Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

 “The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister:” I started this piece shortly after “The Fall of Troy” was published, in Rogue Magazine, Spring 1963. It was lightly based on a big story at the time wherein an important Texas politician was buying up storage silos so he could overcharge farmers, and the government, for storing surplus crops. Then Cleopatra’s asp worked his way into the story, as did Joseph and his many colored coat, the Biblical Seven Year Famine, and the Hittites: All together at last. None of it is historically accurate, but it sounds good. Naturally, I had to keep coming back to a favorite subject: Bureaucracies.




Stock Photo: Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.)

Correspondence: The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

            The following correspondence was found during the 1970’s by a Cairo Museum and Smithsonian Society archaeology and excavating team. The correspondence was on a papyrus roll, in a sealed earthen wine jar, hidden in the wall of an as yet unidentified Egyptian tomb When translated, the scroll was found to be an exchange between the Pharaoh Ramses II (aka “Ramses the Great”) and an unidentified Agriculture Minister, whom authorities suspect may have been Merneptah, who later succeeded “Ramses the Great” as Pharaoh. The time seems to be in the later years of Ramses rule.

The issues discussed, and the positions taken, are a testament to the eternal and unchanging nature of our governing bureaucracies.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

It has come to our exalted attention, through the efforts of the visiting Hebrew shepherd soothsayer called Joseph, that a seven year pestilence and/or famine will shortly descend upon our Mother Egypt.

We hereby direct and command that you make adequate provision for the sustenance and well being of your exalted Pharaoh, and his divine family, as well as for the sustenance of your exalted Pharaoh’s people, insofar as this second priority does not conflict with the first, during this period of national emergency.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one is flattered by the gods to receive a personal directive from his exalted and beloved Pharaoh.

However, the unworthy one would remind His Magnificence that two-thirds of the arable farmland is in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank, while most of the remaining land will not be of value until the Sacred Nile overflows its banks in five more years of our exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign. Precisely what does your Magnificence suggest the unworthy one do?


From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

If the exalted Pharaoh felt it was his duty to formulate detailed plans for the Minister of Agriculture, the Pharaoh would not have need of a Minister of Agriculture. The soil currently in the Pharaoh’s soil bank was placed there to maintain the prices of figs and dates which, the Minister hopefully knows, are staples of Mother Egypt’s economy.

The Pharaoh hereby directs and commands that the Minister make hasty preparations for the successful cultivation of the remaining farmland.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

Again, the unworthy one’s ancestors rejoice with him that he has received another personal directive from his beloved Pharaoh.

The Bounteous One is, as usual, correct in all particulars. Figs and dates are indeed a staple of Mother Egypt’s economy, and the Exalted One acted wisely when He protected their prices. The unworthy one is certain that the Egyptian people feel blessed by the gods that Pharaoh would take upon His Glorious Self the burden of owning all such commercial vineyards, and who would sell these commodities to His people at such reasonable prices, when all facts are considered. Also, the Illustrious One is correct in directing His unworthy minister to cultivate the arid land available, for the Exalted One, no doubt, intends to command His brothers, the rain gods, to flood the Sacred Nile, which is about the only way the unworthy ones sees of salvaging anything from the desert sand of which His Magnificence speaks.

The unworthy one will now retire and wait for this latest miracle and tribute to his Pharaoh’s majesty and status among the gods.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The word “retire” has caused the Pharaoh to reflect upon his future plans for the Minister of Agriculture. However, for now, the Pharaoh is reasonably certain that the minister meant “retire,” as in retire to one’s duty, as opposed to “retire,” as in retire to join one’s rejoicing ancestors.

The Pharaoh does not consider it appropriate to trouble His brothers, the rain gods, with a trivial management problem which could be handled by a competent minister of agriculture, such as is currently being interviewed by this office. This latter candidate mentioned in passing that a simple trench-type irrigation system would be of inestimable value in drenching dry soil and rendering it arable.

The Pharaoh awaits the first positive progress report from the current minister of agriculture.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one has read between the lines of his Exalted Pharaoh’s latest missive and senses the anguish of the Magnificent One as he considers His exalted future, and the future of His people, where possible.

The suggestion of a trench-type irrigation system was considered early on by the unworthy one. However, the approach is challenging, application-wise, as the land to be irrigated is some twenty rods higher than the Sacred Nile; the unworthy one has encountered his share of difficulties in encouraging the water to run uphill.

The Abacus Division of the Pharaoh’s Data Processing Division has processed this problem into the Sphinx and has been advised that only a personal directive from the Exalted One’s brother gods can make water run uphill.

Interim positive action, however, has been undertaken. The unworthy one has sent thousands of slaves wading into Mother Nile, and directed them to splash water on the shores. This project has enjoyed some success and the unworthy one is proud, yet humble, to report that in certain places at least three feet of river bank is moist enough for the cultivation of certain crops that grow well under arid conditions.

In addition to this, runners have been sent into the field bearing skins and baskets of water which they splash about in certain defined areas. This approach too is having its share of rewards, even considering the 85% water loss due to spillage and evaporation.

Should the Pharaoh be talking with his brother gods soon, He might point out that a flood would be greatly appreciated.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

Truly, the minister’s suggestions and accomplishments are worth of a report to Pharaoh. Continue the bank splashing and runners with leaky baskets. Within a short time, the banks should be moist enough for excavating the final resting places of all involved in the project.

Fortunately for Mother Egypt, a Hittite General, Corps of Engineers, is in Karnac visiting Pharaoh’s sister, the Royal Princess. He has consented to sail down to your area and advise us of a workable solution to what has been mismanaged into a major national crisis.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

By this time word has reached Pharaoh’s exalted presence of the unfortunate incident regarding the overturned barge. The Exalted One was very wise to have his family instructed in the noble art of water treading, but it is a pity about the handsome Hittite officer and his heavy, cumbersome armor. He certainly would have made shore otherwise. My staff advises me, however, that he went down for the final time praising our Exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign.

As the Illustrious One has heard, the unworthy one was not in personal attendance that day for, in accordance with long standing custom, the day was spent in prayer and fasting at the Sphinx for the well being and continued reign of our Glorious Pharaoh, as the unworthy one’s staff will testify to a man.

Undoubtedly, the Pharaoh’s noble sister, the Royal Princess, will find happiness, perhaps with some Egyptian Noble, at some later date. Under separate cover, the unworthy one is forwarding the princess the gift of a pet to help fill her lonely hours; a pet which so well symbolizes the stoic determination and fierce courage of our Mother Egypt under the inspirational leadership of our Glorious Pharaoh.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

This directive would have come sooner had not Pharaoh been fully involved in avoiding a major land war with the Hittite Empire.

After much reflection, and dialogue with brother gods, the Pharaoh has decided to allow cultivation of all arable land in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank. However, since this land is in the trust of the gods, it must not be defiled by passing into mortal hands. Therefore, the land remains in the Pharaoh’s ownership and all goods produced will be stored away in silos against the day when our Mother Egypt will require a healthy and capable Pharaoh, and Nobility, to provide leadership in such times of stress and crisis.

The Princess sends along her thanks for your unusual gift. No one at court had ever seen, or heard of, a trained asp.


To: Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Once again the Pharaoh proves his gifted and inspirational leadership with His latest decree. What a solace it will be to the hungry multitudes when they realize they are being considered by their Beloved Leader when He sips down to sup.

The first crop has already been planted. Has Exalted Pharaoh considered the availability of the storage silos mentioned? There is no time to build new ones. If the unworthy one may, he respectfully suggests His Magnificence look into the matter of the silos.


From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The minister’s latest missive caused Pharaoh some minor puzzlement. Mother Egypt has countless storage silos spread throughout the land. Then, the Pharaoh checked and learned that all such storage facilities, and silos, had been purchase by an unidentified minister, possibly with Hittite, and other outsider, financial backing. Agents further report that some of these silos appear to be poisoned, others not, and only the purchasing party knows which is which.

Does the minister of Agriculture have any further knowledge of these proceedings?


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Perhaps. The unworthy one has long realized how difficult it must be for one Pharaoh, a brother of the gods even, to control the entire domain of our beloved Mother Egypt. This, on top of grieving for his beloved Sister-Princess whose unfortunate demise is still unexplained as she slept under guard, alone, with only her trained asp for company.

The unworthy one senses the need for Pharaoh to spend more time with His brother gods and leaving the actual burden of administration to a capable and trusted prime minister, such as is currently advising his Beloved Pharaoh in this missive. A man like myself, unworthy as he might be, who has no other aspiration than to serve His Magnificence, and Mother Egypt, in this endeavor.

This is meant only as food for thought. Food and Thought; Alas: Both perishable commodities.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Office of the Prime Minister

cc:       All Nobility

All Ministries

Public Readings

Hittite Empire (Executive List)

Your Beloved and Exalted Pharaoh is pleased to welcome a new member to the family of the gods. A proven and trustworthy leader whose sole interest is to serve Pharaoh without thought of personal status, power, wealth, or political gain; a man who will speak for the Pharaoh and act for the Pharaoh in all matters, sacred and profane.

We welcome you to our exalted bosom: Prime Minister Merneptah.










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My Computer, My Electric Drill, The Druids, and Me

Druids cover

                      Cover Art by Mark Grammel

This is the cover of my (unpublished) book, “The Druids as Entrepreneurs.” It’s all about the people and activities of a mythical high-tech manufacturing company, named “Binkley’s, Inc.” It was named after its autocratic founder, C.T. Binkley. It’s about the people who populated this business, by department, their human aspects and their corporate aspects, good and bad, funny and sad.

The second part of this two-part essay is my book’s introduction to the computer industry. It is called “The Computer at Stonehenge.”  An early computer indeed, Stonehenge was built between 3100 and 1550 BC in a remote and beautiful location 13 KM North of Salisbury England; where it may still be seen today. My poem was originally published in the computer magazine, Datamation, circa 1975.

First, the essay on my current status in the wonderful user’s world of computer technology and marketing:

I have a computer. I use it for email and word processing. I have an electric drill. I use it for creating holes of various sizes and also as a power screw driver. Both of these machines are of equal value to me. Before I had the Black & Decker electric drill, I had a Craftsman manual drill and screwdriver. Before I had the computer, I had an IBM electric typewriter and before that, an Olivetti manual typewriter. I still have those machines in the cellar and could go back to them with only moderate inconvenience.

What I like about the electric drill is that it’s even older than the computer, but still works as easily and professionally as it ever did. No one has come and told me that I must buy an update, or even a new drill, because of changes the manufacturer made, that I don’t need or want, and without which my electric drill won’t work.

Nobody has installed an electric drill update, so that if I squeeze the handle and jerk the trigger at the same time, the drill goes blank and forgets how to drill holes.

Nobody has called and asked me to join an electric drill users club, or spend time on a drill chat line, or buy expensive and mind numbing games that can now be played on my electric drill.

Sidebar: One of my favorites anecdotes about Albert Einstein happened in the late Forties when he joined Princeton University in New Jersey. He bought a Volkswagen to get around town. He was observed driving it,  and was shortly called by an enthusiastic young man who asked the professor if he’d like to join the Princeton Volkswagen Club. Einstein asked what that was. The young man explained that it was a club consisting of Volkswagen owners who met monthly and exchanged Volkswagen ideas and experiences.

Einstein thought for a moment, and then asked: “I have a toothbrush too. Is there a club for that?”

So, ladies and gentlemen of Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Dell, and all your peers throughout the industry, hear this plaintive and sincere request:

1. Don’t let your bright young techies go wild and add features and benefits that we really don’t need so that when I inadvertently hit two keys at the same time, the damn computer jumps off the desk.

2. Support the stuff that’s out here. I have a 1973 Mustang Convertible and I can still get parts and support for it. It still works like it always did, and goes as fast as it ever did (and no, I don’t want to join a Mustang club).

3. Acknowledge and respect the fact that there are technically challenged seniors out here who would like to use your product without needless complications. You can make those complications, or “improvements,” available to those who want them (and – at extra expense too!), but do not force such things on those who do not want or need them.

4. Feel free to use me as a Beta test site. Send me the instruction manual and the device and let’s see how well I do setting it up and using it. I am the perfect test subject. As someone once said: “Nothing is foolproof, because fools are just so damn creative.”

5. Finally, as I learned in the Army, when involved in any development or strategic plan, remember the Factors of KISS: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Write for my shipping address and phone number.


And now: “The Computer at Stonehenge”

There are strange things done,

To Be Number One

In selling the computer.


Has their stratagem

That daily grows acuter.

And Apple & Dell

May compete like Hell

But the story’s missing link,

Is the system old,

At Stonehenge sold,

by the firm of Druids, Inc.


The Druids were


And they built a granite box,

That tracked the moons,

Warned of Monsoons,

and forecast Equinox.

Their price was right,

Their future bright,

The prototype was sold;

From Stonehenge site

Their bits and bytes,

Would ship for Celtic gold.

The riggers came

To move the frame,

It weighed a million ton!

The traffic folk

Thought it a joke,

Their wagon wheels just spun.

“We’ll nay move that,”

The foreman spat,

“Just let the wild weeds grow.

It’s Druid-kind,


And belly up they’ll go.”


That man spoke true,

And thus to you,

A warning from the ages:

Your stock will slip,

If you can’t ship,

What’s in your brochure’s pages.

See if it sells,

Without the bells,

And strings that ring and quiver.

For Druid repute

Went down the chute,

Because they couldn’t deliver.

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Reflections on Our Natural Enemies: Birds

Thoughts on Birds as Our Natural Enemies

Birds attackingClip Art: Birds in the Attack

This essay will not be popular with animal lovers in general, and PETA members in particular, but I have never been all that fond of birds. I will tell you why:

It all began back in my home town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a paper mill town, in the 1940’s. We lived near one of the mills, and the place was lousy with pigeons. I still don’t know why. Maybe they ate some of the excess paper coating, or something, but anyway they were there: hundreds of them. Our neighbor, Francis, raised homing pigeons, and the food and the water attracted the mill pigeons like a giant bird magnet. They were all over our yards. They were loud and dirty. Francis and my father called them “flying rats,” and thought up a variety of methods to keep them away. None of which really worked that well, and I would wake up each morning to see the “things”, perched on the roof outside my window, staring in at me. It was unnerving.

My second encounter with evil birds came at the swan pond in CoggshallPark, near our home, when I was about 6. There was a bevy of swans that glided majestically across the pond and then rested in a shady nook near where I sailed my boat. I decided to scare them away. I put on my early war face, screamed fierce screams, and ran towards them, waving my arms like a mad boy. I immediately noticed three things:

1. The swans were not running away.

2. The swans weren’t intimidated at all.

3. The swans were counter attacking.

Those beautiful and graceful birds were as tall and as heavy as I was, with huge wing spans, and a loud scream. When I realized what was happening, I came to a comic book, screeching halt, turned tail, and ran. The birds pursued me, yelling fierce battle cries of their own, flapping their large wings, and nipping at my heels. I only escaped because I ran through the brush where they could not easily follow.

When I got home, I told my live-in, Irish, philosopher, seanachi, grandmother, Nana Ware, what had happened. “Ah boy,” she said, hugging me, “don’t start fights that ye can’t finish.” She then told me about the roc, a giant bird of Persian mythology whom, it was said, could carry away an elephant. That helped.

My third confrontation was with pink flamingos. I was in Florida, running a sales meeting, and the hotel had a magnificent garden filled with beautiful plants and flowers and…pink flamingos. Not the plastic kind, the real kind. A group of our sales people, probably under the influence of Demon Rum, thought it would be hilarious to capture a few of these birds and to release them in the sales vice president’s suite. They did so. Later that night, my boss returned to find his suite a shambles, and he himself under attack. It seems that pink flamingos, when nervous, first become grievously incontinent, and then attack anything or anybody in sight. My boss called me for help. Remembering my boyhood swan incident, I didn’t attempt to scare these birds away. I called the groundskeepers and they came and rounded them up, giving us a stern lecture, a suggestion of legal action if it happened again, and a rather large clean-up bill.

My fourth bird trauma was in Hawaii, with peacocks. Wife Judy and I had a second floor balcony room over looking another magnificent garden wherein strutting peacocks lived. I had only seen them strutting and preening on NBC commercials. I never realized they were such noisy birds. They screamed all day, and all night too. One early evening, I could take it no more. I went out on the balcony, and screamed back at them. They went silent. Vindicated, I turned back into my room only to hear a new screech behind me; there was a peacock on my balcony. I never knew they could fly. I thought they were like ostriches and emus and could run like the wind; but peacocks can do that and fly too. And this guy was furious. I slammed the screen door shut, but he smashed into it, trying to tear it apart with his talons. I closed the glass door and called Security. Once again, the bird people came and carted the offending bird away. They told me that an attack like this was most unusual. I didn’t mention that I may have initiated the encounter by saying something uncomplimentary about the peacock’s lineage.

My fifth trauma was with pigeons again, this time in London. I walked through Trafalgar Square at lunchtime, munching on a sandwich. I was set upon by a flock of the most aggressive pigeons I have ever seen. They were fearless. They swarmed all over me, and my food, until I just dropped it and beat a hasty retreat. A police constable watched all this in bemusement. “Don’t you know that Trafalgar Square is famous for its pigeons?” he asked. “People come here each day by the thousands just to see and feed the pigeons.”

I wanted to ask why they just didn’t go to the dump to see and feed the rats too. I didn’t bother. I had already toured the Tower of London and it was not pleasant.

And so it goes unto this very day. I have a crazy woodpecker trying to drill a hole through my roof; crows that wake me at dawn with their loud and unnerving “caws,”; seagulls that redecorate my house, car, and sidewalks as they fly over; and several Canada Goose that desperately need to be deported.

On the bright side, I like song birds (in moderation: no encores), but the rest of them I can do without. They have scarred me emotionally. As part of a fraternity initiation back in the 1950’s, we had to sit alone in the dark, listening to Basil Rathbone recite Poe’s “The Raven.” Our class officers told us that after the 6th reading, most people go mad. That didn’t happen, but it was too close for comfort.

And – then there’s the “Ancient Mariner,” and his accursed albatross that they hung around his neck; and I’ll never forgive those black starlings for what they did to Tippi Heyden in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.”

Birds: Don’t go away mad; just go away.

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Pharaoh Cheops: The First After Dinner Speaker

Jokesmith Image

On Public Speaking: Pharaoh Cheops, The First After Dinner Speaker

            Let’s face it: There are just so many ways you can thank the people who have helped you succeed: You get their attention, use a little self-deprecating humor, review the accomplishment, establish a bond, credit the achievers, refer to the ongoing challenge, and close with your thanks and good wishes.  I write such speeches. My model is the original after dinner speech. It was found chiseled into the wall of the King’s Chamber in the great pyramid at Giza. Written in hieroglyphics, it documents a speech given by the Pharaoh Cheops to celebrate the completion of his great pyramid in 4003 BC.

            Visualize the event: It is night. The pyramid is illuminated by torches and surrounded by thousands of royals, staff, and guests. Look! There he is on the dais. He’s the one wearing the funny hat with the snake on it. That is the great Pharaoh Cheops, Brother of Ra, the Sun God, and Supreme Ruler of Upper & Lower Egypt. Shh! He is about to speak:

“Can you hear me in the back? (Crowd murmurs and tinkling utensils) May I have your attention, please? Attention, please? Would the waitpersons kindly stop serving the bread and onions for a few minutes? (Crowd quiets down.) Thank you very much.

“I guess I don’t have to tell you who I am (Laughter and applause). I am the Pharaoh Cheops (Applause). My family name is Khufu, but every time I say it, people think I’m sneezing (Sustained laughter). Then they say, ‘You Bless You’ (More sustained laughter and warm applause).

“Well, seriously folks, the big job is mostly accomplished. If I have to tell you that, you’ve been out in the sun too long (Audience laughter). So tonight, I think it’s high time to have a little fun, and to recognize the people who made it happen.

“Many of you give me all the credit (Scattered applause amidst cries of, ‘We worship you!’). I love that little palindrome I heard in the workers’ village: ‘A Man, A Plan, A Pyramid, Giza!’ It doesn’t quite work, but I love it anyway. It speaks to the bond we have between us: Pharaoh and peasant. Two ends of the social fabric, to be sure, but equal partners in this (gesturing) heroic effort (Sustained applause and cries of “Here, Here”).

“That’s enough about me, I promise (Warm laughter). This is your night to share in the glory. I’ll begin by thanking my architects for the design of a monument that I believe will be standing here for many years after I am gone. Our children will look on this structure and take pride in what we did here (Sustained applause).

“And I want to thank the overseers (Good natured groans and scattered applause). That devoted team of first line managers who provided the supervision, direction, and motivation that kept us on schedule and on budget.

“But most of all, most of all, I want to thank you: The little people who made it happen. I want to thank the men, women, and children who pushed those 50 ton blocks of granite up that inclined plane, in all sorts of desperate desert conditions for some 30 years.

“And why did they do it, you ask? Sure, some would say the threats and the whips helped – and they had their place. But most of all, most of all, they did it because we’re a team. And a focused team can accomplish anything from building a pyramid to … a landing on the moon (Chuckles and laughter). It all comes down to teamwork. And what is a pyramid, after all, but a study in teamwork (Standing ovation, sustained applause).

“Okay, that’s enough of the sentiment for one night (Warm chuckles and appreciative applause). Tomorrow at dawn we begin building the temples and outbuildings that will surround our pyramid. And I’ll tell you about an idea I have for a large statue of a lion with my head on it (Murmurs of wonder and approval). More on that tomorrow. But for now, the kitchen staff reports they still have a tent full of rolls and onions, there’s mead left in the kegs, and the musicians are ready to play. So stay as late as you want and have as much as you like. This is your party!

“Thanks everybody, and good night! (Cheers, sustained applause, and cries of, ‘Cheops! Cheops!’ as music begins)”



In addition to speech augmentation, after dinner speeches, roasts, and skits, Ed McManus is the author of We’re Roasting Harry Tuesday Night, How To Plan, Write, and Conduct the Business/Social Roast (Prentice-Hall), and Irish Tales: A Collection of Irish Folklore (Rooftop). Ed also publishes The Jokesmith, a comedy newsletter for business and professional speakers.

Ed does humor and commentary in magazines & newspapers such as Reader’s Digest, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Forbes, Rogue, Quote, Bits & Pieces, Reminisce, Speechwriters Newsletter, Executive Speechwriter, Connections, Fitchburg Sentinel, Kennebunk Star, Boston Herald, Boston Sunday Globe, The Bawl Street Journal, and The New York Times. His material will also be found in a number of quotation and speaker anthology books. 

Contact Ed McManus at

Since 1984: Helping speakers “Make them laugh while you make your point.”


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Mother and The Air-Conditioned Car

Mother and the Air Conditioned Car:

Kate and Leo McManus 1930s

               Kathryn & Leo McManus, circa 1934 

          First, you must understand that my mother was always cold, or there will be nothing wonderful in the story I am about to tell you.

Mother could take a chill from a cool gust of air on the other side of town during an August heat wave. One family member claimed that if you put mother into a tent on the Sahara Desert, at mid-day, and after several hours went to ask if she was all right, she would reply, “Yes dear, I’m fine, but close that tent flap, I feel a draft.”

That may be an exaggeration, but she really did once ask my wife, Judy, on a hot summer’s afternoon when there wasn’t a breath of air to be found in the neighborhood, “Dear, do you feel a hint of fall in the air?”

I graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1959, the youngest of five children, and promptly married Judy and went into the Army. At last, my parents experienced a bit of the empty nest syndrome. My father decided to celebrate. He bought a brand new car: a 1960 Ford Station Wagon with all the options – including air conditioning. He had never owned an air conditioned car.

Now, Mother did not believe air conditioning was desirable in an automobile (or anywhere else, for that matter). Four wheels, an engine, some comfortable seats, a radio, and a heater summed up her expectations for an option-loaded, motorized transport. However, when she saw it was important to my father, she dropped her objections and they became the owners of their first air-conditioned automobile.

She hated it. She never mentioned it to my father, but we grown children heard how cold and uncomfortable it was. It was like sitting in a meat locker. You couldn’t talk over the noise. It wasted gasoline – which was already up to $.23 per gallon. She took to draping a car robe across her knees on the hottest days of the summer. And yet, even as things escalated, not a word on the subject passed between them.

A few weeks after the car arrived I called my father and found him upset. “All that money,” he said, “and the air conditioning doesn’t work properly. The light lights, and the motor hums, but not a breath of cool air. Then the fuse blows and the power goes out. I took that car right back to the dealer today and told him I wanted it fixed promptly.” I agreed that was the right thing to do. I called him back a few days later to see how the matter turned out.

“Did they fix your air conditioning?” I asked.

“So to speak,” he answered reluctantly.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I was embarrassed,” he said. “That’s what it means. The dealer called and asked me to stop in. He had something to show me. On his desk was a shoe box full of neatly cut strips of Kleenex. Every vent on the passenger side of the car had been stuffed with Kleenex. They were tamped in there with the handle of a comb or something. You couldn’t get a breath of air out of that system, so the compressor would overheat and blow a fuse. The whole process had been sabotaged.”

“And what will you do about it?” I asked.

“Do about it?” He asked. “There is nothing to be done about it. Your mother has made her point.”

And so, an unspoken accommodation was reached between them. My father used the air conditioning when he was alone. When driving with my mother, he rolled down his side window and used the crank-out vent like he had for years before.

Mother’s window and her vent remained closed, and she no longer needed the car robe across her legs.

Thus was the problem resolved by an unspoken compromise, based on a mutual understanding, that came with a long-term relationship, that didn’t require confrontation, and sometimes didn’t even require words.

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December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor

A Visit to Pearl Harbor

May, 1941: Author Ed McManus at rest, six months before Pearl Harbor.Photo by  Francis Poisson

May, 1941: Author Ed McManus at rest, six months before Pearl Harbor.
Photo by Francis Poisson

It was Japanese Appreciation Week in Nineteen Eighty-Something when I left Waikiki, Hawaii and began the drive to Kuilama to see about opening a new sales and services office for my company. I was in the computer business. There are all sorts of businesses on Hawaii, although the tourist business is still Number One.

The Japanese, I was told, account for half the Hawaiian tourist business. They come as social groups, families, and young married couples who, for a stiff fee, can reenact their wedding western style, complete with parson, gown, music, tux, and limo. The mandatory photo album is extra. It always is.

My business in Kuilama went quicker than I anticipated and it was all wrapped up in one evening dinner, and a meeting the following morning. My plane wasn’t scheduled until the next morning. The idea of laying out on the beach was very attractive, until a friend asked, “Is this your first trip to Oahu? Aren’t you going to visit Pearl Harbor?”

Oahu; Pearl Harbor; December 7, 1941: “The date that will live in infamy.”

The drive down the shore road to Pearl Harbor takes about an hour and a half. It is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. Mile upon mile of mountains and valleys and ocean waves crashing against volcanic rock. If you pull off the narrow road from time to time you can see things off the coast like whales and dolphins, and the island of Molokai, the 19th century leper colony of both heroic and tragic reputation. It is now being reworked into a tourist destination.

The USS Arizona Memorial is administered by the U.S. Navy and the U. S. Park service. You arrive easily. The Navy has everything clearly marked. You park, and then walk a short distance to a concrete shell, housing the gateway to the memorial. Admission is free and you request a ticket for the next tour from the smiling attendant behind the desk. All smiles, clean, good manners, spit & polish – it’s nice. It’s what I like to believe America really is.

The wait is short and since you have your ticket there’s no need to queue up. You can spend a restful time walking the grounds and watching the ships come in and out of Pearl Harbor, still an important naval base.

The huge anchor from the USS Arizona is hung in a monument by the entryway. I wanted to get a picture of it but couldn’t get through the Japanese tourists who were photographing each other with that grim determination that the Japanese bring to relaxation. I went into the gift shop instead.

They had postcards, fact sheets (did you know that oil still bubbles up from the Arizona? Oil is still leaking from the fuel tanks. Environmental pollution, one minor tragedy added to the long list of lost lives). They had plastic models of Japanese Zeros, recordings of the actual radio and news broadcasts of that day, and books on every aspect of the Pacific War in general and Pearl Harbor in particular. All books are available in both English and Japanese.

Tour Group 18 was called and we all moved into a theater to watch the US Navy prepared documentary shown on a huge wall screen.

The theater too is interesting (everything on Pearl is interesting). It incorporates all the crowd movement and control techniques given to the world by Walt Disney at his famous theme parks. How did we ever manage to line up before Walt Disney showed us how?

The movie began. It is part American and part Japanese newsreel footage, part contemporary color sequences, part recreation, and part revisionist history. Emperor Hirohito, we learn, was a peacetime leader who surrendered power to Marshall Tojo when hostilities broke out. I’m not sure it was all that simple, but Japanese-American relations are very important today, and Tojo was an easy guy to hate back then and today as well.

And then, on the huge screen, came the attack. The first wave of Japanese carrier based planes came out of the rising sun over Ford Island at 8am on a quiet Sunday morning. There were 49 bombers carrying armor piercing torpedoes, 40 torpedo bombers, 50 dive bombers, and 42 Zero’s flying the air cover that was never necessary. The Zeros spent their time strafing the men in the water as they tried to get away from the burning hulks; and strafing the men on the airfields trying to get away from the flaming planes and hangers at Hickham Field. The planes came in two waves, and the attack lasted an incredible two hours.

The USS Arizona took several direct hits from both aerial bombs and torpedoes. One or more of them hit her magazines and she violently exploded, taking over 1,800 officers and men with her to the bottom. Seventeen other ships were lost or seriously damaged, countless planes, and a total of 2,403 dead and another 1,178 wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines.

The USS Arizona is still there, right where she sunk, and her 1,800 crewmen are still aboard.

The movie ends quietly. We are reminded that we are about to visit a cemetery. We head for the USS Arizona shrine.

The USS Arizona shrine is a modern, white bridge-like structure which is welded to the sunken hull. It has a modified wing look to it, depressed at the center and high on both ends to suggest the war’s low start and soaring finish. Along the walkway is the Arizona’s bell and on the far wall are the names of all who died here.

In the middle of the memorial is an open well cut into the steel and if you look down into it, she can see her. You can see the USS Arizona resting in less than 40 feet of water: The ship that fought its first and last battle here at Pearl Harbor; the ship, the shrine, the symbol, the tomb.

On the boat ride back I chatted up a fellow tourist about my own age. He was a history buff. He told me that the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor was not as complete as it could have been. In their haste to get the ships, the planes, the men running on the ground and swimming in the sea, they completely overlooked the American fuel storage tanks, the submarine pens, and the shipyards.

Those storage tanks fueled the entire Pacific fleet. The submarine pens birthed and sent forth hundreds of American submarines, crewed by angry men who had lost buddies at Pearl. And the ship yards – those marvels of engineering – they cleared the harbor and put back into fighting order 14 of the 18 ships sunk that fateful Sunday, and watched them sail again to hasten the Japanese defeat. The Japanese had destroyed the giant’s weapons, but they had enraged him in the process, and they had left him his tools.

The principals are all gone now: FDR, Nimitz, Tojo, MacArthur, Yamamoto, Maguma, even the Emperor Hirohito, that mild little marine biologist who basically got in over his head and in that unique Japanese mentality so alien to American understanding, only wielded his absolute and unquestionable authority as long as he never attempted to use it.

And the USS Arizona is still there, leaking oil in 40 feet of clear water, to remind us:

1. An unsuspecting America can be viciously attacked without warning by an enemy who would employ without remorse the most terrible and sophisticated weapons of the day.

2. That Marshal Tojos exist among us, just below the surface of every civilized society, ready to rise on a moment’s notice to seize an opportunity, to spread their hateful and destructive ambitions.

3. We must always remember that day and that story of what happened and why. We must remember the USS Arizona, its eternally captive crew, and all those who suffered and died in the short term, terrible triumph of hatred and treachery over trust and good will.

We must remember Pearl Harbor.


Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece appeared in The Worcester Telegram on December 7, 1981

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The Ten Meanings of “No!”

Mr. Barkley’s Chalk Talk, #101 

No 10 illus

Mr. Barkley appears in front of a blackboard, holding a piece of chalk.


Barkley: My subject today is the word “No!” What does “No!” really mean? Well, it depends. “No!” could mean any one of ten things, and you have to understand which “No!” you just heard, or you won’t be able to overcome it. Let’s go through the list:

He writes: “#1 No!” on the board.

This “No!” really means “Not now!” You’ve asked me at the wrong time or place. Go away, come back later, and try again. Don’t irritate me by pushing it now.

He writes: #2 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means “Not from you.” I want your boss or someone with the detail in here with you on this one. This is too big for me to act on your word alone.

He writes: #3 No!” on the board.

This “No!” is really a test. I want to see how badly you want it. I wonder if you’ll come back and try again? We’ll see.

He writes: #4 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means, “You’re not quite there yet.” I wonder if you’ve left something on the table. Sweeten the deal and we’ll talk again later.

He writes: “#5 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means you’re pushing it; you’ve asked for too much lately. Let it cool off for a while and try again later.

He writes: #6 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means I don’t like what you said or how you said it. Remember your place. Come back later, say you’re sorry, and maybe we can try again.

He writes: #7 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means I want to think about it some more. It’s a safe answer. Nothing starts when I say “No!” “No!” buys me time. If it’s important, I know you’ll come back.

He writes: #8 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means we have different agendas. You know that I’m waiting for you to do something else, and you better do it before you ask anything of me.

He writes: “#9 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means I’m not sure I’m seeing the entire picture. Make me feel comfortable.

He writes: “#10 No!” on the board.

This “No!” means “No!”: “Not now, not ever!” Pause. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of these.

You must learn how to tell one “No!” from the other. Use your experience and your deductive skills: Think about where we are, and who is with us. Listen to my voice, both what I say and how I say it. Watch my body English. Think about what has recently transpired in our relationship. Consider what environment and circumstances I’m operating in today. Ask if there’s an issue and, if so, what it is so you can address it.  Put all that together. You’ll figure it out.

Remember: It’s my game, and you can’t play my game unless you understand my rules.


He walks off.

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