The Great Unblizzard of 2015 A.D.

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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Mario Lanza Almost Live and in Person

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I found this twenty-year-old entry in my Red Clay Diary. Though it happened long, long ago, it feels like yesterday. And it helps me recall my Mom, and a good adventure I had with my brother, Tim.


Somewhere deep in the bowels of the city of Philadelphia, on the second floor—or is it the third?—of a music school, reside the paper-and-cloth remnants of a pre-Pavarotti superstar, a man who died in 1959, still remembered by a few aging fans who celebrate his Philadelphia-ness each year.

I am here with my brother, Tim, who is busy showing his whimsical art at an enormous civic-center show. I take a break to have an adventure in a town I know little about.

The Mario Lanza Institute and Museum, I learn, is listed as a tourist attraction by Triple-A and, of course, this is the natural place I want to visit first if I ever get to Philadelphia.

This kind of attraction appeals to me most…the dusty little out-of-the-way corners of the nation that are ignored by crowds waiting to get into the Benjamin Franklin Institute or who drive 90 miles to see the home of Edgar Allan Poe. Besides, my mother is a  longtime fan of Lanza, so I think it will be a great gesture to bring her a souvenir or two from the Institute.

The Angolan cab driver has no idea how to get me to the Mario Lanza Institute and Museum, so we have to stop several places—at my expense—to ask various uninformed and usually indifferent citizens for directions. We finally find a woman, standing in front of a theatre, whose child has actually attended the music school and who thus provides directions for me—certainly not directions for the cab driver, who has no idea where anything is and whose wife was trying to get through nursing school so he won’t have to spend the rest of his life driving through a city he fears (“No cabdriver wants to drive after 5 o’clock in this town.”).

 So, after scrunching up our shoulders to make it through the narrow streets, I at last tell the lost driver to just let me out. He does, and I find myself in an alien land—shabby,  overcrowded and oversqueezed buildings, trash in the streets and loiterers eyeing passersby with thirsty curiosity.

Just can’t figure out where I am, so I enter a teeming neighborhood laundry to ask the Chinese owner for directions. He can’t understand anything I say, and the hangers-out in the establishment are beginning to crowd uncomfortably close to me, the bearded London-Fog-overcoated bald guy who just doesn’t seem to come from these parts. One rather large, sullen man looms over me, staring.

From behind, someone taps me roughly on the shoulder. I freeze, hoping the contact is accidental. The tapping continues, and I turn to find the smiling face of a woman who speaks English and actually knows where the Mario Lanza Institute is.

Just a block away, behind high metal fences, stands an aged building with high ceilings and run-down plaster-walled offices. Inside, even though I call ahead to make sure the Museum is open, nobody can tell me how to get upstairs to see the Museum (“The elevator can be operated only by key–and you’ll have to talk to the people in the office.”). The people in the office are tied up with personal phone calls, so I stick my head into a side office, interrupting the casual chatter of two denizens, who send me back to the desk I’ve just come from.

 ”Here, I’ll let you on the elevator with my key,” a grizzled, limping elderly man smiles. He leads me down a narrow hallway to a stale-smelling tiny elevator and sends me on my way, alone and claustrophobic, to the floor where I might find Mario Lanza’s scraps and pieces, if I am lucky.

Once the door clangs open, I am inside another narrow corridor which leads eventually to a high-ceilinged dimly-lit hallway on the walls of which Mario Lanza himself PR-grins himself silly for visitors and photographers around the world.

There are yellowed newspaper clippings, a framed letter to Mario from Jack Warner, another from Sammy Cahn, a Mario Lanza dinner jacket with the faint yellowing you associate with rental outfits (his arms were incredibly short, it seems), various audiocassette tapes comparing Lanza to Caruso, tabloid papers reporting on the annual Mario Lanza Festival, dingy scrapbooks and press-clipping binders available for Lanzaphile research, a sample copy of a book about Lanza (“We’re out of these, so we can’t sell this copy,” the bored clerk who staffs the Institute says.) and various fan club materials on the cracked-plaster walls of one small room.

And that is it.

The Mario Lanza Institute and Museum is about to close in the middle of the afternoon, and I am the third and final person to sign the guest book this day. I purchase a cassette for my Mother, pick up a few freebie photocopies and pamphlets for her, and make my way downstairs to the main door, dodging young musicians and their parents.

Outside in the cold winter air, I cannot find a cab, but two tourists do stop to ask me for directions. I wander toward what is called the Italian Market, smelling wonderful cooked-sausage and pasta fragrances, and trying to look as if I know what I am doing in this strange and unclean neighborhood, trying to look as if I can handle myself.

Finally, a cabdriver idling his GM car in front of a small store says he will take me back to the Philadelphia Civic Center as soon as his mate is through shopping. His wife, a petite and polite woman, chats with me a bit as we drive through the incredibly narrow streets of another planet and head toward someplace I can call familiar in this best and worst of all possible cities where once a tenor spent some time making fans of people who are beginning now to forget both him and the hopefulness that once welled from within his lungs…a hopefulness that thrilled my mom and a million other moms whose lives in the late-1940′s and early-50′s were so much harder but so much purer then

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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You Load Sixteen Quarters and What Do You Get?

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The Sixteen-Quarter Two-Hour Beautiful Historic

Downtown Birmingham Shopping Spree

Through the window of my wonderful old bookshop, I can see the city streets, the city buildings, the city people, and the city Shopper Zappers.

They are all there for my viewing pleasure each day, these historic structures, these diverse and fascinating people. The privilege of watching day to day history unfold before me is one of the reasons I love this old city.

But watching the Shopper Zappers operate is akin to watching a zombie movie—each visitor to our neighborhood is stalked by these annoying and off-putting mechanisms that are designed to kill all traces of goodwill and good humor in folks who otherwise are trying to have a nice experience during their time here.

The Shopper Zappers—otherwise known as Parking Meters—are designed to give each shopper a bitter taste, a lingering impression that the City does not welcome nor encourage Downtown shopping.

Just join me at the window and let’s see what happens:

An elderly couple emerges from their carefully parked vehicle, glancing around at the fun they are planning to have—a visit to Reed Books and Sojourns gift shop and the Goodyear Shoe Hospital. The driver approaches the parking meter, digs into his pocket for a couple of quarters, and deposits the first one. Then he does a visible double-take when a mere eight minutes registers in the little meter window. Thinking the meter is broken and did not record his quarter, he deposits another. Now he knows he’s in trouble, because he sees that he has only 15 minutes to do all his shopping and sightseeing.

Now the driver has several options. He can try parking in another space that might have a working meter, he can keep putting quarters in the slot till it reads two hours, or he can become upset and drive away, vowing never to return to this apparently cold and ruthless place.

In this instance, the visitor stays calm, knowing that his wife has been planning a visit to the City for some time. While she waits beside the car, he enters the shop and asks whether I can give him a dollar’s worth of quarters for the meter in exchange for a dollar bill. Of course I can, but I know from my experience with dozens of other customers that he has not done the math. In order to put two hours on the meter, he is going to need 16 quarters—and who carries 16 quarters around at all times?

I make the same decision I have been making each day for weeks: I hand him a big handful of quarters and tell him to fill the meter. In other words, I will pay this man to park and visit my street and my shop.

He wonders why I would do such a thing.

I want these customers to leave Birmingham feeling that somebody really cares whether they shop Downtown. I want them to know that Birmingham is much more than the mere City Bureaucracy that extracts penalties and fees while discouraging all visitors from returning.

I want them to feel welcome in Birmingham.

So, periodically, I stroll to the corner of Richard Arrington and 3rd Avenue North and pick up more rolls of quarters from the friendly bankers at Iberia. They spend a lot of time doling out quarters to other merchants and professionals who, like me, are trying to counteract the ill will that these prohibitive and punitive Shopper Zappers exude.

Yep, it’s come down to this.

I pay people to come to my shop. I pay people to tour and visit and appreciate the City.

And I pay people to return home with the knowledge that we merchants and professionals care about them, that we are quite different from the Shopper Zappers and their attendants who seem invisible and insensitive to what it takes to promote a really fine and beautiful historic Downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

Y’all come to Reed Books and grab some quarters

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Improbably Erratic Adventures of the Light Bulb Thief

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Improbably Erratic Adventures of the Light Bulb Thief

The tiny 60-year-old flashlight bulb has never burned out. It still powers the Spitz Junior planetarium that splatters stars and constellations across my bedroom ceiling and walls, thus allowing me to sleep under a nighttime sky sans mosquitoes and unpredictable temperatures.

My nights are star-filled and constant, even though life itself is erratic.

One of the mysteries of day to day existence is, why do some bulbs burn interminably, while others flash and fail?

This meandering path to the need for artificial illumination causes millions of us to become light bulb thieves.

I’m cozying up with a late-night book abed, preparing to read myself aslumber. One flick of the bedside lamp switch sidetracks the evening. The bulb stops working. There are choices to be made. I can arise from my comfy pillows, don shoes and clothing, and wend my way downstairs to Liz’s studio, where reside light bulbs galore. I can pore through dozens of multi-sized multi-watted Edison rejects for just the right bulb—and risk not finding anything at all, thus disrupting my submersion into the nighttime literary daze—or I can quickly barefoot it to the next room and sneak a bulb from another lamp. Wonder which option I will choose?

Payback. There is always payback. Two nights later, I’m sitting down to read the paper. I reach to turn on the chairside switch, and nothing happens. This is, of course, because there is no light bulb in the lamp. It’s in the bedroom.

Decisions, decisions.

After several weeks of rotating and snitching light bulbs, there comes a day of reckoning. I really will have to make a cranky effort to bring fresh light bulbs into my life, else adjust to perpetual darkness.

Now, to gird my loins and get on with it

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

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The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

The old book shop is filled with charm and aroma and ambience and centuries of culture, all pressed together in comfortable intimacy and familiarity. This may be one of the few places you’ll ever visit where diversity is no longer an intellectual talking-point or an impossible dream.  This old book shop is a gathering place for all ideas, a place where diametrically opposing philosophies co-exist with a smug sense of humor, a smug sense that all philosophies are worth no more than a palm full of puns sifting through the fingers.

Old paper scraps and chips and shards and cuttings and flakes cover the floor of the shop, reminders that paper is vulnerable to age and wear. Among the ironies of the confetti scatterings are the ancient books, the books with pages still intact and white and durable. Old-time paper endures, these-days paper often consumes itself in acidity.

One more irony. Even the fragile paper survives if it is nurtured and kept safe from ultra violet rays, deep humidity and heated dryness.

So, what do we have here in the shop? Everlasting books, crumbling books, archival paper, disregarded paper. It’s a merry mishmash.

“Oh, I love the smell of books. Isn’t this great?” a customer extols the virtues of the time-travel vault I call a book shop. I hear this exclamation several times a week from wandering nomads who cherish the past and the preserved present and the predicted future.

So, each day I place a bit of book fragrance behind each ear, don my bookie demeanor, and spend the hours receiving books, searching for books, sprucing up books, researching books, cataloging books, pricing books, shelving books, answering questions about books, selling books, collecting books…and, once home, reading books and writing books.

And, should I dare to visit the darkened shop in the wee hours, I can listen to the books breathing and resting and committing the act of simply being available and open to examination by those whose mysterious quests will bring them to the sidewalk in front of the shop door just before opening time, anxious to continue the neverending tales


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

The tall top-hatted scarecrow walks his wide-stanced walk along the shoulder of the gray roadway to my right, his unnaturally long arms stretched wide to catch the wind.

Protruding from his sleeves are bouquets of straw substituting for hands, and his topcoat and trousers are blousing in the breeze.

This fairy-tale mirage seems somehow normal once I notice that, as I draw nearer, the scarecrow is silhouetted against a remarkably glossy buttermilk sky, the likes of which I have not seen since childhood. The clouds gleam and march in spotted lockstep, and I may as well be observing a scene from some Maxfield Parrish/Hoagy Carmichael version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The sky is so vivid this morning, the scarecrow so alive, that, as I pass by, I realize that this scene will etch its way into my memory. I’ll never have to see the buttermilk scarecrow again, I’ll never even need to try and explain how it can be that a fictitious creature like this can be sauntering along on its merry way to…where? That’s because the snapshot has been taken and stored for further examination.

The rest is rumination and storytelling

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Grove of the Dolls

 Within the dusty attic of my mind reside Gothic memories that occasionally arise and remind me that regardless of how many times The Stories tell themselves to you, they are never quite finished. For every story told, there is always The Next Day, and what happened The Next Day.

 Here’s a true story that will never be completed. Fortunately, the human imagination, each human imagination touched by this story, will unwillingly carry forth the tale and conjure up possible Next Day scenarios. That’s part of the fun of storytelling.

 Here’s the true and actual tale hidden in my Red Clay Diary many years ago.


 Downtown Birmingham is the Tether.

You can enjoy being Downtown or you can enjoy returning to Downtown. Just take a trip 50 miles thataway or 50 miles the other way, then return to the City. This is about the time I went thataway…and was so glad to return safely—though altered!

The life-size mannequins inside the old tin shed are all tangled together in a silent and stifled orgy of lacquered intimacy.

There are mannequins fully dressed and carefully made up and there are mannequins old and weathered and strangely still youthful.

There are glowy-eyed mannequins staring into whatever comes before them but never changing the direction of the stare, prisoners frozen and sentenced to observe only that which presents itself to their direct gazes and steely peripheral visions.

There are male mannequins with sculpted hair and female mannequins with flared nostrils and delicate hands, there are mannequin heads and arms and legs and feet and torsos both dancing and as still as stones at rest in the countryside heat. And there are mannequins swinging from rafters and peeking from large pails, and next door there is another metal-roofed building with yet more mannequins and their neighbors.

The little town of Shady Grove, Alabama has no idea that these mannequins and body parts are living, never alive, in its midst. And no-one knows, either, that surrounding these mannequins are big reels of full-length movies and newsreels and ”shorts” and previews (trailers) and documentaries and cartoons, all in their original canisters, all in their original formats, 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, 8-millimeter, and photographic slides and transparencies, and, should you yearn to see one of these features, there are dozens and dozens of movie projectors and screens from every era—silent-movie hand-cranked projectors before the time of universal electricity, wide-screen movies before the time of TV-eating-up-the-world, military projectors designed to withstand V-2 or Scud Missile attacks, and projectors that were once handled by teenagers in high school science classes, and projectors that once had been operated in real movie theatres by real union-member projectionists.

The man who has coveted, stored, squirreled away and gathered all this mass of inert motion picture paraphernalia and this city of mannequins has also taken care to hoard hundreds of belts, projector bulbs, gears and sprocket-repairers, film editors and cutters and splicers and tapers, just in case the end of all other repair sources occurs during his lifetime.

And now, he is showing me his lifetime stash—which also includes a live nightmarish dog who barks perpetually day and night, never stopping, each bark accompanied by a three-foot leap into the air in a vain attempt to escape his fenced confines and energize all those mannequins—a truly possessed dog whose owners haven’t a clue.

Next to the sheds and shacks in the buggy country air are ten-foot-high stacks of very old grey and weathered mahogany boards that their owner has gathered from companies no longer needing them, and there is an old automobile splayed open to the world with wires running from under its hood into goodness knows what.

Inside his home, the man complains about the paper-thin ceilings that someone has spray-covered and which are now falling in from boredom and weariness, and his wife hides somewhere behind all his collectible mania, never presenting herself—a Gothic world that really exists if you go a few miles outside where you live now. A world not to be made fun of, since our world is just as offbeat and inaccessible to them as theirs is to us.

Maybe I’ll go back and visit this village of non-living comrades who in a way seem more alive than you and I and who certainly get along with each other better than you and I and who unlike you and I are totally accepting of their keepers—the insane leaping dog and the movie-mahogany-mannequin collector who is beginning to worry about what will happen to all his adoptees when he has become as lifeless-yet-attentive as they

Counting the Distinctly Remembered Pleasures

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Counting Pleasures Distinctly Remembered 

The brand-new year, barely distinguishable from the barely-old year, is upon me and must be dealt with.

As a ponderer of the unimportant but significant turnstiles of life, I could easily list some pompously conceived New Year’s Resolutions in a way that might induce you to believe I actually plan to follow them.

I prefer instead to list an item from page 48 of my imaginary BOOK OF COUNTED PLEASURES.

Here is one thing I count on to get me through my time on Earth.


Nothing quite compares to the comfort and small joy I receive from walking into the front yard each morning and picking up the day’s copy of the New York Times. What news both horrible and divine might tumble into my field of view once the paper is opened and flattened?

This predictable act will never become boring, since the paper’s delivery is so erratic.

Some days, the Times is hidden in damp bushes, not to be found till 48 hours later. At times the paper is soaked through so that each page bleeds into adjacent pages and becomes unreadable. Sometimes, the paper is in the street, nicely pancaked by passing vehicles. And on days when everything seems to be going right, an entire section or two of the new paper will be missing. So, each morning is filled with tension and expectancy—what will the paper be like today, will it even arrive today, will I find today’s some later day?

The serial drama continues when I “report” the missing or mutilated Times to the carrier. The response is always the same, “We’ll get another copy to you right away.” Almost never happens. I wind up searching for a replacement whenever I can find a vendor who still carries copies, but most days it just isn’t worth it. If I want to learn what is going on in the world I have to depend upon NPR or—horrors!—the unvetted Internet.

But the Joy is still there. The erratic appearance of the paper only serves to make more pleasurable the mornings when everything is in its place—the newspaper is on the sidewalk, nice and dry and beckoning—like this morning, for instance. And lo and behold—the magazine and book review supplements are present, too!

Life seems complete for about 20 seconds.

And 20 seconds of bliss scattered hither and yon throughout my days is the best I can hope for, in a world where sorrows and unwanted challenges vie for my attention, my time and my fragile soul

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The small asbestos-shingled 2 ½-bedroom bungalow on Eastwood Avenue is still the hub of our universe, back here in 1954 or so—the hub of the family of Frances and Tommy Reed (my parents) and their kids, mainly, Barbara Jean, Ronny, Rosi, Tim and me. These days, our worldly holdings are still modest. About all we have is each other, so we make do with that for the time being.
Summer is a time we all still get stuck together within the same walls now and then, and this is one of those days. Later on, we find less and less time to joke around, our innocence being so fleeting, but today we are lucky.
Here’s what’s happening:
One thing my older sister, Barbara, and my Mother, Frances, love to do more than anything you can name, is talk. I mean, really talk. And not to us younger kids, either. Barbara and Mother like to talk with each other. It’s a mystery that I can’t solve, but these two can both talk non-stop in unending sentences about everything under the sun. They kind of feed off each other.
Being a teenager, Barbara is excited and apprehensive about everything in her world, and, being an extrovert, likes to talk it out. Mother, still remembering how much fun and worry she herself had as a teenager, is eager to re-experience her life through Barbara as well as guide her past the potholes, should she stop talking long enough to listen.
It becomes a silent joke between Ronny and me, how Barbara and Mother, once they get
to talking, are oblivious to everything and everyone around them. Barbara’s usual disdainful comment, whenever she notices that one of us underlings is trying to say something, is, “Oh, just ignore them. They’re just trying to get attention!” When I hear her say this, I feel guilty for trying to get attention, like it’s a vanity or a sin or something, but years later, when infant Tim has become a full-grown adult, he puts me at ease by saying, “Yes, of course we were trying to get attention,” as if to say, “what’s wrong with that?”
But right now, in 1954, I don’t have the benefit of Tim’s wisdom, since he’s a toddler
walking around the un-air-conditioned house in a safety-pinned cloth diaper.
Whenever Ronny and I mention this talking thing to Barbara or Mother, they deny that they talk a lot or that they don’t know what’s going on around them when they talk. So, Ronny and I one day decide to take some action to prove our claim. 
My grandfather, Robert McGee, always smokes these great-smelling cigars, and when he
visits, he usually leaves a few for my father to enjoy. My uncle Buddy McGee, a World
War II hero, has left us his medals and military regalia, including his army cap. Ronny and
I gather the cap and the cigar and a box of wooden matches and find toddler Tim in the
kitchen, where we prepare him for the Big Talk Test.
Barbara and Mother are in the living room, sitting at opposing walls, and chatting away. We hand the cigar to Tim, who gladly places it in his mouth, mimicking his father and grandfather. We place the army cap on Tim’s head, which delights him, since he’s usually not allowed to play with our toys. 
Then, we light the cigar and make sure it’s puffing plenty of smoke. The deed is done, then. All we have to do is tell Tim to walk across the living room, between Mother and Barbara, and into the den, on the pretense of fetching something for us. Tim obliges and toddles straight across the hardwood floor, cigar in mouth and soldier cap on head, diaper hitched up safely and bare feet padding softly.
Nothing happens.
Not only do my sister and mother not miss a beat in their excited conversation, they don’t even look down to see Tim. We know this, because we’re peeking around the plaster wall to watch the action.
The experiment is a success, but we haven’t created the commotion we hoped for. Later,
we tell Barbara and Mother what we did, but they don’t believe us. “Oh, you’re just trying
to get attention,” Barbara says.
Yes, we are. And I guess we’ll always be doing that, Ronny and me, only this time we are
joined as adults by sister Rosi and brother Tim. The attention and attentions of Barbara and Mother will always be in demand. Mother’s been gone for years now, but Barbara has taken up the slack and talks to us, her kids and grandkids as much as ever, only now, we’re all grown up enough to know that what she’s talking about is important. 
And maybe sometimes we wish we had a lot worth talking about, too