THE HORNSWOGGLER SWOGGLES ANOTHER SWASHBUCKLER

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/hornswogglerswogglesanother.mp3

or read his swashbuckling story below:

Just another fond memory from the Red Clay Diary of an Alabama boy:

The Hornswoggler Swoggles Another Swashbuckler

I am sitting half-hidden in the tall grass of our back yard in 1952 Tuscaloosa, swatting at flies, clawing at red bugs on bare legs, tying tight a red bandanna to dam the rivulets of sweat pouring down my neck, day-dreaming about swashbucklers and hornswogglers.

I am quiet and vigilant, awaiting the appearance of brother Ronny.

I have a plan.

“Hey,” Ronny grins as he trots over to my nest, short pants, no shirt or shoes, perfectly attired for this hot summer day. Being a younger brother, Ronny is still willing to go along with just about anything his big brother comes up with.

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s play like we’re Scaramouche and we’ll sword-fight to the death!”

We’ve just seen the Stewart Granger movie and assume for the moment that we, too, can learn to conquer evil with trusty swords in hand, given the chance.

“You be the bad guy and I’ll be Scaramouche!” I love saying the name—Scaramouche!

Of course, Ronny is almost always relegated to being the bad guy or the sidekick, and for now he doesn’t complain. When we play Tarzan, he’s Boy. When we play Lone Ranger, he’s Tonto. If it’s Roy Rogers, he’s Gabby Hayes.  If it’s Captain Marvel, he’s just Billy Batson.

Today, we can’t remember the name of the evil swordsman in Scaramouche, but that doesn’t much matter. Ronny knows he’ll have the honor of being defeated by Big Brother.

We find two semi-straight sticks of equal length and begin our idea of fierce swordsmanship. Knowing that our all-seeing all-knowing mother will know whether we’ve behaved, we are careful to knock sticks together without knocking heads or busting knuckles. We leap over the splintery hand-made saw horse, roll over a rusty oil drum, pole dance around the swing supports, wallow atop ant beds, all the while pretending to sword fight to the death.

After a while, the heat gets to us and we run to the kitchen for cold Pepsi and crumbly cookies.

Down all the years, I can’t help recalling all the wonderful fictitious sword fights I’ve witnessed on screen, in imagination most vivid. But the one sword fight to which all subsequent sword fights are compared is locked into memory.

Even  back then, we kids of summer know that there is something special about the Scaramouche fight. It is long and fierce. Very long. Very fierce. And daring, too. Between them, the dueling Mel Ferrer and Stewart Granger destroy an entire stage set, slash props, mangle a piano, leap over balconies, swing from velvet ropes…and all this with no musical background. Decades later, I learn to appreciate how dramatically loud silence can be. This sword fight is so ferocious that accentuating music is not needed in the least.

Nowadays, I get to check out my childhood impressions by re-viewing that marvelous battle. And sure enough, it still holds me in thrall.

I love many movie sword fights, including the one between Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone in The Court Jester and, of course, the great conflict between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride. In all of these battles, the viewer is simply lost in the passion of the moment. We really believe these people are fighting for their lives, or at least their honor!

But the best sword play in all memory is the one between Ronny and me. For at this one special moment, we really are Scaramouche and the Marquis de Maynes. We really are caught up in the most glorious of all battles—the one where imagination and hope win out over red bugs and itchy grass on a hot summer day in the long-ago, far-away land of pre-Buttercup Tuscaloosa

 

© 2018 A.D. by Jim Reed

THE NEGATORY WARS

Listen to Jim’s 3-minute podcast:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scE5Qfu3LOg

or read his story below:

THE NEGATORY WARS

“How are you today?” I ask one customer at the bookshop.

“Well, pretty good,” he replies. A beat passes, he grins and continues, “I woke up in my right mind!”

After he shops, purchases a book and exits the store, I have a moment to think about what he said, “I woke up in my right mind.”

There are times…

There are times I do not wake up in my right mind. At those times, slumber has lowered my protections against the Negatories, those mischievous critters that inhabit and invade my saner proclivities and attempt to do them harm. I need my finer proclivities—how else will I get through the day in one peace of mind?

How else will I wake up in my right mind?

Negatories have one primary goal: Find the underside of every good inclination and dampen it just enough to create a smattering of fear and loathing.

Sometimes, Negatories are not just the critters in my head. There is evidence that they reside in other peoples’ heads, too. Check out the internet at any split moment and you’ll find proof.

Anyhow, I deal with these Negatories constantly. They are particularly active during moments of vulnerability–and during that curious period between sleep and the daily awakening.

How do I fight my way past the early morning Negatories and wend my way to bathroom and shower-singing and activities of day-long living?

Well, this morning, as my eyelids flutter and test the bedroom, as I lie here dismissing dreams and retrieving consciousness and preparing to make the Big Decision, I am working on winning the current Negatory war. One good thought is slapped around by all the downsides. Then, I challenge a downer of a thought by daring to impose an upside idea.

It goes on like this for a period of time—two Negatories for every positive, then two positives to face two Negatories, then on to three positives for every Negatory…

Eventually, the Big Decision is made. Negatories retreat to their dank caverns, positives prevail, I fling aside sheet and comforter and quilt and land feet first on the hardwood floor…and I’m off and running, motivated by air chill and bladder and sunlight.

I won’t even think about those naughty Negatories for another twenty-four hours. But rest assured, they will be there. Waiting for my attention lapse. Thinking they can win next time.

This pervasive cycle is silly and serious at the same time. But here I am, so guess who won this round

© Jim Reed 2018 A.D.

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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GNATS AND NO-SEE-UMS FAIL TO CONQUER THE WORLD

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/gnatsandnoseeums.mp3

or read his story below:

GNATS AND NO-SEE-UMS FAIL TO CONQUER THE WORLD

Grand Master of All Things Thinkable speaks to Uninitiated Student:

“You say, oh Student, that your life is hard.” He gently turns to gaze into Student’s eyes.

“Yes, Grand Master, my life is hard,” replies Uninitiated Student, unable to return the gaze for fear of faltering or seeming weak.

“What is hard about your life?” Grand Master wrinkles his brow and pays close attention.

“I am poor.”

“Hmm. Tell me the other hard things.”

Student replies, “I am afraid. I am not brave. I am small of stature. I am not strong.” He pauses as if that’s the entire list.

Grand Master ponders a moment, then, “If I tell you I am about to die of thirst because I have never been instructed as to how to drink from a cup of tea, what would be your reaction?”

Student is startled that his opinion is being asked for. “Er, I do not want you to starve.”

“If you do not wish for me to die of thirst, will you first take a long time to list your fears and weaknesses and tribulations, and fret about them?”

Student speaks quickly before thinking. “No! I would lift your cup of tea to your lips and help you drink.”

Grand Master looks surprised. “What? What happened to your worries and fears? Are they not the most important things in your mind?”

“Uh, I did not stop to think about that before replying,” Student says.

“Do you mean that your concerns are suddenly less pronounced? And if so, why is that  happening?”

Student seems energized, not as diffident as when first in the presence of Grand Master. “Well, my first concern is with your thirst and your lack of skill in addressing your thirst.”

“You mean your immediate challenge takes precedent over your earlier concerns?”

Uninitiated Student brightens up. “Yes. Yes!”

Grand Master of All Things Thinkable gestures to dismiss Student. “Our lesson will continue another day.” He glances into the eyes of Student and asks, “What do you think the subject of Lesson Two will be?”

Uninitiated Student’s mind is racing now. He hesitates, then speaks.

“I believe Lesson Two will involve my instructing you as to how to drink a cup of tea without assistance.”

Grand Master looks pleased and waves Student away.

Lesson One is over

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: HUG WITH CARE

Listen to Jim’s podcast;

 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/hugwithcare.mp3

or read his story below:

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: HUG WITH CARE 

I am a hugger.

Not a mugger, not a lugger, not a slugger…but a hugger.

I generally keep my emotional and/or physical distance from strangers, but when I really like somebody, and when it’s safe to do so, I tend to greet them with a hug—or at least a handshake.

Over the decades, I’ve evolved. One of the few advantages of aging is that I now see patterns in things, cause-and-effect phenomena in things…so that my behavior has subtly shifted.

Some things I’ve learned about hugging:

1. Some people respond readily to a quick hug and seem flushed with pleasure at this nice surprise.

2. Some people respond but quickly back away, as if they don’t know what to do after a hug.

3. Some people stiffen and don’t respond to the hug. These are folks I won’t hug again, unless they initiate.

4. Some people back away and will do anything to avoid a hug in the first place.

5. Some people hug a little too long and make me want to back away.

6. Some people, at first reluctant at each hug, now approach me as if they will actually miss the hug if I don’t provide it.

7. Some guys are huggable, but others try to avoid it because, well, they don’t think it’s guyish. These are often older or elderly guys, whose generation doesn’t cater to this kind of behavior.

8. Some people exude a kind of sensuousness when I hug them, so I tend not to try to hug them again, lest something be misinterpreted. This used to occur a lot more when I was young…with sometimes pleasant results. No more—I’ve been happily monogamous for more than four decades.

Even after studying hugging for sixty years, I still don’t know why most huggers pat each other on the back. Maybe it’s a kind of sign language that says, “Just hugging! Nothing more is meant!”

Anyhow, there’s lots of horror and sorrow and grief in the world that’s beyond my control. Maybe hugging is something I can do that reminds me that people can be pleasant to one another, even when they can’t think of anything comforting to say aloud

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D. 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS

Listen to Jim’s Christmas podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/ifonlyinmydreams.mp3

or read on…

IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS

This is the home stretch.

It’s the time of year when all your feelings get jumbled together and you really don’t know what to feel except nervous, excited and oh I don’t know, maybe even thrilled.

You know you want to get a lot of good stuff for Christmas, but you also know that you shouldn’t feel too excited about just getting instead of giving…you know you want to give something to people you love or people you want to impress or people you know are probably going to give you something back, but you also know that there’s something vaguely sinful-feeling about just wanting to give for the sake of what you’re going to be given.

You read all those stories about Christmastime charity and how nice it is to give of yourself and your time and even of your money to those who won’t ever be able to repay you, but you also would like to get a bunch of nice things that remind you of the best Christmases you ever had.

You always want people to kind of read your mind and give you just the perfect gift that takes you back to your best years, but you don’t even know how to express this to them and so you just go on feeling like the best part of Christmas is the anticipation, the wanting part…not the actual getting and giving part.

You may even remember the few times in your life that you secretly gave something to someone who needed it and never ever let them know that it was you who did it. You remember the mixed feelings you had about that—how you knew it was blessed to give anonymously, but also how you wished you knew for sure that you were going to get credit for the deed in some celestial Big Book in the Sky.

You also know that you will never know for certain whether you’ll get credit for deeds like that, and it’s that special tension created out of this confusion that makes you much more alert and wired at this time of year.

And best of all, you also know deep deep down inside you that the best Christmases you’ve ever had or ever will have are those Christmases that exist in your memories and in your future hopes.

As the Grinch learned almost too late, Christmas happens whether or not there’s lots of getting and receiving and gimme-ing.

I hope this helps you know that there are others who are ambivalent about Christmas and about the spirit of giving and getting.

And know this, too: the best part of you is the part that is willing to admit ambivalence and is willing to struggle to walk the tightrope that carefully and precariously balances you between total selfishness and total martyrdom. You just happen to be human

 

 © 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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ROLL YER OWN AND REACH FOR YER SIX-SHOOTER, MATEY

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/rollyerown.mp3

or read his tale below:

ROLL YER OWN AND REACH FOR YER SIX-SHOOTER, MATEY

A memory from twenty years back, when I am spending a week in the United Kingdom: 

I am standing outside a classroom on the Royal Holloway college campus near Egham, England.

It is tea time, so sessions have paused in mid-flight.

I’m sipping tea in typical American fashion–without the cream–and my scholarly British comrade has just put his teacup and saucer down on top of a marble container that reads, “CIGARETTE ENDS.” That’s so he can pull a bag of tobacco out of his pocket, along with some small tissues.

He begins to roll his own cigarette.

It’s something I haven’t seen anybody do since I was a child.

Back then, my uncles would roll their own with Prince Albert tobacco–and there’s never been a more skill-laden ritual. Of course, the ritual was taken one step higher in the western movies we saw as kids–cowboys and tough guys would roll their own cigarettes, using only one hand, the other hand ready at all times to draw a six-shooter from a shiny leather holster, if the need arose.

I remember watching one of my classmates in eighth grade perform the same feat–a feat so astonishing that it could only be rivaled by magicians and guys who could spit great distances from between clinched teeth.

We kid about it, my British scholar friend and I. He says he’s never been able to roll his smokes with one hand, but that he sure does save a lot of money not purchasing pre-rolled cigarettes. I figure he’s doing himself a favor, anyhow. After all, it would be difficult to chain smoke when you have to go through such an elaborate ritual. By the time you got one cigarette rolled, it’d be time for tea to end!

When teatime does end, we go back to the very serious business of studying H.G. Wells and his life, inside the college building. That’s how I happen to be standing here several time zones away from family and hearth. I’m doing what nerds have done since time began–studying something infinitely fascinating but almost totally useless. Like H.G. Wells and Rolling Your Own. What fun!

But this little twice-a-day ritual of sipping tea and watching someone roll & lick sealed a cigarette is one of those small pleasures that will play itself in my mind for a long time to come, now that I’m safely back in the U.S. with its pre-rolled everything and its inability to take time twice a day for a simple eye-to-eye visit and a singular meditation

 © 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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KINDLY DEFEATS SNARKY BY A HAIR’S BREADTH

Listen to Jim’s story:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/kindlydefeatssnarky.mp3

or read it below:

KINDLY DEFEATS SNARKY BY A HAIR’S BREADTH

It’s confusing some days, being human.

One moment I’m hugging my family and trying to help out by listening carefully. Another moment, I’m thinking something snarky about a dismissive associate. One moment, I’m being critical of the very person I admire. Next moment, I’m feeling sympathy for the dismissive character, trying my best to see things from his point of view.

Throughout my time on Planet Nine, I’m never of one opinion, one attitude. My observations and proclivities hop around, probably dependent upon how comfortable I feel about myself. Probably just a symptom of mishmashed DNA.

Jekyll one time, Hyde the next.

I think about Reverend Harry Powell’s right hand of LOVE versus his left hand of HATE.

I ponder Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of Interrelatedness, his belief that we are all related, the good, the bad, the indifferent…and that we get along much better when we decide to embrace.

I can’t get Atticus Finch’s words out of my kindly-but-snarky mind, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Am I naughty and nice all rolled up into a prickly bale? Am I more nice than naughty?

As Bryan Stevenson tries to teach us, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  To paraphrase, each of us is more than the best thing we’ve ever done. We are just plain complicated and contradictory.

My only self-salvation is to try to end each day hoping the good things I’ve accomplished outnumber the snarky things that creep about.

Maybe I should tattoo KINDLY on my right hand, SNARKY on my left, as a constant reminder that I feel better about myself and you and the world itself each time kindly defeats snarky by at least a hair’s breadth

 © 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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ATTACK OF THE TEENIE WEENIE ITSY BITSYS

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or read his story below:
ATTACK OF THE TEENIE WEENIE ITSY BITSYS
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It is true, you young’uns. Many of us in my ancient generation still read newspapers.
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We actually pluck newspapers from the front yard or the corner newsstand, pop them open, examine them page by page.
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Then, we ruminate. We ponder. We return to certain sections of the paper and make sure we understand the information therein.
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Sometimes we tear out an article to share one-on-one with someone who might find it interesting. Once in a while we grab a marker and highlight passages or wisdoms worth re-reading, worth holding onto.
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Down all the years, when you young’uns are raking through the remains of my generation’s hoarded memories, you will find things like newspaper clippings, penciled notes on napkins, ticket stubs, dance cards, invitations, lined notepaper filled with obscure and private scrawlings, thoughts scribbled in book margins, comments deemed profound hidden between sales receipts, pocket-sized notepads with earth-shaking revelations, love letters tied together with holiday ribbon.
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And so on.
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You see, we elders have our own way of communicating and preserving our memories. Each itsy bitsy note is a physical object sporting its own texture, fragrance, its own fingerprint. Each teenie weenie epiphany is a small time capsule that cannot be virtualized and imprisoned hidden away within an invisible electric cloud.
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We old-time hoarders may seem puzzling to you young’uns, but we do know things you do not know, just as you know things we do not know.
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In our case, we know that an actual original physical object is worthy of preservation because it is there to remind of us of what happened when, what happened where, and what when and where felt like in the palm of a hand.
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The original, special feeling that resides within a handwritten note or a wrinkled clipping merely awaits the opportunity to jolt an old and lovely episode  into sweet remembrance once again.
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No batteries necessary
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ANOTHER HAPPY SAD DAY

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/thanksgivinghappiestsaddest.mp3

or read on…

Here is a true story I re-tell every Thanksgiving, just

to remind myself and you that everything that really

matters is right before us, all the time. Here ‘tis:

.

THANKSGIVING:

THE HAPPIEST SAD DAY OF THE YEAR

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The saddest thing I ever saw: a small, well-dressed elderly woman dining alone at Morrison’s Cafeteria, on Thanksgiving Day.

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Oh there are many other sadnesses you can find if you look hard enough, in this variegated world of ours, but a diner alone on Thanksgiving Day makes you feel really fortunate, guilty, smug, relieved, tearful, grateful…it brings you up short and makes you time-travel to the pockets of joy and cheer you experienced in earlier days…

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Crepe paper. Lots of crepe paper. And construction paper. Bunches of different-colored construction paper. In my childhood home in Tuscaloosa, my Thanksgiving Mother always made sure we creative and restless kids had all the cardboard, scratch paper, partly-used tablets, corrugated surfaces, unused napkins, backs of cancelled checks, rough brown paper from disassembled grocery bags, backs of advertising letters and flyers…anything at all that we could use to make things. Yes, dear 21st-Century young’uns, we kids back then made things from scraps.

We could cut up all we wanted, and cut up we did.

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We cut out rough rectangular sheets from stiff black wrapping paper and glued the edges together to make Pilgrim hats. Old belt buckles were tied to our shoelaces—we never could get it straight, whether the Pilgrims were Quakers, or vice versa, or neither. But it always seemed important to put buckles on our shoes and sandals, wear tubular hats and funny white paper collars, and craft weird-looking guns that flared out like trombones at one end. More fun than being a Pilgrim/Quaker was being an Indian—a true blue Native American, replete with bare chest, feathers shed by neighborhood doves, bows made of crooked twigs and kite string, arrows dulled at the tip by rubber stoppers and corks, and loads of Mother’s discarded rouge and powder and lipstick and mashed cranberries smeared here and there on face and body, to make us feel like the Indians we momentarily were.

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Sister Barbara and Mother would find some long autumnal-hued dresses for the occasion, but they were seldom seen outside the kitchen for hours on end, while the eight-course dinner was under construction.

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There was always an accordion-fold crepe paper turkey centerpiece on display, hastily bought on sale at S.H. Kress, just after last year’s Thanksgiving season. It looked nothing like my Aunt Mattie’s turkeys in her West Blocton front yard. And for some reason, we ate cranberry products on that day and that day only. Nobody ever thought about cranberries the other 364 days! And those lucky turkeys were lucky because nobody ever thought of eating them except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were home free the rest of the year!

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Now, back into the time machine of just a few years ago.

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It is Thanksgiving Day. My wife and son and granddaughter are all out of the country. Other family and relatives are either dead or gone, or just plain tied up with their own lives in other states, doing things other than having Thanksgiving Dinner with me.

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My brother, Tim, my friends Tim Baer and Don Henderson and I decide that we will have to spend Thanksgiving Dinner together, since each of us is bereft of wife or playmate or relative, this particular holiday this particular year.

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So, we wind up at Morrison’s Cafeteria, eating alone together, going through the line and picking out steamed-particle-board turkey, canned cranberries, thin gravy, boxed mashed potatoes and some bakery goods whose source cannot easily be determined.

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But we laugh at our situation and each other, tell jokes, cut up a bit, and thank our lucky stars that this one Thanksgiving Dinner is surely just a fluke. We’ll be trying that much harder, next year, to not get blind-sided by the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving being the only holiday you don’t have to give gifts or reciprocate gifts or strain to find the correct gifts.

Left to right: Tim Reed, Tim Baer, Jim Reed lining up for Thanksgiving.

Don Henderson is behind the camera.

.

.

On Thanksgiving holidays ever since, I make sure I’m with family and friends, and now and then I try to set a place at the table of my mind, for any little old lady or lone friend who might want to join us…for the second saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a happy family lustily enjoying a Thanksgiving feast together and forgetting for a moment about all those lone diners in all the cafeterias of the world who could use a kind glance and a smile

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© 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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WHACKING AWAY AT THE DAILY NEWS

Listen to Jim’s podcast:
or read his story below: 
WHACKING AWAY AT THE DAILY NEWS
Whack!
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My brow wrinkles at this sudden disembodied noise.
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Whack!
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There it goes again. Now my wrinkled brow is joined by grimaced jaw. What is the source of that annoying sound?
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Whack!
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That does it. I stop watching for the forever traffic light to give me permission to proceed. I scour the concrete asphalted landscape of Downtown to see what’s what.
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Whack!
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There it is. It’s emanating from a metal newspaper vending machine on the corner.
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Whack!
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A woman of indeterminate age is whacking her cigarette pack on the metal surface while bending double to read the visible front page through clear hard plastic.
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Whack!
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As she pounds the pack she artfully twirls it around so that one whack is top, the next bottom, just to make sure the cigarettes within compress themselves evenly.
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Whack!
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She continues to read, continues to bow, oblivious to all else, all others.
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Whack!
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Does she even know why she performs this ritual, or is it just something she’s always seen others do?
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Whack!
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Those are going to be some densely packed smokes, don’t you think?
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Whack!
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When I drive away she’s still reading the paper word for word, still whacking away, still doubled over.
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Just another mysteriously familiar activity of daily living Downtown in the naked city.
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This may not be the wackiest thing I’ll experience today, but for the moment it is definitely the whackiest
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