My first computer was a machine called a Tandy 1000. I purchased it at a store called The Radio Shack. By today’s standards it was a Stone Age implement.

Email, as a “thing”, came alone as a function of internet portals such as Netscape or America Online (AOL) where users were charged for the time they were “online”.

It took some time for me to acclimate to the new medium. I would print out emails from friends and put them in a correspondence file in a real file cabinet.

Today it’s difficult to imagine communication without email being a major component. As broadband capacity grew, email and for that matter browsing the internet became more universal and cheap. In the past thirty years electronic communication has literally come from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Today’s leading edge digital device will soon become an historical footnote in the story of technology.

It took a while but I finally adjusted. I no longer file my emails in an actual filing cabinet.

I promised myself, a long time ago, that if I should become an old person, I would not ruminate about being old. The reason I made this promise was that all the old people I knew were always talking about being old and it was depressing and boring. Well, now that I am actually old, I find that the thing I know most about (and about which I have ample documentation) is the business of being old. Of course, I could just keep my mouth shut. Alas, though I have lived a long time, and though I have always dreamed of being one of those silent mysterious types, I have not learned the lesson of reticence, much to the regret of the few close friends I have left.

The body is the world’s most eloquent professor of gerontology. You don’t even have to take notes: it’s a continually updating notepad. You just have to “read” it. I sometimes think I am being singled out as a kind of test bed for ailments. Then I walk through a modern drug store and see evidence that I am only one of millions who are falling apart. You can tell how things are going with your neighbors by looking at the size of the different displays. Pain relief is perhaps one of the biggest sections. Then comes the 3 C’s, coughs, colds and congestion. Close behind comes irregularity and incontinence. Although this doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of aging complaints, it is instructive.

I met this guy I used to work with in the grocery store not long ago and as he talked, it became apparent to me that we both had similar cancer issues to deal with but he never gave me a chance to share my experiences.  He seemed desperate to talk about his physical problems.  He went on and on.  Finally I stopped him and said that I needed to pick up a few items for company who were coming over soon.  This statement contained enough truth to be useful without guilt.  He thanked me for the “chat” and wished me well.  There was no “chat”.   I never said a word.

I don’t lack for cancer commiseration.  My daughter and daughter-in-law and I are all survivors.  We’re all at different stages of our own journey.  And we do in fact chat.

I am a lucky men. I can walk without assistance, and eat most anything, still handle good liquor and, after several medical interventions, I see quite well and hear fairly well depending on conditions.

Same time next year?

I’m Jerry Henderson – 88 and counting.

Today is the 121st birthday of my father, John Murdock Henderson. He has been gone for nearly half that time. He died in the “dark ages” of prostate cancer research. Subsequently I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a series of radiation treatments were prescribed. We check the PSA every six months. The number gets smaller and smaller. To say it’s a cure is a bit gutsy but it’ll do for the time being.

My mother named me Gerald. When she took me to register for the first grade Jeanie Watson, the principle who also taught my mother, asked her, “Ruby, what’s your son’s name?” My mother said it was Gerald. I spoke up and loudly said, “No Mama, my name is Jerry!” – the only name I had ever been called. It was spelled with a “J” to match a favorite uncle’s name. Big Jerry – little jerry. I asked my father why he didn’t give me his name which I loved and still do to this day. I mean, John Murdock! What’s not to like? I know – I may be just a tad biased. It seemed that my mother had read a story in which the protagonist was named Gerald. She liked it. What could a kid do?

My father had six sisters and five brothers. His mother was a McQueen, a woman of Scottish descent. She had an uncle John Gunter who lived to 104 with a Yankee mini-ball in his chest. I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything except that it would have been nice if my father had inherited uncle John Gunter’s longevity gene.

He taught me to fly fish, hunt and drive. He believed I mastered the first two but he never believed I could drive a car. He was mostly concerned with my failure to leave enough room on the right side. When I was driving his body was in a constant cringe – trying to move the car away from the edge. He never said a word to me about sex. I dearly loved him.

Once somewhere in Kansas he was constantly complaining so much that I slammed on the break and got out of the car told him to go on. I vowed I would never get into a car with him again. I’ll walk, I cried. I began walking – in 1940’s Kansas! There was nothing in Kansas. Well, obviously mother prevailed and we drove on to Colorado and enjoyed a nice family vacation.

As a young man he was a telegraph operator on the Union Pacific Rail Road in Kansas. He met a man who taught him to cut hair and subsequently he spent the rest of his life as a barber with a thriving business in Baton Rouge. He was an honorable man. Honest and loyal to his beliefs and friends. He was an actual Christian. More importantly than all the above he was a committed family man, a loving father and husband. Whatever I tried he supported and encouraged me. I had permission and freedom as a child then that would be virtually impossible today. I was lucky and probably blessed.

John Murdock Henderson is seldom far from my thoughts.

I remember when having a telephone of any kind was a novelty. Compared to today, there’s no comparison. When I was around ten years old we got one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. We shared the line with the Davis family, one of whom would frequently pick up to listen in on our call. I was known to try that out myself from time to time.

Late one night that telephone rang . . . .

It was ten o’clock 1942 when the bell at 4881
rang and mother cried, It’s Jerry – go get Clara.
From the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Baton Rouge –
Would you like to say hello? I would! I would!

Hello uncle Jerry.
Hi Boy. How ya doing? Put your aunt Clara on.
I said, You sound so far away.
He said, I am.

I gave the heavy hand set to aunt Clara.
She said, We are all here.
She said, We all love you.
She said, Come back home.

For a long time she said nothing,
Then she said, I love you.
Then she said, Goodby.
She sat down on the couch.

We all looked at Clara. She said:
He couldn’t say so, but I know
he’s going to sea. I know
he’s going to sea.

Mother made some coffee.

It was an operator assisted long distance collect call. It seemed like a miracle to us. The only personal mobil phone we knew of was the one on the wrist of Dick Tracy. Of course, technology was on the the threshold of an explosion of progress. As far as I was concerned, I was, then and there, on the crest of that wave.

“These are the days of miracle and wonder – This is the long distance call” p. simon

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, specially if it’s early, I leave my CI and HA on a side table and just listen to the ringing in my head as my coffee silently brews.

Sometimes when walking in the woods I turn up the volume to hear the leaves breathe or if it is winter to hear the the bones rattle.

Sometimes I don’t worry about the quality of what I am hearing. If the meaning comes through I count that as success.

Sometimes, when I am alone – I sing. What a jolt! But it seems to have a positive effect. Don’t ask. I don’t have a good answer as to what that means.

Sometimes when out in the real world I forget my disability for brief moments and I feel almost normal. Of course that’s an illusion. I tell myself, “Give it up! The whole concept of normalcy is an illusion.”

Sometimes I secretly enjoy a really good illusion. You don’t even have to hear to do it.

Sometimes it helps to realize that I am really really deaf.

At all times I am grateful for the help I have received. Thank you.

I recently read that Eric Clapton, legendary musician, is suffering from tinnitus and is loosing his hearing. While this does not surprise me it does give me pause to be sympathetic. Extremely loud rock concert venues produce levels of damaging sound that if converted to simple physical assault would be considered a crime. Clapton is only one among many “rockers” who will be affected.

In my case it was unprotected shooting as a child and teenager. Then as a young adult I was drawn onto what was then called Hi Fi music – played loudly. It was thrilling. My concert experience was limited mostly because, although I loved the music, I disliked the noisy intrusive crowds that seemed more interested in the noise they made than the music being made. So, I rattled the rafters at home. Probably just as harmful as concert volumes.

Clapton is 72. I was 66 when friends gently “confronted” me and my deafness. I was essentially unaware of my condition. I just turned the volume up to acceptable levels and unconsciously developed the ability to read lips (today called speech reading) quite effectively.

To be sure, much late life hearing loss is inherited. I had to shout to hold a conversation with my grandfather. Many of the men on my mother’s side of the family were hard of hearing. Even so, had we been enlightened enough to insist on ear protection for me, my deafness might not be as severe as it is. It just wasn’t an issue in that day. The thing is, young ears are easily damaged. That damage does not heal like a cut or bruise. It’s cumulative.

The tide is turning. The level and quality of public awareness is increasing as we speak. Over the counter hearing aids are practically a reality. This addresses the prohibitive expense of a quality digital haring aid. Even with the development of technology the most effective tool is public awareness and insistence on a quieter public experience. Restaurants, theaters and public areas will respond to public input. The theater promoting “Sound that you can feel” must be avoided or provide ear protection. Loudness is not a prerequisite to happiness.

Finally it’s an individual responsibility. Make your voice heard. You must vote! If we stop supporting loud venues they will disappear or become quieter.

I am probably the last person on the planet to sign up for “Bill Pay” at my bank. CA has been doing this for years while I write out a physical check, seal it in an envelope with the proper documentation and walk it out to the mail box to be picked up around 4 PM.

I don’t have many checks to write. And I hate writing checks. Always have. However, the activity of writing out a check and mailing it provides an opportunity for contemplation and evaluation. Any more it’s just click click and it’s done! I like that, but nevertheless, it is one more part of the unraveling of the social fabric.

For many years, I had a physical Post Office Box at the physical Post Office. I liked that. I got to know the people there and they would call me by my name. There was contact. I realize there is no physical contact when mailing an envelope but my correspondent and I share a physical contact with the same envelope. That’s not exactly a hug but it’s at least physical. We both touch the same object, albeit a few days appart.

Bill Pay eliminates all physical contact. Surely this works to prevent the spread of disease, but does little to build community.

When I was a kid, the first Monday was bill pay day which entailed a car trip to downtown Baton Rouge, all of six miles, to actually walk into the bank to pay the house note, then the electric company, the gas company and the water company – all of which were paid from a pouch containing actual money. No checks. There were people everywhere – on the sidewalks, in stores. Often you would meet people you knew. There was a huge social component about the whole process.

A few days ago my son, David, sent me a text saying he wanting to try out a feature of Apple Pay called Pay Cash. He sent me $1 in a text message. Son of a gun – it worked! Even though I am a dollar richer, nothing physical happened. All virtual. All digital. No handshake. No actual passing the actual buck. I sent him a return text reminding him that he could probably send a larger amount. I haven’t heard from him since. There you go.

I was sitting here the other day contemplating fetching another load of fire wood and I was sidetracked by the realization that I hardly ever actually see any of the few friends I still have, in the flesh. There is no town cafe where you invariably run into someone to talk to. I gave up the post office box years ago. Now and then I run into someone at the market but that is more like a drive-by encounter than an actual arranged visit.

So-called social media is social only by a vigorous stretch of the imagination. Vocal inflections, scents, the tone and nuance of body language and most of all touch – all are lost on the Internet. We are morphing into a "touch free culture.

I suppose it could be said that less touching would go a long way toward a less harassed culture. I suppose that would be a positive outcome. I don’t want to get bogged down in that worthy discussion but it is enough to say here that as long as there are women and men there will be some level of sexual tension and from that tension comes growth and learning and occasionally, intimacy.

Touch free is great for your car but it is devastating for your soul.

You’d think that after that comment I’d drive over to Yarmouth and write out a check for the propane and have a chat with the friendly woman there an catch up on the local weather gossip. You’d think. More than likely I will fill in the amount on Bill Pay and click “Pay” and be done with it.

Just last week we were on a trip to western New York and central Pennsylvania visiting family. Lots of driving – an activity I used to relish and now find to be more like drudge work. When we got home I was fit for little more than a shower and unpacking.

The next day we had a ferocious storm that knocked out power for over 300,000 Maine homes – one of which was our house, of course. Loosing power means loosing things like TV, Cable, WiFi, Internet, and usually the land line if you still have one. Or in other words, life as we know it.

It seems, at this writing, that we will be existing without electricity from the grid for most of if not all of this week. I heard that we should be back up and running by Friday but that is, as I said, hearsay.

If you are fortunate, you have a few workarounds that require some actual work. We have a generator. You have to drag it out and plug it in. Then you have to disconnect from the grid so that the electricity you generate does not electrocute a lineman who is trying to help you. Now you can have lights, make coffee, charge a stable of digital devices, possibly run a burner on your electric stove at a low setting and keep the refrigerator humming. Of course you have to go to the gas pump down the road and fill up the 5 gallon can every couple of days.

If you are desperate enough you can “tether” your computer to your phone’s connection and get on the internet that way. It uses data but for checking email and your bank balance you can plug in and unplug when done and feel marginally alive again without putting much of a dent in your data account.

Then there is the wood stove. It was a chilly morning today and I longed for a bowl of grits. So I put a cup of water and 1/3 cup of yellow grits with a little salt in to heat up on the stove, in which I had set a small fire at first light. It takes a bit longer to boil but what else do I have to do? When the grits are done I stir in about a half cup of shredded cheese and some chopped jalapeños and maybe a shake or two of Tabasco. Fan-Tas-Tic! All without electricity – which, by the way, I love with all my heart.

Food is the real challenge. For on-hand fodder we have cold cuts and bread. Take out is pretty good in the area. Tonight it will be pizza from the New Gloucester Village Store. If you haven’t you really should.

When the power comes back it will be life as usual and we will have learned a few new tricks and realized that we can make do, even with a bit of style. I don’t want to sound too sure of myself. After all it’s November 1. It’s just beginning. Will it be the worst of seasons or the best of seasons?

FOR THE FIRST HALF OF MY LIFE SINGING WAS AN IMPORTANT PART OF MY LIFE . Then came hearing loss. Even then with hearing aids I was able for many years to hear and enjoy music. Then one day the guy who was doing some roofing on the house had his truck backed up to a window near my desk and had his radio playing. It sounded awful. I went over to close the window and paused for a moment and realized I knew what the song was by listening to the drum beat rhythm. I couldn’t hear any melody, and the words were unintelligible. It was CCR knocking out Proud Mary. I was shocked that I could not hear the song.

It has taken me years to make peace with loosing music in general and singing in particular. Well, peace may be the wrong word – truce or cease fire may be better. It was about then that I realized that disability might be a good word to add to my growing vocabulary.

When I am alone I do sing sometimes. With the hearing aid and the cochlear implant both up and running I hear some useful tone differential but not much in tone quality. With the CI alone it is harder but I have the sense that it helps in a rehabilitation kind of way – the kind of exercise I am supposed to do to train the brain to hear what the sound processor sends to it.

Not long ago I realized that there was another benefit from making the effort to sing. That is that doing something aurally and familiar that I used to do all the time is good for the soul, or if you rather, that deep part of the being where hope lives and joy sometimes comes for a visit.

There may be more important things in this world than fried clams, but not many.

Recently good friends who were staying out at Popham Beach for the week invited us out for lunch and a beach session on a crystal clear beautiful September afternoon. We jumped at this chance to enjoy one of our most cherished spots in Maine. Just being on that beach is healing. It’s never the same. Perhaps that’s the magic element.

After a brief greeting we decided to go down the road to Percy’s, a rustic diner off the main road with a hand scrawled special menu which included lobster roll and fried clams. Well I am a sucker for a good lobster roll but I confess to being a flat out fool for fried clams so, naturally, I chose a plate of the crusty bivalves. CA went for the lobster roll – it’s a religious thing I think, something about keeping the faith. Bill went for the lobster as well while Gari chose a burger. Three root beers and a real Coke rounded out the table.

Percy’s is one of those places known best by those who frequent the beach more than a few hours at a time. I’ve been going down there for 35 years and never heard of it. The only eatery I was aware of was the one at the end of he road next to Fort Popham. This was a revelation, made all the more poignant because on the 25th of this month Percy’s will close for good! I mean that’s sad.

Civilization can’t afford to loose a single great fried clam joint, and IMHO Percy’s is one of the premier spots. I’m looking at going back this next week for one last plate of those wonderful clams.

The rumor is that there are some overbearing personal issues involved but hopefully someone else will come along with 1.5 mil to take over and keep things hopping every summer. I would, of course do this, but I am considering a new iPhone.

My first encounter with world class fried clams in Maine was a place on South Main in Bangor: Perry’s – Famous for Clams – the neon in the window proclaimed. It was one of those neighborhood places that reflected the neighborhood on the edge of which it stood. Likely as not there was a line of Harleys out front and it was not unusual to see a police cruiser there as well. It was that kind of place. Their clams were the stuff of legends.

There was a bar to the side and no matter when you went there the same three people sat at the end sipping glasses of light beer. Regulars. From the neighborhood.

In the already legendary wisdom of Bangor City Fathers, who had wiped out their “Old Port” section in a frenzy of urban renewal decades ago to make room for a parking lot, Perry’s Famous for Clams and the neighborhood for which it stood was bulldozed to make room for a Shaw’s grocery store and parking lot.

I don’t know what the Queen City does for fried clams these days, and I don’t know what those three regulars do these days for a place to “be”, but I am going down to Percy’s one more time to make sure I haven’t made a mistake. One must be sure, you know.