I grew up in a four chair barbershop near the main gate of the Standard Oil refinery in Baton Rouge.  It was my father’s shop.  Business was good.  Many men got a “trim” every week.  Neatness was in.  

The old original shop was on the same side of the street as the refinery in a commercial strip which included, north to south, a drug store, the barbershop, a saloon and a variety store.  Across the street was a hotel, another saloon, a grocery, hardware store and a dry goods (don’t hear that much any more) store.  I loved the ambience.  

As a child, I spent a lot of time down there.  It was the 30’s, those pre-war years.  I have good memories of those years.  But I was a child.  I remember those times as happy times. They were not easy years for working class people.  Soon the world would change forever.  I  heard talk in the barbershop.  Looking back, nobody had a clue.

I learned later that it was a dangerous place.  Baton Rouge was a deep water port and the refinery was the destination.  There were shootings, knifings and fights.  I was oblivious to that world.  I felt safe.  I would go into the saloon and stand on the brass rail and hold onto the lip of the bar to buy a bag of Tom’s Peanuts.  They knew me.  They knew my father. “Just one bag, Jerry?”

I loved getting a haircut.  Often, as a teenager, I’d get the “works”.  That included a shampoo, cut, a vibrator massage and as needed, a dandruff treatment for my terminal dandruff.  I also had a bad complexion.  My father would occasionally treat me to a “mud pack” facial.  Yes, you heard it right.  He would smear this stuff all over my face and neck.  As it dried, it would draw “impurities” out of the skin and I would walk out of there as rosy as a fall sunset and feeling all new.  Of course, the price for all that was just right.

These days there is so little to do to my hair that I can hold my breath for the time it takes.  I really miss it. Not just the hair ( smiling ) but the process.  

I still enjoy experiencing constants that remain down through the years.  The hair on the floor, the banter, the old magazines, the spinning striped pole.  The general “maleness” of the place.  It’s one of the few places a man can go and be touched and feel good about it.

The older I become, the more I seem to be in dialog with myself about, well, becoming older. I don’t think it’s unique to me. I believe most older people do this to some degree or other.

Even those I have known who do all within their power to deny aging end up dealing with it at every level of their consciousness. The effort to keep aging at bay, paradoxically, keeps it near. It’s impossible to resist something without being aware of it – being in touch with it. It’s rather Zinish to say, “Just stop resisting and it disappears”. But it seems to work much better than resisting, if happiness is your goal. Surely, happiness is the goal.

If it were not for being old, which I mostly enjoy, I’d be young and virile, which I also enjoyed but did not understand at the time. I now understand “young and virile”, I think. That’s called understanding being old. I’m thinking that if my goal is to be a happy old person, then that is a good place to start. Perspective. Getting it. The big picture. The long look.

It used to piss me off to have some older person tell me that I was too young to understand. The hell you say, I would say. I understand all too well. Don’t tell me I don’t understand.

Frankly, many do have a level of understanding early on that is amazing, while some of us never have a clue. But there comes a time, for most of us, in the dead of some night when the squeaking sounds of Charon’s oars suddenly ratifies our mortality and all the dogma we once espoused begins to appear inconsequential in the shadow of our simple humanity. The truth of life’s brevity suddenly sobers us from the scatteredness of our mid-life binge. Tic Toc! The hour is late!

Do not misjudge. This is not a sad statement. Rejoice with me. I am 80 today! I never dreamed I’d get this far down the road, and now I find I dream of going farther. I’ll not put a number on that, thank you very much. Let’s just say farther, which, of course, fits any number.

Thank you, all of you who have spent time with me along the way. I can’t imagine this journey without you.

Jerry Henderson

I was down in Portland yesterday afternoon, and came home around 4:30 – in the dark!!

Every year it takes a while to get used to the shortening of the days, which accelerates when we set our clocks back.

By 1 PM, the day seems “old”. Shadows are cold and long and the welcomed warmth of the daylong sunshine is sucked up in the rapidly approaching darkness.

I light a fire and cheer up.

I have told you from the beginning that I am prone to opinion. Now, if that’s a problem, then read no further.

Here are a dozen things that always seem to be stuck in my mind. Sharing with you will, hopefully, improve my mental health.

1 An elected official must win his / her post by at least 51% of the vote.

2 We should have a choice between cable, telephone and electric utilities. Don’t laugh. I lived in a city where I could choose between two electric utilities. Electricity was cheaper. Duh?

3 No one should be exempt from the Don’t Call Listing. This means politicians and non-profits as well.

4 No, wait: anyone calling you to sell something, promote something, or ask for money should be required to pay your phone bill for a month. Then they should be fined heavily. IT’S MY PHONE, AND IT HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH FREE SPEECH!

5 The entire congressional membership should be turned out every ten years. All at once. All at the same time. We’ll have one big honking election.

6 No member of the senate should be able to succeed herself – at all. Ever! House members will abide by the ten year rule. We already have the president handled. Or do we?

8 Not yet. The Electoral College should be forthwith abolished! The people should be able to elect a president by direct ballot and 51% of the votes.

7 Congressional perks, salaries, and benefits should be subject to voter approval. Or disapproval such as the case may be.

9 I should be able to have the Post Office stop the delivery of all mail except first class. If they need that junk to survive, then maybe it’s their time.

10 Religious education is an oxymoron.  If it happens anyway, it should not be a public burden.  In other words, it shouldn’t cost me a dime.

11 Insurance companies should have to declare as income all earnings produced by your premiums, whether directly or indirectly. Then rates would be set based on that figure. Look for big reductions in your premiums.

12 It should be impossible to get a high school diploma without at least three years of a foreign language, including during the final year three hours a week in a total immersion environment. There should be a choice of two languages. Actually, foreign language studies should begin in the first grade or earlier. Oh, yes, you are right: there would have to be a prepared teacher corps to handle the load.

There is a lot more, but I have to go to a doctor’s appointment. Sorry. Maybe next time.

Today is the 114th anniversary of the birth of John Murdock Henderson (Jack), my father. I think of him often. Here’s to you Dad.

That old photograph has lain dormant for longer than I have been around, coming to light occasionally as those images are sifted through, mining memories, looking for continuity, keys to my own rooms. The one I’m talking about – father sitting on a keg, saxophone in hand, somewhere near Salina, closely surrounded by three young women.

He told me many things about a telegrapher’s life on the Union Pacific Line. He told of blowing snow, of lonely nights and stoking the potbelly fire.

He told of trains by number, engineers by name. He knew speed, destination, cargo and could recall in absolute detail how it was to stand in that whistling vortex holding the message hook high as the transcontinental freight sped through a Kansas night with Pacifica on its mind.

Not a word, however, of the women in that photograph. Who they were. What they were like. I wanted to know about those women, a saxophone and cold Kansas nights.

He said, just girls from town. Didn’t know them well. He never said just another nameless freight carrying the usual cargo to I don’t know where.

Father never told me much about women at all. Spent his life – the one I knew – in penitential abstinence and doctrine hoping, I suppose, to forget those nights, or wondering, I suppose, how it might have been. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. The secrets of Salina lay with him, I hope, warmly in the ground, far from midnight trains, saxophones, town girls and ragtime photographs.

I think about it though. I still wait for news of those town girls, the cargo they carried, how fast they sped through a Kansas night with Pacifica on their minds.