In Praise of Thanksgiving

The Big Bird Is Ready!

 

By Cecil Hoge

In this dynamic, disconcerting, dyslexic, deluded, deficient, dysfunctional, dismal, delightful, decadent digital age, it is nice to think that there are still some normal family traditions that prevail. One of them is Thanksgiving.

My wife prepares for this annual event about 6 months before its actual occurrence. Much goes into her planning. Deciding on what size turkey, deciding on what relatives to invite, deciding if she is up to such an effort. Now in the case of this particular Thanksgiving, my wife let events overtake her.

She had proclaimed to me that this was to be our Thanksgiving, alone with just my son and herself. She came to this conclusion since she speculated that none of her sisters would attend. For this reason, she let her usual advance planning slide. Why, for example, order a turkey when there might only be three people to eat the turkey. I agreed with my wife’s logic, even if I was not convinced of the actual outcome. You might say that I had heard this kind of commentary before. Many is the family event that, not 15 minutes after the last family member left, that my wife said, never again.

As Thanksgiving drew close, my wife decided to invite 2 of our closest friends. That was one married couple, the Allens and they accepted. That meant we would be 5 for Thanksgiving. Since there are not many turkeys designed to be eaten by 5 people, my wife held off from ordering a turkey. My wife likes to buy things in advance. And when she does she tends to buy things in bulk, always proclaiming what a value the bulk purchase is. So in the case of this particular Thanksgiving, my wife, in a rare moment of indecision, did not prepare anything for Thanksgiving until about 6 weeks before.

Around that time, my wife began to get family remorse. Family remorse is kind of like buyer’s remorse, except it works in reverse. Instead of returning something, you take back something. So, in order not to make any long lost sisters feel left out she called each, knowing full well that they would say they could not make it because of other plans. So that is what my wife did. She called her two sisters and sure enough they both said there was no way that they could make it.

About this time, our two friends called to ask if they could bring along two of their daughters and a friend of the children. My wife immediately accepted knowing that we getting close to the required quantity for eating a turkey. So now the 5 were 8. And then one of her sisters called to say she and her husband could make it after all. That made 9.

Seeing the trend, we invited my brother John and his girlfriend, Figen. Voila, we were now 11. I could see a good-sized turkey coming down the pike. Then my wife’s sister called and asked if her son and girlfriend could tag along. That made 13. Then my wife, throwing caution to the wind, decided to invite her niece, her niece’s husband and her grand-niece. Now, we were up to 16. Suddenly, we were in traditional turkey fest territory.

That meant a flurry of ordering stuff from hin and yon. Since we no longer go to our local supermarket, that meant going online and ordering a vast array of different foods, condiments and drinks from the local food delivery service. The turkey itself was to be ordered from some special turkey farm and my wife, always in fear of coming up short when it comes to food, ordered a 24 lb. turkey.

Events were moving fast, duties were being divided up. My wife would handle the turkey, the string beans, stuffing, gravy, salad and some of the deserts etc., while my wife’s friend, Donna, would handle the mashed potatoes, turnips a different kind of stuffing,  and most importantly, the sweet potatoes garnished with melted marshmallows, and more of the deserts. I was getting hungry just thinking about all these wonderful preparations.

During this period of preparation, I was left free to attend to work and paddling on the water when it was warm enough. To be sure, I was warned that there would major duties coming up. I was assigned buying the wine and picking up various needed supplies. If you think I got off scot-free, think again because there were other unwritten duties to be accomplished. These included pulling out various cooking utensils and cooking devices from dark, rarely explored areas of our basement. It also meant gathering chairs of various descriptions, sweeping the porches of recently fallen leaves, removing garden utensils from the garden and placing them in other dark places in the basement.

That was not the half of it. The summer furniture had to be covered or removed to the basement…that included the 2 rocking chairs and table chairs for the outside table. The pool implements that had been left on the back porch had to be removed and again placed in the nether regions of the basement. The long-lost electric pump had to be found and then placed on the pool cover and excess water had to be drained away. In short, the Honey Do duties never seemed to end.

Four weeks before Thanksgiving, my wife and her friend kicked to high gear, ordering pies galore, cookies, cakes…and other foods with high caloric values. In between, I was being sent off for various jobs…clearing the porches, sweeping the porches, gathering firewood, filling the bird feeder with seed, bringing up long-lost coolers from the basement to augment the space for chilled food that would not fit in the two quite large refrigerators that were always on duty.

I know you may minimize my duties and say that the real work was done by my wife and most probably she would agree, but to me, in between going to an office each day of the week, trying to get a reasonable amount of exercise on a regular basis, this all seemed like quite a lot.

But as things will, time passed and we came closer and closer to the actual event. I successfully completed most of my assigned tasks and was able to secure the wine on the evening before Thanksgiving.

The morning of the day itself, I knew any attempt to veer off into some other preferred activity, like scanning e-mails or going for a freezing paddle, would be hopeless, so I resigned myself to the duties before me. And I also wisely asked my wife periodically what else I might do, knowing full well that I would probably be presented more new duties.

My wife demonstrating the fine art of mushroom peeling

And so it was that I found myself peeling mushrooms. To tell you the truth, I never heard of anyone peeling mushrooms and I had apparently successfully navigated 75 years of life without ever peeling a mushroom or even hearing about anyone else peeling a mushroom or, perhaps, I just conveniently forgot that people peeled mushrooms. Whatever. My wife explained that you have to peel mushrooms, especially on Thanksgiving, and so I was obliged to learn the art. By the way, the mushrooms were to be used in the gravy and in the stuffing, which was all news to me.

Peeling mushrooms is not as difficult as one would think. It was a two-step process. First, you have to remove the inner stem. Then you have to peel from the inside of the inner circle where the stem was. You can do it with your thumb and forefinger or you can do it with a knife. Either way, you grab a flap of the outer mushroom and peel away. It is kind of like peeling an onion without tears or the smell. You pull off one layer and underneath is another layer without any of the scum and dirt that was on the outer layer.

If I say so myself, after a few minutes of practice, I got pretty proficient. I was plucking out stems, peeling layers of the mushroom like real pro in about 30 minutes, which was just about the time it took to get through the allotted batch of mushrooms that my wife had designated for Thanksgiving.

After that task proved so easy, I foolishly volunteered for the next task at hand. This turned out to be slicing string beans. Now I cannot claim I never heard of slicing string beans. It seems to me I have actually done that from time to time. So I sat down with my wife and we both sliced string beans for the next 20 to 30 minutes. My wife explained that we would not have to do this if the string beans were fresh out of a garden. No, in that case, all you would have to do would be wash the string beans and snap off the ends. But in this case, the string beans did not come from the garden – they came in a nice hermetically sealed plastic bags.

My beautifully cut string beans

The bag said they were pre-washed, but my wife, always a stickler for cleanliness, insisted on washing them again and then slicing them. It was important to slice off the ends of the string beans at an angle. I am not sure why, but my wife assured me it was important and like an obedient husband, I followed my wife’s instructions to the T. Within 30 minutes we had sliced all the string beans and my wife pronounced our task completed.

That completed extra-curricular duties on Thanksgiving. My wife said I could now go back to the more manly tasks of setting out chairs in the living room and setting up the drink table just outside the door the dining room to the porch.

All these domestic duties reminded me of my Uncle Hamilton referred to as “the division of duties between a man and a woman”. A couple of things have to be understood about my uncle Ham. He came from a time when the division of duties between men and women were regarded somewhat differently. In my uncle’s mind, the man’s duty consisted of providing an income and housing for his wife and family while the wife’s duty consisted of taking care of kids and the home and being sure that all domestic tasks were done.

Of course, that is not quite the way it worked out within his own family. In fact, his wife was more generally bringing in the majority of income, although there were times in his career that he did bring in a good income for his family. Later in life, however, it turned out that his wife had a real gift for business management and she ended up being the social director of the Museum of Modern Art, which meant that sometimes I got invited to these bigwig celeb parties and almost always my uncle got to come, sip scotch whiskey, smoke Camel cigarettes and talk about his prowess on the tennis court at those same parties.

My uncle Hamilton was not a man from this presently politically correct period. He liked to talk about what he referred to as “the new crop”.

“There is a new crop that comes along every…it is the way of world and it is wonderful.”

What he was referring to was beautiful young ladies coming of age. Hamilton was a great admirer of beautiful ladies. He was also a true gentlemen. He did not walk into rooms that ladies present in his bathrobe or without his bathrobe. Nor did he have a button installed in some room that locked a door and prevented young ladies from escaping his attentions. No, Hamilton was gentleman of the old school. Yes, he would ogle beautiful young ladies, smile at them, chat them up, while standing in a handsome Tweed jacket and Lilly Pulitzer pants, sipping his scotch and pulling on a Camel cigarette.

It seems that I have strayed from the subject at hand.

Returning to my own situation this Thanksgiving, it was understood that I was there to help out with gathering materials and goods for the gathering, but generally I was left out of physical preparations of vegetables and turkey and stuffing. This for a good reason…because I was not very good at cooking things and moreover I lacked the management skills to do such things on any kind of schedule.

So peeling mushrooms and slicing string beans were generally out of my wheelhouse. That said, I thought that I did a magnificent job and I am pretty sure my wife was happy to get some real, down in the trenches help with the cooking preparations. Perhaps more importantly, just the physical acts of peeling mushrooms and slicing string beans gave me a true sense of being useful and helping with getting the Thanksgiving bounty on the table. Best of all, in a little under an hour, I had completed these duties and could return to more manly duties, such as crumpling newspapers and putting sticks and logs in the fireplace.

By 11 a.m. our friends the Allens had arrived complete with their set of supplies. This included sweet potatoes glazed with marshmallows, turnips, cookies and more pies. I put their pies next to the several other pies we had along with several banana bread offerings my wife had made.

That of course was interrupted by various impromptu duties which seemed to arise every few minutes to move tables, carry sodas outside to the drink table, set up chairs and put soda, seltzer, white wine in the two over large coolers used to augment our two completely loaded refrigerators. We did get some time to sit and chit-chat and eventually we even received permission to bring out some cheese and other crudities.

By 11 o’clock the first guests began to arrive. Strangely enough this was well before the predicted arrival of guests. My wife, who likes to start things early predicted her family members would arrive between 2 and 3. But she was wrong. First to come after the Allens was my wife’s nephew, Sam, and his girlfriend, Jennifer. Shortly, thereafter my wife’s sister along with her husband, Steve. Then came the two daughters of the Allens, Deloris and Jasmine, and their friend. All of this brought more new duties…hanging up coats, lighting the fire, getting drinks, bringing out cheese plates, crackers, veggies plates and other crudities. And of course, it gave me and Chuck a chance to dig into some of these early eats, which, I am proud to say, we did with relish.

As time went on, more guests began to arrive…Bernadette, Sam’s sister, her husband, Stephen, and Stefanie, their 16-year-old daughter. Dutifully, I would hang up coats, take drink orders, pass around the crudities plate. By and by, my brother, John, and Figen, his girlfriend arrived. Again, I hung up coats and took drink orders.

Around 3:00, we all sat down and began to eat.

Before doing so, I had to attempt to carve the turkey. That is another activity that is out of my wheelhouse, but I tried my best. My wife’s father was an excellent carver of turkey and other meats. Me not so much. Since my wife’s father had passed on and was not present, I had to do my best to fill his illustrious shoes. Understandably, my carving was not good enough and was either too thick or too thin slices.  I will never claim to be a good carver. Alas, it was my duty to provide and provide I did, even if 90% of the slices were not perfect.

So we had two tables set for the guests to sit down at and a long table where the food was laid out and a drink table just outside the dining room door. This large food table included a large list of traditional foods. Turkey, of course, stuffing, of course, mashed potatoes, of course, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows, string beans, mushrooms, salad, gravy by the gallons, cranberries, cranberry sauce, biscuits, banana bread, butter, plates and utensils for all of the above and so on.

When everybody had gotten together all of the food they could possibly heap on their plates, we all sat down. I gave a little speech saying that this had not been the easiest year, citing my wife’s and my son, Joshua’s operations, repeated doctor visits and other difficulties. In spite of all, I said we managed to get through and were very grateful. In summary, I said we had much to be thankful about and I was grateful we had this opportunity to gather as family and friends. And so I gave thanks to the Lord for letting all this happen and then I sat down and we all dug in.

Well, as in Arlo Guthrie’s song, Alice’s Restaurant, we had everything we ever wanted, excepting Alice of course. Everyone ate too much and then everyone came back for seconds. After the big dinner, the 6 pies (my wife claims that I have been exaggerating the true number)and cookies were brought out (I had lost count) and all imbibed in more high calorie dishes. After dinner and dessert was finally finished, we all sat in the living room, told tales, reminisced about the last year and this year, laughed and cried, chatted and yelled and generally had a fine old-time.

When the time came for the guests to leave, they all did so respectfully and lovingly, hugging each other, vowing to see each other more often during the next year. In short, we all had a truly fine Thanksgiving.

Eventually, after loading and unloading the dishwasher about 7 times, gathering plates, putting away plates, gathering glasses and putting away glasses, filling several garbage cans with the leftover residue, everyone left and my wife, I and our son were left in the peace and quiet of our home.

Of course, any Thanksgiving dinner is an undertaking and this was no different. And no doubt, my wife was responsible for about 90% of the work and planning. Nevertheless, I felt a warm feeling, thinking that in my limited way, I had contributed and that the evening had gone, just as should, happily and merrily, enjoyed by all.

All of this got me to thinking that family gatherings and Thanksgiving in particular are very underrated. So this is a story in praise of Thanksgiving.

This was not the actual group that came, but it is a recent Thanksgiving picture and some of the folks in this picture were at the Thanksgiving described above.

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The City After Many A Year

Now called Baker Street Pub, this was the original location of TGIF Friday’s – the chain survived, the founding bar did not!

By Cecil Hoge

It has been some time since I visited New York City for more than a few hours at a time. In the last several years I have visited Chinese, Korean and other American cities more often and for longer periods of time. And that is strange for two reasons. One, I live 60 miles from New York City. Two, New York is the city of my birth.

So when the chance came up for me to visit the city with my wife for a few days, I was hoping that there might be some time to see some of the changes that have taken place…what was new and what was old. Because the primary reason for coming to the city was to be with my son while he stayed at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a few days, there would be very little time for running around and investigating the city.

The city has not really changed that much since I was born there. There are still some 8 million people living there. It is still the financial center of the America. It is still America’s biggest city. And yes, it is still The Big Apple. Of course, there are the new buildings…occupying spaces that were either empty or previously filled by older buildings. And yes, the times and the vibes the city gives off have changed.

When I was born at Doctor’s Hospital opposite Gracie Mansion, the country was already in World War II. I suppose those times must have been full of doubt and fear and for my parents, a newly married couple, it must have been a leap of faith to have a child just as the United States was getting fully committed to the worldwide war. And I suppose until World War II was resolved in our favor, there must have been a pall of fear and anxiety hanging over the city as the war went on.

I do not remember what that felt like. I was just too young. I do remember my first experiences in the city. Growing up in NYC as I did for the first 11 years of my life in a rent-controlled apartment building at 520 East 90th, life in the city was endlessly interesting. Taxi cabs, subways buses, walking many city blocks…all became 2nd nature to me, although I quickly developed a prejudice for the cabs that would scoot you around the city, even if my parents would not trust me to take a cab until I got to the ripe old age of 10.

After the first 11 years at 520 East 90th, we moved to more gracious uptown digs, 1215 Fifth Avenue. That was on 102nd and Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks from where Harlem started. This was convenient because I had an aunt and uncle on 94th and Madison and another aunt and uncle at 1150 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 96th and 5th and a grandmother on 97th between Madison and Fifth. So almost all members of my immediate family were within walking distance.

Our apartment was on the 9th floor of this building

1215 Fifth Avenue was pretty fancy apartment building at the time. I notice that today there are 3 pending sales for apartments in the building, all in 4 million plus range, so I guess the building and the apartments are still pretty nice. We had a 3 bedroom spread on the 9th floor, with pretty nice corner living room over-looking Central Park and a real nice dining room for entertaining. I remember a rather glorious 12th birthday when my mother hired a real live magician to perform at my birthday.

I remember trying new things in that building – one hobby that I tried was kiting toilet paper. There were some serious wind drafts coming off of Central Park and a buddy and myself got the bright idea of flying toilet paper out of my ninth floor bedroom window. Imagine toilet paper going up and down and all around, floating and fluttering like white paper dragons over Central Park. It was really quite an impressive site. This probably would be frowned on today and when my mother discovered this new hobby she abruptly shut it and me down.

This is a picture of a corner apartment in 1215 Avenue like ours – I do not remember our living room looking quite like this, but it was sImilar. My bedroom window was around the corner.

Because kiting toilet paper was no longer an option, my best buddy and I got the bright idea to try dropping water bombs on pedestrians. It was quite amazing to see the reaction of pedestrians when one landed nearby. It made an incredibly loud noise and we could see some of the local New Yorkers were really frightened by this. I can say it is probably an excellent fact that none of the water bombs ever hit anyone, considering they were dropped from the 9th floor and gravity is a pretty impressive force.

Now we thought this was a perfectly harmless occupation, far less likely to get the attention that kiting toilet paper got. Fortunately, I found very quickly that it was dangerous to those below and to me personally. The very evening of the very day I learned to water bomb pedestrians, I chose to try dropping what I thought was a perfectly harmless water bomb on a cop who happened to be riding a horse. In those days, cops used to patrol the streets in the city on horses and it happened that one was conveniently riding below my window. The sound of the explosion was quite impressive, especially to the cop since it was my nearest miss. Neither the cop nor the horse seemed to appreciate my prank. The horse reared up, almost throwing the cop off of his mount. I looked down on this event and almost immediately the cop looked up. I sensed even from the ninth floor that the cop was not happy.

I immediately did the smart thing. I closed my window, hopped in bed and buried my head under the covers. That did not stop the cop from arriving at our apartment door along with an associate. Fortunately, my mother answered the door, assured the two cops that nobody in our apartment had dropped said water bomb. She even went on to invite the cops in and let them scan my bedroom to show that I had been asleep. Of course, my head and body was buried deep under the covers and the cops, who no doubt knew that I was the guilty party, gave up their quest to incarcerate. That experience left me with a deep appreciation of gravity. For some years thereafter I regularly had dreams of hitting cops and other pedestrians with water bombs. These dreams were quite frightening and it occurred to me that if had kept up my hobby I might well have killed someone.

Some of the many food carts along the street

Let me get back to the story at hand…our visit to New York City. We reserved a room at a comfortable, but antiseptic hotel called the Affina Gardens. It was on 64th between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Since my parents had an apartment years earlier around the corner at 330 East 63rd, I was familiar with the neighborhood, even if I had not visited for a number of years.

The first thing I noticed in what I will call the new New York City is the proliferation of fast food places…little self-serve cafes where one can walk in, order a sandwich and a coffee or soda and then sit at a bare table where one can watch the passersbys. And then there was also the army of tall carts clogging up various streets selling fruits, sandwiches, Cuban, Mexican, Chinese, Dominican, African specialties. Some are truly excellent and no doubt I would test some of them if I had more time or if I was inclined to get food from a cart.

But I am spoiled former New Yorker who likes to sit down and be attended to in a restaurant or a bar. In any case, there is not to be much of that on this trip. I am here to be at the bedside of my son. The first couple of days were fully occupied getting my son checked in to the hospital, checking into the nearby hotel and staying bedside until he got through his procedure. I can say, if staying in and around a hospital is ever good, everything did go well.

By third day, I was able to take some walks each day in the neighborhood of Memorial Sloan Kettering. The particular section of the hospital where my son was located was at 1275 York, which is on 68th and York Avenue. This was quite familiar to me because as mentioned, 50 years ago, my parents had an apartment at 330 East 63rd Street, just a few blocks away.

The street and apartment building where I used to live with my parents over 50 years ago, only 5 blocks from Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital

The second thing that I noticed on my walks, in addition to the many new fast food places, was how truly universal the use of cell phones was in the city now. I know this true everywhere now, but in the city it seemed more so. Everybody was either talking on a cell, texting on a cell, carrying cell phone in their hand as they ambled down the street or accessing information on a cell phone as they were walking down the street. And the sheer number of different human body forms, male or female, was truly impressive…young, old, thin, fat, white, black, Asian, South American, Mexican, Islamic, Hindu, African. Of course, that is to be expected in this digital age. However, I remembered a time when people walked down the street without seemingly talking to themselves or pressing fingers against slim, little rectangles as they bumped into street signs or stepped off curbs or crossed in front of buses.

Now coming from the suburbs on Long Island, we of course see plenty of folks on cell phones. Mostly, we see people chatting on the their cell phones in cars, at traffic lights, speeding down the highway, motoring through school zones. Occasionally, we see ladies or guys walking along the road on their power walks chatting to someone or riding a bike with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the cell or sitting on a curb texting some lost lover. Or we see them walking through malls, guys and gals, talking to former lovers, long lost friends or everyday buddies, happily or unhappily chatting away.

What was different about cell phone use in the city was the sheer volume and multiplicity of different humans on cell phones. I noticed cell phone use seemed particularly important for cyclists. I saw bicyclists on cell phones in every conceivable condition or situation, some riding no hands on the wheel happily chatting away, leaning this way and that in an effort to steer through the crowds of pedestrians, other cyclists, cars and buses, some with one hand on the handlebar and one hand on the cell, some stopped at a light texting before it turned green, some smoking a cigarette with one hand while talking with the other hand as they yawed their way down the very crowded bicycle lane, trusting that their bike would navigate itself by their telekinetic powers. I saw cyclists with messenger bags, chatting on one cell and texting on another, weaving through the multitudes with remarkable confidence considering that were not steering. I saw bicycles attached to delivery carts powering take-out orders to their intended destinations, again, while chatting, texting, accessing ball scores, checking in with the markets. Yes, it was big doings in the big city.

And that was just people on bikes. Of course, there were also bus drivers, truck drivers, car drivers, taxi drivers, Uber & Lyft drivers on cell phones, delivery men on cell phones, policemen on cell phones, food cart owners on cell phones, construction workers on cell phones, old grandmothers and grandfathers on cell phones, American Indians on cell phones, Indian Indians on cell phones, 6 year olds on cell phones, 2 year olds on cell phones – in this case, friendly mothers usually held the cell phones while the 2 year olds gurgled and giggled and dribbled.

I saw a one-armed, one-legged black gentleman in a wheelchair on Second Avenue between 73rd and 74th on a cell phone industriously smoking a cigarette with two fingers of his remaining hand while pecking out text messages with one finger of the same hand while occasionally picking up a playing card for the solitaire card game that was laid out on tray attached to his wheelchair. How he managed all this was pretty impressive. Yes, I concluded New Yorkers are very attached to their cell phones.

In looking at the ebb and flow of humanity that walked the streets of Manhattan, I could only wonder if the city has become more or less diverse. It was hard for me to tell, remembering how diverse it was years ago and seeing the great multiplicity in front of me in the city after many a year. And while I cannot say if the city is more diverse, I do think the mix of diversity has changed.

A few things stand out. I saw more Islamic style ladies walking the streets. I also saw more Islamic style ladies in the halls of Memorial Sloan Kettering…some are nurse’s and doctors…some are patients. I saw more Spanish speaking folks. I saw less hippies – in fact, I can’t recall seeing any hippies. No, the folks of today’s New York City are much more buttoned up. Much more together.

I Do Not Recall Seeing This Gentleman

I do not remember seeing Moondog. For those who don’t remember, Moondog was an interesting presence on the city scene, standing as he would on 54th and Park in Viking helmet with a giant spear humming eerie dissonant sounds. In fact, I do not remember seeing anyone who even remotely looked like Moondog, but I can only guess that the city still has some strange and interesting characters. That said, I sense the city streets were missing the outstanding weirdos of days gone by. It seems to me that the city has gentrified itself in the years since I stopped living and visiting there.

I did see a lot more Chinese ladies and guys both in the hospital and out on the streets. Some, I suppose some of them are long time residents of many years…others seem to be newcomers…either urban professionals working in business and finance or young doctors, some or many, perhaps, students.

Whatever the reason, there does seem to be a definite increase in Chinese folks, which if you ask me, is a benefit. I also think it is quite logical since Chinese are the most populous people on the planet and now have surpassed Americans as the greatest travelers on earth. You even see a few old Chinese guys who look like they worked in the fields in Shandong province picking apples, gnarled and thin from years of labor in the fields or a long life of smoking opium. Then you also see elderly Chinese men in dark, well-tailored business suits with expensive understated ties, sometimes accompanied by their wives walking one or two feet behind them.

Then there are the smartly dressed sporty Chinese guys in pressed and new cleaned jeans and snazzy multi-colored sneakers with their cells either close at hand or in a nearby pocket. Let us not forget the striking and beautiful young student Chinese girls and professional tech ladies…they are on their cells scanning markets, accessing Google on all matters of interest, doing studies on the decadent American culture or living the decadent and free American life, studying their contact list for ditched or retrieved lovers. Whoever they really are, they all seem very aware and energetic and on top of their game.

Then there are the huge numbers of Indians (not American Indians, but Indian Indians) and again they have population on their side. They come in all sizes, all ages and all professions…little hunch-backed Indian ladies, prosperous business suited doctors, young students, tall, stunning young Indian ladies, with sharp elongated faces framed with dark straight hanging, meticulous groomed hair. I saw many Indians on the first few days of walking around the East Side of Manhattan.

After the third day in the city, our son was feeling good enough for my wife and I to go to lunch at some of the local places and me to branch out on my walks in this city of my birth.

My wife and I had lunch in an Irish pub called Sullivan’s. It was only a few blocks from the hospital. For some reason, my wife was looking forward to a Shepard’s Pie. Having had that delicacy about 50 more times than I ever wanted to in boarding school, my dislike of that delicacy had not waned. I opted for a flat iron steak. I can verify that the use of the word iron was well chosen because my steak was definitely on the tough side. My wife did not have much kinder things to say about her Shepard’s Pie, although she did say the beer that came with it was excellent. The fault was ours of course – who goes to an Irish pub to eat?

It was at Sullivan’s that a fortunate thing happened. You may not consider it so and certainly my wife did not consider so, but as my wife was digging into her not very tasty Shepard’s Pie, she realized that she had lost her cell phone. In this day and age, the loss of cell is almost equivalent to the loss of a close personal friend. The remorse, the recrimination and the investigation that followed to determine what happened caused quite a few tense and troubling hours for my wife.

And then a miracle occurred. We reported the loss of the cell phone to an Apple app for that and lo and behold, that evening, I got a call on my cell from an  AT&T office. It turned out that my wife’s cell phone was now residing downtown at 82 Wall Street. How it got there is anybody’s guess. The best we can figure is that my wife dropped it on the street outside the hospital and then some bystander picked it up, perhaps, on their way to Wall Street, perhaps, hoping to access some secret information that would impoverish my wife and reward the hacker. Anyway, whoever picked it up ended up dropping my wife’s cell phone off at the 82 Wall Street AT&T office. If they were a hacker, they were a very considerate hacker.

That necessitated a trip downtown the next day to retrieve my wife’s cell. Testing my memory of where Wall Street was, I got to direct a Spanish taxi driver down the FDR Drive to Wall Street – I was very proud. Because it was Saturday, there was some kind of street fair selling various Spanish, Korean and Middle Eastern delicacies. For that reason, Water Street was closed. 82 Wall Street happened to be at the corner of Wall Street and Water Street, a few blocks away. So I got out of the cab.

That required me to walk a few blocks on Water Street to Wall Street. I passed dozens of Chinese, Korean and European tourists taking selfies of themselves, with numerous family members feasting on delicacies from carts parked on the closed street. Wall Street was just a few blocks down, so I kept walking by the assorted tourists. This gets me again asking myself if New York is more diverse today than it was when I grew up in the city.

I still have not made up my mind on that question – the best I can answer is it is diverse in a different way.

I got to the nearly empty AT&T office at the corner of Water Street and Wall Street where 3 young sharpie salesmen seemed eager to sell me a new cell phone. Their enthusiasm diminished when they realized that I was there to collect a lost cell phone. That said they helpfully suggested it must be in safe Number 1. A young man went off and looked in a room off to side suggesting I stand by the door to be out the rush of real customers who were nowhere to be seen.

He emerged to announce that it must be in safe Number 2 which unfortunately was locked and could only be opened by the nice manager lady who would arrive around 1pm or in about two and half hours. That seemed disconcerting so I ask the salesman to check with the other two sharpie salesman where my wife’s cell phone might be. He went away, asked a few questions and came back to announce no luck…then he tried to reach the nice manager lady by phone – she apparently was employing her cell phone’s power off feature.

I then called my wife to announce the three possibilities:

1. Hang around Wall Street – I was already forming a plan to use the extra time to walk to the new World Trade Center – and bring back the phone after 1pm.
2. Take a cab back and then take another cab back three hours later, pick up the phone and take a 3rd cab back – as you may understand that was not my favored option.
3. Give up the effort and come back to the hospital in defeat. While perfectly all right with me, I was pretty sure this was not an option that would fly with my dear wife.

Given the above, I gave my wife a summary of the 3 options while I plotted my visit to the World Trade Center which I had not seen since it collapsed. Halfway through the call an ample young black lady walked out a back room asking,

“Did I hear something about a lost cell phone? I have it.”

The story ended well, although I would have not minded checking out the new World Trade Center and the memorial to 2001. The last time I had visited that area, I stayed at a Marriot hotel a few blocks from the World Trade Center. My brother came in to the city and we had some giant steaks at Morton’s. Coming back from dinner, I walked in the small city below in search of socks and a shirt. Six weeks later the hotel, Morton’s, the World Trade Center and much of the underground city below had collapsed from the 911 attack.

In any case, on this trip I would not have an opportunity to check out the reconstructed World Trade Center and the surrounding area. Within in minutes I back in a cab with my wife’s cell phone and an Islamic cab driver who was either getting instructions of how to take me to 68th and York Avenue or plotting some terrorist attack or considering whether I was kidnap material. The cab driver happily conversed throughout the trip back in some Middle Eastern language that I did not understand or recognize. However, he delivered me quickly and efficiently to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital without kidnapping or proceeding with some terror plot. I was most happy.

My wife was also happy to have her cell phone a few minutes later.

The next two days were uneventful. My son was getting better every day and every day I took a somewhat longer walk to investigate the old streets that I used to know so well. And my wife and I would end going to dinner together after our day at the hospital. In this way we got to taste some other non Irish spots. We found a very nice Italian restaurant where we had some pretty decent Italian fare. The next day we ended up in a very simple, but quite decent American steak house that does not seemed to have changed since it opened in 1950. The food was not great but the wood paneling and the close musty atmosphere made swear I had gone to this same restaurant with my parents in the 1950s.

My father’s old office building, presently surrounded by scaffolding and high end stores.

That nostalgic dinner made me decide to cruise by my father’s old offices the next day. That was 699 Madison Avenue. In the 1950s he had an advertising agency called Huber Hoge & Sons that occupied the top 3 floors of the building. At the peak of its prosperity, my father over 100 people working for him. I remember as a kid visiting those offices quite regularly.

The high point of each trip was a pass through visit to the Gabor jewelry shop which located on the bottom floor to the left as you came into the building in a space now occupied by Jimmy Choo shoes. If my mother was dragging me along on a visit to my father’s office, we would always take a quick detour into the Gabor sisters shop, my mother checking out the latest offerings from the Gabor sisters and getting their advice and wisdom on marriage – a subject that the Gabor sisters were in a good position to opine upon. I did not know it that time, but my father’s marriage was on rocks and about to explode. On those visits, I was not concerned with the state of my mother’s marriage to my father which I thought had been ordained in heaven. Rather, I was too busy checking out the ample and lush figures of the Gabor sisters, which even from the point of a 12 year old, were very impressive.

Upstairs in the offices of my father’s advertising agency, everything was organized chaos. People were going in and out of offices, taking the elevator to different floors, sometimes running up and down the stairs if there was not enough time to take the elevator. My father had state of the art offices with people busily doing layouts, pasting down type and photographs. Everything was done at the last minute, even though everything took far longer to do, so ads that took two weeks to complete would be messengered across town to make some magazine or newspaper deadlines minutes before they closed. For those interested in such things, I can say it is almost the same today, although it often only takes minutes to complete an ad and e-mail a PDF minutes before various publications or websites needed the artwork or info to close or to make a post.

This was state of the art in my father’s day.

There were two machines that I rather liked in my father’s offices. One was the Dictaphone which was on my father’s desk. It recorded letters that my father spoke into it. It had some kind of flat paper-like material that went around in a circle and recorded his voice. It was beauty of a machine and my father would have used it a lot more if he wasn’t always in such a rush. So, most of the time, rather using this state of the art “time-saver”, my father dictated to poor Millie Clock, who was my father’s secretary, because usually my father could not spare the time to separately record his letter.

Another nifty device that my father had and I thought was the Cat’s Meow, was a tube transport system between offices. It worked like this. My father would try to call some employee who was on another floor and invariably the phone would be busy because even in the 1950s people loved to talk on the phone. No problem, my father would scribble some little note, usually no more that three words (i.e. “come to me”). He would tear off the note from the yellow pad that he was invariably writing on, roll up the ragged strip of paper, insert in a nearby tube and then plop the tube into a nearby hole in his desk and press a button with a number denoting the destination.

It was then that the magic began. The tube would suddenly disappear with an audible “whoosh”, sucked away to some unseen destination by some unseen entity. And then, if all went well, some fellow would appear in the office in a few minutes, usually carrying wide mechanicals for some desperately needed ad. My father would glance over mechanicals or rough layout or type-written documents and hand them back with further instructions. Now, sometimes something even cooler would happen. Another tube would come rocketing back with some short scribble inside like “see you in 20”. I thought it was all magic and wonder.

Flash forward 63 years later and what do I find?

Not only does the building still stand but the front entrance is just down from Hermes with Jimmy Choo occupying two storefronts on either side of the entrance. Things must be good at 699 Madison Avenue. Down the block are a whole bunch of very uppity stores in either direction. It is all very She-She with world famous high end brand stores as far as the eye can see…I am sure that the Gabor sisters and my mother would totally approve, although my father might have had something to say about the excessive and unnecessary display of useless wealth. Not so my mother, whose favorite store was Cartier and her favorite bar the Carlyle. Some things never change.

Nello in a spot I think was formerly occupied by Hamburger Heaven – note the snazzy vehicle out front – times is good on Madison Avenue.

Across the street a very nice looking restaurant, Nello, seems to be occupying the space that I remember Hamburger Heaven. The restaurant looks very nice with outside tables and some kind of parking attendants. I did note a very pricey looking sports car out front, so I am guessing this restaurant commands pretty robust prices. I would also guess the food is better than Hamburger Heaven, although those hamburgers truly were heaven.

My trip to New York was significant for all the places I did not go and for the fact that most of the time I was just in the 60s and 70s on the East Side. This is understandable because I was on hospital duty with my wife and my most important mission was to see that my son’s procedure and treatment went well.

So my wife and I did not take a Sunday walk in Central Park – I would have been curious if steel bands still played on Sunny fall days and whether the smell of marijuana would confront us every now and then as we walked through the park. I think that if I did go for walk I would have found serious joggers and bicyclists plying their healthy arts and absence of the scent of marijuana.

I would have liked to go down the village and see what was like. I would have liked to drop into McSorley’s to check out the local ales. I would have liked to go to some of the city’s museums and see what was on offering (maybe, Tutankhamen was coming back for a re-run). I would have liked to walked on the High Line. I would have liked to listen to music at some of the city’s many venues, I would have liked to explore some late night clubs and see what celebs were hanging out. Alas, it was not to be…there would be no Stork Club, no El Morroco, no L’interdit, no Ondine’s, no Max’s Kansas City, no CBGB, no Mudd Club…and I would not have time to check out their replacements.

il vagabondo, no longer in it’s former glory, closed for sale. Where will the bocci ball players go?

That said, I did get some time to continue my wanderings in the East 60s and 70s. Along the way, I stumbled across a long lost and favorite restaurant. Alas, it was closed or no doubt I would have taken my wife there the very evening I re-discovered it. But closed it was. Forever, I was told. A very well heeled young man saw me taking the above picture and took upon himself to hand me flyer from Cushman Wakefield. He thought I might be interested in purchasing the brownstone which included the restaurant. Even better than that, he informed me, the adjoining brownstone was also for sale – I could get a two for one price. I handed him the flyer back and told him not sell the two brownstones for a penny less than forty five million. I could not tell from his expression whether he was heartened or disappointed with that figure.

I did get to ask the young man what had happened to il vagabondo? It had closed in June he told me and now the building was for sale. I asked him if the bocci ball court was included. He began to get reanimated and said, yes, of course, the bocci ball court was included. You could turn the whole thing into your personal pleasure palace with the next door brownstone and after twenty or thirty million of fix up costs you would have yourself some boss digs. And then sensing that might be a little out of my budget range, he suggested a lowball alternative where I could have some nifty apartment above the restaurant and get some new trendy restaurant to take over the restaurant area. He was so convincing, I almost made an offer.

Anyway, he seemed like an exceedingly nice young man, wearing a suit and tie that cost no less than four grand, no doubt brought up by a very good family, who must have thought if he was not going to be a billionaire Wall Streeter, he could always sell some property in the city. I wished the young man well, while I lamented the plight of the bocci ball players who would now be forced to play in some local park where it might rain and where there were no lights to illuminate their evening games. I also would miss the wonderful waiters from il vagabondo who would come up to you and recite the whole menu without giving any opportunity to read a menu. It was always very impressive and the food was always good.

I walked around a little more the last two days before we went back to the country. The bars and restaurants…Friday’s, Maxwell’s Plum and yes, il vagabondo were all gone. It seemed their replacements had shifted a little closer to the Queensboro Bridge. There was a trendy looking Mexican place around 65th where people seemed to happy to wait outside for the next shift – I am thinking either the food or the tequila must have been very good. Friday’s, as noted at the beginning of this story, had morphed in The Baker Street Pub. From the outside it looked less crowded and more, how do I put it, authentic…no that is not the word. I suppose it does good business.

What was left of the old neighborhood that I remember? I can name one structure that seemed to be identical. It is not actually that impressive, but it was something that did not look like much had been done with it. Without further adieu, here it is:

Yes, the Avis Car Rental looks exactly like it did 50 years ago, although the cars are slightly different. Perhaps, it should be selected by the New York Historical Society for permanent preservation.

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Breaking News: I Talk to Swans – Charles and Monique Tell All

Charles The Swan

By Cecil Hoge

For 20 years or so I have been trying to talk to swans. They seem very intelligent and it was natural to me to try and communicate in some manner. In the process of paddling several days a week for over 40 years, you see a lot of birds on the water and swans are the largest birds you see and the least disconcerted by humans.

Now, I never thought you could actually talk to swans. I began by simply talking to swans in English. I know this does not make sense, but I felt somehow swans were very intelligent creatures and they would like me to talk to them and I thought maybe they might even understand me.

So, the first thing I would say is, “Hello, Mr. Swan,”  and then because I was never sure whether I was addressing a Mrs. Swan, I would go on to add, “And hello also if you are a Mrs. Swan.”

Sometimes, I would ask how he or she was doing, “I hope all is well Mr. or Mrs. Swan. I hope you are having a good day.”

I always had the sense the swans actually understood something of what I was trying to say. As the years went by, I added to my repertoire of one-sided conversation, telling them how good they looked, talking about what a good or bad weather day it was and sometimes giving them weather report that I thought might be of interest.

“It’s going to rain today,” I would tell them, “It might look beautiful to you now, but you wait, a little later, it is going to rain.”

The swans always seemed non-plussed about this, as if they already knew the information I was providing them with. That did not stop me. I went on providing them weather reports every day and since I paddle pretty much all year around that was a lot of weather reports. Little did I know that they really appreciated my efforts to provide them with this information, even though they already knew what kind of weather was on the way.

About ten years ago, I expanded my efforts to communicate and began to talk Swanese. Now, in truth, even to this day, I do not understand Swanese, but I did notice that swans make various kinds of noises, some of which were high-pitched screeches, others of which were low-throated squawks and quacks. So that is what I tried to do. At first my Swanese was pretty darn poor. Whatever sound I made did not sound remotely like the sounds that the swans nearby made.

But I kept at it and gradually I came to make sounds that I thought were a little closer to real Swanese. At first, the swans elegantly ignored me, cruising by as if I did not exist. But as time went by I got the feeling that they were warming up to me. Occasionally, one or two of the swans would give a schreech or a squawk or a quack in response. This made me feel my Swanese was getting better. Little did I know that my Swanese was really awful, but I did not find that out until years later.

Fifteen or twenty years went by with me saying hello in English, nodding, saluting the swans, squawking and schreeching and quacking in an effort to get to know swans better. I felt that I was making progress. I even felt that some of the local swans were coming to have some real respect for me. That turned out to be off the mark.

One day something strange and wonderful and truly unbelievable happened. I was paddling by a couple of swans when I heard not one, but two voices.

“I am tired of this charade, let’s speak to the stupid creature,” said one voice. It was a male voice, very assured and refined, not loud, but plainly audible.

“Charles, Mon Dieu,” said a female voice with a French accent, “You are not supposed to talk to zee humans.”

I turned towards the sound of the two voices and I saw nothing. Nothing, that is except two swans gliding quietly nearby Stone Bridge. Stone Bridge is a washed out bridge from the 1800s, the only remnants of which are left on the Strong’s Neck side of Little Bay.

Charles and Monique by Stone Bridge

Then I saw something, one the swans opened its mouth and began speaking to me…in English. You can only imagine my astonishment.

“Human creature,” it said in a deep authoritative voice, “we appreciate your efforts to speak to us, even if they are truly pathetic. I suggest you speak English to us so we can understand each other. God knows your “Swanese” is about as bad as it could be. My name is Charles and this is my bride of many years, Monique.”

I was quite surprised when this swan referred to “Swanese”. That was a term I thought I had coined and yet somehow this swan seemed familiar with my phrase.

“Really Charles,” said the other voice. This voice was female, lilting, sexy and somewhat sardonic, “I wonder why you bother. You know from experience how pathetic humans truly are.”

“Now, wait a minute, what do you mean humans are pathetic?” I said, already trying to defend my species, feeling particularly stupid because I was talking to two swans.

Monique was withering in her sultry way.

“Mon Dieu, zee imbecile speaks.”

“Don’t be so hard on him, my dear, you were human once.”

“That was in the court of Louis Quatorze,” I almost thought I could see a coy smile from the lady swan, “now that was a human worthy of the name.”

“My dear, that is enough of that…you do not have to go into your decadent past.”

I was beginning to feel I was some kind of a fifth wheel.

“Wait just a moment…what do you think is wrong with humans.”

I had never seen a swan giggle, but I swear that was what Monique was doing. She made a wierd movement and placed the tip of one of her wings in front of her mouth (or beak, as I should say), as if she was trying to hide something and then she kind of giggled and squeaked in delight.

“What is wrong with humans…the list is soo long the tide will go out before I finish it.”

I was outraged. I had to stand up and defend my species.

“Now, wait a minute.  I have been paddling by swans on this bay for almost 50 years and after trying to speak to you swans for the last 20 years, the first thing that you say to me is how pathetic humans are.”

Charles spoke up first in his steady, patient voice, “Don’t be so dismayed, we were both humans at one time and we know of your many failings. They come with the species. You cannot help it.”

“My failings, what are talking about?” I said, thinking what a strange experience this was…first to speaking English to two swans…second, being lectured like a child.

Monique was the first to respond,

“First and foremost, little man, you are screwing zee planet up 6 ways to Sunday. Look at this bay, Moron, it is full of algae and empty of almost anything living. Almost no fish, no minnows, no crabs, no clams, no oysters…what the hell do expect us to eat. We used to be able to eat gloriously here. Fortunately, if you eat the algae before it turns brown it does have some nutritional value, even if it is full of pollutants.”

“Now, Monique, do not be so hard on the creature. He doesn’t know the bay is dying?”

“Wait just a minute, all this is too much. First, you speak English, then you immediately launch into a tirade against humans.”

“First of all,” I went on, “Monique tell me why you speak with a French accent.”

I know this was not really pertinent, but I was really curious.

“Because I am a French swan you idiot and because I was once a French human. French swans and French humans are the smartest, most intelligent creatures to walk the face of the earth, you moron. Mon Dieu, zee idiot is beyond education.”

Obviously, Monique had an attitude problem. Fortunately, Charles came to my rescue.

“Do not worry yourself about Monique. She tends to be a little bit, how do say, stuck up.”

Just then another swan came splashing down just a few feet in front of us. You could tell this swan was not fully grown because its coloring was still a faded gray brown and not yet fully white.

“Don’t be alarmed, it is only our son Albert. Albert, this is that weird human who keeps trying  to talk to us. I decided to make his day and talk English.”

Albert came cruising right up to me. I was pretty sure he was going to attack, but at the last moment he slowed and made small circle around me, obviously checking me out.

“He doesn’t look that stupid,” was all Albert had to say.

“For a human, that is.”

I must say this was some strange introduction to the true world of swans.

And then Albert suddenly started flapping his wings and headed off in the direction of a lone swan a few hundred feet away. Albert made a tremendous amount of noise with his wings flapping over the water. He did not actually take off. Rather, he made a beeline for the lone swan. As soon as Albert got close, the other swan started to flap wings, apparently in a desperate attempt to avoid Albert.

“Mon Dieu, will zee boy ever learn? He is after Charlotte again. Charles, you really must do something. He is going to die if he does not get some nooky. Remember, my dear, love makes zee world go round.”

Charles gave a swan sigh which seemed to say “Do I have to”.

And then Charles cranked up his wings and began flapping in the direction of Albert and Charlotte.

In parting, he said, “We will take up this conversation at a later date.” And then off he went after Albert who he almost crashed into, forcing Albert to divert his course towards the swan who was apparently called Charlotte. It was all pretty weird.

Monique turned to me.

“The boy is incorrigible. We keep telling him, give love a chance, but Albert has no patience for chance, he wants it now and he wants it bad. He is worse than Charles was when he was a young swan…oh la la. I can tell you, there is nothing worse than a horny swan when you are not in the mood. Of course, zee lady always reserves the right to change her mind.”

I would swear she gave a sly smile, as if contemplating the joys of a lady changing her mind.

“That’s what Albert is hoping for.”

Well, I was outraged. This kind of attitude would never be allowed in the human world, except maybe at some High Tech Startups.

“So, you are lecturing me, while your son is trying to impose his ways on a lady swan.”

Monique looked perturbed.

“This conversation is over” she said and then cruised to Stone Bridge where a gang of several other swans were pruning themselves and relaxing.

The gang at Stone Bridge

I could take a hint and I continued my paddle, my head reeling by all the startling revelations. Swans could speak English. Who knew? Some swans had been humans before. Who knew? I continued to paddle into the next bay, pondering all that I had heard and learned. I needed to find out more about this.

After getting back home, I thought about telling my wife and perhaps some other close friends, but what would they say? The guy has gone off the deep end, the guy has lost his marbles? Dust in the attic has dimmed his bulb? So I kept my mouth shut and just kept thinking about this truly strange episode.

A couple of days later I was out again paddling. I had completely forgotten my swan encounters, but as I was passing stone bridge, I heard a familiar voice.

“I see you are out for another paddle. Perhaps, now we can continue our conversation.”

Almost immediately another voice chimed. It was coquettish with a now familiar French accent. It almost gay and happy.

“Oh, Merdehead is here again to defend the human race. As if it could be defended.”

Monique sounded curiously upbeat. I had the feeling that in spite of her harsh language she had taken a liking to me.

I decided to go on the attack.

“Look, white feathered lady, what do you have to boast about?” I said.

Charles immediately came in on my side, “You see my dear, I told you he might prove more alert than you thought.”

I am not sure I felt fully complimented by being called alert, but it was better than being called Merdehead.

“So tell me, what is it about swans that makes you so high and mighty?”

“I have seen clouds from both sides now.” Monique said mysteriously.

The reference seemed strange, remembering the Joni Mitchell song of that name.

“What are you talking about?”

“I am just saying this isn’t my first rodeo, dufus dear.”

She had an endearing way of insulting someone. You almost felt like it was a privilege to be scorned by her.

I must say I was particularly confused about her conversation referencing rodeos. How would a swan know about a rodeo? Especially a French swan who grew up as a human in the court of Versailles. I didn’t think they had rodeos back then. It was all too confusing. Fortunately, Charles came to my rescue.

“Do not be mislead by my lovely lady swan. She can’t help following everything humans do, even if it has been several hundred years since she has participated. Me, I take a longer view of these things, especially since I have not been human for over 1200 years.”

Information was coming at me so fast that I had a hard time comprehending all that Charles and Monique were saying. Anyway, my curiosity was piqued, so I had to ask.

“Just how do keep up on human events?” I asked.

“The internet, of course.” Monique butted in, “You would think the moron was born 200 years ago.”

“The internet…how could you know about the internet?”

“Mon Dieu,” Monique said in a gay, cheerful voice, “I begin to wonder how stupid humans have become. Maybe, we are just talking to an aberrant specimen.”

“What is your problem, Monique? Why are you so impatient with me.”

“Perhaps, I can help explain.” Charles interrupted, “as you may have read, swans and many other birds have an internal radar system. This allows us to fly great distances…over barren land, over Arctic wastes…over wide seas without seeing land for long periods. Our internal radar allows to know where we are going.

“Not all birds are as intelligent as swans.”

“Swans are the most intelligent, most beautiful and most elegant birds in the world,” Monique put in.

“A lot of birds,” Charles continued, “are like some of your fellow human beings. Slow, fixed in their ways, unable to think about or consider different ways or new things. So most birds do not have the intelligence or understanding of swans. Swans have a very highly developed sense of radar. This not only helps us fly thousands of miles out of sight of land, it also enabled us to learn about human technological developments.

“In the 1930s, when radio transmission became widespread, swans learned how to listen in on radio frequencies. At first, this was all very confusing for us. All we heard was all this gibberish that was coming out of radios. We thought it was some kind of static caused by the atmosphere. We did notice that some of it was music and some of it was just people talking. Of course, when swans first heard all of this, it was not clear what was what. It all seemed like just a bunch of noise…some of it was musical…some of it was pleasing…and most of it was just noise.

“But because swans happened to be one of the bird species chosen for re-incarnation, some of the swans had been human and they recognized various voice patterns and, of course, they understood some of what they heard was music.

“Now humans that had been re-incarnated as swans did not at first recognize their human origins. They had been reborn as swans and that is what they thought they were. But over time, many of these swans had a strange sense of deja vu…they felt as if they had been there before. This led to a lively discussion in Swanese, as you call our language, of just what these sounds they were hearing were all about. Some swans said they could almost understand the words and the music. So that is when our great enlightenment began.”

I listened to Charles with a strong sense of disbelief. Surely, this could not be true…surely swans could not listen to radio shows…surely swans could not learn about our music and our languages. And yet, there were Charles and Monique floating not more than 6′ away from me, talking in English, telling me this incredible story.

“Well,” Charles continued, “You can imagine our surprise when certain swans began to fully understand the words and the music they heard on radios. Now a lot of this did not make sense…commercials advertising the benefits of hair tonics…Amos and Andy talking in Blackface…Guy Lombardo and his orchestra…Louis Armstrong and all that jazz…there were many things that seemed strange, but the swans that had been human began to remember their past and in some cases, they began to remember the very words they used when they were human. You can imagine the disruption all this caused, but in a way, we were beginning to understand life in a way that it had never been understood by swans.”

Now this was getting truly weird, but I was transfixed by Charles’ explanation which, as hard as it was to believe, did make sense.

“So by the time TV came along, all of these transmissions began to be understandable and we quickly found that we were capable of accessing any kind of TV program we wanted…Kukla, Fran and Ollie…Milton Berle…Captain Video… We saw it all and yes, we realized these programs were incredibly simple and crude and, of course, much of it was truly stupid, but those of us who had been humans, remembered that many stupid things happened during their human lives, so it was not so surprising. TV, it seemed, was a kind of chewing gum for the eyes…it was just something to do without much meaning.”

“By the time the 60s had rolled around, we were getting used to checking out TV a few times a day,” Monique piped in, “And Ooh La La, that Marilyn Monroe was some looker and Jackie Kennedy had some sense of style…that was a lady…but who knew those two beautiful women were both after the same man…and what a hunk he was…too bad the mafia shot him, he was my kind of President.”

Just then a seagull came crashing down on the water. The bird hit the water so hard my kayak was splashed.

“Dis da one?” The bird said in what sounded like a Brooklyn accent.

“Yes, this is the human I have chosen to speak to, Tommy” said Charles majestically. “Cecil, this is Tommy.”

I was surprised when Charles refered to me for the first time by my first name. “How did you know my name?”

Charles was very patient, if somewhat irritated, “We went through that…we can read minds…of course, we know your first name, as well as your last, as well as your Social Security number and the numbers and any expiration dates of your five separate credit cards you have in your wallet.”

“Ooh la la, I do miss zee beautiful clothes. When we first were an item, Louis used to give me the most beautiful ermines and diamonds.”

“Dear, do we have to keep reliving your human times…you know they are not going to end well.”

“Do ya got food?” The seagull asked as it began cruise around me in a circle.

Things were getting weirder. Talking swans was one thing, but a seagull with a Brooklyn accent was too much.

“Why do you talk with a Brooklyn accent?” I asked

“Whadda ya mean, I’m from Brooklyn, dodo head.” Apparently, birds do not have much respect for humans or perhaps it was just me.

“You are a seagull from Brooklyn?”

“Not even close. I am seagull from South Africa, but before that I was a human.  I grew up in Brooklyn.”

“How did you get to Setauket from South Africa,” I asked.

“I flew across da sea, ya loser,” and then the seagull turned to Charles and started making screeching sounds like I had heard seagulls make when flying over a beach. Charles started squawking, chirping and quacking back in a high voice. Soon Monique was flapping her wings, clucking and squawking and quacking. I gather I must be the subject of their conversation.

“Just what are you birds talking about?” I asked.

“Well,” Charles replied in English, “we are talking about you, just as you were thinking.”

This diverted my train of thought, “What do mean, just as I was thinking?”

I forgotten that swans could read minds.

“Look Dimwit,” Monique injected in her sweet, but spiteful voice, “if we can listen to radio, watch TV and access the Internet, why don’t you believe us when we tell you we can scan you mind whenever we feel like.”

“I told you he was a moron,” Monique said cheerfully, “it’s just like having our personal court jester. C’est magnifique!”

And then she added, “Of course we can access the Internet, how else would I keep track of today’s celebs?”

“You keep track of today’s celebs?”

“Mais oui, zee dimwit does not know I like zee gossip. How you say, gossip makes zee world go round. Ooh la, la…I like zee Brad Pitt. I cannot wait to find out who he will hook up with after ditching zee Angelina.”

“Really, my dear,” interjected Charles, “must you always chitchat about those awful Hollywood people…they are truly below you.”

“But my darling they are so interesting…I just love their weaknesses.”

Charles seemed to be disgusted by the turn in the conversation and began to cruise off.

All this getting too much for me when a gang of Canada geese came in for a landing not twenty feet from where we were conversing. The Canada geese immediately formed a line and started to cruise around my kayak. There must have been twenty or more geese.

I felt like I was at a bird convention. Normally Canada geese are very shy, flying away at the slightest paddle motion as I would paddle by. And when they did fly, they always would make a giant racket, first by clucking and squawking and then flying off in cacophonous roar of flapping wings and splashing water.

But at this moment they did not show the slightest fear of me. Rather they seemed to want to confront me. The geese cruised around me in a wide, menacing circle. Monique and the seagull were inside the circle. The geese began squawking and quacking and clucking. Monique and the seagull began making different bird noises in response.

The seagull turned to me and said, “Geez, they think you are some kinda genius. A human who talks to swans. Monique, da broad, is settin’ them straight…it’s a case of swans and a seagull talkin’ to a dumbass human. You sure you’re not carryin’ any food?”

Trying to keep up with all the bird goings on, I responded, “No, I did not know I going to meet a seagull from Brooklyn.”

“I’m a seagull from South Africa, dumbass. Or I was for a while. Yeah, I did work in Brooklyn when I was a human. I worked in a shipyard.”

That piqued my curiosity.

“When did you work in that shipyard?”

“1906 to 1917…I met my maker in France during World War I. After that it was off to bird world in South Africa. I was a seagull the first few times, then I became an Albatross, crossed the great Atlantic and settled in Brooklyn again. That didn’t last long…a poacher got me, da bastad, but I had the last laugh…I came back as a seagull and moved out on an island to where all the tree huggers hang out…that way I could be pretty sure I would not get blown away again.”

And while the story of the seagull living different lives at different times was fascinating, I was more interested in his seagull story of having worked in a shipyard.

“Which shipyard did you work in?” I asked.

“Shewan Shipyards, we did the repairs for the Atlantic fleet.”

“I know, my grandfather owned it.”

“Da bastad, he was a hard-ass.”

“If his name was Edwin Shewan…he almost got me killed about 5 times. Lifting battleships is not for ninnies. It was tough work and you could get killed in them days.”

Now I was getting really interested. This was a part of my family history that I knew something about, but not much.

“Tell me more. What was the shipyard like?”

“They was 40 acres right on the harbor, just as you come in to New York Harbor. It was a choice spot right where 26th, 25th and 24th streets come down to da water. We was 2,000 guys and your grandfather Edwin and James. They was big drinkers and high rollers for them days. They both had several yachts moored out on Long Island. Your grandfather was a real boozer. You could tell da time of day by his whiskey bottle behind his big mahogany desk.”

“I still have his desk,” I put in. “It’s about all that is left from his shipyard.”

“Good for you, bozo. Anyway, your Grandpa was a gnarly old bastard, especially after a half a bottle of whiskey. But I will give him this. He was always straight with me, even if he was always giving me jobs I couldn’t finish. And they was dangerous jobs. You had to be on your toes or you was apt to lose your toes.”

“Anyway, he was straight with me. He advised me to stay on the job and said he could get me a draft deferment. I wouldn’t hear of it and off I went to France. 6 months later I was splatted into 50 pieces and I went to seagull land in South Africa. Never regretted it though. I liked being seagulls and an albatross. It’s much easier than being a stupid human. Life is simple as a bird, complicated as a human.”

With that, the seagull flew away…the conversation apparently over. This left me with Monique and about 25 Canada geese. The geese were still cruising around me in a big circle giving me the once over.

“Don’t be worried about Tommy,” Charles said sympathetically as he came gliding up to us, “he tends to be rough sort, but he tells you like it is.”

A seagull who knew my grandfather in another life. Talk about a small world! Not to mention a weird world.

“Tommy c’est magnifique,” echoed Monique.

By this time, I was on bird overload, so I said goodbye to Charles, Monique and the 25 Canada geese.

“Au Revoir, fair feathered friends,” we’re my actual words, as I paddled away.

“Au Revoir, mon Cheri.” Monique sang out gaily. Maybe Monique was going soft on me.

A week later I went down to my dock, intending to paddle. I was getting ready to put my kayak in the water when I heard this crashing, flapping, splashing sound behind me. I looked over to where the sounds came from and saw that Albert had just come in for a hard landing and was cruising right up to my dock.

“Can we talk?” which is a pretty strange statement coming from a young swan. I noticed that Albert’s coloring had become a little more white since I had seen him. I surmised he was coming into his full swan hood – if that is the correct phrase.

“What do want to talk about?” I asked.

“I am having girl problems. I really like Margaret and then there is Sally and Susan. I really like all of them, but I can’t make up mind. And worse than that, none of them want to let me have my way with them.”

I pondered Albert’s problems.

“First of all, Albert, I thought swans were monogamous. How come you going after 3 different lady swans?”

“Hey, I am a young guy swan and mother has always said that I should not make up mind too soon. Besides, young male swans play the field just like humans. It’s true later on swans become monogamous, but that does not mean we don’t get to play around when we are young.”

“OK, I understand that, but maybe going after 3 girl swans at the same time is not very diplomatic. Maybe, you should concentrate on one of the three. I don’t think girls like to think they are just one of many.”

Albert thought this over as he cruised back and forth next to my dock.

“The trouble is none of them are giving out.”

I thought this over for a while.

“Well, I do not know how swans feel about this, but in the human world, ladies like you to take some time. They don’t like to be rushed. And they don’t like thinking it’s just about sex. They like to think there is a lot more to the relationship. So in the human world, we have to establish a relationship, we have to do nice little things, like bring little gifts or flowers, go for walks on the beach, see a movie. Girls like to think you are not just interested in there bodies. Later, when you’ve got their trust and interest, the tables might turn and they might become very interested in sex, but with humans it often takes time.

“I don’t know what you have to do with your lady swan friends, maybe you need to cruise around with them, talk with them and try to do things they are interested in.”

All of this seemed very foreign to Albert and I could almost see a frown coming over his swan face. Then something seemed to click, as if the information had just been down-loaded. Almost immediately, he nodded his head, said thanks and flew off, taking about 75 feet of frantically flapping his wings and splashing water until he finally got airborne.

I did not think much of my encounter with Albert. Several days later I was out paddling when Charles and Monique cruised up to me. I was just passing the outer Setauket Bay, paddling along the scenic shore. It was quite beautiful there and almost looks as it must have before Europeans came to this country. Most of the houses were hidden by summer growth of trees and vegetation and the beach had a lonely, pristine appearance. It was only the muddy brown appearance of the water that reminded you that the clarity of the water was indeed different.

“Mon Cheri, I know I have often called you a dimwit and that is fair because after all you are human and all humans are dimwits, but I want to thank you for talking to Albert. He is a changed swan, much more assured and the lady swans are noticing. Ooh la la, the Sally swan is all over him now…they are a real item. All that boy needed was a little nooky.”

It was a strange rambling conversation, especially coming from a lady swan, but I took it as a compliment.

“I am glad if I was able to be of assistance.” I said, feeling closer to Monique even if I was a little surprised by her brash slang.

Almost immediately 7 terns came swooping down from nowhere and began to hover in front of me.

“Mon Dieu, zee 7 Female Furies are here, ooh la la.” Monique said.

“They always want to have their say, my dear,” put in Charles.

I did not know what she and Charles were talking about until I put 2 and 2 together, or perhaps, I should say until I put 7 and 7 together. I saw the 7 terns who were hovering in front of me. Now, my normal name for terns is helicopter birds because they like to hover about 15 or 20 feet above the water flapping their wings frantically and then dive down and snag an unsuspecting minnow. It was only after realizing that there were 7 terns flapping their wings directly in front of me, hovering in the air not thirty feet away, that they must be the 7 Female Furies.

The 7 female furies appeared.

“Honey do!” Said one with the minnow in her mouth.

“Whatever,” said another.

“Melancholy is the woman,” said a third.

“Love is the answer,” said a fourth.

“Stand by your male,” said a fifth.

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” said a sixth.

“Never sign a prenup,” said the seventh.

And then as quickly as they came and hovered, they ascended up a few hundred feet and flew away.

“What was that?” I asked Charles.

“Monique just told you, they were the 7 Female Furies.”

“What bird ever signed a prenup or got a diamond?” I asked.

“You foolish boy, birds are not so different than zee humans. I love zee pearls and when I was with Louis Quatorze I loved zee rubies and zee ermines. And besides a lot of those birds were ladies in an earlier life…some were sexy ladies too.”

It did not make sense to me. It was a topsy, turvy world that I had stumbled upon. I could not understand the meaning of talking swans and hovering terns – aka, the 7 Female Furies.

“All this is too much for me,” I said to Charles and Monique and I paddled off to ponder the meaning of it all.

When I got home, I thought about all that I had heard and learned from Charles and Monique. I really wanted to tell someone and ask them what they thought, but every time I came close to telling the truth to my wife or a good friend or my brother, I backed off because I knew they would think that I lost my mind. So I kept quiet and I thought about all the I had and seen. What did it all mean? Talking swans, a seagull from Brooklyn via South Africa, hovering terns giving advice against signing prenups. What did it all mean?

KongMing comes to say hello.

Two days later something even stranger occurred. I went down to go for a paddle when I heard this voice.

“The human has always been a failure. In my life I tried to bring together the Han, but despite many battles, despite the victory at Red Cliffs, despite my magic, despite the 8 fold maneuver, despite winning many a battle, despite killing hundreds of thousands by fire, I was not able to unite the empire. Such was my fate that my body gave out before my task could be accomplished.”

Now here was the strange part. I heard these words in my head, but I could not understand from where they came. I looked around and the only thing I saw was a great white heron in a tree opposite my dock.

“Yes, I am KongMing and I am a great white heron.”

“But you are not moving your beak,” I wanted to say mouth, but beak seemed more technically correct.

“I have no need to move my beak, human. I can communicate by thought.”

These were strange words, but only by hearing them in your head and realizing that they did not exist outside of your head was far stranger. It seemed that the bird was right, he could communicate simply by implanting thoughts in my brain, I heard it loud and clear. But why was he talking to me?

“Because Charles told me he had begun conversation with you, human.”

Again, I made the strange realization that this bird was answering a thought of mine that I had not spoken. This was scary.

“You need not fear, human, I am but a bird and I will pass away just like you.”

And then without further adieu, the bird continued to speak in my head.

“Life is but a brief period of transition from one state to another. Death is what we all do. We come, we go. The greatest weapon is fire. The greatest gift wisdom. The greatest strength understanding. The greatest strategy deception.”

That was all the bird said and then he flew off. As he flew away he issued a strange squawk and released a white stream of defecation. What did that mean?

A few days later I was paddling by Stone Bridge and saw Charles, Monique and several other swans. In truth, I was not able to recognize Charles and Monique individually. All swans look alike to me. But when Charles spoke up, I recognized him immediately.

“Human, we hope you are enjoying your paddle. We prefer to see humans paddling. We hate to see humans motor around in their great speedboats, towing their young behind them.”

“That’s knee-boarding,” I said.

“Whatever it is, it’s loud and we don’t like it. And we especially do not like JetSkis. Why must you burn fossil fuels to churn up water and make noise?”

“Humans have to have their fun. Besides, I’m a paddler.”

“We would prefer it if all humans would just paddle.”

I decided to paddle on, figuring that I had defended the Mastercrafts folks as much as I could and had not implemented myself in further blame.

A few days later and I saw Charles, Monique and Albert all gliding along quietly.

“Hello Charles, hello Monique, hello Albert…how’s the love life going?”

I heard a huff from Charles, a giggle from Monique and saw Albert sneak a smirk.

“Pretty well, actually,” Albert.

“Son, you know what I have told you about boasting…we do not approve it in this family.”

I could tell by the earnestness and firmness in Charles voice that he was not pleased by his son’s enthusiasm.

“No bluster in this family,” Monique said, “Not like your president.”

This immediately led to another line of thought.

“What do you mean not like my president?” I asked.

“Well, your president does have a tendency to boast.” Charles added, “in my day, I never believed in bluster. Maybe, firm words followed by firm action, but never bluster followed by more bluster.”

“Charles, call a spade a spade, his president is an asshole.” Monique added. I wish you could have been there to hear this lady swan pronounce the word asshole. She deliberately extended the vulgar word. It sounded more like ace-hoole.

“My president is an asshole?” I repeated in disbelief.

“I kind of like him,” said Albert. “He says what he means, he uses Twitter and he likes to go after the ladies…he can’t be all bad.”

I can only say that I felt like a distant traveler who had fallen into a strange new world.

“So what do you think of your president?” Charles asked me.

I was on the spot and felt I had to answer.

“Well, I am a little bit afraid. He makes a lot of promises, but I do not see how he can keep them all. And I worry sometimes that his talk might get us into a war.”

“You see, my dear, the human sometimes thinks.”

Monique turned her head and beak toward me. I thought I detected a sly smile.

“Yes, it may be possible there is something in that head. But take it from me, your president is zee ace-hoole!”

“I still like him,” said Albert.

“We shall see…his term has not run out.” said Charles.

I was getting uncomfortable by this turn to politics.

“Let’s talk about this later,” I said.

Just before I was about to renew my paddling, 7 Crows came flying in for a landing on the lone tree on Stone Bridge. It was a strange sight.

The 7 male furies gathering on Stone Bridge.

“Cecil, I think the 7 Male Furies have something to say to you,” said Charles.

“Me first,” said the first crow.

“The boy with the biggest toys wins,” said the second crow.

“God is great,” said the third.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” said the fourth.

“My country right or wrong,” said the fifth.

“Better right than compromise,” said the sixth.

“Better to die rich and lose your soul,” said the 7th.

And just as suddenly as they came, the seven crows flew off, creating seven shadows on the water below before flapping away.

“Pay them no mind,” said Monique, “That’s the way they roll.”

It was all getting too weird for me. I paddled off, trying to comprehend as I glided by familiar waters and familiar scenery. The stranger these events got and the more I heard from Charles, Monique and other birds, the more it seemed impossible to relate my experiences to my wife or other friends.

In talking to Charles and Monique I found that I had many questions to ask. And perhaps, quite understandably, it seemed that Charles and Monique also had many questions to ask me. This led to a series of long conversations over the next months. Almost every time I would go for a paddle, about four or five times a week, I would run into Charles and Monique, usually in the back bay or by Stone Bridge or out in Setauket Bay on my way to Port Jefferson Harbor.

It seemed that Charles was most interested to know what I thought about the present period of time and politics. Monique, on the other hand, seemed more fixated on what I thought of present fashions and customs.

In truth, we talked of many things, current events, past history, the state of the environment, the health of the waterways. For me, I had a lot of questions on how it was that swans seemed to have lived previous lives. I explained that humans generally do not remember or think they had previous lives.

Charles was quite adamant of the subject.

“Of course, humans have previous lives,” said Charles, “they just don’t remember them. And if they get to live other lives as animals or birds, they remember it, but they cannot tell about it. We do not know why, but humans seem to be the only creatures that do not remember their previous lives…and yet they are they are able to talk to words each other. Birds and animals have always been able to talk to one another, but they never could speak words. Some birds, because of their internal radar, learned English and other languages, first from Radio and TV, then from the Internet…it was that knowledge that allows us to speak and be aware of humans and understand what they were up to. We were surprised and then concerned.”

That made me curious, “What were you concerned about?”

“Mon Dieu,” interjected Monique, “just when you think zee dimwit is beginning to understand something, he says something so stupid, you almost want to give up on zee human.”

“Well, what Monique is trying to say, we see you covering the earth, crowding out all other animals and birds, we see you dominating the land and the waterways and we see you despoiling it all. Frankly, that is why we choose to remain birds…we doubt the future of humans…at best you will make life intolerable for yourselves and all other living creatures, at worst you will destroy all life.”

“Zee humans do not have the ability to destroy all life, they can only destroy human life.”

You can gather from these comments that Charles and Monique were not optimistic about us humans.

“What do you expect?” I asked, “we are the dominant species.”

“Yes, for now, but not for long,” Charles answered, “there are many things we liked about being human. Being able to build things, being able to use tools, being able to talk to one another, writing poetry, novels, making films, these can be great achievements.”

“Don’t get me on the subject of films,” Monique injected, “only a few films are any good…of course, some French films…that is because French people are zee best humans, a few Indian and Chinese films and some old American and English films are good. The rest is zee crap. Especially the stuff from zee Hollywood. Mon Dieu, such pretty people making such crap…I don’t know why they do it.”

“Well, my dear, there some good films even today, but you are right. Mostly, it is fake explosions, stupid laughter and regurgitated boy meets girl stories. Yes, mostly, it just bad, not worth taking the time to see.”

Time and again I would cite films and novels that I thought worthy. Most of the time, Charles and Monique were not impressed, saying it had all been done several hundred years previously. How could a film have been done better several hundred years ago. I would ask. And they would counter, of course, films were not done better, but the plots for films had all been done several hundred years ago and they have been used and reused in today’s films.

The thing that seemed strange about what Charles and Monique were concerned about, were not the things I or most humans I knew were concerned about. Monique could, for example, go on for hours about the quality of the water in the bays.

“You’ve screwed it up,” she would say, “the bottom of the bays are all green with algae. The sand worms cannot do their good work because their sun is blocked by the algae, the waters are dark and murky and polluted. The shellfish are gone or dying. You have poisoned all the bays.”

“How did I poison the bays,” I would ask.

And then Monique would really let me have it.

“You wash your clothes with soap and detergent. Where do think that water goes? You build your houses on every piece of land surrounding the bays, you defecate and pee incredible amounts and all that waste goes into your so-called sewers which leak and seep into the bays. You fertilize farms and lawns and gardens with an incredible array of harmful chemicals. You spray insecticides on everything. All those chemicals run off into the bays. You drive cars that belch carbon monoxide that goes into the air before coming down into the bays as poisonous gas particles. You fly airplanes above that give off burn airplane fuel and rain down on us as chemical particles…there is no end to the damage and harm you cause. The very bays you paddle on are dead and diseased. They may look beautiful and healthy to you, but they are not. Yes, there are some birds and animals that survive that, but most life is being harmed by your actions.”

“My lady is quite correct on this issue…she may remember rubies and ermines and gay parties when she was human, but as a swan she knows the truth. And the truth is that humans are failing. When we were humans we had some very nice things, but that when the world was younger and there were a lot less people…but we do not want to go back to being humans…there is no future in it.”

“What do you mean? You said yourself that humans are the most successful animal species ever. We dominate the world. How can there be no future?”

“It is very simple,” continued Charles, “humans are taking up more and more space, over populating and over polluting the earth. Something must give…and when it does, life for humans will get worse. That is why Monique and I have no intentions of becoming human again. We do not want the stress.”

I was truly perplexed by Charles saying swans did not want the stress. I tried to counter Charles’s and Monique’s arguments…we live in the greatest period of history, we are surrounded by all sorts of marvels…central heating, central air, running hot and cold water, radio, TV, Internet, airplanes to fly on, cars to drive in, movies to see, restaurants, bars, theaters…truly humans have it all. But here were 2 nay-saying swans right in front of me disputing all that I had read and had been taught. I did not know to say.

“This is all too strange for me.”

Now I first met Charles and Monique and Albert in the spring. As time went on Albert’s feathers became pure white and he reached full male swan-hood. As far I could tell, Albert was still playing the field. The only way frankly I could tell Albert was playing around was that I noticed that some of the swans swimming along were different sizes…some small, some medium, some almost as large as Albert. And of course, I was not really able to tell the sex of the swans accompanying Albert, but often the ladies would speak to me directly.

They had heard that I had given Albert some advice…apparently Albert had told his lady friends of my advice and, all in all, I gather they appreciated me talking over Albert’s lady issues. One or two of these ladies were kind enough to say to me that they saw a real change in Albert. He was more patient, not so eager to attack and conquer, more likely to hang back and wait for the right moment. So, Albert and his ladies seemed very happy.

I gather young male swans are permitted a period of time to play the field and make up their mind. How long Albert got to play the field, I never did find out, because, as I am about to relate, my conversation with swans ended in October. It had begun in April and by October it came to a sudden and complete halt.

But before the end of My Swans Conversations, some other strange things happened. I met Bess the Hummingbird. She turned out to be a real romantic. She told me in a former life she had been a match-maker in the Court of Tsar Peter, so she was naturally inclined toward love and romance. Bess was an incredibly tiny bird. Charles introduced me one day when I happened to be near the cove in Setauket Bay that leads out into Port Jefferson Bay. We were near the shore, when I heard Charles say, “Hello, Bess.”

“Hi Sweetie,” Monique said almost simultaneously. And I saw this little blur of a bird hover in front of Charles and then dart over to hover in front of Monique. Monique and Bess seemed to knock beaks together. It was strange…this large lady swan with this tiny bird hovering a few inches from Monique’s beak. I saw the little bird dip her tiny, needlelike beak and Monique raise her much larger, blunter beak. For a brief moment the little beak touched ever so lightly the big beak…that was their hello.

And Bess flew over me and that was quite disconcerting. You do not know how scary a 2″ bird can be until it is flapping its wings six inches from your nose. Happily, Bess did not choose to touch my nose with her beak.

For a tiny bird, she had a booming voice.

“What be this,” she asked.

“This be a human,” I answered.

I thought I was being pretty clever and it must have been the case because immediately the little 2″ bird giggled. I would like to note while Bess’s body was only 2″, her wingspan was a solid 4″, so she was more intimidating than you might think. And if you are still thinking there is nothing scary about 2″ bird with a 4″ wingspan, imagine those wings are flapping a mile a second and think of it as a giant bumblebee 6″ from your nose. I guarantee you would be scared.

It turned out that there was really nothing to be scared about. Bess turned out to be all mush. She was love and lace, peppering me with constant questions about me and my wife, asking all sorts of personal questions I will not repeat, telling me I immediately needed go out and buy my wife flowers every day. This little bird was convinced that all we need is love, sweet love and she never wasted a minute not recommending it.

I also got to meet Luigi and Isadora, two Kingfishers that hung out in my little cove where my dock is. So every time I either put in my kayak or took out my kayak they would zoom around squeaking all sorts of derogatory comments.

“Here comes the swan talker,” Luigi would say.

“Hey swan talker, why don’t you catch some minnows for us.”

Luigi and Isadora were not much interested in conversation. Food was their true love…anything that was live…minnows, tiny crabs, flies, beetles, grasshoppers…if it moved they munched it. I tried to interest them in some bread.

“We don’t want your bread, man.” said Luigi

“Bread don’t move…what’s the sense of that?” asked Isadora.

I tried to ply those Kingfishers with bread, bits of beacon, some artichoke hearts…everything was a failure, until I put some bread in my minnow trap. That attracted a bunch of minnows. When I dumped the wire basket filled with minnows, Luigi and Isadora swooped instantly down and wiped those minnows out before the minnows had a chance to expire from lack of air. There was nothing left but some minnow eyes and fin parts drying on the dock. The dock was speckled with blood and minnow bits in less than 30 seconds.

All summer long I would paddle out and have discussions and conversations with Charles and Monique. As time went on, I really do think that Monique took a shine to me. She began to greet me with “Mon Cheri,” each time we met. It was nice to get so close and friendly with the local sea birds. I was not to know how brief and how rare my conversations would be.

One day I was paddling in the back part of Setauket Bay and I came upon a big rock. Just then KongMing landed on the rock.

KongMing gives his sermon on a rock

“Still here human,” I heard in my head, “still talking with Charles and family I understand…that is not long to last…you shall soon learn.”

And then KongMing began a strange monologue.

“All things are in flux.

All life is the same.

Nothing will remain.

Nothing will disappear.

The Empire, long united, will divide.

The Empire, long divided, will unite.

Thus it has always been.”

And then KongMing the Great White Heron flew off.

A few days later Charles and Monique glided into my little cove while I was pulling out my kayak.

“We have something to tell you,” said Charles, “we had a meeting – a swan convention. It has been decided that we can no longer talk to you. The Great Swan Council has determined that it is unnatural for swans to talk English to you. I knew it was a breach of protocol, I just did not know how many swan feathers it would ruffle. The decision is immutable…we must never speak after today. We are sorry. We have come to like you, but from this day forth, we can never speak.”

“Mon Cheri Dimwit, I too am sorry for this. I enjoyed our conversations. I most appreciate your little talk with Albert. He really appreciated your words. It is strange that the human words helped a swan to change. Maybe, there is more hope for your species. Ces’t la Vie. Au Revoir.”

With that Charles and Monique turned and glided their way out of my little cove.

“Wait a minute,” I called out as they glided away, “you never told me who Charles was in his earlier life.”

“That’s easy Mon Cheri, what starts with Charles and rhymes with Champagne.”

With that, Charles and Monique glided elegantly and silently out of my little cove, leaving a little trail of disturbed water behind them where they had paddled.

Author’s Note: It was some time after the strange events described above that I decided to to set down the experiences above in a blog story. This seemed the best way to tell the story. Reading it now, it seems even more unbelievable. I cannot help that. I can only say that I have tried, as best I can, to describe my conversations with swans and other birds.

PostScript: Shortly after publishing this blog story I received a strange e-mail from KongMing. It read:

Human!

I have had chance to review your blog story which does tell things that actually transpired. I was little disappointed with your photography and thought that I should send you a better rendering of myself. This was done by the artist James Audubon some time ago. It shows me in the full maturity of my third life as a Great White Heron.

While the rendering much better captures my essence, I cannot say it was painless. That was due to the fact that the artist, James Audubon, who was a great artist, decided it was easier to paint me after he had shot me. This caused me physical pain and loss of face. A great general and premier should not get shot in life. I certainly would have preferred if Mr. Audubon had been a great photographer rather than a great hunter, but such is my fate that the artist worked before the advent of really excellent hi resolution cameras. I had to wait until my sixth life as a Great White Heron to see the portrait below – when I happened to find it on the Internet.

Sincerely, KongMing, now in my seventh life as a Great White Heron

 

 

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The Age of Buffalo Chips

A Pile of Buffalo Chips – aka Kansas Coal

By Cecil Hoge

My brother, who happens to be almost 30 years younger than me, is under the impression that my generation was worthless and the source of many of today’s problems. My generation, according to my brother, was composed of loose-living, weak-minded liberals befuddled by drugs and a lack of a work ethic. He may be right.

I admit my generation, like all generations, had many faults and it was certainly true that many of our ideas went off the deep end. In particular, my brother has cited the wide scale drug use of my generation as an example of just how misguided we were. I cannot deny that my generation took drugs…lots of drugs…and those drugs, in many cases, had truly harmful effects. I cannot deny that our lackadaisical approach to life and some of our beliefs were wrong or, at best, misplaced.

That said, I cannot help but believe that the present period suffers from faults of its own. Specifically, I think this is The Age of Buffalo Chips. What are Buffalo Chips you may ask? Well, since this is a family type blog, I prefer not to call a spade a spade when it might be considered vulgar and profane. Therefore, I am not calling this The Age of Bullsh–t and I am not fully spelling out that crude term.

If you still have further questions about what I mean by The Age of Buffalo Chips, try to imagine you are an American pioneer setting up a homestead on the Great American Prairie. There were not many trees on that prairie. And during the winter it got cold and nasty. So how did they heat their mud brick homesteads. Well, Buffalo Chips of course.

What exactly were Buffalo Chips. Well, Buffalos, like humans, have to go the bathroom. And Buffalos did not have the modern advantages of present Americans, namely, indoor plumbing. So Buffalos did the thing that came naturally to them. They pooped on the prairie. And Buffalo poop, after being left out on the prairie tended to dry out. So Buffalo Chips were dried out Buffalo Poops. And fortunately for the first American settlers on the prairie, the Buffalos pooped a lot. Why, you may ask? It turned out that when the Buffalo Poop dried out and became Buffalo Chips, those chips burned nice and slow and made very good firewood where there was no other firewood.

I have no reports as to whether Buffalo Chips smelled when they burned. If you are interested to learn, you will have to organize a seance with some American pioneers who lived on the prairie or try burning Buffalo Chips yourself. Hint: Buffalo Chips may be hard to locate in this day and age.

Lady with a Load of BCs

So Buffalo Chips were used in the same way coal was and heated many of the first homes on the American Prairie before indoor heating and plumbing came into wide use. You could say that Buffalo Chips were the same as bullsh–t, even if Buffalos were not exactly Bulls. That is what I mean when I say this is The Age of Buffalo Chips.

My calling this The Age of Buffalo Chips does not tell you exactly why I am using that phrase, so I wish to go further into my explanation. First and foremost, I would like to say that while my generation did indulge in drugs and other intoxicants, it seems to me that the present generation is stoned out of its mind – translation: acting as if they were taking heavy drugs. How so, you may ask? Not in the sense that the present generation is actually taking drugs, although the recent emergence of head shops in my little town of Port Jefferson would argue that some youngsters are still into Wacky Tabacky.

I do hear a lot of talk about “Opiods” and heroin addiction, especially in those depressed mid-west towns that voted for our present President. But those people are not stoned out their mind in the sense that I am talking about. I am talking about the people who look and talk completely straight, as if they have never taken a drug or a drop of alcohol in all their life. I am talking about groups of people,..business leaders, politicians, pundits, experts, economists, statisticians, prognosticators, lawyers, stock market analysts, big company marketers who are not taking drugs or “Opiods” or heroin. I am talking about a generation of business and political leaders who I think are “stoned out of their heads”.

Let me give you an example of  The Age of Buffalo Chips. There is a company that is presently running an advertising campaign on a product that is supposed to help people lower their blood sugar levels. The commercial begins with a guy walking dog. There is one problem – the dog is refusing to move. I guess what this is saying is that the guy is being held back from walking his dog. You can see that from the commercial. The dog is obviously not co-operating, and I suppose the point of that is that something in the guy’s body is not complying.

Meanwhile, the commercial is discussing the difficulties of controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes. It goes on to show some kind of instrument that seems to be both an injection system and medicine holding system. This system seems to be able to assist you injecting yourself with some kind of chemical (presumably to control your blood sugar) and at the same time, it seems to have enough medicine in it to give you multiple injections over a period of time. That seems to be the gist of both the instrument and the medicine. At that point, the commercial says, in so many words, that this is an easier way to control your blood sugar level, something very important for people with Diabetes.

Man and his dog, now walking

Pretty soon that commercial moves on to show the guy now walking his dog, who mysteriously gets up, presumably now because his master has used the mysterious instrument and injected the medicine. As he is walking along the guy begins to kind of dance. We can tell he is happy. Things are going better. The dog is walking with him…oh happy day. Then the guy ditches the dog and seems to be dancing through a park past picnic tables and happy park people.

At that point the commercial begins to list a litany of potential side effects from the medicine and we hear this list of problems that might occur…shortness of breath, wheezing, constipation, heart palpitations, diarrhea, bad breath, cancer, hernia, seizures, internal bleeding…I am not sure if this list is a complete or accurate list, but it gives you a feeling of the commercial. Meanwhile, the guy gets happier and happier, wiggling and waggling, shimmying and shagging his way through the park, dancing away, dancing around picnic tables, smiling at everybody and everything, with happier and happier music as the list of potential ailments goes on.

This guy is so happy that he mows lawns in circles!

Then the guy moves to an office, presumably one where he works, dancing through the office aisles, around desks, past other workers, with get happy music. In the background, the list of possible side effects ends with a fatal heart attack or stroke and then moves swiftly on to the many advantages of this remarkable new system. The final few seconds of the commercial show the guy mowing his lawn in circles while the announcer provides the sensible advice that it is perhaps good to consult your doctor about using this delightful new system, advising you prudently if you have a history tuberculosis, heart disease, liver disease or several other ailments that it is probably best to stay from this new miracle system.

I, not having Diabetes or a problem with blood sugar level, do not pay too close attention to this commercial. I am guessing that this kind of marketing does work, not only because it seems to be running almost every night, but also because there seem to be many other medicines running commercials at the same time touting different medical benefits, while each listing several dozen possible side effects. I offer the man walking his dog commercial as a prime example of The Age of Buffalo Chips.

1 Buffalo Chip Up Close and Personal

Another example of The Age of Buffalo Chips is politicians, some on the left, some on the right, telling us about a proper solution to a problem that they know never has a chance of ever being accepted. So, for example, Democrats today love to talk before TV cameras and say that we need to improve and enhance Obamacare. Now these politicians know of course that a new Republican President of the United States was just elected on the promise of abolishing Obamacare. And they know the Republicans now control The Senate, The Congress and most States in the country and that the Republicans have sworn, cross their hearts, to abolish Obamacare. Therefore, these Democrats know, clearly, absolutely, without any question or doubt, that there is not the slightest chance of Obamacare being improved or enhanced. And yet they say quite earnestly in front of cameras that this is what we should do.

So why do they go on TV and recommend something that there is absolutely no possibility of getting done? Simply because they want to put their faces in front of cameras and show their constituents that they are doing something that will never get adopted. Truly, this is an example of The Age of Buffalo Chips.

But fear not, this is a beloved technique of both parties. When the Democrats were in power and they had passed Obamacare, the Republicans proudly got up and said they would abolish Obamacare. Now they knew they had no way to abolish Obamacare with so many Democrats in Congress and in the Senate. But that did not stop them from getting up in front of cameras and saying and recommending what we should do.

And now, after they did get elected, after the Republicans did gain control of the Senate, the Congress and many state governments, these same Republicans cannot agree to adopt the very changes that swore they would put in place when they knew they could not do it. Truly, another prime example of Buffalo Chips.

Sustenance in the The Age of Buffalo Chips

While we are on the subject of TV through cable or satellite, I would like to mention that once upon a time TV was free. Now, you did not have many channels and in the beginning it was just black and white. As time went on, TVs moved from black and white to color and the number of stations gradually increased. Pretty soon it was almost 10.

There were still a number of problems with early TV. The channel selection was quite limited – there were a few local channels and a few national network channels. And then there were the advertisements. There were lots of advertisements.

The worst problem with TV of that time (the late 1940s and the early 1950s) was the fact that you had to physically change the channels. It makes me break out in a sweat just thinking about it. You had to get up, walk to the TV and turn it on. After that you still had to turn the channel dial, while standing at the TV. When you decided what station you wanted, you would select it and walk back fifteen or twenty feet and sit down. And most of the time you watched that station for the next one or two hours.

If you wanted to change a station, you had to get up, walk over to the TV and turn the channel dial to the new station you wanted. Then you had to walk back and sit down and watch that channel until you wanted to change it again. Truly, watching TV in those days was exhausting. And if you happened to be a channel surfer in those days and if there were as many channels as there are today, you would never need to worry about going to the gym because the exercise you would get changing channels would greater than the best gym workout.

We live in an age of progress and we can thank the good Lord for the invention of the remote. The first remotes were developed in 1950, but at the time you had to have a wire that ran from the TV back to your remote by the easy chair you were sitting on. This was a true danger because someone could trip over it on their way to get more chips or another beer. But progress waits for no man and in 1955 the first wireless remotes were developed and mankind, or at least many Americans, were freed from the need of wires.

Very early on there were attempts to have cable systems for TV, but these were only very limited. That was because no one wanted to pay for cable. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s it was widely believed that TV would always be free.

But that is not what happened. In the early 1970s cable systems came into wide use based on the promise of commercial free TV. And for some years, cable TV was mostly commercial free, but you did pay for it. In the early days it was $10 or $15 a month. But as time passed and the cable networks saw new opportunities, the cost for cable went up and commercials began to work their way into cable TV programming. So by the 1980s people found themselves paying more for cable TV and watching just as many commercials as when TV was free.

Of course, because progress is always progressing, the number of cable TV programs was greatly enlarged. First to 30 or 40 stations, then 50 or 80 stations and then to hundreds of stations and soon to thousands. And that resulted in exponentially more channels to run commercials on.

It must be admitted, even by the most enthusiastic TV viewers, that the quality of these new programs was not always as high as the original programs that first aired when there were only two or three stations and when TV was completely free. And given the fact that instead of dozens of Tv commercials, you no had tens of thousands of TV commercials to work your way through. But, if channel quantity is a good indication of value, the cost per program became minimal and the opportunity to watch commercials became infinite.

So what cable TV offers today is a vast array of channel choices, some with good programming, good movies, some with myriad reality and Buffalo Chip programming and all with a sea of commercials for viewer to suffer through.

Given that we are in The Age of Buffalo Chips, all of this makes perfect sense.

Now my brother tells me that there are lots of new free digital programming available where the programming is much better and the commercials are either non-existent or at least far less. So this is a really good thing. Recently, my brother tried to convert his cable, internet and phone programming to just the internet. It sounds simple but this is a no no in cable land. I gather it took about three days and twelve hours in voicemail hell to obtain a talking, living person on the phone who said they might, just might, be able to do that although they absolutely recommended against making such a terrible decision as unbundling, since my brother would lose access all the wonderful programming cable, phone and internet that Verizon offered.

It is not clear if my brother John finally succeeded, but it is clear he is working his way through a giant pile of Buffalo Chips.

Let us move on to another field of activity…economics. Today we have a several cable or network shows reviewing and gleaning over and interpreting and pontificating on economic events on a daily basis and if one listens carefully to what these ladies and gentlemen say, one looks into the very heart of Buffalo Chips and sees that it is brown and dried out and, unlike the real buffalo chips, not even useful for heating homes.

What do these ladies and gentlemen of the dismal science tell us. Buffalo Chips is the answer.

Let’s make a few observations:

When the stock market goes down, the pundits interviewed tell us on the various national financial shows, that now is the time for “bottom fishing”. Oh, certainly, a few pundits are enlisted to say there may be some “risks” going forward, but then other pundits are interviewed immediately afterwards who point out that “the smart money” is “buying the dip”. Yes, we are told, at the time of maximum risk, the bold investor, the smart investor, the truly genius investor, is going into the market is…”bottom fishing”, “buying the dip” and surely, making a killing.

When the stock market is going up, the same pundits interviewed tells us about “the GoldiLocks economy” – that is when the business may not seem that great (for example, like today), but is still staggering upwards, while interest rates are held in check, while the Fed is still holding off raising interest rates too much, while the stock market continues to log increase after increase, though for no apparent reason. And so the pundits being interviewed always say the stock valuations are not really that high, even if they are higher than at any time in the last 150 years. Why? Because we are in a “GoldiLocks economy”.

And what happens if the “GoldiLocks economy” continues for years and the stock market goes up year after year and business stays about the same for year after year, as it has, for example, for the last seven years. Then these same pundits talk about “momentum” and “missing momentum”. Do you really want to miss the momentum when the economy continues to grow at a small rate and the stock market continues to surge upwards? Surely then, we are on the verge of a new boom, surely productivity is about to increase and there will be a growth rate that defies all others.

And yet, it does seem, when one looks at the stock market and the economy, that the stock market goes up 19% while the actual economy goes up 2.3%. Does that make sense. Not actually, unless, of course, you happen to be in The Age of Buffalo Chips. Then, it makes perfect sense.

I might slightly divert this discourse and mention that in recent years large corporations have discovered if they gobble up other companies and buy their own stock and downsize the overall number of their employees, they can see their stock valuations go up and they can show ever greater profits, even if the sales of all the individual companies they bought and own are declining. How does that work? In brief it works great for the brilliant business leaders of the company who draw millions and millions for their personal annual income. It does not work so well, however, if you are employed in any of these great corporations because there is a real possibility that you will be downsized. That is what is known as creative accounting in The Age of Buffalo Chips.

A Nice Toasty Fire To Gather Round!

This might be a good time to give my personal opinion of what happened in the collapse of 2007 & 2008. First of all, I wish to warn you that my opinion is most likely not held by many people and so, it should be considered just what it is, an opinion.

Here is what I think happened: The United States of America went bankrupt in 2007 and 2008. Now we all know that America did not declare bankruptcy in those years, so what I am talking about is a bit of a secret. I think when the Bush Administration (they were ending their administration just as the great collapse was starting) came to understand the true ramifications of what actually happened, they quickly and correctly understood that they could not tell the American public what actually happened. Why, because if they did, 50 or more million people might have been thrown out of work.

So they did the best thing they could: they lied. They said that the problem was only a temporary disruption and the government began writing blank checks to all the corporations that got us into trouble. I want to say something in favor of the Bush Administration: I believe they had absolutely no choice and they did the right thing. Yes, they could have let all the over large businesses that got us into trouble go bankrupt, but that would have resulted in another Great Depression and truly another 50,000,000 plus people would have lost their jobs and the government would have had no way to assist those people or deal with that problem.

So the government wrote checks and issued bonds for trillions of dollars to solve the problem. How did they do it? The Federal Reserve Bank simply purchased with bonds vast seas of bad, failing assets held by the companies that caused the problem. Now there was no actual money that existed for this. The American Government simply created funds, literally printing money or issuing bonds to purchase bad assets. They then took these bad assets off of the books of the companies that caused the problem and said they were now on the books of the Government. The total of those bad assets presently total $4,500,000,000. It is a big pile of Buffalo Chips.

In addition, the Government literally gave money directly to many of the same companies that got us into trouble. So the huge companies that created the problem were given cash to keep going in addition having most of their bad assets taken off of their books.

What do I think was the cause of all these problems and why was it so difficult a problem? I think it was one word: Leverage. For most of the 80s, all of the 90s and up through 2007, the new generation of financial experts were figuring out new and creative ways to create more and more leverage.

Let’s go back a bit. In the early 1900s, banks and stock brokerage firms lent money on the basis of having about 15% in hard assets and raising 85% in loans, stocks and bonds. The assumption at the time was that not all your loans could go bad at once and if you had 15% in hard assets, it was relatively safe to raise money in loans or stocks or bonds for 85% more. That worked pretty well up until 1920 and then banks and stock brokerage companies got together and figured out new ways for their customers to buy stocks, real estate and other bad investments while putting only a small amount money down.

That worked great as long as the stock market and real estate was going up, but when they went down many investors found they suddenly had to put up money they did not have. That, in essence, was the problem that the country faced when the Great Crash and the Great Depression began in 1929. It was also, by the way, the reason for the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 which forbid commercial banks and investment firms from working together.

In the 1980s, when once again the stock exchanges began to truly recover from the terrible losses of the 1930s, the young people going into financial markets began to figure out new ways to gamble on investments. All sorts of new opportunities were created to invest and in doing so it became possible to greatly increase the money raised from hard assets. So, instead of having 15% in hard assets and raising 85%, it became possible to raise 99% from 1% in hard assets. Most of those people were still from my generation.

That was only the beginning of the trend of the rise of leverage. New younger guys and gals came on to the scene. They had borrowed money to get through college and they now found themselves starting careers with substantial college debts. Admittedly, this was nothing like the college debts as of May, 2017, which presently happens to be 1.4 trillion dollars. Let me write that number out – $1,400,000,000 owed by 44 million college student borrowers. Anyway, the next generation of younger guys and gals saw that stock market and investment businesses were prospering and they decided to join the prosperity train.

Now these young guys and gals were starting out with debts from college so they wanted to figure out new ways to create for more opportunity for themselves. And what better way to do that than to increase leverage. This allowed more money to be raised from the same assets so more investments could be offered and everybody could profit. And this generally worked really well all through the 90s. And by the end of century, Glass-Steagall was revoked and leverage surged ahead to become more like a half of one percent assets with 99.5% of all monies raised from that. If anybody had cared to think about that they would have realized that there was no there there.

When the 2000s began, colleges began to really get really expensive and each new class indebted themselves more. So it should come as no surprise that the newest generations of college students looked around to see where the best opportunities for enrichment were. Everybody could see that was in the go-go investment and stock brokerage and merger/acquisition companies, not to mention the formerly conservative banks who leaped into the game by selling stocks and bonds, gambling in currency markets and offering home mortgages and car loans to people who could not pay them back.

By the year 2007, things were beginning to fray a bit. The Age of Buffalo Chips was becoming evident. People were buying homes and cars and boats that they could not afford and it was all on credit made possible by, you guessed it, leverage. By this time, the money raised in mortgages, subprime loans, stock investments, real estate, government buildings was about 1500 times the actual value of hard assets available to borrow from. Houston, we have a problem. It seems there is no there there. Ooops.

I do not think the Bush Administration or the Clinton Administration before it ever saw this coming. To be sure, some people did see it coming – one only has to read Michael Lewis’s book, “The Big Short”, to know, without question that some people knew what was happening and made investments to counter what they knew would occur.

Now the gurus and the pundits and the economists interviewed after the collapse of the stock market and the economy all, almost to a man or a gal, said that no one could have foreseen or predicted the collapse of 2007/2008. But of course that is just another example of Buffalo Chips since there are still hard copies of “The Big Short” out there to directly contradict all those gurus and pundits and economists who, by the way, are still pontificating today about the glories of our stock market.

Anyway, when the Bush Administration did realize what had happened, the first thing they knew and understood was that they could not actually say that America had gone bankrupt. And frankly, this was a necessity. So they did their best and they printed a lot of money, wrote a lot of checks and bailed out the people who had created the problem because they knew if they didn’t a new Great Depression would arrive.

And shortly after, when the Obama Administration came to power and also came to realize the full extent of the problem, they also did essentially the same thing. They continued to pay off the people who caused the problem. And this is because the alternative was just too tough. In doing so, they also bailed out the American Car Industry, with the exception of Ford, who happened to be reasonably, well-funded. I believe this allowed us to get to the present period with a minimum of pain, but with a totally lackluster economy and it did, we must admit, save the majority of the American car industry.

Of course, today, 10 years after the collapse, we are still in a kind of economic haze of tepid survival. Today’s politicians lie about that. Maybe because they do not know better, maybe just because they want to be elected, maybe because they do know better. Whatever the reason, the economy is what it is because of the events we have passed through and because of the failure and collapse of leverage. At least, that is what I think.

I would also like to interject another opinion of mine here – that is, that America’s stock markets are rigged. Just how they are rigged I am not quite sure. I am guessing it is a combination of people and companies with faster computers than the computers used by the leading American stock exchanges, of computer generated algorithms that favor certain companies and certain trends and of many financial institutions working loosely together. Again, that is only my opinion and, like all opinions, it may be wrong.

But fear not, this is The Age of Buffalo Chips. As we speak, new, younger financial wizards are out there trying figure out new ways to increase leverage and to make money where there is no there there.

Moving on from the economy and back to TV, it is important to note that once upon a time, before The Age of Buffalo Chips, news organizations tried to report on news without taking sides. That is hard to realize in this era of “Fake News” and biased news where cable, radio and TV networks take sides and report the news with specific agendas. Our President says the main stream media is the enemy because they are distributors of “Fake News”. And surely it is true that the mainstream is biased because no matter the news organization, each has a point of view.

For example, surely CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN are all left leaning, pro-Democratic and decisively against Mr. Trump and the Republicans. And if it were not for Fox News, you would have to say that all the mainstream media is decisively against Trump and the Republicans. A curious fact is that Fox News spends a significant amount of time saying that the mainstream media is completely biased against Trump and the Republicans. And that would be true if it were not for the fact that Fox News is the most watched and the most popular mainstream news media in the United States.

So the truth of the matter is that the most popular mainstream media, Fox News, has made a career of calling all the other mainstream media biased. At the same time, most of the rest of the mainstream media – CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN – spends a lot of time calling Fox News biased and “Fake News”.

Both sides in this debate are 100% right. All media outlets have their own agendas and they are all, one and all, biased. And that also goes for newspapers and radio stations and the Internet in all its many forms.

I remember a time when the national media networks felt that they should only report the news and they should not take sides. I am thinking of Walter Cronkite and many other newscasters who at least seemed to be reporting what happened without saying what or who is wrong or right. Perhaps, my memory of that time is hazy or rose-colored. In any case, that era is long gone. We are now in The Age of Buffalo Chips.

I would like to say that I do not like The Age of Buffalo Chips. I would prefer news organizations to be responsible, but they are not. So, what is one to do? In my opinion, it is to look at the many different agendas and listen to the “news” as they report it and then make up your own mind and decide for yourself what is true, what is not true and what is Buffalo Chips.

This is not easy and I think it means listening to many sides and then reading history, thinking about all the different news reports and then making up your mind. It is my opinion, in The Age of Buffalo Chips, you have to think for yourself, decide for yourself and yes, make up your own damn mind.

Now as long as I am discussing this present period, I think it might be useful to consider lawyers. A lot of things have been said about people of that profession and almost universally, most of what has been said is negative. This is understandable when one sees some of the ads on TV for lawyers.

Whether it be Mesothelioma, Asbestos poisoning, or some terrible ailment caused by a wonder drug that has laid low a portion of the population, lawyers never seem to be at a loss to offer their services. In the old days, when advertising for legal services were forbidden or frowned upon, some lawyers were described as ambulance chasers. But the times have changed and there are much bigger bucks to be made.

Consider the prominent ads of the renowned firm, Yuckem, Suckem and Shuckem – I may have misspelled their name slightly. Their ads flood prime time TV. If you or some relative of yours has had the misfortune to contract Mesothelioma, leukemia, psoriasis, or some other disease that may or may not be related to some blockbuster drug, please apply to Yuckem, Suckem and Shuckem. They are the heroes of the people, they can get you big money, which, of course, is your God-given right to have.

Now perhaps the above is an example of what our President calls “Truthful Hyperbole”. Perhaps, there is no such firm as Yuckem, Suchem and Shuckem. You decide that. As far as I am concerned, this is just another example of The Age Buffalo Chips.

Perhaps This Is A Good Time To Reconsider This Lady

In reading this blog story I realize that I may have said many negative things about this period. I would like to mention some truly positive things about what I am calling The Age of Buffalo Chips. Perhaps the best starting point for that is the lady shown above. Let us consider her life when she and presumably her husband first arrived on the plains of Kansas to settle and make a new home in what was then the West.

Truly, her life and her husband’s life was not easy. We know from the picture above that she had adequate heating materials and she was strong enough to handle a wheel barrow. We can presume that she and her husband had access to water somewhere nearby. How far she or he had to carry the water we do not know. What seems sure is that she or her husband did not have indoor plumbing, did not have oil, gas or electric heating, did not have AC to cool the little homestead on those hot summer days on the Great American Prairie. Nor did they have a washing machine or a dishwasher, so house-keeping was not easy and starting out on the lone prairie involved struggle and endless hours of physically back-breaking work for she, her husband and her children.

Yes, they might have had a horse or a mule or a goat or a cow to provide some limited transportation, help with the plowing  or give the family some milk. They might have had some chickens or pigs to tend to and slaughter and eat. We can be sure they did not enjoy the modern benefits of an automobile that propelled them air-conditioned or heated according to the time of year back and forth to a supermarket packed with a myriad choice of meats, vegetables or sweets. A trip to town, where ever it was, might have taken many hours and the fare available to buy…be it hardware or foodstuffs or blankets and sheets…must have been limited.

Nor did our lady enjoy the creature comforts of the digital age. She could not call her children to remind them about soccer practice, she could not listen to songs on the radio or view soap or reality shows on TV. And most of all, she could not call her lady friends or perhaps even her boyfriend on the side and tell them or him her troubles and excitements and accomplishments of the day.

Yes, there are many enhancements and improvements in our life today in what I am calling the The Age of Buffalo Chips. There is much to be thankful about, there are many things that were issues for our ancestors that are not issues for us. So, the The Age of Buffalo Chips may be a period full of bullsh–t, but it also an age of privilege and wonder.

Perhaps the most wondrous example of this period is the ability to search for information on the web. Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to understand what is true and accurate because the choice and range of information available is truly mind-boggling. I am thinking specifically of a resource like Wikipedia. It is admittedly not the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it is a remarkable tool. Because it is an open source, ever-changing, ever-expanding media – kind of like our universe. It is not easy to be sure that everything is true and accurate. That said, it is resource that can be consulted at a moment’s notice almost anyplace at almost any time for free to check or counter-check some information.

I think the ability to access many websites for news, the weather or other desired information is a another remarkable advantage only made possible by the Internet and smart cell phones. The two combined provide us with a vast sea of portable, transmittable data and information. We can check things, verify things, look up things, photograph, record and video people and moments in our life. We can write notes, stories, novels, histories and even lowly blog stories. In truth, The Age of Buffalo Chips, as befuddling and confusing as it is, is also The Age of Great Possible Enlightenment.

It is great because there is an enormous amount of information available to access. It is possible because we carry around a tool, the smart phone, that can instantly access almost any kind of information. And that is possible because there is something called the Internet.

Of course, being possible also implies that it can be also be impossible. That is because in The Age of Buffalo Chips we are the ones who must inform ourselves and that means all of us must be willing and capable to stay informed, to judge for ourselves the information presented to us and to be able to determine the truth within. And that my friends is not always easy in The Age of Buffalo Chips.

 

 

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It Was The Music – Volume #2 – 1960-1963

A black gentleman who rolled Beethoven

By Cecil Hoge

In 1960 things were changing in the country fast. Blacks were integrating luncheonettes and riding buses in the front. Protest marches were beginning and some blacks were getting shot. John F. Kennedy was in the process of beating Hupert Humphrey on his way to best Richard Nixon. Nikita Khrushchev was banging his shoe in the UN and I was still at Portsmouth Priory School. Summer was still reserved for Southampton.

In 1960, the popular songs of the day were mostly concerned with love. The Everly Brothers were singing about being “Cathy’s Clown”, Elvis was trying to close a deal in “It’s Now or Never” and The Drifters were singing “Save The Last Dance for Me”. But other things were happening – folk music and jazz music were getting more acceptance from my generation. Me and my classmates were listening to it all, trying to make up our minds about what was good and what was not.

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St. Thomas Aquinas, bright shining star of the Catholic Church

At Portsmouth the good monks were teaching me about St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinius and the principle philosophies and religions of the world. So I was learning about hedonism, epicureanism, Polytheism, Christianity, Islamism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Of course, the monks’ viewpoint might have been a little skewed. Christianity is good, they said, the others are bad, they said. Of course, the monks were high IQ guys so they did it in a very high-minded way.

It went something like this: Hedonism is a simple dullard’s philosophy – pain is bad, pleasure is good – it leads to being a simple gross guy with no style – a drunkard, a sex fiend, a glutton. Epicureanism is one step above hedonism – you get to savor your food, slow it down, moderate your booze intake, enjoy stuff as you go – but, in the end, it is just the same thing, a pig with some paint on it, a dead end, an empty promise that leads to hell without hope of God or redemption.

Polytheism was a whole different can of wax for the Benedictines. It led, they said, to idolatry and the worship of the Golden Calf, Bacchus and Dionysus. There were a lot of different guys and gals who were gods and they tended to fight and be jealous of each other, so it was kind of hard to follow. Some were pretty good looking and tended to cause a lot of trouble. I have to say that Bacchus and Dionysus sounded like interesting fellows, but the good monks seemed to give them short shrift, saying they were just a couple of hedonists dressed as gods.

Regarding Christianity, having dog in that fight, the monks had a specific view. Christianity is the one true religion and provides the big payoff – provided you are good. And, by the way, they meant Catholic Christianianity. Not Eastern Christianity (a left turn off the true road), not Protestantism, not Episcopalianism, not Presbyterianism, and certainly not Baptists, all of whom the good monks regarded as misguided heretics. And in case you did not know it, Benedictine monks are, they said, the smartest, most noble and most correct guys wearing the black cloth and the white collar on planet earth. The good monks went on to explain that other forms of Christianity were just like movie reruns – never as good as the original. Yeah, they said more than that, but this is a blog story about music.

Regarding other aberrant schools of thought: Islamism might have some points, they said, since it was derived from Abraham and Islamic folks did regard Christ as a kind of prophet, but those guys really went off the deep end and found themselves on the wrong trail…after all, who would believe believe you will be feted by virgins with breasts like melons when you get to heaven.

Another gentleman that we discussed.

Buddhism was started by a rich wierdo, a prince who for all of his early life was sheltered by his parents. They did not want Siddhartha to know about death. But as happens Siddhartha left his home and, in doing so, saw death and poverty. This made him sad and confused and he meditated for many years on the meaning of life. Siddhartha tried starving himself to see if that would bring enlightenment. It did not and Siddhartha came to believe that extreme aestheticism was not the answer. Siddhartha came to believe that you have listen to your inner soul and try to achieve a state of Nirvana and thus escape pain and death. His big point seemed to be that the bow should not be too tightly strung or too loosely strung, meaning that any extreme was not the answer. Rather the middle way was the answer. That seemed like good advice to me. The Benedictine monks did not have a high opinion of “Nirvana”, which they considered a kind of negation of life, but they did admit Siddhartha was a guy to be reckoned with.

Regarding Confucianism and Daoism, the good monks also admitted these two philosophies were pretty impressive and intricate from a distance, but said they led nowhere. Confucianism wasn’t even a religion, it was really just a discipline to run an empire. After all, didn’t Confucius say, “Do not worry about the heavens, there will be time enough to worry about the heavens when you die.” Regarding Daoism, they said they did not have much use for “the way is the way” and water is stronger than rock and other such contradictory conundrums. Who would believe, that God is in everything? Why, that would mean that God was water, rocks, air, clouds, sun, stars…the whole kit and caboodle…everywhere and anything.

I know many folks may not like what is said above, but I am only the reporter. I am telling you what the good monks told me. So, if you have gripe about their opinion, I suggest you get in a car, drive yourself up to Portsmouth, Rhode Island and go talk to the good monks about it. But I will tell you something, if you do go, you better put on your best thinking cap. Those Benedictine monks are the sharpest guys wearing the black cloth and the white collar on planet earth, trust me on that.

Since this blog story is about music, I will tell you that I took a very interesting course at Portsmouth Priory called the history of music. Of course, it was rather limited. It only took in music from about the 12th century on. It did not cover Roman music, Greek music, Egyptian music, not to mention Chinese music, Korean music, African music, Indian music. And I don’t remember learning about Mayan music. I am guessing the good monks did not have any recordings available of the other stuff.

Actually, the good monks did not have recordings from the 12th century either, but they did have some information about what kind of instruments were played in those times. Seeing that people around that time were just coming out of the dark ages and were dealing with plagues, depression, constant wars, murder and rape, the music was mostly vocals and harmonies, including Benedictine chants. They did have some instruments that were not very complex, one or two string affairs and some gourds to blow into and create hornlike sounds. Anyway, the monks did have some recordings of that. It sounded a lot like the monks doing their Benedictine chants at our 5:30 am masses.

I will not say that I hated 12th century music, but it sounded kind of simple and dreary to me – like going to mass at Portsmouth Priory at 5:30am. But the music course moved on fairly quickly to cover some Renaissance hits. Those ditties were positively great by comparison and seemed to be almost band like. And apparently the guys and gals of the Renaissance had 3 and 4 and more stringed instruments, horn instruments and other things like piano like instruments and even drums. Yes, even in the 1400s, they were beginning to rock.

Well, I really liked the music of the Rennaisance. Not that I was going to go out to actually buy an album of it, but it sounded pretty damn good, especially when compared Benedictine chants. My course in music moved onto the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th century and eventually got to the 20th century. Going from simple English folk songs like “Greensleeves”, a haunting song about camp followers (aka, prostitutes) dating back to the 12th century. And then on to Renaissance dance music, to more orchestrated music of the following centuries, passing through Baroque music and onto Beethoven, Bach and other biggies of the classical world. I can’t say the high falutin’ music held me. Finally, they passed into what sounded like some bad modern music, before they came to jazz music, which the good monks disparaged as a lower form of music, but I really thought was great, especially the early hot and rude jazz of Dixieland.

Not only was I going to school and studying music in a general way, but I and all my classmates were developing our own musical tastes which were mostly centered on the popular music coming out at the time. We were listening still to the Everly Brothers who also came out with “Let it be Me”. Chubby Checker was singing about “The Twist” and Fats Domino was “Walking to New Orleans”. Elvis had another hit that year, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”.

About this time, other influences and sounds were being heard. I was listening to different kinds of jazz, not just Dixieland, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong from the 20s and 30s, but also new kinds of jazz, Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Theolonious Monk. And of course, we had heard as background while growing up the music of our parents, Benny Goodman, Ornette Coleman, big band music, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett and many, many others.

As students, our dorm rooms echoed with different types of music…pretty much every student had a record player…so, from our rooms, you would hear archipelago singing, rock and roll, jazz, classical and folk music, dissonant jazz to Dixieland Jazz. I, like some others, took a liking to various “Folk Singers” – Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio and others. We were too unsophisticated to listen to Woody Guthrie and other more authentic folk singers. We did not listen to much country music so you could say we were Hank Williams deaf and dumb. We were listening to Johnny Cash and some of the more popular country singers.

An interesting musical interlude occurred during Christmas break when my new German uncle (he was the brother  of my new stepmother) moved to New York and took me out one night with his best drinking buddy in New York. I had come home for the holidays. Now this was a time when I was still 17, in the winter of 1960, when I had sworn a sacred oath to my Benedictine monks not to drink alcoholic beverages for the rest of my life. My sacred oath did last until the summer of same year, when I came to conclusion that it might work for monks, but it would not work for me.

In any case, during my winter vacation, I got the opportunity to tag along with my new uncle and his best drinking buddy. Now, because I was honoring my sacred oath and because technically I was below drinking age in New York (an issue that had not always been an issue), I went out with my uncle Jackie, better known as Ernst Von Kalkreuth. Ernst had come to this country to find fame and fortune as a commercial artist – in Germany he had studied for this occupation. And as mentioned, Jackie, although brand new to the US, had some friends who had moved earlier to the States. And his friend Gottfried was one of them. Gottfried not only was a heavy drinker, he was a heavy smoker.

Now because Gottfried was in the States longer than Jackie, Gottfried was our official guide to New York that evening. So the first place we went to was Eddie Condon’s on 52nd Street. I remember they had some jazzy band that did not seem that terrific, but after an hour or two of listening with me quaffing down cokes and Jackie and Gottfried slugging beers and Gottfried chain-smoking cigarettes, it was decided that Eddie Condon’s was to antiseptic and so we headed downtown to place then unknown to me. Gottfried mentioned the name, the 5 Spot Cafe, and they paid up the check and we piled in a cab and headed downtown.

Although I did not know it, the 5 Spot Cafe was a pretty famous place where the hippest of the hip jazz musicians went and played and hung out. We got down there (it was in the Bowery) and we were lucky enough to get in and get a table. It seemed that Gottfried had friends in low places. So, we got a table about two feet from a piano, in the center of place. It was not big on decoration as I remember. In fact, the main decoration, as far as I could tell, was smoke. That suited Gottfried just fine, as he settled down in his chair and fired up his thirteenth cigarette of the evening.

At the piano was a rather famous black man, Thelonious Monk. Now, because I had heard recordings of Thelonious Monk at Portsmouth Priory, I was familiar with him and his music. Being about six feet away from the famous man himself I could hear the man real well, even if he looked more like a shade from the other world rather than a real human in that dense smoke. Jackie and Gottfried were now very happy. Gottfired got to tell Jackie mostly in German and occasionally in English what a great place the 5 Spot was, how great a musician Thelonoius was, what a great city New York was.

Jackie was saying that music was “verruckt” and did not make sense, but the beer was “ganz gut”. He was quaffing down Heinekens, if I remember. Jackie, although just a few weeks in America, had already decided that Budweiser was better renamed “Budwasser” – translation: Budwater.

I sat there, looking at their dim, but animated forms as they talked music, while Thelonious pluncked away at the piano dissonantly and someone played a horn mournfully. I couldn’t see too much in the room, the smoke hung over the place like Beijing or New Dehli. I can say this some 60 years later, I was never in smokier room than that evening, except, of course, a couple of times, during kareoke in Korea. I slurped down Coke after Coke, Jackie and Gottfried slugged down beer after beer, Gottfried fired up cigarette after cigarette. Thelonious Monk’s sets came and went and came back again.

I found that experience exhilarating, listening to the strange and dissonant sounds of the great Theolonius on the piano with the solo horn backing him up in sad, lingering tones. All in all, it was an exciting evening. I was fired up on sugar and caffeine and second hand smoke. Jackie and Gottfired were blazing a trail on beer and second smoke, with Gottfired leading the way with first hand smoke. Since I did not know what it smelled like, I am guessing mingled with the smoke of cigarettes was the smoke of marijuana. Maybe I am wrong, but by the time we rolled out of the old 5 Spot Cafe at 2:30 we were all more than a little high on something. Perhaps, it was the music.

Going back to school and the monks was somewhat of a come-down, although I got to tell my schoolmates what a great night I had listening to Thelonious Monk. There were a lot of smaltzy hits that year. “Teen Angel” was one, “Running Bear” was another. A guy named Bryan Hyland had a catchy song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”. Strangely, the Kingston Trio had a minor hit with, you guessed it, that classic 12th century ballad, “Greensleeves”.

The summer of 1960 found me in the Hamptons staying in a rented monstrosity my aunt called “The Monster”. It was well-named since it had 26 bedrooms. About a quarter of mile from the ocean and a third of mile from the beach club, it held all four factions of our family and an equal number of house guests. On a big weekend there might be 40 or 50 people coming and going. It was so big, often you would not see fellow family members for days. They came, went to their rooms, got dressed for some event, went out and returned, often never having been seen. I am not quite sure how we got this house. I think it came about because a friend of the family was a real estate agent and the normal deal for that house fell through at the last moment. We were more than happy to fill the void at what was surely a distress price.

That summer the Democrats nominated John F. Kennedy for President and Lyndon Johnson for Vice President. To me as a young kid just approaching drinking age, it seemed like a great thing that such a young, energetic and handsome man had been nominated. It seemed very hopeful to me. And speaking of approaching drinking age, I spent most of that summer sneaking into bars with my somewhat older friends.

Going back to Portsmouth Priory was a big comedown for me. I had had a blast of a summer, surfing, playing tennis, going to parties, sneaking into bars. The fall found me back in the land of the monks, getting up at 5:30 to go to mass and listening to Gregorian chants. During the day, I would attend classes and do all sorts of athletics in the afternoon.  We did still get our prescribed hour or so of American bandstand. We did, as seniors, also get our own single rooms, rather than sharing them with another classmate.

For the last four years of Portsmouth Priory, I spent all of my time trying to beef up with zero effect. As I was just turning 18 my weight was a magnificent 145 lbs. This had been a great struggle, starting in my first year at 125, and gaining about 5 lbs. each year. Of course, I was still growing, but I considered myself puny at 5′ 9″ and 140 lbs. as I entered my last year. I did everything I could think of to build up my body in that last year, playing soccer and tennis in the fall, hockey and squash in the winter, baseball, track and tennis in the spring. I even started doing sit-ups, chin-ups and push-ups every evening in my room.

Girls were almost an unknown thing at Portsmouth Priory. There were a few dances scheduled with some sister school not far from Portsmouth and we were allowed to write the young ladies after we had met them, so there was some correspondence. But nothing much happened except that 1960 gradually passed into 1961 and it dawned on me that I was going to either have to go to college or to work. Since I had never worked previously, the concept was unknown and out of the question. Fortunately, my father, having gone to the University of Virginia during the depression, was able to help me to get into that institution.

By June of 1961, I had built myself up to a magnificent 145 lbs and for the first time in my life I could say I was almost buff. This was accomplished by one or two hours of sports a day (soccer in the Fall, hockey in the winter and tennis in the spring) and one or two hours a day of calisthenics. As if that was not enough, I added chin-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups morning and night in my dorm room. I was pretty buff for a skinny dude and in probably the best shape of my life. That was not to last.

That summer, after graduation and before the big induction to college, I spent my summer with my rich kid friends, going to parties, laying on the beach and yes, surfing and playing tennis, but the emphasis was on fun, not on recreating my physique. Up in the morning by 10 or 11, down to the club by 12, laying on the beach and chatting with friends and fellow idlers. We would talk for hours, hang around in a rat pack and go out to bars and beach parties in the evening. It was indolence at it best, but I did hit the waves and play enough tennis to stay relatively mean and lean, finally, hitting the big 150 that summer and sprouting up another inch in the process.

That Fall I headed down to Charlottesville, the home of Mr. Jefferson’s University. Everyone called it the University and the dress was gentlemanly, with most students wearing jackets and ties. At the time, the University was about 10,000 students, with about nine thousand nine hundred being male. The fact that it was 99% male students was just about the only similarity between Portsmouth Priory and the University of Virginia was just about the only similarity. In every other respect, going to The University was different.

The first thing I discovered in this strange new world was that I could eat all the eggs and bacon I wanted at the University cafeteria each morning. At Portsmouth Priory, we were allotted small quantities of bad tasting, fairly well-balanced food. At the University of Virginia, you could heap any quantity of good tasting, high caloric food you wished on your plate. Moreover, you could come back for seconds.

The second thing I discovered was beer.

There was this place called The Cavalier, not co-incidentally named after the University’s football team, The Cavaliers. While I was not into to football, I did quickly get into the Cavalier. Every night I would go down to this local college dive and suck down 5 or 10 15 cent beers. Having come from a Benedictine monastery, I was unprepared for the freedom and access to the sins, the temptations, and the irresponsibility of “University” life.

In January of 1961, John F. Kennedy became President and there was a big space race going on. This race had started in 1957 when Russia sent a tin can called Sputnik up into “space”. Then there was a lot of concern about the “Russkis” getting the drop on us. The first guy to go up in space was Yuri Gragarian. He went up in April, 1961. But by May, 1961 we sent our first guy, Alan Shephard, up in “space”. He went up about 115 miles, cruised around a bit and came down. Bingo, we had upped the space race anti and showed we could get into the game.

Other things happening were not so successful. President Kennedy approved the Big of Pigs landing and some Cubans tried to retake Cuba. Fidel Castro, newly ensconced in power in Cuba did not like this idea. Nor, it seemed, did the Cuban people. In short order the Bay Pigs invasion failed and we had got a proverbial black eye over the incident. This was also the year that the Soviets tried to cut Berlin in half with a wall. Yes, this was the heart and soul of the Cold War and the Soviet Union was a much feared power.

And this was also the year that John F. Kennedy had chosen to send a few hundred U.S. personnel to Vietnam. From small acorns grow large oak trees. At the time the running argument was that the commies were overrunning the Far East, the French had lost their butts in Diem Bien Phu and if Vietnam was allowed to fall that whole part of the world would become part of Communist China.

What were the top songs in the heart and soul of the Cold War? Bobby Lewis had a single “Tossing and Turning”, Roy Orbison was “Crying” and “Running Scared” and Connie Francis was singing about “Where The Boys Are”. Another song, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker was still sweeping the nation and starting a new dance craze. That came just in time for me because The Twist was easy to learn and it was the first dance music that I could actually master.

Meanwhile, back at the University, this boy was in the Cavalier pretty much every night, drinking 15 cent brews with no more than 3.2% alcoholic content. Considering the number of 15 cents beers I was knocking back, the 3.2% was a pretty good idea.

And what about school. Oh that. Well, I was going to classes most days…at least in the beginning. Classes were really easy because most of my first year courses covered ground already taught me in last year’s courses in Portsmouth Priory. You could say that the first year courses were just catching up to the courses taught me the year before. So, I kind of cruised through that year with Cs and Bs. It was a blast and I was having the time of my life…going to keg fraternities parties every weekend with bands playing songs like “My Ding a ling”. Now, Chuck didn’t record that song until 1972, but his version of it kind captures that fraternity band music popular at the time.

While I discussing lowball music and even lower ball fraternity parties, let me tell you a little about that. Most of the fraternities were located on Rugby Road and they were lined up in two long rows on each side of Rugby Road. On a weekend, girls and guys wandered up and down, staggered might be a more accurate word, wending their way from one fraternity house to the next. Each fraternity had one or two kegs going, each had a small band blasting out music. The downstairs of the fraternity houses was devoted to the band and a lot of people crowded on to an impossibly packed dance floor.

If you could wiggle your way through, with you and your date – and yes, while there were very few girls going to UVA, it was possible to get dates from some of the nearby girl colleges. And believe it or not, in between the eggs and the beer, I was getting the hang of lining up dates. When you came into a fraternity with your date, there was usually a little room off to the left or right set up with a couple of kegs of beer and sometimes a very large punch bowl of some severely alcoholic mixture. A popular beverage to mix into the punch was grain alcohol, along, of course, with rum, bourbon and gin. If you ever tried to take a sip of the grain alcohol unmixed, you would find that it would simply burn your tongue off. It was powerful stuff and so was the punch that was often served on Rugby Row.

I would note this was before national networks discussed the horror of binge drinking in colleges. In fact, it was before the word binge drinking came into use. So, I can say with absolute assurance that we were not binge drinkers because we did not know what the term meant. I would admit that we did drink a lot. I might even admit we drank too much.

Now for a kid coming from a Benedictine monastery this was an abrupt and dramatic change in lifestyle. Hello hedonism, goodbye Christianity and all sobriety and all common sense had left the building. At the time I attended, the University of Virginia was designated by none other than Playboy Magazine as the biggest drinking college in the U.S. I can tell you one thing about the University of Virginia, while we all considered ourselves to be gentlemen of high honor because we were at Mr. Jefferson’s University, we were equally concerned that nothing that had been committed to writing by such a prestigious magazine as Playboy be anything but 100% correct. So we worked very hard at maintaining our reputation. And yes, it was true, many of us were young drunken fools.

I will mention a famous incident that had occurred on Rugby Row two years prior to my arrival. It was a famous story of my time. Louis Armstrong and his band came to the University to give a concert. It seemed that just after the concert, a few fraternity boys, perhaps several sheets to the wind, wound their way backstage and suggested to Louis that he come play at their fraternity house on Rugby Row.

Now it seems that the frat boys had no money to offer Louis Armstrong except a couple of hundred bucks and all the whiskey he could drink. I doubt that the offer of a couple of hundred bucks was very persuasive, considering Louis was one of the most famous and well-paid musicians of his time. But no matter, Louis took a shine to the frat boys and the promise of unlimited hooch and said sure, he and few of his band would come over to the fraternity. True to his word, Louis Armstrong came over to the frat house, whose name I do not recall, and started playing.

It seemed that Louis was having a fine time and in several nano-seconds word spread on Rugby Row that Louis was giving an impromptu concert. That invited a surge in the population of this particular fraternity. It was kind of like the Walt Disney movie where the mops keep bringing more buckets of water and the basement fills to the brim with water. Only in this case, it was young, drunken guys and gals, all jumping up and down on the dance floor. Well, dance floors can only take so much and apparently, after hundreds of people crowding on to it, jumping up and down and a bacchic trance, the floor gave way.

But fear not, it seemed there were no actual fatalities and the collapse of the floor did not end in total disaster. Now, the strange thing about this is that Louis Armstrong apparently did not notice that the floor had caved in even though he was only a few feet from a newly formed cliff leading to the basement. He just kept playing. Whether he just did not notice or he thought it was not that unusual an event I do not know. In any case, it was a famous story of events that occurred two years before my arrival and it gives you some flavor of the place.

By the time my first break for Christmas vacation, I had managed to pick up a quick 15 lbs. That was the direct product of eggs and beacon in the morning, robust lunch and dinners, followed up by mucho beers at the Cavalier. So I went from buff to flabby and paunchy in just 3 months. So much so, that when I got up to New York, I found myself being chided for becoming “chubby”.

That winter, when in New York, we visited the then famous for moment, Peppermint Lounge, the home of Chubby Checker and the Twist. Fortunately, in spite my quickly added weight, I was able to twist with the best of them, twisting the night away.

Back at college, I found myself more than ever entranced by the seduction of eggs and beer, picking up another 10 lbs. This instant chubbiness, at first surprising, was now becoming embarrassing. This led me to fits of limited athletic activity which prevented further decline, but did not get rid of the 25 lbs. that I had already gained. I had so quickly applied this extra weight to my body that it literally altered my appearance. I began to look like a young John Belushi, chubby before my time.

Well, to make a long story a little bit shorter, I spent the first two years of college flunking out. That was not my goal, but it was my trajectory. The first year was deceptive because I did pretty well scholastically, if you call you doing pretty well, getting B minuses and C pluses doing pretty well.

By the second year, things really started to go South – as in falling apart. After all, I had already gone South to Virginia so you could say that the South was catching up to me in my second year. I was partying hard and regularly forgetting that I should be attending classes. And a funny thing happened somewhere in the second year, I discovered that the courses were considerably harder. In the first year, it had not been necessary to study because most of the required courses I was given I had already studied in prep school. Yes, I did study a little bit, but in that first year, the courses were really easy.

In the second year, things changed. Suddenly I was taking Geology courses and Chemistry courses about things I had never been taught. I have to say that I was very surprised and intrigued by Geology. I was astounded to learn that the earth was very, very old. It seemed that the earth billions of years old. And more than that it seemed that the Universe was even older…who knew. The good professor who taught Geology said the Universe was literally billions of years older.

This was all pretty strange to me, but even stranger to me was how the earth evolved. It seemed it started as molten rocks and gases about 5 billion years ago. Certainly, that was not what the good monks had said at Portsmouth Priory. They had said that the bible had said the earth was 10,000 years old, but not everybody believed that they said, so it probably best to think of the 10,000 years as “biblical time”. That was an expression for a long time, but since the people writing the bible could not count very high, the 10,000 number meant a really long time. I’ll say, like 4,950,000,000 years instead of 10,000 years.

And if Geology was strange, Chemistry was weirder and mostly incomprehensible. Today, I wish I listened more and I wish I had attended more Chemistry classes, but in 1962, it seemed difficult to understand. I opted for partying. To make sure my descent into bad grades would continue, I joined a fraternity, Chi Psi, and upped my partying game because now I was living with 32 like-minded revelers.

A lot of other things were happening in 1961 and 1962 besides me chubbing up and failing to maintain grades. The Russkis decided to heat up things by erecting a wall between East and West Berlin. This was surprising to me personally because I had been to Berlin a few years before and had driven back and forth between West and East Berlin directly. I wrote about that experience in “A Fog Rolls into Berlin and I Gain a Stepmother.” So I was very surprised by the fact that a city that I had visited was now officially divided by a wall. It had, of course, been divided between East and West Berlin, but when I went you could back and forth to each part. Now the Russkis had made that almost impossible.

About this time, Bob Dylan was beginning to make his run at fame and genius, with a deadpan voice and profound sense of wording. At that time, his raw voice and the pure folk songs that he sang did not sound like very impressive. Bob was yet to sing, “The Times Were A Changing” and he way far away from adding electronic guitars to his music. Nevertheless, the times were a changing…people were coming and going. Among the many passers on, Marilyn Munroe, beautiful tragic lady, overdosed from drugs at the age of 36.

In the fall of 1962, I was busily doing everything possible to flunk out. In October, a major world event occurred and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy came on radio and television and told the American people that a nuclear war might occur that week. That seemed like another perfect excuse to cut classes, drink a lot of beer and ponder the state of the world. So for three days, that is pretty much what everybody in my fraternity did.

We stayed in our fraternity house, known as the The Lodge. Our fraternity, Chi Psi, was almost unique in not being on Rugby Road. It was located about two miles from Rugby Road and the school campus. Our fraternity had a nice black couple who looked after us – Billy and Ester – Ester did the cooking and Billy did the driving. We had a Volkswagon bus that Billy drove us around in. We also a wierd triangular swimming pool located down a hill, surrounded by pines trees. The trees regularly dropped great quantities of pine needles into our pool, but in the fall of 1962, we were the only fraternity that could claim to have a swimming pool and that was a mighty powerful claim even if our pool was full of pine needles and the occasional beer can.

So, there we were, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, all hunkered down at The Lodge, huddled around a crummy black and white TV set and a not so bad radio. This was a period when all of America literally stopped and gathered around TVs and radios, watching and listening to find out if the world would end.

I well remember discussing the crisis with my classmates and fraternity brothers. As we huddled around the TV and the radio, the conversation wandered to what what we all wanted to do. One by one, each of us told our dreams. One wanted to go into the Air Force – he did and 5 years later he killed himself by accident crashing into an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Another wanted to go to work for IBM – he did and to the best of my knowledge he worked there for about 25 years, before being down-sized. Yet another wanted to go into the secret service – apparently, he tried and did not get accepted – he went on to go into the infantry and served two in Vietnam.

I was the wierdo among the group – I said I wanted to design surfboards because I loved the ocean. That was true, but I never did design surfboards, at least not yet. Strangely, I did end up designing inflatable boats, kayaks and most strangely, stand up paddle boards, which are pretty close to surfboards. So you could say that in a way all our dreams, which we exposed to the world in heartfelt sincerity during those scary few days, came true. And hey, I still might design a few inflatable surfboards – it is on my bucket list.

So, imagine if you can, 10 or 12 frathouse brothers, sitting around a table, listening to a sad and partially defective black and white TV, listening to an almost decent radio, trying to glean information about whether world would continue. I remember those few days very clearly. There is nothing like the threat of the end of the world to help you focus. Even in the early months of that year, I kind of knew I was going to flunk out that year. The time discussing the Cuban Missle Crisis was a brief period of seriousness when we seriously discussed what we wanted to do for the rest of our life with the clear feeling that the rest of lives might only be the next three days. It was a strange period and perhaps strangest of all is how several of us correctly predicted our future life.

And while those three days seemed like they would never end, they did end and the Cuban Missile crisis passed. Russia withdrew the missiles from Cuba, the world took sigh and we went back to classes and partying. And yes, it did seem like flunking out of college was in my stars. And so as the year passed from 1962 to 1963 I found myself floundering and flunking and having a heck of a good time.

Author’s Note: “It Was The Music Volume #2” is the second blog story of a series of stories on the influence of music in my life. It is my intention to continue this series, but for the next few blog stories, I will return to some other stories.

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It Was The Music – Volume # 1 – 1953-1959

 

A Wild and Crazy Entertainer of the Time

A Wild and Crazy Entertainer of the Time

By Cecil Hoge

In the early 1950s, when I was growing up in Bellport, Long Island, there was not much happening in the music world. I remember one popular song of that day.

“How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” was a cute, catchy little song which, even if it was stupid, was memorable. It was about someone seeing a puppy in the window of pet store. I remember hearing “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” in front of a pet store with a litter of cute puppies in the window.

If you play the above video you can watch this song. The song was being used by an enterprising local tradesman to sell puppies. Yes, music was used for marketing as early as the 50s. It is my guess the music has been used for marketing purposes for hundreds of years, if not more.

But I am not here to discuss music in marketing, I am here to discuss music in my life.

In the year 1953 when the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” came out, Queen Elizabeth was crowned, Joseph McCarthy was getting discredited, Joseph Stalin died and, after three bloody years, the Korean War ended. In the United States, there was great concern about a nuclear attacks. Mr. Tippin, the nice old man who lived with his wife across the street, built a fall-out shelter for himself and his wife. I remember seeing their fall-out shelter. It was a pretty sorry affair, about ten feet deep, with a steel cellar door entrance. Inside it was a room about ten feet by twelve feet long. There was some shelving for jars and cans, a giant water cooler and a small double bed. It had no windows of course, but there was a ventilation shaft for air. I always wondered if you did go down there for two or three weeks, would you come out sane?

I remember going to a school in New York City, just before I moved Bellport, Long Island. In that school, once a week the teachers would ask us to prepare for a nuclear attack. So the students, who were nine or ten years old, were asked to get under our desks on our hands and knees and then told to put our heads down between our knees. John Noble, one of our smarter and more sarcastic young wits said the following:

“Now kiss your ass goodbye.” So much for nuclear defense.

1953 was not a big year for music. The year started out with the song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Actually, that song had come out at the end of 1952 in time to catch the holiday season of that year. You could say America was kind of asleep. In addition to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and the “Little Doggie in the Window”, Percy Faith had a nice sounding hit “Song from Moulon Rouge”. Crooners were also big that year. Perry Como was singing, “Don’t Let The Stars Get in Your Eyes”.

1954 was not very different, Frank Sinatra was singing “Young At Heart”, Dean Martin was crooning, “That’s Amore”, Tony Bennett was swooning, “Stranger in Paradise.” But things moved along and sometime in 1954 Bill Haley and His Comets came out with “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. That might have been the first hint that new times was coming. Forgive me for using the singular verb rather than the plural verb, but I trying to get a point across and I really do mean, new times was coming.

By 1955, big changes were underway and America’s war babies were waking up to new sounds and new times. Something called Rock and Roll was coming on the scene.

The Maestro himself, Bill Haley & Comets

The Maestro himself, Bill Haley & His Comets

My first real introduction to Rock and Roll music was Bill Haley and His Comets. I had heard the song “Shake, Rattle and Roll” the year before, but the song that changed everything for me was called “Rock Around the Clock” . That song came out in 1955 like an announcement that something new had arrived. And that something new was Rock and Roll music itself. I first heard that song when I was going to Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Connecticut. I remember hearing “Rock Around the Clock” in a small movie theater which happened to be playing a movie called, you guessed it, “Rock Around the Clock”. The movie featured a number of bands, but it was that particular song that made a kind of statement that a new kind of music had arrived in the world.

In 1955 times was moving forward and things was changing. General Motors had introduced their popular new Chevy model and it was hot, hot, hot…coming in at around two thousand dollars. Gas was running 25 cents a gallon so people were out riding. Boys and girls were discovering all sorts of way to get to know each other in cars parked along darkened streets. Nikita Khrushchev was running the show in Russia and Marilyn Monroe was getting photographed with subway air blowing up her skirt. Things was getting interesting.

Admittedly, Bill Haley and His Comets were not the greatest rock musicians, but that song caught the moment of that time. I am not sure what teacher at Indian Mountain School got the bright idea that it might be good to take the kids to a movie showing this new fangled music. It turned out to be a decidedly bad idea. And that became particularly evident when the song “Rock Around the Clock” came on.

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock,

Five, six, seven o’clock rock, eight o’clock rock

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

The words were extremely simple and so was the message. Rock and Roll had come to town. Well, that little movie theatre, with about 90 of my male schoolmates – it was an all male boarding school except for about 6 girls who only attended day classes – went wild. All 90 of us jumped up from our seats and started screaming “Rock Around the Clock”, jumping up and down, throwing our arms up in the air. You could say that pandemonium was released, but that would be an understatement. Now we were not very old, I believe our average age was 12 or 13 at the time and I was one of the older guys. So try to imagine 90 11 to 13 year olds, all screaming, all jumping up and down, all waving our arms frantically in the air, no longer contained by the theater seats, wildly dancing in the aisles.

Now, up until that point, I think the teacher who guided us to that theatre thought of us as a pretty nice bunch of kids. All of that changed about 12 seconds into “Rock Around the Clock”. All sensible and responsible modes of activity went out the window with the opening lyrics of “Rock Around the Clock”. By time the first verse had gotten around to “We are gonna rock around the clock”, all dignity, all sanity, all decorum left the building and 90 kids popped up from their movie chairs and began flailing about in way that would make Dionysus proud.

Needless to say, after that event, we lost our movie going privileges. There was much debate among the teachers of the school as to whether we had collectively lost our minds or had been under the evil influence of one of Satan’s princes or had gotten hold of some powerful illegal drug. This question was debated and discussed among the school staff for several weeks afterwards, with different theories having precedence before being replaced by other new theories. I am not sure the staff was able to simply accept that it was the music stupid.

At Indian Mountain School, even if the teachers managed to keep us away from the local movie theater, they were not able to keep us away from the music that was just beginning to be played. In the afternoons, after classes we would go up to play pool and ping pong in the rec room. There we played endless hours of pool and ping pong and in doing so ended up listening to endless hours of music. That was because that spare and barren room, up on the third floor of our dormitory building, had one not so good Zenith radio which, if we were lucky, could get some local stations and pull in some pretty good music. And when it was working, that Zenith sounded pretty good.

I remember listening in that room to song like “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds. It was not the most intellectual song, but had a message and a beat and it moved.

I remember first hearing Johnny Cash with “I Walk the Line”, his voice was like a deep-throated train with a driving beat behind him. It was not rock music, but it not country music either. It was something new, something elemental, something unavoidable. And so we played ping pong and pool for hours on end, each afternoon, listening to whatever we could get on the local music stations. And yes, there were still that pleasant popular songs that burst upon the scene, such as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” – these songs were kind of patriotic and had something to please everyone.

There were four of us at Indian Mountain School who used go up to that rec room as a group…Whitman, Tompkins, Ermentrout and myself…all around 14 years old. Off of the rec room was a small apartment for one of the younger teachers. I do not remember his name, but I remember that all was not well with him and his wife because he would emerge from his little apartment and ask us to turn the radio down or keep it quiet. Sometimes the teacher’s face was red and blushing, sometimes he almost had tears in his eyes. We would try to obey his plea for quiet but soon some song would come on and we would go back to turning up the volume, to shouting and arguing and telling each other what losers we were.

 

This guy who changed my life

This guy changed my view of music

The song that changed forever my view of music was “Heartbreak Hotel”. I remember first hearing that song in Bellport, Long Island at the local soda fountain shop. The year was 1956. I would go to the soda fountain shop every one or two days, usually before picking up my mother a couple packs of cigarettes and a bottle of scotch. That was the major errand my mother would send me on and I hated it because I knew no good would come of it. So to make my task less painful I would always stop off at the soda shop. If I was going to get my mother cigarettes and alcohol, I would at least get myself a vanilla milkshake.

This was in the summertime, when I was not at Indian Mountain School, but staying in Bellport at our small Cape Cod style house on 25 Thornhedge Road. Going to the fountain shop was a special pleasure for me. I was really into vanilla milkshakes. Occasionally, I would vary this with a vanilla ice cream soda. It was a big debate in my mind which was better – the vanilla milkshake or the ice cream soda. Some days I settled on the milkshake, other days I would come back to the ice cream soda, deciding that was the best in the land.

On one of those days, when I was innocently having a milkshake or a soda, the song “Heartbreak Hotel” came on the Jukebox. Now this soda shop had a giant Wurlitzer Jukebox. Those things were a piece of art unto themselves and a wonder to behold. And I remember when I first heard the first words of that great song come on:

“Since my baby left me,  I found a new place to dwell

Down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel”

It was not just the words, it was the sound of the song, and low, throaty voice of the King himself belting out what was for me one of his first hits. That song sounded so different to me, unlike anything else I had ever heard, that I went right up to the big Wurlitzer that was stationed between the soda fountain where folks sat on chrome stools that twirled in circles and the soda fountain booth area where young couples snuggled together slurping milkshakes and sundaes.

That song, when it first came on, demanded attention and I gave it all I could. I walked over to the Wurlitzer, sat down cross legged and put my ear against the giant speaker and listened to the whole song. I just could not believe the song, I could not believe the words. And when the song ended, I stood up and pulled out a nickel (the fee for playing a song on the Wurlitzer at the time), pumped it in the jukebox, selected “Heartbreak Hotel” and sat right down to listen to that song again. I listened to “Heartbreak Hotel” four or five times that day, only getting up to plug in another nickel in to the jukebox.

I am not sure if the proprietor of the soda fountain approved of my strange behavior, but he never stopped me as long as I was plugging in nickels. And he seemed more than happy to change the dollar bill I had for more nickels. The year, as I said, was 1956.

In that year, My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews came out on Broadway. I know because my rich aunt took me to see it. Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco and Arthur Miller, the playwright, married Marilyn Monroe. You might say it was a good year for marriages, but I would point out that it was also the year my father officially divorced my mother and Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller did not last too long either.

“Heartbreak Hotel” was the first song that seemed to have the power to take me away. It pulled me aside and said here is another way to look at things. And in doing so, it got me through periods of time that were personally and emotionally difficult for me and set me to thinking about other things, other possibilities. Rock n’ Roll was literally taking me out of my 14 old body and introducing me to something, a kind of inner joy. And in that period of time, I needed that because the times were confusing and what was happening in my personal life was also confusing. And if you think about it from that point of view, music was a kind of balm, a kind of cure for the soul.

And while “Heartbreak Hotel” was always for me the first rock and roll song that I realized was Rock and Roll, another song came out that came out that announced that the end was nigh for old style music. I speak of the immortal Chuck Berry and his classic song, “Roll over Beethoven”.

In 1957, I was still at Indian Mountain School, which was a pre-prep school for boys whose parents were either unable to take care of us or who were in the process of getting a divorce or who just wanted us kids away. Whatever the reason, in Indian Mountain School I found a new identity, a new ability to take care of myself. I was learning to read books on the side, I was taking interesting classes learning about things that I knew little about.

Of course, as a teenager I was afflicted with many of the hormonal changes of youth.  I was having my first problems with acne, I was starting to think about girls. It was about that time that I had some problems with warts. This was not the end of the world, but it did bother me. The school nurse gave me some kind of poison to put on my warts which were all located on the palm of my hand. After about two weeks of being poisoned, the warts would drop off my hand – all, that is, except one persistent larger wart which was larger and more durable than the others.

imageIt was about that time that song “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers was released. It was another song that made a big impression. It did not have great meaning, but it kind of caught a quirky spirit of the times, telling the tragedy of two teenagers falling asleep in a movie theater. I remember that song because I first heard it in the office of the local doctor I was sent to in downtown Lakeville, CT. The good doctor was just cutting out my most obstinate wart and that song came on. It helped with the pain as I watched him use an exact Exacto knife (or what looked like an Exacto knife) to cut out the last elements of my lingering abomination. Most of the time the Exacto knife was cutting dead wart, but occasionally the good doctor got into real flesh and blood and that hurt. Fortunately, “Wake Up Little Susie” came to the rescue and I remember feeling pretty good as the last bit of the song dropped away and I walked out of that doctor’s office.

1957 was the year that Humphrey Bogart died from cancer. Sputnik was launched by the Russians and the Edsel car was introduced. In other words, not too much was happening. Elvis Presley was still churning out hits like “All Shook Up”. “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds was still a hit. At the time, I had made a $5 investment in a radio that did not need batteries and did not have the best sound. It was a pretty simple affair. It was a plastic tube with a cone and an antenna on one end and a double wire coming out the other. At the end of the double wire was one snap clip and one earphone speaker. The idea was pretty simple – you clipped the snap clip to a radiator or some other metal pipe (effectively grounding the radio) and plugged the earphone into your ear and moved the metal rod back and forth. That brought in different radio stations, if you were lucky.

Now it so happened at Indian Mountain School my bed was right next to a radiator. This made hooking up my new fangled radio simple. The earphone was also a good call because lights out was 9:30 and it was forbidden to listen to radios, read in bed, talk or do anything but sleep. Fortunately, I had my $5. radio. I cannot say the reception was that good. It was kind of hit and miss, but every once in a while you would come across a station that came in real clear. That is when I first heard “Jailhouse Rock” and “Teddy Bear” by Elvis, “A Whole of Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, with the lights out, huddled in my bed on a cold winter’s evening. It was not the best sound, but at the time any sound was great.

“Young Love” by Sonny James was another big hit in 1957. It was soon to be knocked off by Tab Hunter. I, of course, only respected the Sonny James version, which had a twanging, haunted, driving sound to it. It was a song to remember. The only time I got to listen to that song was in the rec room playing ping pong or pool in the afternoon or after lights out in bed on my tiny, trusty radio.

In 1958 a number of things changed. I graduated from Indian Mountain School and enrolled in new school, Portsmouth Priory. This was a Catholic prep school run by Benedictine monks. These monks were pretty serious folks. Five of the people who were monks, including our headmaster at the  time, Dom Leo van Winkle, had come from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. If you did not know it, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was the place that brought you the atomic bomb. It seemed these five guys were so depressed by making the atomic bomb that they decided to become monks.

Now, having come from an all boys boarding school, I was used to living a pretty controlled life where we did not get to see girls, but the monks at Portsmouth Priory took my already esthetic life to a whole new level. The monks themselves got up at 4am for a round of dried bread, cold coffee and Gregorian chants. Not long afterwards (around 5:30am), we were rousted out of a perfectly good sleeps to join them for a few more Gregorian chants. And then it was on to mass, breakfast and five or six classes. I will say that the courses were interesting or the curriculum was truly educational, but sometimes you can go overboard and I think this was one of those times.

For that reason alone, music was more important than ever. This was the time that 45 singles were becoming more and more popular. The Italian song, “Volare” was extremely popular. The Everly Brothers had a truly great hit, “All I Have To Do is Dream”. Groups like the Silhouettes, the Platters, the Drifters, The Coasters all had great hits and were coming onto the scene. And of course, Elvis had a usual round of hits. Chuck Berry was singing about “Sweet Little Sixteen”. And then there was the great Jerry Lee Lewis sang about, “Great Balls of Fire.”

Benedictine Monks or not, the blood was beginning to pump and you might say, in today’s lingo, animals spirits were awakening.

In the afternoon, after the five or six classes, lunch and after two solid hours of  sports and calisthenics at Portsmouth Priory, we would get about an hour off before dinner. That was just on time to watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and for young guys holed up in a Benedictine Monastery that was a revolution unto itself. Singers like Little Richard, Dion, Jerry Lee Lewis would come on and sing songs like we never heard before. And American Bandstand had girls dancing with guys and while there was nothing much to be seen in that, we could let our imagination run free.

In the summer, after completing my first year of prep school, I came back to New York to spend my summer vacation and that year, unlike the last few years before, I spent my summer in Southampton. I have written some things about my family at that time in Southampton in this blog in “Our Family Secret” and in “The Zirinsky House”. In my case the contrast between Southampton, Long Island and Bellport, Long Island could not have been more different. Bellport was a sleepy little summer resort with zero pretensions and a great place for crabbing and snapper fishing and a few friends of my age.

But Southampton was something else altogether. In the 1920s, Southampton had been called the queen of New York’s summer resorts and as time passed, it became only more so. When I first went out to Southampton, I came to discover that it was inhabited mainly by rich people. Now most of those rich folks were older people, like Henry Ford, like the Wanamakers, like the Chryslers, like the McCormicks, like the Havemeyers. These people came from families that had made money and had become rich and had become social and who decided they no longer should work, because work, after all, was a kind of dirty occupation, and so they concentrated on being rich and living rich and doing very damn little.

All that is except my family, who were not rich and who probably had very little reason to be in Southampton other than the fact that we came from a quote, unquote “good family” and my family knew a lot of rich people who also came from quote, unquote “good families”. So we had good connections and very little money, but we had something some of the richer folks didn’t have. We had four families and we joined forces, scraped together some money, and by virtue of combined resources were able, just barely, to rent a big rambling summer house and join the two all important clubs. I speak of course, about the Beach Club, aka The Southampton Bathing Corporation, and the Meadow Club, aka, the Meadow Club.

So for me this was a whole different world. Not only was I now living in a house with multiple cousins, younger and older than myself, I quickly acquired a bunch of new young rich kid friends and instead working like other kids of our age, we would hang at each other’s houses, go to the beach club, go to the Meadow Club and swim and surf and play tennis and then go out to young kids’ beach parties, which, by the way, were truly on the beach. And of course, in doing that we listened to a lot of music, sometimes on nice stereos, but more often on transistor radios or jukeboxes. And by the way, this was around the time that the drinking age in New York was 18 and it was also along the time that we were figuring out how to sneak into bars and what soon were to be called discotheques, even if I was only sixteen at the time.

This was also the time that Buddy Holly and the Crickets were becoming popular. He had leapt onto the scene with “That’ll be The Day” in 1957. In 1958 he followed up this original hit with “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday”. By that summer, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were one of the leading groups in Rock and Roll. This success was not to last long. Several months later, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson, aka, The Big Bopper. This was the famous day that the music died.

Anyway, in the summer of 1958, I was hob-knobbing with a bunch of much richer kids than me in Southampton. Our days were truly carefree. Get up, have a late breakfast, head to the Beach Club, hang out on the beach. If there was surf, maybe we would stay in the ocean, coming out only to warm up for a few minutes on the beach, go to luncheonette counter and slurp down a hamburger and few cokes. If the surf was really good, maybe we would head down to the inlet, walk across the dunes and catch the surf break by the jetty where the waves broke slow and well-formed and where you could walk out a few hundred feet in the ocean and catch long lingering waves.

If the break wasn’t breaking, then we would head to the Meadow Club for two, three and sometimes four sets of tennis and then take a shower and then sit on the big porch and chit chat for hours, part gossip, part recalling what each of our friends did the evening before, part discussing important matters, like where we would go that evening, whose house we would visit, which bar or discotheque we would try to crash. Yes, these were simple pleasure filled days and we didn’t do a damn thing all day long. And we pretty much spent the evenings the same way.

For me, a person who had been used to going to a boarding school, to wandering in the woods by myself, used to fishing and crabbing in Bellport, it was a whole new life. Yes, kind of worthless, with a big priority on doing nothing worthwhile or useful. They were carefree days and nights. I cannot say that I improved my mind or moral purpose. I cannot say that I went to work for the first time in my life and learned new skills and lessons while I worked. I can say we lived days in the sun and water and we had truly fun times going with my friends in the evening doing things that were not very constructive, but having a good time anyway. And I cannot say I regret those days.

Every summer comes to an end and pretty soon I found myself in Portsmouth, Rhode Island in the land of Benedictine monks learning about more serious things…Gregorian chants, religious philosophy, world religions, mathematics, geometry, American, Greek, Roman and European history and reading English and American novels. I have to say that the folks at the good monastery were truly good teachers, dedicated to trying to make civilized creatures out of the wild human creatures they were presented with.

One of my first roommates was a guy named Michael Ward. It turned out he was the son of Jane Wyman, a beautiful and famous actress who had been married to Ronald Reagan. Michael was the progeny of another husband and so he ended up in Portsmouth Priory, like many of us, somewhat lost and disengaged from our parents. Michael was a very quiet guy who kept to himself, but he was a great pianist and he loved to play jazz on the piano, which, if I remember correctly, was located, somewhat incongruously, in the gym. Anyway, in the late afternoon, Michael would go off to the gym and play right up until dinner time.

Sometimes, if I was not watching something frivolous, I would go to listen to Michael playing jazz and while I did not know very much about that kind of music, I could tell he was highly skilled. I also remember Jane Wyman coming to the school and sitting with Michael, Jane Wyman and Dom Leo van Winkle, the headmaster and the head monk. I think there were one or two other students and one or two other monk teachers at the table. The food was traditionally bad to terrible, but I think they made a special effort that evening to make the food only poor.

I will say that in the evening we had a little more free time. Lights out in our dormitory was 10pm, so we had a whole extra half hour while away. Mostly, we chatted in our rooms and listened to 45’s on crummy record players that we had at the time. The 45’s got scratched up pretty quickly and we would spend hours listening to different kinds of popular music, arguing who was better…Elvis or Dion, Buddy Holly or the Platters…there was quite a division of opinion. Some of us were getting more sophisticated, listening to jazz, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, some of us even liked Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

The King himself in army gear

1958 was the year that Elvis went into the army and Boris Pasternak wrote “Dr. Zhivago” and I was spending my first year at Portsmouth. By 1959, things were changing – Fidel Castro took over Cuba, Alaska became the 49th state and Charlton Heston starred in Ben Hur. At Portsmouth Priory I was playing soccer, hockey, squash and tennis…fall, winter and spring. For a school dedicated to intensive intellectual and religious study, Portsmouth Priory had a surprisingly robust athletic department. Those monks believed in sound minds in sound bodies. After one or two hours of soccer, hockey, squash or tennis, the athletic director would send us off to run up hills, to do pole vaults, chin-ups, jumping jacks, climb 30 foot high ropes and other strange things.

The summer of 1959, I resumed my summer schedule in Southampton, playing tennis and surfing in the days and doing my best to be a young teenage wastrel in the evenings. We were chit chatting and laying around the beach on sunny days, going to parties and sneaking into bars in the evenings. In short, I was having the time of my life.

There was a French guy who I got to know during that summer. I do not remember his name, but he was a thin, tall, cool guy liked by all the girls we hung out with. This French guy was the summer guest of Mrs. McCormick, she was the great, great granddaughter of Cyrus McCormick. Cyrus was the inventor of the mechanical reaper. He founded the McCormick Harvesting Company, which later became part of International Harvesting Company. Needless to say, Mrs. McCormick was rich and because she was having a young French kid staying at her Southampton home for the summer, she decided to buy him a car, so he would have something to run around in.

If I remember that car was a Ford Fairlane 500 Galaxie convertible. So, Pierre had this boss car and I was lucky enough to tool around in it with him. And while the girls were lined up to go out with Pierre (I will call him that for want of his real name), Pierre was much more interested in racing his Fairlane. I was lucky enough to accompany Pierre on a few of his racing expeditions. There was a kind of ritual to his racing.

We would head out around 8 or 9 at night from Southampton and take the back road to Shinnecock. Pierre usually had the top down and the radio blasting music. “Mac the Knife” by Bobby Darin, a cool jazzy ballad, “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, another haunting ballad and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by The Platters, a great, moody undulating ballad were some of the songs that came on. As soon as we turned off on the back road, that was the sign that the race was about to commence. Pierre would pull over on the side of the road and raise the convertible top.

He was afraid having the top down might down might cause wind resistance. While I am not sure I bought into this theory, being the passenger, I did not argue. Besides, Pierre said we could hear the music on the radio better and that was sure true.

As soon as the top was up, secure and clamped down, Pierre would turn me and say, “And now we go!”

And Pierre really meant go because he would put the pedal to the maximum metal and we would peel out on that black top road, with the back end of that Fairlane squirreling about until we got a full head of steam and we were on the straightaway of that little road doing 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 miles per hour. Now this road did not at time feature street lights so you could truly say we were driving in the dark at ever faster speeds. Fortunately for me and Pierre, he was a really good driver.

Pierre was very serious about his racing. Each time he would ask me to mark the time. The first time we made the trip to Riverhead in 40 minutes, which I thought was pretty good because I usually made the same drive in 50 minutes. Anyway, that was not good enough for Pierre. He was convinced he could do better. I accompanied Pierre two other times when Pierre methodically reduced the time, first to thirty-five minutes and then to thirty minutes. The only thing that kept me in my seat was listening to “Mr. Blue” by the Fleetwoods as we touched 95 mph. Pierre seemed more satisfied with his performance. I, on the other hand, was terrified.

I did not accompany Pierre on his later runs. I found some logical excuse to bow out each time. About two weeks later, Pierre came to me that I should be sorry I did not accompany him the night before. He made the trip from Southampton to Riverhead in 20 minutes.

“That’s great, Pierre,” I said.

Despite my fear of Pierre racing from Southampton, I used to do a little racing myself. Some evenings I was granted use of my parent’s Nash Ambassador, which was a big hunk of American steel, about as fuel inefficient as a car can get, but pretty damn fast. Some evenings I would race up and down that quiet street with Megan, Shirley, Ricky and sometimes Pierre, just to prove my racing chops. And if truth be said, I could get that caboose car up to 90 or 100 mph. It was usually accompanied by the screams of my passengers, all this is, except Pierre, who kept saying:

“Go faster. You can do it. This car can do 110.” Fortunately, I always slammed on the brakes before getting to the magic 110 mph.

I loved that Nash Ambassador. Three years later I smashed it into Merrill McGowan’s car. Merrill was the grandson of Charles E. Merrill, and we were coming back from Charlotte Ford’s deb party. I was not going a 110, but I did get up the old Nash up to about 55 mph on Henry Ford’s driveway before realizing there was a car in front of me and slamming on the brakes. That proved to be too late and we slid into Merrill’s car.

He got out, looked at the back of his car, “Damn, Cecil, I am supposed to play golf at ten in the morning.”

That was all he said. Since it was then four in the morning, that did not leave Merrill much time for reporting the accident to the police, which we did, after I swallowed 2 tubes of toothpaste, which was happily provided by some other party goers who happened by. I told Merrill I was sorry about the car and that I hoped he still might get some sleep that morning.

In 1959 the streets of Southampton were virtually empty at night and if we saw another car on one of the back roads of Southampton at night it was often a friend. I remember cruising around one night with Charlie Munroe and myself. We saw a car coming down First Neck Lane and instantly recognized it. That was not hard to do because Ricky Harris’s yellow Chevorlet Impala was hard to miss, even at night. Both of our cars stopped in the middle of First Neck Lane (I guess we thought we owned the street) and we started up a conversation at twelve o’clock a night. Ricky’s Impala had the top down and Ricki was with his sister Megan and Fernanda Wetherill. We were just chatting and enjoying the warm summer evening with Ricki’s radio blasting and then “Hats Off to Larry” came on. It was a great song by Del Shannon. Listening to that song, parked in the middle of First Neck Lane, kind of captured for me that essence of that carefree summer.

I remember also going to a party with mostly guys older than me, drinking mucho beers and listening to Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. It was a kind of day the music died party. I remember there was Sidney Wood III and Merrill McGowan. Sidney Wood III was Sidney Wood Jr.’s son. The father was the Wimbledon tennis champion in 1931 and also a member of the Beach Club. Sidney Wood the III was his son, going to Yale at the time, the captain of the tennis team there and a truly great guy. Merrill McGowan was the a golfer that I had irritated a couple of years later the night of Charlotte Ford’s deb party. There was Ricky Harris, Charlie Munroe, myself and few other friends, all beered up in this small cottage on the beach, listening to the stereo.

Somewhere after about 5 or 7 beers, Buddy Holly’s swan song, “Rave On” came on. Now the great singer himself had died the winter before, but it was only then that I was realizing what a truly great singer he was. “Peggy Sue”, “Ready Teddy” and other Buddy Holly greats had already played on the album we were listening to. Then “Rave On” came on and we all went wild singing the lyrics, dancing in a horizontal line, in front of a couch, part staggering, all singing, 6 or 8 guys, arm in arm, still trying to hold our beers and dance at the same time:

“We-a-he-a-hell, the little things you say and do

Make me want to be with you-ah-ou

Rave on, it’s a crazy feel in’ and

I know it’s got me feeling’ and

I know it’s got me reelin’

I’m so glad that your revealin’

Your love for me

Rave on, rave on and tell me

Tell me not to be lonely

Tell me you love me only

Rave on for me.

Rave on, it’s a crazy feelin'”

Needless to say we were a little “buzzed” to use a popular phrase of this moment. More than that, we was happy, we was drunk, and we loved that song. I still remember that evening. I really looked up to Sidney Wood and Merrill McGowan, who were both older than me, far cooler than me, and I remember their smiles and laughter and their good cheer to this day. Two years later, Sidney Wood was killed in an automobile accident in North Carolina while on the way to a tennis tournament in Florida. He was truly an up and coming tennis player. Perhaps, if he had lived, he too would have won at Wimbledon.

Author’s Note: Music is a very personal thing. What I like, others may not like. What I choose as popular or good or noteworthy or earthshaking, may not be any of those things, but it was to me. And the small list of artists and the limited range of music mentioned are not meant to be inclusive of the music of the period discussed – 1953 to 1959. I have chosen to omit music after 1960 because that would make the list of songs and artists in this story far longer and this blog story far, far longer. I do intend to cover music from 1960 on, but this will take more blog stories, as the plot thickens and music evolved. That is, by the way, why I call this volume 1.

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Moses Drury Hoge – Preacher to the Confederacy During The Disunion

Moses Drury Hoge, one in a long line of family preachers

Moses Drury Hoge, one in a long line of family preachers

By Cecil Hoge

I have mentioned on this blog that I come from a long line of preachers and pirates. In “Grandpa Gets Busted”, I discussed the pirate side of my family, citing my grandfather, Edwin Shewan, who repaired ships for the Atlantic fleet and ran liquor during prohibition. In “Sailing Clipper Ships Around the World”, I recounted some of the exploits my great, great, great, great uncle, Andrew Shewan, who was a captain of clipper ships that sailed from Scotland and England to China and India, sometimes carrying cargoes of a dubious nature. Those two Shewan men came from a long line of sea captains who, the further you go back the more likely it was that they were pirates or privateers appropriating cargoes from Spain or some other unfortunate country…no doubt in the good services of an English Queen or King.

I would like to say that my claim to be related to a long line of preachers is equally secure. In this, I offer up my great, great, great, great grandfather, Moses Drury Hoge, shown above. Not only was he preacher, his father, Samuel Hoge, also was a pastor, as was his father’s father, named, not co-incidentally, Moses Hoge. Given this long line of distinguished preachers, I can say that coursing my viens is the blood of both pirates and preachers. This mixed heritage had left me confused at times and perhaps, sometimes led to a few mistakes in the direction of my life.

Here are some facts about the preacher side of my family. Moses Hoge, Moses Drury Hoge’s grandfather and Drury Lacy were both associated with the founding of a church in Richmond, VA. and with the founding of Hampden Sydney College – both having served as Presidents of Hampden Sydney College. Samuel Davies Hoge wed Elizabeth Rice Lacy in 1817. Samuel was a pastor at Bethesda Church located at the Culpeper Court-house. Moses Drury Hoge was born September 17, 1818.

John Blairsville Hoge, another relative, said at the time of his birth, “Take this child and train it for heaven.”

So it could be said that from birth there were high expectations of Moses Drury Hoge.

Moses was a constant reader, well read both in the Bible and the Classics. He went Hampden Sydney College in 1836 at the age of 18. After graduating, Moses became a trustee of that college at an early age. According to another preacher and relative, Peyton Harrison Hoge, Moses Drury Hoge was “a moral man and shrank from whatever was low and defiling.” In college and afterwards, Moses associated with Christians, many of whom were Presbyterian ministers. At college and as soon as he himself climbed the pulpit, Moses gained a widespread reputation as an orator and preacher. His speeches were considered brilliant and powerful.

In the 1850s Moses had the opportunity to go to Europe. In England he met many Presbyterian Ministers and became acquainted with the leaders of the Church in England.

While still in college, he was approached by the Reverend B.M. Smith, a young minister himself, to become a minister. Moses had all the right stuff…coming from a long line of ministers, preachers & pastor’s, being both serious and religious, well versed in the Classics. Strangely, at the time Moses replied that he doubted he would live long enough. It seemed his early health was not the best and for some time he thought he might die of consumption. That did not happen and some time later, after being approached by more preachers, he decided to enter Seminary School.

He was licensed as a minister by West Hanover Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg on October 6th, 1846. This was the same church in which his father and grandfather had been licensed. Thus three generations of the same family were connected by this strange sequence of events in the same church.

Apparently, Moses was a star preacher and orator from the start. Moses Drury Hoge was thought to be a great and powerful orator. In the early part of 1844, he became a minister at the First Presbyterian Church on Franklin Street, near the Exchange Hotel.

Second Presbyterian Church where Moses Drury Hoge preached to Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and many other leaders of the Confederacy.

Second Presbyterian Church which Moses Drury Hoge founded and later preached to Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and many other leaders of the Confederacy.

His church was crowded from the beginning, Sunday after Sunday.

On March 20th, 1844, he married Miss Susan Wood. They made their home at the Exchange Hotel. At this time, his health still was not good. This changed when he went to Europe. In the spring of 1854, he went abroad for five months to London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, Frankfurt, Zürich, Lucerne, Berne, Milan, Genoa, Turin, Verona, Venice, Lyons and Paris. In doing so, he also visited many of the finest lakes and the grandest mountains in the world. Apparently, it was the trips to the mountains and the lakes that improved his health.

In 1855, after returning from Europe, Moses and a Dr. Moore, another fellow pastor, purchased the Watchman, a respected Presbyterian publication. The two partners changed the name to Central Presbyterian. Moses became the editor of that paper and wrote editorials in that paper from 1855 to 1879.

By 1855, he had three children, one of whom, Fanny, died in 1851. In his travels around the country, Moses preached in Brooklyn at the Academy of Arts. It was gathering of ministers from all over the country and was well-received. His first son was born in 1859. It was around this time that debates about secession became prominent in Moses’s life. Moses did not think of the Civil War as having its origin in the debate over Slavery.

Moses, according to his nephew, Peyton Harrison Hoge, in his book “The Life and Letters of Moses Drury Hoge”, agreed with the words of John Randolf Ticker:

“The North fought for the great political idea – the idea of the Union; the South fought for another great political idea – the idea of local self-government. Preserve the two and the war will not have been fought in vain”.

Apparently, Moses did not approve of slavery. On receiving a number of slaves from his wife’s estate, he offered them their liberty. Interestingly, only one accepted and the others remained with Moses and his wife. At another time Moses bought 5 slaves, the relatives of his hired servants and then set them free.

In any case, Moses Drury Hoge still preached to slaveholders. He may have abhorred the institution, but he did not condemn it. Moses was apparently in favor of sending slaves back to Africa.

“I was pained in observing the extensive disaffection to the Union which seemed to prevail in that part of Virginia. It strikes me if you expressed anything too strongly it was when you spoke of the small number in the South who are in favor of secession, if it could be accomplished peacefully.” Moses Hoge wrote in 1851.

In 1859, Moses wrote to his brother, William Hoge, who was also a minister, at the time preaching in New York:

“Tomorrow is our Thanksgiving Day. One thing darkens its joy. Shall as many States ever again celebrate one day united in one Confederacy? I trust and pray He will save us from the wrath and folly of war. But my own hopes have never been so darkened. The people have in a great measure lost their horror of disunion. I still believe an overwhelming majority love the union.”

But as time went on Moses changed his attitude towards the North. In another letter in January of 1861 he says, “I have considered the state of Northern aggression very ominous for many years.”

And then he writes his brother:

“My Dear Brother: The thing we have feared is upon us. The spirit of Cain is rampart, and we seem about to plunge headlong into an unnatural and diabolical war. We may not long have the privilege of even writing to each other…You are right in the impression expressed in your letter to the Central Presbyterian that Virginia has nothing to expect by way of conciliation or concession from the North…The war spirit is fearfully aroused here, and the fierce demon of religious fanaticism breathes out threatening and slaughter. It is not safe even for a minister to counsel peace.”

By the middle of 1861, Moses Drury Hoge’s opinion of the coming conflict changed and he came to the conclusion that the South was right in its quest to secede. In another letter to his sister June 1, 1861, he says:

“With my whole mind and heart I go into the secession movement. I think providence has devolved on us the preservation of constitutional liberty, which has already been trampled under the foot of a military despotism at the North…I consider our contest as one which involves principles more important than those for which our fathers of the Revolution contended.”

After the war began Moses worked at “Camp Lee”. He wanted to become a chaplain to a regiment, but he was persuaded that he was needed at the center of the Confederacy.
Writing his wife on June 24th, 1862 describing the battle lines being set up at “Nine Mile Road” he wrote:

“The town is now all excitement in anticipation of the battle which is expected to come off tomorrow or next day. Jackson and Ewell are said to be in Hanover, ready to strike McClellan’s army in the flank. The conflict will be tremendous, but I have no fears as the result. I think we will utterly rout our enemies, by the blessing of God, and we live in Richmond in long suspense of it, and of the burden of having two vast armies in its vicinity, consuming everything there is to eat…All my concern is for the multitude who must fall, and for the number of the wounded who will crowd our houses and hospitals.”

Two days later the “Seven Days” fighting began, resulting in the withdrawing of McClellan and the present relief of Richmond.

In the early days of the Civil War or the Disunion, as some called it, there is the curious story of Moses overhearing some soldiers talking.

One soldier said, “I wish all the Yankees were in hell.”

Moses said, “Would you not see them sent to heaven?”

“No I would rather see them in hell.” Said the soldier.

“Oh,” said Moses, “I thought you would probably prefer them to be where there is less probability of your meeting them.”

This apparently caused laughter in the soldiers.

At this time, Moses was also made the honorary Chaplain of the Confederate Congress. Moses wrote his brother, William Hoge, about his many duties at the beginning of the war:

“When you saw something of my manner of life in former days, you thought me a busy man, but I am now the most pressed, the most beset and bothered brother you ever had. My 6 sermons a week, and funerals extra, might fill up all my time reasonably well, with pastoral visits thrown in to fill up the chinks, but it is only the beginning of the Illiad. I have opened Congress every day this session…life of late has been all work and no play with me…I have been preaching the last three Sunday afternoons to the Fourteenth Regiment near the reservoir.”

In another letter to his brother, he wrote:

“I had my first sight of the enemy day before yesterday…The enemy’s pickets were about 500 yards distant, in full view…It gave me new indignation to see them walking and riding about in a locality which I was so familiar. McClellan has his headquarters at friends Webb…There is no panic among our people. Resistance is to the death and is the calm determination of the citizens and our soldiers are confident of victory.”

As the war proceeded Moses found himself closer and closer to battles. Here is a description by Moses of The Battle of Seven Pines:

“We halted a moment at a building about two miles from the disease of the battlefield where we saw a great number of our wounded – which had been brought and laid, some of them on the floor, and others on the ground around the house – the surgeons standing over them with bloody hands and knives, busy making amputations, bandaging up wounds…Before reaching this building, we saw many of our men wounded, yet able to walk, staggering towards the city, other were conveyed on horseback, in ambulances, or in litters, carried by their comrades. Some of these men were groaning, others seemed ready to faint with pain or loss of blood, while others went along sang froid.

“Passing the temporary hospital, near the roadside, I begged to go in and take a look at the condition of things there. It was a spectacle at which the Angels might weep! No one knows what war is who has not seen military hospitals; not of the sick but of the cut, maimed and mutilated in all the ways in which the human body can be dishonored and disfigured. Inside the hospital on the floor, the men lay so thick that it was difficult to walk without stepping on them. I kneeled down and prayed for God to comfort them, give them patience under their sufferings, spare their lives, bless those dear to them, and satisfy to them in their present trials.

“On the ride back to town, the scene which the road presented was one never to be forgotten. Artillery and baggage, wagons were coming out, while ambulances, hacks, buggies and persons on horseback were going in. These meeting in narrow places, blocked up the way. Omnibus and other heavy vehicles were stuck fast in the mud, which drivers were trying to prize out; and in the midst of the noise and the confusion the groans of wounded men, jolted and jerked about, could be heard everywhere. I was glad when the first gas lights of the city came in view, fatigued as I was, covered with mud, and wet from wading the swamp road after I gave up my horse to the wounded boy. I immediately went off to the War Office and found Secretary Randolph still in his house. I gave him some account of what I had seen…on reaching home, I found good Susan, standing in the front door, watching and waiting for me.”

In the first years of the Disunion, Stonewall Jackson came to Moses Hoge’s church and listened to many of Moses’s sermons.

The beloved Stonewall Jackson

The beloved Stonewall Jackson

As a sign of his respect and trust, Stonewall Jackson gave Moses the following pass:

Headquarters, Valley District, Near Richmond
“Permit the bearer, the Rev. Moses D. Hoge, to pass at pleasure from Richmond to any part of my command.”
T. J. Jackson, Major General

General Jackson was a member of Moses Hoge’s congregation and General Lee was a close and personal friend. Moses’s friendship and association with Stonewall Jackson grew until Jackson was killed.

In 1863 Reverend Moses Hoge took a steamer from Charleston to England in order to get 35,000 bibles, prayer books and testaments. This was a dangerous mission because they had to run a blockade and the captain had instructions to scuttle the ship if capture was imminent. That meant that the passengers would have to get on small boats at the last minute, and make their way to shore. Moses wrote to his brother explaining this and asking him not to tell his wife who would be terrified.

Later, in a letter to his sister, after he had successfully passed through the blockade, Moses wrote enthusiastically about this escapade:

“Our run of the blockade was glorious. I was in one of the severest and bloodiest battles fought near Richmond, but it was not more exciting than that midnight adventure, when, amid lowering clouds and dashes of rain, and just wind enough to get up sufficient commotion in the sea to drown the noise of our paddle wheels, we darted along, with lights all extinguished, and not even a cigar burning on the deck, until we were safely out, and free from the the Federal fleet. In Nassau we chartered a little twenty-ton schooner, hired a crew of negroes, and made a fine run to Havana, where we got on the Royal Mail Steamship Line, to St. Thomas, and so to Southampton.”

In London, Moses gave an account of the Southern cause to Lord Shaftsbury who then announced that they would send 10,000 bibles, 50,000 testaments and 250,000 portions of the Psalms and Gospels.

Among the many people that Moses met when he was in England, was Thomas Carlyle. Apparently, Carlyle, because he was interested in the right of the Able-man to rule, took a steep interest in the Confederate cause. While Moses was obtaining bibles in England, his brother William was visiting Stonewall Jackson’s troops near Fredericksburg to engage in mission work among the soldiers. Shortly thereafter, Stonewall Jackson was killed in an unfortunate accident, shot by his own troops.

William Hoge, Moses Hoge’s brother, wrote his wife about Jackson’s funeral. Here is part of his letter:

“So I will begin with “Gordonsville”. About ten minutes after I our train arrived, the special train came slowly around the curve, bearing it’s sad, precious burden, the dead body of our beloved glorious Jackson. As it drew near, the minute guns, the soldiers funeral bell, sounded heavily. How strange it seemed that a crowd so eager should be so still, and that Jackson should be received with silent tears instead of loud-ringing huzzas. As the train stopped, I caught sight of the coffin, wrapped in the flag he had borne so high and made so radiant with glory so pure. Many wreaths of exquisite flowers, too, covered it from head to foot. Sitting near the body were young Morrison, his brother-in-law, our dear friend Jimmy Smith, and Major Pendleton.
“I asked if Mrs. Jackson would like to see me. And there sat this noble little woman in her widow’s weeds, a spectacle to touch and instruct any heart…And there, just before her lay her sweet little babe, little Julia, named by him for his mother, the babe he had never seen till her recent ten days visit abruptly ended by the great battle; the babe he delighted in…here it lay on its back, the best little thing, looking so tender and so unconscious of its part in these tremendous scenes, not starting, or ceasing the meaningless pretty motions of its little hands, as the cannon thundered.”

While Moses was in England, he also learned of the death of his son, Lacy Hoge. Soon afterwards, Moses returned to the States, first sailing to Halifax and then going to Bermuda. From there Moses steamed in the blockade-runner, “The Advance”. As they came to Wilmington and Cape Fear the Northern fleet was in full view. The captain, apparently drunk at the time, steamed ahead and soon they were fired upon by the Northern fleet. Fortunately, they came within range of Confederate guns at Fort Fisher and soon they were firing at the three Northern ships pursuing them. While this situation was not helped by the captain being drunk as he approached Wilmington, it perhaps gave the captain the courage he needed to run past the three Northern ships.

For Moses, now safely landed, the contrast between London and Wilmington apparently was stark. Wilmington had been decimated by yellow fever earlier that year and was a terrible and forlorn comparison to the bustling and prosperous London. Perhaps, more discouraging was the fact the his bibles and testaments never did make it to the Confederacy. They were captured December 6th, 1863. So it could be said that his mission was a failure.

Moses was able to carry some sample bibles with him which he then sent to various Confederate military men. And Moses did receive several letters of thank you from leading generals in the Confederate army, including letters from Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart.

In 1864, his brother, William Hoge, died, adding more sorrow to Moses. Apparently, after preaching and working in hospitals, William Hoge’s strength gave out and he passed away.

As the end of the Civil War approached, it fell to Moses Hoge to write a resolution appointing a day of fasting and prayer. Moses also accompanied Jefferson Davis and his cabinet as they withdrew from Richmond. If he had remained in Richmond he would have to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Moses was not willing to do that as long as the Confederate Government existed.

After the war, Virginia and all the Southern States were governed as a conquered province by military law and martial authority. It must have been a time of profound despair for Moses. He wrote to his sister in May, 1865:

“I forget my humiliation for a while in sleep, but the memory of every bereavement comes back heavily, like a sullen sea surge, on awaking, flooding and submerging my soul with anguish. The idolized expectation of a separate nationality, of a social life and literature and civilization of our own, together with a gospel guarded against the contamination of New England infidelity, all this has perished, and I feel like a shipwrecked mariner thrown up like a seaweed on a desert shore. I hope my grief is manly. I have no disposition to indulge in lousy complaints. God’s dark providence has enraptured me like a pall. I cannot comprehend, but I will not charge Him foolishly; I cannot explain, but I will not murmur. To me our overthrow is the worst thing that could have happened to the South – the worst thing that could have happened for the North, and for the cause of constitutional freedom and of religion on the continent. But the Lord has prepared his throne in the heavens and His Kingdom rules over all. I have not been very well since the surrender. Other seas will give up their dead, but my hopes went down in to one from which there is no resurrection.”

Moses became very active in helping with the reconstruction after the war, but in 1868 a new personal problem arose. An attack of facial paralysis made speech impossible. This of course meant that he could no longer preach. Fortunately, this condition only lasted for a few months. Thereafter, his ability to preach was completely restored.

During the 24 years of their married life, Moses Hoge’s wife had lost her father, mother, brother, five grown sisters, and four children; the last, little Genevieve, dying at Mr. James Seddon’s, just as their hearts were crushed with the downfall of the Confederacy.
In the spring of 1868, she contracted a fatal disease. On November 23rd, 1868 she died.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee wrote Moses a letter condolence to Moses. Here is part of what he said:

“I hope you felt assured that in this heavy calamity you and your children had the heart-felt sympathy of myself and Mrs. Lee, and that you were daily remembered in our poor prayers.
With our best wishes and sincere affection, I am
Very truly yours, R.E. Lee”

Two other disasters occurred in 1868, the Senate Chamber in Richmond collapsed and killed 65 persons and injured 200 others and the President of the former Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, passed away.

Because Richmond was almost completely destroyed, Moses was urged by many to restart his church in some other place. Moses thought this over, but decided to remain in Richmond. This proved to be a good solution in the end and the church in Richmond prospered as Richmond was rebuilt.

In 1872 Moses went north to Princeton College and preached in their chapel. This sermon was well accepted. This led to other sermons in Philadelphia and New York. These sermons were also well accepted. By this time, Moses Drury Hoge was a famous and revered Presbyterian minister.

Moses Hoge also spoke at the World’s Evangelical Alliance. He was invited to speak on the “Mission Field of the South”. His address was well accepted and apparently established his fame throughout the Christian World.

Here is what Moses wrote his sister in October 16, 1873 about his sermon in New York:

“I found the church packed, aisles and all. I preached a sermon I had arranged that afternoon (having changed my theme after dinner) without any notes, and I had what the old divines used to call “liberty” of feeling, thought and expression, which greatly helped me in the delivery.”

Where Stonewall Jackson spent his last minutes alive

Where Stonewall Jackson spent his last minutes alive

In 1875, Moses gave the oration commemorating the Foley statue of Stonewall Jackson. This statue was presented to Richmond by an Englishman sympathetic to the Southern cause. Here is part of what Moses said:

“And now, standing before this statue, I speak not for myself, but for the South, when I say it is our interest, our duty and our determination, to maintain the Union, and to make every possible contribution to its prosperity and glory, if all the States which compose it will unite in making such a union as our fathers framed, and enthroning above it, not Caesar, but the Constitution in its solid supremacy.”

Apparently Moses was upset when the London Times wrote an article suggesting that his speech had political motivations. Moses response was this:

“So far from it, I announced it to be the purpose of the Southern people to maintain the government as it was now constituted, though we should profess no love for a Union in which the Southern States are denied privileges accorded to the Northern.
Moreover, I said, “We accept this statue as a pledge of the peaceful relations which we trust will ever exist between Great Britain and the confederated empire formed by the United States of America.”

Moses was also upset at the New York Tribune because he thought they misrepresented the design and spirit of his speech at the unveiling of the Jackson statue.

Moses wrote, “The celebration here had no political significance whatever. It has not had the slightest political effect. It was not intended to excite animosity especially between the North and the South, not to stir up rancor between Great Britain and America.”

However, according to the account of D.H. Hill, perhaps, Moses got somewhat carried away by the event:

“Dr. Hoge made the mighty effort of his life. He was inspired by the grandeur of the occasion, by the vastness of the audience, and above all by the greatness of the subject of his eulogy. He impressed all who heard him that he is the most eloquent orator on this continent…Dr. Hoge, in closing his address, alluded to the prophecy of Jackson, that the time would come when his men would be proud that they belonged to the Stonewall Brigade. Rising to his full height, the orator exclaimed in his clear, ringing tones:

‘Men of the Stonewall Brigade, that time has come. Behold the image of your illustrious commander.'”

D. H. Hill concluded: “The veil was raised, the life-like statue stood revealed, recalling so vividly the loved form of the illustrious soldier that tears rained down ten thousand faces. Men of sternest natures, cast iron men, we’re weeping like children.”

For the rest of his life, Moses went around the country preaching in both the North and South. There was still a great deal of bitterness and tenderness in both the North and South, so what Moses had to say was not always received well. There was still discord between North and South sections of the Presbyterian Church. Various assemblies were held in the North and South which Moses attended.

Here is part of what Moses had to say at one of these meetings:

“Who are the men who cannot bear the test of the light of our purity. Is there no genuine Presbyterians but ours? If the only pure Church is the Presbyterian Church of these Southern States; if the problem of the development of Christianity as symbolized in the Presbyterian faith and form of government had been solved only by us; if after all the great sacrifices of confessor and maters of past ages, we alone constituents the true Church; if this only is the result of the stupendous sacrifices, on Calvary, and the struggles of apostles and missionaries and reformers in all generations; then may God have mercy on the world and on the Church.”

By the late 1870s Moses was coming to grips with the end of the Disunion and making a new life for himself. In 1877 Moses wrote his sister from New Orleans:

“This is the land of summer most of the year, and of almost perpetual flowers, but the brightest and the most fragrant was the one wafted by a Northern breeze from New Brunswick.
We are having a pleasant time socially. A few of the old families here still retain their wealth and former homes and style of living. I dined yesterday with one of them. As we went in to dinner, the old lady on my arm, in passing the broad staircase there came floating down two young granddaughters all in white, looking like the angels who came down Jacob’s ladder, to bless the men who waited for their coming below.
The dinners have many courses here – with proper sequence, with the proper vegetables served with each meat or bird, and a great variety of wines. Well, it is pleasant to sit by a good old lady at such a dinner (provided her tender granddaughter is on the other side) and take course after course, leisurely, with much conversation between, anticipating the crowning cup of cafe noir and cigar.”

One senses that Moses Hoge and the world in the South are returning to some kind of normalcy and Moses in beginning to enjoy life again.

Moses attended a delegation of Presbyterian ministers, representing the Southern branch of ministers.

Here is what a paper called the Daily Review said:

“Exceptional interest was excited by the appearance of the next speaker, Dr. Hoge, of Richmond, Va. He stepped upon the platform – a tall, spare, muscular man, of military type of physique, and features bronzed by the sun. His manner at starting was almost painfully deliberate, and with cool self-restraint with which he surveyed his audience and measured his ground before he opened his lips deepened the interest which attended the beginning of his speech…he set forth, with great dignity…the leading points of his many sided subject – the simplicity and scriptural character of Presbyterianism, it expansiveness and adaption, and its friendly aspect to other churches.”

In the summer of 1877, Moses went to England to preach and minister there, meeting again with many members of the Church of England. The next summer, he also went abroad. After returning, Moses wrote:

“The old world was not so interesting to me the last time I saw it. I have become somewhat wearied with galleries, museums, and antiquities in architecture, and I find Europeans inferior to our own people in so many respects that I am more than ever contented with my own country.
All we need is the continuance of a free and stable government to make this the happiest country on the globe…I find, however, many thoughtful men look forward to a near future of strife and disintegration, which Heaven may avert.”

In 1880, he went to Italy and then on to Egypt, Palestine and Syria. For the rest of his life, he traveled and remained active as a minister. He died in a streetcar accident at the age of 80 on January 6th, 1899. Apparently, an electrified trolley car ran into Moses when he was driving his buggy. This resulted in his buggy being overturned. While he did not die immediately from the injuries he sustained, it was said that Moses was never the same vigorous man he had been for most of his 79 years of life. He died a month or so later, apparently from complications from the injuries he sustained in his streetcar accident.

In reading about Moses Drury Hoge, I found one thing very strange. If you read his letters you find that Moses was a very passionate man with extremely strong convictions. It had been my assumption that if I read the sermons of Moses Drury Hoge, I would find the same traits and ardent feeling expressed. So, while preparing to write this article, I bought a book entitled “The Perfection of Beauty and Other Sermons” by Moses Drury Hoge.

Now, having been brought as a Catholic, I was familiar with sermons and with the common fact that generally a priest or minister did not have much to say about the present day. Rather sermons always seemed rooted in what happened 1800 to 2000 years ago and have very little reference to any modern day events. Nevertheless, even the most parochial priest would make some reference to some modern day events or ills, be it drug addition, crime in the streets, some far off war or political events affecting our daily lives.

However, in reading the sermons of Moses Drury Hoge, there seems to be little or no reference to what must have been the most important events in his lifetime. I speak specifically of the War between the North and the South, the Civil War or The Disunion, as it had been alternatively referred to.

Moses does make some reference to modern times in “The Perfection of Beauty” sermon:

“Why is it that in none of the great resorts and haunts of pleasure and fashion collections are ever solicited for the suffering poor, for associations organized to advance all the forms of benevolence?”

Moses answers his own question by saying:

“There is but one gate through which the benefactions of the truly charitable forever flow, and that is the beautiful temple. Yes, this is one of the elements that constitutes the beauty of the church, it’s boundless benevolence, it’s wide-reaching, far-reaching, all-comprehending charity.”

Obviously, this was before Welfare, Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare. Moses goes on to cite the comments of the Poet James Russell Lowell, who when attending a dinner party in London and heard some eloquent guest disparage Christianity. Moses quoted the following comments of James Russell Lowell:

“It is very easy gentlemen, sitting in an elegant apartment, around a table covered with flowers…to speculate about religion in a jocose way…our friends…would do well to be thankful they live in a land where the gospel has tamed the ferocity and beastliness of those who but for Christianity might have long eaten their carcasses…or cut off their heads and tanned their skins like the monsters of the French Revolution…”

Here I wish to interject that there are two sides to every argument. While it is long true that many arguments have correctly been made that Christianity has been a civilizing influence on human beings, human institutions and civilization, there have also been many arguments made that Christianity and the adherence to Specific sects of Christianity has also been the cause of many wars and the deaths of many people.

Moses Drury Hoge’s argument in this sermon, “The Perfection of Beauty” is that Christianity, and specifically Presbyterian Christianity is profoundly beautiful, beneficial and benevolent. Moses ends this sermon with the following words:

“Yes, my hearers, where this gospel goes, Liberty goes, just laws go, education goes, churches are built, all benign and institutions which bless and benefit society appear.”

That seems to as direct as Moses Drury Hoge gets in the printed sermons that I read to referring to his times. His sermons are all eloquent, but they are undated (at least in the book I have) and mysteriously, there it no reference to the war which tore our Union apart and so demoralized Moses. What is the explanation of that? I can only guess.

I have used two main references to gather information on my relative preacher/minister. One is the previously mentioned “The Life and Letters: Moses Drury Hoge” by Peyton Harrison Hoge published 1899. That book contains an amazing of amount of letters that Moses Drury Hoge wrote to his wife, his sister and his brother. It also includes a large number of letters written to him, some by quite famous people of that time. I have liberally quoted from those letters. The other reference is the book I just cited – “The Perfection of Beauty and Other Sermons” published in 1904 by what is ominously referred to as “The Presbyterian Committee of Publication”.

While Moses’s letters refer to Civil War and speak of that time as tumultuous, sad and tragic, the sermons that I have read do not make any reference to those times. In Peyton Harrison Hoge’s book there is mention that many of Moses Drury Hoge’s notes and written sermons were lost in clamor and confusion of the war. I suspect a darker secret.

I can only guess that even in 1899, when Peyton’s book was first published, there was still a great deal of sensitivity to the events and to the long term effects of the Civil War. I suspect the written sermons might actually have been destroyed or that references to the Civil War were actually taken out from whatever sermons did exist. This is, of course, just a wild guess. And I have not fact to cite to say that I am right.

Jefferson Davis

The former President Jefferson Davis

I would like to know what Moses said on the pulpit in his sermons during the Civil War when he addressed Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and other leaders of the Confederacy. In Peyton Harrison Hoge’s book, which I have quoted extensively, it is said that Moses Drury Hoge preached to over 100,000 Confederate soldiers. My question is what did he say to them? Did he make no reference to the great struggle they were in?

My guess is that he did refer to the great events that they were passing through and that Moses Drury Hoge had much to say about the position of the South.

Did he, for example, get up before his congregation and say with utmost conviction in his loud, sonorous, slow Southern drawl (I am also guessing what his voice sounded like):

“God has ordained that there will be a 1,000 years of slavery and God is on our side. The South will rise to be a great nation and we will live free under the benefice of God.”

Or did he say in a slow, dignified, powerful Southern drawl:

“The Southern States are right and moral in their pursuit of an individual country and an individual civilization, preserving the most honored institutions and examples of our Southern Confederacy. We shall emerge a free country to construct our own civilization as God has mandated we will.”

My guess is that he did not stand up for slavery itself because Moses was reputed to have sold slaves in order to free them. So I would think that Moses was very uncomfortable with the institution of slavery itself. However, I suspect that he did believe fervently, ardently, with all his heart and soul, in the right of the South to revolt and establish their own independent country.

We know that people’s beliefs evolve with time and no doubt the beliefs of Moses Drury Hoge went through several evolutions. Perhaps, as a young man, he believed in the Union as it existed at the time. Perhaps, as the years passed, he frowned on, disagreed with and was against slavery as an institution. But as the Civil War came closer and the movement for secession gained traction, perhaps, Moses came to be a fervent and ardent supporter of the Disunion, a believer in the rights of individual States to decide their own future and their own fate.

After the Civil War, Moses views and ardent opinions probably changed again with the new times and the new reality that the South had lost.

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was assassinated. This sent, in the words of Peyton Harrison Hoge, “a thrill of horror through the country”.

By a strange co-incidence, Moses happened to be near New York City at the time of Garfield’s death. The funeral for President Garfield was to be held at The Fifth Avenue Church in New York. The pastor of that church happened to be traveling and was not able to give the oration for the funeral. After asking many ministers and preachers around who might be a good replacement, The Fifth Avenue Church were recommended Moses Drury Hoge to give the sermon for President Garfield’s funeral. And so they did.

Here is part of Moses’s oration:

 “Our present sorrow shows how God, in his provenance, can arrest the attention of the world, and make the heart of humanity tender, and so cause all to feel the dependence of man upon man, of State upon State, and of nation upon nation. The news of the attempt of the assassin was flashed all over the world, and then across all continents, and under all seas came electric messages of sympathy and condolence – China and Japan uniting with the states of Europe; paganism and Mohammedanism joining with all Christendom in the expression of common sorrow. Thus God makes the very wounds of humanity the fountains from which issue the tenderest sympathies and the sweetest charities which bring comfort to the suffering, which at the same time, make the whole world akin in the consciousness of common interests and interdependence.

“More practically important to us is the fact that the great bereavement we commemorate today has hushed the voice of party clamor, and at once rebuked and silenced the discord of sectional animosity.

“Death is the great reconciler.

“A Federal officer was mortally wounded on one of the battle fields of Virginia. As he lay upon the ground, far from his comrades, conscious that his end was near, while scattered soldiers of the Confederate Army went swiftly by, he called to an infantryman who was passing the spot, and asked him if he would offer him a prayer. The man replied “My friend, I am sorry I cannot comply with your request. I have never learned to pray for myself;” but he did what he could; he moved the officer into the shade, put something under his head, gave him some water out of his canteen and then hurried on. Presently a dismounted Union cavalryman, who had lost his horse came by. The confederate officer called to him and made the same request, “Won’t you stop and say a prayer for me?” The trooper kneeled down at the side of the dying man and commenced a prayer but as he uttered one tender petition after another, the officer used the little strength that remained to him in creeping closer and closer, until he placed both arms around the neck of the petitioner, and when the last words of the prayer were uttered, he was lying dead on the bosom of his late antagonist in battle, but in the parting hour he was one with him in the bonds of the gospel, a brother in Jesus Christ – united in love forever.

“Yes, death is the great reconciler.

“I am here today, while making a brief visit to a friend in an adjoining State, taking the only rest I have had for a year, an invitation came from the officers of this church urging me to perform this sad office in the absence of its honored pastor; and I stand here to represent the feelings of the Southern people, whose interests and whose sentiments are mine, and to say that today your sorrow is their sorrow, and your bereavement theirs. Today Richmond and Augusta and Charleston and Savannah and Mobile and New Orleans, unite with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Chicago, in laying their immortelles on the tomb of the dead President. Today there is a “solid South” not in the low and unfriendly sense in which demagogues use the phrase, but in the nobler sense of a South consolidated by a common sorrow; and one with you in the determination to advance the prosperity, the happiness and the glory of the Union, and that, too, without the surrender of one just political principle honestly held by them. This is the day for the inauguration of a new era of harmony and true unity. The great calamity will thus be overruled to the good of the whole land.

“The providence of God sometimes wears a frowning aspect as it approaches, and men’s hearts grow faint with foreboding; but as the providence, which looked like a demon of darkness drew near, is passing away, it turns and looks back upon us with a face sweet and bright as the face of an angel of God. So now the angel of death seems to menace the land over which he is casting his dark shadow, but lo! As we look we see him transfigured. It is the angel of love, dropping peace and goodwill upon the world.”

We can tell from this oration that Moses Drury Hoge’s adamant and fiery feelings from the Civil War had mellowed and there came a kind of peace to Moses.

Moses Drury Hoge’s trek through this world, while already long, was not yet done. In 1884 he went abroad with his oldest son, who had been pursuing his professional studies for two years in Berlin. He also visited England and went to Copenhagen. He gave sermons and orations in almost every foreign city he visited.

 As further time passed, Moses became more and more at home with the change and evolution of his country after the Civil War. One could say he was almost becoming cheery.

In 1888, he again went abroad and attended the London Council of the Presbyterian Alliance. On July 11th of the same year, Moses wrote about a lucky circumstance that occurred while in London:

“It is like telling one’s dream, but it is a waking reality that I am the sole occupant of one the most elegant houses in the West End of London, on one of the most beautiful squares. It happened in this way. For ten days I was at the De Kayser Royal Hotel hard by Blackfriers Bridge; but while I was taking “mine ease in mine own inn,” one of London’s pastors told me a wealthy lady, a member of the church had gone to Scotland to be absent all summer, but had expressed the earnest wish that her’ house be occupied by members of the Alliance during its sessions, and he invited me and another delegate from the South to accept the proffered hospitality of his parishioner… my fellow member had to decline, but, I accepted it and…I found the kind pastor there to receive me and put me in the good care of the good housekeeper.”

So Moses Drury Hoge’s later life had its pleasant surprises.

A grainy picture of Moses Drury Hoge in later life

A grainy picture of Moses Drury Hoge in later life

He continued throughout his life to preach all over the world and all over this country. At times he said things that were committed no time and true for all time. Here something that sounds more as if it came from Confucius, not a Southern Presbyterian minister:

“A nation is but congeries of families, and what the family is, the nation will be.”

He spent 3 summers preaching in Baltimore in the steaming heat of that city. And his letters about that time, not only shows how truly busy he was in old age, but also that he possessed an active sense of humor:

“I was never more thoroughly well than I am this autumn,” he wrote, “although I worked steadily through the entire summer without a day’s rest. It was the hottest summer, too, known for many years.

“I had to go to Bridgeton, NJ on the 20th of July to deliver a centennial oration. It was a day of the most intense heat, so statisticians assure us, for twenty-one years. I spoke in a Grove to two or three thousand people in the afternoon the mercury marking one hundred and one degrees, and made my oration at night in the the church, but I do not know what record the thermometer made of the temperature. It exceeded anything I ever experienced, and when I returned to my room at the hotel, I sat most of the night in the window, sucking lemons and drinking ice-water. I passed the ordeal, however, so well that I converted to the theory of evolution from the lower animals, and think that one of my great ancestors was a salamander.”

As evidenced by the quotes above, Moses was busy and active all his life and, as time passed, his beliefs further moderated and changed. Perhaps, he came to think of the Civil War as the will of God. Perhaps, he came to think of the great and bloody Southern effort to secede from the Union as meant to fail. Perhaps, he came to think of this Great War as the glue which would forever make the American Union strong and immutable to further change. Of course, we all know nothing is immutable to change.

When I got the idea to write something about my great, great, great, great grandfather, Moses Drury Hoge, what intrigued me was here was a man of God, on the side of the South, who preached to Jefferson Davis, to Robert E. Lee, to Stonewall Jackson, to tens of thousands of Confederate troops, to the Southern people. I thought in the beginning it must have been a difficult moral position to be in…to be preaching for freedom in a land based upon slavery.

At the time, I had no real idea of who my relative really was. As I started to do research and discovered that there was an enormous amount of written information about him, I began to be amazed, surprised and then impressed, not only by what words were written about him, but also by his own words, which were so extensively quoted and which I have so liberally re-quoted.

As I read more and more of what Moses said and did, I came to understand that he was much more than the man I thought he was. One thing was fairly clear early on, as read more and more of his letters: Moses was an incredibly eloquent writer and I presume, an incredibly powerful orator. Obvious testament to this was the very breath and scope of his vocabulary. Yes, it was Biblically based, but it also was Classically based. I can only think he must have been far better read man than myself or most people today.

When I came to the time of the Civil War and Moses Drury Hoge’s descriptions of that event, I came to see it for a what was. A searing event that forever changed America and changed Moses. His descriptions of the battlefield, of going through a Confederate hospital, of walking home from the battlefield were detailed, harrowing and rang with sad and horrifying truth. I know many true and forceful things have been written about the Civil War and that there is an enormous amount of material on that conflict. But somehow, when I read the words of Moses Drury Hoge, that war became more near, more terrifying and more sad in my mind.

I think Moses was a truly great man. At the same time, I think he must have been a man conflicted on the inside, surely and clearly knowing that when he preached individual states freedom for the South, it could not continue as long as the South was the home of slavery. So at bottom, inside, Moses was conflicted. This does not show up in his outward words, but it must have been true in his inner self.

I would like to quote the end of Moses Drury Hoge’s oration on Stonewall Jackson:

“In the story of empires of the earth some crisis often occurs which develops the genius of the era, and impresses an imperishable stamp on the character of the people. Such a crisis was the Revolution of 1776, when thirteen thin-settled and widely-separated colonies dared offer the gage of battle to the greatest military and naval power on the globe…

“After innumerable reverses, and incredible sufferings and sacrifices, our father came forth from the ordeal victorious…

“But this day we inaugurate a new era…We come to honor the memory of one who was the impersonation of the Confederate cause…And at last it is Jackson’s clear, ringing tone to which we listen:

‘What is life without honor. Degradation is worse than death. We must think of the living of who are to come after us, and see that by God’s blessing we transmit to them the freedom we have enjoyed.’

“Heaven hear the prayer of our dead, immortal hero.”

So, Moses concluded his oration to Stonewall Jackson in 1875.

I cannot guess what the truth is about Moses, I cannot know how he really felt inside and I do not know how his beliefs finally evolved, but I would love to know and I think whatever he came to believe might have some lesson for us today.

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