ANOTHER HAPPY SAD DAY

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/thanksgivinghappiestsaddest.mp3

or read on…

Here is a true story I re-tell every Thanksgiving, just

to remind myself and you that everything that really

matters is right before us, all the time. Here ‘tis:

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THANKSGIVING:

THE HAPPIEST SAD DAY OF THE YEAR

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The saddest thing I ever saw: a small, well-dressed elderly woman dining alone at Morrison’s Cafeteria, on Thanksgiving Day.

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Oh there are many other sadnesses you can find if you look hard enough, in this variegated world of ours, but a diner alone on Thanksgiving Day makes you feel really fortunate, guilty, smug, relieved, tearful, grateful…it brings you up short and makes you time-travel to the pockets of joy and cheer you experienced in earlier days…

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Crepe paper. Lots of crepe paper. And construction paper. Bunches of different-colored construction paper. In my childhood home in Tuscaloosa, my Thanksgiving Mother always made sure we creative and restless kids had all the cardboard, scratch paper, partly-used tablets, corrugated surfaces, unused napkins, backs of cancelled checks, rough brown paper from disassembled grocery bags, backs of advertising letters and flyers…anything at all that we could use to make things. Yes, dear 21st-Century young’uns, we kids back then made things from scraps.

We could cut up all we wanted, and cut up we did.

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We cut out rough rectangular sheets from stiff black wrapping paper and glued the edges together to make Pilgrim hats. Old belt buckles were tied to our shoelaces—we never could get it straight, whether the Pilgrims were Quakers, or vice versa, or neither. But it always seemed important to put buckles on our shoes and sandals, wear tubular hats and funny white paper collars, and craft weird-looking guns that flared out like trombones at one end. More fun than being a Pilgrim/Quaker was being an Indian—a true blue Native American, replete with bare chest, feathers shed by neighborhood doves, bows made of crooked twigs and kite string, arrows dulled at the tip by rubber stoppers and corks, and loads of Mother’s discarded rouge and powder and lipstick and mashed cranberries smeared here and there on face and body, to make us feel like the Indians we momentarily were.

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Sister Barbara and Mother would find some long autumnal-hued dresses for the occasion, but they were seldom seen outside the kitchen for hours on end, while the eight-course dinner was under construction.

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There was always an accordion-fold crepe paper turkey centerpiece on display, hastily bought on sale at S.H. Kress, just after last year’s Thanksgiving season. It looked nothing like my Aunt Mattie’s turkeys in her West Blocton front yard. And for some reason, we ate cranberry products on that day and that day only. Nobody ever thought about cranberries the other 364 days! And those lucky turkeys were lucky because nobody ever thought of eating them except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were home free the rest of the year!

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Now, back into the time machine of just a few years ago.

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It is Thanksgiving Day. My wife and son and granddaughter are all out of the country. Other family and relatives are either dead or gone, or just plain tied up with their own lives in other states, doing things other than having Thanksgiving Dinner with me.

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My brother, Tim, my friends Tim Baer and Don Henderson and I decide that we will have to spend Thanksgiving Dinner together, since each of us is bereft of wife or playmate or relative, this particular holiday this particular year.

.

So, we wind up at Morrison’s Cafeteria, eating alone together, going through the line and picking out steamed-particle-board turkey, canned cranberries, thin gravy, boxed mashed potatoes and some bakery goods whose source cannot easily be determined.

.

But we laugh at our situation and each other, tell jokes, cut up a bit, and thank our lucky stars that this one Thanksgiving Dinner is surely just a fluke. We’ll be trying that much harder, next year, to not get blind-sided by the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving being the only holiday you don’t have to give gifts or reciprocate gifts or strain to find the correct gifts.

Left to right: Tim Reed, Tim Baer, Jim Reed lining up for Thanksgiving.

Don Henderson is behind the camera.

.

.

On Thanksgiving holidays ever since, I make sure I’m with family and friends, and now and then I try to set a place at the table of my mind, for any little old lady or lone friend who might want to join us…for the second saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a happy family lustily enjoying a Thanksgiving feast together and forgetting for a moment about all those lone diners in all the cafeterias of the world who could use a kind glance and a smile

.

© 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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WHACKING AWAY AT THE DAILY NEWS

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or read his story below: 
WHACKING AWAY AT THE DAILY NEWS
Whack!
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My brow wrinkles at this sudden disembodied noise.
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Whack!
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There it goes again. Now my wrinkled brow is joined by grimaced jaw. What is the source of that annoying sound?
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Whack!
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That does it. I stop watching for the forever traffic light to give me permission to proceed. I scour the concrete asphalted landscape of Downtown to see what’s what.
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Whack!
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There it is. It’s emanating from a metal newspaper vending machine on the corner.
.
Whack!
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A woman of indeterminate age is whacking her cigarette pack on the metal surface while bending double to read the visible front page through clear hard plastic.
.
Whack!
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As she pounds the pack she artfully twirls it around so that one whack is top, the next bottom, just to make sure the cigarettes within compress themselves evenly.
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Whack!
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She continues to read, continues to bow, oblivious to all else, all others.
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Whack!
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Does she even know why she performs this ritual, or is it just something she’s always seen others do?
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Whack!
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Those are going to be some densely packed smokes, don’t you think?
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Whack!
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When I drive away she’s still reading the paper word for word, still whacking away, still doubled over.
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Just another mysteriously familiar activity of daily living Downtown in the naked city.
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This may not be the wackiest thing I’ll experience today, but for the moment it is definitely the whackiest
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I DONATED A SPECIAL MOMENT TO YOU. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/ijustdonatedaspecialmomenttoyou.mp3

or read his tale:

I JUST DONATED A SPECIAL MOMENT TO YOU. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Long long ago in a neighborhood not so far thataway…
 I am slumped over my plate at a diner or a cafe or an eatery or a bar stool counter or, you know, one of those special family places…and I am sopping and munching and slurping—because this is the kind of kitchen that allows me to be decades younger and somewhat noisy while at the same moment, polite and friendly.
My Mama would not have had it any other way, as long as I mind my manners.
The fragrances float about me so that, even with my eyes closed to the menu and the tableware, I can still tell you what’s cooking, what’s fresh, what’s leftover, what’s everybody’s favorite.
It’s an Alabama diner, so everything is familiar and predictable and delightfully surprising all at once.
There’s meatloaf and fried chicken and crusted catfish surrounded by real mashed potatoes and gravy, pickled beets, blackeyed peas, fried okra and boiled okra and okrafied tomatoes and corn muffins and cole slaw and iceberg lettuce parts and dressings and catsup and salt and pepper and pepper sauce and steak sauce and butterbeans and dumplings and mushy slow-cooked greens and lots, lots more.
Guaranteed to kill you prematurely, but with a big, safisfied smile on your face and an extra notch on your belt.
The cashier over yonder is totallng up a big order with a pencil before she enters it into the register. She is licking the just-applied chapstick coating from her lips.
A customer walks in from the encroaching outdoor heat, fanning her hand in front of her face as if to indicate that she’s being cooled off. The cashier taking more orders has a momentary break and is again laving lip balm onto her mouth while another woman is sitting there, having just ordered…and is overwhelmed by the fragrances just described.
“Ooh man,  this place smells way too good,” I say. “Think I’ll dab a bit of sauce behind each ear and go out into the world.”
She grins at me and at a guy whose t-shirt reads, “Parental discretion…contents something something…”
I prepare to settle my tab and sally forth into the heat. The cashier licks at the balm a bit more. Life is complete for a few seconds.
There, I just donated a moment to you.
You’re welcome

SMALL WISDOMS OF THE RED CLAY HILLS, THE RED CLAY VALLEYS

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/SMALLWISDOMSOFTHEREDCLAYHILLS.mp3

or read his diary below:

SMALL WISDOMS OF THE RED CLAY HILLS, THE RED CLAY VALLEYS

The iron man is more than fifty feet tall, so he’s hard to ignore.

Sitting here in my uneasy chair, riffling through pages of a red clay diary, I can see the iron man outside the window, even when not casting my gaze his way. He’s in line of sight so much that I don’t realize I’m observing him. But I do.

This cast iron statue dominates the city and the valley 24/7, which means that locals ignore him. But visitors seeing him for the first time are attracted and puzzled. What’s that big statue all about? they ask.

Out-of-towners meander the streets and byways of the city, trying to find out how to approach the statue. A van full of family pulls up next to me as I pluck a morning newspaper from the front yard.

“Hey, how do I get to that big iron man on the hill?” the driver asks. I know exactly what he’s talking about and point him toward the man of iron’s domain.

Transients have never heard the iron man’s name, so the metal signs pointing to Vulcan Park are no help at all. Only we indigenous denizens know that the statue’s first and last name, his only name, is Vulcan.

Details about Vulcan are readily available to research, so if you do your homework you’ll be well educated. You’ll know more than I.

From my point of view, all I need know is that Vulcan is two years older than my home. He was cast in 1904, my residence was built in 1906. Both have endured storm and temperature and humidity and humiliation and rebirth a few times. But they still stand.

Vulcan’s inanimate gaze takes in everything and nothing, as does my animate gaze. Opening my eyes to the red clay city floods me with thousands of overlapping images that would take a lifetime to describe, a millennium to appreciate, an eon to wholly understand. And even then, the Why would not be clear.

Vulcan is a symbol of what each generation decides to emphasize. My home is an inexplicable sign that many lives have visited and vacated the premises. My easy chair in which red clay rifflings occur is a temporary structure that will persist with or without me.

It’s all like an iron asteroid that flashes nearby, momentarily appreciated, creating stirrings that soon settle and await the puzzlements to come

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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THE ROGERS BOYS SAVE MY LIFE

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

 

 http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/rogersboys.mp3

or read his tale below:

THE ROGERS BOY SAVE MY LIFE

 

Did I ever stop to thank you guys?

I know you’re all still hanging around, in film and video and literature and memory, but out of the four of you, I only got to express my gratitude to one.

 

Let me back up.

 

I’m thinking about the four Rogers Boys in my life: Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Buck Rogers and Fred Rogers.

 

Will and Roy and Buck chaperoned me through my childhood in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Fred stuck with me after that, and to this day still nurtures me.

 

Will Rogers was funny, wise, commonsensical, more like a kindly uncle who saw through pretense and ego and managed to make me laugh at the scary and puzzling and daunting things that life dishes out. He found a way to see something useful and good in just about everybody he met, be they despot or beggar, politico or felon. At my best, I try to keep my head and think about what Will Rogers would have said about my predicaments.

 

Roy Rogers taught me his code of ethics. Through his movies, comic books, broadcast appearances and personal life, he set standards of behavior. His public persona was upright, he played fair even when others didn’t, he was open and giving of time to anyone who needed a helping hand. His private life was exemplary: his adopted family was diverse—way ahead of his times. Whenever I was in trouble, I’d think about how Roy would have acted.

 

Buck Rogers fueled my imagination and helped me see beyond the corporeal and gravitational strictures of being alive. He taught me to accept my wildest dreams as part of my reality. He introduced me to a futurist whose head remains in the clouds and whose feet stay firmly planted on the ground—Ray Bradbury. Buck Rogers taught me to let my mind run free, with the simultaneous realization that reality is always there to keep me stable and productive for family and society.

 

Finally, Fred Rogers walked with me for decades, and still does, reminding me to see the useful and good things about people and the world, all the while noting that things are never perfect. He was my friend no matter what mistakes I made. He was forgiving and instructive at the same time. Latch-key children throughout the world depended on him every afternoon, since he was the only adult in their lives who looked directly at them and talked gently with them, who gave them 30 minutes a day uninterrupted and non-threatening. I discovered him as an adult and recognized the latch-key kid within myself. I wrote to him and he replied, fortifying my observation that it’s ok to be strong and kind at the same moment.

 

Well, that’s what I think about the Rogers Boys. Go ahead—google them, study them, see what they have to say. Better still, adopt your own set of chaperones, people in your life who are so good and nurturing that you tend to take them for granted and forget to thank them till now.

 

I’ve been given much good advice in my life, most of which I resisted or ignored. But, luckily, the people I select to guide me in the long run, such as the Rogers Boys, are always there, waiting for me to grow up and finally listen

(c) 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

www.jimreedbooks.com

O BRAVEST OF BRAVE NEW WORLDS

O BRAVEST OF BRAVE NEW WORLDS OR THE VIRTUAL MIRROR-COMPUTER-TEXTING-GAZE OF THE LONG-LOST SOULS

 Are you really there, and am I actually present here?

It’s taken me years to almost adjust to the fact that when somebody seems to be in my presence, they often are not.

I walk into a fast-food restaurant and it comes my turn to order from the menu. The fast-food woman smiles at me, wide-eyed and focused on me…but not really, since I realize that she is staring at a computer screen that is at eye level, she’s reading off her questions, and she hasn’t once seen my face—nor will she.

The computer is me, to her.

I enter the living room to greet and chat with a grandchild, but she only screams in protest when I innocently turn the TV off in order to visit with her. I thought I was doing us both a favor by reducing distractions so that we can actually visit with one another.

She sees only the screen and wouldn’t know it if I were wearing a monkey on my head.

I’m being interviewed on a Cable TV show by an interviewer who never once looks at me, since she’s staring at herself in the monitor and adjusting her hair and angle the whole time.

After recording a number of my stories for broadcast on a Tuscaloosa radio station, I attempt to exchange pleasantries with the station manager, but I suddenly notice that he’s staring at his computer and clicking away the entire time he talks with me—he is responding to my comments with generic quips but doesn’t know what I am saying. I slink away and he doesn’t notice.

The game-play kid looks at his lap as he visits with me, his thumb moving the images around, never once looking at my face.

A texting teen stares enraptured at phone in hand and laughs at what she sees and what she transmits while almost listening to me but never knowing when the conversation has ceased.

The hospital orderly with pods in both ears looks at me but does not hear my question because the music he hears is the thing. I walk away uninformed.

The hospital nurse talks as she enters and reads from the laptop before her, never seeing me but appropriately answering my questions.

The man whose home I’m visiting watches his enormous television screen as we chat. He doesn’t see me at all.

I am the interloper, the real flesh and bone person who is no longer needed in these people’s lives.

In order to have them see me, I will have to become an entity submerged in their virtual world.

I see their flesh, they see my electronic self.

O brave new world.

Uh, were you saying something

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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WE WHO HAVE WRINKLES AND SAGGIES SALUTE YOU

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/wewhohavewrinklesandsaggies.mp3

or read his tale below:

WE WHO HAVE WRINKLES AND SAGGIES SALUTE YOU

“I don’t like it when old people get skinny ’cause they always get these wrinkles and saggies and things under their chin.”

Everything I write is true, but this is actual.

I just overheard that remark in the diversity isle of a large store, a store teeming with customers of every size, shape, age, proclivity and background.

Yep, one woman delivers her stroke of wisdom to a fellow kinswoman, a kinswoman who nods sagaciously and totally agrees with her, “Uh huh.”

They continue talking and signifying as they troll rows of clothing, their analytical examinations of texture and shape and color and size and appropriateness consuming the time they have, expert observers of the ad hoc world they create for comfort and familiarity.

The stories I tell deliver themselves to me when I least expect it. All I do is weave them together in order to share their import with you. I guess this can be called, Being a Writer. Or something like that.

So, here I am, relating a tidbit moment without the permission or knowledge of these two people. Does this make me an eavesdropper, a spy? Or does this mean that, in the age-old tradition of storytellers, I am simply honoring the importance and meaning of an anecdote that might otherwise disintegrate into the rustling air of an anonymous store, where mysterious and meaningful events might never be noticed and inscribed for future generations?

Think of all the millions of people who will never have their moments archived.

The absent, the missing, the dead, the distant, the invisible, the ignored, all lose their moments when there is no-one present to notice, to appreciate, to stamp approval.

Those who cannot defend themselves against the stories I tell.

As the self-centered writer, I feel that my purpose is somewhat justified. All I am doing is taking a look around me in case I miss something important in the endless aisles of the day-to-day.

Wrinkles and saggies and all

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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THE POPE OF SOUTHTOWN SERVES HIS FLOCK

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/thepopeofsouthtown.mp3

or read his tale below:

THE POPE OF SOUTHTOWN SERVES HIS FLOCK

I’m standing in place at Express Oil, awaiting my audience with the Pope of Southtown.

My burgundy beat-up bookmobile is giving me fits, but I am a person of loyalty—I will nurse and patch and compensate for this old vehicle till one of us rattles one last time.

While Burgundy Bookie and I stand in place, we gaze at the actions and interactions that take place in graceful but purposeful slow motion.

One longtime mechanic, Philip, moves among a flock of customers who depend upon his seasoned abilities. We are at the mercy of Philip and the other specialists who greet us and patiently minister to our mechanical needs.

One petite woman stares up to him for a blessing, “Oh, my car’s still doing that, that thing. Can you fix it?”

He smiles, stares off into the distance as if seriously contemplating the response he will eventually give. Like a good diagnostician, he pays attention to what the customer is saying. He takes his time to consider the correct answer.

At that moment, he receives a cellphone call, which means he is now juggling three cases at once—mine, hers and the tinny-voiced human in his palm. Yet other congregants await his ministrations. Each of us is the most important human on the planet in our own minds.

I arrive at Express Oil just twenty minutes earlier, when the lot is still barren. Now, suddenly, the customers are lined up and Philip is gesticulating, scratching his head, dispensing advice on what he knows and what he does not know and what he will eventually know and what he will never know.

In the long run, these healers of transport are all that stand between us and a broken mass transit system, who save us from random and unpredictable encounters with Uber and Yellow Cab and hitchhiking.

These shadetree sophisticates are part of our family, the family we need to make our clockwork lives run smoothly in spurts.

That’s why now and then I drop off a box of donuts or a fudge pie created by daughter Jeannie. You know, something for the offering plate.

George Carlin nailed it a long time back, “I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”

The mechanics of Southtown have just enough followers to last each day. And that’s always enough and plenty for us true believers

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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FOREVER A BORROWER BE

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/foreveraborrowerbe.mp3

or read his thoughts below:

FOREVER A BORROWER BE

I just borrowed a memory from a friend.

The thing about a borrowed memory is that I can’t give it back to the borroweree.

Once lent, a vivid memory endures, a close copy of the one held dear by its original owner.

As a borrower of memory, I am obligated to respect, cherish and handle with care its perpetuation, its nourishment. Until I can pass it on to the next borrower.

Is borrowing the same thing as theft? Am I a thief of memory? Maybe not—I did not mean to borrow, it just came at me, entered my mind, and there it resides.

The thing about an acquired memory is that it often morphs and mingles with similar memories that I hold dear. The two memories entwine and enrich one another.

Quick, allow me to give you an explanatory anecdote before you roll your eyes and leave my presence.

Friday night, during the 12th annual My Favorite Poem gala at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, my friend Robbie Willmarth gave a remarkable account of an encounter she once had with a work by the poet Carl Sandburg. Her fond memory leapt into my own recollection of an encounter I, too, had with this remarkable poet. As a precocious high schooler many decades ago, I sat enthralled in the presence of Sandburg as he recited, sang and wove tales on the stage of Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa. 

Then, after the program was over, the audience dissolving, the lights dimming, the press heading out, I got brave enough to descend from the balcony and race toward the stage just to see whether I could shake the hand of this wonderful historian/troubador/poet. Or at least stand in his presence.

My buddy, Doug Bleicher, was ahead of me and was already chatting with Sandburg, so it seemed safe to walk up, mumble some incoherent expression of adulation, and then try not to wash my right hand for a day or two. I was so excited that to this day I don’t recall exactly what was said, but this thing I do know: Carl Sandburg responded with gentle wit to our comments and questions, smiled and listened intently, and in general made us feel like we were the most important temporary companions in the county.

Then, as memory-makers will do, Sandburg went on his way to the next town and left behind a permanent image in the minds of both us kids.

Doug and I compared notes and found that each of us independently loved the poetry of this man, each of us was awe-stricken by our encounter, each of us filed sweet memories away for rainy days…and life went on.

Today, my memory, the memory of Robbie’s experience, the memory of Doug’s parallel poetic universe revealed, stay with me and will emerge over the years to offer comfort when times are chaotic.

The infinitely long string of memories, borrowed or created within, sustains us artists and poets and writers and creators…and links us together immutably with past, present and future, always present, always circling around seeking new angles and new ways of telling that which must never be forgotten, that which must be willingly lent out to the next excited and alert observer

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

 Twitter and Facebook

 

 

EYES WIDE SLEEPING SOUNDLY

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/eyeswidesleepingsoundly.mp3

or read his tale below:

EYES WIDE SLEEPING SOUNDLY

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

I’m lying abed in this small plaster-ceilinged bedroom I share with brother Ronny.

The time is longer ago than you might remember, or maybe even before you were born.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

It is just after sunrise. I am slowly drifting back and forth between slumber and wakefulness. Dreams are fading into daydreams. Reality is creeping in to take over.

My ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s are turning into snorts, then into eyes wide open…

Downstairs, the Sunday newspaper comic strips await.

The comics are everything on Sunday morning. That’s where I learn what those ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s mean. They are shorthand for Sleeping Soundly.

When a comic strip cartoonist wants me to know that a character is asleep or dozing, a row of ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s informs me. When a cartoon bubble hovering above Little Orphan Annie’s head is dripping tiny closed circles, I know that this is what Annie is thinking, not what she is saying aloud. And so on.

But I’m lying here in my bunk bed, now fully awake but hoping that if I can visualize those ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s floating above my head, I can convince anyone peeking into the room that I am still asleep. Can’t they see the Z’s?

It doesn’t work, this attempt to make palpable a cartoonist’s Morse code. I try to pretend sleep, but sister Barbara opens the door a crack to call me to breakfast. “I see your eyelids moving. You’re awake!” she grins gleefully. I can never fool Barbara.

I swat away the floating ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s and dangle my feet over the side of the mattress. I’m on the top bunk, so part of becoming fully awake is the jolt to the system that I feel when I leap into the vast space between here and hardwood floor.

Time to pretend I’m awake for another day. Time to do little kid things that little kids do on Sunday mornings.

Time to find the Sunday paper and discover what Dagwood is doing—is he asleep on the couch under ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s? What about The Phantom—does he ever sleep? And Snuffy Smith? I know he knows all about Z’s, as does Pappy Yokum. As does brother Ronny on the bottom bunk. They are my kind of people.

To this day, many decades later, I envy those people, real-lifed and cartooned, who know how to catch a few ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s any time they please. Or at least any time their cartoonist so deems.

Or any time sister Barbara isn’t looking

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

 Twitter and Facebook