Archive for August 2017

NO REGRETS

When a man, such as myself, reaches the seventh decade of life, his friends and relatives congratulate him warmly and ask about his state of health. They seem to really want to inquire how long do you think you may stick around.

When the eighth decade turns over on the speedometer, the efforts of friends and relatives become a little more pointed. They are concerned because the old timer may not eat as much as he did at age 30 or they may read road signs that they believe the older person can no longer see. And if in conversations with a slightly younger person, if the name of a politician or a physician does not roll off the tongue, the younger person may diagnose Alzheimers.

Wile the elderly person may appreciate the solicitude of his younger friends and relatives, there is an element of wonder about why you are still hanging in there. In my case, it seems to me that assuring the inquirer that every body part is working and that a change in subject might be appropriate. All done with a laugh, of course. The laughter may be forced but it is preferable to a discussion about the imminent demise of the decrepit elderly person, namely me.

When people close to me ask about how my fortunes are succeeding, it has an unintended effect on me. Tor all these years, the end of life has been a subject that has been rarely considered. Surely, Miss Chicka and I visited Paul Ippolito, one of Summit’s leading undertakers, to enter into a pre-paid arrangement to have our bodies promptly cremated. At heart, our visit to the Ippolito establishment was done primarily because of a proposed champagne party that we proposed to sponsor once Ippolito had done his work. First comes Ippolitto’s ministrations, then the reception, not the other way around.

But entering into a prepaid arrangement for disposition of our bodies does not constitute grounds for saying that we have a death wish. It is simply and purely a business arrangement made while our minds were unclouded by any other thoughts. Now the kicker is that the prepaid arrangement pays a 5% interest premium to us every year, so it is a prudent investment as well. Sorry, only one to a customer.

Many people think that my mother gave me her build and her sense of Irish humor. For that I am grateful. On the other hand, Lillie, my mother, was engrossed by the idea of death and the thought in her mind, that she would be rewarded unendingly in a place called Heaven. Her favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” Running a clear second was the hopeful hymn called, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” She envisioned a place high up in the sky with no sin and no sickness and with angels with wings where their shoulder blades should be. She always said, “That is where I am going when my work on earth is finished.”

As life unfolded for me, none of Lillie Carr’s confidence in a heavenly after life ever made sense to me. My disbelief started at age six when my mother proposed to “save” me, among other thoughts, for a better life after death. And my disbelief has now lasted more than 75 years.

In 1943, German ground forces (The Wehrmacht) and German Air Forces (The Luftwaffe) managed to destroy two of the planes on which I was a member of the crew. In the first shoot-down, there was a lonely period of four days in the sands of the Libyan and Egyptian frontier before rescue came. In the second case, the Germans took me prisoner and it was necessary for the Italian Partisans to come to the rescue. From beginning to end, about seven weeks elapsed in this episode which started at the prison camp at Rimini, Italy.

Now the point in pointing to my unfortunate experiences in 1943, is that at no time did my thoughts ever wonder to being a casualty of war. Whereas my mother would have wrung her hands and would have gotten a preacher to help her pray, my thoughts were exclusively devoted to how am I going to get out of here. Obviously, the thought that soldiers were regularly shot occurred to me, but visions of heaven never came into my mind. My sole occupation was how do I get out of here. On no occasion did I ever ask to see a chaplain from either the United States or the German Army.

My mother would never have understood my mind set, so I can’t ever recall discussing the subject with her.

E. E. CARR
August 24, 2003

~~~

This is not where this essay originally ended. From here he uses “Aside from the well meaning inquiries about my health and longevity, it appears to me with events in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan taking the turn they are, that death is a popular subject in the Middle East” to segue into a discussion of martyrdom and virgins in paradise. The essay stops midway through one of these thoughts, so the entire section is omitted here because it’s been discussed at length in these essays. I think he just found this sort of claim to be a special kind of absurd, perhaps due to its unique combination of sexism and specificity.

People who tease old people (or anyone, really) about Alzheimers are assholes, full stop. Not much else to say there.

THREE GOOD GUYS

This is a short story about three good guys – Dick Lewin, Emory Wilbur and John Rosenburg. The villain is Henry Killingsworth, the man who ran AT&T Long Lines Department for many years. In supporting roles are my sister Verna, an aspiring opera singer. In other incidental roles we have Gannaro Papi, the conductor of the St. Louis Grand Opera Association and Giovanni Martinelli, one of the leading tenors in the world from about 1925 to 1950. Incidental roles are assigned to the Episcopal Church and the Jewish faith. This isn’t a great inspirational story, but before some of the characters in the play cash in their chips, it probably needs to be told.

Henry T. Killingsworth was a miserable SOB. As a matter of fact, he was a spherical SOB – which means that no matter how you looked at him, he is still a miserable SOB. There is no other way to put it. The people who worked with Killingsworth or had anything to do with him, detested him. I knew him for a long time. I can’t think of a single act of decency attributable to him. Among other things, Killingsworth seemed to take pleasure in suppressing the earnings of Long Lines employees even giving back to the FCC money that could have been used to raise wages to a decent level at this important unit of AT&T’s long distance service.

From about 1950 to 1962, he ran the Long Lines Department of AT&T as a martinet. Finally, in 1962 his bosses at 195 Broadway tired of his act and moved him to a staff job in the AT&T headquarters. He soon headed toward retirement.

Now I hate to waste time on Killingsworth because he was a worthless piece of work. But if I’m going to get my point in about Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur and John Rosenburg, I’ve got to deal with him.

Killingsworth came to New York having started in his native South Georgia. He brought with him every racial, religious and social prejudice that afflicted Southerners 30 or 40 years ago.

Whereas Killingsworth was unspeakably evil, there were three gentlemen who worked in the Public relations side of the Long Lines operation who were absolutely good and decent men. John Rosenburg ran our press contacts. Emory Wilbur and Dick Lewin were responsible for employee information. So Rosenburg was Mr. Outside and Emory and Dick were Messrs. Inside.

I worked very closely with all three men because in the 1950’s and 1960’s, labor developments were important subjects. During those years I was the Labor Relations Manager for AT&T’s Long Lines Operation. During contract negotiations which took place almost yearly, the three men more or less lived with me. It was in that fashion that they were able to formulate what would be said to the press and to what would be said within the business. So at the end of each bargaining session, not matter how late, I would meet with John Rosenburg and either Dick Lewin or Emory Wilbur or both of them. They would usually type up something in the pressroom, and show it to me. If there was no time, as was often the case, I trusted those three men to proceed in the name of the AT&T Company. They used good judgment and never caused a problem to anyone.

They were very different people. John Rosenburg was in his early forties having spent a lifetime in newspaper work. Before he came with AT&T, John had worked for United Press. John had the skepticism that marks all good newsmen. He was no pushover for anyone in AT&T, including Killingsworth. He kept news people away from the bargaining team, which was a very valuable contribution.

Killingsworth marked off John Rosenburg’s aggressive nature to his Jewish heritage. But John was not Jewish. His family was of German ancestry. In the First World War, John’s father married a Frenchwoman, and John was a product of that marriage. But that made no difference.

The Grand Opera season offered three productions per year with performances over the weekend. Remember those were depression years and no one had money to waste.

Verna was single at the time. No one else in the family cared about opera. As a matter of fact, if Verna had not been involved in it, the Carr family would not have even thought about it. But the Grand Opera rehearsals and performances took place in downtown St. Louis. We lived in suburban Richmond Heights, about an hour away on streetcars. At least two transfers on the streetcars were needed to get to the opera.

Getting Verna home from the Kirkwood-Ferguson street car stop was a major problem. There was a stop about three quarters of a mile away which involved crossing a railroad. There was no illumination on that route as it cut across fields. On a cold winter night, it could be challenging. When it rained the problem grew worse. Later a new stop was added about a quarter mile from the house.

From Verna’s point of view, the new stop presented major difficulties. The new stop was added on the Kirkwood-Ferguson line to accommodate passengers going to the newly-constructed McMorrow grade school. The school had a large cinder back yard in the direction of the street car line. Now I ask underage readers to avert their eyes at this point.

During the depression, men and boys would do anything to own or borrow a car. Without a car, love life with females couldn’t exist. Now once ardent swains got a relatively willing female in the car, he might drive around looking for a secluded place to park. (To engage in necking or much worse, it you have to ask.) Well, in many cases the ardent swains would drive to the cinder lot in back of the McMorrow School. As they got into their work, many couples would produce blankets and retreat to the grassy spots around the cinder parking lot.

Now if Verna got off at the McMorrow School stop, she had to wade through this sea of affection and that made her cringe. Now I should point out that when the opera was in rehearsal or in production, I was drafted to either come to the opera house or to escort Verna home after she got off the streetcar. I rode with Verna to the McMorrow stop or when I met her there, she more or less instructed me to look straight ahead with eyes uplifted so that I wouldn’t see what was taking place. I did this, after a fashion, until one night with my eyes upraised I stumbled over an amorous couple.

I didn’t really mind all this tending to Verna. Sometimes she gave me a dime for my trouble. But going to the Opera House opened up a new world for me. I read about the operas and the featured performers. The stagecraft was entire new to me and made a lifelong impression.

By the time I was ten years of age I was hooked on Italian opera. Fortunately, there were few German operas to deal with, but the Italians were big deals as far as I was concerned.

During a rehearsal, Verna took me to meet the director of the St. Louis Grand Opera Company. He was Gennaro Popi. Apparently, Popi had many contacts in the United States and in Italy, and one of those contacts brought Giovanni Martinelli to St. Louis. For his day, Martinelli was as big as Pavorotti became in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I don’t think I met Martinelli.

I didn’t become an expert on Opera, but I did like it and I came to understand how it worked. It worked by talent and a lot of hard work.

Many years later I found myself in New York working in an organization dominated by Henry Killingsworth. Henry liked to brag that he had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. He could do this with no trouble because he would hold his chauffer over after a long day to drive him to the Met. And to pick him up after the performance.

There was an occasion when I was in the room when Killingsworth began to talk about opera. Now remember he came from South Georgia. I suspect the only singing he heard there was in a church. But because other directors of AT&T attended to opera, old Killingsworth decided he had to be among their numbers. At least I knew about the opera courtesy of my sister Verna. As Killingsworth talked, even with my limited background in opera, it became clear that he knew virtually nothing about the subject. But that didn’t keep him from bragging that he had season tickets to listen to “that purty music.”

Well now I’ve told you about New York where I came to work full time in 1955. And I’ve told you a little bit about St. Louis and my opera career. And I’ve told you about Verna. That’s a pretty big order to cover in one little essay. But as I said on the first page, for John Rosenburg, Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur, this is a little tale that needs to be recorded because they were fine men and they were gentlemen. I don’t know of any higher praise that I can lay on those three men than that.

E. E. CARR
September 6, 2001

~~~

Not even a week before 9/11 — it’s a little jarring to think back to what the world looked like right before this was written.

It’s must less jarring to think about Killingsworth putting on airs, because the fact that he is a “colossal prick” is well-documented.
This particular essay was rewritten entirely. The rewrite pulls no punches when describing why Killingsworth is so reviled.

As one last note, Pop’s description of the cinder lot full of couples brought me right back to a memory of my own from 2010. I was studying abroad in China at the time, and one night I went on a walk with a friend of mine. We didn’t really have a direction in mind and were content to wander and explore. At one point, we left a building-dense area and suddenly found ourselves in a strikingly dark part of the campus. It was a small field, and it was so dark that I didn’t notice that the field abruptly ended in a low wall with an unlit basketball court on the other side. After almost falling into the basketball court, we looked around and realized that the entire blacktop was packed with couples silently making out. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since, but I can imagine that it was a lot like Pop’s cinder lot adventures.