Unnatural glow

My twenty-something neighbor was working on the twin reactors at Comanche Peak, near Glen Rose, about 45 miles southwest of here. Since our winds here are out of the south/southwest, if it ever spews out a plume of radioactivity, my neighborhood will likely begin to glow a bit itself.


Toward the end of his

tenure at nuclear plant

construction site,


my next door neighbor

became target of abuse.

Short-timer status


caused his bosses to

leave him longer and longer

with radiation


at higher levels

than humans are supposed

to be exposed to.


Even though he glowed,

it had more to do with his

heavy drinking than


his exposure to


On the other hand,


did he drink for fear

of how his health would fare

once away from rods


of uranium fuel,

meant to bring the glow of light

to the rest of us?



And the clown hands you a flower

There’s always a point at which the only sensible thing to do is to send in the clowns. But you begin to worry that it might be you with the seltzer bottle.


My old red Camry

only draws a crowd one place

— my car repair shop.


The odometer

is well into its second

time through the numbers.


So when I fetched it

after a big repair job

— a new compressor


so the AC worked,

a new window crank handle,

and bending the frame


of the driver’s door

so the window would seal tight —

at a time dealers


weren’t charging interest,

practically begging people

to take their new cars,


everyone came out

— the mechanics, their helpers,



who works at the place

had to see what kind of guy

fixes an old car,


keeps it on the road

at a time when brand new cars

are practically free.


I could read their smiles.

They were all quite transparent.

If I’d only had


a seltzer bottle,

a big bright orange fright wig,

enormous black shoes,


then the picture

would have been complete

— the clown and his crowd.


But please keep in mind

this is the same small garage

where I brought a woman


with bad car problems,

a lady in a wheelchair.

They fixed her car.


She had brought the part,

and they installed it for free,

not letting me pay,


though I offered to.

I’ve never experienced



offered to strangers,

unsolicited giving,

from an auto shop.


No clowning around,

just guys who work with their hands

and offer their hearts.



Down range and almost down

For years this white-haired gentleman’s path crossed mine, but we only spoke once or twice. One of those times he told me about the time he almost led his crew into the target area of the missile range — when one was set to fly …


One day he forgot

to check the missile schedule.

Took his men down range.


That’s how they almost

became part of the glassy

White Sands of the base.


Here’s one-time learning

at its most basic level:

Life or death choices.


I see him most times

at the cafeteria

or West Side Starbucks


one step away from

walking with some assistance,

missiles in his past.




Reporter’s pad to lead to hawkers

The story is true. Seven updated city editions in one day to carry the rapid-fire updated prose of my old friend Madeline Williams. She was a beat reporter at the Star-Telegram in the days when they keyed the type in on the massive Linotype machines before pouring it in lead, into forms that could be shaped to fit the press cylinders.


Before the desktop,

before computers, even,

papers were the news.


There were no dot coms,

no TV commentators,

just newsprint and ink.


My friend, Madeline,

was a queen of this era,

a beat reporter.


She once told a tale

of a hot city council story

she kept updating.


Seven editions

the Linotype guy keyed in

as she dictated


from reporter’s pad.

Seven times they poured new type,

hot lead in galleys.


Ah, those were the days,

when if you didn’t tell it,

the story was lost,


when news bulletins

weren’t available online,

but had to be poured


into waiting forms

then shaped onto cylinders,

there to pick up ink


transferred to the page,

hot footed to the big trucks

and thence to the racks


and the street vendors

who hawked them to the eager

with the ink still wet,


shouting the headlines,

giving voice to the update

Madeline just wrote.



Dry ice dance floor — 1970

Selling ice cream novelties from a four-cylinder open International Harvester jeep-like vehicle was an adventure. We were pulled over for speeding (when we weren’t) because the police couldn’t believe we were only selling “ice cream.” A gang of kids plotted robbing me, but not far enough away from me to keep me from figuring out what they were doing. Plus, we hardly made any money at all. But hey, it’s all life experience, eh?


We once sold ice cream

for Ice Cream Man Company.

That was in Austin.


One fellow driver,

unraveling mystery

of sweet frozen treats


scattered in freezer,

said the popsicles danced with

the dreamsicles, and


the chocolate malts

with red-white-and-blue bomb pops

— while he drove the truck.


And when he stopped

all scrambled for their places

— but never got there.



The times they were a changin’.

Who could prove him wrong?



N’Orleans jazz puzzle

First, my home Internet has been out for about a week now, and so, no posts for that time. I’ll make up for it by posting a few pieces today instead of one. Since you’re one of the select few reading this, I just thought you ought to know…

The reason for the differences between the two groups of jazz musicians in the haiku series below can probably be explained simply: The old guys were getting to pay jazz together, whereas the younger guys were having to play jazz together.

A similar difference shows up in both volunteer organizations and workplaces. Folks who want to be a part of a project – paid or unpaid – come equipped with a much higher degree of motivation than those who are assigned either against their wills or without being consulted.

Seems pretty obvious, but it’s always a little amazing when supervisors in the workplace and leaders in organizations don’t seem to get the idea.

True volunteers just make making music together so much more fun!

 Jeff Hensley

 N’Orleans jazz puzzle

The jazz trio

composed of old men past prime

played with soul and smiles,


though it was muggy

there in French Quarter Market,

that hot summer day.


And just down the way,

same weather and same day,

another group played.


Sour, dour, tired.

Each note dredged up from within.

Young guys. Go figure.



Baltimore historic B&B

Meg Ryan, in “Sleepless in Seattle,”  apparently “lived” in the same block of Fells Point where my bed and breakfast faced the Baltimore harbor. I ate in the harbor side restaurant you can see in some of the shots, just down the way from “her” doorway.

You may even be able to see the front door of the place I enjoyed as “my” residence for a few days.

The cost of the B&B was less than the convention hotel in the Inner Harbor area, and it was quite comfortable. But my daughter was about three, and I delighted in time she and my wife and I spent together. I missed them terribly, even though the meeting was good, the shared conviviality with my fellows in the Catholic Press delightful.

Away from the meeting, I would wander the Inner Harbor area. I remember walking along floating plank docks one evening, with their tethered yachts, being blasted by the calliope music and cyclonic speed of the nearby merry-go-round, its sparkling reflection spinning wildly in the water between, all the while missing my family like crazy.

Jeff Hensley


Water taxi ride

links Inner Harbor, Fells Point

where B&B sits


Taxi’s convenient,

easier than walking here.

Too much construction.


It’s romantic, yet,

even with its window seats

and harbor side view,


it’s still just a place,

a place to sleep a few nights

far from home, missing you.




“Good night, Becky.” “Good night, John Boy.”

My daughter played Becky, in fact, and Ryan played John Boy, — both of them quite well and convincingly in the Kids Who Care production at the Scott Theatre in Fort Worth.

I played the bit part of the sheriff, with few lines and plenty of difficulty remembering them.

It was a high point of our relationship during Amy’s growing up years.

I’m not sure where Ryan went next, but I’m pretty sure he was as successful in his later pursuits as he was as a late teen, at the top end of the age scale for “children’s” theater.

Jeff Hensley



Tall, gangly Ryan,

the teen actor who played lead

in “The Homecoming,”


had great character

while playing great character,

and most admired him.


Watching from the wings,

you’d see he was the only one

who always knew his lines.


Like a strong column

he would hold things together

by being himself.


But even at that,

some managed to be jealous,

mistaking focus


for an aloofness

that Ryan didn’t possess.

It caused him some pain


but didn’t change him.

Ryan continued to be

Ryan. Who else could?



Seeking to document Salvation Army assistance at Delta crash

It’s been 12 years, and I do still remember the searing, laser-like look the fireman gave me when he saw my camera. I understand, but I was just trying to do my job, show Salvation Army funding at work in disaster assistance, supporting the rescue workers.

Oddly, my camera and the words that I was working for the Salvation Army easily got me across police lines into the area of the crash.

We seem to have more than our share of these events happening around the world at the present. May God bless all those who are involved or affected, at whatever level.

Jeff Hensley


Fireman glared at me.

I dared not take his picture

at airplane crash site.


I’d watched the bodies

wrapped in black plastic pour from

the burned-out plane’s shell.


Workers like this man

had delivered the crashed jet’s

stillborn children.


I didn’t seek to

exploit his traumatized state,

just doing my job,


seeking to capture

him taking sandwich, coffee

from SA canteen.


The look on his face

is one I’ll never forget,

one of pain, anger.


not to be messed with,

not to be captured on film,

not to be displayed.