Television Reverse-Image Interview Exists Therefore It Is

Television Reverse-Image Interview Exists Therefore It Is

 From a long-ago entry in my neverending Red Clay Diary:

So, here I am in a television studio playing the role of Momentarily Interesting Author, so that I can be interviewed so that I can get some free publicity so that maybe somebody will purchase a copy of my latest book.

Everything in a TV studio is one-sided, because reality separates itself from the Show That Must Go On. The cameras and lights and cobwebs and teleprompters and cuecards are all on one side of the room. On the other side is The Show—desks, chairs, heavily-made-up anchors waiting tensely for the commercial to end so that they can re-freeze those smiles that bring in those salaries.

I’m enjoying the spectacle but wondering whether the show would be twice as interesting if the cameras were moved to the Set and turned toward the reality part of the room.

What if the shows were shot vice-versa? Then, you’d see the backs of things: plywood housing Formica surfaces, polished non-carpeted floors nudging up to the frayed carpeting of The Set.

And get this: No living-flesh camera operators! The cameras are being controlled robotically, with no-one shouting orders or telling jokes in the earphones of bored camera operators, like in the early days. No ad-libbing, either.

The show is one extended Cold Read.

The anchors are people who are skilled at reading aloud without stumbling much, people who read well and animatedly without seeming to falter.

I look out the hallway door at mist and fog and green hills beyond the studio.

The reversed cameras would also pick up tiny but fascinating bits of visual material—makeup and mirrors and no-sweat pads resting on chairs, ordinarily out of camera sight.

In real life, the talking heads seem somewhat small and real and vulnerable—not anything like their electronic images. If the camera could capture that, wouldn’t everything we see on TV be a bit sweeter and less threatening?

I don’t know the answer to that—I was asking you!

I do my interview in four minutes and drive to the bookstore, wondering if a talent scout has caught my appearance and decided I’d be just the guy to do a regular show on books and writing, just the guy to influence a bunch of viewers to pull the plug and start reading and writing, instead of staring and writhing on crumb-stained sofas all over the land of viewerville


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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You can spot them immediately, and even though it’s happened a lot for the past several decades, you can’t help but avert your eyes at first, because it’s so painful.

I’m talking about the occasional appearance in the Museum of Fond Memories of those who walk among us as The Bookdead.

Their Look is always the same, and they frequently are in the company of book fans.

When the Bookdead person enters the store with the book fan, two things happen simultaneously. The book fan rushes to a favorite category and is lost to view in an instant. The Bookdead person stands in the middle of the aisle, as far away from each bookcase as the body can possibly be, and stares blankly ahead, stares at nothing in particular, stares at the brown wood between the books.

For years, I took as my personal goal the task of proselytizing, trying to show the Bookdead something that would be of interest, something that would spark a light in the eye, a rush of enthusiasm to the brain.

I seldom do that anymore, because it seems more productive to assist the book fan in the quest, the Bookdead being not the least bit interested in learning anything new, not excited at the prospect of having a eureka! experience.

By the time the Bookdead arrive at our doors, they are long gone away, taken from us by the regional pride of having never voluntarily read a book, or spirited away by palm-sized electronic devices, comfortable in the fact that books are somehow effete or geeky or sissy or nerdy or a sure sign that there’s something wrong with you.

I still dream of a day when the unexposed will suddenly shout with joy over the discovery of written words that can entice and excite and stimulate and make more bearable the activities of daily living.

But I realize that prodigals sometimes get way too much attention, ignoring the needs of those of us who love books, so, unbiblical as it may seem, I ignore the festivities celebrating the non-book-reader and concentrate instead on handholding those who want to continue the joyous fall through the looking glass, the fall that makes us see the world and ourselves in new and different and sometimes delightful ways.

Here, take my hand

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Truth About Authors and Books and Book Reviewers

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The Truth About Authors and Books and Book Reviewers

As a book reviewer, it’s hard not to cheat.

Some publisher or hopeful author sends me a package of material, including a book, and hopes that something within that package will inspire me to write a review.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Said publisher or author hopes that I’ll write a favorable review, something that will inspire readers to rush out and purchase the book.

That’s not quite true, either.

Often, said publisher or author wants me to say something that makes people—whether or not they are readers—rush out and purchase the book.

That, too, may not be the whole truth and nuttin’ but.

Said publisher and author would be happy (mostly) if the book became a million-seller, even if nobody read it!

Non-readers often buy books to give to people who accept them but never get around to reading them. Nothing sadder than a stack of unread books.

This is nothing new.

In my rare book emporium, I have lots of century-old books that have never been read. The proof is irrefutable. The unread volumes are full of uncut pages—pages that the publisher has failed to trim so that the book can be fully opened. These unread books are a joy to read, because it’s fun to take a bone letter-opener and slit each page open as the book is read.

It’s a nice romantic notion, the notion that this author’s book lay there for a century before anybody took the trouble to open it. And I am the first to read it!

Anyhow, as I say, it’s hard to refrain from cheating when I receive a book to review. First of all, it may come into my hands because my editor has heard great things about it, or because the author has been annoyingly persistent (this often works, fellow authors!) and I feel I have to review it just to be freed of this person, or the book may be by someone the literary world has deemed godlike—the writer who is good, therefore, everything written by said writer has to be good and don’t you the reviewer be the one to think differently!

And so on.

There are other factors that can influence the unwary reviewer. If you’re in a hurry, you’re tempted to skim the book or just read the jacket or the blurbs or the extensive synopses accompanying the book. Truth is, these synopses are designed to help the lazy reviewer get the job done, or to make sure the reviewer doesn’t miss the point of the book. Heaven forfend, the reviewer should find great meaning in the book that nobody else, including the author, has found!

So, the reviewer has choices. Read the book cover to cover without looking at the cover or the jacket or other reviews or synopses or blurbs, without regard to reputation and track record and age and gender and background.

This is almost impossible to do, so most reviewers don’t do it. But it can be done, fellow reviewer, just in case you are tempted to try it.

Try walking blindfolded up to a table of books-to-be-reviewed, pick the first one your hand touches. Have someone remove the jacket, tape over the title and author information. Then, for once in your life, read a book about which you have no pre-conceived notions.

What do you think would happen?

There are all kinds of possibilities: you might pan a book everybody else loves (your social life will be diminished), you might make inappropriate assumptions about the author (female, male, old, young, experienced, unknown?), you might mistake fiction for autobiography, you might lose a friend (Yipes! I just trashed a book written by someone whose company I cherish!), or, for once in your career, you just might write a review of great integrity, freshness, insight and importance.

You might start a trend.

Probably not

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The ROTC Uniformed Cushman Time Traveller Lands in Peterson

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The ROTC Uniformed Cushman Time Traveller Lands in Peterson

If I close my eyes, I am suddenly transported back in time more years ago than you have been alive. I have a busy if not full life in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. As a student at the University, I keep myself occupied by not studying, by being an on-air announcer at several local stations, by attending class in order to catch naps.

One class I am required to attend twice a week in full green wool uniform is the U.S.-run military program for male students called ROTC. Part of the reward for mandatory service in ROTC is the fact that the Army, needing soldiers for the neverending war in  Vietnam, has the theory that each of us will fall in love with the idea of giving up parties and romance and the good life to go to jungles far away, teaching enemies to do right.

That is why I am wearing a full Army outfit after my classes are over. That is why, this day, I hop aboard my tattered Cushman Motor Scooter and drive as far away from the campus as possible, as fast as possible, to create a breeze on this 80-degree afternoon. The duct-taped vehicle is my only means of physical escape from T-Town.

I head for the nearby tiny town of Peterson because I know how to get there. And because that’s where my grandfather’s general store is located.

I pull up next to the Sinclair pumps, park the scooter out of harm’s way, take a look at Grandmother Effie’s flowers in the front yard, open the Miss Sunbeam Bread-bedecked screen door, and enter the store. Store and home are physically connected, and my grandparents’ lives are played out in a situation where they are never away from home, never away from work.

Uncle Brandon is down on the concrete floor, constructing shelving out of cut strips of Coca-Cola signs. Uncle Brandon looks like a cross between Stan Laurel and Will Rogers and is as funny as both of them. We palaver a bit and I go looking for Grandfather Robert. “Hey, Granddaddy, how are you?” We shake hands instead of hugging, since I am almost grown up now. “Doing OK,” he replies, monosylabically answering my questions about life, liberty and the pursuit of Grapico drinks.

I wander around, inhaling the rich aroma of mildew, kerosene, bubble gum, ripe vegetables and leather combined with the powerful fragrance of my grandfather’s ever-present cigar. I observe off-shift coal miners stopping by for a drink and a chaw on their way home. “Gimme a Dope,” one of them smiles, slipping a dime onto the counter and grabbing a bag of Tom’s Toasted Peanuts which he carefully pours down the neck of a Coca-Cola bottle. Coke is Dope in these rural parts. I salivate at the thought of that heavy salt combining with the cane sugar fizz and making an unforgettable snack.

I’ve made my visit. Shown off my ROTC uniform. Bragged about my radio jobs. Gossiped a bit. Now it’s time to head west toward Northport for my evening duties at WNPT. I am refreshed. I’ve seen my grandparents and uncle as well as postmistress Aunt Gladys, I’ve sniffed the memories of my early childhood. I am refreshed and energized.

On the highway, I wend my way back to responsibilities and the feeling of purpose that to this day I get out of going to work each day.

I want to remain in Peterson and live the quiet life. I want to be an on-air star and impress people with my talent. I want to toss this cotton-pickin’ wool uniform and hide from the draft, I yearn to date coeds, laugh with my younger siblings Tim, Rosi and Ronny, hug my mother, talk to older sister Barbara, try to get through to my stoic dad, lie abed late at night and listen to reel-to-reel tapes of Bob and Ray shows, fall asleep to the jazz emanating from WWL in New Orleans.

All these generations later, I haven’t changed. I still want to be everywhere at once, every time at once. I still am happy at end of day in my solitude, floating in memories most textured and pleasing

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Two-Shoe Morning Begets the Two-Step Dance

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The Two-Shoe Morning Begets the Two-Step Dance

Bob the Groaner rolls himself out of bed and begins searching for his shoes. It is one of those days when things don’t magically proceed as planned in Bob’s perfect-world imagination.

Bob groans, shuffles about, finally finds at least one shoe and, for a mystical moment, decides that maybe today will be a one-shoe day. This turns out not to be such a good idea, what with the limping and the off-centeredness of it all.

Finally, Bob the Groaner locates the other shoe, then contemplates the mystery of why it always takes two shoes to get through the day. This starts him thinking about Things That Come in Twos.

Let’s see, he mumbles, what else will have to come in twos today? Well, there are two socks—it just doesn’t feel right, wearing one. There are two scrambled eggs waiting with two biscuits and two paper napkins at the diner. The parking meter requires two quarters, since when does it take just fifteen minutes to eat breakfast? Two panhandlers double-team him a block apart, each inadvertently reciting the same fake story about getting stranded with no gas and needing to get back to either Jasper or Gadsden—the cities are always interchangeable.

Bob sneezes once, then again, and realizes that it’s almost impossible to sneeze just once. There now, all better.

Two ambulances whiz past, going in opposite directions—this seems vaguely counter-productive to Bob.

The salesclerk at CVS asks him for his CVS card twice, forgetting that she’s already asked him once. Later, a customer enters his shop. He says, “Good morning, how are you doing?” She says, “I’m fine, how are you?” He says, “Fine.” She says “Good. How are you?” Is anybody paying attention here? he wonders.

Just before he turns the CD player on, he automatically says, “Ah one and ah two…” An old Lawrence Welk/Stan Freberg gag that only he understands.

Reviewing his morning thus far, Bob contemplates the routines that get him up and going, and all the mindless habits that are taken for granted. Does he remember to place the right shoe on the right foot and the left shoe on the left foot? Don’t have to remember, he thinks, I just do it. Thank goodness I don’t have to figure that out from scratch each and every day.

Many decades earlier, when young, Bob has to learn to dance in order to make himself presentable at a school function. Slow dancing is imperative if he wants to get really close to a girl, so his friend Pat tries to teach him how to do the Box Step. Being a clumsy sort, he finds that too complicated. So Pat teaches him the Two Step, commenting that even a moron can do the Two Step. Pat is right, and Bob the Groaner for once does not groan during the dance—he just grins ear to ear and inhales the lovely perfumed fragrance of his date.

Life comes in twos, Bob thinks that evening. You’re born, you pass. Stuff happens in between, often in twos. You may be a two-time loser. You may be a two-timer. You may be two-faced.

As he prepares for bed this evening, he carefully places his shoes where he can easily find them, thus avoiding the serial two-thinking thoughts that distract him from his duties.

Tomorrow, something else could trigger Bob’s stream of consciousness. Maybe he’ll start thinking about Threes…three meals a day, three little pigs, the Trinity, three sheets to the wind, The Three Amigos…

Bob the Groaner groans, then smiles his goofy smile and snuggles deep into his pillow, to sleep the sleep of someone who, though off-center, at least knows how to entertain himself

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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It is Manners to Issue a Statement as to What I Got Out of It All

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Now that I have your attention, it seems appropriate to inform you as to why I called you here in the first place.

I just realized that I as a writer have this magical ability to look before and after.

Apparently, humans may be the only animals able to do this.

The curse of being human is that I can imagine things that are not, never were and never will be. I can magnify and endlessly repeat in my imagination events that happened or did not happen, to my heart’s content. I can conjure up soothing thoughts to carry myself through harsh times. I can toss and turn and fret over things that have no significance to anyone else.

You and I are the Dreaming Animals. And our species may be alone in this ability to dream up or magnify stuff.

As the Dreaming Animal, what have I learned from life that seems to be true and wise?

1. I am travelling forward through time and cannot go back for even one minute and re-live any of what has passed. As the Dreaming Animal, I can pretend to do this. And that can be fun. And useful.

2. I am hopelessly trapped inside a pink body bag—my skin—and will spend the rest of my time incarcerated therein. As the Dreaming Animal, I can play-like this is not the case.

3. I am not in control of my destiny, whatever that is. DNA will determine my limitations. Environment will take cold and uncalculated action whether I want it to or not.

4. I am the sum total of a thousand gaffs, errors, omissions, and impulsive acts. I cannot make corrections, though here and there, I can take the opportunity to apologize for offences enacted. I have reasons for all my mistakes, but I have no excuses worthy of entertaining.

5.  I have ingested countless joys and eureka moments, countless epiphanies and realizations, countless insights and discoveries. I am grateful for these happenings and cherish them mightily.

6. I have learned that, to survive knowledge of the world’s wrongs and horrors and calamities and monstrous injustices, I must do what I can, then distract myself just enough to maintain sanity and purpose. If I do not find some exhilaration each day to control the Negatives, I won’t find the energy to do what good I can do.

That’s about it for now. I’m so happy you responded to my call and gathered to listen.

Maybe you can filch a thought or two for your own purposes. Maybe you can share a thought or two to assist me in my journey.

Let’s be Dreaming Animals together and make the most of what good there is left to do in a crazed but beautiful world


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Way Back When We Knew More Than We Know Now

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Way Back When We Knew More Than We Know Now

I go fishing for books now and then. I just rev up the old bookmobile, pop open what we down here call a Soft Drink, turn on the radio, and head Thataway, never knowing what adventures will impose themselves upon me.

My routine treks among the hilly byways of rural Alabama give me time to ponder and think and reminisce and wonder.

Sometimes, I have to switch the radio off to clear my head, especially when I hear just one too many grating grammar errors. The NPR announcer says, ”The price of cigarettes have gone up.”

Is she aware that she have made a grammatical error?

Another public radio announcer constantly refers to somebody called Utha Listener, never once explaining who Utha might be.

Yet another voice pontificates, “They have just showed up.”

She’s never been showed how to use shown correctly.

I go through a train crossing, noticing that some railroad cars do not have graffiti coating their sides. Somebody has fallen down on the job.

Howlin’ Wolf’s song pops into memory and makes me forget the errors and typos of the world around me and just feel some joy for a moment, “My baby she’s a good-looking thing you know…she’s the one who spins me round and round, one who turns me upside down” Now, that’s Love!

I pass town water towers that look somewhat like the steel-legged robots H.G. Wells imagined filled with invading Martians. I recall that I have actually seen one of these mechanisms, a tall shiny facsimile in the town square at Woking, England, near where the attackers landed.

Cruising past strip malls, I observe many women and men and children getting out their cars, parents elaborately extracting squirming kids from car seats, lifting the ones who still like to be lifted and grumbling back at grumbling kids who like to grumble.

It’s fun to pay attention. So many people I see are not watching, not looking around to see what’s what. What thrills they are missing!

Every image, each person, seems to be about me, about my life. It’s impossible to close them out, difficult to forget them.

My fishing day is fruitful. I gather some special books here and there, hear sounds that make me cringe and smile, see faces and shadows that awaken my empathic senses, and get to look behind things to see what I might be missing.

There are probably worse ways to spend a morning in the gossipy and secretive hills of sweet Alabama

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Where Have All the Warm Hands Gone?

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I am officially out of popcorn, right in the middle of the movie. I have also slurped enough Coca Cola from a wax-coated paper cup that the public restroom at the Bama Theatre is beckoning to me.

Right here, right now, it’s about 1950 A.D. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I have just held hands on purpose with an actual girl for the first time in my decade-long life. Up till now, holding hands with girls has only been a forced-march event. When being required to square dance in grammar school, I clasp all kinds of hands, some of which feel kind of nice, but the fact that I have to do it always kills the moment.

I don’t know how it happens, but Patricia White and I are sitting elbow to elbow in the dark, avidly watching a full-length movie, and suddenly we are holding hands. Holy cow! It feels funny, funny because I don’t know what to do next. Neither of us acknowledges the fact that we are holding hands. We stare straight ahead. I don’t know what she is thinking. I don’t know what she is feeling, mainly because I am too busy wondering what I am thinking and feeling.

Patricia’s hand is smaller than mine, warmer than mine, and sweat does occur. Can’t tell whether it’s my sweat or hers, but hand-holding definitely seems to involve temperature, softness and humidity.

Now I have to break the magic spell, let go of her hand, and dash to the men’s room upstairs. This is an excellent time to escape the movie, too, since there is smooching on the screen and I’d just as soon avoid watching that.

Oops! What if I am supposed to smooch with Patricia? Is this part of the hand-holding deal? I hesitate returning from the restroom, because I don’t know what is going to happen next. Up till today, I’ve spent my life attending Saturday movies with my buddy Elmo Riley or brother Ronny. Movies have have almost always been about Guy Time. I’m already missing that.

Eventually, I return to my seat next to Patricia, but the magic spell has evaporated. There is no more hand-holding, but we do watch the remainder of the film and giggle unnaturally now and then. We head for the bus stop and go our separate ways, but we both know that a First-Time thing has happened in our lives. We just don’t know what to think of it.

It will be years before I learn how to smooch. I’ll get to smooching eventually, but right now, all I can do is reminisce about the Good Old Days when Bo Riley or Ronny and I would hop a bus, head for the Ritz Theatre, watch a double feature complete with two cartoons, a serial installment, and lots of action-filled previews, and eat all the popcorn and glug all the carbonated fluid we could hold.

And, now and then, I also reminisce about Patricia White’s left hand and how wonderfully perplexing it was to hold hands with a girl on purpose for the first time ever


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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For Every Day There is a Season…A Different Season Every Day!

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For Every Day There is a Season…A Different Season Every Day!

I’m walking from home to car, preparing to go to work, when I notice that Winter has arrived in the middle of Spring. Yep, my short-sleeved shirt is hardly adequate for the 30-degree temperature that slams me. This day last year, it was 85 degrees and climbing.

If I lived in Alaska, I’d pretty much know what to pack in the trunk, just in case: coat, jacket, gloves, thermal something-or-others huddling together. Living in Alabama, I wisely pack an extra short-sleeved shirt in case mine goes dripping and fragrant with sweat.

That proverbial frog in a slowly-heating pan of water had best wise up and invest in long-term AC warranties, body shirts and flip-flops if he wants to extend his time on terra infirma.

Despite what all those naysayers and anti-science advocates issue forth, science seems to be correct—prepare ye for the shape-shifting world of the future. That is, if you choose to remain here alive and well.

On the positive side, I do enjoy the surprises that each day brings me. Last night, we unloaded groceries under a dark grey sky surrounded by humid breezes and thirsty plants. All was dry. When I stepped outside ten minutes later, rain had made the world soggy, as if it had been there all day. And on chilly mornings I go to work with that chill imprinted on my mind. Indoors for nine hours, thinking all the while that it’s a cold day outside, I leave work and find that it has been hot and humid all along.  I spent a cold day inside while everyone else soaked up heated UVs. Go figure.

Anyhow, I wrote these words down just to take sides with Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, both of whom said, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”

There—I’ve done my talking. Now to settle down with books by Warner and Twain and knock off the chill or cool down the heat wave for a few minutes, depending on what’s happening outdoors

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Ahem and Moo Travel the Bessemer Superhighway Separately Together

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Ahem and Moo Travel the Bessemer Superhighway Separately Together

I almost hurt my neck the first time I see Moo Cow beside the Bessemer Superhighway. I guess I’ve seen Moo lots of times, but today I really pay attention.

My name is Sollie. I’m too young to have a driver’s license, so I can only see Moo now and then when I’m a passenger in somebody else’s car. My Father says that girls my age should never ride a Birmingham bus alone, so I am not yet able to stop and see Moo up close. And I haven’t worked up the courage to ask Dad to pull over and let me pat Moo on the head. Would he laugh at me?

By the way, Sollie is a nickname. My real name is Solitude—from a poem by my father’s favorite poet, Rilke. Solitude fits me, I guess, because I spend most of my time alone, and I like it that way. Most of the time.

To entertain myself, I collect Dependable Friends. They are called Dependable Friends because I can count on them. They never look away or ignore me. They never fight or make fun of me. They Listen.

Here are some of the Dependable Friends I write about in my red velvet diary:

1. Moo Cow. Moo Cow is this huge brown and white statue of a cow facing the Bessemer Superhighway on the left as you head toward Midfield. I really would like to pet Moo. Maybe when I’m old enough to drive.

2. Little Vulc. Little Vulc is a statue that looks sort of like Vulcan, the old Roman god who stands on Red Mountain. Little Vulc is big, but not as big as Vulcan. You can see him on the side of the road to your right as you head toward East Lake on First Avenue North.

3. Big Guy. Big Guy is this big statue of a man that stands beside the road to your left as you head through Tarrant on the way to Jeff State College. He is about as big as Vulcan, but he’s down on the ground where you can get a good look.

Want to see the whole list? There are lots of other Dependable Friends on my list. As I tried to explain, they are Dependable Friends because I can always count on them to be there whenever I pass by. They are Dependable Friends because they don’t mind that I like to be alone most of the time. They understand that my name, Solitude, fits me just fine. But they would definitely call me Sollie if they could talk—because Dependable Friends respect my wishes. Dependable Friends don’t call me names or shove me or shun me.

By the way, I’ve been thinking about Moo’s name. I don’t really know whether Moo is called Moo by anybody else. I just came up with that name because Moo is the sound that cows make. Based on that idea, I think Moo should call me Ahem instead of Sollie.  Moo is the sound that cows make. Ahem is the sound that people make. I notice that cows moo a lot. I notice that humans say Ahem a lot. Fits, don’t you think?

Anyhow, I’m still making a list of Dependable Friends. Here are a couple of others:

4. Miss Electra. Miss Electra is this twenty-foot-tall golden statue on top of the Alabama Power Company building Downtown. She is so beautiful, and she has this great hat. I hope you get a chance to see her. I would like to meet her in person someday.

5. Brother Bryan. Brother Bryan is a statue of a famous old preacher. He kneels at the intersection of Five Points South. The thing I like about him is that no matter what is going on around him, he stays peaceful and just stares up at the sky as if he would prefer to be alone, just like me. Maybe he doesn’t like to be shunned, either.

That’s enough for now. Maybe I’ll share more of my red velvet diary list some other time. I like to think that there are other people like me who would like to be named Solitude. The funny thing is, we don’t get to know each other because we stay to ourselves.

I had a new thought, so I’ll place it in my diary: If all those other Solitude-type people start making their own lists of Dependable Friends, maybe, just maybe, when they get their driver’s licenses, they might show up at one of the statues at the same time I do. Maybe we would meet and become Dependable Friends.

Wouldn’t that be awesome

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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