Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ed's Quality Market

Lawrence – My Hometown

Eddie Solomon’s Market

By Richard E. Noble

I was working part time at Eddie’s Market on Broadway. It was a mid-sized supermarket. Bigger than a corner store but smaller than a First National or a Stop & Shop.
Eddie Solomon was the owner and he was running the place alone. Eddie, like many of the ethnic shops in Lawrence had his nucleus of loyal customers and then branched out into the general populous.
Eddie’s thriving little corner supermarket had devolved as the neighborhood deteriorated over the years and by this time most of Eddie’s branches had broken off. He was now down to his treasured nucleus once again.
The bulk of his business was via the telephone and he delivered. He had a high school kid who delivered the boxes of groceries to people’s doorsteps – first, second and third floor doorsteps. I know my friend Peter Shaheen worked as a delivery boy for Eddie while in high school. My experiences at Eddie’s Market came some years later.
The orders started rolling in on Wednesdays and Thursdays and by Saturday Eddie had a few loads all boxed up and ready for the old station wagon/panel truck. Eddie was hanging in there, scratching by, but the handwriting was on the wall.
Eddie was running the place alone because his “associate” butcher of many, many years had died or retired. Eddie made a deal with me to help him out on weekends.
I had developed my own home delivery business. It all started because Steve Brennan the owner of the meat packing house where I worked gave us workers a break on our groceries. We got whatever we wanted wholesale instead of retail. I noticed that most of the married guys were buying two or three times the meat and cold cut groceries as I was. I started taking orders from some of my buddies. Then I started selling it in wholesale quantities to friends and acquaintances. Very soon I had my own little wholesale business. I was buying and cutting up large chunks or sections of meat for friends and relatives during my lunch hour, after work and on Saturdays. Eventually I had too much business and I had to hunt a new alternative. That’s when I got introduced to Eddie Solomon.
Poor Eddie was now chained to the family market. He offered me the use of his market and facilities to order, store, and package meat for my customers in return for helping him out and watching his business with him a couple of days a week. Now he could run out for an hour or two once and awhile or take care of family business while I watched the shop. He insisted on paying me something which is one indication of the kind of person he was – and still is, I’m sure. I didn’t need it. I was doing well enough on my own. I had one fulltime job, a part time job and my home meat business on the side. Eddie’s would be my second part time job. Not to mention, I was single and still living at home. The arrangement was working out great for me and Eddie was happy too.
This short period that I worked at Eddie’s Market for Eddie Solomon surprisingly holds a lot of good memories for me. I learned to admire Eddie. Number 1, he was a great boss. Well, he wasn’t a boss at all. He was a friend.
He didn’t need me for anything. He just wanted a little company and a tiny bit of freedom. All his store work he could do himself. He watched what I was up to and I watched him.
I had the best of this deal. I had free access to Eddie’s walk-in cooler, his band saw, his cutting blocks, his hamburger grinder, his cold cut slicer, his cubing machine even his knives. I told him he didn’t have to pay me anything for helping him out. The use of his facilities was more than payment enough on his part – but he insisted. I think he paid me 30 bucks for Friday evening and all day Saturday.
I was making pretty good money for a young guy back in those days. I remember one day a customer of Eddie’s came in and wanted to cash his Social Security check. Eddie’s asked how much it was. It was close to 300 bucks.
“Can’t help you, Pal,” Eddie said. “I haven’t taken in 300 dollars today my friend.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I’ll cash that for you.” I carried hundreds of dollars in my wallet, sometimes even a thousand or two. I paid cash for everything. Paying cash got me discounts at the wholesale house. Everybody liked cash back in those days. A thousand dollars cash was a thousand dollars cash – no taxes, no bookkeeping, and no check bouncing. I bought when I got a bargain and then I called my customers and sold what I had just bought. It was a good deal for me and a great deal for my customers. Not that good for the Internal Revenue Service but I felt they were doing very well without me – at least not all of me.
Eddie was rather surprised but he didn’t say anything. From then on when any of his customers came in with checks larger than he could cash, he would look at me and ask, “Dick, can you do $400?”
I didn’t think much about it but Eddie would shake his head in disbelief.
When I decided to open up my own shop Eddie asked me, “Tell me Dick, how much are you making here a week doing this business of yours?” I didn’t really want to say because I didn’t know where this was going.
“I’m doing all right,” I said.
“You making more than a 100 a week?” he asked. I laughed.
“You making more than 200 a week?” I smiled. Eddie shook his head. “You making more than 300 a week?”
“Dick, let me tell you something. I ain’t making that much a week running this whole place. You don’t want to open your own business. You want to come with me. I’m going to close this place down and open up a delicatessen on Lawrence St. I’m going to sell cooked food ready to take home and eat – spinach pies, kebbe, gourmet take out. I teach cooking classes over at the high school in the evenings. Everybody loves my stuff. It’s the future. Nobody has the time to cook anymore. The money is in prepared foods. I’ll teach you how to cook. You can run your little business on the side. You’ll have all the money you want.”
In retrospect, I always regretted not taking that offer. I really liked working with Eddie. As it turned out I did become a “chef,” but I think I would have enjoyed preparing Eddie’s cuisine rather than the French crème sauces that I learned. I still get hungry for stuffed grape leaves or a kebbe sandwich but I never get hungry for a bowl of shrimp and scallop bisque, or hollandaise sauce on my sautéed Sea Bass or Black Grouper. I have yet to prepare myself a Salmon fillet with a caper sauce or Blackened Redfish topped with sweet cream basil butter at home. I don’t care about Beurre Blank, Béarnaise, Béchamel, Bordelaise, Meuniere, Mirepoix, or even monosodium glutamate but I still get hungry for a Syrian salad with that unique and distinctive lemon dressing Eddie’s mom used to make for us.
His mother would cook at the market for us. I think she cooked for Eddie every day – maybe every day of his life. I was invited to eat whenever I was there. She wouldn’t tell me what she was making our supper from until after I ate it. Everything was wonderful. I ate tripe and lamb brains and stuffed intestines and hearts and every kind of crazy thing. Eddie even got me to start eating hamburger and steak … raw – a practice not recommended in today’s world. I never tried the lamb’s eyeballs – that was a bridge a little too far. My parents being a combination of Irish and Polish, I got a thousand and one ways to cook cabbage at home. Eating at Eddie’s with his mom as our cook was like dining out for lunch at some exotic restaurant. She was a little Bishop’s restaurant all by herself.
I also liked the way Eddie dealt with “family.” Here he was a businessman but it was family before business. My dad was just a laborer but it was always job before family. I had never seen a family like Eddie’s. There was more touching, hugging, kissing and laughing than I had ever seen in my life. They even seemed to enjoy their relatives.
As a businessman Eddie knew all the jokes and all the little tricks. One idea I never forgot was the “Sweetheart” roast beef. Eddie had a Sweetheart roast beef, a Honeymoon special, a Mother-in-law’s delight and a host of other unique specials.
The first time I heard him explaining his Sweetheart Special to a young woman, I couldn’t believe it. After the young woman bought her Sweetheart Special roast beef, I asked Eddie, “What the hell is a Sweetheart roast beef? I’ve been working as a butcher now for several years; I got all the information from the USDA; I know the name and section of every slice of steak and cut of beef on a steer but I have never heard of a Sweetheart Special.”
“No you haven’t. But if you buy one you will love it and you will want to get another one. When you go to the big supermarket or to that other butcher shop and ask for it, they won’t have it. So then what?”
“I go back to Eddie’s.”
“That’s right. And you will not be comparing the price of Eddie’s Sweetheart roast and buying a cheaper one anywhere else because they won’t know what you are talking about.”
The young lady who bought the Sweetheart roast was back a few weeks later. She said, “You know, I can not buy this Sweetheart roast anywhere. I live across town and I’ve gone to all the butcher shops in my area and none of them have a Sweetheart roast beef.” Eddie looked over at me and winked.
“Really, I’m surprised. It’s a favorite with all my customers.”
“Do they have another name for it that other butchers would recognize?”
“Well, in some sections of the country it is called a Honeymoon roast but I really don’t know why any butcher worth his salt wouldn’t know what a Sweetheart roast is. What do you think about that Dick?”
“I can’t imagine. These guys must be from another planet. Sweetheart roast … that’s the favorite of 7 out of every 10 butchers I know.”
She left with a Sweetheart roast and a pair of His and Her Sirloins and a Works-in-any-pot pot-roast.
“Those His and Her Sirloins are cut from a muscle never used by the steer, hidden under the spline and the Works-in-any-pot pot-roast comes from the hintermost section of the animal. If you can’t get over here next time, just ask the guy at the big supermarket about the spline or the hintermost and he should fix you right up.”
“Oh great. Thank-you so much. The spline and the hintermost, I’ll remember that.”
The next time she came in she ordered her Eddie favorites, humbly, and with no silly questions.

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon.com. Contact richardedwardnoble@gtcom.net for bookstore discounts and volume sales.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Summer with Charlie

Book Review

By Persis Granger

Reviewer Persis ("Perky") Granger: Perky is an avid reader and a writer of fiction and nonfiction, including Adirondack Gold, A Summer of Strangers and Shared Stories from Daughters of Alzheimer's: Writing a path to peace. She studied at the College of Wooster (OH) and the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), earning a BA at the latter. She later completed her Master of Science in Teaching at SUNY Plattsburgh.
She presents programs to adults and youth, and hosts writers’ retreats in New York and Florida. Learn more at www.PersisGranger.com

What do you have when you take a bunch of guys in their late teens and early twenties in the early 1960s, who pride themselves on just “hanging out” on whatever corner they aren’t chased off of in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the hometown of Richard Edward Noble? You’ve got a colorful slice of poor New England mill town Americana—the banter and blue collars, slang and girl-watching, cop-taunting, delis and diners. You have a nostalgic memoir.
Daub onto this palette a splash of craziness, as the gang – sometimes upward of twenty guys—rents a beachside cottage for the summer, with loud parties, lobster bakes, and beer, kitchen sink “fruit punch” and a back porch toilet, something akin to “Animal House.” Then you have a nostalgic, humorous memoir.
Now add in Charlie, an older pal just returned from service in the Navy. Charlie, the boys learn, has come home to die, thanks to extreme radiation exposure. Can you figure out how this affects the story? Neither could the gang. They just kept on keeping on. They pulled Charlie into the fold – the parties, the wild raunchiness, the disrespect, the laughter and crazy fun. The memoir became “A Summer with Charlie,” a nostalgic, humorous and deeply moving story of growing up.
Charlie, in his sweet, innocent way, confided to the guys that he didn’t know how to die. But during the summer he spent at the cottage with them, he showed that he knew, not only how to die, and to do so with grace and courage, but also how to live. He quietly enriched the lives of the boys who shared that time with him and taught them lessons about life and death never to be forgotten.
Noble’s writing is fresh and true. His characters and their dialogue are alive with reality. He resists the temptation to pretty things up, to trim away the ugly parts, and in so doing, creates an unforgettable story about the innocence of youth, about growing up, and about death. The author promises, “A Summer with Charlie will make you laugh. A Summer with Charlie will make you cry.” It does all of that. Moreover, A Summer with Charlie will make you remember. And think.

Other works by Richard Edward Noble include: Hobo-ing America: Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother: The Eastpointer: A Little Something: Noble Notes on Famous Folks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Eastpointer

Your Health Care Story

By Richard E. Noble

I was "surfing" the web the other day and I hit onto this site that was asking people to tell them their health care story. I felt that I didn't really have a health care story, so I moved on. But since that time I can't stop thinking about my health care story.
When I was just eight or ten years old my favorite uncle, Uncle Joe, died. He had to have his appendix removed. It was supposed to be a routine operation. My Uncle Joe was a World War II veteran and he served in the Pacific. He came down with malaria when he was in the jungles over there and as a consequence they discovered or he became allergic to penicillin. For some reason the folks at the hospital where he was having his appendix removed, missed that detail. A week later he was dead.
A few years after my Uncle Joe passed, my dad complained one evening of having chest pains. He was very worried. His father had the same problem and died before he reached the age of fifty. It seems that he was complaining about chest pains also. They found him laying dead in the doorway of a storefront that he ducked into on his way home from work at the mill.
My dad called the local Doctor. The Doctor came to your home in those days. He told my dad it was probably just indigestion. My dad bought some Rolaids but they didn't help. Finally he walked up to the local hospital. But, they weren't as knowledgeable about heart problems back in those days. They gave him a quick once over and he picked up another package of Rolaids on his walk home.
That evening I heard my dad talking with my older brother at the kitchen table. He felt that he was probably going to die and he was giving my older brother advice on what to do when he was gone. The next morning all us kids woke up to the screaming panic of my mother. We all got to watch my father take his last breathes before the Doctor and the priest arrived.
My mother was doing pretty well until she got into her sixties. She started to have some sort of heart valve problem. All us grown kids had a family meeting. My older brother had spoken to the Doctor. The Doctor told him that my mother would need a heart valve replacement operation or she would be dead within six months. My mother had no insurance and none of her kids could afford to pay for such an operation. We told my mother what the Doctor had said and she said that she would just have to take her chances. She didn't have the operation.
My mother was very lucky. The Doctor's prognosis did not come true. She took some kind of heart pill for the rest of her life but she lived well into her seventies.
My older brother was a unique case. He had plenty of insurance – maybe too much insurance. It seemed that he was having some new procedure done every year. Finally he had a heart problem. He had bad valves just like my mother. He managed to survive the heart operation, but like 94,000 other Americans, he caught something while in the hospital. He got an infection – septicemia. He died a few years back. He was sixty-six when he died.
My sister is still alive but she has had some big problems. She has always worked in the medical field and lucky for her she has always been insured by her employers. A number of years ago she had a brain tumor. They had to cut a section of her skull out. She survived and only ended up losing her sense of smell.
Next, her Doctor prescribed some type of cholesterol medicine. Suddenly she was a cripple in a wheel chair. There was a large class action suit against the drug company who manufactured the cholesterol medicine that she had been taking. My sister would not join the suit. She had worked all her life in the medical field for doctors and in hospitals. She felt that it would be immoral to sue the people who had provided her with a living all of her life.
A few years have now gone by and she is walking again and getting herself around. She just turned seventy-two.
At 65, I finally qualified for Medicare. I never had any kind of health care. No employer who I ever worked for provided insurance and I never earned enough to buy it for myself. I avoided doctors and hospitals all my life
I went for my Medicare one time, free physical. The doctor found blood in my stool. I was sent for a colonoscopy. I had cancer of the colon. I went for surgery. I had a heart attack while recuperating from the colon cancer operation. They wanted to rush me into a triple by-pass, heart surgery. I had three areas seriously blocked, I was told. I refused.
I was too weak. I knew that I would never survive a second major operation without being given the time to regain my strength from the first major operation.
They allowed me to go home but I was advised to return as soon as possible for open heart surgery.
As I regained my strength I went for a second opinion. I found a local cardiologist who was prepared to treat me by non-surgical methods – External Pulsation Therapy. I am alive and feeling very good.
My wife turned 65 and she too was now qualified for Medicare. She was frightened because of my experiences to go to any doctor and take any test. With pressure from our local GP and from me she finally went for her necessary tests. Thank heavens everything seems to be OK.
I now need to have all my teeth pulled. My wife got hers pulled before my operation started when we still had extra money. The bulk of our discretionary income now goes to insurance premiums and medicine.
My wife and I are both aspiring Wall-mart employees. Neither of us has ever made $10 per hour in our lives.
And that’s my health care story … so far.

Richard E. Noble is a freelance writer who has lived in Franklin County for over thirty years. He has published 6 books and they are now available on Amazon.com. If you would like to stock my books in your store or business, contact Noble Publishing at richardedwardnoble@fairpoint.net for discount purchases.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge

(President from 1923-1929, 30th)

By Richard E. Noble
"Silent" Calvin Coolidge had the reputation of being quiet, but firm. He was nothing like Mr., 'Slap 'em on the back', Warren Harding. By the time Warren died and Calvin his vice-president had taken over, the poop of the Tea Pot Dome business was hitting the fan. But Calvin's quiet, steady, apparent honesty ruled the day.
Calvin defended his lack of verbosity with statements to the effect that if a person never spoke, it would be difficult to misquote him. Actually Calvin seems to have had a pretty good sense of humor, even if a bit subdued and dry. Supposedly a hostess came up to him at a party and said, "You must talk to me. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." Calvin said, "You lose."
Calvin was not much of a student. He failed the entrance examination for Amherst and was forced to take preparatory instruction to be accepted. He eventually became a lawyer. But he knew his own mind – for whatever that was worth.
His proposal to his future bride Grace Anna Goodhue was an ultimatum; "I am going to be married to you," he told her.
Calvin was not a military man.
It is curious to me that with all of the corruption of the Harding administration, the people actually retained Mr. Coolidge, Harding's vice president.
Since the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, the country had been pretty much ruled by notably corrupt Republican/Conservative administrations. There are only two Democrats between the Civil War and World War II, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson said that Cleveland was no Democrat, and, by present day standards, I think very few would consider Wilson much of a Democrat either. So, from Abe to F.D.R. we had 'Conservative' government which seemed to be synonymous with big-business support and corruption.
Certainly one would think that after Harding and reaching what seemed to be the bottom of the Republican barrel, as after Nixon, the American people would have voted for a Democrat; any Democrat. But they didn't. Why not? Well, either Coolidge was more dynamic than the history books lead us to believe, or the Democratic Party had big problems. The Democratic Party was really the party of the "slavers." In the North we had the appeasers and compromisers, the wishy-washy; and in the South we had the Klu Klux Klan, white racists and extremists. Even the Progressive Party, which had been gaining ground, was Republican. So I guess the choice was that you could vote for a bunch of wishy-washy, wackoes, or silent, Republican Cal.
Cal was for no nonsense. As Governor of Massachusetts he had called in the Federal Troops when the Boston police went on strike. Nobody has the right to strike against the public safety, he had declared. Of course, Cal was not talking about the safety of the Boston Policemen who were occupying rat infested, roach filled, dilapidated police stations and working 80 to 100 hours a week. They weren't paid to go to court. They were often asked to sleep at the police station just in case somebody didn't show up – also with no additional pay.
They had inadequate toilet facilities and basically all they were asking was that their pay be adjusted to compensate for the War time inflation. Inflation had gone up 79% while their paychecks had gone up a modest 15 to 20 percent. Calvin fired the whole lot of them and refused to hire them back. Somehow Calvin Coolidge became an American hero over this incident - and even got himself elected president.
He was said to be Ronald Reagan presidential hero. "You hear a lot of jokes every once in awhile about Silent Cal Coolidge," said Mr. Reagan. "The joke is on the people who make the jokes. Look at his record. He cut the taxes four times. We had probably the greatest growth and prosperity that we've ever known. I have taken heed of that because if he did that by doing nothing, maybe that is the answer."
And then, of course, with all that extra money and speculative spending we have the great stock market "trickle down" of 1929. Interesting to note we had a similar trickle down of the S&L and the Commercial banking industry after Reagan's Coolidge inspired tax cuts.
The Red Scare was on the rise in the “Colonies.” The Workers of the World were acting up. The Bolsheviks had taken over in Russia. Simply put, the Reds wanted to take from the rich and give it to the poor. Many Americans were very much in favor of this notion. Many Americans were adamantly opposed. In Europe Aldolf Hitler was the champion of the rich and powerful battling the rank and file terrorism of the Red Bolshevik Workers of the World. The battle lines of the coming century were being defined.
This period, between the wars, I consider crucial to understanding this past century. It was during this period that all of the concepts that would rule our century were taking on reality; Socialism, Unionism, Communism, Fascism, Feminism, Racism, Fundamentalism, Darwinism, Anarchism, Intellectualism, Alcoholism, Gangsterism, Civil rights, Human Rights, Modern Science and the Depression. And in 1929 came a loss of faith in “the system” due to the deflation and manipulation of Capitalism.
It seems ironic that this placid figure of Calvin Coolidge is the man to lead us into and through most of the Roaring Twenties. Coolidge chose, wisely, not to run in 1928, fearing a depression as prophesied to him by his dad.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Will Durant


By Richard E. Noble

I just finished reading Transition, a mental Autobiography, by Will Durant. I've also read his History of Philosophy, and I have the last three volumes of his History of Civilization which I have yet to get into.
Will Durant is not a philosopher. He is an Historian who chose to research Philosophy. He writes about philosophy, philosophers and philosophical ideas from an historical perspective as well as content and interpretation of philosophical concepts. Transition is a partially fictionalized story of his life up until about the age of forty. He lived into his nineties. The book ends with his marriage to Ariel, a fifteen year old student of his and the nearly tragic birth of their daughter Ethel. The marriage which was frowned upon socially (causing him to resign from his teaching position) and by Ariel's dad (who refused permission) seems to have been successful. The last note that I have found in my library confirms that Will and Ariel were still married at his ninetieth birthday.
Will was born a Roman Catholic up in Massachusetts. He is of French Canadian parentage. He was an ardent student. He mentions that during one two year period in his life he read over nine hundred volumes. He was selected from his parish to be educated into the priesthood. He studies for two years at a seminary only to discover, via Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, that not only isn't he a Christian but that he doesn't believe in God. Upon confession of this realization, he is asked, understandably, to leave the seminary. He then goes to his home town, and unbelievably, starts giving lectures propagating his new found heretical views.
His devout parents and family are informed of his behavior and preaching by a local parish priest. His poor mother nearly has a nervous breakdown and his dad gives him twenty four hours to blow Dodge. He then goes on to teach at a school operated by anarchists. He meets Anna Goldman, the infamous anarchist, and convicted would be assassin, Alexander Berkman.
From Anarchism he goes to Europe via an all expense paid trip by someone named Henry Alden. I don't know who this Henry Alden guy is but when the trip to Europe is over, he then proceeds to pay Will's passage through Columbia University. I must say I don't get it.
By now Will is a thirty year old, well educated atheist teaching philosophy to a bunch of grade-schoolers. One, named Ariel, who he must have met when she was thirteen or fourteen, he falls in love with. She is fifteen by the time they decide to run off and get married.
At thirty five Will convinces Ariel that they should become pregnant and have a baby. She agrees and nearly dies in the process. The experience of "family," the "miracle" of birth and his unexplainable brush with good fortune somehow convince Will that all is right with the world. I don't know if at this point he finds that God is, once again, in His heaven, but somehow the birth of Ethel is reassuring and mystically inspirational to him. I can only imagine how his philosophy would have faired if Ariel had died and Ethel had been born with multiple sclerosis.
I presume that it is this attitude that makes Will Durant an Historian and student of Philosophy as opposed to a Philosopher and a student of History.

Monday, November 30, 2009

This is an excerpt from my book:
"Just Hangin' Out, Ma." If you would like more information on this book click on cover of book on the right of this page. Thanks.

Lawrence - My Hometown

Bishop’s Restaurant

By Richard E. Noble

Bishop’s Restaurant was considered a landmark by anyone from my generation of Lawencians. People came from all over and drove for miles to eat at Bishop’s. Today in the “business” that type restaurant is called a “destination restaurant.”
I can remember sitting up on the wall at the Howard Playstead with a bunch of my buddies and having a fancy new model Caddy or Lincoln pull up and ask us for directions to Bishop’s. We were always quite thrilled and proud to see fancy people coming to our humble tenement neighborhood to eat at one of our ethnic restaurants.
The original Bishop’s was located in the Syrian district. I say Syrian. I know many were Lebanese’s and I’m sure there were some from other Arab nations as well. They were all Christians as far as I know. I don’t remember any Mosques in the old neighborhood.
All the immigrants who came to Lawrence settled in a neighborhood where they felt comfortable. The houses were all similar throughout the city but one section would be mostly Italian, another Syrian, another Polish, and so on. The second generation would get more adventuresome and move here and there about the city. But the old sections would keep their ethic charm and solidarity, and good food.
The Syrian district spread around the Immaculate Conception Church. I don’t recall all the street names that comprised the district but let me guess at a few - Elm St., White St., Maple St., Chestnut St., Auburn St., and I think there was even a Lebanon St. Bishop’s was in that area.
Bishop’s didn’t look like much from the outside but it was fancy on the inside. The booths were leather and the floors were carpeted. They had waiters rather than waitresses. This added an air of sophistication. I don’t remember any other restaurant that had waiters. But then I was not a big restaurant aficionado in those days.
Lawrence was not a pretty neighborhood. I can imagine those Caddy and Lincoln people peeking out the door every five minutes to make sure their cars were still out there on the street. In my day a car might have been “borrowed” for a joy ride but never as part of a for-profit business enterprise.
The kitchen at Bishop’s was filled with little, old, Syrian ladies. I know this because I delivered food stuffs to Bishop’s new store in my truck driver days. The menu featured all sorts of Syrian specialties – stuffed grape leaves and stuffed squash were two popular items that I remember. Hummus and Tahini was a unique dip that I always ordered. The Hummus was made from chic peas and the Tahini from ground roasted sesame seeds. I heard that the neighborhood Syrian women supplied the fresh grape leaves also. There was nothing like it.
I would get the Hummus and Tahini dip and a platter of stuffed grape leaves as an appetizer. I would squeeze fresh lemon wedges over the grape leaves then wrap the grape leaves in the fresh, still warm Syrian bread and dunk it into the Hummus dip. Oh yes! Was that ever good.
My main choice was always Lamb on a stick on a bed of rice pilaf. Bishop’s was famous for its Shish Kabob but they also served steaks and Maine Lobsters and other conventional favorites.
And who could forget their heaping platter of homemade French fries. They had a giant potato peeler in the back at their new store, owned by brothers, Joey and Abe Bashara. The original store on White St. was started by mom who was known as “the Chief” and her three sons. Dad had died when the boys were young. Charlie, brother to Joey and Abe, died later on. The potato peeling machine had a big rough, round glob sized stone in its center. The stone spun around and scrapped all the skin off the potatoes. I never saw another one like it. The French fries were not straight and crispy. They were long, limp and potato tasting. I’ll bet they were fried in lard too.
There was a Syrian bakery next to the old Bishop’s that supplied their fresh Syrian flat bread. It was just around the corner. And the bread was made fresh daily.
Bishop’s was a unique restaurant in a rather “difficult” neighborhood but their reputation swelled. And one day Joey and Abe Bashara built a palace of a restaurant right in the heart of town. It was at the far end of Hampshire St., a block or so up from Essex St. For Lawrence it was like the Taj Mahal. It had it all – cocktail lounge, huge, spacious, dining room, plush carpets, beautiful booths and tables. It was a wonderful, luxurious dining experience. For years it had a waiting line and reservations. I remember signing in and then going to the lounge. The lounge often had entertainment. This was all mighty fancy for old Lawrence but yet not expensive.
When I got word a few years back that it had closed its doors, I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly the end of an era for Lawrence. Who could imagine a Lawrence without a Bishop’s restaurant?
But Lawrence is without a lot of things these days. I suppose that is part of the reason for these columns. It seems such a shame to just let everything disappear. I suppose that one day nobody will know that such a thing as a Bishop’s restaurant ever existed. The same goes for a Richard E. Noble also, I’m sorry to say.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tenement Dwellers

Lawrence – My Hometown

Chip of the old beer “bottle”

By Richard E. Noble

Lawrence and “frugality” are synonyms to me. Penuriousness and parsimony are so common that they should be considered as street names in my hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Cheap and penny pinching are complimentary adjectives in every Lawrencian’s handbook. They can call it what they want but it is all thriftiness and good old New England shopping in our book of proverbs.
Waste not, want not, charity begins at home and a penny saved, is a penny earned are simply statements of revealed, profound truth. I’m sure they must be in the Bible – if not the Bible, in Ben Franklin’s Almanac which is a close second to the Bible.
The only person in the world who can upset me with adjectives like cheap or tightwad is my wife. But whenever she does, she knows what she is in for.
The litany begins with the Maine lobster stuffed with real Alaskan king crab meat that I bought for her on our first real date at the big, fancy Fishermen’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I even took the car to the valet parking that evening back in 1972. That is the year 1972 when a dollar was a dollar and a fifty cent tip to the valet parking guy meant something.
Then we jump right up to my demand that we go all the way and buy a brand, new mobile home for $8,886 back in 1982 rather than buy a used mobile home for less than half that price.
The matching towel rack and toilet paper holder, made out of real wood, imported all the way from China as opposed to the plastic one that was on sale at K-Mart at the time is another glaring instance of my wild and crazy extravagant nature when it came to caring for my loved one(s).
Need I even mention my insistence on “all-beef” no-name brand hot dogs or my “demand” that we buy raisins at the Dollar General Discount Store to add to our no-name bran flakes? Come on now? Let’s not just throw around those derogatory adjectives without a little forethought here. I could go on and on but I think I have made my point.
But getting away from my tendency towards “conspicuous consumption” and my periods of extravagance in the name of love and responsibility and returning to the topic at hand – reasonable and thought-out conservative spending, I ask myself, “Where did I get such an educated economic nature?
I got it from my friends on the street corner, their parents, the local shop owners, the little red school house I attended, the good nuns and from vivid examples that took place right in my tiny kitchen on 32 Chelmsford St. in uptown/downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts. For example:
My dad returns to his bit of paradise at 32 Chelmsford St. with his six pack of Holihan’s Black Horse Ale under his arm. It has been a long day working as an attendant and assistant manager at the Merit gas station up on Broadway.
He was looking forward to a cold one, a bowl of cherry scented Edgeworth’s tobacco, and a quiet evening in front of the TV watching Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town featuring strongman, Joe Banomo, who is going to dead lift the entire Ed Sullivan Show – guests and staff, Ed and Edgar Bergen - included. All in all a pretty darn exciting evening.
He puts his Texaco style gas station attendant’s hat on top of the refrigerator. (We are the men from Texaco … we work from Maine to Mexico…) He deposits his beer in the refrigerator pulling the cold ones to the front and sliding the warmer ones to the rear. After bath (we had no shower in those days) and change of clothes, he returns to the refrigerator in a fresh pair of boxer shorts and a spiffy clean tank top T-shirt.
(Did I ever tell you the story about when my twelve year old sister was just learning to darn socks and hand sew, and she discovered that all of my dad’s boxer shorts were torn in the front?)
Well anyway, he pulls that first nice, cold Holihan’s Black Horse Ale off the shelf and saunters over to the sink. He grabs up his trusty bottle opener and pops off that first cap.
“Oh Damn,” he exclaims. “Will you look at this, Mary? I chipped the darn bottle top. What do I do now?”
“Well, Ernie, if I were you I would just dump that beer down the sink and get a fresh one. You don’t want to take the chance on swallowing a piece of glass.”
My dad leaned on the sink bracing himself with both hands and both arms, his head bowed in disgust. How could he have done such a thing? How many bottles of beer had he opened in his lifetime without a mishap – 47 million? Wow, this was a true tragedy. The silence was awesome. The struggling look, caused by the necessity to think, that this “accident” had precipitated was painful. He pondered. He made gruesome faces. He rubbed his chin and turned around in little circles. He came to rest with his backside to the counter where his beer with the chip of glass was sitting. He then lifted his head and stared up at the buzzing florescent kitchen light with the dangling turn-on string for a sign.
And then it happened. The pain vanished and a look of genuine genius swept down his face – from wrinkled brow to puckered chin. He ran to his bedroom and returned with a clean linen handkerchief. My mother was watching skeptically with her arms across her chest.
My dad got his favorite, large pilsner glass off the shelf and placed it on the sink counter. He snapped open his handkerchief like he was about to perform a magic act. He draped the handkerchief over the pilsner glass as if he were in the process of making it disappear. He grasped the glass along with the handkerchief – holding the handkerchief snug around the glass. He picked up his bottle of beer and then poured the beer into the glass, straining the beer through the handkerchief that was over the top of the glass acting like a filter. The glass filled up with beer and low and behold there was the shard of glass sitting on the taut handkerchief stretched over the rim of the glass.
Holy cow! What a stroke of genius.
My dad beamed. My mom frowned and shook her head negatively.
“What?” my dad bellowed.
“What?” my mother mocked. “You just wasted a 75 cent linen handkerchief to save a darn 25 cent bottle of beer. Great goin’ Albert Einstein.”
My dad’s beam of genius went from high to low to off. He shrugged, tossed the 75 cent handkerchief into the trash and headed to the parlor.
When my dad disappeared into the parlor with his miracle beer my mom went over and snatched the handkerchief from the trash and laughed. She looked down at me “Your father, the genius, doesn’t know about the invention of the washing machine either.”

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published six books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry portions of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle and Noble Notes on Famous Folks is history with a bit of humor.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You can find out more about this book or order a copy by clicking on the cover displayed here or to the right on this page. Thanks.
Lawrence – My Hometown

Phony Names

By Richard E. Noble

We periodically changed the location of our “Corner” by request of the local police department. But after a series of YEARS it got a little bothersome. And besides, we had used about every corner in our neighborhood at one time or another.
At first, when we were just little guys and the cops drove up in a cruiser, we just ran. We all had our favorite hiding spots. I was always rather partial to a backyard garbage can.
The old garbage cans were 50 gallon drums. Most of them had lids on them. And there was sometimes a handle welded on to a lid. I would jump into a garbage can that was more or less empty, or only a quarter full. I would grab the lid by the handle and then pull it down on top of my chosen garbage can. The handle was now on the inside – with me.
If and when I heard someone prowling around the area outside my garbage can, I would lift my feet off the bottom and then hang from the handle. I don’t remember what I weighed in those days, maybe 70 to 100 pounds, but it was enough to prevent any curious oppressor from peeking in on me. It always worked. I never got caught by anybody while hanging from a garbage can handle inside a 50 gallon drum, garbage can.
But as we grew older, things started changing. Along with puberty there were other rites of passage and running every time a cruiser pulled up to the Corner passed rather early on. We got to the point where we just sat there and stared back at the cops.
In the beginning the cops didn’t really know how to act. They were used to pulling up and having us all scatter. When we didn’t they were somewhat confused as to what they should do. Was this action on our part and insult to their authority? Were we defying the system? Would we fight if they approached us? What was going on here?
Their first notion was that a more severe threat was necessary. The cruiser was no longer threatening enough for us little criminals. A further show of strength was needed. They would have to increase the pressure.
The cop would stare at us for a moment out the window of his cruiser – building tension. We would all stare back. He would then pick up his microphone or walky-talky and pretend to be doing something official. He would get out of his cruiser, pull up his trousers, adjust his gun belt, check his hand grenades and flamethrower and then swagger across the street – John Wayne style.
The first time a cop went through this ritual, I remember feeling a little antsy and asking myself why I wasn’t running. But then as time passed and this experience grew in its repetition, the fear subsided. I imagine George “Machine gun” Kelly felt similar after his first engagement with the FBI.
“Okay” this cop on this particular occasion said, pulling a pad and pen from his shirt pocket. “You,” he demanded pointing the butt end of his pen at one of us ten year olds. “What is your name?”
We had no idea what he was up. We gave him our real names.
After he wrote down all of our names, he folded over his pad and clipped his pen back onto his pocket.
“Okay,” he said. “I am going to be patrolling this area all day. I am going to come by this corner every so often. I have your names. So I know who each of you are. The next time I come back, if I find any of you guys on my list here again, you are going to be in for some real trouble. Now get moving and I would advise none of you to be back here again today.”
We got up from our places and wet meandering off for a walk around the block.
Well the fact that this flatfoot had to write down our names indicated to us that this particular cop didn’t have much of a memory. We only had to see him once and we knew who he was. But he needed to take names.
We walked around the block and then returned to our designated squatting area. If he came back we all agreed that we would just give him a phony name.
Sure enough an hour or two later our buddy with the bad memory was back. He pulled out his pad and pen once again. He looked us all over closely.
“Okay you,” he said jabbing the butt of his pen in Jack Sheehy’s direction. “What is your name?”
“My name is Petrobi Patsaiba.”
“How do you spell that?” Jack spelled out something and the cop looked at him seriously for quite some time. Jack said nothing but stared him back in the eye.
He then pointed his pen at me and repeated his question.
“My name is Lance Guibe.”
The cop put on a very nasty look. He knew by the strange silence and peculiar looks on our faces that something was up.
“Where do you live?”
“I live at home.”
“Yeah, yeah … I’m sure you do. Where the hell is your home, smart guy?”
“It’s on the other side of town.”
“What’s the name of the street?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember the name of the street that you live on?”
“I don’t have to remember. I know where it is.”
The cop glared at me.
“You!” he said pointing to Jimmy Costello. “What is your name?”
“Francis DeSissy.”
He then went to Russ Brown.
“What is your name,” he asked Russ.
“My name is Richard Noble.”
We all turned and looked at Russ in shock. What the hell was he doing? We had all agreed to give a phony name. Why was he giving the cop my name? Was he coo-coo or what?
“Noble, huh. I have your name here from the last time I was here. Where do you live, Noble?”
“I live at 32 Chelmsford St. It is just up a couple of blocks and to the left.”
Russ, my good buddy, not only gave the cop my name but my address also – and then he went on to give directions to my house.
“Okay Richard Noble,” the cop said returning his pad and pen to his shirt pocket once again. “You are in trouble. I will be contacting your mother and father and tell them what you have been doing. Now all of you scattered. And I don’t want to see any of you back here again today.”
We all slowly sauntered off as the cop returned to his vehicle and drove away.
“What the Hell! Why did you give the cop my name, Russ? I thought we all agreed that we would give the cop a phony name?”
“I did give the cop a phony name. My name is Russ Brown.”
“Yeah, I know your name is Russ Brow, but my name is Richard Noble, you butthead.”
“I know that. I couldn’t think up any good phony names like you guys did. All that I could think of was Richard Noble.”
“Couldn’t you have at least given him the wrong address?”
“I suppose, but all that I could think of was 32 Chelmsford St. It didn’t seem right to say that you lived on Spruce St. when I knew that you lived on Chelmsford St.”
“Well, that’s real good, Russ. But I’m going to tell you something. The next time that cop comes back – if he ever does – you can be Richard Noble if it makes you happy but I’m going to be Russ Brown who lives on Arlington St.”
“You wouldn’t?”
“Oh yeah, watch me!”
“In that case,” said Jack Sheehy. “I guess next time he comes I’ll be Jimmy Costello. Jimmy, you can be Jack Sheehy. We’ll really screw this guy up.”
“Man, this is great! I love it,” I said. “Nothing like hanging out with a bunch of guys with a plan. Tell me Jack what is the exact street address of your house, I wouldn’t want to mess this plan up. It’s a good one.”

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published several books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry - parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle. Noble Notes on Famous Folks is history with a sense of humor.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Christopher Simpson

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

“Here one sees the extent of the corruption of American ideals that has taken place in the name of fighting communism. No one, it seems, not even Adolf Eichman’s personal staff, was too tainted to be rejected by the CIA’s recruiters, at least as long as his relationship with the U.S. government could be kept secret.
“The American people deserve better from their government. There is nothing to be gained by permitting U.S. intelligence agencies to continue to conceal the true scope of their association with Nazi criminals in the wake of World War II. The files must be opened; the record must be set right.”
This book was published in 1988 and since then the files have been opened and then closed and opened and closed again. The battle goes on.
If you are one of those folks who have dismissed the secreting of Nazis into the U.S after World War II because you thought that they were all “innocent” scientists whose knowledge was crucial to our survival, you have a lot to learn. And you will learn a lot of it in this book.
I picked up this book for a dime at some flea market or yard sale many years ago. I read it but still didn’t believe it. Since that time I have taken up the project of determining “Who Financed Adolf Hitler” and why. This book deals with the “why” in the above question.
I hate to say it but this is a book on the treasonable acts of some top people in the American government and business community.
I have already gone through this book and highlighted the chapters. It is on my list for synopsizing. I do this task because I want to more deeply ingrain the facts of this book into my memory. My attempt is to make books like this one more a part of my readily available accessible knowledge. I want to know what it says and I want to remember what is says. This business is too important to simply file in the back bedroom of my cognizant being. I want to study this, know it and understand it all - if I can. At the moment I am working on the same project with two other books, so this book will have to sit on the shelf for awhile.
I suppose one would classify this as a cold war book. But I considered it a World War II history book. This is the kind of book that will help you to understand why there was a World War II - and a World War I for that matter and a World War III - if it is in the making.
More and more of us Americans must learn this information. We have to know it and understand it so that we can get over it in the future and hopefully never let this type of thinking and attitude lead us back to wars of this nature ever again.
At the moment we seem to be losing this battle.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lawrence – My Hometown

Bill Marlowe and Norm Nathan

By Richard E. Noble

Rock & Roll was born in the 50’s and therefore is a part of my history. I bought my first 45 at a local drugstore on the corner of Park and Tenney streets, Morrissey’s Drugs which later became Kluff’s Drugs. It was Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line. On the flipside was Get Rhythm. I liked the flipside the best because I was shinning shoes with my own personal shoe shine kit at the time on various corners and in the local barrooms. I was seriously interested in the art of shining shoes. And snapping my buffing rag rhythmically was important.
I sat through several showings of Rock Around the Clock staring Bill Healey and the Comets at the Star Theater but nevertheless I had a very short love affair with Rock & Roll. The girl in the movie who performed the exciting dances with the black hair and the pink underwear that became very visible each time she came sliding on the floor between her dancing partner’s legs directly at the camera was another story.
I was at our rented cottage at Salisbury Beach for our family’s annual summer vacation when I had an epiphany. My brother, Ernie, who was seven years older than me had started his first year of college at Northeastern University. Between his roommates and the Boston atmosphere he had become a jazz music buff. He talked endlessly about places like Storyville and Pall’s Mall. No matter what station I tuned the radio to he kept changing it to some guy by the name of Bill Marlowe.
The first Jazz song I ever really listened to was Draggin’ my Red Wagon by Anita O’Day. I still don’t know what the red wagon refers to but it sounded super sexy and seductive when Anita sang it. And that classic was followed by I’ll build a Stairway to Paradise – with a new step everyday by Sarah Vaughan. That was it! I was epiphanized or epiphanated or whatever. I have been hooked on Jazz ever since.
Bill Marlowe was not a Rock & Roll fan. He spoke very derogatorily of Rock & Roll. One of his infamous chants was, “Here on this show we play music. That’s music spelled m-u-s-i-c and not n-o-i-s-e. He would introduce a song by saying, “Now folks let’s listen to one by ELVIS PRESLEY … (then there would be a long pause to put his regular audience in shock and finally he would add with a chuckle the possessive ‘s’ sound and it would finish) Elvis Presley’s good friend Erroll Garner or Al Martino, or Dakota Staton.
Bill Marlowe was born in the north end of Boston – in the Italian section. But when he started out in the 40’s in radio nobody was hiring Italians. He had to change his name to make himself more appealing to the average listening audience.
One had to be persistent to keep up with Bill Marlowe. The radio stations dumped him every few months it seemed. He wouldn’t play Rock. He would only play the music he loved - Jazz.
He began his radio career at WCCM – AM in Lawrence in the early 40’s. I followed him from WBZ-AM to WILD-AM. It seemed like he was always moving and he would tell you where and why on the air. He wasn’t going to prostitute himself and sell out to what was popular. It was Jazz or nothing. Bill was great. While all my buddies were listening to Woo-woo Ginsburg and Adventure Car Hop I was tuned to WILD and the Bill Marlowe show.
In the 50’s when the payola scandal broke out Bill would laugh on the air and say things like, “They ain’t looking for me! They know no one is paying me to play Al Marino, Erroll Garner, and Dakota Staton.” Bill died in 1996. He was the best.
Norm Nathan kept me up nights. He had a show on WHDH called Sounds in the Night. He loved Jazz and big bands. He played selections that never made it to daytime radio, like Crescendo and Diminuendo in blue - with an interval by Paul Gonzsalves - by the Duke Ellington Band at Newport in 1955. That one song took up nearly one whole side of the album. But what a song! After listening to that while lying in bed at midnight – you were up till 2 a.m. for sure. No sleeping after that.
Then Norm might play Sing Sing Sing by the Benny Goodman band at the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert with the famous Gene Krupa solo. You didn’t hear sounds like that on Woo-woo Ginsburg.
He played a lot of Stan Kenton too. But on top of the great music the guy was a real clown. He did all these satirical skits and people would call in all night long. He would lead them on with bogus history about the guy who really discovered America rowing over from Europe in a paper mache’ canoe and landing somewhere in Methuen. He was so authoritative and believable that people would say, “No kidding. I didn’t know that.” Norm Nathan was an original.
My interest in Jazz never dissipated. Not being able to sit still while listening to good Jazz, I bought myself a set of drums and joined in with all the greats in my parlor. I started playing the drums as a teenager – which was quite a torture for the neighbors and the other tenants at 32 Chelmsford St. Amazingly enough I am just as good today on the drums as I was the day I started. It is really hard to believe – and at my age even more difficult. Very few people have ever heard me play the drums but those few that have told me that is the way it should be. So that makes me feel good. Everyone needs to feel special sometimes.
At my ice cream parlor in Carrabelle I bought a karaoke and made my own imitation radio tapes. My ice cream parlor was called Hobo’s and my radio station was WHOBO broadcasting from under the mile high tower in uptown/downtown Carrabelle at 98.6 on your dial. It was 98.6 because that’s body temperature. My one requirement was that my listeners had to be alive. I was not into playing music or telling jokes to dead people.
I sang too. I called myself Vic the Moan. I didn’t sing as well as I played the drums but eventually I developed a style of talking the lyrics like Jimmy Durante and Ted Lewis. I think I did very well – I never asked any of my customers. What the hell would they know? I figured it is MY ice cream parlor and if I was going to starve to death and go broke selling double scoops of ice cream like I once got at Wasmaco’s outside Canobe lake Park and at 1959 prices, I could do it my way and with a song in my heart. My wife didn’t complain either – but she has the unique ability to take her ears out at night and put them in a box on the bureau. She can spin a little doohickey and turn things off and on at her discretion during the daylight hours - one of the benefits of growing old. I on the other hand had to listen to myself. But I didn’t mind. Over the years I have grown used to me. Hopefully you folks will have a similar metamorphosis one day also.

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon. Contact Richard at richardedwardnoble@gtcom.net for bookstore discounts and volume sales.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“The Economic Bill of Rights

Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union


It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people— whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill- housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fortress America

By William Greider


By Richard E. Noble

Fortress America was published in 1998. At the time of the publishing of this book the Berlin Wall was gone and the U.S.S.R. had collapsed. With the disappearance of Russia as Public Enemy # 1 for the U.S., America was now in a quandary. The Cold War was over. What do we do about our massive military? Our Cold War enemy was gone. The Russian threat to our security was gone. Should we dismantle our military? Reorganize? Downsize? How do we do it?
Fortress America is a book that analyzed the problem in store for the U.S. in downsizing it military capacities.
I’m sure it was not Mr. Greider’s intention to present an apology on the impossibility of downsizing our military and the necessity for America to seek new enemies and unnecessary but available wars but this book, in my opinion, is the explanation for just such a scenario.
Mr. Greider in his thought provoking manner, his exhaustive research and his presentation of the facts and figures, makes our present state of affairs obvious.
“If the world is at peace, why should America now have to remobilize? There are no persuasive answers at present.
“To justify the significant budget increases that might rescue the military from its dilemma of competing obligations, political leaders will first have to find convincing dangers – a rising threat of actual war, and on a very large scale. Until they can do so, military leaders must keep hacking away at their own institution … People in the armed services know this…
“The political base that always supported the Cold War defense structure endures, too, without a strategy for the future except to change as little as possible from the past.”
Mr. Greider goes on to talk about our “Military Socialism” and our basic socialized military industrial complex. He then explains the scope of this book.
“In short, our tour of Fortress America is about more than defense spending in an era of general peace. It’s about national vision and the limits of empire, about whether Americans really wish to govern the world with U.S. military power …
“This is a new world order that will require much more than the accumulation of weaponry, and it might even be subverted by a new global arms race.” (My italics)
Now let me point out, I haven’t left the introduction to this book yet; we have yet to hit page one.
The book begins with a tour of the massive weapons storage facilities at Fort Hood, Texas - Bradley fighting vehicles, Dragon missiles, M-1 Abrams main battle tanks, Humvees, HEMTTs, HETS, and more than two hundred Apache and Kiowa helicopters. There are forty-eight separate equipment yards at Fort Hood – miles and miles of parking spaces with multimillion dollar units in every parking space.
“The Cold War is over, but not really, not yet …Too many tanks with nowhere to send them ... Defense spending, as one strategic analyst put it, has become ‘the new third rail of American politics.’ Most politicians are afraid to touch it.”
Then we come to the panic of peace.
“The Pentagon has been dumping old tanks like an army-navy surplus store conducting frantic ‘going out of business’ sales. Giving them away to friendly nations. Selling them at deep discounts. Offering them free to local museums. It dumped one hundred old Sherman M-60s into Mobile Bay off the Alabama coast to form artificial reefs for fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Several hundred more are being sunk along other coastlines for the same purpose. One year it gave forty-five tanks free to Bosnia and another fifty to Jordan. It shipped ninety-one tanks to Brazil under a no cost, five year lease, and thirty to Bahrain on the same terms. Another 160 were sold to Taiwan for $130,000 each, priced at ten cents on the dollar. Egypt got seven hundred free by picking up transportation costs … One way or another the Army has disposed of nearly six thousand older (1980 models) tanks during the last six years.”
To actually train men on all our fancy fighting equipment is too costly “It takes two thousand dollars an hour to operate a single M-12 tank in the field.” Instead we pay to build simulators. We have 25 million in video games sitting in one of our military video arcades.
Well, why don’t we mothball everything and then pull it out when we need it?
Unfortunately we can’t mothball very much in our new high-tech military. The electronics deteriorate; the crews take years to train, not weeks; things must be upgraded to stay on top or ahead of the competition. And in many cases we seem to be our own competition. Our independent “capitalist” arms merchants are selling to the highest bidder in the free market global arms race. Of course, we get dibs on the latest, most modern stuff – as long as we subsidize our arms manufactures with their storage costs, their labor costs and their research and development costs – cost plus contracts are nice too. And the fact that all American National arms merchants are basically one big interlocking network, doesn’t hurt the bottom line either.
The first time I read about this technique of selling to potential enemies was in The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester. When Adolf Hitler demanded the German arms manufacturer, Krupp, to stop selling arms to Germany’s enemies, Krupp threatened to take his whole operation, his knowledge and expertise, to Russia. Hitler and Mr. Krupp made a compromise. Krupp agreed to sell only last year’s models to Germany’s enemies. Hitler acquiesced.
They tried to dismantle Krupp industries after the war but found the task impossible. They denied Krupp the right to practice his “craft” in Germany. Kupp went to China and then to other international sites and became the richest man alive in his day – a great life for a man who should have been executed as a war criminal.
“After the Cold War ended, the government added 2,662 Tomahawks and other missiles to its arsenal. It increased air power capabilities by modernizing 961 night-capable aircraft and 707 precision-guided munitions-capable aircraft.
“The Air Force has so many long range bombers – the old reliable B-52, the troubled B-1, the new stealthy B-2 that costs 2 billion apiece – that it cannot afford to keep them all in the air. Yet, if you can believe its plans, the Air Force intends to increase the operational bomber force 25 percent by 2001.”
But there is always hope Mr. Greider explains: “After all there is always the dim hope that somehow the circumstances will change. Maybe North Korea will invade South Korea. Maybe China will turn belligerent. The (our) nation’s political and military leaders seem to be searching forlornly for a “they” that can restore purpose to the country’s mighty armaments.”
If the reader hasn’t got the point yet, Mr. Greider takes us to a few more military bases and arms storage facilities. The costs are monumental.
Mr. Greider then takes us for a brief look at the investment side of Arms merchandising.
“A decade ago, fifteen leading contractors accounted for two-thirds of the Pentagon’s spending on weapons. By 1995 the list was down to eight. Now, (1998) there are three.”
“The companies can’t keep boosting stock prices by doing more takeovers since there’s nothing much to take over.”
“The point people miss,” Gansler (an analyst) says, “is not that the defense companies are making huge profits. It’s that they’re charging huge costs to government to pay for all of this excess capacity that they’ve got lying around. The government pays for all that. The problem is, if a company becomes a sole-source contractor and there is no competition, then they have no incentive to reduce costs.”
Now it is onto the Global marketplace.
“We’re serious about being a global company, and that means expanding our workforce outside the United States,” says Lockheed Martin.
“LockMartin itself combines seventeen different companies that have collectively eliminated more than one hundred thousand jobs.”
“The American motive for expanding NATO is selling weapons.” American arms producers are loaning new NATO countries the money to buy their weapons and then moving their factories to these countries.”
Now you know why Poland was upset with President Obama and the new Obama European defense strategy. We were rabidly approaching the boom days of the “Merchants of Death” back in the pre-World War I era – sell weapons to anybody, lie, cheat, steal but sell, sell, sell.
“Provoking inadvertent crisis may be profitable for weapons firms, but it does not seem to be in the national interest – or for that matter the world’s”
I suggest that you all read Merchants of Death by Engelbrecht and Hanighen. You may have to hunt your library for it, but it will be worth your effort if your goal is to understand the present times. You can also read about the life and times of Sir Basil Zaharoff.
But what for the future? Can we bend the Iron Triangle (Pentagon, military, government). Can we design a meaner leaner military? Can we cut, lower costs, contain, or redesign our mammoth military complex?
“Even if futuristic ideas prove to be sound, the pentagon and the arms industry are still reluctant to give up what already exists – their vast arsenal of conventional overkill. They cannot have it both ways, one would think, but so far they are doing their best to accomplish just that, with very little resistance from the political system.”
In his conclusion Mr. Greider says that first the American people must “say no to empire.”
“The global economic system, led by the United States, governs trade, financial markets, and the rights of capital by imposing complex rules but insists that fundamental human freedoms are not a legitimate basis for global regulation. Raising questions of environmental protection, labor rights, or social equity – not to mention the democratic principles of free speech and freedom of assembly – is described as an intrusion on the trading system, possibly even an impediment to the spread of prosperity. National sovereignty (including America’s) is told to yield to the efficiencies of the global enterprise.”
Mr. Greider goes on and on with one good suggestion after another on transitioning from a militarist nation to a less militarist nation, but that is now all behind us and this book falls into the category of wasted effort.
In retrospect we see that Mr. Greider had it right in his introduction. Finding new wars to fight and devising a new Cold War was easier and much less demanding than attempting to restructure the Iron Triangle and bring America back to a peace loving, cooperative nation.
So if you are wondering why we have two wars going and military spending through the roof, you might pick up Mr. Greider’s book Fortress America for a description of the details. But it appears clear to me – war is easier and more profitable than peace – especially when our system has been set up to deal with it for the last 100 years. We can’t afford peace we have too much investment in war. Sadly achieving peace is too costly and too complicated. If you are hoping for an end to this “bully-bully” warmongering mentality it is going to take a lot more than wishful thinking.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt

1858 - 1919
(President from 1901-1909, 26th)

By Richard E. Noble

I suppose that it would sound bigoted of me, if I were to say that Teddy was a little, rich boy, but Teddy WAS a little, rich boy. And, it seems, like all little, rich boys, he was in search of an achievement as opposed to seeking a “job.” It is claimed that Teddy was very bright and had a photographic memory – which is very advantageous depending on what it is that you chose to photograph with your photographic memory.

Teddy went to Harvard. His dad was a Republican who supported Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, but his mother – Martha "Mittie" Bulloch – was a southern belle who often complained of the inconveniences brought to her by the loss of her personal slaves. She had two brothers who served in the Confederate Navy and she sent food and clothing, via agents in New York, to support the Confederate cause. When his Dad died Teddy inherited $125,000 from his estate. And when his mother died on the same day as young Teddy's first wife – Alice Hathaway Lee who died from Bright's disease and was only 22 years old – Teddy inherited another $62,500. Apparently these inheritances were considered substantial in those days.

Not long after Mittie's passing Teddy married a good friend of his younger sister and an early childhood sweetheart of his. Her name was Edith Kermit Carow and she was the daughter of a prominent merchant.

Teddy was a third cousin twice removed of president Martin Van Buren, a fifth cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and uncle of Eleanor Roosevelt, and a great uncle of Joseph Alsop and Stewart Alsop, both well know journalists of their time.

Teddy's daughter "princess" Alice was married in the East Room of the White House. She lived to the age of 96 and was considered by Society folks to be Washington's other Monument.

Ethel, Teddy's other daughter married a Doctor and during WWI she served as a nurse to her husband in the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris.

Teddy oldest boy, Teddy Jr., became a soldier and eventually a Brigadier General. He received a Purple Heart, the U.S. Distinguished Service medal and eventually in WWII the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Harding; he was appointed governor of Puerto Rico and then governor-general of the Philippines by Coolidge; and he ran for Governor of New York against Al Smith, but lost.

Kermit, Teddy's second son was also a soldier. He ended up dying of natural causes while on duty in the U.S. Army in Alaska.

Archibald was also a soldier. He was severely wounded in WWI and discharged as disabled. He joined up again, obviously healed up somewhat, in WWII and was severely wounded once again and again discharged as disabled.

Quentin became an Army Air Corps pilot and was shot down and killed by German fighter planes during WWI.

Teddy, himself, served as a member of the New York National Guard. He commanded the U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as The Rough Riders and is famous for charging up Kettle Hill, in the San Juan Hills in Cuba.

As a child little Teddy was rather sickly suffering from asthma. Teddy was so sickly he had to be tutored at home. When he wasn't sick or bedridden he was hyperactive and mischievous. He was kind of a nerd. He liked bugs and held aspirations of becoming a zoologist. Being small, nerdy, and needing glasses other kids had a tendency to beat him up. His dad bought him a gym and Teddy became a physical fitness fanatic and a boxing expert.

Teddy was somewhat religious but didn't really seem to favor any one particular Church over another. He attended the Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Grace Reformed, Christ Church etc. He didn't care much for many of the teachings of Lutherans or Calvinists or even Roman Catholics. But with all this religion he was nevertheless a firm believer in the separation of Church and State.

He campaigned against the idea and practice of stamping In God We Trust on U.S. coins. His reasoning was interesting. He felt that stamping the name of God on money was insulting to God. He considered it sacrilegious. Teddy was obviously one of those wealthy people who didn't necessarily believe that his wealth was a direct inheritance from God and therefore worthy of worshipping. He chose to worship God directly and not money or those who thought they possessed it at His discretion. This is one of the reasons that many wealthy people considered Teddy a traitor to his class.

At first Teddy thought he would pursue law, but then on second thought, he felt more could be attained if he were to become one of the "ruling class." So he got into politics and the New York political machine.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Teddy was somewhat of a problem and an embarrassment to his "class." He kept trying to reform everything. He kept calling rich people "criminals and making reference to the "tyranny of wealth" but then the war with Spain came along, and Teddy was thrilled. He ordered a uniform appropriate from Brooks Brothers, and was off to San Juan Hill (Kettle Hill) with his own personal army of Rough Riders. Some historian's praise his effort as a heroic action while others claim it to be a rather foolhardy and misguided endeavor of unnecessary gallantry. In any case, he got his picture in the papers and then before you knew it, he was Governor of New York.

He liked being Governor of New York, but the New York political machine bosses did not like Teddy. Senator Thomas Platt, one of the big boys, was pretty upset with little Teddy. He is quoted as saying; "I want to get rid of the bastard. I don't want him raising hell in my state any longer." Teddy kept talking about things like the "tyranny of wealth" and the "criminal rich." So the big boys in New York thought that the best thing for Teddy, the very popular war hero and man of the people, would be a nice safe place under a rock somewhere.

They couldn't find a big enough rock, so what greater position of obscurity and anonymity in government could there be than the Vice Presidency. So they got him drafted and then nominated as Vice President under their stalwart friend of big business and champion of the rich and powerful, Mister McKinley.

McKinley was not very happy with the choice and Mark Hanna, McKinley's finance and campaign manager, warned the big boys that there was now only one life between the White House and a mad man.

After McKinley's assassination, Hanna cried; "Now look, that damn cowboy is President of the United States."

Once President, Teddy was hard to get rid of. Everybody liked him. He kept bad-mouthing and harassing the big money boys. He became the friend of "Teddy" bear cubs and tree huggers and did his best to make enemies of the railroads, and the giant trusts. But whatever he was doing, he was doing it right because even Morgan, Harriman, Rockefeller, Frick and Gould backed him for a second term. He put thousands of acres aside for National Parks and monuments; sent the U.S. Navy around the world; bought the first airplane from the Wright brothers to start the U. S. Air Force; dug the Panama Canal – which he claimed to have stolen fair and square; he invited a Negro to eat at the White House, Booker T. Washington; and negotiating a treaty between the Russians and the Japanese (Russo-Japanese War 1904-5) won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was not exactly thrilled receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and he did let it be known that he thought that war was good and proper – it built character. But Teddy did think that war should be periodically interrupted by short intervals of peace. I would suppose he thought that to be necessary to give the nations of the world time to re-arm.

Once Teddy got rolling there was no stopping him. After loosing the Republican nomination to Taft, but feeling as fit as a "bull moose" he ran for President, nominated by the Progressive Party.

While he was about to give a speech in Milwaukee a would-be assassin ran up to him and put a bullet into his chest. The bullet went through his written speech which he had in his pocket; then through his metal eyeglass case; and then sunk four inches into his chest. He coughed into his hand to see if there was blood in his lung, and then went on to speak before the crowd for fifty minutes.

He didn't win. He split the Republican ticket, stopped Taft from getting a second term, and got a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, elected. Mr. Taft was very disappointed in his one time friend and benefactor.

Teddy was also an author. He wrote numerous history and true life adventure books. He wrote many newspaper and magazine articles and was quite a popular and interesting writer in his times.

Teddy was as you might have expected active up until the very last moments of his exciting and involved life. His active and daring life may have contributed to his somewhat early demise in 1919 at age sixty-one. He suffered from recurrences of malaria and a leg infection gained roaming with his boy Kermit in the jungles of Brazil. He was writing and even criticizing President Wilson the very day before he died.

His last words were not very prophetic, exciting or philosophical. He told his valet James Amos to "please turn out the light" as he left his bedroom. Teddy died quietly and peacefully in his sleep.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Lawrence – My Hometown


By Richard E. Noble

Jimmy Rowland had a 1953 Mercury. He lived on Spruce St. and I lived one block over on Chelmsford. I met Jimmy in my early Walter’s Variety Store period. I think I may have been guilty of teaching him how to smoke cigarettes.

I can still remember the afternoon when Dickey Bolton taught me how to inhale. Very shortly thereafter, I was puffing out smoke rings and filtering smoke out through my nose. If only physics or algebra gave me the same thrill.

Jimmy got his faded blue ’53 Merc just in time for our junior year at Central Catholic High School. He had a plan for the interior but only got so far as to remove the bolts that secured the front seat to the floor.

Jimmy was always late. I was always late too, but Jimmy was often even later. I would sit out on my front porch waiting as long as I dared for his Merc to turn the corner. By two or three minutes after eight I had to start hoofing it, Jimmy or no Jimmy.
Most often by the time I hit Arlington St. or DeSantas’s Variety on Spruce St., Jimmy would race up beside me and honk. I would jump in the front passenger side, voicing my relief and discontent. Jimmy would apologize for being late. He would put his cigarette between his lips and grab onto the steering wheel with both hands, then laugh and hit the gas. Without fail the front seat would flop backwards, and I would go ass over tea kettle into the back seat.

Every damn morning, it was the same thing. I still can’t believe that I could never realize what was going to happen and brace myself accordingly. I was always so worried about being late and getting 11 years in room 22 from Vice Principal, Brother Herman Georing or whatever his name was. He had replaced Brother Richard who was great. This new guy and his pal, Principal Huge (Adolf) Ephram or whatever, Brother George’s replacement, were, in my opinion, responsible for the pussifying of Central Catholic High School.

They were trying to turn it from a rough and tumble Lawrence neighborhood school into some kind of fancy conservatory or Ivy League prep school. I was totally opposed to the reconstruction.

The orchestrated cheering practices with the cheers actually spelled out on a piece of paper were too much for me – Rah, rah, rah, sis boom bah. I couldn’t believe it. Today they even have “girls” attending Central Catholic. My God! Total pussification!
I don’t know where Jimmy got his wardrobe but he had some wild ties and shirts – and he wore them to school every day.

He had a variety of Hawaiian, multi-colored pastel shirts – sky blue, turquoise, pink, sunset yellow, pacific green and several other bright “pretty” colors splashed randomly over the fabric. He would top this type shirt off with a wide flaring tie – usually sporting a girl in a bikini or a guy on a surfboard. He had some ties where one could turn the tie this way or that way and the girl would change bikinis or the wave would crash on the surfboarding guy. I don’t remember if he had any ties that glowed in the dark or lit up in psychedelic colors – but he may have.

The brothers always took note of Jimmy’s choice in attire but no one said anything. Hawaii was a state, you know. I suppose it could have been considered unpatriotic to criticize. Jimmy’s dad could have been an admiral stationed at Pearl Harbor or something – you never know.

Brother Joe, the freshmen football coach, caught us coming down the second floor gym corridor “almost” late one morning. Brother Joe noticed Jimmy’s shirt and tie and seemed to be displeased. He stopped Jimmy but to my surprise only asked that Jimmy tuck the shirt into his pants. He made no comment on the hula girl tie or the blazing sunset shirt. Jimmy sighed deeply, tucked in the front of his shirt but not the sides or the back and hurried off.

Brother Joe was not entirely satisfied with that response. He grabbed Jimmy by the back of the shirt and slammed him up against the cold, cement block wall. With his nose nearly touching Jimmy’s nose he said in a quiet determined anger, “What do you think you are a smart guy?” Brother Joe sounded very much like Edward G. Robinson in one of those gangster movies or Clint Eastwood in a “make my day” sort of way.

“No Brudder. You said to tuck my shirt in. So I did.”

“You did huh. Is that how you always tuck in your shirt to attend classes here at Central Catholic High?”

“No Brudder, but I was in a rush. We’re a little late today.”

“Tuck in the shirt properly,” Brother Joe threatened while releasing his stranglehold on Jimmy throat.

Jimmy followed instructions and was released but the warning bell sounded. By the “rule” everybody had to be in their homeroom by the sounding of the warning bell. If not, a possible 11 years in room 22, standing at attention and staring at the back wall, if caught by the Gestapo.

I had scurried into our homeroom. I was safe. Jimmy was late and suddenly there stood Brother Herman Georing at our homeroom door. Jimmy was done for – but not quite. He snuck up behind the Brother and waited. With a little luck maybe he could sneak passed.

The Brother had his arm stretched across the doorway. When the Brother turned his head to the left, Jimmy swayed to his right. When the Brother turned his head to the right, Jimmy swayed to the left. Everyone in the class was aware of the situation – even our homeroom brother, Simian, the school bus driver. The class began to laugh and mumble and everyone was looking toward Brother Herman Georing standing in the doorway with his shadow, Charlie Chaplin, bobbing and weaving behind him. The assistant principal finally got the message and he turned slowly to the left to see what might be going on behind him. As he did Jimmy slipped into the room via his right. Brother Georing did a complete pirouette but discovered nothing unusual. The classroom was in an uproar, even Brother Simian was laughing. Jimmy was safe and already fumbling with the combination lock on his locker.

Jimmy was also a lady’s man. I can still remember the time he had one steady girlfriend at the front door of one of our beach cottages while entertaining another semi-steady girl in the kitchen. On that occasion he escaped via the bathroom window. The two steady girls passed one another at the door both looking for Jimmy but never met or spoke – and were none the wiser.

Now I’m telling you all this in preparation for graduation night. I could have simply said that Jimmy was a funny fellow or a clown of sorts but that wouldn’t have painted the proper picture. You should have Jimmy in your sights by now. So let us now return to that fateful evening in the Central High gymnasium.

We had practiced for this event a hundred times. There really was no reason for a problem. We knew who would be first and who would be last in each row. There should have been nothing to it. We had lined up on the gym floor. We all knew who was to be on our right and our left. We knew what direction each row would take on their path to get up and onto the stage where we would receive our diplomas. We even practiced taking our diploma in our LEFT hand and shaking hands with our right. We had gone through all of this, time after time. It should have been a piece of cake. And it was a piece of cake for the entire graduating class … except for one individual.

There was only one thing that we hadn’t practiced. We did not practice with the actual folding chairs lined up on the gym floor. It was considered superfluous, I imagine.

Jimmy was supposed to be in the end seat on my row. But for some reason one clown in our row didn’t scooch up to the guy next to him. When Jimmy attempted to assume his position in the last seat on the aisle in my row there was no space. Jimmy tried to push the kid who was standing in front of his folding chair in a bit but the guy wouldn’t budge. Jimmy had to think and move quickly. The audience of parents and admirers was seated up above on the floor that looked down onto the gym. Everybody – all the parents and relatives – could see everything. They had an elevated bird’s eye view of the gym floor.

Since the guy in front of Jimmy’s seat wouldn’t budge, Jimmy had to push his way into the line entering the row behind us.

I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. Jimmy was now sitting off to the right behind me.

“That F’in butt hole wouldn’t push in,” he whispered, terror struck.”

“Yes, I noticed that,” I whispered looking straight ahead.”

“I’m going to kill that son-of a b—ch after this is over. What do I do now?”

“I have no idea.”

“Everybody is going to get the wrong diplomas. Jez -zus F’in H. Christ! Can you believe this sh–t?”

I turned my head slightly to look at Jimmy’s face. I had never before in our career together as friends seen Jimmy with such a distressed look. For reasons beyond my control a tiny sputter of laughter began to well up inside of my stomach. It felt kinda like a burp or gas or something. I tried to hold it down. But slowly it began gurgling out. I began sputtering in my seat. I kept my mouth closed but then my cheeks would puff up with suppressed chuckle and uncontrollable little noises began erupting from me. I couldn’t stop them from coming out. I tried burying my face in my hands. I kept thinking that this could only happen to Jimmy Rowland.

The guys on both sides of me started elbowing me. “Come on man! Our parents are here watching this. This is important you screw off.”

I looked over to my left. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my buddy Peter. He was scrunched up onto one little folding chair with some other, big fat guy. He peeked down his row and saw Jimmy sitting there in the wrong place, then he looked over at me. When he saw my face, my condition spread to him. His cheeks began to bubble up and then we were both sputtering and backfiring as we shook and rattled in our folding chairs.

I could feel Jimmy glaring at the back of my head. I turned and peeked ever so cautiously. Jimmy’s face was extremely red. He tried to maintain his frowning temperament but looking at me it became difficult.

“This is not funny,” he whispered with a slight giggle and a half grin that vanished almost before it started.

“I know, I’m sorry but I just can’t help it,” I whispered in return.
I realized that I couldn’t look at Jimmy. I kept looking straight ahead and concentrating on the ceremony.

Next, I heard a small commotion behind me. I peeked over my shoulder for a second time and Jimmy was gone. I turned to my left and there was Jimmy crawling along the floor in the row behind me. All the guys in my row were now seated in their proper chair. Jimmy’s end-of-the-row seat was miraculously vacant. Jimmy decided to get to his seat commando style. But he had a long crawl ahead of him. He had to go to the end of Peter’s row and sneak around the corner into our row and then crawl all along the entire row of about twenty or thirty folding chairs, over everybody’s spit-shined shoes, until he reached his proper seat at the other end.

As I watched him crawling down the aisle towards me on two knees and one hand – the other hand holding his graduation cap onto his head, I nearly went into a convulsion. I was sure everybody in the entire building could hear me gulping and puffing. I tried pretending that I was coughing but it was a strange sound.

When Jimmy finally arrived at my chair, he stopped and looked up at me – on his knees, one hand bracing the floor and the other holding his graduation cap to his head. The golden tassel dangled down between his eyes and over his nose. He tried to puff it out of his line of vision. It didn’t budge. I thought I was going to die. I exploded. I turned my explosion into a rather strange sounding sneeze followed by some severe coughing and hiccupping. Students from all over were turning to look at me but it was beyond my control.

When Jimmy finally slid up onto his rightful seat at the end of our row with two dirty knee spots on his graduation gown, his face and neck traffic-light red, and glanced down in my direction, it was all over for me. The remainder of my graduation was a blur of tears, deep breaths, and failed attempts to control the “giggles” and the sputters. I remember nothing else from that afternoon. I don’t even remember going up to the stage to get my diploma. I don’t know who gave it to me. My whole graduation is Jimmy Rowland.

I never again saw Jimmy with as frightened and frustrated a face as he exhibited on that graduation day. Even at his wedding, he was less flustered. The only image that remains with me today of that entire graduation event, so important to everyone’s life, is that of Jimmy Rowland crawling past me on the gymnasium floor and stopping to look up at me in utter desperation. If I only had one of our modern digital cameras, I could have captured the “look” of a lifetime. That one look made up for a thousand early morning tumbles into the back seat of that darn ’53 Merc. Oh brother, I’ll never forget my high school graduation! Thanks for the memory, my friend.