rests in a place of honor in my dresser drawer and when I hold it, I am always reminded of the original Ezra saying, “Be a Man.”

E. E. CARR
October 29, 2006
Essay 213
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: This is how one should criticize a government and a leader. I’m not saying I agree with everything in here, and I’m not sure that a trip in the Air Force One costs half a million dollars, but I’m saying this sort of critique is a million times more useful to everyone than the sorts of slams that you generally run into when you hear people criticize, for example, Obama. It examines policy decisions and their implications. It evaluates the economic landscape of the time and attempts to offer solutions, even if they are a little outlandish like the vehicle tax. It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air when put next to everyone who hates Obama because he’s a God-Damned Socialist without a birth certificate, or whatever nonsense is being spouted lately.

In other news I now have this stuck in my head. Thanks, Pop!

CARR PORTFOLIO

Among the news items that were offered today on July 13, 2006, was the auction of the plays of William Shakespeare. Apparently Mr. Shakespeare had thirty five plays that were included in a volume called “The Folio.” It was auctioned today and the winning bidder was a gentleman who offered five million dollars for the entire collection.

Now let us turn to my portfolio of essays. In this case, there are more than 200 essays in their original wrappings in the bookcase to my right. They may not be worth five million dollars but I am open to offers of something less than that amount. All of this really is a setup for saying how these essays came to be written and distributed.

The process of producing an essay starts with an idea. I do not know why this is true, but a large proportion of my inspirations occur while I am in my bathroom. A while back, for example, I produced a series of essays that were entitled “Thoughts While Shaving.” Incidentally, now that I am non-sighted, I am saving a fortune by not turning on the lights when I enter the bathroom to shave. It makes no difference to me whether the lights are on or off, or whether the sun is shining or not shining. I use an electric razor which involves no great effort to shave the face. The man I admire, however, was my father who used a straight razor even during his thirteen or fourteen years of blindness. It is amazing that he did not slice off his nose or his ears.

Ideas for essays also come to me while I shower. For years, when I was sighted, I kept a Staples notepad in the top drawer of the cabinet in my bathroom where I would jot down these ideas. Many of the ideas came to me at night and seemed of great importance when I wrote them down. However, the next morning when I read them, they made much less sense or no sense at all. But in any case, for better or for worse, the bulk or the preponderance seem to originate in the bathroom.

In former days, I would sit down at a table or a desk and I would write out the essays in longhand. This process allowed me to correct my mistakes or to make additions as I went along. Ordinarily I would make those additions in red pencil so that my wife Judy, who typed the essays, could see the changes. But non-sightedness brought a new dimension to this essay-writing process.

The New Jersey Commission for the Blind brought me a dictating machine which I am delighted to have. It produces cassette tapes. Prior to the cassette tape machine, I used several handheld cassette machines that were not particularly satisfactory. All things considered, the use of this sturdy old fashioned desk model Panasonic tape recorder is an improvement. It is several cuts above the Dictaphone wax cylinder used by Rolland Crow which was discussed in a recent essay.

Now getting the ideas on to the tape is not an easy process. In all of the essays that I have written through dictation, I only had one where a second recorder was used for the purpose of reminding me of notes that I needed to include. It finally struck me that the use of the second recorder was more trouble than it was worth. And so now, I try to put my thoughts together and dictate them in a coherent fashion without the use of notes. One of the drawbacks about this form of dictation is that often I will have an idea where the main punch line will not occur until the fourth or fifth paragraph. By the time I reach that point in the essay, I may have forgotten what I intended to say. I used to worry about forgetting those thoughts but now I have a little bit more confidence with the thought that the forgotten words will sooner or later return to my brain, at which time I will continue to do my dictation.

There is one factor that may be helping me now. During the time when I could see, I was near-sighted. This meant that I never ever read a speech. I would prepare the speech and reduce it to notes that were largely stored in my head. If I ran into trouble, I might reach in my pocket and pull out my notes. But in all of the hundreds of speeches that I made while I worked for the union and for the Bell System, I never ever read a speech. Reading a speech is an absolute turnoff. When the audience notices that the speaker is reading from a speech, they turn their attention to crossword puzzles and letters that they intend to write when they are free of the meeting. Sometimes they read newspapers. In my own case, I always thought to myself, “why don’t you give me the speech; I will read it when I have a chance, and we will save all of this wasted time.” On the other hand, when an audience sees that you are speaking a cappella, without a script or elaborate notes, they instantly pay attention. Perhaps it is to see whether you make a mistake or not, but more than likely it is to listen to your thoughts.

In all of my speech-making, rule number one was to prepare thoroughly and to see if my thoughts could withstand challenges. Perhaps that trait has served me well in going from the handwritten word to the dictated word.

When the essay is dictated in draft form, my wife Judy takes the cassettes to a lovely lady, Mrs. Eva Baker, in New Providence, New Jersey, a town eight miles to the west. Mrs. Baker transcribes the script and transmits it back to us using e-mail. When time permits, Judy reads the script to me from the computer screen and we do the best we can to polish it and to correct errors.

Please believe me when I tell you that polishing the script and correcting the errors is very hard work. Obviously everything must be done in my head. It is difficult to imagine what the script will look like after it has been polished and corrected. While I could still see, I could easily review each line and each paragraph. But in the current situation, I am unable to do that. So everything must be done completely in my head. I am becoming a little bit more comfortable in this format, but I must tell you that when I am finishing with a session of polishing and correction, the sweat from my armpits goes down to my hands. As I say, it is hard work.

Once the script has been polished and corrected, Judy runs the appropriate number of copies, staples them, puts them in envelopes, and delivers them to the Short Hills Post Office. With a little bit of luck, they soon appear in your mailbox.

As I continue to use the dictating machine, its virtues become apparent. In some respects, it may even be better than having the former written material. But all things being equal, I would prefer to have the old method of writing the script in longhand, correcting it in red pencil, and having the chance to review it four or five times before giving it to Judy for typing. For reasons unknown to both Judy and myself, we have never numbered the essays. Judging by the size of the binders, I assume that there are more than 200 of them. They are copyrighted material, which when turned over to an auctioneer should bring a minimum bid of two and a half million dollars. Many of the receivers of the essays are former employees of AT&T and I believe that they all must have two and a half million dollars to devote to the Carr Portfolio. But who knows? I may find a wealthy stockbroker or a real estate agent who would willing to offer a bid in excess of $2.5 million. In any case, I hope that you enjoy reading them.

Now a final thought. Mike Scaniello remodeled the bathrooms here a few years ago. In view of the thought that essay ideas come to me while I shave and shower, I have asked Mike to produce plans for doubling the size of my bathroom. I believe that a bathroom twice as large as the one currently being used would produce twice as many giant sized ideas for essays. It all seems logical to me. So Mr. Scaniello, please do your thing.

E. E. CARR
July 13, 2006
Essay 204
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: And here I am, giving them all away for free. A few things stand out to me from this one. First, I really enjoyed the idea that speeches were prepared and given “to see if my thoughts could withstand challenges.” So often a person speaking is convinced that he is absolutely correct — after all, he’s so good at his thing that he’s been asked to speak about it! The ideas of being welcome to challenges and the subsequent implication that Pop might actually change his mind about something if enough evidence is offered to the contrary are both rare qualities in a person.

This essay also gives a needed window into exactly how much effort has gone into each of these. I’ve published 515 essays. Conservatively, if each essay takes 90 minutes to think about and prepare, half an hour to finalize and deliver, and 90 minutes to revise, then I have processed 1,750 hours worth of effort in the course of publishing these essays. Conversely I’ve probably only spent about 200 hours publishing them. On my end an essay usually takes between 15 and 35 minutes to read, comment on, categorize and publish. If the essay supplies music to listen to or a question to research it may take more than that, and essays in the short category sometimes take less, of course.

In any event I hope that Pop considers himself to be a rather prolific writer and I hope he is proud of the fact that the quality of his essays did not decrease with age, blindness, or any number of things that might be expected to produce a drop in value. Clearly a lot of effort was exerted to bring these essays into existence and I’m thankful for it.

DOCTOR, MAY I HELP YOU WITH YOUR WORK? A TREATISE ON PRETENTIOUSNESS

This essay is intended primarily for those who practice the art of medicine. The first part is devoted largely to those who practice ophthalmology. The second part refers to all of the physicians who are currently in practice.

The title of this essay will inform you that it is my intention to offer some cogent thoughts to those who now practice the medical arts. It is clearly a case of gross pretentiousness in that I have no underlying academic background to serve as a springboard for my remarks. My observations are based upon a long association with the practice of medicine. The thoughts may be empiric but there certainly is no hearsay in what I have to say. My observations should be viewed as those of a friendly observer.

Dr. Leon who delivered all eight of the Carr children was held in high regard by our family. All things considered, my dealings with the medical community since I left Doctor Leon’s hands have been basically friendly. And so I would hope that what I have to say today will be regarded as basically helpful. It is not my intention to do any harm to the medical community in any fashion. On the other hand, there are times when the medical community can use a little help. Perhaps this is such a time.

At the outset, every physician would like to know the background of the patient that he is treating. I must observe, in good humor, that physicians use the word “presents” in a mysterious fashion. What I present is a case of blindness together with a string of other ailments and “procedures,” as the medics call it, performed on a white, Caucasian male who has now reached the age of 84 years. My health at the moment seems to be excellent, after a fashion, in view of the fact that I am able to exercise 80 minutes on four days of each week.

My academic background is nearly non-existent. I did not attend a school or university where ophthalmology or the study of cardiology were offered. I did not have a residency nor did I ever attend a medical school. In point of fact, I did not attend a university at all due largely to the Great American Depression which morphed into World War II. Therefore, my observations are empiric but they may be worth your while as you listen to or read them.

Let us turn first to blindness and the practice of ophthalmology. My total blindness has existed only since late summer of 2005. Glaucoma has been a doleful millstone around the necks of the Carr clan. While I have been only totally blind for a 13 or 14 months, my experience with glaucoma and blindness goes back much much further.

I come from St. Louis where baseball is considered as sort of a religious experience. In 1930 and again in 1931, the Philadelphia Athletics met the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. You may recall that the Philadelphia Athletics were owned and managed by a gentleman named Cornelius McGillicuddy. My mother would have referred to him as one of the boys from home. Sportswriters reduced his name to Connie Mack and he is remembered with reverence to this day. I would like to tell you more about the mainstays of the Athletics. They were George Earnshaw, a right-handed pitcher and Al Simmons, the left fielder who hit 390 in 1930 and 396 in 1931. Another mainstay was a tall left-handed pitcher named “Lefty” Grove. In those days almost everyone who threw from the southpaw side was called “Lefty.”

I wish that this essay could be more about baseball because I know more about it than I do about the art of medicine. But the World Series of 1930 and 1931 are significant to me. In those years my father approached his 50th birthday and was diagnosed with glaucoma. My father was cared for by two St. Louis ophthalmologists who were the Post brothers. Their operating room was at Barnes Hospital which is well-known throughout the Midwest and the South West. When the nature of my fathers diagnosis was explained to me, I began to understand that at the end of the line, blindness was a distinct possibility. So for more than 75 years I have been very much aware of glaucoma and its end result. Those 75 or 76 years count heavily when I refer to my empiric evidence having to do with blindness.

In my own case, in 1969 I was found to have “incipient glaucoma” which blossomed into a full case of glaucoma about a year or two later. Significantly, the case of glaucoma arrived at my 49th birthday, thus following the track laid down by my father. Because of my father’s diagnosis, all five of the surviving Carr children have visited ophthalmologists frequently. In my case, I began to visit those specialists more than 50 years ago.

My father became totally blind when he reached his 63rd or 64th birthday. My brother Earl became blind in his early 70s. I held off blindness until my 83rd birthday. In numerical terms, my father passed, by heredity, glaucoma to his five surviving children.

In terms of numbers, the five Carr children produced seven children of their own. Those grandchildren produced 16 children so you see by this time, the count is up to 28 as potential victims of glaucoma. It all came from one source. As you can see, the prospects for glaucoma cases in the future will be much greater, rather than fewer. Glaucoma will provide full time work for ophthalmologists for years to come, particularly as the coming generations tend to expand their life expectancy. And we haven’t even touched on other eye ailments.

With that background, let us now turn to the first major point of this essay. It is my contention that schools that teach ophthalmology do not go far enough in that they fail to prepare their students to deal adequately with patients who become blind while in their care. Generally speaking, ophthalmologists treat the patient until the blindness sets in, at which point the patient might be referred to an organization which handles social services. In effect, when blindness becomes a fact of life, the ophthalmologist often now believes that his work is done. In this instance, I am not interested in trying to determine where the newly blind person might look for a dog or might find a school that teaches Braille. It is my argument that the practitioners of ophthalmology must prepare the blind person for the role that he must now fill. Clearly, this world is made for sighted people. Those without sight are required to accommodate to the seeing world. My argument is that the ophthalmologists are in a unique position to help that patient as he encounters blindness in a sighted world.

But please do not consider this essay as an autobiographical one. I worked for 47 years including 17 years dealing with labor matters. In addition I did tours as a lobbyist in Washington, a General Sales Manager for the Bell System and finally, I represented AT&T in its International dealings on telecommunications matters with the rest of the world. I was well equipped to deal with the social side of blindness and to anticipate its happening long before it occurred.

Contrast that background with that of my father. He had a second grade education and worked with his hands all of his life. Blindness was a strange circumstance for him as he was unprepared for it. When blindness overtook him, he sat in a chair in the living room beside his Atwater-Kent radio and toward the end of his life, some 12 or 13 years later, began to listen to radio dramas about cowboys and Indians. My father certainly could have profited if the Post brothers had prepared him for his new life.

When blindness overtakes a person, he may well feel abandoned and hopeless. In that state, he might well conclude that life without sight is not worth living. In my essay, “A LETTER TO A FRIEND,” I told that friend that if blindness occurred, and he wished to end his life that I would respect that conclusion. I did not say that I would be enthusiastic about that decision; I said that he would have my understanding and support. On the other hand, I pointed out that there is much to live for including the spouse, the children, friends, music, etc. Blindness in and of itself is not fatal. It is a matter of adjusting and accommodating to it. It can be lived with even with all of its inconveniences.

When blindness takes over, the patient may feel a sense of complete uselessness. The old Irish lament “Johnny we hardly knew ye” comes to mind. When Johnny came home from service with the British Army minus two limbs, the song says “You haven’t an arm, you haven’t a leg; you’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.” The ophthalmologist is in a position to tell the patient that life is worth living and that he will probably not have to take up begging.

In the American and British armies, there is a technical term having to do with when a soldier complains. The complaint might be against the food, the officers, the climate or whatever. That technical term, in plain English, is called “pissing and moaning.” To meet the high moral standards of the current administration in Washington, that earthy army name will be shorted to “P&M.” The patient should be told by the ophthalmologist that P&M’ing does no good. Quite to the contrary, it alienates the hearer. At the end of a day of P&M’ing, the patient will still be blind. If the patient persists in telling others of the disabilities of his blindness, he will cause them to regret their friendship with him.

In my view, blindness is a personal thing which I do not try to hide. On the other hand, I find it reprehensible that a blind person would transfer his grief to a sighted person. The ophthalmologist must remind the newly blind person that pissing and moaning is the best way to lose friends and to increase his sense of loneliness. And the ophthalmologist also should suggest that P&M’ing about other physical ailments is also a good way to turn off friends. If the ophthalmologist knows his patient as well as he should, he would have no problem in delivering this message.

Now let us turn to humor. The general public does not understand blindness in any respect. They know it exists, and they hope that it never occurs to them. But in fact, they do not spend any amount of time thinking about that subject. At the same time, you will notice that our conversations are filled with words having to do with seeing. “It’s nice to see you”, “I haven’t seen you for a long time”, or “I see you are wearing a new hat.” The word “seeing” or its derivations sneak into our conversations much more often than one might imagine.

If a blind person were to respond in a humorous way, saying you can see, but I cannot, his remark will probably be greeted with embarrassed silence. Please remember, there are no blind comedians. Just as there are very few blind ophthalmologists. Any attempt at word play on the subject of sightedness will result in embarrassment for the sighted person. The ophthalmologist should advise the newly blind person to please leave it alone. Again, remember there are no blind comedians.

Perhaps schools should teach ophthalmology students a maxim. The maxim goes like this: blindness will tend to teach the newly blind person a sense of logic. If the water faucet is here, logic will tell him that the left hand side turns on hot water, and the right hand side turns on cold water.

Secondly, blindness will teach the blind person an enormous amount of patience. The blind person cannot do for himself anymore so he must sit there patiently until something happens. If, for example, he orders a cheese sandwich at a diner and he wanders about the slowness of its delivery, he will not know whether the waitress is reading a movie magazine or whether the cook has put the sandwich up on the shelf where the waitress can grab it. He must just sit there.

In the third place, blindness teaches about logic and patience, but it does not offer tranquility at all. The lack of tranquility will, in all likelihood, transmit itself to the rest of the body and may very well have an effect on the blind person’s life span.

Finally, there are those who take comfort in religion. As delicately as the ophthalmologist can do it, he or she should point out that there is no recorded instance of blindness being reversed by appeals to Jesus, the Ayatollahs, the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem or Pat Robertson who claims that he speaks regularly with God. Contrary to the assertion in John Newton’s hymn, “Amazing Grace”, “T’was blind but now I see”, is merely allegorical. In the history of mankind, restoration of eyesight through supernatural means simply has never occurred.

I am fully aware that the above suggestions plow new ground in the field of ophthalmology. I am also aware that ophthalmologists contend that this is going beyond their area of competence. If I may suggest, the ophthalmologist has reached his status, not because he is dumb, but precisely because he is bright. It seems to me that there is no real reason why an ophthalmologist who knows his patient well, cannot impart these pieces of advice to his patient. Schools that teach eye care ought to prepare ophthalmologists with this sort of information. I can think of perhaps another fifteen or twenty thoughts that ought to be included in the teaching school’s syllabus. But in the interest of time and space, they will be held for another day. In any case, I imagine my thoughts would add only a day to the teaching of ophthalmology. I believe it would be well worth the time.

To close on a lighter note, schools that teach ophthalmology should be told of certain characteristics of the sighted public. For example, in addressing a blind person, I find that the sighted person speaks louder and pronounces his words clearly, as though the trouble with my eyesight had spread to my ears. My hearing is in excellent condition. Then we have the matter of people addressing my escort instead of addressing me. For example, the clerk at the farmer’s market said to my wife, “Can he see anything?” I was fully prepared to handle that question, but the remark was not addressed to me. On another occasion, the medical group we patronize moved to a campus setting with several buildings. Guides were posted around the parking lot to direct people to the proper location. Upon seeing me, one of the guides said to my wife, “Does he need a wheelchair?” I had trouble dealing with that question because laughter convulsed me. And then on that same occasion, when I was seated in the physicians examining room, a nurse entered. She said to my wife, “What is the purpose of his visit today?” My wife replied, “Why don’t you ask him? He talks.” Again, I was so convulsed with laughter that I could not tell the nurse that I only spoke Swahili.

Two thoughts as I close this section of the essay. First, I would remind you that this is not an autobiographical series of thoughts on my part. My dealings with ophthalmologists have been reasonably excellent. My acquaintance with the way things work, particularly from the experience lobbying in Washington, has equipped me to deal with things as they are. So there is no autobiographical context in these remarks.

Secondly, because I had 75 years to think about the onset of blindness, I met it in a philosophical mood. I suspected that if I continued to have high intra-ocular pressure from glaucoma, and if I lived long enough, blindness would be my fortune. I did not welcome blindness, of course. But I knew it would happen if I lived long enough, and I did. I want to point out, that after the hemorrhage during the trabeculectomy that turned off the lights in my last remaining eye, I thanked Dr. L. Jay Katz who had performed the work. I told him that I was certain that he and the staff at Wills Eye Hospital had done their best and that I appreciated it immensely. No hard feelings, no acrimony, that is the way the ball bounces. The secret here is that if you have got glaucoma, don’t get old.

Well, so much for preparing the ophthalmologist to deal with a patient who has become blind. Now let us turn to the rest of the medical community with my Physician’s Payment Protection Plan.

I have been told by three physicians, that they would not advise their children to enter the medical profession. I suspect that much of their unhappiness has to do with increased paper work, less time for the patient, and a reduced level of income. My advice to the medical community is short and succinct. It is, on the first hand, to get yourself a federation of physicians. I know you don’t want to call it a union, so we will call it a federation or an association.

The point is that physicians must be organized to be heard in Washington. If I may say so, the American Medical Association, when I was in Washington, attracted no great attention. From my standpoint, the AMA is simply is not doing the job. It is a featherweight organization when it comes to lobbying. Without an effective association, or federation or union, or whatever, the government, the trial lawyers, the insurance industry can do whatever they wish and physicians will wind up with the short end of the stick. Until physicians bind together and present a united case to Washington, they will not be taken seriously.

I am fully aware that a strike by physicians would probably be out of the question. On the other hand, a reasonably decent labor lawyer can advise your federation or association of tactics that the federal government must be forced to recognize. The point here is that alone, physicians can be picked off by the bureaucrats in the federal government and no one can do much about it. My advice in the first respect is to get yourself a forceful federation that will present a robust front to the government.

Certainly, after you form a federation or whatever you wish to call it, it would be important to hire a lobbyist, much as the pharmaceutical industry retains. In point of fact, the pharmaceutical industry literally and totally, wrote the bill that became the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. You may have been amazed to know, as I was amazed, that the bill prohibits the federal government from bargaining with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices. It is completely forbidden. How do you like that? I think it is completely outrageous. But these things happen, and the United States Congress can be rolled over by lobbyists. By the way, Tom DeLay was the main mover and shaker of this ill conceived piece of legislation. My advice is to get a high level lobbyist to work on your behalf.

As you may have suspected by this time, I hold liberal views, support such causes as Social Security and Medicare. There are those who do not hold those views in any case. One of them is Grover Norquist, a super lobbyist. His philosophy is to deny funds to all of the so called “entitlement” programs. Those include Social Security and Medicare. Norquist’s belief is to “starve the beast”. This means he will deny funding to the entitlement programs. This, of course, leaves the government free to waste money on its tax cuts and on Haliburton contracts in Iraq.

George W. Bush is an advocate of Grover Norquist. During his term in office, Bush has toured the country commenting dolefully that “Docs” are leaving the practice. He invariably sights legal fees coming from lawsuits against physicians. Well, physicians, I am here to tell you that Bush is totally dead wrong.

Physicians are losing their practice because of insurance rates. Can any of you reading this essay or hearing it, tell me the last time your insurance rates were reduced? I suspect that no hands would be raised.

At the same time, the insurance industry is a major, major contributor to the Republican Party and the likes of George Bush. The trial lawyers contribute to Democrats by and large. Their numbers are miniscule in comparison to the insurance industry. So Bush is doing the insurance companies a favor. He does nothing to reduce their rates but instead blames trial lawyers for the physicians difficulties.

In addition to the increased insurance costs, we find a continuing effort to reduce the payouts under the Medicare program. So physicians are hurting both ways. They have the higher insurance costs, and they must deal with the threat of reduced income from the Medicare program. I fully understand the physicians dilemma.

This is a cynical ploy by the Bush administration. It comes from the fertile mind of Carl Rove. On one hand Bush complains about the lack of medical care, and on the other hand, he is ripping the community of deserved income. If physicians do not stand up and fight back, there will be no one to help them. The situation has not yet reached crucial proportions, but it is well on its way. I want to see the physicians well treated, but it is not happening under this administration. In any debate where the merits of the physicians case is considered, the physicians are bound to win. It might even be what George Tenet called “a slam dunk.”

Well there you have my thoughts about blindness and what physicians might do to help themselves. I hope you understand that they come from a person who spent seventeen years in the labor field and who spent another four years as a lobbyist for AT&T. The world does not work, at least in Washington, in logical and decent terms. Politics is a brutal business. Politics can destroy physicians unless they protect themselves. It is for this reason that the title of this essay is, “Doctor, May I Help You with Your Work?” That title is offered in good faith and trust. I like physicians. They are critical to my well being and extended life. I would hate to see anything harm them. So men, women, children, stand up on your hind legs and fight back. And while you are fighting back, the ophthalmologists among you may want to offer comfort and useful help to the newly blind among us.

If I weren’t so old, I would offer my assistance to the physician’s association or federation just to see that decency and fair treatment prevails. I might also take a good deal of pleasure (schadenfreude) from seeing government officials grilled and brought to account. I am sorry that the physicians association did not know me when I was in, shall we say, full flower.

E. E. CARR
September 28, 2006
Essay 208
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Kevin’s commentary: I forget, sometimes, that one can lobby for good causes as well as bad ones. The word has a decisively negative connotation these days. Certainly the medical associations could be doing a little bit more. Also the amount that hospitals and the government (incl. VA hospitals) have to pay for medical supplies is almost comically high. I hate hate hate that they can’t negotiate for prices or even buy supplies in regular markets, so they wind up having to charge like $80 for a bag of saline solution, for which the materials cost $2.