Once Upon a Time, Long Before You and Me

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Saturday, October 12, 2013 A.D.

Once upon a time, long before you and me, my mother was born.

Yesterday would have been her 100th birthday.

“WOULD have been her 100th birthday” doesn’t sound exactly right. Actually, it WAS her 100th birthday, she just couldn’t be here to celebrate in person. Or rather, I couldn’t be where she is to celebrate. There are cosmic barriers to such things, you know.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Cuba, Alabama, to visit my mother’s baby sister, Aunt Margaret McGee Hardin. The occasion, husband Uncle Lamar’s 90th birthday, is as good an excuse as any…an excuse to enter the heart of the heart of the Alabama countryside and check up on the Theory of Relativity—that theory being, “In the long run, after all is lived and almost done, it’s Family that matters most, in both memory and reality.” No use trying to escape this theory, because olde times from childhood will not be forgotten, will continue to make themselves  known, will persistently rise up and remind you of your evolution from child of the womb to child of the universe to child of the unknown After Here.

On the way to Aunt Margaret’s home, Liz and I will pick up sister Barbara Reed Partrich at our mother’s home on Old Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa. Barbara has traveled from Columbia, South Carolina, to attend Uncle Lamar’s party.

On the way back from Cuba, maybe the three of us will visit Mom’s burial site to wish her a happy birthday, and stand at the nearby graves of our father and sister Rosi.

We will chat and laugh and reminisce and wipe away an occasional tear, and the lively conversation will include all six of us, since we know in our hearts exactly what Rosi and Mom and Dad would say if we could only hear them.

It will be a nice visit.

And maybe—just maybe—once upon a time in the near future, someone Liz and Barbara and I have left behind will do the same with us, be we coffin-bound or ash-scattered. We’ll be Somewhere Else, but the reunion will be fun anyhow.

At least, maybe the remaining celebrants will get a chuckle out of my epitaph, which will read, NOT EXACTLY WHAT I HAD IN MIND

 

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Born Beneath the Paper Mill Mist, Living Under the Truing Iron Man

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“Wah-CHOO!”

Early memories of my father always include the sounds of his four-second morning sneeze fit.

“Wah-CHOO!” again, and then it was all over.

Who knows where my father’s sneezes came from—there are suspects all around, but like all environmental irritants, it takes generations for subversive researchers to dig out the truth.

Could it be lung remnants of unregulated coal dust he breathed, working in the  1920′s coal mines of West Alabama? Could it be the rotten-egg-smelling mist that lay heavy on the morning air of Tuscaloosa back then, generated by the Paper Mill that dominated the town? Could it be some sort of undiagnosed allergy that today might be muted or mutated through mysterious prescriptions?

Maybe it was just hereditary, since I now have his same sneezes.

By moving from coal-mining country and paper mill stench in Tuscaloosa to densely-particulated air in Birmingham, back in 1969, did I manage to ameliorate my throat-clearing sneezing habits of old? Nope. Still do it, still don’t know the real cause, still muddle on through.

As I make these notes that you are now reading, I can see Vulcan the Iron Man through the window, a 55-foot-tall cast-iron statue of the Roman god of fire and armor—an unlikely overseer of Birmingham. He looks out over a vast valley where the particuates settle and are inhaled each day.

If you ever get to visit Alabama, don’t miss Vulcan. He’s what we have to show off—the world’s largest cast-iron statue. St. Louis has The Arch, Paris has The Tower, we have Vulcan.

Anyhow, one of the things I like about this enormous hulk is that, while macho and tough and stocky of build, he has a finer, more gentle side. For one thing, he is holding aloft a metal spear he is fabricating, gazing up the shaft to see if it’s straight and true, obviously taking great pride in his work above the hot anvil at his feet. The other nice thing about him is he’s thinking of his secret love across the valley, a 23-foot-tall gold statue of the beautiful (and nude) Miss Electra, symbol of the harnessing of electricity to make things work better.

There you have the romance and beauty of pollution. The unrequited affair of Vulcan and Electra, their pride in rising above the heavy, dusty mists, their stoic stances representing the spirit of all of us who are powerless to change the course of industry and nature, their very symbolism keeps us going.

No matter how tough things get, there’s always some hope that us little folk can keep our heads up, our pride intact, our babies nurtured, our kindnesses perpetuated, our love affairs familial and romantic and sustainable…

And each time someone nearby goes “Wah-CHOO!” it’s nice to reflect on what that strange noise means, it’s nice to raise a truing spear or a bolt of energizing lightning to the sky and give a silent salute to the meek—the meek, who will not inherit the earth but who can at least now and then contest the Will

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Pipe Dreams of the Bookladen Orphanage

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An energetic, robust customer bounds through the door of Reed Books. He is lugging a large box filled to the brim with pipes. “Here are some more things from the house,” he pronounces. Then, he hands the load over to me and rushes out the door while I search for a place to situate the box.

“Here’s the last of our stuff,” he announces, as he returns and unloads two large plastic containers of old books. He needs to retrieve the containers in order to haul future troves.

It’s like Christmas every day at the shop. Folks bring large trash bags of paperbacks, rickety wooden boxes filled with attic leftovers, linen-wrapped fragiles from another century, suitcases of old documents and memorabilia, purses packed with formerly-loved treasures, books upon books.

It’s a mistake to dismiss even the worst-looking arrival without first peering within, combing for the kinds of saleable, collectible items that keep the store running. There’s almost always something unique hidden among the gewgaws and doodads and thingamajigs and artifacts and disposables that are presented to me. Even the worst-looking or worthless-seeming items have stories to tell. I feel like a fortune teller or seer, as I explain the source or meaning of each societal leftover.

So, why do I accept today’s gift of a large box filled with smoking pipes? After all, this is a bookstore. Why pipes?

Well, at one time in this bookie world, pipes and tobacco and humidors and clippers and scrapers and cleaners and flexible stems and ashtrays and cigar boxes and humidifiers and smoking jackets were part of the setting in which books were read, collected, enjoyed, catalogued, referenced, displayed, meditated upon.

Today, lots of other accumulatables decorate rooms where books are cherished, replacing the now politically-incorrect smoking paraphernalia. Books are not read in a vacuum; they are enjoyed while the reader surrounds them with a favorite reading chair, a blankie, a snack, a cherished pet, photographs of family and friends, a cuppa java, a music reproduction device lurking nearby or stuck into ear.

The surroundings are part of the literary experience—unless you tend to read while suspended in darkest, starless space.

As I walk the aisles of century-laden books, my memory of each title encompasses everything that was going on while I was reading…when I touch a copy of ANTIC HAY by Aldous Huxley, I can almost smell the unmown grass surrounding me on the lawn of my childhood home as I once lay a-blanket, reading in the shade. I can feel my too-tight tennis shoes making editorial comments about the characters in the book whose shoes always fit correctly, I can sense the impending visit from a neighborhood playmate, I can conscript a bit of clover to use as bookmark, I can see the gaunt face of Huxley on the back cover, I can retrieve this visceral memory years later when I actually meet him at a lecture.

Each book in the big world has equal status in my tiny world. Each is conceived, edited, submitted, argued over, politicked, rewritten, slicked up, dumbed down, smartened up, designed, proofed, printed, even re-printed. Each book is purchased or shop-lifted, partially read or not read at all, re-gifted, torn apart for an art project, ignored in a corner for ages, chewed by the dog, passed on to another reader, thrift-stored or ebayed or donated, treasured in the family archives, burned at the stake.

Each book in the shop is my little orphan, awaiting adoption, nose pressed to the show window, hoping for a kindly reader to take it home where awaits an easy chair, a bookcase, a coffee table, a bit of reading light, nurturing, understanding, tolerance, respect.

Nearby, out of reverence for readers of the past, rest pipe rack, ashtray, wooden matches, and the old familiar fragrance of tobaccos past and pulp papers survived and, just out of camera range, the next reader, rubbing hands together gleefully in anticipation of the joys and sorrows and provocative ideas hiding between covers that shield the pages till just the right moment

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Exterminating those pesky Martians

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“…across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those beasts that perish, intellects vast and cold and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

–H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, 1898

The child I once was and now remain, always plunges into each encountered book as if it is an entirely new world in which to live out an alternate life. Can’t help it. It’s the way I popped into existence and the way I now exist.

Reading the above H.G. Wells passage was scary when first experienced many decades ago and is equally ominous now. The metaphor is clear: Not everybody likes everybody. Many earthlings find reasons to hate and disdain and conquer other everybodies, and many lack the empathy to feel the pain of others. Thus it was with the Martians. There was no “war of the worlds” in Wells’ novel—the title was a trick to get you to read it. The Martians did not come to earth to make war, they came to exterminate, much as a commercial exterminator comes to obliterate cockroaches in order to make a building habitable. Ol’ H.G. was trying to shock us into looking beyond ourselves in order to protect the honorable traits we do have. He was saying, even if you stop warring with each other, you must still band together to repel all the other endangerments to life that are out there—pestilences, meteors, earthquakes, tsunamis, Martians, warming, solar flares, major storms…the list does go on.   

Wars, be they political or virtual or actual, are mere distractions when it comes to pondering the future of humankind and animalkind. We have so much to do. Perhaps it will take a few more centuries to abolish war. Perhaps those then surviving will have the good sense to realize that the true obstacles to life on earth are bigger and more powerful than any standing or sitting army, any nuclear arsenal.

So, maybe the next book I fall into will be about a future when we’re all done with squabbling and are ready to tackle the really important issue of surviving all that Nature can dole out.

After all warring is spent, there will still be Martians and meteors to deal with. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could band together, forget boundaries and barriers, and start thinking about humanity itself?

Oh, well, it was just an idea

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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F.W. Woolworth socks it to me

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I don a fresh pair of socks each and every morning of my life, always wondering when I’m going to run out of the really good ones.

That’s right—I go through fourteen clean socks a week. I’m an Activities of Daily Living guy who uses routine and ritual to contain my excited and artistic impulses. If I didn’t subscribe to certain repeatable and comfortable exercises, I just might wander off absent-mindedly while imagining my next story, my next speech or performance, my flights of fantasy that allow me to compose and edit and manage the Muse who tracks me, my acquisition of rare and unusual reading material for longing customers.

So, wearing clean socks is part of the act.

This particular morning, I find two holes in the right sock and, since no-one in America has darned a sock since 1959, I reluctantly toss it into the trash. The abandoned sock is one of the last really good ones I’ll apparently ever own. Can’t find soft, durable and comfortable ones anymore.

I’m about to run out of the last F.W. Woolworth socks in the known universe.

A sock is not just a sock, you  understand. These socks were purchased at one of the final real variety department stores, purchased decades ago when stores still had clerks who knew where things were, and who gladly assisted you in finding them, making sure they were right for you and checking to see whether you had an enjoyable experience in the process.

Wonder when the last real store clerk disappeared from view? Looking around, it’s hard to see any evidence that they ever existed except in the minds of geezers of a certain age.

For instance, at the library, librarians sit staring at computers and don’t voluntarily look up. You have to stand over them and clear your throat loudly to get them to tear their gaze from the screen. Even then, they only know how to vaguely point directions without removing seat of pants from seat of chair.

The branch bank on the corner seems equally bereft of eye contact. Employees sit and stare at screens or bow their heads in religious adoration of hand-held devices. They not only find it hard to look at me, but there is impatience in body language and demeanor. Just let me get back to the real virtual world! they seem to be saying. They don’t seem glad to see me.

It’s hard not to feel guilty, interrupting these clerks who have learned to respond warmly to electronic messages and images. What an annoyance we real people are!

Anyhow, I miss the days of one-on-one real-time real-presence social exchanges. I’m adjusting to the lonely world of sock-hunting on my own.

There’s proof in the message—if I tried to tell you this sad tale in person, you’d be fidgeting and creeping toward the door, longing to get back to texting or youtubing or facebooking snarky comments about other people’s lives. But the fact that you read this story online simply means that I’m already on your side, despite my whining. We are virtual people communicating virtual information in a virtual world.

Wonder what the real world is like? Maybe we’d better look up once in a while, just to get our bearings.

Now that the F.W. Woolworth socks are depleted, I wonder what virtual socks will feel like

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Disembodied Book Re-animator Strikes Again

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The corpus delectable lies before me this morning, waiting for my re-animation skills to kick in.

It’s a book.

It is splayed open to the title page, begging me to bring it back to life. It is missing its hard covers, the tattered spine needs stabilizing, a few spots of age decorate its interior…but the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all intact and awaiting the touch of a reader or a collector or a hoarder.

There are many ways to resuscitate a book.

I can read it, thus infusing it with renewed vigor, donate my interpretation of the printed words to its 95-year-old collection of memories, turn its pages and admire the four centuries of trial-and-error printing craftsmanship that brought this object to this moment in time, marvel at the reproduction of the Edgar Allan Poe portrait facing the title page, ponder the life and times of publisher Charles C. Bigelow and Company, study the copyright year 1918 and determine what else of significance was happening in the world right about then, think on the near-century this book lay dormant and ignored in an attic of detritus, trace the route it took to arise from storage and wend its way into my hands this very moment.

I can also read its contents and marvel at the words that cause the imagination to become excited and nimble.

I can pick one story at random from this book, “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” and then imagine what the thousand-and-third tale might be, fantasize whether Scheherazade had another unpublished thousand-and-one tales within her, admit the fact that I, too, might have as many stories to tell if only I’d get on with telling them.

Upon further examination, I notice that the Scheherazade story has never been read by the owners of this book—the pages are still uncut, meaning that the avid reader of the day would purchase a book, take letter-opener in hand, and carefully slit the closed pages open so that the contents could be properly read.

This means that I could be the first person to read this story within the pages of this book. I will become the explorer, the adventurer, the first-ever enjoyer of these pages. Cheap thrills, but thrills, nonetheless!

What happens next to this tome? I might take it home and read it in lone silence. I might have it rebound and reinforced for its next 95-year journey, I might share it with another booklover, I might shelve it as is and hope that those who someday scrounge around the remains of my estate will do something more meaningful than send it to the dumpster.

For now, it is a foundling and must be protected from society’s thrower-awayers, society’s censors, society’s bookburners, society’s illiterates, society’s unappreciaters of the Past, society’s disapprovers.

How many booklives have I saved in a long lifetime? How many will I rescue from bookhell, how many more orphans will you and I conceal from the enemies of books?

The disembodied book re-animators of the would could be Us.

Or, if you don’t want to embrace the task, perhaps I’ll have to do it all by myself. But just think of the fun you’ll miss

 (c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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CAN’T STOP MY BRAIN flashthoughts #835

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Things happen when you’re sitting all alone in the airport cellphone parking lot in your transportable solitary cell, waiting for the call to do a drive-by at the baggage area to give your wife a ride home.

Yes, things happen when your brain won’t be idle,

even though you’re on idle and your car is idling.

Like,

1.  When a fugitive, would you rather be at large or on the loose ?

2.  Does the poor grammar of the song Live and Let Die bother anyone but me? “…but in this everchanging world in which we live in…”

3.  Did you run your car off the road when the local public radio station interviewer and interviewee simultaneously and repeatedly pronounced Pythias as PIE-thee-us?

4.  Do you love the passionate poetry of this passage from a Howlin’ Wolf song, “…this bad love she got…makes me laugh and cry…makes me really know…I’m too young to die…” ?

5.  Why do I obsess over the fact that Gene Autry mispronounces Santa’s reindeer’s name as Donner ? It’s Donder, I tell you, Donder. See http://donder.com/  (I learned it at the annual Donder party.)

6.  Do you find it inexplicable that the more Ahmad Jamal or Dimitri Shostakovich or Miles Davis repeat a musical phrase or note imterminably, the more it grows on you and becomes a powerful statement?

7.  Isn’t it remarkable how drummer Joe Morello’s burst of laughter and relief at the end of Dave Brubeck’s tune Unsquare Dance makes the piece just about perfect? You have to turn the volume up real high to hear it.

8.  Notice that if you think real hard about it, there are at least eight (maybe more) museums within quick walking distance of Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories? Tourists already know this. Here they are: Sports Hall of Fame/Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, Radio Museum (at the Alabama Power Company building), Birmingham History Museum, McWane Center exhibits, Ullman Museum, Reynolds Library Medical Museum, Civil Rights Institute/Museum, Museum of Fond Memories... I’ll let you fill in the rest.

9.  As Shel Silverstein said, “This town grows old around me…” but as it grows, it only gets better and better. Brigitte Bardot commented, “It’s sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.”

As the center of the Universe, Birmingham is ripening and ready to burst into a new future. As the bookstore at the center of the center of the Universe, Reed Books, too, becomes more beautiful.

Those are my fragmentary momentary thoughts. Just can’t stop my brain…

 

Ray Bradbury, the best of all possible authors 1920-2012 A.D.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hand away.”

–Ray Bradbury 1920-2012 A.D.

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HOW TO READ A BOOK

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or read on…http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/howtoreadabook.mp3

Things people say about books and the written word:

1.

“I don’t read.” (My brother Ronny states this most emphatically. He explains after noting the alarm on my face:  “I don’t read books. It’s boring. I fall asleep.”  He admits that he reads trade publications, newspapers, the Internet, road signs, instructions, legal notices, spread sheets, etc.—but to him, that doesn’t count as reading. Ronny’s not alone…I hear this statement in one form or another each and every week.

2.

“I only read two books in my life—ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’ and that Bear Bryant book.”  Here in Alabama, it’s acceptable to brag about not reading books, but the manly thing to do is admit that you will read something by Rick Bragg or something about late Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Rick would have a ready-made audience if he’d write a book about Bear Bryant.

3.

“I’ve been meaning to read some good books, but I can’t start till I’m retired and have the time.”  Kind of like saying you’d like to run the four minute mile but won’t get around to it till you’re 65.

4.

“I plan to read MOBY DICK and James Joyce and Marcel Proust and MEIN KAMPF someday.”  These are at the top of a list entitled, “Books and authors everybody means to read.” Word is out that no-one has ever really finished any of them.

And so on and so forth.

My rant to the non-reader:

Failing to read a good book is like ignoring that beautiful, seductive person sitting in the corner of the room yearning to be noticed and cuddled  and appreciated by you and you alone. To a person who seems oblivious to the gorgeous potential of a great book, I say, “What’s the matter with you?”  Well, I want to say that but don’t.

Mark Twain’s comment remains etched in my mind, “A person who doesn’t read has no advantage over a person who can’t read.”

My judgmental self thankfully remains silent, but I just wish I could inspire you to see books the way I see them.

If the aforementioned beautiful, seductive person sitting in the corner of the room yearning to be noticed and cuddled and appreciated were hidden inside a book, wouldn’t you want to turn the pages, experience the  sensual joy and intellectual excitement of true love, real romance? Especially since the affair would be legal and perfectly acceptable?

Nobody will come to take you away just for reading a book to yourself.

Want to try some delightfully adventurous experiences without getting caught?

Are you listening?

Well, if you’re a non-reader, I know you’re not seeing these words.

Guess  those of us who know how to travel to the Moon and back in an hour without anybody’s knowing it, will just have to be the people who are having all the safe fun.

Sorry you missed out

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Seventy-Cent Four-Minute Shopping Spree

LISTEN: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/seventycentfourminute.mp3 or READ ON…

Historic Downtown Birmingham is my neighborhood, and my little bookstore and museum constitute the center of my personal universe. Most days, I live in the peaceful world by staying out of the way of gypsies, tramps, thieves, wolves and cranky people…but the one thing I can’t seem to avoid is the plethora of City Employee Attitude Provokers. These folks are scattered here and there, and they appear to pounce only when I least expect it…only when I am otherwise having a nice day.

We can take care of the elephants, but the gnats are annoying to the max.

FROM MY RED CLAY DIARY, JUST LAST WEEK:

It’s first thing in the bustling morning of the big city, and I do what I do at least three times a week—pull up to a parking space in front of the town’s only variety store, FAMILY DOLLAR, this time to pick up some trash bags and paper towers for the shop.

I check the winking metal meter and scrounge around for a nickel, which I know will provide six minutes of parking time, just enough for me to do my thing. There’s no nickel, but the dime I find will suffice—what the heck, I can spend twelve minutes looking at the gewgaws and jawing with the employees.

I stick the dime into the winking meter—and it just keeps on winking. Oops!  It’s another broken machine in the traditionally broken-meter ethos of Downtown. Maybe it was dozing instead of blinking…so I stick another dime in the slot. Blinking continues. At this point, I have to decide whether to risk receiving an overtime ticket, or just dash in, hoping to beat the system. Then, I notice a Meter Maid (don’t know what her real title is) who seems new to the beat. She’s checking cars and issuing tickets and she’ll soon be coming my way. I decide to let her know about the meter, so I won’t have to worry about the fine.

“Hi, I notice that this meter isn’t taking my money.”

She snaps, “What did you put in?”

“Two dimes.”

“Well, you have to put in a quarter,” she replies impatiently, which I know not to be the case—just guess she’s new to the beat and trying to seem efficient. I do not mention this fact.

“Hmm…wonder when they started requiring dimes only?” I say, searching my pocket for some quarters.

She doesn’t reply and huffs away to look at another meter.

I insert a quarter into Winky, and, sure enough, it continues to wink. No results.

“Uh, it isn’t taking quarters, either,” I say, since she’s only a few feet away.

She grimaces and snaps, “Well, how do I know you put anything  in the meter? I didn’t see you put it in.”

I’m stunned but still on task—I just want to make my FAMILY DOLLAR purchases and get to the shop before opening time. The only thing I can think to do is seize the moment.

“Well, please witness this for me, I’m about to put another quarter in, but can you watch me this time?”

She freezes, can’t seem to think of any snappy comeback, and stands about two feet away looking at the meter while I place the quarter where it’s supposed to go. It doesn’t work. She WHAPS the side of the meter, hoping that will solve the problem, but the winking continues.

The Meter Maid starts to walk away, turns back for a second, waves her hand dismissively, and says, “You’re OK.” I take that to mean she won’t issue a penalty.

I make my purchase (it only takes four minutes) and am relieved that there is no ticket when I return.

I hop in my time machine and head for work, where I will spend the rest of the day laughing at the incident, marvelling at the unnecessary energy required to have just one tiny justice done on the streets, and hoping to avoid any additional encounters with City Attitude employees, at least for the rest of the day

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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