Archive for March 2017

A REPRISE ON DIGNITY AND TEARS

Those of us who write essays recognize that when an essay demands to be written, it will be done. You may remember a recent essay called, “A Matter of Dignity.” In that essay, it recounted the story about how Matthew Pepe, my old friend who installs driveways and sidewalks, saw the problem of my taking the garbage containers to the street. On previous occasions, I had overshot and wound up in the street. On another occasion I found myself in front of a neighbor’s house. So that I could stay on course, Matthew installed two deflectors against the Belgian blocks which would return a different sound to my ears when tapped by my white cane. It is now a month or so since the two deflectors were installed, and I am happy to report that they are doing their job admirably.

There is another aspect to the story about Matthew Pepe. In the essay, “A Matter of Dignity,” I referred to Matthew’s immediate understanding of my dilemma of getting the garbage containers to the street. His understanding brought tears “to my useless eyes.” When the essay was finished, I composed this small letter to transmit it to Professor Pepe. Here is what my letter said:

After mailing the letter and essay, I more or less forgot about it because I knew that Matthew was hard at work pouring asphalt and concrete before the cold weather set in. Nonetheless, Matthew took the time to write me this poignant reply:

So you see, Matthew said that he had tears in his eyes as he read the essay. I am here to tell the world that no essayist gets better praise than that.

As I hope you can see, the Pepe family and that organization have my highest respect. They are good workman and they are friends. What more could anyone ask?

So this essay wrote itself. I merely arranged the sequence of letters. When an essay demands to write itself, it is best for the essayist to get out of the way. Which is what I am about to do.

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Daww. Just another thing that made the Thanksgiving season of 2006 even better.

A MATTER OF DIGNITY

Those of us who have lost our sight frequently wrestle with the thought of our potential uselessness. It has always been so. In the Irish folksong, “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” an Irish soldier who served with the British Army returns from a battle in Ceylon minus two limbs. The song’s lyrics say, “You haven’t a arm, you haven’t a leg, you’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.” While Johnny retained his sight, I’m sure that his sense of uselessness dominated his thoughts. And so it is with those of us who have lost our sight.

Simply put, those of us who are blind are incapable of doing many of the things that we have done all of our lives. If we try to help around the kitchen for example, it is quite likely that we will cause more problems than if we sat on a chair and remained silent. The other day, for example, when I intended to deal with the electric stove top, the results were two burned fingers. And the dish in question never got stirred.

If I elect to help set the table, it seems to me that the glasses are always a gross impediment. Sometimes I knock them over. Retrieving plates for the next meal helps very little. I tend to knock over other dishes as I try to extract the plates. The point is that uselessness is always a consideration for the visually impaired.

Around the kitchen, I fold the paper bags the grocery store gives us so that they may be placed in a rack on the back of the kitchen door. I am able, with a high degree of fumbling, to fill the glasses with ice on most occasions. Leaving the kitchen, I am able to help my wife by going to the front porch and retrieving the newspaper. In that same spirit, there comes the matter of taking out the garbage from the garage to the street.

Taking out the garbage involves a total of four trips to the street. There is a trip the night before the garbage is collected and then there is the matter of retrieving the empty container the next day. This happens twice a week. Every other week, there is also a need to take out and retrieve a second container which holds the cans and bottles for recycling.

The driveway here from the back of the garage to the street is at least 90 feet long with Belgian blocks defining its edges. I find that I can make my way from one end of the driveway to the other by using my white cane to tap on the blocks. It is remarkable to me how easy it is to stray in a direction that I had never intended. Completely blind persons such as myself have no sense of direction. I have no idea whether I am walking east or west or north or south. It is for this reason that blind people tend to stick to walls that help guide them. In this case, I use my white cane to tap on the Belgian blocks to keep me on course for my eventual destination at the street.

A lot can go wrong in the 90 feet of driveway. On two occasions, I overshot the driveway and wound up well into the street. On another occasion I became turned around and wound up in front of the neighbors house going down the street. Unfortunately, the street is also lined by Belgian blocks. Remember, I told you that I have no sense of direction.

My solution to avoid wandering into the street was to install a metal device alongside the Belgian blocks that would return a different sound to my ears as I approach the street. For blind people, ears and hearing are extremely important. When the thought of installing metal devices in front of the ordinary Belgian blocks first occurred to me, my thoughts turned automatically to a gentleman I have known for dozens of years. That gentleman is Matthew J. Pepe.

In the 1960s, I owned a house in a town called New Providence, New Jersey. Somewhere along the line, the patio outside the recreation room split in the middle and sunk. As a result, when rain occurred, the sunken patio funneled the water into the recreation room. When that happened, I consulted with a neighbor, Nick DiNunzio, who suggested that the man to call was Matthew Pepe.

Mr. Pepe poured a new patio for me and things were well taken care of. From that time until now, all of my concrete work and driveway work have always been referred to the Pepe organization.

When I called Matthew Pepe and explained my current problem about the garbage containers to him, he understood immediately. When I demonstrated to Mr. Pepe how I tap the Belgian blocks on my way to the street, his only question was, “And you are dragging the garbage can behind you?” I assured him that that was the case. From that point on I left things totally in Matthew Pepe’s hands.

Within a week or so, Matthew Pepe returned with his two sons and with three other men who work for the organization. They installed two metal deflectors that when tapped would return a different sound to my ears. One two-foot deflector was installed about 25 feet from the end of the driveway and the other was installed about six feet from its end. On the occasion of the installation of the metal deflectors, I gave them a test hop. As I walked slowly down the driveway and hit the first deflector, my wife tells me that there were smiles all around in the Pepe group. When I hit the second deflector, their smiles turned into laughter and cheers of approval. My test was a complete success.

When this project started, I explained to Mathew Pepe that I needed to take the garbage containers to the street to overcome my sense of uselessness. Matthew understood me completely. He said simply, “It is a matter of dignity.” Matthew Pepe is no psychologist nor is he a psychiatrist. He and his sons are simply hard-working people who install driveways for a living. Pouring a new driveway is tough work. Certainly it is not a matter of shuffling papers in an office. It is backbreaking work.

So you see, while Matthew Pepe is not a psychologist, he instantly understood what I was trying to accomplish. Matthew and I have known each other for many years. He correctly concluded that what I was trying to do was to overcome my sense of uselessness. When he said, “it is a matter of dignity,” he was absolutely right. And when he said that, a tear or two developed in my useless eyes.

So you see, if you have a driveway or walkway to be constructed, the only place to go is to Matthew J. Pepe of New Providence. And if you are fighting a sense of uselessness, Matthew Pepe is the man to see. If he concludes that it is a matter of dignity, Matthew and his sons will take up your case.

E. E. CARR
October 15, 2006

~~~

This one made me happy. Pop always especially valued his interactions with people who do real physical labor for a living, so I’m sure that made the whole affair just that much more pleasing to him. I think that affection probably stemmed from his job at the filling station, where he learned about what it’s like to do exhausting work while being subject to all manner of customers’ whims. In that same vein, I bet that Pop was always nice to various customer service reps whenever he had to deal with them.

THANKSGIVING, 2006

In my longer than expected life, I have never looked forward to the year end celebrations. The long American Depression kept Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations from being joyous occasions. In our family, at best, they were subdued. In effect, I enjoyed the holidays knowing that they would soon be behind me.

When Thanksgiving arrived this year, I thought it could be endured with a decent bottle of wine, lots of music, and not much fuss. But to my amazement, this Thanksgiving was perhaps the best one I have ever celebrated.

The story starts with my firm belief that the hardest working people in the world come from Costa Rica. They clean our house, they cut the grass and they plow the snow. If there are harder working people in the world, I would like to meet them.

We sensed that something was wrong when Jenny the housekeeper, had a “for sale” sign on her Toyota. That was just the beginning. In March or April of 2006, Jenny’s husband Ronald, had lost his job as a truck driver. The job loss occurred because Ronald could not get a New Jersey driver’s license because he is not yet a citizen. The normal wait for citizenship is at least 10 years. Ronald and Jenny are legal immigrants who have six years in on that 10 or 12 year requirement. Yet here in the great sweet smelling state of New Jersey, the authorities will not issue a driver’s license to someone who is not a citizen. So, as a result, Ronald lost his job as a truck driver. Over the summer he tried without great financial success to become a landscaper.

On top of this, the Cuban woman for whom Ronald worked had claimed to the Internal Revenue Service that he was a partner in her trucking business. This was done, of course, to reduce her tax burden. When we looked into this matter, we found that this ploy is now being used extensively, particularly where immigrants are concerned. Immigrants don’t hire lawyers and do not complain to the authorities out of fear of deportation. After discussions with Ronald and his wife, I am completely satisfied that he was a truck driver, no more, no less. He was never a partner with anybody. Nonetheless, the IRS treated him as a partner and soon he was confronted with an additional $5,100 tax bill.

Immigrants who wish to obtain citizenship in this country don’t challenge authority, particularly that of the federal government. Ronald and Jenny simply bowed their necks and agreed to pay the $5,100 amount in installments.

In the meantime, Jenny became pregnant with their third child. To eat, they were required to use their credit cards. As Thanksgiving grew near, they were about $10,000 in debt to the credit card companies who charge exorbitant interest rates. The going rate for a loan from the credit card companies is eight percent. It tops out at around 18%.

As events proceeded, it was clear to us, particularly to Judy, that Jenny was deeply troubled. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Jenny said to Judy that they needed our help in borrowing $10,000. Jenny said that asking for our help was “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” We knew that Ronald would have the Thanksgiving day holiday off so we arranged to meet them in the afternoon. Judy asked Jenny to bring the details from the IRS and from credit card statements with them. Through this entire affair, we understood that the banks would not make them a loan even though Ronald now has a new job.

When the two Costa Rican immigrants met with us on Thanksgiving afternoon, it became immediately clear that $10,000 would not cover what they owed the IRS and the credit card companies. They needed $15,000.

The long and the short of it is that we granted a $15,000 Promissory Note to the two Costa Ricans. Earlier they had said that they could repay as much as $1,000 per month. Our note specified repayment at half that amount to insure that they would not be forced back into the use of their credit cards with the attendant usurious interest rates. Furthermore, the interest charged by us was nada, which of course, is zero. We had no intention of profiting from the misfortune of the two Costa Ricans, who would at some time become citizens like ourselves.

After Jenny and Ronald signed a piece of paper for us, there was lots of emotion. Jenny called us their angels. She also said, “You will always be in my heart.” I suspect that once the banks had turned them down, they had no place to go except to us.

When the handshakes and the hugs were completed, the thought struck me that in all my now more than 80 years, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever enjoyed. It is in keeping with the injunction from the Prophet Micah who said the Lord requires of thee to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly. By extending the loan to the hard working Costa Ricans, it occurred to me that we were obeying Micah’s injunction. It was an act of mercy just as it was an act that was just. And it was our duty to do that. But more than anything else, our treatment of the immigrant Costa Ricans provided a great joy to Judy and to myself. Speaking for myself, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever had.

But the story doesn’t end there. You may recall from a previous essay that I take the garbage cans to the street twice a week. On Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving, the garbage collectors arrived as I was going out toward the street to retrieve the cans. The collector saw my white cane and realized that I was blind. He took the bag from the container and threw it into his truck and came back and asked if he could help me. I told him “No thanks. This is my job.” As he started to leave, I asked him to come back to shake hands. He removed his work gloves, we shook hands, and wished each other Happy Thanksgiving. I believe that that hard-working man has become a friend.

On the Friday following the Thanksgiving holiday, I again took the garbage containers to the street and left them there. On Saturday morning I went out to retrieve them. My new friend had removed the bag from the container, he had carefully placed the lid back on the container and left it in precisely the same spot where I had placed it the night before. As you know, sometimes the garbage cans are discarded carelessly. My new friend made sure that the garbage can with its lid on was in its proper place.

So between Jenny, Ronald and the garbage man, whose name I do not know, my Thanksgiving holiday was the happiest ever. With respect to the loan, Judy and I are completely confident that it will be repaid over time. And I expect, that those two immigrant Costa Ricans will become our friends for life. So you see Thanksgiving, 2006 was a day of great joy for us. What more can anyone ask?

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Pop’s expectation was correct; they were indeed friends for the rest of his. You can read a follow up essay about them here. Per that essay, the two of them should have gotten citizenship in 2015, which I hope went smoothly — perhaps Judy knows.

It also strikes me that perhaps it’s for the best that Pop didn’t live to see the Trump administration, in particular for it’s virulent anti-immigrant stance, which I think that Pop would have found especially repugnant. What a nightmare.

EHRHARDT’S DAUGHTER

For several days now, I have been thinking about one of my classmates at the Clayton, Missouri public school system. She was the only daughter of the couple who presided over the small restaurant immediately west of the Clayton High School.

She dressed plainly, wore no makeup that could be discerned and had little to say. She was certainly not part of the social circle in the Clayton public school system. I suspect that she was self-conscious in attending the Clayton school system because of the wealth of the children who were students there. In any event, permit me to tell you a little about her parents and the eating establishment they operated.

I am violating a rule here in that I am commenting for the first time about events that took place during the great American Depression of the 1930s. But this episode is about the Ehrhardts and not about me, so technically I am avoiding my own ban of discussing the Depression.

Somewhere around 1931 or 1932, the Clayton public school system erected a large additional building to house its cafeteria and chorus room. Those were on the second floor. On the first floor, it housed the classrooms equipped for the teaching of “shop” and a garage for the school bus.

There was only one school bus. It was driven by an amiable gentleman named “Shorty” Schaeffer. Shorty was a friend to all the youngsters who road his bus.

Across the street from this addition there was an ancient bungalow that housed a place for students to eat. It was a long narrow building with a sun porch in front, a larger room which must have been in former days the living room and dining room; and in the rear of the building was the kitchen. The place was owned by the Ehrhardt family.

Mrs. Ehrhardt cooked the lunches for the students, which consisted almost exclusively of hamburgers and frankfurters, as I remember it. The food was served by her husband, who had responsibility for the counter that was in the main room. The students often ate in the former sun room if the weather were inclement. In more pleasant weather, they would sit outside on the steps eating their lunches.

Some of the well-to-do children attending the Clayton public school system, including the high school, referred to the Ehrhardt establishment as “the dump.” When Mr. Ehrhardt heard anyone refer to his establishment as “the dump,” he became very angry. The Ehrhardts were doing the best they could during the Depression and it hurt him to hear the words “the dump” as it applied to his place.

The menu choices of hamburgers and hot dogs, if my memory is anywhere near correct, cost five cents each. Potato chips cost another five cents. Perhaps in later years, as we got toward 1940, the price may have doubled, but I doubt it. In any case, it was possible to eat with the Ehrhardt’s for a grand total of ten or fifteen cents.

The kids who ate at Ehrhardt’s establishment had very limited resources and could not afford to eat at the new cafeteria across the street where a complete luncheon would cost maybe twenty cents or twenty-five cents. That was clearly beyond the reach of most of the poor students. There were several students who brought their lunches to school and had no money to spend at all. Generally speaking, the children who ate at Ehrhardt’s had to eat there because, again, they could not afford the prices at the cafeteria across the street.

During all those years, I had attended the Clayton system along with the Ehrhardt daughter, who in retrospect seems timid and self-conscious. Like many of the rest of us, that daughter had trouble competing with the wealth of the rest of the students. All things being equal, the Ehrhardt daughter was non-descript. She did not stick out in her dress, or in her makeup. She seemed to just want to get from one day to the next without controversy.

On most days, the Ehrhardts asked their daughter to work at their eating establishment. She seemed to prefer helping her mother do the cooking as opposed to serving her fellow students along with her father. Working with her mother more or less prevented her from having to face the students that she considered to be her superiors.

I knew the Ehrhardt daughter for perhaps eight or ten years while I attended the Clayton school system and I can’t ever remember having a lengthy conversation with her. It was all only “hello” and “goodbye” and there were no extended remarks in between. I suspect now that the Ehrhardt daughter may have had an inferiority complex, which is not hard to understand given the fact that she went to school with so many wealthy classmates.

The Ehrhardt daughter was a good person in an unfortunate situation. There were students at the school who looked down upon those who patronized “the dump” as well as the Ehrhardt family itself. For my money, the Ehrhardts were hard-working people who were doing the best they could and the daughter was dutiful. She wasn’t beautiful and she didn’t wear lovely clothes. She was just the daughter of hard-working people during the Great American Depression. As you can see, I don’t even remember her name, but she made a distinct impression upon my mind.

I left Clayton high school at graduation time in January of 1940, and I have not seen either the Ehrhardts or their daughter since that time. For the past day or two I have been wondering whether the Ehrhardt daughter ever married or had children or had a successful career. She was simply a child of the depression, which may tell you all you need to know about her. Her father was often gruff but her mother was a loving person who extended a welcome to anyone who came to her establishment, whether they were rich or poor. I hope that the daughter took after her mother rather than her father.

And so I am sorry to tell you that she did not wind up being Miss America or winner of the Olympics in 1936 or anything of the sort. In point of fact, there is not much that I can tell you about her. But for the last day or two, thoughts about this inoffensive woman have bedeviled me. I sincerely hope that she enjoyed life after the closing of the Ehrhardt Eatery, which happened around 1945 when the street was widened.

As a matter of interest, in all the years I attended the Clayton public school system, I was never able to afford the prices at the school cafeteria. Paying twenty cents or twenty-five cents for lunch was much beyond my means. On occasions when I had a nickel or two to spare from cutting grass or babysitting, I often invested with the Ehrhardt organization. But mostly I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag which my mother insisted that I should fold up and bring home because, as she said, “They don’t give those paper bags away, you know.”

I am sorry to leave you up in the air about the Ehrhardt daughter, but if you ever see her please tell her that I send my best regards. Because that woman is now well into her eighties, treat her gently when you find her.

E. E. CARR
August 11, 2006

~~~

Whoa whoa whoa. If a hamburger costs 5 cents, chips certainly shouldn’t ALSO cost 5 cents. Cheese and meat are both a lot more expensive than potatoes! Maybe the hamburger was 8c and the chips were 2c; that would make more sense.
Anyway, 25 cents in 2017 dollars is $6.15. I can get away lunch in San Francisco for $7 sometimes; in light of that, the idea of paying 25 cents for a depression-era school lunch in Missouri seems crazy. $6.15 per kid would add up quite quickly. Ehrhardt’s prices seem a lot more reasonable — it’s a shame the kids gave them a hard time.

BLOODY NOOSE-I-NANCE

EEC dictation 11-17-05 1st DRAFT

The subject of this essay today is blindness. No circumlocutions, no euphemisms, just plain blindness. The blindness, of course, has to do with your old essay writer. As time went on during the recent series of eye operations, it became apparent that aphasia began to make giant strides toward erasing my memory of words and phases. Aphasia has to do of course with the inability to recall words.

This essay is written not as a perverse to spoil anybody’s yearend celebrations, but rather an attempt to deal with galloping aphasia in my own case.

It just so happens that the subject I have chosen is blindness because the two are, in my case, closely related.

It is not in my interest to attempt to persuade you to render any sympathy for me. Far, far from it. This essay is simply a device as a means of achieving some more mental agility which will push away effects of aphasia.

The fact of the matter is that once glaucoma takes a hold on your eyesight, there is not much you can do about it but to fight it. But in the end, if you live long enough, glaucoma may be the winner. I am the son of a blind man who lost he site to glaucoma some where age of 64 or 65 years. I am the brother of a man who lost his sight somewhere near his 60th year. I am the brother of another fellow who lost his sight near his 70th year. So the object is to outlive glaucoma but it is not always possible to do so, witness the recent events having to do with myself.

What I would propose to do today is to first welcome all of those who wish me well. On the hand, there are those who offered to say a prayer in my behalf. For those offering to say a prayer, it should be observed that, my attitude for 65 years toward religion has been one of non-belief in organized religion, disorganized religion and unorganized religion. I appreciate the thought, but it appears to me that prayers will not necessarily change things.

The thought today in this essay, is merely to account for certain factors that I had not known before blindness set in. The blind person has no series of reference compass. He does not know if the is facing east or west, north or south. It is easy for him to become confused and it is easy for him to loose his balance and fall down.

Beyond that there is the thought that things are not always what they seem to be. For example, when a room is entered by a blind person like myself, if things go well, in a series of functions, good results will occur. On the other hand, if there is some confusion, the whole deck of cards tends to fall over. For example, it has seemed to me that there are rooms in this house that occasionally have been rearranged. With the door on the one end of the room as opposed to the other end. At the same time, there are occasions that the doors that I count on to get me from one place to another do not add up, and I wind up being easily and totally confused. As things have worked out, logic seems to be the only savior. If I can locate one familiar object, say such as the dresser, then the rest of the objects tend to fall in place. But in the meantime, there is great confusion as to where I am and how I am going to proceed, simply because of the confusion generated by my lack of sight.

At the moment, I am doing fairly well in the familiar surroundings of our house. The bathrooms and the kitchen etc are well known and I can get to them with no great trouble. One the other hand, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, builders built a large number of home called split-levels. In those split-level, there are a large number of stairways.

Some of the stairways are 6 or 7 steps. No matter how you cut it, they are stairways and they can be fallen down fairly easily. This is the second split level house that I have occupied. And it is necessary at all times to keep in mind where the stairways are located.

Venturing outside the house requires my close association with my wife Judy, who acts as my eyes. Without her, I would be pretty well up the creek without a paddle. Last Saturday we bought a white cane which is a very valuable instrument but it still does not match sight. Going outside requires unfamiliar territory to be negotiated. That is an onerous task in many cases. Being blind tends to wear the blind person down, as every second is consumed with fear of falling down or some other catastrophe. Both when I am with Judy, and the walking stick I tend to get along fairly well.

I think that by this time, you have the fact of life in my case and I am required for better or for worse to deal with it. Blindness is not an adventure as in a pregnancy, but it is a fact that has to be dealt with. All of this leads to this essay and leads me to the title of this essay and reflections on my relationship with my father.

Ezra Sr., a very proud man, was completely blind for the last 12 or 13 years of his life. The five Carr children all understood that glaucoma was an ailment that could be transmitted from one person to his children. In this case, blindness has gotten to my brother Earl. And Charley died at age 60 and thus seemed to avoid blindness. The two women involved seem to have been able to live normal lives despite acquiring glaucoma.

When my father developed glaucoma, he turned himself over to the Post brothers who operated out of Barnes Hospital, a well known institution in St. Louis. At that time, it seemed to me that surgery was perhaps the only solution in an attempt to handle glaucoma. Before long, my father’s eyes were an unsightly mess. During the Depression, my father went for quite a while without a job, through no fault of his own, until he landed a position that was to care for the grounds in a large subdivision in University City, Missouri. In spite of his ability not to see things, he tried to trim a tree at the end of his career. He said he believed that he was stepping on a limb of that tree, and of course there was no limb. He fell on his skull, fracturing it, and ended up in a hospital. That was the end of his career and for the next 11 years he was housebound.

At first, people used to come and drive him to church, but within two or three months, that came to an end. He was reduced to sitting next to his Atwater Kent and listening to the news reports. Eventually he began to listen to adventure stories about the wild west. He more or less threw himself into the action.

Ezra Senior, as I have said before, was a very proud man who treasured the life that he had left in rural Illinois. He refused to give in to city ways. When he for example, went to a small café near his house, he would order a white sod-ee, not a white soda. The name of the state that contains L.A. was pronounced Cal-i-for–nee, not California. One of my sisters attempted to make his language a little bit more modern, but every time she said something, he reverted to his former ways with greater tenacity. I stayed out of the debate about locutions as I knew where it would end.

Ezra Sr. was a man who honored his Irish forbearers, which resulted in his use of the strongest epithet I have ever heard, which resulted in the word “bloody.” When we were out driving in one of his Studebakers, if the engine talked back to us, he would say, “I’ve got to fix those bloody tappets.” Another one of his mispronunciations had to do with the word nuisances. It turns out that if George Bush, who graduated from Yale and then took a masters degree from Harvard, can say “nuc-u-lear,” then there is no reason for my father to avoid saying noose-i-nance. My old man was not without his faults, but he was a tough guy. He said about his blindness, “Yes, it’s not easy to deal with, but more than anything else, it is a bloody nuisance.”

And so I tend to take pretty much the same attitude that it is a bloody nuisance that will have to be dealt with. I am, of course , not happy about the loss of my sight but I am philosophical knowing that everything that could have been done, was done. So as a pragmatist, I intend to live as best I can, for whatever time remains, with the thought that there could be some good come out of this whole mess.

I appreciate your staying with me thorough this essay during the Holiday season. If things go well, perhaps next year we might have a more pleasant message.

E. E. CARR
November 17, 2005

ADD EARLIER:
Blindness teaches patience. And secondly, blindness has the virtue of never causing anyone to search for his eyeglasses again.

~~~

I’m publishing a draft, because:
1) it gives some fun insight into his iterative process post-blindness,
2) it’s sufficiently well-assembled to stand alone as an essay, and
3) it’s the last thing from 2005 to be published.

I think he got in the remark about not having to search for eyeglasses in a later essay, because that certainly rings a bell.

OH, GOOD JESUS

As a general rule, Gentiles who profess a religious faith tend to claim that they are Christians of one sort or another. While Christianity requests that it adherents subscribe to various rules, a good many rules are ignored or are deliberately violated. A case in point is the Catholic teaching that use of birth control is a major sin. If that is so, why do so many Catholic couples call it quits after having two or three children? Are these couples leading celibate lives for the bulk of their marriages? Probably not.

There is also a Christian rule found in the third commandment of the Ten Commandments barring the use of God’s name in vain. As in the case of birth control, this dictum is often ignored or violated. This immutable fact underlies the use of the expression, “Oh, Good Jesus.” This is simply an expression. It is not a cry for Jesus to scoop them up and comfort them. This expression occurs when a statement is made that violates all the accepted principles of credulity. For example, when someone tells you that poor people who do not have enough to eat are ecstatic with their circumstances, the common reaction is generally, “Oh Good Jesus.” The same expression applies when the grand dragon of the Republican Party tells us that the war in Iraq is being fought to make American homes and citizens more secure. Precisely the opposite is the case.

This essay is largely about the abuses of the Bushies in the New Orleans disaster which makes it eminently appropriate for Jews, Buddists, Pagans, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and Zoroastrians to join in the chorus of “Oh, good Jesus.”

The actions of the Bush people about the calamity that was visited upon New Orleans are instructive. Barbara Bush must have enjoyed a terrible fit of anger when she conceived her oldest son, George W. The virgin birth that followed was sanctified 55 years later by the law firm of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas when they anointed him the President of these United States. When Barbara Bush visited the evacuees from New Orleans in their current home in Houston, she said the following:

“This is working out very well for them. Almost everyone I’ve talked to says they’re going to move to Houston. What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this (she cackles slightly) is working out very well for them.”

Marie Antoinette is alive and well in Barbara Bush.

She was speaking about people who had lost everything back home in New Orleans. Barbara says they were underprivileged anyway, so obviously, things are working out well. They are broke, with no job prospects, often separated from their families and 350 miles away. So for Barbara Bush, who more or less said “Let them eat cake,” it must be said:

Oh good Jesus! Barbara, are you nuts?

Her prosperous son, George W. announced in a photo op cabinet meeting that HE, PERSONALLY, was going to find out “what went right and what went wrong.” This, of course, is nothing more than a whitewash. The New York Times says, “We can’t imagine a worse idea.” To that eminent investigative sleuth, we say:

George, good Jesus. Shades of John Ashcroft in the Valerie Plame outing. The MAN himself is going to investigate his own Administration and his own mistakes? Give me a break!

In April or May, when George W. paid a condolence call on Cindy Sheehan and others who had lost their sons in Iraq, he stepped in the room and said, according to Ms. Sheehan, “And who are we honoring today?”

The President of the United States with a support staff numbering in the thousands, cared so little that he ignored, out of laziness, the work done for him prior to his meeting with the bereaved parents. Simply put, he cared not at all. “So who are we honoring here today?”

George, Oh good Jesus is insufficient in this case.

While we are on the deplorable subject of Bush, he is quoted everywhere as saying, “Who knew that waves would top the levees?” The reason those waves topped the levees is that the Bush Administration stopped the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and used the money for tax cuts and for Iraq. Any more questions?

This brings to mind Bush’s girlfriend, Condoleezza who said that prior to September 11, 2001, “NO ONE ever thought of planes flying into buildings.” Madame Secretary was absent from school on the day when Kamikazi crashes in WWII were discussed. That happened in 1943, 1944 and 1945. The World Trade Center happened in 2001. Madame Rice was uninformed for 55 years.

To Bush and his paramour, we say, Oh good Jesus in spades!

More on George W. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives met with Bush in the presence of others. She asked him, in view of everything that went wrong in New Orleans by FEMA, why didn’t Bush fire Michael Brown, head of FEMA. She said that Bush replied, “Why would I do that?” According to Minority Leader Pelosi, Bush said he was unaware of things going wrong in New Orleans. Figure that one out. It must be supposed that the debacle in New Orleans was only a Democratic plot.

On Thursday, the 8th, the Bush Administration starting with Scott McClelland, tried to peddle the line that there had been no colloquy between Pelosi and Bush. Plainly and flatly, the White House was calling Pelosi a liar even though there were several other witnesses.

For this we say, “Oh, sweet smelling good Jesus.” Does anyone see the hand of Karl Rove in this mess?

Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “It makes no sense to spend the money to rebuild New Orleans.” Perhaps in Hastert’s view, Bourbon and Canal Streets and all the surrounding New Orleans territory would become a parking lot. This came after he promoted the pork heavy highway bill that donated $200 million to Hastert’s district in Illinois, for his “Prairie Parkway.” That same bill appropriated something on the order of $1 billion to build a bridge in Alaska to connect an outlying island to the mainland. The bridge exceeds the cost of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and connects the 50 residents of the island with the rest of Alaska so that cars do not have to take the ferry. But to rebuild New Orleans? No way. That is good money chasing bad dreams. For you, Dennis Hastert, we say:
Oh good Jesus! Hastert has no shame at all.

When the inept Michael Chertoff who supposedly runs the Department of Homeland Security and his completely incompetent helper, Michael Brown of FEMA said, after two of three days of national television pictures of the squalor in the New Orleans Superdome, “We just found out today about people in the Superdome.” They must watch no television news programs. To them, we say:

Michael and Michael, Oh good Jesus to both of you lying fools.

The Associated Press had a dispatch picked up all over the world. It said that Brown of FEMA had waited – in spite of warnings – until after Katrina had struck the coast. Hours after the disaster, Brown asked Chertoff to dispatch FEMA employees to the region and said that they should arrive “In the next two days.” He wrote that “they should convey a positive image” about the government response. Two days to get there with the thoughts that they were no more than shills for the government’s image. To you, Chertoff and to you Brown –

Oh double good Jesus.

At the photo op cabinet meeting, our Commander in Chief is quoted in the New York Times as “sneering” when he said, “One of the things that some people want us to do here is to play a blame game.” This is the fellow who blamed the lowly enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib for the nightmare there – and no court-martials or anything else for officers or for Rumsfeld. Only Brigadier General Janet Karpinski, a woman, was censured. This is the fellow, along with Karl Rove, who is contriving blame for Mrs. Blanco, the female Governor of Louisiana – who is a Democrat – to accept responsibility for the Federal government’s failure. For the criminal actions of George Bush, we can only say –

Oh good Jesus! This Administration makes no mistakes.

Even in the early days of the Katrina disaster, there are dozens of other examples where the Bush people failed to take action. George himself took two days to cut off his five week vacation. Then he donned his Air Force #1 jacket to fly over the misery. From 20,000 feet, there is not much that anyone can do.

Tom Friedman, who writes op-ed pieces for the New York Times berated the Administration in scathing terms on September 7, 2005. His two closing thought was:

“If Mr. Bush goes back to his politics as usual, he’ll be thwarted at every turn…Katrina will have destroyed a city and a president.”

If Katrina delivers us from the inept George Bush by destroying his presidency, even this old non-believer will say, “Thank you, Jesus” in place of “Oh good Jesus.”

Final thoughts at this time some ten days after Katrina hit. A poll among Republicans disclosed that 74% of the Republicans polled approve of Bush’s handling of the emergency. This must mean that 74% of the Republican base has no understanding of the poverty that was the lot of New Orleans residents. It must mean that compassion for black people

is something we talk about occasionally – but we do nothing about it. It must mean that the New Orleans disaster makes interesting commentary
during our Republican polo games played at our country club. In a nutshell, it means that Barbara Bush’s attitude of “Let them eat cake” prevails from the boy-king down to the precinct leader in Louisiana. To all of them, every American should say:

Oh, good Jesus! And the Republicans claim to love God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost!

E. E. CARR
September 8, 2005

~~~

Waiting until after a massive hurricane makes landfall to dispatch aid is inexcusable. Sure, if the hurricane is a week away, don’t dispatch FEMA. But if it’s a day away, or twelve hours away, you can be faily certain that it will land, and fully certain that people will need help. The idea that 74% of Republicans thought that that as “good enough” is horrifying.

WHAT WAS THAT GUY’S NAME?

In a previous essay, I commented on the effects of aphasia, which is a stroke-induced ailment. As I mentioned in that essay, aphasia is a brain-related injury as opposed to a heart-related injury. People who have strokes often call for the cardiologist but in fact what they need is a neurologist.

One of the characteristics of aphasia is that it hurts not at all. That is to say, your arm or your leg or your head doesn’t hurt, but the hurt will only be to your confidence and your feelings of well-being. Aphasia has to do with the inability to recall names of people and other items of interest. It is quite possible, indeed it is more likely, that I can describe all of the circumstances surrounding an individual or an item of interest and still be totally unable to recall its name. That is aphasia. As I reported earlier, I could describe the NBC announcer Tom Brokaw, who wrote the book called The Greatest Generation, in great detail but I could not recall his name. At least I am a civilian with no great responsibilities any more but it would be catastrophic if I had aphasia were I to be a druggist. For example, I would mix up a prescription and put it in a bottle; a customer would come in and I would tell him to take two in the morning but I can’t remember his name. He might tell me that what I had prepared for him was an aspirin. That’s fine with me, but I couldn’t recall it.

Another aspect of aphasia is that highways with numbers on them are a blur to me. I can’t really recall the difference between Highway 78 or Highway 80 or any other highway anymore. All of this goes to say that I would not be a great guide to lead you around this part of the country or any place else. Another aspect of aphasia is that I frequently forget its name. In addition to that, I frequently forget the name of glaucoma, the ailment that has taken my sight. As I say, aphasia hurts not at all but it is a problem to be forced to ask my wife or my friends, “Who was that fellow?” or “What was the name of that highway?”

One of the few benefits of aphasia is that the people at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute told me to write essays as a means of stimulating my brain activity. At this point, I suspect I have written perhaps 200 such essays since 1997. For unknown reasons, I have never enumerated them all. They are in binders behind my desk and the totality of the binders suggests that perhaps 200 have been written. But nonetheless aphasia offered me the opportunity to be instructed by Shirley Morgenstein who remains as one of my treasured friends.

In preparing for this essay, I had forgotten the name of the Kessler Institute and had to be reminded by my wife. Earlier this evening I wrote a letter to William Rudin, the man who bought 32 Sixth Avenue where there is a plaque honoring the dead from World War II among Long Lines employees. I remembered Rudin’s name but of all things I forgot for a time the name of one of the dead men who sat within seven or eight feet of me and whom I knew very well. His name was Bernie Wheeler and he was killed shortly after the war started because he was an army reservist who was called up immediately.

I have been writing essays as you can see since 1997 and I suspect that if I had not written essays, my ability to recall names probably would be much worse. Nonetheless, recalling names of people or places or things still poses a problem. On the other hand, there are names that come to me almost instantly from people I knew not very well at all. For example, I have known Tom Scandlyn for 48 years. Over that span of years, I met his wife perhaps five or six times. Nonetheless I can recall Naomi Green, her maiden name, almost instantly yet I can not fish out the name from my mind for the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation. Please go figure.

My advice to all my readers is fairly simple. If you wish to avoid aphasia and all of its attendant disabilities, please do not lay yourself open to having a stroke. On the other hand, if you are ever afflicted with aphasia, I will welcome you to the club, providing I can remember your name. And as I said at the outset of this essay, aphasia doesn’t hurt at all. There are no aches or pains or anything of the sort. You may become insane from not being able to recall a name but that doesn’t qualify as something that hurts. Again, my advice to you if you wish to avoid aphasia is to avoid having a stroke. But on the other hand, my neurologists have been lovely women. So there may be some benefit after all.

While I am in a state of I am going to torture my baseball playing grandsons by asking them if they know who had the names of “Big Poison” and “Little Poison” and the Detroit pitcher called Eldn Aucker. Those three fellows played major league baseball in the 1930s and 40s, and my grandsons will go nuts trying to figure out who they are. For the private information of all of my readers, Big Poison and Little Poison were Paul and Lloyd Waner, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Eldn Aucker was the submarine pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who pitched in the 1940s and perhaps the early 1950s. It will be a pleasure for me to watch somebody else trying to figure out who that name represents. Those two baseball playing kids may develop juvenile aphasia, which will be my contribution to the lexicon of neurology.
==========================

While we are in the business of extending remarks from previous essays, I thought that it would be well to extend remarks on the essay written earlier having to do with old time language. You may recall that was the essay where my mother, upon learning of the death of my father, commented, “I reckon he was plumb wore out.” As soon as the mailings were taken to the post office, four more thoughts occurred having to do with ancient English language that I had not thought of before. For example, if a lawyer stands up in front of a jury and says, “I aim to prove this man is innocent,” he means “I intend to prove this man is innocent. Intend has apparently simply replaced aim in the American language. There is another aspect here. My parents would consider the word “cemetery” an upscale word. Ordinarily they always referred to what we now call cemeteries as the graveyard. It is hard for me to understand why graveyard was replaced.

Finally, there is the matter of dinner and supper. For example, Tom Scandlyn invited Judy and me over to his house for lunch. In old-time English, my parents and his parents would have referred to the noon-day meal as being dinner. The meal that is eaten at the close of the day is called supper. I suspect that Tom will agree with those designations.

As time goes on, I suspect that more words will pop into my mind having to do with latter day substitutions for perfectly adequate words that existed in the old days. If that happens, I will try to keep you informed.

E. E. CARR
May 17, 2006

~~~
As a fun fact, it seems like this essay never finished its editing process; it wasn’t sent to Pop’s normal mailing list. It featured a few edits from Eva that indicated that it was still incomplete. However, it was the only one I could find that hadn’t yet been put on the site. I’m away from my normal computer where I track all these sorts of things (I’m at a wedding in Austin) so it was surprisingly difficult to locate a new essay to publish, so here we are. I’ll be double checking when I get back that I haven’t somehow missed a year full of essays or something, but from the looks of it this project may soon be complete. Strange for me to think about — I’ll write more on that when it happens.

THE EFFECTS OF APHASIA

There are those in academia who claim that knowledge of Latin gives a student a major leg up when it comes to understanding other foreign tongues. I am a great dissenter from that viewpoint. Latin is of no value in deciphering some of the world’s major languages, such as English or German, or any of the languages of Eastern European groups or of the Asiatics, such as the Japanese or the Chinese. It seems to me that Greek counts most when dealing with non-English words. Take Aphasia. The Greeks say it is the loss or impairment of the power to use words usually resulting from a brain lesion. As far as can be determined now in the 21st Century, the Latin speaking academicians had no word for it. Only the Greeks. So stay with the Greeks.

I have no claim to academic credentials. The Clayton Missouri Public Schools had me as its student through all 12 grades in their system. John Bracken was Clayton’s long time superintendent of schools. They taught Latin, but as far as anyone can remember, they taught no Greek at all. At Clayton, Latin was a subject of great disinterest to me as I avoided study of that dead language. I had no interest in being a priest. On the other hand, after I left school and began to work in filling stations, it was my lot for Tallis Liacoupoulus, a Greek who worked in a small nearby restaurant, to become one of my best friends. He worked for an uncle, Leon Antonapolus. His family spoke Greek among themselves and with my being curious, they would sometimes explain Greek words or sayings to me. So when it was time to join the United States Army, I knew a little about Greek speech and virtually nothing about Latin and I wound up in Italy.

The definition that the Greeks used to describe aphasia is quite accurate insofar as it goes. Clearly, those who experience aphasia will find their ability to use words impaired, and they will have their pride tested. Sometimes the impairment is greater and there are times when the brain simply refuses to function. And there are occasions when an aphasia impaired person has a thought in his or her mind, but it is delivered in a garbled fashion. On other occasions, the aphasia affected person will not enter a conversation to express a thought because it may be forgotten by the time he or she wishes to speak. And there is more which I will try to describe in this little exploration into the effects of aphasia. That is what this essay will attempt to describe.

Since late November, 1997 when I had a major stroke, aphasia has been my constant companion. Fortunately, the stroke did not impair any of my limbs. It seems that the main result of the stroke was the brain lesion which caused, in the beginning, a severe dose of aphasia. So I have wrestled with aphasia for the past five years and I expect it will be with me the rest of my life. So those are my bona fides to comment on the effects of aphasia. I did not plan on becoming a commentator on what causes aphasia. I am not qualified to do that. In my case, it just happened. Now it is my continuing intent to defeat and subdue aphasia rather than having it the other way around. In the main, after five years of trying, I think my efforts have been fairly successful.

When it becomes apparent that the stroke sufferer has lost the power to recall words, there is a chance – or perhaps I should say a danger – that he or she may simply remain silent. This is a matter of pride. There is the embarrassment factor at work here. Forgetting words and concepts is an embarrassment. An even greater embarrassment is to have the stroke sufferer deliver his comment in a garbled fashion. The mind may have a strong idea of what needs to be said, but the tongue mixes up the subject and the predicate so that the comment is very difficult to understand.

For example, at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, while the staff had me in intensive care, there were six or eight other bodies in this small room. It became very warm there so the obvious solution was to turn down the thermostat. I knew what the problem was, but it was impossible for me to express that thought about being hot – or cold for that matter – in any fashion. And thermostat never entered my mind. Finally, a nurse came by and I drew her what looked like a thermostat facing and I showed her how if I moved the imaginary needle to the right, sweat would appear on my brow. Moving it to the left caused me to shiver. She got the idea, but in that whole episode, I couldn’t think of the words “thermostat” or “warm” or “cold.” Having to use a crude drawing might possibly be an embarrassment, but I waded in and let any embarrassment take a back seat.

There is another factor at work here having to do with the intrusion of a word or words that make no sense whatsoever. Let’s say that “carnival” weighs on your mind, as some of these nonsense words often do. And let us say that today, a waiter asks you about your order for lunch only to be told that, “I would like a hamburger and a carnival.” There are dozens of nonsense words that I had to purge before I spoke. In any case, this is another reason to remain silent rather than to risk embarrassment. Pride again.

The dictionary definition of aphasia as we said earlier, is the loss or impairment of the power to use words. Man, that’s only the half of it. What do you do when your brain completely shuts down or goes on strike? In some cases, the better off aphasia sufferer will search for a synonym. Let’s say he can’t think of the word “watch.” If his brain is at work, he may say “timepiece” or “Timex” or “Movado.” But when your brain simply shuts down completely, there is a period of silence which is a major embarrassment. In my case, there is a background of labor negotiations, lobbying and speechmaking where it was necessary to have a quick response to everything. When my brain occasionally shuts down, even at this late date and even at my age, I feel embarrassment. I understand embarrassment. And I comprehend pride.

Perhaps what is more embarrassing is to forget the subject under discussion. This may not happen much anymore, but when there are allied subjects to the main subject, it is a real problem to remember what points B, C and D are when they are ready to be broached. Losing a train of thought can happen very easily and it has not much to do with the impairment of the power to use words. It has to do with forgetting and losing the train of thought. Again, it is an embarrassment even if it happens in private.

This happens often in writing. My handwriting is about like other peoples, I suppose. Sometimes, I will have a thought and it is urgent to write it down before it is forgotten. This results in words that are misspelled or words that make no sense at all. Before the stroke well into my 75th year, I could easily retain those thoughts until they could be written and recorded. After the onset of aphasia, it is important that the thoughts be recorded quickly before being forgotten. As I said earlier, not being able to recall a word is only the half of it when it comes to aphasia. Forgetting is a major problem.

Now we come to the issue of concentration. Since aphasia became a major factor in my life, I find that it is urgent that all my powers of concentration be applied to the subject at hand. When it comes to reading stock tables, it is often difficult for me to remember which letter follows what other letter. “M’s” and “N’s” are good examples. Locating Comcast, for example, is a bit of a problem because it is necessary for me to sound out the word and to realize that it is “Comcast,” not “Concast.” Before aphasia, I never had that trouble. This same problem applies to looking up words in the dictionary or names in the telephone directory.

If I had trouble with the alphabet in reading stock tables, looking up words in the dictionary or dealing with the telephone directory, it all pales in comparison with my bank statements. I never claimed great expertise with numbers, but aphasia really threw a monkey wrench into the gears. All I am talking about is a simple checking account. In a month, perhaps I would write 25 or 30 checks. But when Chase sent me a monthly statement, I knew that a major battle was about to be joined. I am doing much better now, but I still look forward to the arrival of the monthly statement with a degree of distaste and I blame the lingering effects of aphasia for this outlook.

Now a little more about concentration. When driving my car, I never use the radio because it would impact my concentration. As a flyer for the U. S. Army Air corps – later the Air Force – we were trained to listen for noises that might presage engine trouble or for the sound of bullets hitting the plane’s skin. Those factors do not apply anymore, but I am not casual about driving a car. It is important that concentration be applied so that I don’t forget what I am doing. It goes without saying, that cell phone usage does not ever occur in my car. Another long term effect of aphasia.

I find also that words spoken by other people during a TV newscast, for example, are distracting. My concentration on the newscast is broken by the distraction which all goes to show that with the after effects of aphasia, it is largely possible to do one thing at a time – but not two or three things at a time.

Related to concentration is this thought. In a complex sentence where two or more people are involved, it is often difficult for me to determine who did what to whom if the account goes on in great detail. In my letters and essays, I usually deal with only one subject at a time. When I attempt to bring in other characters in an effort to make the account more concise or to save space, even I am unable to tell you who the “he” or “she” is in the concluding lines in the sentence structure. For example, in the attached story by Sam Dillon in the New York Times, I read only a part of the story before I was lost between Father Anderson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the man who claimed he had been sexually abused, Mr. Andreas. Perhaps if I subscribed to the Catholic faith, I might be able to distinguish between the litigants, but the lingering aspects of aphasia makes it not worth my while to figure out who did what to whom and who is the litigant and who is the defendant. For not understanding Sam Dillon’s story, I am prepared to spend the centuries after my demise in Purgatory. Serves me right for getting aphasia, which was invented by Satan himself.

In the foregoing paragraphs, I have told you some of the reasons for doing nothing about treatment for aphasia. Embarrassment and discomfort with the effects of aphasia are significant factors. Pride is sometimes the major factor. I know that from first hand experience. But those factors are of no consequence when the cost of doing nothing is considered. The overwhelming factor is that doing nothing is not an option. It is not an option to say that overcoming aphasia is too much work or can’t be done. Simply put, it has to be done. Certainly, it is hard, hard work and no one else can do it for you. Early in my aphasia experience, Shirley Morganstein, the Director of Speech Therapy at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, gave me a homework exercise that she thought would take ½ an hour or even one hour. I spent eight hours on that little project. I’m glad I did, but that homework assignment tired me greatly.

As soon as Overlook Hospital released me, Judy and I made a beeline for Kessler. During my two weeks in Overlook, some women who claimed to be speech therapists came to my room and gave me exercises. For example, name 12 vegetables or 10 automobiles makes. They took advantage of my being a prisoner of the hospital and attempted to sign me up for longer term work once I had gained release. Judy and I – mostly me – were put off by their high pressure tactics. So a day or so after leaving Overlook, we were in Shirley Morganstein’s office and she agreed to take me on as her student.

Shirley is a no-nonsense director and teacher who has no patience with people who show no sign of trying to help themselves. Failure to bring homework to the session would result in an imposing demonstration. I made sure to do what I was told even if it took eight hours to do what others would consider a half hour task.

Not long into the three days a week therapy sessions with Shirley, she suggested that I write essays. Our next meeting was on December 8, 1997. That day is of some significance to me because in Italy in 1943, I was shot down. In 1953, my wife at the time and I adopted a little girl. And, our second daughter was born on December 8 in 1956. So that date has some significance to me. In my first essay, I wrote about what that day has meant to me.

Because I had sessions with Shirley on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it kept me hopping to deliver three new essays a week. I am not sure that Shirley demanded three new essays a week, but that’s what I gave her. Shirley traces her ancestry to Poland and Rumania. I had no idea of that fact as I began to write of my travels in Europe. When we got into the essays and I showed her my many souvenirs and my multiple passports, I suspect that Shirley became interested in what I was describing. After she told me about her ethnic background, I took her an ancient Polish flag in a small frame as well as a doll from Rumania.

In the five years since I finished at Kessler, my guess is that about 350 pieces of prose, including dozens of essays and countless letters and e-mails, have been written at this desk. Some are better than others, but there is a hidden ingredient in the written word as opposed to the spoken word. When an aphasia afflicted person is writing, he can take his time about the right word or the right phrase. Perhaps he may consult dictionaries or other reference works to find the right word or phrase. Or he may ask his wife. There is no immediacy to getting the word right and hence, no embarrassment. If my brain locks up while writing, which happens less often these days, I simply wait awhile and after some time passes, the words come back to me.

Writing is the most valuable contribution to speaking orally for me. If I have written about a subject, when I speak it poses much less of a problem. Perhaps the rule ought to be that writing should precede speaking. Obviously, that is not always possible, but writing helps immensely when speaking.

Shirley of Kessler is nobody’s fool. She had no idea whatsoever that I could write an essay. I knew I could but Shirley was completely in the dark on that subject. But in the end, writing is what brought me back from the jaws of aphasia and Shirley Morganstein is a proper heroine.

As you can see, recovery from the effects of aphasia is a long term investment that takes a lot of work. Having people like Shirley Morganstein – a tough teacher – around was a great help. And mostly, having my wife Judy to look after me and to give me thoughts of how I might improve was nothing less than crucial.

Aphasia it not the end of the world. From time to time, it frustrates me particularly when I know a word that I have used 10,000 times, will not come to my mind or to my tongue. Ah, but there are certainly worse things, so to the extent it can be done, I am inclined to laugh about it. The saving grace is that the word which won’t come to my mind or tongue this afternoon, will roll out of my mouth this evening without my even being aware of it.

Now to all those people out there who cluck their tongues and diagnose alzheimers for every word forgotten by older people, I would recommend that they be introduced to aphasia. Or perhaps they ought to talk to me or to Shirley Morganstein or to Judy Chicka. Nobody can claim that he or she is as quick as they were 40 years ago, but when I forget a word, it doesn’t mean that the alzheimers caretakers should ready a bed for me. It is a long struggle, but with the help of my friends and my wife Judy, old Ezra will do pretty well indeed. When I worked for Uncle Sam, nobody in the Army ever heard of anyone having alzheimers or aphasia. Now at this late date, this old soldier does not intend to succumb to ailments that nobody ever heard of – except for the Greeks.

All things considered, it is my hope that after reading this essay on the effects of aphasia, that you found it instructive or that you enjoyed it. On the other hand, if none of those positive factors apply, remember that when I began to deal with aphasia, I was unable to say “warm” or “cold” or “thermostat.” Those words were light years beyond my reach. The point is that with my background and with the help of professionals, I can now say pretty much what I think. A few years ago, this stroke victim was largely mute. If I can do it, if I can come back, surely other people can do it as well. Stay strong and get to work on your exercises and, in my case, on my essays.

This essay is being written for those currently suffering from the effects of aphasia, be that now or in the future. It is not written as a means of attracting sympathy for myself. I need no sympathy. In my case, I have wrestled with the aphasia tiger and I believe he has been largely subdued. So don’t waste any tears or hand-wringing for me. Save that for those who are dealing with the aphasia concern right now or somewhere down the road in the future. If those aphasia afflicted people work hard and stay strong, I am certain that they too can dispatch the aphasia tiger.

E. E. CARR
November 27, 2002

~~~

The revelation here for me was that writing about a given topic “cleared” that topic in his mind, and made it easier to access going forward. That actually seems like it might explain why he went on to double the count from 350 essays to the final count of 700+. (Fun fact, this is the 701st essay to be published to this site!) The way it’s presented, writing about these memories cleared out some mental cobwebs and let him speak more confidently about those topics going forward. I think in a more literal sense that means that these essays were re-wiring the neurons in his brain. New, alternate paths were created to access knowledge that was closed off by the brain damage caused by stroke, which is amazing. I’d imagine that raw persistence and laughing off the hard moments probably helped tremendously.

A COLLOQUY WITH TOM FRIEDMAN

Under ordinary circumstances, your old essayist attempts to keep his correspondence separate from the essays that are produced here. In this case, however, Tom Friedman, the New York Times star op-ed writer wrote a piece that should not be condensed or treated in the Reader’s Digest fashion. Friedman’s piece was so wrong and so provocative, that a spirited reply was called for. Again, in the interest of transparency, my readers should see what was said by both sides.

Here, then, is Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece from the June 15th issue of the New York Times:

THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 15, 2005
Let’s Talk About Iraq
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up – this is still winnable – but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point – the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power – when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision – endorsed by President Bush – to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today – the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals – flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, “Squandered Victory,” puts it, we need “a bold mobilizing strategy” right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven’t even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We’ve already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine – “Just enough troops to lose.” Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friedman’s piece had an incendiary quality to it. His call for doubling the troops in Iraq and his ignoring the occupational aspect of our presence there was provoking to this old soldier, so Friedman heard from me.

Mr. Friedman

This e-mail is written much more in puzzlement than in anger. For all these years, I had considered you a writer who dealt in logical realities as distinguished from the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere that marked the machinations of the Bush administration.

The wheels to your credibility came off when you enthusiastically endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. From that day forward, you have seized every opportunity to endorse the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice thesis that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The fact that Rumsfeld was fighting this war on the cheap seemed to give you no problem back in 2003.

Now in your column that appeared in the June 15th edition of the Times, you have given your credibility one more enormous kick in the gut. Your opening sentence says Iraq “has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” Illogically, in your second paragraph you say, “this is no time to give up –this is still winnable…..” Mr. Friedman, for more than two years you have shoveled garbage of this sort on Times’ readers. It is absolutely nothing more than warmed over born again propaganda from the White House. In my eyes, you have become the designated hitter for the sycophants of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al.

Near the end of your article, you prescribe, “Double the American boots on the ground…” This is a horrid cliché. You are capable of better writing than slovenly froth like this. But that brings us to the heart of the problem. In round terms, we have 140,000 troops “on the ground” in Iraq. As Christian occupiers, that gives the Iraqis 140,000 reasons to hate us. Now we find the eminent war strategist Tom Friedman prescribing 280,000 reasons to hate us. I am confident that strategists such as yourself will then prescribe 560,000 “boots on the ground.” Where does “boots on the ground” end?

The simple fact is that we invaded Iraq without reason. It was a sovereign nation even though it was disliked by Sharon and Bush. As long as we occupy Iraq as a Christian power, hatred will always be our lot – which we richly deserve.

Look at it this way. If the situation were to be reversed with Iraqi Arabs occupying the United States, every patriot would consider it his duty to injure or to hurt the Moslem occupiers. My puzzlement comes from your blindness to this overwhelming point. Mr. Friedman, your column on closing Gitmo was eminently on point. Why are you so blind as to parrot the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that this disastrous adventure is “still winnable”?

E. E. Carr

P.S. This letter comes to you from a World War II soldier whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief.

A copy of my reply was sent to Suzanne Carr Shepherd, an Austin, Texas lawyer who contends from time to time, that we are related.
Ms. Shepherd, Esquire, read both pieces and asked, given the indisputable fact that Army recruiting goals have not been met for months, where will the Army find another 140,000 soldiers to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq? That is a very reasonable question. It would do no good to ask Friedman about additional troops strength because he says he is a journalist, not a general of the Army.

Obviously, it was necessary for someone to step into this yawning void to answer the question from the Texas lawyer. So my reply had to do with costs which are now so great that Bush and the Army have lost count.

Here is my reply to the questions raised in Texas.

The costs of transporting new troops to Iraq are excessive. Then there is the cost of carrying the corpses back to the US and shipping them to home town cemeteries. It would be the ultimate patriotic gesture for new recruits to go to local cemeteries where they can be shot and buried immediately. That saves on the middle men costs and it will give the new recruit a chance to autograph the cross that will be placed over his grave.

Thinking right along with me, the Texas lawyer replied as follows:

Your suggestion makes perfect sense. And as in Vietnam – we can give them back their own country right away, or after 50,000 lost American lives, but either way we give them back their country. Why not do it now? In the meantime, we can shoot the new recruits right here at home until we figure it all out.

At this point, Ms. Judith Chicka, who is related in one way or another to the correspondents, suggested as a means to further cut costs, that new Army recruits be shot before taking the oath as a soldier. This means that the recruit may be denied any bonus and death benefit that might be attached to his or her enlistment. Under Ms. Chicka’s suggestion, the Army could save enough money to underwrite the Social Security program through eternity.

In the final analysis, more U.S. troops will give Iraqis additional reasons to hate us. The sole answer to this problem is to remove our occupying troops. The longer we stay as occupiers, we will harvest the robust hatred not only of the Iraqis but of the entire Islamic world. The Arab world sees us building permanent buildings in Iraq, some of which will be used as prisons. Arabs have every reason to believe that we intend to occupy Iraq in “perpetuity” as a Justice Department said of the prisoners at Gitmo.

This war is a function of ill disguised greed on the part of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. It has absolutely no basis in justice. Wars fought without justice have a way of biting the aggressor. The unrest that has now appeared in the United States is simply a forerunner to our endless quagmire in Iraq. Sooner or later, our troops will have to come home.

Tom Friedman should know that wars without justice are not “winnable.” This is an unjust war that is wasting lives of our soldiers, the lives of Iraqi civilians and the draining of our treasury. There is no light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel.

E. E. CARR
June 25, 2005

~~~

There was never a victory condition outside of a stable Iraq that was friendly to the US. Continued presence of US soldiers in the reason actively worked against both halves of that goal. It’s okay though, because now ISIS controls large swaths of the country — Mission Accomplished, right?

POKING FINGERS IN EYES

The reports from London about the bombings on trains and the bus are saddening and they are sickening. As an old World War II soldier, it was my privilege to serve with elements of the British Eighth Army in North Africa, Sicily and on the Adriatic Coast of Italy where there were often many casualties.

My admiration for the Tommies and their Royal Air Force comrades has been frequently recorded in these essays. While the working class Brits who fought England’s wars have my active admiration, there is virtually no limit to my disdain for British royalty and for England’s upper classes who aspire to be treated as royalty. The casualties in the recent bombings were working class people, not upper crust or royalty. Working people ride on public transportation. Royalty and the upper class ride in limousines.

The people who survived the German Luftwaffe bombing in London in the early 1940’s were working class blokes. Now some 64 years later, they must be wary of riding on the Underground and on London’s buses. How sad – and it needn’t have been that way.

When the dust settles and the sad funerals are held, the British nation must ask why has this happened to us? They say we are law abiding people who subscribe – more of less – to the dictates of the Church of England, the Anglican faith. Why is God’s wrath being visited upon the good women and men who sing “God Save the Queen” as their national anthem? Why us? What did we do to deserve this fate?

The short answer is that the Prime Minister of Great Britan is Tony Blair who threw England’s lot in with George Bush in the disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Simply put, London commuters are being murdered in retaliation for England’s military contribution to Bush’s war in Iraq. Blair became Bush’s poodle, perhaps in the vain hope that Bush would come to his aid when needed. Last week before the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in Scotland, Bush said that he and Blair have no quid pro quo arrangement. From Bush’s viewpoint, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine also.

Tony Blair must feel terribly lonely at this point. It is fair to guess that violence has only begun to be visited upon England. Blair is painfully aware that the population of Great Britain solidly opposes his misadventure in Iraq. George Bush is roundly hated by the Brits. He gave them another reason for their hatred when he gave a rousing turndown to Blair’s reason for calling the G-8 meeting; namely, aid to Africa and global warming. Why Blair has tied England’s fortunes to George Bush is a mystery of major proportions.

But in a week or so, there will come a time for a sober, objective determination of why such violence was visited upon London. The answer may come from animals, bees of the apodea strain and ordinary human conduct.

As every farmer knows, if you stand behind a cow or a horse and abuse one or the both of them, your reward will be a hefty kick landing usually in the crotch area. Docile animals, when provoked, will retaliate. Can this be news to anyone?

Wasps build a hive as their living quarters. If a human is so utterly foolish as to disturb the hive, he may well be hospitalized if he survives the retaliatory attacks. Left alone the wasps go about their business and do not seek out humans. But when they are provoked, they are bent on vicious retaliation.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese government attacked Pearl Harbor. In short, they poked us in the eye. The U.S. retaliated and by August 1945, the Japanese Empire was no more. The Japanese paid a heavy price for poking the Americans in the eye.

Three other cases of recrimination come immediately to mind. In England, it is normal to blame nearly every misadventure on the Irish Republican Army. That may be the case in some instances, but please remember England has occupied six counties in Northern Ireland since the treaty of 1922. This occupation has gone on in Belfast, Ireland’s second city, for 83 years. The English surely must accept that there will be retaliation.

In Spain, the Basques hold that the Spanish government has occupied their homeland. Every bombing or disaster is blamed on the ETA, the Basque resistance movement. When the Spaniards leave the Basque homeland, they may well enjoy bomb-less days.

Finally, there are the Chechnyans, who urgently wish the Russian government would let them decide their own fate. To the extent that the Russians try to suppress the Chechnyans, the Chechnyans will and have retaliated.

Once again, the lesson is that occupation and mistreatment provoke not surrender, but rather, recrimination.

Now let us move to 2003 when George Bush with the help of Chaney, Rumsfeld and Madame Rice thought that Iraq was a soft target that could be poked in the eyes with impunity. Our arrogance was unlimited. General Tommy Franks, overall commander of U.S. forces, viewed Iraqi deaths in a cavalier fashion. He said, “We don’t do body counts of Iraqis.” According to Lancet, the British medical journal, more than 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since, as Chaney said, “We liberated Iraq.”

We have lost 1750 Americans so far with another 12,000 to 15,000 wounded. The United States government under Bush is now in its third year of war. Rumsfeld predicted recently that the war could go on for twelve more years. Because of our involvement in Iraq, the U.S. has now concluded that it is incapable of fighting two wars at once as was the case in World War II. In short, Bush has us trapped in Iraq for the foreseeable future. If North Korea invaded South Korea, there is not much we could do about it. If China invaded Taiwan, we could only protest. If the Sudanese government continues its ethnic cleansing in Darfur, we will continue our governmental silence. If the Israeli Army set out to destroy the Palestinians, we would be reduced to ineffective protests.

So for the past two years and more, on behalf of the U.S. Government and people, Bush has poked the Arabs in the eye. And he is incensed that they retaliate with whatever weapons they have in the insurgency. The amazing thought here is that Tony Blair jumped off of Bush’s lap and tried to poke the Arabs in the eyes as well. So as night follows day, Blair and Bush now know that poking other people’s eyes comes with inevitable retaliation.

In Italy, the Premier there is a clown named Berlesconi who envisioned great rewards as he joined in Bush’s attack on Iraq. The population of Italy is solidly against Berlesconi’s stance. Since the London attacks, the Iraqi opposition has made it known that Rome is high on its list for retaliatory attacks. Berlesconi has now had second thoughts as he has announced that Italy will withdraw 300 troops in September. My guess is that with Italian elections coming up, Italy will soon withdraw all its 2500 troops. The substance here is that when Berlesconi found that the insurgence could reach London, he got religion. Simply put, he is gutless in fear of retaliation.

Now we have had bombings in Madrid and in London. More are threatened in Rome and Copenhagen in view of their participation in the war in Iraq. As time goes on, it becomes obvious that New York or Washington or Chicago or San Francisco could well become targets for retaliation. Bush, Blair and Berlesconi went into this war overlooking the completely obvious fact that there would be Arab recrimination. They started the war believing that a parade down Baghdad’s main street would be their reward as soon as Bush made his aircraft carrier speech about “Mission Accomplished.”

What they overlooked was that the Arabs might have something to say about the war’s course. Every normal human being in this circumstance will retaliate as best he can. Even animals and bees do it. The saving grace thus far is that Tony Blair is keeping a stiff upper lip and is not crying, “Poor me. Why me?” He is bright enough to know that people fight back when poked in the eye. On the other hand, if the U.S. is attacked, my bet is that Bush will don the martyrs robe and say, “We weren’t doing anything.”

George Bush started this war with no thought as to things going badly. My guess is that inevitably the U.S. will become a target for terrorism. For the duration of the war, our immature Commander in Chief has been saying “We have to fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here.”

When they show up in the U.S., George Bush will have to explain why the “fight them over there” failed. If past performance is any criteria, he wil probably resurrect his ridiculous claim that Iraq was the moving force behind the World Trade Center destruction. Now when the Arab insurgency eventually reaches our shores, he may have a point.

The point is that it is foolish to poke someone else in the eye and expect no retaliation. Blair is bright enough to understand those facts. Bush, who is a dim bulb, will not understand. In all likelihood, he will cringe and try to call time out. War is an unforgiving business. When the terrorists appear here, Bush will panic. All that bravado of “bring ’em on” will disappear as the insurgents do, in fact, bring it on in U.S. cities. Bush asked for it. Innocent people will die. And Bush will whimper.

E. E. CARR
July 9, 2005

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I think I’ve been over this a few times now, so I don’t have much to add here.