Archive for February 2016

The Plaque

The news about 32 Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the America’s) came as no surprise. When AT&T Long Lines moved to Bedminster N. J. in 1977, the die was cast. The headquarters for Long Lines and its successor organizations was to be in suburban New Jersey, not in New York City.

The news first appeared as a well-founded rumor buried deep in the real estate pages of the New York Times in July 1999. By January 19, 2000 the news made the front page of the real estate section of the Times. In December 1999 the Rudin family took title to the 28-story pile of bricks south of Canal Street in New York City.

The Times story is called “Once and Future Telecommunications Crossroads.” It will now go by the grandiloquent name of “The New York Global Connectivity Center.” I’m not making this stuff up. That’s what William C. Rudin, president of the company which bears his name, will call it. Connectivity. Got that?

I’m not weeping any tears because Brother Rudin bought 32 Sixth Avenue from the AT&T Corporation. I never had any particular fondness for that building. It was just a place to work in a fairly grim neighborhood. It was reasonably close to other telephone installations (195 Broadway, the New York Company, Western Electric) and it had fairly good subway connections. I walked to the Lackawanna ferry which was about a mile south of the building. In bad weather I rode the subway and the famous Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, better known as “The Hudson Tubes” because they passed under the Hudson River.

The building inspired no affection from the employees who worked there. As I said, it was simply a place to work. Before it was air-conditioned it was mighty hot, particularly on the west side facing on Sixth Avenue. Henry Killingsworth, who headed Long Lines, decreed that only the 26th floor, the home of the Vice Presidents, and a few pieces of plant equipment were to have air conditioning. Air conditioning came to the rest of the work force some time in the mid to late 1960’s.

And so I read in July 1999 that the building would be sold. As I have said, I had no warmth in my heart for that building but I did care a lot about a pillar in the lobby.

On that pillar a plaque has been installed. It reads as follows:

“DEDICATED TO THE 2791 EMPLOYEES OF THE LONG LINES DEPARTMENT WHO SERVED WITH THE ARMED FORCES DURING WORLD II AND IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY.”

There follows the names of 57 men who lost their lives in World War II. It has always struck me that the 57 men who were lost should have led the listings on the plaque rather than following the tribute to those who “served with the Armed Forces.” But that is an issue that has been settled so we go on from there.

Of the 57 men who died, three were St. Louisans: Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss and Ashby Vaughn. In point of fact, a fourth man from St. Louis, Don Meier, also lost his life in combat, but was not included on the plaque because of a tragic piece of bureaucracy. I was a friend to all four of these men from St. Louis.

I worked in New York City for nearly 20 years. I had many occasions to study that plaque. When I worked elsewhere, I always stopped by to look at the plaque in the lobby.

I’m not a gloomy fellow nor am I a flag-waving patriot of the American Legion school. I just have a certain sort of reverence for the men who died and who served in that greatest of conflicts, called World War II.

And I have a greater reason to stare at that plaque, even today. I started to work for Long Lines in St. Louis in September of 1941. My first job was mostly a messenger and file clerk position. I didn’t care. I wore a white shirt to work and unlike the filling station business, I didn’t have to change tires and drain oil anymore. After a short time, I was given a drafting table which was what I had been hired to do.

In six months or so, a position was created under Ashby Vaughn which involved a good bit of drafting and some statistical work in conjunction with buried cables being laid in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. I went to work for Ashby Vaughn.

Ashby Vaughn was a fine man. He never chewed me out although I’m sure there were occasions when that should have happened. I was 19 and I expect Ashby may have been 28 or 29 years of age. He was very patient with me and I learned a lot about cables and topographical maps as well. He had a beautiful wife who had also worked in the St. Louis Office.

We worked on the 8th floor of the headquarters building of Southwestern Bell located at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis. The quarters were fairly small and space was limited. Ashby sat in the corner of the room and I sat directly in front of him. I quickly found out that if I rolled my chair back eight or ten inches, I would hit Ashby’s desk. But I never complained. It was a lot better than rolling around under cars draining the petcocks of radiators when the anti-freeze weather arrived.

So I sat in front of Ashby. Directly across from Ashby on his right, separated by an aisle of 30 inches but certainly no more than 36 inches, sat Bernie Wheeler. Directly in front of Bernie sat Dave Weiss. Dave was to my right across that narrow aisle. Standing up, I could touch all four desks from my location. Dave and Bernie worked for Transmission Engineer Charlie Laughlin, a prince of a man. Now that I think of it, all the fellows who worked for Charlie Laughlin were good men who enjoyed a laugh now and then.

My contact with Bernie Wheeler was not as great as I would have liked. He spent at least half of his time on transmission projects in the field, so I didn’t see him for weeks at a stretch. My guess is that Bernie was about 27 or 28. As far as I can recall he was unmarried.

When war came, Bernie was a ready reserve and by February or March, in 1942, he was gone. Dave Weiss, whom I spent a bit more time with, also belonged to the ready reserve. Dave was probably the same age as Bernie and was also unmarried.

I don’t recall where Bernie and Dave were sent. I simply knew that they had joined outfits that were involved in the early fighting.

In probably April of 1942 came word that Bernie had been killed. I never knew many details.

After Dave was called to active duty, all of us kept track of him by talking to his father, David Weiss Sr., who was a supervisor in the Telegraph Department. It was located on the 8th floor as we were, so we saw the elder Weiss often.

Not long after Bernie Wheeler was lost, came the terrible news that David Weiss Jr. was killed. His father delivered the news. It is now 58 years later and I can still feel the sorrow as I recall his father telling us that his only son was gone. Dave Weiss, the father, never whimpered or sought sympathy. It was simply the price that some had to pay. His son was in harms way and he was not completely surprised by such a tragic event.

I left St Louis in the summer of 1942 to enlist in the United States Army Air Corps. From time to time, Ashby wrote me a note. Apparently, Ashby was not taken in the draft until sometime in 1944. I heard about Ashby’s death months after it happened. Unfortunately, when his draft number came up the Army needed riflemen and he was assigned to a rifle platoon. Ashby was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. He had only been in the Army for about six months.

And so with Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss and Ashby Vaughn killed, it meant that three of the four of us who sat in that 8th floor corner at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis were lost. So I hope it is clear why I go out of my way – even now – to view that plaque in New York.

When word first appeared in the New York Times in July 1999 that the Long Lines building was to be sold, I wrote to Mirian M. Graddick, Executive Vice President of the AT&T Corporation. If the building were sold to an outside firm, they might not care what happened to the plaque. I told her that I hoped the plaque would find an honored and prominent place either in the former headquarters building in New York or in Basking Ridge.

I’m not at all certain that Ms. Graddick ever read my letter. Instead, a person who identified himself as being from the “Chairman’s Office” called to say that because 32 Sixth Avenue was a landmark building – presumably in New York City – the plaque may have to stay right where it is. The person from the “Chairman’s Office” said he would keep me informed. That was in August 1999. I haven’t heard from him.

Now to complete the story on the plaque, I need to tell you about AT&T’s practice concerning permanent employment and granting of leaves of absence. At the time I went to work for Long Lines, the rule was that new employees were not granted leaves of absence until their first service anniversary. After that permanent status was automatic. So it was that I timed my entry into the U. S. Army a week after my first year of service. But then in that week came an announcement from – you guessed it – the headquarters of Long Lines at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York City. It said simply that the traditional long standing practice of employees gaining permanent status upon completing the first year of service would no longer apply.

The effect was obvious and immediate. Whereas under the practice that had obtained until then, I would have been given a leave of absence, with service credit, for the time I spent in the military. Because that practice had been withdrawn, those of us entering military service were not given leaves of absence. We were simply cut loose.

I said to hell with it and enlisted. That was in 1942. During the time that I was unprotected by a leave of absence, the Company took me off all its publications lists. I simply was a person who no longer worked for the Company. I received no magazines or any other mail from the AT&T Company. In short, I was history.

Then in early 1944, Congress passed an act that said that people in my situation had to be guaranteed a job, with service credit, when they finished their military service. I found out about this by reading a pony copy of Time Magazine. It took some weeks before the Time story found me so I thought I would soon be hearing from Ma Bell. But the fact is that Long Lines had buried my records so deep in the former employee file that they did not have an address for me.

My mother later told me that a very relieved telephone employee was very happy that she had located my mother after going through all the Carr’s in the phone book, and could she please have my current address. Well in another few weeks, a letter from the Personnel Vice President – a Mr. Franklin P. Lawrence – arrived some where in Italy telling me how much they were looking forward to having me back to work for the Company. And they were now going to send me the monthly Long Lines Magazines. I should have told the Germans. It was as though that interval from 1942 to 1944 had not really happened.

Now I tell you all this for a reason. When I started to work at Long Lines, I drove my 1937 Chevrolet through Maplewood to pick up other fellow employees. They paid me to do that. One of my regular riders was Don Meier who worked at the testroom on Beaumont Street. Don had almost exactly my leave situation. The Company failed to grant him permanent status so he entered the service with the Marines without the protection of a leave of absence, just as I had done.

In the ensuing months, Don was killed. He had fulfilled the one year of non-permanent service but as any bureaucrat can tell you, he was killed before the Company reinstated the former leave policy, under pressure from Congress, in 1944. Because he failed, through no fault of his own, to have a leave of absence, Don Meier’s name is not listed among the men “who died in the service of their country.” What a tragic crime that is.

I first noticed the omission of Don’s name when I first went to New York as a member of the Union bargaining team. That would have been in June 1950 and again in July 1951. I asked the Company brass about it. The people on the Company side more or less ignored me. They sort of chalked it up to some more rabble rousing from the Union. Curiously, none of the Company representatives who blew me off had ever served in the military.

That is the story of the plaque. I hope, as I said in July 1999 in my letter to Executive Vice President Graddick, that the plaque finds an honored and prominent place somewhere in the headquarters of the AT&T Corporation. It’s future right now is unclear. If the Company can dispose of Golden Boy, perhaps they can do the same with the Plaque. We’ll have to hope for the best.

E. E. CARR
March 17, 2000

~~~

If any New York readers — present or future — want to swing by 32 Sixth Avenue and check in on the Plaque, I’d be more than happy to post any updates. You can reach me just by leaving a comment on this essay.  I’d imagine the plaque is intact: Wikipedia notes that in 2001-2, “numerous features of the building’s original design were restored, including the lobby with its expansive Art Deco murals.” Restorations tend to bode well for historical artifacts, so I’d imagine the plaque is secure still.

Edit: As of May 2005, it was still kicking.
This is Ed and Howard Davis viewing the plaque with their wives in May 05:

IN MEMORIAM TO SPC

In Memoriam
Shannon P. Catt

A beloved lap cat who gave his family love and devotion without reservation for nearly 15 years.

And said…“no chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery,
Thy songs were made
for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery”

Final verse of “The Minstrel Boy,”
A traditional Irish Rouser

So long, old pal Shannon
Ed Carr & Judy Chicka

~~~~
Aww. Shannon P Cat. He always makes me think of this picture these days. I remember him well, even though I’m pretty sure I was allergic to him. As far as cats go, he was top of the line. He overlapped with Jack, but just barely. Come to think of it, Shannon P. Cat and our dog Annabelle both passed the veil of tears at approximately the same time. I wonder why Pop didn’t opt to get any additional pets post-Shannon.

ON MORTALITY

Two events in the last week led me to think a little about mortality.

The first event has to do with old Shannon, our great cat. Shannon wandered out late in the night last week and another cat or raccoon beat up on him. As my parents would say in their Elizabethan English, currently he is “all stove up” which means that he is stiff and sore.

Today, Dr. James Dorney, the vet who looks after Shannon’s health, called him “an elderly gentleman” which is probably right. He is now 14 years old, so perhaps it is time to think about Shannon’s mortality.

The second event has to do with Rudy Guiliani’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. Since that news has begun to sink in, Guiliani has dropped his bid to be a Senator from New York and now proclaims that he will try to overcome the “barriers” he erected between himself and the minority community in New York City. The new Rudy has appeared on several television talk shows to announce his semi-conversion to civilized behavior. Clearly, the new Rudy is a function of his dread of his impending mortality.

So these two events started me to think. When a man is working on his 78th birthday, it is probably fair to say that it may be time to put affairs in order. I’ve done all that including the will and the pre-paid funeral expense plan. I’m not planning to leave any time soon as Andy Beamer, the cardiologist, gave me a semi-glowing report on my heart in April. But before I leave this vale of tears, as Lillie Carr called it, perhaps I’d like to leave an epitaph of some sort.

The Bible suggests that man is living on borrowed time after the 70th birthday. I’m now well past that point, but maybe an 80th birthday is not out of reach. Not so bad for a fellow who thought he wouldn’t see his 21st birthday.

In this long life, there have been many high spots. And there have been some low spots. I’m proud of the good moments and regret some of the less-than-stellar events in my life. All things considered for a depression era childhood and youth, I’m a happy man. For the past 12 years, Judy and I have been married and she has made my life a very happy one. I am indebted to her for that. My daughters are good citizens and good mothers. They are married to interesting husbands. My five Grandsons are coming along very well. So between the marriage, my family and my many friends, I have reason to be a happy man.

But as I look back at a long lifetime, I believe that the event that stands out in my mind is the contribution I was able to make during World War II. This is not about missions flown or medals gained or towns captured. In the final analysis, it is about 12,000,000 Americans in uniform and millions more in war related industries. It is about our Allies in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and all the rest who joined with us in that struggle. Had we not prevailed, our future would have been bleak, indeed. And there were many times when the Allies were less than sure of prevailing.

As I prepare to say goodbye some day, I believe that contributing to that effort of that struggle, was probably the most worthwhile achievement of my life. I have no use for guns or the military life. My thoughts have nothing to do with guns and soldiering. I would feel this way, I suspect, if I worked on Liberty Ships or in a munitions factory. In that war we all pulled together. And as the end approaches, I just want to acknowledge that I feel good about being able to contribute to the effort to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan. Had we lost that war, our lives in this country would have been much less worthwhile.

Now about the epitaphs which is where I started this essay. If I were as literate as Henry Mencken, I would adopt his epitaph. In December 1921, some 35 years before his death, Mencken wrote his own epitaph. It said: “If after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

If someone wants to use this epitaph for me, with credit being given to Mencken, it would be fine with me.

On the other hand, with the thoughts that I have expressed herein about World War II, I believe I would prefer an Irish rouser. The “Minstrel Boy” will cause the hair on the back of an Irishman’s neck to stand on end. It recalls the 800 year occupation of the Irish Nation by England. It gives hope to the oppressed. And so the “Minstrel Boy” it is.

Christopher Lynch, a pure Irish tenor, came to this country in 1946. He sang that song several times on the Bell Telephone Hour on radio. When he sang “Minstrel Boy” every Irishman who heard him was saddling up and ready to have a tilt with the forces of Old Mother England.

Unfortunately, Lynch could not handle celebrity well. He took to drink and by 1950 was gone from the scene. What a loss. What a fine voice.

And so if I can’t take Mencken’s epitaph as my own, I believe the last verse of the “Minstrel Boy” would serve me well. It says:

And said: “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery,
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery.”

If someone wants to include all four verses of the “Minstrel Boy” in my epitaph, that would be fine with me.

Now, I’ve said about everything about epitaphs. I hope that Shannon and Guiliani who got me into this, live long lives. I can’t do anything about Rudy, but for Shannon I will share the “Minstrel Boy” as his epitaph as he is a good Irish cat. He is also a loyal and good companion. So the “Minstrel Boy” is for the both of us. If Judy wants to join in, that would be agreeable for Shannon and for me.

E. E. Carr
May 22, 2000

~~~

Well, this is odd.
I’m not sure how popular of a quote that Mencken epitaph is, but I’ve now heard it twice today and — as far as I’m aware — never before in my life. The first was about three hours ago, watching a show called “The Wire.” A man is getting fired from a newspaper in Season 5 Episode 3, and quotes the same epitaph. Very strange coincidence. A quick search shows that such an epitaph isn’t mentioned anywhere else on the published essays on this site.

Minstrel Boy is indeed pretty, but in the end we wound up going with “The Parting Glass” for Pop. I think he would have been satisfied with the choice.

LETTER TO HUTCHINSON NEWS

Mr. Greg Halling, Editor
Hutchinson News
300 West 2nd Avenue
Hutchinson, KS 67501

Mr. Greg Halling:

This letter has been delayed for more than 56 years. It could have been written in September of 1942. And it could also have been written in late January of 1943. It has troubled me for all these years that I have failed to write this note of appreciation to certain citizens of Hutchinson, Kansas. So please excuse my tardiness. I’ll try to do better in the future.

During World War II nearly all troop movements were by train. The train commanders did their best to hide the eventual destination from the troops under their direction. Pullman porters were strongly advised against disclosing where the trains were headed. Conductors and other railroad personnel said nothing.

Those of us in the Pullmans, mostly raw recruits, were left without a clue other than those we could piece together as we traveled. Did the sun rise behind the train or in front of it? Did you see the name of that town on the Railroad station? Was it Springfield, Missouri or Springfield, Illinois? And so the rumors became rampant and usually were wrong.

When we set out in September, 1942, from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, our train carried recruits and a few newly Federalized National Guard troops, mostly from the general vicinity of St. Louis, eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois. Our only clue after about a day of travel came from someone who recognized the train station at Kansas City. But neither the conductor nor the Pullman porter would confirm that we were gazing at the Missouri’s western most city. Pretty soon, the train commanders made us put down the shades so our view of Kansas City was a brief one. And we were still in the dark.

Later that night we stopped somewhere west of Kansas City. Perhaps it was 11o’clock or midnight. Some of our fellows were still wandering around the Pullman car in their newly issued army underwear. Nobody wore pajamas, of course. Much to our surprise, some ladies boarded the train and gave us cookies and I believe, apples. I’m sure that all of us thanked the ladies who had come to greet us in the middle of the night. In thanking our surprise visitors, we almost forgot to ask where we were. The answer was of course, Hutchinson, Kansas. On that trip we ended up at Las Vegas, New Mexico but the talk was not where we were headed but rather the hospitality shown us by the people of Hutchinson, Kansas.

We did our basic training in Camp Luna, New Mexico and many of us were sent to Aerial Engineer’s training in Miami. At the conclusion of that program, it was back to the trains for our next assignment. The whole routine applied once again as no one knew where our path was to lead us. Again we were in the dark. After two or three days, we again saw the Kansas City train yards and it was a good bet that we were headed back to Las Vegas, New Mexico. This is now late January, 1943, and we did return to New Mexico.

Some of us remembering the first visit to Hutchinson, were anxious to see if those ladies would show up again. Well they did! Again, I believe it was somewhere around midnight but those Hutchinson Belles showed up again to comfort soldiers on a troop train. We were a little more prepared for them inasmuch as the men wore fatigues over their underwear and all of us thanked them for coming out on such a bleak January night.

Well while we thanked the gracious ladies of Hutchinson, I have long thought that I ought to offer a more formal note of appreciation. As I said, it’s almost 57 years so I’ve thought about it quite a bit.

It seems to me that boarding those troop trains to cheer soldiers was an extraordinary gesture of kindness. It made us proud to be citizens of the United States and soldiers in its army. And I must say that it was in the generous spirit of Midwestern America at its best. So Hutchinson, I salute your ladies who came to the train station late at night in all kinds of weather and I salute all the other people who supported that operation. You must be proud of them.

If any of the train ladies or their children or relatives would care to write to me, I’d be more than pleased to hear from you. And one more thought. Don’t be put off by the New Jersey address. I’ve lived here for more than 40 years because as we said during the Depression, “You go where the work is.” My work brought me here. In point of fact however, I am your neighbor, being born in Missouri and living there until age 28 when I moved to Prairie Village, Kansas for nearly two years. I suppose I have some qualifications as a Midwesterner and even as a Kansan.

So, Hutchinson, Kansas, I salute you for your generous display of compassion. It doesn’t make any difference that it was 56 or 57 years ago. I remember and I salute the wonderful women and men of Hutchinson who came to the troop trains so long ago.

With all best wishes,

E. E. Carr
February 10, 1998

~~~
Daw. This is just really sweet, nothing much more to say.

THE PASTICHE

In recent months, a collection of essays has emerged from my participation in the Kessler Speech Therapy Program. As a general rule, these were travel experiences in various parts of the world. In effect, they were a little like a travelogue. And in nearly every one of those several episodes, the tone was positive and upbeat. Sometimes there were humorous situations that caused the author a pleasant moment or two. But in the end, most countries were shown in a favorable and a humanizing light in the essays.

Now there is an other side of that coin. Sometimes it borders on ugly. Sometimes it makes you shake your head. And sometimes there are moments which bring a smile or two. All this represents a pastiche of recollections. It is a potpourri. The doom sayers may say it is a hodgepodge but that is a down scale word. Better it is a potpourri. Ah yes, it is a genuine pastiche.

The only element that binds this collection of recollections together is the thought that there are places in the world where I would tend to feel At Home. Not that I intend to go move our residence to each of the places where I may tend to feel At Home. Maybe I’d feel at home there for a few days or for a couple of weeks or months. In short, there are places where some of us would feel at home for whatever reasons, be it language or bull fights or other cultural attractions.

This is not an objective analysis. Maybe there is a bit of irrationality in all this. So be it. If I tend to feel at home in some of the towns and countries which follow this preamble, I’ll apply a small amount of logic and objective analysis to support my choice. If I fail to give you a logical reason for my choice of At Home locations, it may mean that there is no rational reason for my choice. That’s the way it is.

And finally, there will be a choice of places where I probably would feel Not At Home. This is not really a put down of those locations at all. It simply is a place for which I am not inclined to say that it is an At Home situation for me. No hard feelings. As we say, as irrational as it may seem, that is the way it is.

Finally, it should be recognized that some of these recollections go back to the World War II years. I know that things have changed over the last few years such as the Russian break up.1  On the other hand, lots of things proceed without much change as in India and the Arab States. So we’ll take it as it comes and if there is doubt about the timeliness of my recollections, we simply mark it off to the more things change, the more they remain the same. And so to —

CANADA
This is an At Home country for me. Roger Doucet was known to millions of Canadians as “Mr. O Canada.” He sang the national anthem before the home games at the Forum in Montreal as well as at other places. Roger Doucet said “Every time I sing it, I think I’m singing to a beautiful woman. I see this country from coast to coast – from Bonavista to Vancouver Island.” It is a magnificent country with a matchless national anthem and no one sang it better than Roger Doucet. Over a period of many years, he must have sung “O Canada” on thousands of occasions. So he must have spent a goodly amount of time singing to those beautiful women. Good for him.

I’ve had the chance to spend some time from Sydney Mines in the farthest reaches of Nova Scotia in the East to Vancouver, British Columbia, the western most limits of Canada. Sydney Mines is the location of the landings for the first Transatlantic Cables laid in 1957 and 1959. On one trip, I drove back to Halifax where the fog was pretty dense. The next morning, I looked out the 10th floor window of the hotel hoping to catch an Air Canada flight to Montreal that day. No luck.

The fog was all the way to the ground and up above me. It stayed that way for three days. I learned a little more about Halifax than I had bargained for.

If I had a vote in Canada, it would be to declare that country a Republic, ending the English government’s ability to send a Governor General to Ottawa. He doesn’t have much to say, but it is an irritant to all the French speaking residents of the country. And after the Governor General is sent on his way, please Canada, take the Queen’s likeness off the coins and currency. That is more than an irritant.2 A good trade would be to replace the Queen with Maurice Richard or Jean Beliveau, two hockey players.

Now that I’ve given my advice on restructuring the government of Canada, my overriding thoughts are the sentiments of John Kennedy. When he visited Ottawa in 1961 to address the Parliament, JFK said: “We are neighbors by chance; but friends by choice.” I think that reflects all my thoughts on the matter.

MEXICO
Mexico is a country where I would feel Not at Home. As time has gone on, Mexico has slipped down the scale toward a more violent society. For starters, there is a chance that by entering a taxi cab, particularly at night, you may wind up a statistic not only as a robbery victim but perhaps, as a homicide as well.3 That’s why we always rented cars with reputable drivers.

About the last thing any of us would do is to drive a car ourselves in Mexico. An accident always seems to attract the Federales and where they go, payoffs are demanded. The word is “morbida” – a bite. And if there are no payoffs, the prospect of jail is always a consideration. Not an American jail; a Mexican jail.

Finally, I am very fond of many people in Mexico City. They are well educated people. Many of them have studied in the United States. And they are upscale people who have one or more servants in their homes. But I am stupefied to see them ignore and overlook the poverty around them. When there is no choice but to avoid peasants trying to sell fruit on the side walk, for example, they step over them. And usually, we are on our way to a fancy restaurant for a fancy meal. I often lose interest in eating.

A child’s play pen is an open fruit box. The sidewalk is filthy so the child stays in the box for as long as its parents take to sell the fruit. That may be 10 hours.
There simply is no recognition of the poverty which surrounds the well-to-do class in Mexican cities. Maybe they can’t fix it. But they don’t seem to be addressing the issue. In the meantime, they literally step over or around the problem. Someday, there may a reckoning south of the border.

A final thought. On the day that Spiro Agnew called it quits as Vice President of the US, I was scheduled to return from Mexico City on an Eastern Air Lines flight. When I checked in, my interest was in the English language newspaper accounts of Agnew’s resignation. When I was asked a question or two, I replied “Si Senor” to the agent and sat down. That was my undoing. In first class, there were only a total of two or three passengers going to New York City – all Spanish speaking – and because he had heard me reply “Si” to his question, he assumed that I too spoke Spanish. When the call of the Eastern flight was made, it was done only in Spanish. I had my head in the news about Agnew’s problems, so I never heard him. I did not growl at him because he complimented me on my Spanish. Nonetheless, he spoke to me in English to praise my Spanish.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAS
As a general proposition, I’m inclined to rule it as a Not at Home location. Throughout the Caribbean states and then into Venezuela and Brazil and most of the rest of the South American countries, one problem jumps out from the rest. That problem is throw-away children.

Let’s take just Brazil. It is a lovely country. The people are warm and usually friendly. But they produce children who are often left alone without education or guidance. They are usually the product of “Favelas,” the slums surrounding Rio de Janeiro. Near the large hotels on Copacabana or Ipenema Beach, the children demand money. If they fail to get it, mustard or ketchup or ink is sprayed on the tourist. While he is concerned about his clothing, the rest of the pack of vandals try to lift his wallet. From the front door of the hotel to a taxi stand, the traveler must run a gauntlet.4 So most of us simply stayed in the hotels.

When I first flew between Natal and Belem to Ascension Island in 1944 and 1945, the problem was kids trying to peddle things – Ungentine, nylons and the like. And of course, prostitution was rampant. In the intervening years, time has not made the problem any better. On the contrary, the problems of throw-away kids is growing worse.

If I had a conditional choice of being At Home, I might award it to Argentina and Chile. They seem to do better in Buenos Aires and Santiago. There is a certain elegance in those two towns. Well, at any rate, we found something to applaud in our examination of Latin America. But not in the throw-away kids.

FOUR NORDIC COUNTRIES
They are Norge (Norway), Danmark (Denmark), Sverige (Sweden) and Suomi (Finland). Enough of the negative stuff from South America. These are all AT HOME countries – with an exclamation point at the end. From Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” in the east to the Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite in the west, there is music in the air. Think about as many as four soloists and orchestras simultaneously performing in Tivoli Garden.

I spent two Fourth of July celebrations in Copenhagen listening to that music. In the summer, the Castle of the Swedish King is set aside for concerts.

And then there is the heroism in the Second World War. Finland took on its powerful neighbor, Russia. She lost that war after a fierce and prolonged struggle.5 The Norwegians stood up to German troops, often paying the price of execution on Parliament Hill. And the Danes, one way or another, concealed their Jewish neighbors from the concentration camps.

And remember old Paavo Nuurmi, the Finnish long distance runner from the 1932 Olympic Games. He won everything in sight. And don’t forget that at the end of World War II, Finland was the only country to repay its loan to the United States. They did that on top of heavy reparations to the Soviet Union.

In all these Nordic countries, they speak English with American accents. As my old friend Sven Lernevall says, he is always glad to see us and I believe him. And I’m glad to see our Nordic cousins who have an At Home sign in the window.

IRELAND
So much has been said about Ireland, that there is not much more to be added. Obviously, almost every Irishman would seem to find an At Home in the Emerald Isle. I’m not unlike those other Irishmen with one exception. That is the pervasive influence of Roman Catholic teaching in Irish schooling, politics and laws. Sooner rather than later, that influence will diminish as young people tend to grow to accept the culture of other European and American norms. And until that time, I lean toward a conditional At Home vote for the Republic of Ireland.

ENGLAND
Like so many people, I have enjoyed the civility of the English people. Their food may not come close to Paris but taking one thing with another, they are a decent lot. And who can forget that they stood in the way of the Nazi juggernaut long after the French threw in the towel. There is a sign in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that says that more than two million English men lost their lives in France during the First World War alone. In the Second World War, perhaps another million men of English citizenship died. As Jumbo Wilson, an English General said about American troops, “Brave Men.” We return that salute.

Now after all that, we are going to give England a conditional AT HOME vote. It has to do with the Saxe-Coburg family, now known as the Windsor family. I have no trouble with Winston Churchill, obviously. I like Tony Blair. But I have trouble swallowing the principal of a royal family – and this one has fewer recommendations than most. Let Margaret marry Captain Peter Townsend. Let Charles plight his troth with Camille Parker-Bowles. Let Elizabeth out to pasture. And as an American-Irishman, I’d say this charade has run long enough.6 Enough already.

FRANCE
During my life time, the French have repeatedly gone their own way insisting that they are guided by “The Grandeur of France.” As a former Army Sergeant, my reply is “Horsefeathers” or something quite worse. Those people lost World War I and II because they did not take the steps to rearm. They followed it with the loss of Algeria. And after all that, Charles De Gaulle came to Quebec to proclaim that Province should be called “Quebec Libre,” free of Canada. I need some time to digest all this “Grandeur” and I’m not doing too well at it.

There is much to recommend in France, particularly their food, wine and cheese. But to live there for more than a few days, I have to call it one of my lower At Home ratings.

SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
Spain is by far the richer country. And poor old Portugal is down there doubting itself. If I lived in Spain, it would most likely be in Barcelona. In Portugal, it might be in the Algarve.

When Franco was alive, there was little crime in Spain. Now there seems to be quite a bit of it directed at tourists. In Portugal, people returning from Angola had become a problem as they had no jobs and some turned to crime.

With all the problems, these are two civilized places to live so I’d say my vote would go to an At Home rating.

THE FORMER IRON CURTAIN COUNTRIES
After Vaclav Havel came to power, the Czechs have made their orientation to the West quite clear. Their food may be tough to take with its emphasis on beef, pork and wild game. But that’s all right. I still probably say, give them an At Home rating.

For the rest of those old Iron Curtain countries such as Bulgaria, Rumania and Slovakia, I’m not inclined to say that I have much in common with them. And so I’d probably vote NOT AT HOME for them as well as for all the Russian republics. Nyet, nyet.

HUNGARY AND POLAND
I’ve already stated my thoughts on these two countries in an earlier piece. It was most favorable. When the Russians cracked down harder, it was the Poles and the Hungarians who fought back. Remember the 1956 uprising in Hungary? Remember the remark that we are like radishes. We may be red on the outside, but white all the rest of the way.

They would have my vote as an At Home place.

HOLLAND AND BELGIUM
In Holland, most Americans are genuinely accepted. I can’t think of a place that welcomes us more than Holland. So we’ll say simply, give that place an At Home sign.

In Belgium, there is more of a stand off problem. Brussels is home to many foreign business men and diplomats. There is much less of a welcoming atmosphere in Belgium and then there is the difference in language between the Flemish from the North and the French from the South. They don’t trust each other. Making friends here is tougher than in Holland. But all things considered, I say let’s give them a conditional At Home rating.

When mussels are in season, which it is most all year, the average man seems to consume about three to four dozen of those mollusks. I can handle a dozen or even a few more, but then I want nothing else to eat. I can’t explain why the Belgians are mussel eaters – so I won’t even try.

And one last thought. At Malmedy a group of 110 U.S. soldiers had surrendered during the Battle of the Bulge. German SS troops killed every one of those unarmed men. There is a tank at Bastogne near Malmedy which memorializes the Battle of the Bulge. You may recall that when General McAuliffe was told that his troops were surrounded by German forces at Bastogne, his answer in the American newspapers was quoted as “Nuts.” Don’t let them kid you. He gave them a better answer than that. If you are ever in Bastogne, it would be nice to visit the memorial to the Battle of the Bulge.

GERMANY AND BERLIN
The war is over. Fifty or more years is a long time to ponder what happened between 1941 and 1945. I’ve saved these thoughts until toward the end because I’m not sure how I’ll respond even at this late date in 1998.

If there was a favorable turning point for me, it occurred in the late 1970’s. My friend, Howard Davis the N. W. Ayer advertising executive who accompanied me, insisted on a beer and a sausage in a place near the center of Munich. The sausage was “Weiss Wurst,” a veal sausage. So I sat there munching on a sausage with a beer that I don’t usually drink. Howard must have paid for it, because I felt some obligation to act as though I enjoyed the repast.

In the midst of the food, a German man came to our table. It was not reserved for us at all. Quite to the contrary, it was out in the open where as many as six to eight customers might find seats at the table. Before long he asked me politely in passable English, if I was of a “certain age” who served in World War II. He made it clear that he understood that he was addressing a former American soldier. I believe that he stated that he was taken prisoner by the British and wound up in Scotland where he learned the English language. As Howard and I talked to him, he had no bone to pick with us at all. For him, as it happened to most Europeans of that age, events simply controlled him. He was a small cog who did what he was told. If he had been told to kill us back then, he would have done it. Such is the way of wars. In the final analysis, I learned from this old German soldier that he did what he had to do and we did what we had to do. Sometimes it was ugly.

Europeans don’t carry hard feelings as much as we do, I believe. When their wars are over, they go back to trading with one another after an appropriate period of reflection. After a generation or two, some of their children intermarry. They’ve been at it many more years than we have so who’s to say that they have it wrong. Well in any case, the former German soldier and the two old American soldiers shook hands and parted as friends.

Yes, I think I’ll award them an At Home rating. But I’m still not buying a Mercedes automobile or a carton of Beck’s beer.

Now two thoughts intrude, both from a Sunday in Berlin. It may be recalled that when it came to adding surcharges to a telephone bill, the Germans were champs.7 Sometimes they loaded 300% on top of the cost of a call. AT&T had developed a plan asking that all hoteliers limit their surcharges in which case we would advertise to American travelers that such hotels would treat customers fairly.

In the meeting on the fateful Sunday morning there were hoteliers from many Western German hotels. This was their only day off. We were pretty sure that we weren’t making much progress when during the later stages of the meeting, one hotelier actually accused us – the Allied Forces – of starting the surcharge practice after the war. It was as if Eisenhower didn’t have enough to do after the war and so he forced German hotel keepers to pump up their surcharges by some 300%.8 In the end, German hoteliers wanted the telephone surcharge as a profit center and they weren’t going to give it up. For myself, I had nothing to do as a member of the Allied Forces with imposing the surcharge problem on the helpless German hotel keepers. They invented that fraud all by themselves.

That afternoon we rented a car and drove over to East Berlin, that is, behind the Berlin Wall. That was not our best idea for the day. Jim Hurley drove the car and Sully Clark sat in front with him. I wedged myself across the rear seat. This was a very small car.

When we entered East Germany, the authorities took our passports away, which was a very bad move. They issued us a currency declaration and made it clear that unless we returned that declaration at the end of our allotted four hours, there would be no return of the passports. We would be stateless persons in a Communist controlled country. And so Jim Hurley thought he put the currency declaration in a pocket on his shirt. Only he did not, as it turns out.

Shortly before the end of the trip in East Berlin, Jim came to a stop outside the Passport Control Office. The East German guards looked into and raised the hood of this tiny car to see if a man was hiding under the hood attempting to escape the good life in East Berlin. There was no man under the hood. Next came a look at the trunk. No man in the trunk. Finally, a long mirror on a pole which was shoved under the car. Again, the Germans had in mind that this small car, smaller than a Beetle, could carry an escapee under the frame. No one was found.

While all this was going on, Jim Hurley did NOT have the Currency Declaration in the pocket of his shirt. Or in any other pocket. When Jim went through his shirt and trousers, he could rightly be called the Fastest Man in East Berlin. But there was no one laughing. After all, the cops were going through the hood and trunk and under the car and even they could see that something was amiss in the car. The end of the story came when Jim said he had actually put the Currency Declaration with his wallet right out there by the speedometer where he would find it right away. Well, we got our passports back from a sullen clerk who said as we finished our transaction, “Raus.” I think that means have a good day.

VIENNA
This is a good place for about everything. The music is good and the food is first class. By all means mark this one down as an AT HOME arrangement.

While we were meeting with the Austrian Administration, the talk veered away into an interesting episode for me. As I had experienced in Berlin where the former German soldier asked me about my service in the American Army, two Austrians asked me the same question. It turned out that both had been drafted by the German Army and were taken as Prisoners of War by Americans. They spent some two years ironing sheets and pajamas at the Memphis General Hospital in Tennessee. And they said they ate the same as the rest of the hospital staff. They came out on top.

We enjoyed Vienna staying at the Bristol Hotel where Richard Karger entertained with his piano. The Dri Husaren served some of the best food around. Finally as we were leaving, our host, whose name I have forgotten, asked us where our next stop would be. This was in a taxi. When we said Zurich, he pointed to the enormous Central Cemetery in Vienna nearby and said, “Zurich is twice as big —- and half as gay.” He had something there.

SWITZERLAND
Every thing in Switzerland works. The national airline is a jewel. The trains run on time. The raclette is great on new potatoes and Roosti is a delicious dinner for me. The Swiss are not long on schmoozing with people but nonetheless I say they are an At Home place.

GREECE AND ITALY
These places exude Mediterranean charm. The food and the hospitality are worthwhile. Yes, I’d go first to Italy and maybe a little later to Greece. In both cases, they are At Home locations.

JAPAN AND CHINA
Japan is clearly the favorite for an At Home rating. And China finishes in the lower ranks of the Not At Home classification.

In Japan, it is like Switzerland. Every thing works there. And they play baseball there. In China, I wanted to leave long before the two weeks were out. It is sort of uncontrolled chaos.9
There is not much choice when it comes to Japan and China. It’s Japan all the way.

ALL THE NORTH AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Forget about them. They are a tough sell. The idea is to get into them, avoid trouble and get out. Of all the places in North Africa, Cairo is about the only one to even suggest an At Home rating. The rest, Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Libya are not to worry about. Don’t go there.

ISRAEL
Israel is in turmoil these days with the religious right holding positions in the Netanyahu government. This is a bad arrangement but most recent Israel governments have given the religious parties a prominent position in national policy. As far as I know, the national airline, El Al, does not fly on the Sabbath. There really is no answer that makes sense. Swiss Air simply loads up for the Sabbath in Israel. I suspect that ban still applies. There is much to be said for a division in church – state relations.

And as for a rating, I’d have to say a conditional At Home rating because there are so many Israelis I like.

INDIA
There are so many people here and many have nothing to do. Take a cab to the airport. Before the cab comes to rest, dozens of men are fighting for the small tip that goes with carrying the suitcase into the terminal. If there is a Malthusian dynamic at work, it will have to happen to India first. Such great swarms of people. I’m not really comfortable in Bombay or New Delhi and so I’d say it is a Not At Home sort of place.

As a soldier I made one trip through India to Assam. At Agra I picked up a book that had advertisements in the back. One that caught my eye said it cured earaches and enlarged the bust. And I didn’t have an ear ache.

SOUTH AFRICA
The climate is wonderful, but there is not much more than that. Before Mandela was released, my experience with apartheid was appalling. A man in a hotel rest room told the black attendant to tie his shoe. And he did it. The man acted as though this happened every day. It probably did. The cruelties aimed at defenseless black people were unconscionable and they had the backing of the government in Pretoria. Remember the effort to drive black people to what were called their “homelands.” One was called Bophuthatswana. The capitol was called “Sun City” and had a casino and a Las Vagas type of show where the South Africans could let their hair down. Well I’m not inclined to give Sun City or Johannesburg or much else a rating of At Home. Maybe it is better now, but I’m not going to go back soon. Rate South Africa Not At Home.

ATAR, TINDOUF, EL GENINA, EL FASHER AND ASCENSION ISLAND
These were all part of my military adventures. There is no reason ever to consider laying your head down in these places unless it is a case of duress.

Ascension Island is a very important piece of real estate in the South Atlantic. It is the midway point between South America and Africa. In the military it was said that if you missed Ascension, your wife could collect her pension. It was a mighty small place with only one runway cut through rocks on either side. If you found Ascension and hit those rocks, you still came out a loser. Luckily, Ascension had very few cloudy days so it was possible to get out of there almost every day. Ascension Island should not be high on your to-do lists.

At El Fasher and El Genina in the Sudan, I was amazed to see as we taxied up to the terminal, that Army mechanics wore white coveralls. Nobody wore white coveralls in the U. S. Army. Well they were white but they used to be green. The sun on a line outside had made them white. That tells you a little bit about Fasher and Genina. Don’t rest your head here if it can be avoided.

We’ll close now with a word or two about Atar and Tindouf. These are about the loneliest places in the world. They may be worse than El Fasher and El Genina.

Tindouf is in a corner of Western Algeria near Morocco where the boundary is marked “Undetermined.” Atar is in Mauritania and there are no nearby towns. The Air Force maintained fields and radio gear at these two locations. The wind blew at a brisk pace all the time and carried grit with it from the desert. Lots of grit. It was in the mess hall and in the barracks and in machine gun barrels. If a man who chewed tobacco wanted to expectorate, he had a choice. If he spit with the wind, he could expect to cover 20 to 30 feet. If he made a mistake by spitting into the wind, his tobacco would be all over his face. I didn’t chew tobacco but I learned to work with the wind. And one night in each place, told me that is was time to go. And not to go back.

SUMMARY
In the beginning of this piece, I said that this was a pastiche. Maybe it is a potpourri. It is an attempt to define where I might tend to feel At Home and it is an attempt to state where I would feel something less than an At Home sort of arrangement. As I said earlier, don’t try to read any sort of logic into all this. There are some prejudices and some irrationality at work here. I suppose that is the way it has always been.

Also don’t read my overlooking some countries in this grand survey. Australia and New Zealand have been covered in earlier essays. Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia and a few others I have failed to deal with. I think you’ll understand that this essay has gone on long enough. Maybe next time I’ll gather the strays and try a piece on them. We’ll see.

And so this is the pastiche. If it does nothing else it makes me feel good that I got it off my chest. Right or wrong, prejudices or no prejudices, rational or irrational – that’s the way it is.

This pastiche has become too serious. Therefore, I will close with a paean of praise for the old capital of Pakistan – Karachi. The British soldier who recited this little quatrain to me pronounced the capital KE-RA’-CHI. It warns:

When you go to Ke-ra’-chi
keep your money in your shoes,
Because the Ke-ra’-chi women
sing the Ke-ra’-chi blues.

I don’t know what it all means, but again, it must count for something.

E. Carr
January 9, 1998

~~~


1. Since “break up” used most often to describe the end of a couple’s relationship, the wording here makes me think that the Soviet Union and Russia just hit a rough spot, emotionally. Also, this essay is so long that I need footnotes to keep track of commentary, because without them it’d be rather hard to follow. I actually like the footnote style better than the just “paragraph of response” style, but the former is less amenable to the blind using screen readers, so I tended to stay away from it. In the spirit of the site I’ll probably use it sparingly going forward. But exceptions ought to be made when an essay clears 5,000 words.


2. I have no idea what problem Pop had with the Queen of England on Canadian currency. I’d have loved to hear more on that.


3. Channeling his inner Trump here a bit. But seriously, Mexico had and has huge cartel problems. A friend of mine has done some reporting in and around Juarez — he’s certainly got some stories to tell.


4. Brazilian robbers are incredibly bold and work in huge packs sometimes. I had to study up before I went there twice last year. Crazy country.


5. Pre-WW2 proper, the Winter War between Finland and Russia was remarkable. The statistics are almost unbelievable — for instance, there were 26,000 deaths on the Finnish side, but around 150,000 on the Russian side. Lesson learned: invading Finland, even with a vastly superior force, is a terrible idea. Come to think of it, invading Russia is an equally bad idea. Trying to do so during winter is perhaps the rookiest of rookie mistakes that a military commander can make. Just say no.


6. Ah.


7. I honestly get a huge kick out of the toggling back and forth between war-mode and phone-mode that Pop makes throughout some of these essays. Both sent him around the world, but the way that he reflects on the two different periods predictably couldn’t be more different.


8. Fun fact, this was actually the real reason for the war.


9. I actually love this about China. Sadly I think it’s starting to calm itself down in more ways than one; I’ll take chaos over the state’s more authoritarian leanings any day. Also surprising to hear Pop speak so highly of Japan, given essays like this one.

HOWELL RAINES LOWERS THE BOOM

Start with a reading – not from Scripture, but from the next thing to it.

“One reason for more meticulous recording of full names is that many of the figures in the current news will pass from the pages of newspapers in a few years, but The New York Times remains as a permanent record which will be searched for its accounts of events long after the principals of those events have gone from memory.” (from the New York Times Style Book)

Now we turn to Mr. Latrell Sprewell.

For the uninitiated, Mr. Latrell Sprewell is currently unemployed.

Mr. Sprewell was recently employed by the San Francisco Warriors, a franchisee of the National Basketball Association.

Mr. Sprewell was paid at the rate of $8 million dollars per year.

He only worked seven months per year, so he is free to accept other employment in the five off season months.

His deal is sort of like schoolteachers who are free to augment their incomes during the summer months.

Now, in a belated apology, Mr. Sprewell has suggested that he must learn to “control my temper when I’m put in a situation where frustration mounts and you don’t want to lose control”

Well, let’s see how he must learn to “control my temper and frustration mounts”:

On December 1, 1997, Mr. Sprewell choked the coach!

Then he threatened to kill him!

Then he left practice and returned to strike the coach again!

Two years ago, a teammate of Mr. Sprewell was threatened with a two by four. He was protected by four of his teammates until the mood passed from Mr. Sprewell’s mind.

Now Mr. Sprewell has been fired for violating the “good moral character” clause of the NBA Contract and is suspended for the next year.

I suspect that the old Rip Van Winkle came into play here with Mr. Howell Raines. HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON? HAS THIS JUST STARTED?

And so, we take time out from the several calls for Janet Reno to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the fund raising case to address a matter of cataclysmic proportions.

Old Latrell, the only thing that would accord with the NY Times Style Book is to COME DOWN HARD, — TO LOWER THE BOOM.

Yes, on the cancellation of the Contract!

Yes, on the suspension of one year from further employment by the NBA!

I don’t disagree with the suspension and the cancellation of the contract. I think it is long overdue.

On the other hand, Mr. Howell Raines didn’t need to look way out west to the San Francisco Warriors. It’s closer to home.

How about Mr. Tito Wooten coming home from Philadelphia on Sunday, December 7, 1997 to promptly punch out his girl friend. He said that one shouldn’t let personal things
interfere with a professional contract to play football.

Now how about Mr. Christian Peter, of the NY Giants, who assaulted three girls and had his pro career halted for awhile?

What about Mr. Robie Allomar who spit – or spat – into an umpires face?

What about Charles Barkley who threw a man through a plate glass window and Allen Iverson who turned up with a concealed gun during a 90 mile per hour chase by cops.

How about Will Cordero of the Boston Red Sox, who confessed that he had been beating his wife for years. That got him released from his employment with the Red Sox.

There are dozens of abuses by professional athletes. I’m sort of astonished that Mr. Howell Raines would leave his delphic heights to give 6” or 7” to Latrell Sprewell. Now that you’ve joined the fight, there is more than enough abuse to go around. You may wish to start with the people who push their wives and girl friends around. That’s a very good start.
Or you may wish to start with one of America’s more unpleasant little secrets. There is the matter of illegitimate children – children whose fathers make anywhere from $1 million to several times that much.

Leave out all the other calculations about illegitimacy for the whole of American society. Let’s start with NBA professional basketball, Mr. Raines.

Mr. Sprewell has as many as four children sometimes living with him and some living somewhere else. In a recent interview with a San Francisco paper, he declined to state who is the mother of his children. It is a good guess that Mr. Sprewell pays minimal or no support at all. He used to make $8 million.

Portland guard Kenny Anderson, from right here in Queens, seems to have set out to assault a local record. Kenny is 27 years old. His first child happened in high school. Then there was the girlfriend at Atlanta where he went to college. Since then, Anderson has fathered five more children, two of whom he claims by his wife. In an interview with the Times, Anderson says that with the demands of the NBA, he is not really around to “deal with all the problems of fatherhood.” Translation: He doesn’t keep in touch at all. Mr. Anderson takes home from his Portland contract and his shoe contract over $8 million per year.

Exhibit B is Minnesota guard, Stephen Marberry, the pride of Coney Island, N. Y. Mr. Marberry is only in his second year, so his earnings will rise after the next year. He is 21 years old and has acknowledged three children are his. His interview with the Times says that the children are his former girlfriend’s responsibility. So don’t bother me while I pursue the pleasures that the world has to offer. Translation: He sees them not at all. Mr. Marberry, is paid by the Timberwolves contract and by the pact he has with the sneaker maker some $4 million per year.

Now Shaquille O’Neal who earns some where near $30 million, says he had to move from Orlando to Los Angeles where “they don’t pay attention to those kinds of things” – read illegitimacy. He has at least two children in that category.

There are many, many cases of child abandonment in professional sports. Former girl friends have gone to newspapers and to law enforcement agencies to shame the payment of children’s expenses. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

As I said, it is one of America’s unpleasant secrets. It’s one of America’s below-the-scope of the radar. It is down here where we may not want to see it.
I have a sporting proposition for you Mr. Raines. Let’s start by “Lower The Boom” on cheats, of say $3 million or more who don’t provide the basic tenets of fatherhood. Your sports staff will provide you with most of the information you may need to “Lower The Boom.” And then, in a year or so after you clean up the big cheats in NBA basketball, we’ll move down to the $2 million or $3 million range. If you’ll accept this sporting proposition, it may be the first ever launched by an Editorial Board. Pulitzer Prize anyone?

E. Carr
December 12, 1997
Essay #11 (Old Format)

~~~

I’d posit that pro athletes aren’t that much scummier than the general population in this respect, but since their lives are so public we notice their transgressions more often. Either that, or all the head trauma caused by sports like football starts to change your personality to be more volatile, which wouldn’t really be shocking.
Regardless, when you’re making millions, failing to pay some basic child support is almost preposterously coldhearted.

On a different note, Pop’s formatting is pretty unique on this one. I wonder if he tried out this style for a letter or two but ultimately it wasn’t for him — lots and lots of line breaks makes it seem more disjointed than normal.

BEN GIVENS’ NEWSPEAK

When, in an earlier discussion at Kessler, the subject of the former President Herbert Hoover came up. Mrs. Morganstein said that it was not unusual for Aphasia patents to mangle his name, i.e., Hoobert Heever. I gather that Spoonerisms are a commonplace and would involve other names beyond Herbert Hoover.

During much of the last half of the 1960’s, I worked with a man in Washington who was given to Spoonerisms, bad enunciation and just plain bad English. As we go along I’ll try to give you examples of each one of his deficiencies. His name was Ben Franklin Givens. He was nominally my boss.

Ben Givens took up with a fundamentalist church in California, after his retirement. When I visited him a few years after leaving the Washington job, he spoke of his wife. She had recently died. He said that she always came to him as sort of an apparition. Ben said that she always came to him on the Congressional Golf Club in suburban Washington. I didn’t want to get into the apparition business so I suppressed my desire to ask what hole or fairway she appeared on. Besides, Givens did all the talking. At one point, he took a ruler and walked across the room to show me the exact size of the apparition. He seemed to favor the rear wall of his office for this demonstration. I asked Ben what they talked about on the golf course. He said they talked about the same things as when she was alive — like the children and his job. I didn’t say it, but I should think that someone who could appear in an apparition would probably know about the kids or his job. But, maybe they wouldn’t know about such things, after all. I’m not that conversant with apparitions.

Well at any rate, Ben died in 1997 having worked his way up to a Bishop or some such title in the church. I thought now and then how those old Hebrew names must have taken a fall or two out of Givens during his sermons.

His death rated a small column in the AT&T news for he was in the end a Vice President. Now I wouldn’t want old Ben’s demise to go unnoticed in this journal for he contributed a good bit to my misunderstanding of our common tongue.

I collected these expressions over a three year period when Ben began to speak in unknown tongues, or glossilalia. When I began to catch on to his speech patterns, I would sometimes return to my office and add a Givens-ism to my list. I’m sorry that the list fails to cover all of Ben’s pronouncements. After I began to collect them – SEE ITERS COLLECTEM -they often came so fast that I had trouble keeping up with them. And, I had a lobbying job to do as well.

In many cases, I would be seduced into a Givens-ism and I had to watch my language when speaking to others. Let’s try some of these expressions which happened almost 30 years ago. Maybe Mrs. Morganstein will identify the Spoonerisms as well as the other slips that passed in Givens’ speech.

Now I gave you ITERS COLLECTEM. It means a collectors item – a rare find. That’s a good start.

We move on to the foremost restaurant and bar for lobbyists in the Capital City, namely DUKE ZIEBERTS. Ben called it VIC ZUBERTS. (I’m having trouble writing this down. I just started to call him Vic Zubert.)

Ben always said he was NONPULSED. He meant he was NONPLUSED – meaning to put at a loss as to what to think, say or do.

He sometimes had MIXED GIVINGS meaning that he had MISGIVINGS about someone or something.

At dinner, when Ben was offered a COMPOTE as a fruity dessert, he said it was a nice COMPOST. Try that on your garden.

If you ever barely got by, Givens-ism explained that it was “BY THE SKIM OF YOUR TEETH.”

When someone was a specialist who attempted to solve a problem, it was said that he gave his EXPERTY on the subject. He meant EXPERTISE. Sometimes he would say that we could go to New York where there would be many EXPERTYS.

When he said INTIMATE, he meant IMMINENT. Quite a difference. And he said ANTI-CLIMAXICAL in place of CLIMACTIC. I’m still having trouble writing this stuff down here.

Ben said, “We’ll go back to the BREAD BOARD” when he meant back to the DRAWING BOARD. And he substituted BRANDIED for the word BANDIED.

Computers were new at the time so he called them the more familiar term of COMMUTER. And he said they ran the GRAMUT from A to Z. He meant GAMUT.

PARTICIPATION in a meeting came out as “I want to thank you all for your PRECIPITATION.” And lawyers were always described as making a MUTE point. He meant MOOT point. He would also say that the THRUST of the point was THRUSH. The THRUSH of my point is that Givens was silly.

Ben was APPRECITIOUS for the JOYALTY of the occasion. He meant he APPRECIATED the JOVIALITY.

If he wished to say something EXUDES great charm, he would say that it EXCLUDES great charm.

I’m running out of steam because I keep mixing up Ben’s spelling with mine. Three more examples. CROSSWISE became CROSSEYED and RAPPORT became a three word hyphenated sound of RAP-PA-PORT.

And I leave you with one of my favorites. When there were left over items to clean up, that is usually called TIDBITS. Ben always called them TIDBATS. I never saw that mistake again until 1981 or 1982 when a Chinese merchant in Hong Kong offered what he called small bites of food, that is, TIDBATS.

In the end, mispronunciations were rampant. The people who worked on the Hill were REPASENTATIVES and the number two fellow in the hierarchy of a department became a DEPATY. At last, there was Elizabeth who worked for Ben as his SECATARY.

And finally, as a little piece of lagniappe, I leave you with the testimony of Raymond Patriarca testifying before Representative Claude Pepper as to the charge that he was the Godfather of the Boston Mafia. Patriarca said, “That’s all wrong. It’s just a bunch of FRICTION.” I rest my case.
Or Givens’ rests his.

For the three and a half years there in Washington, Ben talked mostly golf. I mean he talked golf, golf, golf. I don’t do golf so I was able to escape falling into every trap such as his Spoonerisms and mispronunciations. As it is, I still hesitate when doing this piece as to MIXED GIVINGS or THE SKIM OF YOUR TEETH and all the rest of Givens-isms.

And so I leave it to Mrs. Morganstein to deliver a postmortem on old Ben. Was it Aphasia? I think two or three other fellows from the Washington lobbying office would like to know the result of the analysis so that we may go about our work without thinking twice about TIDBATS and BREAD BOARD, NONPULSED and the like.

E. E. Carr
December 31, 1997
Essay #10 (Old Format)

~~~

“Mixed Givings” and a few others in there are funny particularly because they could, plausibly, be a correct way of articulating something. It’s like when my girlfriend’s little brother used to call “eyebrows” “eye clouds” as a child — makes total sense, just isn’t quite what the dictionary would have you use.

QUID PRO QUO

As time sneaks up on us all, there is a question about Mr. Webster’s definition of compromise. He suggests that it is a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions. Now if it were all that easy, I’d say fine. Let’s raise the children in your faith of Buddhism and in exchange, I’ll ask to move the family to Oregon. That is a real quid pro quo.

But in the real world of personal health, there is no settlement by an outside arbitrator. Nor is there consent reached by mutual concession. There is no quid pro quo. As life goes on we give up – not by design – one function of the body after another.

In the final analysis, perhaps the hearing just disappears. Or the eye sight, once famed as with an eagle, takes a turn for the worse. And maybe the teeth go. Or, it may be more serious. The point is that no one voluntarily deals away his faculties; it is taken from him. This is a new element of compromise. It is something beyond Mr. Webster’s definition.

Perhaps, we might say that an individual has two arms. Somewhere, he may lose one of them, leaving him to deal with the world in a one armed fashion. In the sense we are discussing, he is left with a compromise. The compromise is that he does the best he can with what he’s got left. It is not a matter of consent reached by mutual concessions. With two eyes, the same situation applies as it does in all the other organs where there is a duplicate faculty. The owner of those organs must make do with what is left. Again it’s a matter of compromise. The owner may feel that such a compromise is about the best he may take out of the situation. It’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not something for something. On the contrary, it is something for nothing.

Ah, but holding on and making the best of what we have left is what counts. If that is a compromise, as I believe it to be, I suppose we’ll have to make the best of it, Mr. Webster to the contrary not withstanding.

The foregoing is not a melancholy assessment of life sometime after the post formative years. It is intended to be an aphorism – a concise statement of principle. No less; no more. Only an aphorism.

E. E. Carr
December 29, 1997
Essay #9 (Old Format)

~~~

The first of many more essays to come about the troubles and inconveniences of aging. Admittedly, it sounds like a drag. I wonder if he had anything particular in mind when he was writing this one. More of his age-related essays can be found here.

DIDGERREDOO

The title to this little essay is an aboriginal name from the Outback in Australia. There is no written language in the aboriginal culture, so every one is free to spell it as he sees fit. I spell it as DID-GER-RE-DOO, a musical instrument. So keep that name in mind while we spend a few minutes in Fiji, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Northern Territory of Australia where we will find the DIDGERREDOO. And a wild west hat and a necklace of little pine cones.

 

FIJI
My companion at the beginning of the trip was Ron Carr, no relation, but a fine fellow. Ron came to us from many years in Rates and Tariffs where he dealt strictly with numbers. When we sent old Ron out to deal with say the Papua New Guinea’s of the world, he made friends and came back with those people on his side. And so I’ll tell you a story about Ron Carr – never to be mistaken for my wife. Or I, for his wife. Later.

Fiji is a long, long trip from here. First we go to California with a change in airlines at Los Angeles. In Honolulu, there is a midnight departure for Fiji so resting was out of the question. Early the next morning we arrived at one of the two main islands, Suva, and arranged for air transportation to Nandi, the other main island.

Fiji is not far beyond the International Date Line. To digress for an instant on the Date Line, sharp eyed accountants occasionally will find that we charged meals and lodgings on the same day in two different locations. It’s not that we ate so well or slept around; the Date Line makes that happen. For example, we may incur expenses on say Tuesday, then cross the date line where it is Tuesday again. So we have a duplicate set of charges for Tuesday. Well in any case, the last thing on our minds as we stumbled to bed in Nandi was the accountants in New York.

So we enjoyed a day or two in Nandi to unwind from the New York trip. The Fiji administration treated us very well indeed. And we learned that ethnic strife had invaded Fiji. Increasing numbers of Indians were moving to the Islands and the local natives were most unhappy.

So it was time to return to Suva where the Airport was located. No planes flew that day and we were forced to drive the 100 miles to Suva. It was one of the worst trips that Ron and I had ever experienced. Rock slides and washouts at rain swollen creeks were only two of the problems. At the end after it became dark, Ron and I both sensed that we were being led into a trap – sort of a New York mugging. Well, it didn’t happen so we spent a relieved and pleasant night in Suva.

 

NEW ZEALAND
Early the next morning we caught a Japan Air Lines flight for the trip to Auckland, New Zealand. The stewardess had at least two helpers with her although we were the only passengers in the first class section. On the other hand, I didn’t see any other passengers in other sections of the plane. The Fiji – Auckland part of that route was not a big seller.

The three stewardesses spoke little English; but they intended to furnish first class meal service. We couldn’t communicate with them so they brought what every American man wants for breakfast – or so they thought. It turns out that Japan Air Lines served us 30 second boiled eggs. Oh, maybe it was 45 seconds, but not much more. With three anxious stewardesses hovering over us to see how the Americans enjoyed their breakfast, we ate. And we said it was mighty good. Well, they eat their fish raw, don’t they?

At Auckland we took a limousine about 75 miles to Rotorua. The steam comes out of the ground in Rotorua so people come from all over New Zealand to treat their arthritis and other ailments. The town also has a large concentration of Maori, a sort of aboriginal grouping. When they allowed us through their steam baths and their schools as well, the Maori women who conducted the tour wore a little clothing or they wore nothing at all. There was nothing sensual about it and they were not showoffs about it. It was normal for them and they jokingly suggested that the two American visitors were prudes for wearing all that clothing. I believe they were joking. But Ron did have a lot of clothing on.

 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA
We’ll skip Wellington because not much happens there except for Andy Turpie, a prince of a man. We passed through Sydney and Brisbane and wound up the next day in Papua New Guinea. Ron wanted for me to see the far edge of his territory. I’d say it was a little beyond the edge.

Papua New Guinea was the scene of heavy fighting at Rabaul and Bougainville where we took many casualties from Japanese guns as well as from malaria and other diseases. It is about the world’s worst place to fight a war. The Aussies and the armed forces of the United States will not soon forget that war.

Our major escort was John Solomon, an Aussie who was on leave from his main job in Brisbane. All the staff in Papua New Guinea were on leave from their telephone companies in Australia. And they were a lonely lot. They were paid well but there was no place to go. They worked during the daytime and went to a men’s club of sorts for food and plenty of beer. They didn’t tarry coming home at night because of some brazen robbers who viewed the Aussies as rich people.

As I said, there was no place to go at night. There were no restaurants in Port Moresby. Wives were not encouraged to come to Papua New Guinea. So they stayed home. And so it was night after night at the “club” where even by Aussie standards, they drank a lot of beer.

John Solomon provided a stretch to the old days of Australia. As recently as during World War II, Jewish men were turned away from fighting for Australia. I believe the ban applied to all those with other than English sounding names. John Solomon’s uncle was turned down twice when he went to enlist because of his name. On the third try his uncle said his name was “Sullivan.” No trouble at all. He was welcomed into the Aussie Army.

John Solomon’s uncle was killed in Papua New Guinea and was buried in the main military cemetery near Port Moresby. For many years, his grave was marked by the “Sullivan” tombstone. In 1982, good sense had prevailed. The “Sullivan” tombstone was being changed to “John Solomon,” the namesake of our guide. John’s uncle was my age. He was killed at 22 years of age.

The people of Port Moresby chew betel nut which is a mild narcotic. I don’t know about the narcotic effects of the betel nut, but I’m here to tell you that it causes them to expectorate. The walls and streets are covered with spit or spittle. I’m taller that most Papua New Guineans but I’ve seen many tell-tale marks above my head. Perhaps when there is a brisk breeze from the rear quarter they may be able to reach that high.

As we sat drinking tea in the Director General’s office, one of the men turned down the tea because he said the water from the city pipes was not clean and would cause cholera or some other disease. As a matter of fact, two men who came down from Rabaul actually had the dread disease. Needless to say old Ron and I more or less pushed our tea cups off to the side and began to think better of our friends who drank Aussie beer.

On our last night in Port Moresby, the Aussies had a nice meal for us. With two Americans present there was a reason to celebrate down at “The Club.” There was also an element that wanted to drink the two Americans under the table. There are two fortunate circumstances here for the Carr boys from the States. In the first case, Aussie beer is potent at home, but when it is exported, it’s alcoholic content becomes something like 11% to 12%. And they drink great oceans of that 11% to 12% beer. Now the second circumstance is that Scotch whiskey makers decrease the proof of their product for use in the Commonwealth Countries. Whereas the United States may drink 80 proof (40%), the Commonwealth countries may drink 60 to 70 proof or 30% to 35%. Well, Ron and I drank Scotch delicately from the lower proof whiskey and the Aussie’s drank that hyped up beer from Australia. It was no contest. When John Solomon came to pick us up during the next mid-morning, he was forced to admit that only two or three of his men were barely recovered from the night before. This hung over bunch in Port Moresby bade us farewell and I suspect they never wanted to see another American traveler again. I blame it on their loneliness.

 

AUSTRALIA
Well one more stop with old Ron Carr. We reached Sydney from Port Moresby at say about 5:30 to 6 PM on a Friday evening. There was a big dinner that evening at which we were expected. Ron assured me that the Australians would send a car so that we could make our dinner date.

After we landed and retrieved our luggage, we noticed that every one else was gone. No car, no driver and I supposed we had to compete with every one else for a cab driver at the main terminal on a Friday night. So reluctantly Ron called our contact in Sydney. He said the car had left an hour earlier. When we were pondering this bit of news, one of us said that there was a fellow sitting on some steps off to the side of the terminal. We asked him if by some chance. He worked for the Australia Overseas Telecommunication Commission, he said, indeed, he drove for them. When we asked if he intended to pick up a passenger named Carr, he said he planned to do that. Then he showed us his routing slip which said that he was to pick up a couple named Carr – and he didn’t see any female. When we showed him our passports, it all became somewhat clearer to him. At any rate, he drove us to our hotel and then departed to have it out with the clerk who prepared the routing slip.

At dinner that night, the guests were speaking of a new, much tougher test for alcohol in the blood of drivers. The papers had reported that the police had parked a number of mobile vans around Sydney to be used as a sort of local lock-up until court proceedings could begin. In one of the first cases in point, a local business man had taken plenty to drink after work that day and became confused on his directions. He was lost. So what better place to ask for directions than at one of the mobile vans of the police? It only took the cops a minute to realize that he was not only over the new limit but the old limit as well. When he belatedly realized where he was, he attempted to leave. Unfortunately, he fell down the steps of the van. So score one for the Sydney police.

Now the small story about the Didgerredo. It happened on one of my last trips to Australia. At the outset, I will say that if I had to spend six months to a year in some location outside the United States, Australia would probably be the place. The people are friendly. The men and women seem to enjoy a pretty ribald sense of humor. It is a place I enjoy being – in spite of insults and put-downs from the likes of George Maltby, Randy Payne, John Hampton and Chris von Willer.

I spent two days with those fellows and I stated that upon leaving them, my next destination would be Alice Springs, Ayers Rock and Perth. The kindest remarks were directed toward Perth where airline captains are alleged to have said upon landing, set your clocks back twenty years. Those guys are nuts. Perth is a lovely town.

Now about Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. It was pointed out by my antagonists that this was February, the equivalent of July in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Outback, the bugs swarm all over everything in July and every other month, as well. And the temperature was – HA, HA, HA, HA, going to regularly reach 115 degrees in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. They were not so smart about that particular subject however, because the temperature at Ayers Rock snuck up on 125 degrees. Inadvertently my foot was moved from the shade to a sunny spot. It took only a minute or two until there was a burning sensation in my toes, as in the case of the old grade school hot foots.

And so I departed Sydney with the hoots and hollers about the bugs, the temperature and the not so great living conditions in the Outback. But in the final analysis, each one of my Aussie tormentors admitted that none of them had ever been to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. For years after, I lectured them on the lure and romance of Australia’s Outback.

On one hand, Alice Springs is a town right out of Colorado at the turn of the century. On the other, it is a modern little city. There are places to assay gold diggings. Men from ranches come to Alice Springs to buy supplies and to shop for their families. A large home school radio network is located here, which serves a good part of the Northern Territory. It has two hotels and there is lively commerce in Alice, as it is called. I liked Alice Springs. It is a sprightly town.

I stayed outside of town in a modern hotel, restaurant and casino. It was impressive to see the aborigines gamble. They didn’t seem to eat. They drank and gambled. As it is said, there’s a sucker born every day.

And so it was down to Ayers Rock for a look around. Ayers Rock is a massive formation that turns different colors at various times of the day. Some of the aborigines worship there. I suppose after about 18 hours of looking at the Rock, there really isn’t much more to report. It is impressive.

Back in Alice Springs after the Ayers Rock trip, I found a very friendly store with the Outback hat, the pine cone necklace and the Digerredoo. The “D”, as we will call it, is about four feet long and has many insects and other animals carved into its side. Naturally, it is hollow so that the mellifluous sound may pour out of either end. Sometimes it is a baritone sound. At other times, it is alleged to be the sound of a large choir. It is hard for me to say what sound emerges from the instrument as I have not really heard it.

It is also alleged that the music of the “D” is best digested with a Rhythm Section. According to Cal Tuggle, who knows nothing about this woodwind instrument, two aborigines hold large flat rocks and beat them together to provide the Rhythm Section. The “D” carries the melody.

As best as I understand it, the instrument is held at either end and the proper tune is hummed into it. Obviously, there are no keys or valve openings as on a trumpet or saxophone, so the “D” player is free to improvise or even to fake the melody.

The lady who sold me the “D” said that aborigines would not occupy the houses that the Aussie Government had built for them. They slept outside. Similarly, she said the “D” players only played outside; never inside as in a concert hall or a night club. And she said that the rocks that supported the Rhythm Section had deteriorated in quality with a certain sponginess being found among them. Nothing throws a big “D” player off as much as a bad Rhythm Section, unless it is playing indoors.

Unfortunately, she had sold her last recording of several DIGERREDOO solos as well as her orchestral recordings which sounded, as she described it, much like the New York Philharmonic. I had wanted to send them to those NAY sayers back in Sydney, but I suppose we’ll now have to wait for the CD version.

I’m not aching to go back to Alice Springs, but it might be enjoyable. Perhaps there might even be a festival of DIGERREDOO players from all over the Outback. I’d like for those fellows from Sydney to be immersed in big “D” music. I have told them that they will have to sleep outdoors to appreciate the full effect of the magnificent music from the DIGERREDOO orchestra.

A final note. The lady at the store in Alice Springs said that my purchases would arrive in New Jersey in two weeks. She hit it on the head. And as for Maltby, Payne, John Hampton and Chris von Willer, they still have not gone to enjoy the thrills of Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. Mark down one for the Yanks.

E. Carr
January 4, 1998
Essay #7 (Old Format)

~~~

I’d never heard of betel nuts before reading this essay, but apparently their use is incredibly wide-spread even today. The fact that chewing these nuts has been directly linked to way higher rates of oral cancer does not seem to be a strong enough deterrent.

Also, weaker scotch or not, I have it on good authority from my father that trying to outdrink Pop was always a terrible idea. Of course, drinking beer that’s as potent as wine probably didn’t help the Aussies much.

Small admin note: Looks like I can’t create new categories for some reason — working on fixing that.

THE THREE I LEAGUE

When we were young, many of my compatriots had their sights set on a professional baseball career. Unrealistically, as it turned out. But we didn’t know that then.

In the Midwest, one of the leagues to which we aspired had clubs in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. And so it became the Three I League. It may have been as much as three or four levels below the major leagues, but anyone who made it as far as the Three I League had a certain celebrity about him. During the off-season, people invited him to sports banquets and introduced him as our next major leaguer. Well, all that was heady stuff but I didn’t know that there was a relation between the Three I League and politics here in the Northeast.

Politics here have their own Three I League. Since 1950, almost every politician from Massachusetts in the north to Pennsylvania on the west and south to Washington, D. C. have paid their respects to Italy, Ireland and Israel, our version of the famous Three I League. Obviously, immigration has much to do with this as they have ties back to the home country. As it is said, we are a nation of immigrants. It is clear that a good many of those descendants of immigrants have married each other. So when the politicians address one group, they often automatically appeal to the rest of the group who may have varying degrees of ties to the Three I League, but they get the message.
ITALY
And so we start with Italy, because that’s where I first landed in the great Three I League. Those are not unusual locations as is the case in Africa. Italy, Ireland and Israel are pretty much the way we are. No big surprises. They go about their business as we go about ours. And so there are no horror or many funny stories about these countries. I feel at home in every on of the I-I-I countries, so we’ll start with a word from my friend down at the toe of Italy, Walter Pippo, who has a spirited Sicilian wife. Being from Reggio Di Calabria makes him know about things in Sicily.

AT&T’s point of contact with the telephone administration in Italy is called Italcable. It is a first class outfit. They recalled that AT&T went out of its way to rehabilitate Italcable and its predecessors after the war. And curiously, they look upon our soldiers from World War II as friends and even mentors. We enjoyed a very warm relationship with that organization.

One of the quirks in Italian business is that many people expect to be called by their professional title. Thus, it is Engineer Spasione or Accountant Muzzalti. I always had some trouble remembering the professional titles in a group where a large number of people were gathered, so like most Americans, we simply addressed our Italcable compatriots by their first names. They seemed to like that as it distinguished us from the more starchy European representatives. And they returned the favor calling us by our given names shortly after meeting us.

Now we come to Dr. Walter Pippo. In formal meetings, even with other Italcable employees, Walter Pippo was often addressed as “Dr.” I never found out what he professed to be a Doctor of and he never explained it. I’m reasonably sure that he assumed the “Dr.” because he had no identifiable academic discipline such as Engineer. I’m sure he was not in the medical field. Walter was just a good and devoted friend who answered to “Walter.”

The given name of Walter is a bit of a story in itself. When American troops landed in Italy it was 1943 and Walter’s mother was pregnant. His father hated the Fascist regime of his government. But even more, he hated the way that Italians were treated by the Germans. He hated everything about the Germans from their forced call-up to perform manual labor to forcing Italians to serve in the German Wehrmacht, the Army. And his father hated the attempts to ship Italian Jews to German concentration camps. He obviously had no love for the Germans on any score.

Walter’s father decided that his child would be named after an American to thwart the Italian and the German authorities. And so there would be no Guido or Bennito or Mario for Walter’s father. No sir! He decided to give his new born son the American name of Walter.

When Walter grew into his sixth or seventh year, he became curious about his name. Naturally, he discovered that it is a German name. He never told his father about his discovery.

His father died happily in the knowledge that he had given his son an American name. Walter always points out that his name reflects the landing of American troops in Italy and has nothing to do with any other influence. Hurrah for Walter’s father and Hurrah for American troops in Italy.

Maybe it is as Pablo Casales said that the United States lends itself to every noble effort of mankind. Maybe so. Maybe so. At least in World War II, I believe that.

We shift scenes to the outskirts of Siracusa, or as it is referred to in English, Syracuse. It is on the southeastern coast of Sicily. It is about as poor as one could imagine. The people lived there in a sort of long range depression. It never seemed to end. And the Italian government gave no help at all. Those people after the war simply could not look for help from Rome. There is not much difference in 1998, I suppose.

Sicily grows a tough bunch of people in that climate, one of whom is married to Walter Pippo, who told this story to me. The people of Siracusa realized that there was no church in their outlying town. If they wanted to attend services, some way had to be found to take them to Syracuse, which could be a burden. And so an appeal was made to the pride of the citizens on the outskirts of Syracuse. And in time, donations were made. The local men performed much of the work in building the framework of the church.

The church was not a major edifice from the outside. It was serviceable. On the other hand, the local people wanted the inside to be a magnificent monument to their pride of having their own church. They wanted to have a tile floor like no other.

As it turns out, Libya is just across the Mediterranean from Sicily. It was a former colony of Italy. Many people there speak Italian. This would have been in the 1970’s and there was still plenty of Italian influence. And there was a depression among Libyan tile setters, considered the best in the Arab world. So it was made to order for the people of Syracuse to find the out-of-work Libyan tile setters and invite them to come to work in Sicily.

The men worked quickly setting their small one inch squares, one after another. The locals were impressed with their work. But most impressive was the beautiful design that appeared in the tile across most of the nave of the church. I think I have that right. It is the section of the church from the front of the first pew up to the alter. In St. Patrick’s, it may be 65 feet or 75 feet. In smaller churches, it may only be 15 to 20 feet in width. From Mrs. Pippo’s story, I’d guess the width of the nave would be maybe 15 to 25 feet. And all the better to see that beautiful design the Libyans had left at the front of the church.

Weddings were held in the church and the bridal party stood on the beautiful design in the nave. I suppose confirmations were held there, as well. And maybe some funerals departed with a last fond look at the tile design in the nave of that Roman Catholic Church.

In the end after three or four years of gracing the nave, a gentleman who spoke Arabic came to the church. He was so sorrowful to announce that the beautiful design actually read, from right to left: “THERE IS NO OTHER GOD BUT ALLAH – AND MOHAMMED IS HIS MESSENGER.”

Maybe the Libyans had evened up for years of Italian occupation. Or maybe it was something that every Libyan church or mosque had as its motto. But in the end, the beautiful design was covered by a carpet. It was too expensive to remove.

And so we take leave of Walter, his wife and all our other friends in Italy.

 

ISRAEL
Lots of memories come flooding back after all the trips to Israel. If I had to name a best friend in the world, it would be Jake Haberfeld, the Zionist who came to Israel from his native Warsaw. And there was Aryeh Ron, known formerly in Vienna as Leon Ritter, who decided it was time to leave when the Nazi’s made him clean the sidewalk near his home with a toothbrush. And then there was the large presence of Gideon Lev who ate a pair of eggs at breakfast in two bites. One bite for egg number one; one bite for egg number two.

Jake Haberfeld was as tough as Gideon Lev was, but they had different styles. Jake was polite and understanding – as was Aryeh. Gideon made some noise but in the end, he did what was right for the Israeli administration. But in no case did Jake or Gideon or Aryeh ever give anything away. Those fellows stood for something. I believe it is fair to say that I enjoyed dealing with them as much as or more than any other administration in the world. Each of them had seen combat service in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts. I suppose that lent some meaning to their efforts in negotiating with us. Hurrah for Jake, Aryeh and Gideon and their subordinates.

A transient thought jumps out here. We had been in negotiation with the three of them when it became obvious we were running up against the noon Friday deadline when the Israeli’s begin their Sabbath. We had to give the results of the meetings to the Overall Cable Steering Committee in New York, so that they could answer while the Telex operators were still at work. As we got closer to the cutoff time there was no time to summarize the whole set of negotiations. With only a few minutes left before the telex operators left for the weekend, Gideon said, “So — we’ll send a short telex.” I’m sorry that Jackie Mason isn’t here to do his routine on the virtues of short versus long telexes in the style of Gideon Lev.

There are two other thoughts that come to mind about living in Israel where, a few years back, enemies surrounded almost all of the country. To gain admission to Israel, one must pass through the Border Guards on the way in and on the way out. They are not to be fooled with. Those Uzis on their hips are not there for parades. They mean business.

In the beginning, I made a little splash of spreading my name on the entry card as “Ezra,” the scribe of Jerusalem from the Bible. After two or three printings in bold letters, it made no difference. The Border Guards still looked right through me and told me to move along. On the other hand, they were very considerate if we were headed for an Arab country. In most cases, rigorous Arab countries would not admit a person with an Israeli passport stamp. So the Border Guards did not stamp our passports. They simply stamped pieces of paper which showed entry into the country. When we left, we turned in the piece of paper and no stamp ever appeared in any of our passports.

When you leave the country, the Border Guards take you into a booth where you are frisked. Cameras are pointed toward the ceiling and the button is pushed to expose the next print. For many years I carried a ball point pen which required a motion to expose the ball point. That was pointed at the ceiling and the lever was pulled. There was an intense search, a frisk, before we got to our bags. I was glad for that.

When it came to the bags, all of us were asked if we were carrying any package for anyone else. Woe to him who said he was. Start looking for a later plane. I rarely had trouble. If they wanted to look at my bag, I had it ready to open. Rule one is you don’t mess with the Border Guards. I saw that happen when a woman in front of us represented herself as a person of some substance – in short – as a big shot. It only took a minute to call out two female Border Guards who opened her bags and went through all of them. I only stayed until we could move to an unencumbered line for the luggage check, but what I could see out of the corner of my eye, told me that the female Border Guards were going through her lingerie, girdles and everything else, in plain view of other passengers. Rule one and two is don’t mess with the Border Guards.

Maybe it’s time to leave good friends in Israel to go to the last of the Three I Countries. As we leave, I’m always impressed by what the Israeli’s have accomplished for their country. Let’s leave Bibi Netanyahu for another day.
IRELAND
The Irish are like home to many of us, even to friends who have no shamrocks in their blood. Their conversation is easy and they show a respect for others. Now if I could only get them to heat their houses. It doesn’t get much below freezing, but in a brick house with only a small electric heater in a fake fire place, the chill becomes progressively worse. With Alan Corbett and Mick Sheridan and wives, we wound up at the Sheridans. In a circle we sat facing the two watt electric heater. And it took no time for the cold to creep down from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. I’m not giving much to the conversation going on around me as I’m wondering how do these people take baths. They are not alone as in the other two I Countries, but I still think about the bath – shower situation.

Two other thoughts invade my memory right now. In the first case, the Irish rarely ever say “yes” or “no.” They say that it would be a pleasure to do what you are suggesting or they may say that it would be better to do something other than the suggestion you had to offer.

In this case, Judy, our daughter, son-in-law and a 15 month old baby started the trip from Shannon to Killarney after an overnight flight from the United States. We did pretty well until we got to a confusing turnaround some eight to ten miles from Killarney. The hotel was located on the Cork Road, which is how things are designated in this country. After two or three trips around the turnaround, we stopped and I asked a gentleman standing on the corner, “Could you tell me how we would get to Cork?” He told me that “Indeed I can.” And then he walked away. Well, he had answered my question, so he left. I finally figured out what the problem was. I asked another gentleman to tell me where Ryan’s Hotel was on the Cork Road. He almost took us there.

Now a final thought about AT&T’s Miss Mary Margaret Murphy. I suppose no one ever comes closer to a saintly life. She may not think so, but I would nominate her for at least canonization.

In the 1980’s research was a major problem because we didn’t know as much as we would like to know about why people made international phone calls, particularly from their hotel rooms. So under Tom Poretta, we gathered a few stalwarts who could ask the questions and coax some answers. This was no check the multiple choice question. It was much more of a dialogue than that.

So Margaret went to London, Lisbon and Spain. And finally she came to Dublin. She was required to go to the top-flight hotels in the morning, again in the afternoons and quite often in the early evenings. All to ask people about making calls, particularly back to the United States. This meant she had to move from one hotel to another throughout the day. Well, that was her undoing.

It turns out that an elderly cab driver worked these luxury or near-luxury hotels. And he picked up Margaret and drove her to the next hotel FOR RESEARCH. As Margaret tells it, he picked her up for the fifth or sixth time on the second day and could no longer hold his peace. The cab driver told her that he knew exactly what she was up to going from one high priced hotel to the next. She was not fooling him. He thought about calling the police but said he’d think about it and pray. In the meantime, Margaret was consigned to Hell.

I’m sure he would never believe the story about research but that’s all I have to offer in our defense. Ah well, Margaret Murphy is still my candidate for canonization.

There may be much more that we could write, but that will do for now. The friends in the Three I Countries are keepers. They are among life’s joys.
E. Carr
December 30, 1997
Essay #6 (Old Format)

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Pop got into the swing of essay-writing quite quickly, it’d appear. This is probably one of my all-time favorites. Granted, I’m unquestionably a sucker for travel writing, and a three-decade time delay only makes the pieces more interesting to me, but still.

Israel seems like a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” — it is still ringed by enemies, and the guards there are likely more vigilant than ever.

The Italy story reminds me of non-Chinese speakers who elect to get tattoos in Chinese characters. I’m at a loss for why people choose to do this, but I do know that people frequently get tattooed with gibberish or worse. http://hanzismatter.blogspot.com/ does a great job of documenting all the different types of failures out there — the lucky people get away with characters that are just upside down or inverted, but tons more wind up with curse words or words that completely distort the intended meaning. Tons more wind up with English words “spelled out” in characters, as if each Chinese character corresponded to an English letter. If you know so little about the language that you’re permanently embedding into your skin that you think “JOE” can be one-for-one translated into Chinese, I guess you get what you deserve. Clearly this level of ignorance didn’t stop the Italian Church either — the “this looks pretty, must be fine” — seems to have carried over to them. I guess it’s possible that they were duped, but even still: the minute you recognize that someone is tiling words into your nave, you should probably get a second opinion on what those words say.

Also one last note about the Chinese tattoo thing, just because I find it infinitely frustrating: on the rare occasions that both tattooee and tattooer manage to translate and ink a phrase properly in a language that neither speaks, the outcome is almost guaranteed to be completely inane. You wouldn’t tattoo “HEART” or “BRAVERY” or “[YOUR NAME]” down your back in huge English letters, so why are those all so popular when written in non-English letters?  Writing things in a language you don’t understand doesn’t make those things more deep. Bah.