Another Whirlwind Roller Coaster Bumper Car Day in the Magic City

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Another Whirlwind Roller Coaster Bumper Car Day in the Magic City

My car heads west on the Bessemer Super Highway this morning. I don’t have to tell my car to do this. It just does it. I’m riding in a driverless car.

The signs along the way are worth the drive. There by the side of the road is GRANNY’S LITTLE ANGELS DAY CARE CENTER. I still miss the long-gone POWER RANGERS FOR CHRIST DAY CARE CENTER. Maybe those tiny Power Rangers became little angels one day.

I would pick out my favorite sign, but each one is a favorite for a special moment. Look! There’s MIDFIELD THE CONVENIENT CITY. I’d love to have been in on the committee meetings that decided on this slogan. “Well, Charles, I think your idea about MIDFIELD THE IN-BETWEEN CITY is a little vague. And Andy’s YOU’RE PASSING THROUGH MIDFIELD ON THE WAY TO SOMEPLACE ELSE is too long.”

Actually, MIDFIELD A WORK IN PROGRESS wouldn’t be bad.

One pedestrian is walking a scruffy dog. He holds his head high and takes a deep breath of fresh air, then sticks the large billowing cigar back into his mouth and continues on, deep in a portable cloud.

Along the way, I look for clotheslines. I miss clotheslines. The last time I visited my Aunt Margaret in Cuba, Alabama, she was out in the yard hanging out clothes, ignoring the nice washer-dryer combination in the house. When I helped bring them in, they smelled of pure air and cleansed soul. The same way they smelled sixty years ago in my backyard in Tuscaloosa, when Mother and I would quickly take them down in advance of a storm.

A man crosses the street in front of my idling automatic vehicle. He strolls with the calm air of someone who has no appointments. How I envy him.

In some of the passing mysterious places, highly trafficked,  somebody somewhere has forgotten to put up a sign telling the name of the street or the name of the intersection…thus depriving people of knowing where they are. Thus depriving the neighborhood of its history.

I remember when the sign at the entrance of my childhood home, EASTWOOD AVENUE, was removed by the city of T-Town without warning. Someone had decided a numerical system would make more sense. Our street was stripped of its story. But to us, those  who lived much of our lives on EASTWOOD AVENUE, it would always be EASTWOOD AVENUE. Some things cannot be removed.

Cesare Pavese once wrote, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

That’s why my pockets are bulging with tiny sticky notes jotted with moments.

Never know when they might come in handy


© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Something to Do When You Are Not Doing Anything

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Something to Do When You Are Not Doing Anything

Writing is something to do when I am not doing anything. Indeed, if I had a choice, writing is something I would do most of the time. Everything else gets in the way of writing—making a living, maintaining relationships and kinships, eating, hygiene, activities of daily living, etc.

Like I say, writing is the best way to fill the doing-nothing void. Writing empowers me, jumpstarts me, reboots me, infuses me with bodily energies, electrifies my spirit.

Writing gets me from point A to point Z when all else fails.

Among the thousands of large and small regrets I carry around, the major regret is this: Look at all the time I have misused by not writing.

You see, writing has an eerie effect on me (and I am not the only writer who knows this). It forces me to ignore the obvious and concentrate on the important.

When spontaneous, joyful writing is taking place, living becomes effortless. No kidding!

So, do writers know these things when they first begin writing? Nope. Knowledge and wisdom flow only after much, much writing has taken place over a long period of time. But it does come. And you won’t know this fact, you won’t share this wisdom with me and other writers, until you have put in the time.

All dedicated writers know the same thing: Each of us has to wend our own way, find our own special way to write. In order to do this, the writer first has to realize there is no Big Secret. As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Maugham’s message is clear to all us writers. There is no magic formula. Best use your time writing rather than talking about writing.

Another quote from a master: Lillian Hellman said, “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”

Sometimes writers, be they aspiring or professional, can get their muse revved up simply by thumbing through a couple of pages of books by real writers. The three books I recommend most are “How to Become Your Own Book” by Jim Reed; “Zen and the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury; “On Writing” by Stephen King. We writers can’t tell you how to write, but we can most certainly, with just a few words, swat your muse on the fanny and cry out, “Just write!”

As Groucho Marx once said, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them…well, I have others.” These are my ideas and thoughts for today. If you don’t like them I do have others.

Get on with it, my friend. You’ll be overjoyed when it actually works

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Sandpaper Razor Meets the Theo A Koch Barber Kid

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The Sandpaper Razor Meets the Theo A Koch Barber Kid

I’m riding the Theo A Koch automatic barber chair, watching the barber foot-pump his metal and leather instrument higher so that he can get at my neck, the neck of eight-year-old me. He has already draped my shoulders and torso in a checkered cloth to keep the hairs he’s about to trim from hiding under my clothes and making me all itchy.

The barber is efficiently cutting away while continuing his running conversations with various customers who sit in a long row of chairs facing the Theo A Koch chair. They talk of fishing and hunting and politics and street repair while thumbing through current issues of magazines like Argosy, Esquire, Field and Stream, Collier’s, Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post.

The shop smells of old cologne and talcum and working class sweat.

I squirm impatiently while the barber plies his trade, his scissors and electric trimmer flashing in the sunbeams that cause the rotating candy cane pole to cast its shadow across my shoes. I gaze at my shoes because I’m required to lower my head while lather is applied to my neck. I read and re-read the Theo A Koch brand name embossed in nickel plated sheen between my feet. The freshly-stropped straight razor makes sandpaper sounds. I cringe, waiting for the barber’s hand to slip. It never does. But it might.

What is that after-shave perfume the barber laves on my neck? What is the name of the talcum powder he dusts on my neck to ease the fresh-shave sting? I don’t understand the ritual of shave and talcum and fragrance and hair tonic, but I do know that I will not feel like I’ve really had a haircut unless I walk away smelling like something other than a real eight-year-old lad.

The barber dramatically takes away the checkered cloth the way Dracula might swirl his cape. I take my feet off the Theo A Koch brand. The shoeshine man swish-brooms the back of my shirt in an elegant gesture of manners and politeness. I walk past the rotating candy cane pole and onto the sunny streets of downtown Tuscaloosa, a brand-new kid ready to face a brand-new afternoon.

I don’t know whether the magazine-thumbing grownups ever tip the barber, though they do tip the shiner of shoes. Kids are not expected to tip, so I get to spend my extra dime across the street at Woolworth’s for the best bag of popcorn I will ever eat…until the next haircut

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Writer Goes Around Tattletelling

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I am a tattletale.

Can’t help it. I tell tales, but I also in the process rat on people.

I out you and your foibles, vices, beauty, shallowness, brilliance.

I sneak my pen around the page when you are not looking, and immortalize your idiosyncracies and your heroism.

I am a transcriptionist.

I copy you down and tell others things you may not know about yourself.

I tell things you wish I’d keep secret.

I praise you when you don’t even recognize your praiseworthiness.

I describe you so accurately you can’t even recognize yourself in the story.

I tell on other people and you suspect I’m talking about you.

Sometimes you are jealous of me.

Sometimes you secretly admire what I do and wish you knew my secret.

This flabbergasts me, because I don’t know my secret—

I just write and let the fingers and the page and the pen and the gut and the heart tell all.

If I try to force myself to write, it’s like trying to squeeze toothpaste from a flattened, spent tube.

If I try to backtrack and edit or expurgate and obliterate what I’ve written, it’s like trying to fill an empty tube with toothpaste. It’s always too late. What’s written is written.

I am a tattletale, but nobody escapes me. I can’t even stop writing things about myself that I don’t want you to know. It’s always too late.

I out everything when I write.

I tell the future, I look back to the future, I tell the past, I look forward to the past.

I am a writer.

I fictionalize the truth.

I spy the truth in fictions.

No matter how I write it, it comes out true, it comes forth as truth.

I write because I can’t lie.

I write because somebody has to tell the truths that only I can tell.

I am a writer, and I can’t go back and change that fact

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Painful Thoughts of Bugs Bunny and Other Smart Remarkers

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Painful Thoughts of Bugs Bunny and Other Smart Remarkers

Pain is what you don’t expect. Surprise!

Surprise can be painful; pain is always surprising.

Pain is what you anticipate and anticipate and anticipate.

Didn’t Billy Shakespeare say, “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” I guess that means cowards tend to allow their imaginations to get the best of them. Valiant people must be deeply into avoidance in order to survive.

Relief comes from finding out that what you anticipated isn’t as bad as you expected.

Pain is all in your head.


Pain is all in your body.

OK, pain is everywhere in your body and your head, it’s just that some pains are more extreme than other pains, so the body does a kind of prioitizing—the most resounding pain is the pain you have to deal with to the exclusion of all other pecking-order pains. The tiniest pain gets the least attention, but is the tiniest pain always the least important pain?

Level of pain does not seem to have much to do with degree of danger. A hangnail can be excruciating, but how often is it life-threatening?

“He died of hangnail pain, poor S.O.B.”

As Bugs Bunny once said, “Pain hurts!”

Why will I do anything to avoid pain, even if that specific pain has little to do with degree of danger?

Walking barefoot across loose gravel is enormously painful, but will it kill me?

“He died of barefoot gravel-walking, poor S.O.B.”

Since this whole subject is painful, I think I’ll change the subject.

Avoidance can be a great pain-manager.

For me, it’s probably the only pain-manager.

Avoidance is a way of life, and it can work wonders, especially when you find it impossible to deal with the reality of things.

I recommend avoidance whenever possible.

I never recommend pain

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Day the Pocket in My Pants Started Talking to Me

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The Day the Pocket in My Pants Started Talking to Me

Sometimes, when least expected, my pants talk to me.

This happens without any effort on my part.

I’m sitting shotgun at the end of a row of other jazz lovers, listening to a large group of young musicians making music, and I am in thrall. Enthralled. Enraptured. That is, until I hear an annoying but familiar voice making comments about love, life and laughter. I look around to see who’s talking out of place. Nobody. But the voice continues. It is coming from my left pants-pocket, where rests the tiny audio recording device I use to make notes when pen and pad are nowhere to be found.

The voice is my own.

The device has somehow turned itself on, and now I’ve got to squirm quickly, dig down past datebook and cash, and try to retrieve the thing. It is still going on with its internal dialogue. I grab it, bring it out and smash my finger against the OFF button. Fortunately, most of the people around me are still wondering about the source of the voice—they haven’t pinpointed my pants yet.

The evening is saved.

From this day forth, I punch the fail-safe switch after each verbal note, hoping it won’t happen again.

But, my pants being haunted, or the recorder being haunted, the dang thing still switches itself on now and then…but only to entertain me. My disembodied electronic muse has a mind of its own, and I kind of like the fact that, like a two-year-old, it tries to get my attention at unexpected and appropriate times.

In fact, were it not for the notes residing in my pants pocket, this little piece of writing would not have occurred. The first line says it all, and I dutifully write it down. The voice speaks loudly and says THE DAY THE POCKET IN MY PANTS STARTED TALKING TO ME.

Like most diligent writers, I obey my muse and start writing, my pants creating what you just read

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Day the Bride Considered Ordering a Hit on the Groom

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The Day the Bride Considered Ordering a Hit on the Groom

Walking down the isle arm in arm with Dad was the scariest, most exhilarating experience  of her life so far. As she approached the priest and the groom, all she could think about was The Ring and what lay beyond. The Ring would make her the happiest she might ever be, The Ring and all it stood for…what a gigantic leap that would be. She was so excited she simply could not imagine what would be on the other side of this moment, the moment after the ring would rest secure and properly embrace her finger.

The groom, watching his lovely wife-to-be floating closer and closer, was doubly excited today. His bride expected to wear The Ring, but he had come up with something even better, something more enduring, more representative of the modern world in which they would live together. And she would be even more impressed with him because of his ingenuity, his leap of genius.

The ceremony was a blur, during which no-one thankfully grew hoarse or stumbled or stuttered. The priest said, “The ring, please,” or something like that. Later, sitting in her cell, she would not remember the exact words.

The groom, his ear-to-ear smile lighting up the chapel, pulled from his pocket a small electronic device and turned it on, holding it up for all to see. The image on the screen was three-dimensional, clearly focused, high-resolutioned, state-of-the art in futuristic quality. The image was that of The Ring.

The priest’s brow furrowed, the bride looked a bit dazed, the groom proudly explained, “This is the ultimate symbol of my love for you. This image is permanent, can never be lost (it will remain safe in The Cloud forever), can be laser printed and framed to go over our living room mantel.” He took a deep breath, beaming his pride. “So I give you this image in place of a mere ring, making you the first bride to embrace the future of 21st Century technology, making the mere physical object of a metal ring obsolete and unnecessary.”

The bride’s voice quavered, “Where is the ring?” The groom began repeating his explanation but never finished because at that moment the bride pulled a revolver from her bouquet and…

The Lover of Books was enjoying the surprise birthday party thrown together by his family and friends, and now came gift-opening time. Each package contained a book, since his wife had notified everybody in advance that books made him happier than any gift you could think up. There were big books, small books, new books, ancient books, profound books, gag books, readable books, and he dived into each package as if Christmas were here.

Then, one old friend handed him his final present. A Kindle. An electronic book that would make all his other gifts meaningless and obsolete, his friend explained, quite proud of his brilliance and predictive genius.

The Lover of Books looked at the electronic object as if it were a brown shoe floating in a punch bowl at the Senior Prom. He glanced over at the pile of books he was looking forward to thumbing through, skimming, marking, bookmarking, highlighting, feeling, smelling, storing bits of note cards and confetti within, securely stacking around him like a fortress against the vulgarities of the 21st Century.

The friend was so pumped up about his profundity at giving this plastic and metal gift that he did not notice the Lover of Books reaching into the desk drawer and pulling forth a revolver

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Importance of Not Reading Being So Cool

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The Importance of Not Reading Being So Cool

“So, what are you reading these days?” I ask a ten-year-old customer at the shop. He is accompanied by an avid-reader sister and parents who are enjoying digging through tons of books.

“Uh, I don’t read,” he proudly announces, working hard to look cool and macho at the same time.

“You mean you can’t read at all?” I ask, faking sympathy.

“Er, no, I know how to read,” he replies a bit disdainfully.

“He knows how to read, he just doesn’t like to read,” his nearby sister explains patiently, thumbing through a Nancy Drew book.

“So, you don’t read anything?” I persist, knowing that what he really means is that he reads everything he wants to read, but never in the form of a book, which would not be cool.

He doesn’t know how to answer, so I say, “You did not read street signs on the way over, to find out where you are…you don’t read anything on the internet…you don’t read video game instructions…you don’t text or facebook or tweet…you don’t read comic books…you don’t read the sports page to see what your favorite team is doing?”

He admits he does read these things.

“Then, I guess what you mean is that you just don’t read books, right?”

He nods.

“OK. Follow me for a second,” I engage his gaze and trap him for a moment or two. “What would happen if you hard-copied everything you read this week–you know what a hard copy is?” He nods, a little hypnotized now. “Then,” I continue, “What if you made a hard copy of each and every thing you read and placed it in a stack after seven days. Do you think the stack would be about this thick?” I measure out 1 1/2 inches with thumb and finger. He agrees that’s about right.

“Well, if you took that stack of paper to Kinko’s and asked them to bind it together with hard covers, that would be what we call a Book.”

He gets it, I can tell.

“So…you read at least one book a week…so you do read books!” I smile. His parents are paying attention but hiding this fact from the boy. It’s obvious they have tried to work through this with him in various ways but have never thought of the “book” approach.

I smile again and say, “Thanks for reading books. They are quite fun to read!” He kind of relaxes and continues to wander the shop. His sister is grinning. And I relax because I can see that he is not offended or embarrassed—thank goodness! A fine line to walk.

As I head to the front of the shop to assist other customers, I quote Mark Twain to his sister and parents because it’s my store and I can do things like this: “A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t read.”

I know—I’m a tad overbearing. But dang it, I just have to sermonize now and again.

By the way, this happens at least twice a week in the shop. Sometimes it’s a forty-something man who brags about never reading books, once in a blue moon it’s a young girl, but the scenario is always the same—someone brags about never reading books as if it is the politically correct thing to do in the modern South. And I, the avid bookseller, try to demonstrate in various ways that books are everywhere in every form, ready to be read, even if they are in no way called books

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Obscure Man of a Certain Gait Moves Unnoticed Through the Drenched City

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The Obscure Man of a Certain Gait Moves Unnoticed Through the Drenched City

The friendly extroverted chatting customer grabs his change from me and heads waving toward the door. “Thanks…I’ll be back!” he grins over his shoulder.

Browsers like this jolt me into a reluctant good mood on a slow day, or they confirm what I sometimes suspect: every day is good if you approach it the right way.

I am playing the role of successful, kindly shopkeeper. The customer is playing…well, is he playing or is this his true nature, this chipper, goodfellow facade? Am I faking it or is he?

I file the thought away and go about my morning duties in the aisles of foundling books. When I leave the store for lunch, I wave to Marie, and she takes over.

New York Times under my arm, I stroll toward the diner and prepare for twenty minutes of solitude—just me, my paper, my lunch plate, some really loud static-filled music, and other diners who leave me alone to my dome of solitude.

I glance through the large street-view window, munching away as I turn the paper inside-out, and see, walking along 22nd Street, the jaunty customer who had been in the shop earlier. But he’s somehow different now.

He is usually bright, has good eye-contact, has a ready smile, is joyful and friendly…but when I see him walking outside his environment unnoticed, there is something slightly obscure and unsure about him…his head is slightly cocked to the side, he looks down, he is serious, he is in a hurry as if he’s afraid someone might spot him. He’s not carrying his recent purchase.

His dome of solitude transmogrifies him and makes him nearly unrecognizable. In the bookstore, he was one person, now he is another. He shapeshifts with his locale. What is he at home? Who is he at church on Sunday? What does he become in heavy suburban traffic? Is he a kindly father, a giving neighbor, an angry insurrectionist, a future Nobel laureate, a sentenced felon?

I’ll never know, nor will he ever know who I am and when and where.

To me, it’s enough to know a good customer. To him, perhaps it’s enough to be in the  sanctuary of the bookshop for a few minutes before he bolsters his courage enough to brave the disguise he must don to re-enter the city byways.

I return to my paper and my munching, leave my paltry tip on the table, wave to the cashier, and open the door to the street, where I become that other person, that pedestrian who would be unrecognizable to the customer who views me as just the kindly old bookie

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Speak Softly and Carry a Small, Old Book

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The Word Scribe purposely trod the street of the big city in the mid-morning hour. Looking left, right, below and above, he attempted to imprint his surroundings in a secure place in his mind for later reference. He felt the need to remember everything in sight. He loved the notations he constantly refined inside the small book he always carried apocket.

This particular day, the Word Scribe entered the quiet confines of his shop, locked the door behind him, and began reviewing and recording his impressions.

He wrote these words:

Thoughts are precious.

Thoughts must not be allowed to fall listlessly from your mind and tumble to the floor, eventually rolling under something where you can’t get to them.

Thoughts are mysteries and revelations unto themselves. The mysterious thoughts must be retained for later surgical examination. The revelations must be carefully described and regarded as if they constituted an index to Life Itself. 

The Word Scribe completed his ritualistic notations, closed the small book and placed it in his pocket.

What did I learn today? the Word Scribe asked himself in particular.

He smiled and realized that he was not quite prepared to explain what he had learned, that more writing and editing would have to take place before that could happen.

He was comforted by the fact that his thousands of notes, his hundreds upon hundreds of stories, were already released to the cosmos and floated around encased within notebooks and stacks of paper and software programs…existing as tweets and books and facebook entries and blogs and blasts…carrying on into the air as broadcasts, as echoes from the many speeches and performances he had delivered.

But the Word Scribe also knew, as all word scribes know, that regardless of how many places his words and stories were sequestered, no matter how many banks of red clay held them close, no matter how many people now living would remember and repeat these words and stories…he knew that there was always a chance that, once he faded from the trodden streets, those words and stories might disappear with him.

The Word Scribe used to worry about his Legacy, whatever that was.

But now that he had written so much, performed so much, related and recorded so much, he was beginning to realize that the Legacy meant nothing. He was beginning to realize that the pleasurable and exciting and roller coaster  life he had led and was leading, was all that really mattered.

He knew at last that the trip, the exploration, was the thing.

And if, someday, an inquisitive graduate student working on an obscure literary subject should find his words and think them important enough to turn into a footnote in a soon-to-be-filed-away thesis…that would be acceptable.

The joy he felt simply living his words was the one thing he hoped others would discover on their own

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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