O BRAVEST OF BRAVE NEW WORLDS

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

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

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

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

The computer is me, to her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see their flesh, they see my electronic self.

O brave new world.

Uh, were you saying something

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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WE WHO HAVE WRINKLES AND SAGGIES SALUTE YOU

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

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WE WHO HAVE WRINKLES AND SAGGIES SALUTE YOU

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

Everything I write is true, but this is actual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who cannot defend themselves against the stories I tell.

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

Wrinkles and saggies and all

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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THE POPE OF SOUTHTOWN SERVES HIS FLOCK

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

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THE POPE OF SOUTHTOWN SERVES HIS FLOCK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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FOREVER A BORROWER BE

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FOREVER A BORROWER BE

I just borrowed a memory from a friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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EYES WIDE SLEEPING SOUNDLY

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EYES WIDE SLEEPING SOUNDLY

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

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

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

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

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

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

Downstairs, the Sunday newspaper comic strips await.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or any time sister Barbara isn’t looking

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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THE JOYS OF SELECTIVE INATTENTION AND OTHER UNIMPORTANT IDEAS

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/joysofselectiveinattention.mp3

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THE JOYS OF SELECTIVE INATTENTION AND OTHER UNIMPORTANT IDEAS

Life’s humongous happenings are the things I ponder least.

That’s because I have no control, no input, no influence, no power over the huge events that occur in daily life.

I know but one way to deal with HUMONGOUS HAPPENINGS. More about that later in this little diatribe. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, it is always the tiny unnoticeables that rivet my attention. Things like street signs that do not communicate.

Here’s one: NOT A THOROUGH STREET. What does this mean? The street is incomplete? Is it inadequately constructed? Is it misspelled? Does it intend to say NOT A THROUGH STREET? If so, THROUGH what? Does it suddenly come to a stop just past the sign? Perhaps more communicative would be NOT A THRU STREET. This is easier to read, and there is no confusion about words–thorough and through and trough could blend themselves into an amalgam of meanings. By the time they are sorted out, the driver may have run smack and thoroughly through a trough that runs thru a tough ‘hood.

Here’s another sign of the times: GROOVED PAVEMENT. What am I supposed to do with this instant information? Is it a mysterious command? Am I to spin the steering wheel to conform to the grooves?  Or is it another typo? Does it mean GROOVY PAVEMENT? In which case I can really get it on, man, and go with the flow. By the time I process this information, the sign has been long since passed and I’m on my way to the next challenge.

I recommend the highway department consider some new signs designed to entertain and confuse. What about ESCHEW OBFUSCATION? That would kick-start an inner philosophical debate about meaning, context, semantics…a much more productive exercise than the perplexing THOROUGH and GROOVY and THRU directives that nobody understands.

Or, a sign that reads ROAD ENDS would generate all kinds of excitement and stress. Since all roads eventually end, does this mean IMMEDIATELY or sometime in the future? There is no footnote or added explanation to comfort the driver. The sign may as well read LIFE ENDS, since it is an open-ended truism that one may ignore or obsess over. There’s always something new to wring one’s hands about.

The only way some of us get through the day is to employ a technique known as SELECTIVE INATTENTION. Disregarding the warning signs at least allows us to pay more attention to the road and focus less on things we cannot control.

Now about the HUMONGOUS HAPPENINGS.

As I inferred, there is nothing I can do to quell these HUMONGOUS HAPPENINGS. All I can do is exactly and precisely what I know how to do. When HUMONGOUS HAPPENINGS issue forth, I get back to basics and truisms.

I hug my family and tell them I love them.

I make sure my friends, my strangers, know that I actually care about them.

I look people in the eye to assure them that I am PAYING ATTENTION, for one terrible act of violence and abuse is to ignore someone, disavow their existence, disregard them, act as if they don’t matter, fail to listen to them.

The great sin is not noticing someone. The great abuse is not being noticed.

The great joy is the knowledge that you just listened to me, noticed me, by reading these words

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

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HAPPY UNBIRTHDAY TO YOU AND ME

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/happyunbirthdaytoyouandme.mp3

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HAPPY UNBIRTHDAY TO YOU AND ME

What do I get each time another birthday rolls around?

What is my reward? Where is my gift?

More to the point, what makes me think I have a reward coming my way, each time another 365 days pass me by?

What is so significant about our birthdays, mine and your’n? (Don’t let “your’n” throw you–it’s just one of those middle English words that a bookie nerd like me finds swimming among the silt in my brain.)

Speaking of silt, how many hundreds of songs are indelibly branded into my memory?

This is definitely one of them:

MARCH HARE:

A very merry unbirthday to me

MAD HATTER:

To who?

MARCH HARE:

To me

MAD HATTER:

Oh you!

MARCH HARE:

A very merry unbirthday to you

MAD HATTER:

Who me?

MARCH HARE:

Yes, you!

MAD HATTER:

Oh, me!

MARCH HARE:

Let’s all congratulate us with another cup of tea

A very merry unbirthday to you!

MAD HATTER:

Now, statistics prove, prove that you’ve one birthday

MARCH HARE:

Imagine, just one birthday every year

MAD HATTER:

Ah, but there are three hundred and sixty four unbirthdays!

MARCH HARE:

Precisely why we’re gathered here to cheer

BOTH:

A very merry unbirthday to you, to you

ALICE:

To me?

MAD HATTER:

To you!

BOTH:

A very merry unbirthday

ALICE:

For me?

MARCH HARE:

For you!

MAD HATTER:

Now blow the candle out my dear

And make your wish come true

BOTH:

A merry merry unbirthday to you!

***

Now, why is it that I can’t remember where I placed my Diet Coke five minutes ago, but I can recall hundreds of songs like this from my ever present childhood?

Don’t strain yourself—I don’t really need to know the answer to this question. I just want to ruminate and contemplate and masticate…eating my breakfast and thinking useless but entertaining thoughts all the while.

Go ahead and laugh at me. It’s a life I’m stuck with.

And during the best of my times, I celebrate at least 364 times a year.

Quick! Let’s appreciate and savor our unbirthdays with gusto, now and then distracting ourselves with the delusion that all is right with the world.

We do deserve a break from all this now and then, don’t you think?

Lewis Carroll and Jack Kerouac and Aldous Huxley and Steve Martin all know the value of self-delusion. Each has a different way of celebrating silliness.

My way is to share random thoughts and allow you to find your own significance or distraction as a result.

Couldn’t hurt.

Precisely why we’re gathered here to cheer

 

ALL THE MORNINGS OF THE WILDLING CITY

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ALL THE MORNINGS OF THE WILDLING CITY

Like a spindly-legged grain of blackened rice, this little critter is dozing at the bottom of my morning lavatory. As I brush my teeth, I contemplate the creature’s future prospects.

Shall I attempt to squash it so that Liz won’t encounter it later? Shall I wave so that it takes the hint that there are larger forces at work here? Will the critter zip away to safer haven?

Most mornings in the wildling city are like that. Decisions must be made. Or not. Every moment of indecision is a moment of decision. As Harvey Cox said, “Not to decide is to decide.”

Moments later, beneath the prickling shower, muffled sounds transmit from the radio, teasing me with snippets of information that I have to string together on my own. Words like Afghanistan…president…teaser…hurricane…blockhead…

The rice-sized spidery critter gathers up what free will is left and flicks itself into elsewhere.

The soap bar diminishes a fraction in my hands, the large towel engulfs me, misted mirrors reflect vague aspects of me, outdoor skies peek in through a high window, morning begs to begin its forward thrust toward eventual dusk.

Later,  I spend a few moments attempting to select an easy-rolling, silent shopping cart in order to cruise store isles unnoticed and meditative. There is no cooperation among the metallic wheeled skeletons. My cart squeaks harshly, as do carts of other shoppers.

Strewn about the cavernous arena, other shopping carts call out to each other like feral animals under stress.

The wildling city teems with beings both animate and inanimate, all wending their special fates in indecipherable patterns that, combined, create a global symphony entitled life on earth

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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TWILIGHT OF THE GODS MY FAVORITE TIME OF DAY

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/twilightofthegods.mp3

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TWILIGHT OF THE GODS MY FAVORITE TIME OF DAY

 It’s a simple act of nature, this eclipse thing. All mythology and mysticism and symbolism aside, an eclipse is pretty simple from the point of view of us earthbound or moonbound species.

In a solar eclipse, the moon briefly cruises between us and the sun. If you are an Earthling, you wonder where the sun went. Oh! There it is. It was just hidden from view for a couple of minutes. During a lunar eclipse, the earth comes between the sun and the moon. If you are a Moonling watching from atop a crater, the sun disappears behind Earth. Eventually, the sun peeks out and things get back to celestial normalcy.

When I was a kid, the skies above were so much more exciting than the earth under my feet. So, every time I got a chance to escape into the night skies, I took it.

Here is one memory of those long-ago days:

When I was a young one just trying to absorb the fact that I’d never be a Babe Ruth or an Albert Einstein or an Edgar Allan Poe or a Gregory Peck, I received for Christmas, sitting there just beyond reach of the carnival-decorated gaudy fir tree, a SPITZ JUNIOR PLANETARIUM, manufactured by HARMONIC REED CORPORATION OF ROSEMONT, PENNA.

It was a most special Christmas gift.

Just looking at it now, in my mind’s eye, it has remained crystal-clear all these many years: a shiny black flexible-plastic globe bifurcated by a yellow rubber equatorial flange that represents the stellar ecliptic and incidentally holds the two half-spheres together. The black globe sits atop a white plastic observatory-shaped base, and the whole thing can be rotated round and round as well as moved up and down to simulate all the naked-eye observable movements of the stars.

To appreciate the planetarium, you had to take it into a pitch-dark, preferably cube-shaped room and slowly turn up the rheostat just above the off-on switch on the front of the base. If you did it just right and just slowly enough, you would suddenly feel yourself transported to the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle of the planet in the middle of the universe because, all around you, there would suddenly appear stars in exactly the same positions, the same configurations, as they would appear if you actually were in the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle of…etc.

Even if you couldn’t go outside to see the stars, even if it was cloudy and raining, even if you had just come indoors from the humid sunshine, you could still go into that darkened room and be somewhere else in time and space and feel all alone in a crowd of billions of others whose names you did not know.

One day way back when, my sister Rosi got my SPITZ JUNIOR PLANETARIUM out of storage and presented it to me and I took it home and now I sleep again in the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle…

Whenever the demon insomnia causes my eyes to flicker open, I can see the old familiar stars keeping me silent company and reminding me that they will always be there and that any problems that seem gargantuan now are minuscule compared to the distant silent coolness and the close-up noisy fury of those suns upon suns upon suns out there. The mathematics and physics of astronomy escaped me early on, but the sheer personal poetry of the tiny points of light so large and so far away still affects me and still makes me remember what it was like to be a small boy and open an incredible shiny gift that pure and lonely Christmas so many eons ago in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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BONGO MAN DISRUPTS DUM DUM DEARTH QUEST

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/bongomandisruptsdumdumdearthquest.mp3

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BONGO MAN DISRUPTS DUM DUM DEARTH QUEST

The idling motor of the muscle car is rhythmic and sputtery. All the windows of the car are down, so that passersby can hear what goes on inside, so that the driver can hear what’s happening all around.

His baseball cap reversed, the driver is leaning over the steering column. His fingers and palms are beating out complex tempos upon the wheel, as if it has suddenly become a set of bongos.

He stares straight ahead at nothing. He is lost within a labyrinth of chuckling carburetor, puffy leaping hands, dipping chin, unheard lyrics, imagined tunes, recalled memories, imagined symbols and meanings.

I walk past the crookedly parked vehicle, not daring to interrupt the flow, the flows, of this bongo dream-man. I am my own reverie, he is his own reverie, and the two of us are just comets passing and bypassing one another, each with our own celestial small wisdoms, each with our solitudes enforced.

Does the bongo man know that my only quest this humid morning is for a supply of Dum Dums to re-fill the take-one-free basket at the bookshop? Dum Dums are not always readily available, so I’m making several stops in my trek. Do I know what back-story drives the idling-motor bongo man to perform his audienceless concerto? Does the bongo man know about Dum Dums and old bookstores and tiny insignificant quests such as mine?

Is each of us equally significant in the schemelessness of things? Do we count?

He counts his beats, I count my Dum Dum blessings, the sad and scruffy parking lot spreads heavy and forlorn beneath us.

And our universes part ways unheralded by time and space and journey

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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