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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The Protective Gait Matters in the Old New World

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The Protective Gait Matters in the Old New World

The graceful, slow-progressing elderly couple, husband and wife, extricate themselves from a large and  shiny Buick, then wend their purposeful way toward the front door of the local cafeteria.

In movements perhaps puzzling to anyone less than thirty years of age, the man walks beside the woman, gently holding her elbow in a gesture of support, guidance and gentlemanlyness. He takes one step ahead of her and opens the door to usher her in, then follows. The door squeaks shut and the scene ends.

This brief but elaborate ritual has been repeated so many times during a fifty-year marriage that it is barely noticed. Simply taken for granted, it is mandatory in a generation taught to subtly display silent respect and concern. We older denizens might call it good manners.

Later, I am approaching the entrance to an office building when I notice that a young woman is briskly walking up to the same doorway, guaranteeing that we will both arrive at the same moment. Without thinking, out of seven decades of practice, I step forward and gallantly open the door for her. Without blinking, her ear pasted to the hand-held electronic device she is loudly conversing with, she breezes through the door, looking neither left nor right, as if the waters have parted just for her. No acknowledgement, no thank-you, no friendly smile.

Recalling my mother’s lessons in childhood, I remind myself that good, “gentlemanly” deeds must be done without any expectation of reward, so I have accomplished my unselfish act, and I try to suppress my self-centered desire to be noticed. I decide that my constant attempts to Matter in this lovely but dispassionate world may well go unheeded, not only by other people, but by the ethos itself.

But it is good to recall that there still remain ladies and gentlemen among us. The proof is in the observation.

The lesson I must teach myself is that acts of unostentatious kindness must be invisible if they are truly sincere.

As Spike Lee reiterated, a true lady or gentleman, rather than wringing their hands because the world isn’t perfect, must instead remember and constantly repeat the words of Da Mayor (Ossie Davis): DO THE RIGHT THING

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Day Nothing At All Happened

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The Day Nothing At All Happened

 Here at the center of the universe, in the heart of beautiful historic Downtown Birmingham, Alabama, I, The Bookie, ply my trade.

I call myself a Bookie because virtually everything real to me resides upon pages. I write true stories and books, help edit a quarterly literary/arts journal, produce a weekly blog/blast (we used to call them “columns”), place online a weekly podcast (in the formerly non-virtual world we called them “spoken-word stories” or “audio tales” or “columns you can close your eyes and listen to”), and serve as judge to several literary contests.

I also go forth from Downtown and deliver messages of goodwill to writers’ groups, civic clubs, schools, and anybody else who will invite me to share my six decades of experience as a whatever it is I am.

Oh, and I also own and run one of the last “real” bookstores in the country, a shop that carries books and paper ephemera that extend back some 500 years. In fact, this is where I spend the majority of my time—mostly because most of my income depends upon this five-day-a-week endeavor.

So, today’s question, addressed to the Dispassionate Universe at Large, is this: If I have all these activities going on in my life—in addition to being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, etc.—why do I feel like I’m wasting my time? Why do I lie awake at 3 a.m. wondering how to find meaning in my existence? Why do I feel as if I never do enough to feed my Muse?

The answer to this and many other angst-filled inquiries is written in the stars and won’t be decipherable for a few millennia. But I keep asking anyhow, hoping for magical revelations but knowing that there is no magic at all in the cosmos, just the Feeling that there may be magic.

I actually am aware that this is what keeps me going, this constant thirst for answers to unanswerable questions. If you walked up to me and gave me The Answer, my life would go into shock—because it is the adrenaline-filled neurotic search for things that are just out of reach, just over that next horizon…it is this search that keeps me placing one foot in front of the other, one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward, one step back, never knowing whether I’m getting anywhere.

In case anybody is curious as to what my epitaph will be, I’ve already recorded it. Here it is:

“This is not exactly what I had in mind.”

Should some passerby see this granite-inscribed sentence on my tombstone a hundred years hence, my hope is that an uncontrollable chuckle will issue forth into the quiet mist.

If that happens, my mission will have been accomplished—only I won’t be around to notice.

But it is nice to imagine that I may get the last laugh


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Meet Jim Reed, a Fictitious Character Created by Liza Elliott

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Meet Jim Reed, a Fictitious Character Created by Liza Elliott

At last, I have become part of the plot in a mystery novel.

Being a fictitious character is never something I would aspire to. I tend to think that the simple act of writing stories and books means that somehow the essence of Jim Reed is implied in each tale, since I the writer write only from real life.

It is important for me to write straight-out experiential truth, so that I don’t have to make anything up out of thin air.

But now, in addition to being a real person in real-time stories, I have also be come a fictional character within a work of fiction. It’s all because of author Liza Elliott.

Liza used to drop into my life once in a while, whether at writing events or at Reed Books. She would sometimes jokingly tell me that I ought to be a character in one of her books. I would laugh, make a wisecrack, and dismiss the idea, never knowing she was quite serious.

One day, Liza walks into the shop and hands me a copy of her new mystery novel, 30-A SUPPER CLUB (Red Camel Press), an adventure that takes place along Alabama’s coastline, in the Panhandle, and in Birmingham. She inscribes the book to me in glowing terms, then points out that I am within the pages of the story.

No kidding—I am actually part of the book! Liza thankfully describes the shop and me in wonderfully entrancing ways, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The book is a fun read.

As Liza departs the store, I ask her whether there’s a sequel in the works. “Yes, there is, and you are in that story, too,” she beams. Being smart of mouth I quip, “Do you think you could throw in an episode in which I have a harmless flirtation with someone, say, Scarlett Johansson?”

She says she’ll think about it.

Now I can’t wait till the next 30-A SUPPER CLUB comes out. What adventures will I have that I have never had?

Stay tuned

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Great Unblizzard of 2015 A.D.

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The Great Unblizzard of 2015 A.D.

 Well, we manage to survive this day more or less in one piece.

Oh, there are adventures, setbacks, challenges, puzzles to solve, barriers to cross. So much of daily life has to be placed on hold till the crisis passes.

The morning starts with The Warnings: DON’T DRIVE ON THE ROADS, WATCH FOR PATCHES OF ICE.

Fully dressed and ready to go to work, I hesitate at the door, noticing that there is no snow on the ground. Hmm…better test the air. I walk onto the porch and down the steps to retrieve the morning paper. The air does feel a bit icy, the humidity warns of what might come.

I remember that during the Big Snow last year, I ignored all warnings and went to work. The snow appeared with gusto and I barely made it home at the end of the day.

But, today, I realize how risky that was—driving on ice, dodging other motorists, getting stuck behind indecisive characters, and taking two hours to drive two miles home.

So, today, I want to DO THE RIGHT THING. I’ll wait till I know it is safe. Don’t want Liz to worry about my trekking through another blizzard. Don’t want to wind up in the hospital or in the obituaries.

I decide to wait another hour. Just let the shop open late for a change.

Then, the adventures begin.

In the process of bringing in the paper, I’ve managed to step in dog poop that has not been managed with little plastic t-shirt bags by our dogloving neighbors. I dutifully remove my shoe and try to wash away the fragrant evidence. Turning on the hydrant, I hear a moaning sound, the sort of sound that only comes from eccentric plumbing. Oops! Add dog cleaner and plumber to my list of honey-do’s.

Then the restlessness begins. I keep checking the clock and the Spann reports to see if there’s an all-clear. I read the entire paper, learning disturbing things about the world I usually try to ignore. I start nibbling, since I don’t have a working project to attack with this newfound time to expend. A freshly-peeled boiled egg slips through my fingers and explodes into the garbage disposal machine. I start obsessing over the large ceiling stain in the kitchen, wondering how much money that I don’t have it will take to get it repaired.

Time moves more slowly when you are suspended within it. The heck with it. I’ll just go to work….but what if I get stuck in the blizzard and can’t be home to care for Liz and the house?

Suddenly a loud, excruciatingly loud alarm goes off. Assuming it is the new burglar repellent system we’re been trying to install for several weeks, Liz and I punch numerous buttons to make it stop. Nothing works. She calls the alarm company and rants while I rave, then raves while I rant. Surely these people have sold us a defective product! The calm operator stays the course and tries to help. Then, realizing that the alarm must be coming from some other source, I get ready to attack the smoke alarm, then the older retired alarm box that’s still stuck in the wall. The sound is all-consuming. In panic, I finally yank the box off the wall and rip out a couple of wires with my bare hands. Ah, relief and silence! Listen to the–Real Silence! For some unknown reason a defunct bit of electronics has decided to raise itself from the dead one last time.

By now, the afternoon is here and I still don’t know whether I’ve done the right thing by staying home during a still-threatening-but-snowless day.

I nibble some more, pace, read, semi-doze, and otherwise expend time unproductively. I really am hooked on work!

By late afternoon, the snow hasn’t appeared. We start looking for something entertaining to do, like watch a couple of Netflix shows. For two hours we are absorbed in TV land, thus settling our brains for the long winter’s nap we will soon attempt.

After video saturation occurs, I arise to glance out the window. There it is! The moonlessness on the breast of the newfallen snow is still kind of fun to see, even though we are well beyond the age at which it is safe to frolic in this poetic feathery substance.

Tomorrow will be another day, and I plan to make it to work regardless. My attention Spann is worn out, the adventures have been tucked away, and I am ready to dream bookie dreams, all snug and ready for sugar plums

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Macy’s Ghost Clerks Invade the Aching Feet Treatment Center

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Macy’s Ghost Clerks Invade the Aching Feet Treatment Center

I used to be an unreconstructed creature of habit, but now that I am of a certain advanced age, a new realization has come upon me.

Now my habits have habits.

And speaking of habits, even the clothes I don each day look something like nuns’ habits—-dark blazer over dark shirt above dark trousers anchored by dark shoes. I don’t have a particularly wise and witty reason for wearing black all the time. It just seems easier to match everything, easier to minimize my blobby girth. I don’t have to expend energy and time figuring out what I will wear today.

Anyhow, eventually even I—the guy who pays no attention to clothing—realize that my jacket is looking frayed and feeling poorly. So I make the long-dreaded trek to Macy’s to see whether the chain still carries a clone of the coat I’ve worn to a frazzle.

My fantasy is simple: I won’t even have to try on anything. I’ll just walk briskly to the Men’s Department, show the lining label to a clerk, and say, “I’d like to order two more of these, please.”

But you know and I know that nothing is ever as simple as it is. Everything is more complicated than it is. Everything costs more than it does.

I enter Macy’s and suddenly feel as if I’m in a haunted-house movie. Well-dressed clerks are scattered about, each maintaining a post in a specific department, each customerless, each staring straight ahead with pleasantness frozen on their faces just in case a supervisor wanders by for a pleasant-expression inspection.

What daydreams may come to these clerks, what soreness of foot and aching of back syndromes do they endure?

After a lifetime of encountering clerks from every walk of life, after decades of chatting with them and listening carefully to what they say aloud to one another, I have learned this: No matter how pleasant or dismissive or distracted they look, each one is glancing at the clock in anticipation of the next recess, the lunch break, the shift-ending hour. Each is hoping to be somewhere else as soon as possible.

The male clerk destined to assist me is pleasant, business-like, and robotic. I’ve never yet had a salesperson say, “Gee, that looks like crap on you. Don’t buy it—people will laugh.”

The clerk knows this silent truth, I know this to be so, thus I have to make my own judgement about whether I should purchase this jacket or that jacket. I’m always fortunate when Liz is able to accompany me and provide some feedback. Left up to me, I would buy the first thing I see (and I often do that), just to escape Robotics Land.

I make a selection, in the process learning that men’s clothing departments no longer offer alterations. I have to take my three-inches-too-long-sleeved blazer to another store that specializes in tailoring. The entire process takes an hour, not counting the return visit I will make to pick up the altered item.

See? As Liz Reed always says, “Everything takes longer than it does.”

In my 3 a.m. wide-awake insomniac meanderings, I add to my TO DO LIST: Send each Macy’s clerk a gift packet containing Epsom Salts, dark chocolate, aspirin and a thank-you note reading, “Be of good cheer. We’ve all been there, and you will get through this.”

The clerks won’t know what the heck that means, but at least I’ll feel better

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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