Glowing Dreams of a Tom Mix Radioman

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Glowing Dreams of a Tom Mix Radioman 

 Squeak. Rustle. Clunk!

It’s the sound of our mail box being opened, stuffed, then securely closed.

Today, I am first to run to the front door and retrieve the daily mail, just in case my special order has arrived.

This is 65 years ago, when we still know the name of the letter carrier, his family, his route and his schedule. He is right on time.

I run to the living room sofa and spread the trove. The newest issue of Life Magazine. A utility bill. A letter from Aunt Annabelle. And a small package addressed to Master Jim Reed!

This is it. Without waiting for permission, I carefully dissect the wrapper, emulating my mother’s care in saving for re-use any and all paper and cardboard materials. I pull out a personal greeting from Tom Mix, the cowboy star I listen to each week on the radio. I won’t know for decades that Tom Mix actually dies a year before I am born…but his franchise lives on.

Lo and behold, here is what I’ve been waiting for. A Tom Mix white plastic belt with red cowboy figures printed thereon. And it is just my size. Well, it is just the size of any small boy who owns it.

I am excited beyond all measure. Not just because I now own the belt. I am excited because this Tom Mix belt is supposed to glow in the dark! Following instructions, I expose the belt to sunlight, then rush to the nearest closet—the only daytime dark place in the house.

I pull the door tight, imprisoning myself among mothballs and suitcases and shoes and clothing. I dare to open my eyes. And there, lighting up the darkness, is my genuine Tom Mix glow-in-the-dark white plastic belt. It seems magical. I am not at all sure that I have ever seen anything that glows in the dark without an electrical plug or a battery or a hand crank.

I look around to see just how much illumination this  belt is capable of. Sure enough, I can see ghostly images of my hands, my shirt, my pants, my bare knees, and all the mysterious closeted objects I can never see in the dark.

Later, after showing off my latest mail-order acquisition to playmates and siblings and mother, after wearing the belt secured by cloth loops about the waist of my Jungle Jim khaki shorts, I have completed the chores and commitments of the day and am once again alone—my favorite place to be. Supper dispensed with, bath behind me, fresh pajamas donned, I climb up to lie abed on the top bunk of the bedroom and spend a little daydream time before slumbering.

Brother Ronny is already snoring in the bottom bunk. Flashlight and comic books are nearby. The sounds of the nightly neighborhood critters filter in through the metal window screens. Nearby houses are already dark. One bright planet, Venus, peers in through the west-facing window.

And there, within my grasp, is the Tom Mix belt. I wonder what Tom Mix would do with a glowing belt out on the cowboy prairie of the Wild West. Since cowboys don’t have flashlights back then, he probably uses the belt to locate firewood on a dark and stormy night. His horse, Tony, is settled in. He holds the belt aloft to find wooden matches. He lights kindling, feeds the flames with more wood, and beds down for the night, using his saddle for a pillow, hoping it doesn’t rain.

The Tom Mix glow-in-the-dark white plastic belt has served its purpose for the night.

Here I am, also bedded down, hugging my new belt, gazing at bedclothes faintly illuminated.

I close my eyes, drift into cowhand dreams, knowing that this has been a really great day, knowing that there may not be that many really great days to come. Hoping that there will be more wonderful days than I can possibly imagine


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.


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The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

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The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

I am behind the Times and learning to love it.

I’ll explain.

Reading the latest newspaper is my lifelong idea of what a learned and informed person does each day. Just sitting quietly alone at home or in a diner, scanning the pulpy textured pages, wiping ink stains onto my sleeve, searching for signs of hope or discovery, looking for a laugh or a tear to rev me up for the day…that’s a routine I would not want to abandon.

Way back, when Birmingham’s daily paper self-destructed and became a jumble of unvetted unedited unproofed words shaken and thrown onto shrunken pages that appear only periodically, my days were disorienting and somewhat content-less. So, I turned to the only still-daily publication I could mostly trust—the New York Times. It arrives each day at my home, usually locate-able in the shrubbery and often dry and crisp, ready to be opened.

To my amazement, often the Times carries more relevant news about Alabama than the News does. Unlike the News, no anonymous snarky comments are allowed or respected, and the Times’ internal editors are its greatest critics and proofreaders. It’s fun to see a paper actively trying to be better each day. It is comforting to know there are actually well-trained and experienced reporters and op-ed writers working away.

But, as with any wonderful change of habit, there are adjustments to be made.

The Times has to wend its way from New York to Birmingham, so through whatever elaborate process that entails, I get the news at least a day late. If this is Tuesday, that means I am reading Sunday evening’s and yesterday morning’s news. I am used to that, but wait!

Unlike the tradition of early delivery  in the wee hours of the morning, the Times carrier arrives as late as 9 a.m., which means I am already on the road to work…so I have to retrieve yesterday’s paper to read during the day, leaving this morning’s paper to be examined tomorrow.

Are you following me?

Basically, I am reading day-and-a-half-late-or-later news, way after it occurs. This leaves me out of step with everybody else. And actually, it is kind of nice.

Getting the news late means that I am basically a historian reviewing the world with some distance and perspective. The Times becomes a kind of daily weekly magazine.

After listening to folks wringing their hands about events over which they have no control, I get to quietly review what really happened through a lens that includes everything I’ve heard that has happened since. How can I explain this?

Since I know all the subsequent happenings  I can read the first reportage with a little more sagacity and perspective. It’s a kind of time-travel. The Times is a Times Capsule, freezing things in place long after they  happen, prepared to be examined by the likes of me. If I time-travel back two days and read the news, I can surprise those around me by predicting what will happen day after tomorrow. Uh, just take my word for it.

Anyhow, thank goodness for the Times. Its delivery to my home helps me maintain a tradition of calmly reviewing the day, after I’ve heard nothing but randomly excitable people repeating what they just read on Twitter or Facebook, what they have just been instructed to think by Fox and Rush.

I need a calming anchor in my day, and this is it


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Southside Progressive Buffet

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Southside Progressive Buffet

Not awake enough to face opening the shop this morning, I take a detour on the way to work and hope for some quiet reading time before showtime begins.

New York Times tucked under my arm, I negotiate with two McDonald’s clerks, finally obtaining a tray complete with paper placemat, icy water, scrambled egg, grits, sausage patty, biscuit, and some packets of substances dyed to look like butter and jelly.

I secure my bottom against the seat of the chair, spread my goodies about me, chastising myself for failing to bring earplugs to stave off the outrageously artless and booming music cut through with the distorted voices of employees making various jumbled announcements.

I say my mantra to reduce the ambient sounds inside my head and go through the ritual of preparing to eat and read.

As I try to ignore the world around me, things begin to catch my eye.

Two tables away, a middle-aged man keeps getting up to cross the room. I follow him with my eyes. He walks to the large trash receptacle, opens it up, bends over to rifle through previous customers’ leavings, retrieves a cup, fills it at the drink dispenser, and returns to his table, talking constantly to no visible person.

I assume he is speaking into one of those ear pod devices, but this turns out not to be the case. His animated conversation is with himself, or with a friend invisible to me.

After a bit, he returns to the trash, digs out the remains of a sandwich and commences to have breakfast.

I try to concentrate on my own breaking of the fast. I read the sordid news of the day. But part of me continues tracking the activities of this unnamed man.

This is not exactly something new to me. Now and again I see pedestrians near my downtown shop, unselfconsciously digging through concrete trash containers to assemble the makings of a decent meal. I long ago learned to keep to myself, just as they are plying their temporary trades by not intruding on my space. It’s a mutual demonstration of respect and manners.

But all this does remind me of the days, decades ago, when my kids and I would tour the drive-throughs of Southside Birmingham, putting together our own special dinners—each getting exactly the right thing. I preferred McDonald’s fries, Captain D’s catfish filet, Burger King’s Whopper Junior, Mac’s One-Stop’s Diet Dr. Pepper. The kids all had their special combinations, too. Once we were satisfied, we’d find a place at Phelan Park or the front porch of our house and dig in. We called it the Southside Progressive Buffet. Life was complete.

At any one moment, several billion people are eating what they can obtain, mostly enjoying their camaraderie or their alone time, doing the best they can do at staving off the encroaching, meandering thing called Activities of Daily Living.

And in silent homage, some of us quietly do our part—tip a little extra, donate something special, support causes that truly assist, pay a little more attention to those whose dignity is just as important as ours

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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6-29-15 to 7-4-15

Terry Brooks. 2 titles

1 novel

Bradbury. FAHRENHEIT 451


Wilde. 3 copies of PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

2 key chains

Biggers. 2 Charlie Chan titles




20 old postcards

MILLENNIAL DAWN Volume II (volume 2) 135th Thousand THE TIME IS AT HAND

MILLENNIAL DAWN Volume III (volume 3) 100th Thousand THY KINGDOM COME



Machiavelli.  ART OF WAR and PRINCE




Schulz. PEANUTS 2000

Sartre. NAUSEA







1 Beatrix Potter book

1 Alabama celebrities book







Books by/about Booker T. Washington & Abraham Lincoln & WWII & Civil War

A bunch of storybooks


20 Mad Magazine paperbacks

1 Johnny Cash LP recording


24 collectible Pez dispensers

1 old issue of Gentlemen’s Magazine

1 Maxfield Parrish print

Reed. DAD’S TWEED COAT (signed)

Blanche Dean. 2 flower books

1 photo of Lorne Greene

1 sci-fi title

1 LP record






3 old comic books


1959: october issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine with  alfred bester  charles finney  heinlein STARSHIP SOLDIER

1952: February issue of Galaxy Magazine with Powers Cover Art Plus de Camp & Heinlein & Walter Miller & Leiber & Bester (PART 2 OF THE DEMOLISHED MAN)



Sax Rohmer. 5 Fu Manchu titles




Arthur C. Clarke. 1 title

Mary Mapes Dodge. 1 title

L. Frank Baum. 1 Oz book

A whole bunch of photography, philosophy, fiction, classics and popular titles

2 graphic novels

1 old Nancy Drew title

Lawrence Block. 1 title

John D. MacDonald. 1 title

Nick Carter. 1 title


5 Birmingham postcards



Downtown: The Good, The Gooder, The Bestest

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The Good the Better and the Bestest

Every day is Tall Tale Day in Mister Reed’s Neighborhood.

I’m talking about all those The Glass Is Half Empty/The Glass Is Half Full stories that I listen to, here on Third Avenue North. These are stories about The City, and they are all a fun and sometimes disturbing mixture of urban mythology, high expectations, observation, low expectations, and a healthy salting of real stuff.

From the Red Clay Diary:

A rough-hewn woman with a tattoo (we’re talking sailor-biker bar type of tattoo, not surburban I-gotta-have-one-because-it’s-IN tattoo) says to me, “I wanted to make sure there’s a place to park Down Here (Down Here being Downtown), cause of the, you know, the stuff.”

Playing naïve, I say, “What do you mean, The Stuff?” and she says, “Well, I don’t want no crackhead jumping me,” to which I reply, “Oh, you must mean the homeless panhandlers—don’t worry about them, they’re harmless…and besides, I’m more scared to walk around in the Galleria parking lot at night than I’ve ever been, walking around Downtown at night.” I just have to rub it in and get my commercial in—quickly, before she disappears.

“Oh, yeah?” she says with interest, then kind of drops the subject, only she’s still in a hurry to hit the road. She only lingers because the shop is so damned fascinating to the uninitiated.

Earlier, a between-flight flight attendant comes into the shop for the first time, beaming ear to ear. After she has stayed a while, she volunteers, “Birmingham is one of my favorite cities!” This is the kind of day when I need to hear something good, so I urge her to say more. “Well, my favorite restaurant in the whole world is here, the streets are clean, the air is nice, the people are REAL friendly, and I feel so safe, walking around and taking the Dart.”

I just soak all this in, because it’s got to tide me over during the next three stories I will hear about how run-down or corrupt or ugly the city is.

I know the “ugly city” is not true, YOU know it’s not true, but it’s almost frightening how many people mouth off about Downtown without actually ever having spent a few hours touring and shopping and eating and just TALKING with people.

Mister Reed’s Neighborhood is either half-full or brimful of goodness, or it’s half-full or brimful of badness. Why is this so? Is it a matter of who’s doing the observing? Are both factoids true simultaneously?

Or should we simply go around, aggressively telling the good, the great, half-full-of-goodness stories, until they become contagious?

Bishop Spong once said that each city is as good or as bad as you expect it to be.

Wonder if he was right

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope Time Traveller

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The Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope Time Traveller

When he was a kid he used to dig into all those little classified ads and small display ads that were everywhere within the magazines and paperback books he read.

Back then, he would send off for anything he could afford and he would order anything that was free because he liked to get things in the mail…he liked to receive packages and envelopes from faraway places…he liked to open those packages and envelopes, never knowing what was inside each of them because by the time they arrived he’d already forgotten what he had ordered.

He enjoyed reading ads that touted services and items he felt he could never afford, and he always kept a mental list of things he would purchase if he suddenly had the means to get anything he wanted, and he even wondered how he would feel if he could purchase any and everything he wanted.

If that were the situation what could he hope for thereafter… what would his dreams be like after he had bought up everything in every ad in every magazine?

As he grew up and passed young adulthood, whizzed by middle age and verged on the edge of ultimate maturity he still liked to dream about those mail-order things he never got when he was a child. He daydreamed about the faraway places he would never travel to.

Now, as an adult, he at last could afford those mail-order items. But where were they?

The ads were no longer the same. The mail-order stuff he could buy now was different, inexplicable, not of his generation and time.

One day he passed by an old junk shop and saw a stack of magazines…the kind of magazines he read when he was oh so young…the magazines that had lurid pulp illustrations on their covers…the magazines that were packed with adventure and fantasy and humor and…ads.

On impulse, he bought those magazines and took them home to dream. A harmless and pleasurable act.

And one day, when he wasn’t really thinking too seriously about what he was doing, he bought some antique penny postcards and started mailing off requests for free things and more information, to the addresses that existed only when he was young, addresses with zone numbers in them, to companies that were so important in their respective communities that they had not needed street addresses—just the name of the city and state, you know. The very act of filling out those postcards was so nostalgic, so natural.

Then, he felt satisfied and drifted back into his memories of childhood and imagined what it would be like to actually receive mail from those long-departed places.

And one day, the packages and envelopes he had ordered started pouring in and he knew at that moment that he was at last in a place where no one could deny him his dreams and fancies…and after that he went about smiling to himself quite a bit more than one actually should smile at himself in times like these

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Television Reverse-Image Interview Exists Therefore It Is

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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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