The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

The old book shop is filled with charm and aroma and ambience and centuries of culture, all pressed together in comfortable intimacy and familiarity. This may be one of the few places you’ll ever visit where diversity is no longer an intellectual talking-point or an impossible dream.  This old book shop is a gathering place for all ideas, a place where diametrically opposing philosophies co-exist with a smug sense of humor, a smug sense that all philosophies are worth no more than a palm full of puns sifting through the fingers.

Old paper scraps and chips and shards and cuttings and flakes cover the floor of the shop, reminders that paper is vulnerable to age and wear. Among the ironies of the confetti scatterings are the ancient books, the books with pages still intact and white and durable. Old-time paper endures, these-days paper often consumes itself in acidity.

One more irony. Even the fragile paper survives if it is nurtured and kept safe from ultra violet rays, deep humidity and heated dryness.

So, what do we have here in the shop? Everlasting books, crumbling books, archival paper, disregarded paper. It’s a merry mishmash.

“Oh, I love the smell of books. Isn’t this great?” a customer extols the virtues of the time-travel vault I call a book shop. I hear this exclamation several times a week from wandering nomads who cherish the past and the preserved present and the predicted future.

So, each day I place a bit of book fragrance behind each ear, don my bookie demeanor, and spend the hours receiving books, searching for books, sprucing up books, researching books, cataloging books, pricing books, shelving books, answering questions about books, selling books, collecting books…and, once home, reading books and writing books.

And, should I dare to visit the darkened shop in the wee hours, I can listen to the books breathing and resting and committing the act of simply being available and open to examination by those whose mysterious quests will bring them to the sidewalk in front of the shop door just before opening time, anxious to continue the neverending tales


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

The tall top-hatted scarecrow walks his wide-stanced walk along the shoulder of the gray roadway to my right, his unnaturally long arms stretched wide to catch the wind.

Protruding from his sleeves are bouquets of straw substituting for hands, and his topcoat and trousers are blousing in the breeze.

This fairy-tale mirage seems somehow normal once I notice that, as I draw nearer, the scarecrow is silhouetted against a remarkably glossy buttermilk sky, the likes of which I have not seen since childhood. The clouds gleam and march in spotted lockstep, and I may as well be observing a scene from some Maxfield Parrish/Hoagy Carmichael version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The sky is so vivid this morning, the scarecrow so alive, that, as I pass by, I realize that this scene will etch its way into my memory. I’ll never have to see the buttermilk scarecrow again, I’ll never even need to try and explain how it can be that a fictitious creature like this can be sauntering along on its merry way to…where? That’s because the snapshot has been taken and stored for further examination.

The rest is rumination and storytelling

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Grove of the Dolls

 Within the dusty attic of my mind reside Gothic memories that occasionally arise and remind me that regardless of how many times The Stories tell themselves to you, they are never quite finished. For every story told, there is always The Next Day, and what happened The Next Day.

 Here’s a true story that will never be completed. Fortunately, the human imagination, each human imagination touched by this story, will unwillingly carry forth the tale and conjure up possible Next Day scenarios. That’s part of the fun of storytelling.

 Here’s the true and actual tale hidden in my Red Clay Diary many years ago.


 Downtown Birmingham is the Tether.

You can enjoy being Downtown or you can enjoy returning to Downtown. Just take a trip 50 miles thataway or 50 miles the other way, then return to the City. This is about the time I went thataway…and was so glad to return safely—though altered!

The life-size mannequins inside the old tin shed are all tangled together in a silent and stifled orgy of lacquered intimacy.

There are mannequins fully dressed and carefully made up and there are mannequins old and weathered and strangely still youthful.

There are glowy-eyed mannequins staring into whatever comes before them but never changing the direction of the stare, prisoners frozen and sentenced to observe only that which presents itself to their direct gazes and steely peripheral visions.

There are male mannequins with sculpted hair and female mannequins with flared nostrils and delicate hands, there are mannequin heads and arms and legs and feet and torsos both dancing and as still as stones at rest in the countryside heat. And there are mannequins swinging from rafters and peeking from large pails, and next door there is another metal-roofed building with yet more mannequins and their neighbors.

The little town of Shady Grove, Alabama has no idea that these mannequins and body parts are living, never alive, in its midst. And no-one knows, either, that surrounding these mannequins are big reels of full-length movies and newsreels and ”shorts” and previews (trailers) and documentaries and cartoons, all in their original canisters, all in their original formats, 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, 8-millimeter, and photographic slides and transparencies, and, should you yearn to see one of these features, there are dozens and dozens of movie projectors and screens from every era—silent-movie hand-cranked projectors before the time of universal electricity, wide-screen movies before the time of TV-eating-up-the-world, military projectors designed to withstand V-2 or Scud Missile attacks, and projectors that were once handled by teenagers in high school science classes, and projectors that once had been operated in real movie theatres by real union-member projectionists.

The man who has coveted, stored, squirreled away and gathered all this mass of inert motion picture paraphernalia and this city of mannequins has also taken care to hoard hundreds of belts, projector bulbs, gears and sprocket-repairers, film editors and cutters and splicers and tapers, just in case the end of all other repair sources occurs during his lifetime.

And now, he is showing me his lifetime stash—which also includes a live nightmarish dog who barks perpetually day and night, never stopping, each bark accompanied by a three-foot leap into the air in a vain attempt to escape his fenced confines and energize all those mannequins—a truly possessed dog whose owners haven’t a clue.

Next to the sheds and shacks in the buggy country air are ten-foot-high stacks of very old grey and weathered mahogany boards that their owner has gathered from companies no longer needing them, and there is an old automobile splayed open to the world with wires running from under its hood into goodness knows what.

Inside his home, the man complains about the paper-thin ceilings that someone has spray-covered and which are now falling in from boredom and weariness, and his wife hides somewhere behind all his collectible mania, never presenting herself—a Gothic world that really exists if you go a few miles outside where you live now. A world not to be made fun of, since our world is just as offbeat and inaccessible to them as theirs is to us.

Maybe I’ll go back and visit this village of non-living comrades who in a way seem more alive than you and I and who certainly get along with each other better than you and I and who unlike you and I are totally accepting of their keepers—the insane leaping dog and the movie-mahogany-mannequin collector who is beginning to worry about what will happen to all his adoptees when he has become as lifeless-yet-attentive as they

Counting the Distinctly Remembered Pleasures

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Counting Pleasures Distinctly Remembered 

The brand-new year, barely distinguishable from the barely-old year, is upon me and must be dealt with.

As a ponderer of the unimportant but significant turnstiles of life, I could easily list some pompously conceived New Year’s Resolutions in a way that might induce you to believe I actually plan to follow them.

I prefer instead to list an item from page 48 of my imaginary BOOK OF COUNTED PLEASURES.

Here is one thing I count on to get me through my time on Earth.


Nothing quite compares to the comfort and small joy I receive from walking into the front yard each morning and picking up the day’s copy of the New York Times. What news both horrible and divine might tumble into my field of view once the paper is opened and flattened?

This predictable act will never become boring, since the paper’s delivery is so erratic.

Some days, the Times is hidden in damp bushes, not to be found till 48 hours later. At times the paper is soaked through so that each page bleeds into adjacent pages and becomes unreadable. Sometimes, the paper is in the street, nicely pancaked by passing vehicles. And on days when everything seems to be going right, an entire section or two of the new paper will be missing. So, each morning is filled with tension and expectancy—what will the paper be like today, will it even arrive today, will I find today’s some later day?

The serial drama continues when I “report” the missing or mutilated Times to the carrier. The response is always the same, “We’ll get another copy to you right away.” Almost never happens. I wind up searching for a replacement whenever I can find a vendor who still carries copies, but most days it just isn’t worth it. If I want to learn what is going on in the world I have to depend upon NPR or—horrors!—the unvetted Internet.

But the Joy is still there. The erratic appearance of the paper only serves to make more pleasurable the mornings when everything is in its place—the newspaper is on the sidewalk, nice and dry and beckoning—like this morning, for instance. And lo and behold—the magazine and book review supplements are present, too!

Life seems complete for about 20 seconds.

And 20 seconds of bliss scattered hither and yon throughout my days is the best I can hope for, in a world where sorrows and unwanted challenges vie for my attention, my time and my fragile soul

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The small asbestos-shingled 2 ½-bedroom bungalow on Eastwood Avenue is still the hub of our universe, back here in 1954 or so—the hub of the family of Frances and Tommy Reed (my parents) and their kids, mainly, Barbara Jean, Ronny, Rosi, Tim and me. These days, our worldly holdings are still modest. About all we have is each other, so we make do with that for the time being.
Summer is a time we all still get stuck together within the same walls now and then, and this is one of those days. Later on, we find less and less time to joke around, our innocence being so fleeting, but today we are lucky.
Here’s what’s happening:
One thing my older sister, Barbara, and my Mother, Frances, love to do more than anything you can name, is talk. I mean, really talk. And not to us younger kids, either. Barbara and Mother like to talk with each other. It’s a mystery that I can’t solve, but these two can both talk non-stop in unending sentences about everything under the sun. They kind of feed off each other.
Being a teenager, Barbara is excited and apprehensive about everything in her world, and, being an extrovert, likes to talk it out. Mother, still remembering how much fun and worry she herself had as a teenager, is eager to re-experience her life through Barbara as well as guide her past the potholes, should she stop talking long enough to listen.
It becomes a silent joke between Ronny and me, how Barbara and Mother, once they get
to talking, are oblivious to everything and everyone around them. Barbara’s usual disdainful comment, whenever she notices that one of us underlings is trying to say something, is, “Oh, just ignore them. They’re just trying to get attention!” When I hear her say this, I feel guilty for trying to get attention, like it’s a vanity or a sin or something, but years later, when infant Tim has become a full-grown adult, he puts me at ease by saying, “Yes, of course we were trying to get attention,” as if to say, “what’s wrong with that?”
But right now, in 1954, I don’t have the benefit of Tim’s wisdom, since he’s a toddler
walking around the un-air-conditioned house in a safety-pinned cloth diaper.
Whenever Ronny and I mention this talking thing to Barbara or Mother, they deny that they talk a lot or that they don’t know what’s going on around them when they talk. So, Ronny and I one day decide to take some action to prove our claim. 
My grandfather, Robert McGee, always smokes these great-smelling cigars, and when he
visits, he usually leaves a few for my father to enjoy. My uncle Buddy McGee, a World
War II hero, has left us his medals and military regalia, including his army cap. Ronny and
I gather the cap and the cigar and a box of wooden matches and find toddler Tim in the
kitchen, where we prepare him for the Big Talk Test.
Barbara and Mother are in the living room, sitting at opposing walls, and chatting away. We hand the cigar to Tim, who gladly places it in his mouth, mimicking his father and grandfather. We place the army cap on Tim’s head, which delights him, since he’s usually not allowed to play with our toys. 
Then, we light the cigar and make sure it’s puffing plenty of smoke. The deed is done, then. All we have to do is tell Tim to walk across the living room, between Mother and Barbara, and into the den, on the pretense of fetching something for us. Tim obliges and toddles straight across the hardwood floor, cigar in mouth and soldier cap on head, diaper hitched up safely and bare feet padding softly.
Nothing happens.
Not only do my sister and mother not miss a beat in their excited conversation, they don’t even look down to see Tim. We know this, because we’re peeking around the plaster wall to watch the action.
The experiment is a success, but we haven’t created the commotion we hoped for. Later,
we tell Barbara and Mother what we did, but they don’t believe us. “Oh, you’re just trying
to get attention,” Barbara says.
Yes, we are. And I guess we’ll always be doing that, Ronny and me, only this time we are
joined as adults by sister Rosi and brother Tim. The attention and attentions of Barbara and Mother will always be in demand. Mother’s been gone for years now, but Barbara has taken up the slack and talks to us, her kids and grandkids as much as ever, only now, we’re all grown up enough to know that what she’s talking about is important. 
And maybe sometimes we wish we had a lot worth talking about, too

Christmastime in the Best of All Possible Worlds

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Christmastime in the Best of All Possible Worlds

The man who needs to find hope is strolling the avenues of the city as Christmas Eve encroaches. Hands in pockets, he tries to break his habit of taking the same route each day. Today will be different, today, he may find hope.

He is walking north on 20th Street, gazing at facades and into windows to see what he never takes the time to see, inertia having jostled him along at a blinding pace for so many years.

He stops before this big show window and blinks hard, trying to figure out why he’s suddenly in another time and place. What he sees on the other side of the glass is a winter wonderland of electric trains, small villages, city streets, all bedecked and animated as if Christmas has never ended.

This can’t be, he opines. Fifty years ago and more, the city’s streets were lined with scenes such as this, filled with small wonders and pleasant surprises and best wishes. Back then, people would do something called window-shopping. Each merchant and street-level business would decorate in order to attract a sidewalk parade of delighted season-lovers.

He remembers how all that changed over the years, how a committee of tight-lipped judges began to forbid owners to place images and “distractions” in windows and doorways, as if they had forgotten what joy window-shopping brought to the city, what commerce the displays induced, what fond memories remained.

At the moment, the man who needs to find hope shakes off the negative memory and more carefully examines the snowy humor and goodwill in this special street-side window display. He has the notion that the long-ago idea of decorative, playful display on cold city streets has somehow thrived, somehow holds out against the dark forces that would dictate drab identical facades bereft of all personality and sharing.

After having his fill of time spent in another place, the man strolls on, hoping that, here and there, he will see other signs of life and joy proffered by establishments who ignore cold rules and just want to hand passersby a friendly gesture. And, much to his surprise, he begins to see other show windows with verve and personality laid out, this time on Third Avenue. There’s a shop with an enormous Piggly Wiggly mascot grinning perpetually at the gray day. There’s a place with nostalgic old street signs lighted up and receiving their proper respect. Here’s an import gift shop with wondrous one-of-a-kind items to dispense,  there is even one window filled to the brim with poinsettias bursting with color…and here and there, the wonderful historic buildings and signs of yore smile down upon him and warm his chest.

The man in the process of finding hope finishes his stroll for today, knowing now that tomorrow he can take another avenue and perhaps find even more evidence that the spirit of the city is still alive and thriving under the radar, just for you and me to discover.

This may not be the best of all possible worlds, he thinks. But it’s the world I’ve got. So I’d best redouble the effort to experience it. Before the colors fade.

Time’s a-wastin’

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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My Christmas Pulitzer Prize

This Christmas story happened a long time ago, butI re-read it every few years

because it tells me so many things about life, about paying attention…



Why did I ever go into retail?

Well, you know the answer to that—if you, too, are in retail.

I did it because I couldn’t think of any other way to be my own boss and actually provide food and shelter for the family, outside the corporate world. I couldn’t think of any other way to have the freedom to write what I needed to write, free of the Dilbert shackles of the corporate world.

So, a couple of decades later, here I am, the Christmas season upon me, at 4:50pm on Friday, just ten minutes till closing time, digging through computer-numbered boxes for a 1962 Esquire Magazine featuring Hemingway, a 1956 BBC Listener magazine containing a Salinger review, a first printing of Asimov’s The Martian Way, and a first edition copy of Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeams…got to get these things overnighted for an anxious customer and then make it to a bookshop across town to conduct a reading, all by 6pm.

The front door chimes go off, so that means somebody has entered the store, 150 feet up the hall and up a steep flight of red stairs. You know the mixed feelings you get: Damn! Now I’ve got to wait on somebody and still get my tasks done…if it weren’t for these pesky customers, I could make a living (!).

I head up the hall to see who’s there, passing the glowing lava lamps and glistening Santas that line the path, giving a fairyland glow to the gathering dusk. When I get to the front, I see a small, pointy-haired big-rimmed eyeglass man, standing and staring at me as if I’m about to hit him. I do my usual “Hello, how can I help you today?” customer-friendly voice thing, since I have never seen this guy before.

“Well, do you buy stuff?” he asks. I’m in a hurry, so this means my thoughts are going to be negative—I’m thinking he’s got the usual dog-eared Reader’s Digest Condensed books and Stephen King paperbacks that we see a lot of around here.

“Well, it depends on what it is,” I say, thinking this does not look like a millionaire about to donate his Gutenberg Bible to me. “We have just about everything, but we’re always looking for what we don’t have,” I say, motioning down the hallway at the 6,000-square-foot shop.

“What about this?” he says, pulling a rusty three-inch-tall miniature replica of a Sprite cola bottle from his pocket. It’s cute, just the thing I have all over the store for decoration, along with the life-sized Leg Lamp from Jean Shepherd, the seven-foot-tall Piggly Wiggly statue and the Pee-Wee Herman Playhouse suitcase, interspersed with books galore.

The next negative thought I have is that he will, like most people, have watched the Antiques Roadshow and determined that this is worth $32,000, of which I should pay him half for re-sale. I brace myself and say, “That’s neat. How much do you want for it?” He says in a small and meek voice, “What about a dollar?”

I am relieved and brighten up instantly, I pull a dollar from the cash tray, give it to him and he walks happily toward the stairs.

He bends to pick up two large and obviously heavy satchels he’s lugged up the stairs—I’m just now noticing them. Then, he turns and asks, “Can you tell me how to get to Jimmie Hale?”

The Jimmie Hale mission is for homeless people, and it’s seven walking blocks away. I give him instructions, he thanks me, then begins his painful descent. I wait in the foyer, hoping he doesn’t stumble, and hoping I can get the door locked behind him so I can head to the post office on my way to being an unknown author reading his stuff aloud.

I can tell he’s about halfway down the stairs when I hear his meek voice, “I read everything you write.” I freeze in place to hear more. “And I see your columns in the paper. You are a natural-born writer.”

I can only yell thanks! as he closes the door behind him and disappears from hearing. I rush down the stairs to lock up, look up and down the street, and see nothing. No trace of this fellow and his heavy luggage and his mild temperament.

I lock the door, take down the OPEN sign, and start up the stair, turning out lights as I go.

Back at my counter, I reach into my pocket for keys and find the tiny Sprite bottle.

I hold it up to the lava lights and note its special green glow. And I wonder what a Pulitzer Prize looks like. This may be as close to one as I’ll ever get, so I’m going to adopt it and keep it around to remind me that now and then—just every once in a while—a writer can get a good review, a good award, at an unexpected time from an unlikely source…and then wonder later whether it was all imagination.

At the reading, I tell the story of the little man and his Sprite bottle to Joey Kennedy, who is a genuine Pulitzer Prize winner. He grins ear to ear, because he knows all about fate and how things come to you only if you don’t look at them straight on

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Gradual Maturing of the Overwrought Booklover

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The Gradual Maturing of the Overwrought Book Lover

“I’m still trying to grow up, bit by bit by bit. I  kid you not.

Even at the age of what it is I am, I’m still trying to grow up.”

–Jim Reed

The anxious customer, fraught with self-imposed deadlines of earth-shaking immensity, enters the bookshop and proclaims, “Hello! Anybody here?” as if she’s summoning an aide to organize her affairs.

I wait a beat before replying, wondering whether this is the way she enters Wal-Mart or Publix. “Hello! Anybody here?”

“Good morning,” I say in my best and most cordial voice. Maybe she needs a little TLC.

“Oh, THERE you are!” she peers down her nose as if chastising me for my momentary invisibility. “I need books for my new bookcase.”

“Well, maybe I can help. What kinds of books do you like to read?”

She sniffs at the dusty air in something resembling disdain. “Oh I’m not going to READ them. I just need books to fill the shelves.”

I bite my tongue and switch over to my must-act-as-if-this-is-the-kind-of-work-we-do-every-day at Reed Books tone.

“OK,” I say. “Well, perhaps you would like to look around and identify the kinds of volumes you prefer…then I can gather more to your liking.”

“I don’t have time to look around, just show me your section of fine books—I need about four feet for the bookcase.”

I lead her to some turn-of-the-century titles with “nice” bindings to see whether these will do.

“How much are these?” she snaps.

“Uh, each one is a different price.” I pull several titles down and show her a range of prices, from $8.00 to $95.00.

“I’m not going to pay that much for ANY book,” she proclaims.

I keep trying to help.

“Well, what is your price range?”

She says, “Five dollars each is all I intend to pay.”

“Hold on,” I reply and scurry about making a sample stack of appropriately-priced volumes.

“These fall into that category,” I say.

She sniffs again and squints at the books. “Are they all leather bound?”

“Well, as you can see, they have attractive bindings but they are not leather—leather usually means much higher prices.”

“You don’t mean that!” Her haughty manner is not going to get to me, I decide.

She goes on, “Well they are all the wrong color, too. I must match them to my blue curtains.”

“Right. I need to answer the phone, so take a look around to see if there’s anything that suits you. I’ll be right back,” I say.

When I return to her, she’s standing with hands on hips, staring at a box of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books—sans dust jackets–that I am donating to The Foundry, since no-one has purchased one since 1986.

“These are mostly blue—what do they cost?”

HERE ARE THE THINGS THAT I DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “Ma’am, these are very inexpensive, but I would hesitate selling them to you,since any of your visitors, seeing them in your Liberty Park book cases, would know that no real book lover would ever invest in these.” I ALSO DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “I would recommend purchasing a variety of non-matching books, with some great classics and popular titles thrown in, so that it will appear that you actually have selected, loved and read each one.” AND, FINALLY, I DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “And I would encourage you to pick some titles that you will read yourself, just to season your conversation with the appearance of having intelligence.”

What I do say aloud is something like this, “Well, they are well within your price range, and we have enough to fill your space. Would you like for me to load them in your car?

The woman pays, her vehicle is full of books, and she rides away into the city sunshine.

There might have been a time when I would get all worked up and preachy in my effort to save the world through inducing people to enjoy reading. But what the heck. Non-readers have rights, too. I just don’t think they have as much fun as I

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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 Here’s 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:



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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.



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 glance and a smile


© 2014 A.D. by Jim Reed

 © Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Doofus Avoidance Factor Catches Up With Me

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The Doofus Avoidance Factor Catches Up With Me

 Three lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of misreading my visible and invisible audiences:

 I’m delivering an energetic but hopefully entertaining diatribe on the art of communicating with the public. This is way back when I believe that the profession of Public Relations Practitioner is tantamount to a Calling, that I can actually change the world—or at least cause it to shift slightly on its axis—by telling the Truth. My audience of writers and communicators is rapt, which encourages me to go on about the importance of Detecting BS in all public messages, be they purposeful or inadvertent. And I preach about the BS factor, the litmus test for finding fact amid the babble. Proud of myself, I stop to take questions. “Uh, what does ‘BS’ mean?” one participant asks. I freeze, my mind racing to do two things instantly without allowing the crowd to see me sweat. First, I realize that a generous amount of my speech has fallen on deaf ears, since they don’t know what I am talking about. Second, I try to verbalize a definition of BS that will avoid using the “S” word, this being a Baptist school with lots of prim and proper folk scattered among the folding chairs. “Uh, BS means bullshooting—you know, covering over the truth with your own agenda or message.” Saved! That seems to satisfy the inquisitor.

Another jarring lesson:

I’m performing some of my stories before a group of educated and skilled authors and artists, going on about my book, “How to Become Your Own Book,” all about the joy of creating words and images. I provide lively examples from popular culture, so that each point will have some gravitas as it is being digested. I read a wonderful passage from Jack Benny’s autobiography, a piece about life, both poetic and instructive, an example of great and simple writing. After a dramatic pause to allow the words to sink in, a middle-aged participant timidly raises her hand and inquires, “Who is this Jack Benny?” I sputter and explain, knowing that, once again, I have  assumed that my audience knows everything I know. The lesson I learn from this is, IF MY AUDIENCE KNOWS EVERYTHING I KNOW, WHAT AM I DOING WASTING THEIR TIME? ‘Tis better to lead them gently into new ideas, making sure that they are following each step.

And one more lesson, Grasshopper:

Two days ago, I am groaning my way into a very cold car seat, preparing to face low temperatures and a short ride to the shop. I get the motor going, then reach for my genuine brown cloth Family Dollar bargain garden gloves (four pairs for $2.00) to give my pinkies protection against the day. The gloves are not on the passenger seat, so I grope around between the seats to see it they’ve fallen into an abyss of thingies that accumulate there. Ah! A glove! Shivering excitedly, I pull the soft fabric onto my left hand and reach down for the right-hand glove. There it is! I try to don it but it, too, is a left-handed glove. Muttering in amazement, I open the glove compartment—where else would you find a spare glove—and pull yet another one out. It, too, is a left-handed glove! Now I’m speaking words to the frosty air that I try to refrain from using in public. I slam the glove compartment closed, but it pops back open because the stuff stuffed within is expanding like a nova. Ah! Again! I suddenly see popping out onto the floor a genuine right-handed glove. I calm down a bit, slide it on, then resume trying to close the cotton-pickin’ door. Fifth try is magic and it sticks shut. At this point, my mind is sorting out what else is going on around me, and I realize someone is giggling nearby. I lower the window because my friend Lon is standing there, having observed my entire Passion of the Family Dollar Store Bargain Gloves. He’s having so much fun, he could use a bag of buttered popcorn. I am now beyond dignity and simply join in the laughter, having learned that sometimes the audience you are performing for is invisible…so you’d best be on good behavior at all times to avoid being packed into the doofus category that life provides free of charge

 © Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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