A couple of years ago I had knee transplants. The old knees were extremely painful, and started locking up on me, so my back was against the wall. I bit the bullet and went under the knife. Well, actually, a knife, a saw, a hammer, all kinds of tools.
I made a great recovery. I took pain killers only half the time most do, and I took weak pain killers. I did all my PT and my surgeon was impressed. (That’s because I practiced the same happiness exercises I teach other people, and it gave me a nice advantage. If you have to face surgery, be sure to do all the happiness exercises in my book!)
With my new knees, I thought I would take up jogging again. I stumbled past Rex’s barber shop and was astonished to see he was still there. I had a haircut there twenty five years ago, but since then I usually got my haircuts from a shop close to my office. Today I was at home and had some time, went in and sat down. He doesn’t talk much, which delights me since I generally find it annoying to talk to barbers. “So what do you do for a living?”
“I talk to people, and I am not at work, so I am not going to talk.”
But his quiet demeanor opened an opportunity and I asked him how long he has been at this shop. “Since 1958,” he replied. We began to reminisce about the town we live in, and how it has changed in the twenty five years I have been here, growing from a very small farm town to a suburban bedroom community with big homes and foreign cars. The radio was playing hits from the late 1950s and early 1960s, as we talked. I mentioned how twenty years ago my kids and I found a “bum lamb” after a sheepherder trailed his sheep through town and up to the mountains. That got him talking about how he’d adopt bummers, lambs without a connection to a ewe, and raise them and sell the wool in the 1930s. We found out he had known an uncle of mine who was a school janitor and a natural artist. My uncle painted little oils of horses and sheep and mountains during the day when he couldn’t be cleaning the school. Rex remembered seeing those paintings. Sometimes Van would show the students his paintings and sometimes he wouldn’t. My aunt taught at the same school, and Rex remembered her.
Rex loved to hunt deer in the mountains and one fall he shot a mountain lion. He skinned the beast out and draped the skin over his horse and they went down the canyon. There was a camp of California hunters, sitting around drinking at the end of the day. They admired the skin, and asked Rex what he was going to do with it. He slyly admitted he thought he’d turn it in for the $45.00 bounty. A hunter spoke up. “I’ll give you $50 for it.” Another raised the bid to $55. Rex ended up selling the pelt for $150 to an opera singer from southern California. A couple of weeks later, Rex’s uncle in the Los Angeles area sent him a two-page article from an LA newspaper. It seemed his opera singer friend had killed a dangerous lion and got lots of publicity for it. His uncle said, “I thought you’d like to know what happened to your lion.”
Rex told me how he got into barbering. He was an aircraft mechanic for the navy during World War II, and he complained one day to the base barber about having to wait so long for a haircut. The barber asked him if he wanted a job as a barber, Rex said “Sure.”
“Can you cut hair?” “Hell, no,” said Rex. The barber said that was OK, he’d teach him, and told him not to tell the base commander he couldn’t cut hair. They went to the commander and he asked Rex if he could cut hair, and Rex replied, “No sir, I can’t.” The commander said, “That’s all right, Sherm will teach you, and you just put up a sign saying ‘free haircuts’ until you learn.” The haircuts were twenty-five cents, and the men liked Rex and tipped him a quarter for the haircuts. While he was training, he made the same income as experienced barbers.
Rex is 88 years old today, and I said “So you’re still working!” He said, “Why not? It sure beats the hell out of sitting around!” Rex’s wife has a beauty shop next door. She’s still working too. When I jogged by a few days ago and when I went in today, they were both sitting around, but when I left, she was chatting with a woman in her chair. They like to work.
Rex has a new customer. I like him a lot. He only charges $10.00 for a haircut, I gave him $12.00 and he was pleased. He is talkative and interesting, remembers the names of everyone he has known, and gives a mighty fine cut. He is a man who has a calling. What did I learn? Find a calling and keep working. Your brain stays alert, your fingers are nimble. It beats the hell out of sitting around.