It may come as a surprise to all of you to know that your ancient essayist has been a victim of permanent shock since 1940. Permanent shock is sort of a funk which is debilitating in every sense. The shock was caused by Del van Buren Barbee, a philosopher who also washed cars for a living. Del became a philosopher after completing the fourth or fifth grade in a segregated Mississippi grade school. Professor Barbee and I were the two employees of what came to be known as the Friendly Sinclair Service Station in Richmond Heights, Missouri.

Permanent shock is a different creature from merely temporary shock. For example, this country invaded Iraq in 2003 on the ground of weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz both swore that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but nonetheless, based on faulty intelligence, we invaded that sovereign country. As facts turned out, Hussein and Aziz were absolutely right and we suffered a case of temporary shock which now seems to have worn off.

In another case of such a temporary shock, Madam Dr. Secretary Condoleezza Rice has told the world after September 11th that she was completely shocked with the thought that people would actually fly airplanes into big buildings. Condoleezza, of course, skipped that chapter in history where the Japanese flew their airplanes into our ships for extended periods of time during World War II. Admiral Harry Livermore, of the Ticonderoga Task Force should have pointed out this fallacy to the Madam Secretary before she made such a colossal mistake. They were called kamikaze. In a way, kam-i-kaze sort of rhymes with Con-do-leezza which would make it a little bit easier for the Madam Secretary to remember. But nonetheless the temporary shock of 9/11 seems to have now worn off.

Finally, we have the case of Pat Robertson, the eminent preacher, who holds regular conversations with God. In a recent conversation with God, it was agreed that God would visit a stroke on Ariel Sharon because he moved settlers from the Gaza Strip. Nothing has been heard about Mister Sharon and his coma, but it appears that the temporary shock about Pat Robertson’s conversation with God has now also worn off.

So you see, there is a vast difference between permanent shock or funk and temporary shock.

To set the stage for my becoming a victim of permanent shock, it is necessary to review very briefly my career as a filling station attendant. This will give you an idea of how I was terribly influenced by the utterances of Professor Barbee. In 1940, I left the employment of Schroth Flying Red Horse Mobil Gas Station and accepted employment at Ed Williams’ Sinclair Service Station further down on North and South Road in Richmond Heights, Missouri. The lure was an extra two bucks a week, which was a fairly sizable sum in 1940. My duties at Ed Williams’ involved working from noon until nine PM six days a week. I had the station all to myself on Sundays, as Ed Williams and Del Barbee took the day off.

At the time I went to work for Ed Williams, he was driving a new 1940 Chevrolet sedan. One evening, Mr. Williams seemed to suffer from loss of sleep as he was driving his new car and had somewhat of an accident. It so happens that a road in Brentwood, Missouri called Eager Road terminates at Hanley Road. Set back from this intersection was a lumber company with a large glass window. In front of the window, out toward Hanley Road, was a short lawn which had an embankment of eight to ten inches as it reached Hanley Road. Mr. Williams, going west on Eager Road, was apparently asleep and driving at a fairly good rate of speed and went through the stop sign and hit the embankment which then launched him into the air. Shortly thereafter, his car penetrated the window and he found himself in the showroom of the lumber company along with all of the lathes and doors and other things that are found in a lumber company supply room.

Within hours, one of Mr. Williams’ pals who was a lawyer changed the name of the service station where I worked from Ed Williams’ Sinclair Station to the Friendly Sinclair Station. I suspect that Ed Williams’ wife wound up owning the service station.

Next door was a building which eventually came to house a beauty parlor. It was run by a young Greek woman whom I suspect was perhaps thirty years of age. I noticed as my evening shift at the service station progressed that one, two, or three nights of the week, this young lady would return to the beauty parlor about 7:30 or 8:00 o’clock, accompanied by an older gentleman riding along with her. In those days, it was quite unusual for a woman to drive with a male passenger. Males always drove. But in this case the beauty shop owner brought her “friend” back to the beauty parlor. They entered the beauty parlor and frequently did not leave by the time I closed the filling station at 9:00 PM.

The owner of the beauty parlor made a deal with Professor Del van Buren Barbee which involved his arriving early before 8:00 o’clock and sweeping out the hair and the refuse on the floor of the beauty parlor. Professor Barbee told me a few stories about the accommodations in the beauty parlor which led me to believe that maybe the owner of the beauty parlor and her older friend were not discussing double-entry bookkeeping during his evening visits.

Discussing the amorous adventures of the beauty shop owner and her elderly lover, Del delivered himself of the following remark which has caused my permanent shock which lasts until this day, some 65 years later. Del said, “If God invented anything better than sexual intercourse, he kept it for Hisself.”

It took me a while to recover from this announcement. It must also be noted that Professor Barbee did not say “sexual intercourse.” In its place he used the ancient Anglo-Saxon expression involving the “f” word with “ing” on the end of it. That made it sound more compelling and indeed, the statement as used by Professor Barbee rolled with Churchillian profoundness.

Now it must be understood that as an old soldier, I was not offended in any respect by Professor Barbee’s use of the “f” word. What caused my permanent shock had to do with his using the term “hisself” rather than “himself,” which, as all of us grammarians know, is a case of first person pluperfect. Professor Barbee should have used the third person penultimate, obviously. Every good grammarian will recognize Del’s terrible faux pas. And so my shock continues in its permanent state, even to this date, some 65 years later. Can you imagine a fellow with a fourth or fifth grade Mississippi education in an advanced segregated school making a mistake like that? I am shocked, shocked, shocked.

February 12, 2006
Essay 177
Kevin’s commentary: As good an essay for restarting the site as I could have asked for. I like to think that I read a lot, generally speaking — but no matter how much I read or where I search around, I don’t think I can find anything else quite like a good essay of Pop’s. There’s just this great mix of nostalgia and humor that’s so uniquely his. And it would seem like some of the best essays are still yet to come.

2 Responses to '“…HE KEPT IT FOR HISSELF ” (sic)'

  1. Judy says:

    Glad that you are back Kevin. I have sent you a couple of filling station photos of Pop at work.

  2. Judy says:

    an addition: This essay was written in February of 2006. It is among the early essays written when Ezra was forced to use dictation instead of writing the essays in long hand. Ed (Ezra) returned from Will’s Eye Hospital in total blindness in early November of 2005 and started dictating essays in 2006.

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