Listen to Jim: or read on…

My long-ago friend Suzy used to chat a lot, but she would suddenly realize the self-centeredness of it all and exclaim, “But enough about me…how’s my hair?”

You had to have been there.

Anyhow, it’s a lot more fun to talk about my customers and bookish acquaintances than to talk about myself—although, don’t get me started ’cause I can do that, too.

I could—and should—do a column about each of the people who lighten my door, but it would take thousands of columns and it’s unlikely I’ll live to be 145.

I guess, though, that I could write about these folks as if I might live to be 145. Here goes:

The two-dollar-book woman who arrives a couple of times a month just at closing time, carefully and slowly selects a stack of volumes from the $2-each stand outside the shop. She always makes me late getting home, but I unblinkingly appreciate the fact that I’m making any money at all in this delightful dreambusiness, so I pause to enjoy her presence.

The two-dollar-book woman walks very slowly and somewhat painfully, sometimes with a cane, but she never selects the lightest books to make her journey smoother. She’ll pick a gigantic dictionary, a heavy stack of first-edition novels, just about anything that perks her up. Then, clumsily, never asking for help, she struggles to pull ajar the chiming door and manipulate her cane and armsful of books to my counter. She pays from a bank envelope full of cash, grunts to hold the double-bagged purchases, and wends her way out and into whatever time zone she occupies at night. 

I don’t know anything about this customer except by Watson/Holmes deduction, and I hesitate to describe her physical appearance or relate additional observations because it might imbed a misleading image of her class/age/race into your mind and divert your attention. All I really want to know, all I really want you to know,  is that she is as important to my daily shoprunning as the customer who just purchased an old copy of Moby-Dick or a signed first edition by William Faulkner or a beat-up copy of Archie Comics.

There’s something to learn from each and every person who dares enter my Museum of Fond Memories, and these persons range from unreconstructed redneck literati to uninformed beginners to overeducated nonstop talkers to awed tourists to kids standing wide-eyed taking in the overload of visual information on the floor, shelves, walls, ceilings to frantic parents trying to find a copy of the assigned book-report volume their kids must have by tonight, to casual gazers who just want to enjoy the time machine and remain as long as I’ll allow them. And more.

Now and then, if it’s ok with you, I’ll talk about other customers and characters, but don’t worry—I won’t out you, I’ll just edify you should you happen to sneak into one of the columns. I’m not looking for Bad Customer, I’m just looking for more adventure—the adventure that comes from looking closely and finding the bookie heart in each and every literatureland explorer

(c) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim: or read on…

Making a living in the previously-loved-book trade is not what you think.

For instance, many times over, job applicants, young and old, say,

1. ”Gee, I’d love to work here. You get to sit in an old book store and read all day and talk with Book People.”


2. “Are you hiring?” as if one could just walk right in and take over my world and know what’s what and how to do it, no qualifications required.


3. “I’d like to open a book store when I retire,” as if operating a shop is something you can immediately succeed at and still take your afternoon nap and your extended vacation, while keeping up with rent and overhead.


A thousandfold other comments and asides that indicate shoprunning looks like the easiest thing in the world.

You might find taking a book excursion with me to be rather eye opening, somewhat scary at times; you might find it to be doggone hard work, too.

This afternoon, I head 30 miles to the county line to follow up on a phone call. Woman says she has 60 boxes of good books ready to sell reasonably if I’ll just come and go through them.

The journey is half the fun, since I get to see parts of the region not normally imagined by us city dwellers:

The skeletal structure of a ferris wheel rims the horizon, a bowling alley named SUPER BOWL whizzes past—good name for a bowling alley, the haunted ghost-filled windows of a dozen abandoned general stores sucked dry of life by chain inconvenience facilities,  double-wide homes leaning in the breeze, clothes lines filled with mentionables better left unmentioned, a Sunday-closed bar-b-q place bracing itself for Monday breakfast gorgers…and so on. It’s a grand tour of who we were, who we don’t want to be, who we might have been but for the grace of. And it’s as  humbling as lying in a field on a clear night and allowing the stars to put us in our minuscule celestial dunce corners.

I arrive at the HOT DOG HOT ROD RESTAURANT (“Bikers Welcome”), or what may be what’s left of it, where several family members sit out front and regard the citified bookdealer who dares beam himself into their midst. The woman who called tells me to follow her car down a dirt road to where the books are stored, and I embark into the unknown just knowing I’m going to have an adventure. The rolling hills seem to be shards of strip mining land, what with the patchy greenery and the green-tinted pond spread about. A large open-air barn houses pieces of our culture—thousands of record albums from Al Jolson to Charlie Pride, thousands of books, surprisingly clean, dry and well-kept in boxes. I try to ignore the temptation of looking at other artifacts worth obtaining and just concentrate on the books, and the effort does pay off. I select a hundred titles ranging from Plato to Grizzard, stuff that will replenish my stock of good, reasonably-priced reading material.

The woman is happy with the money, her grown kids are happy that somebody wants these books, the titles of which they can barely read. One large son packs my car for me, and they all  hop into vehicles to lead me back to the highway on the narrow path.

The woman repeatedly reports that she’s glad somebody wants the books, since her husband has commanded her to get rid of them or he’ll take them to a landfill. She somehow knows, as I do , that throwing a book away is a sin—even if her definition of sin isn’t always the same as mine.

I feel good about the Sunday afternoon jaunt and can’t wait to make several other trips tomorrow in my quest to locate the Holy Grail piece by piece and day by day, in this sacred profession called bookdealing/bookloving/bookcollecting/bookreading/bookwriting

(c) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim: or read on…


Ideas and thoughts and meaningless rambles tend to find themselves snatched from midair by my hands, then downloaded onto sticky notes (usually on the steering column as I’m meandering along the blue roadways) and eventually either into my sticky note drawer or my pocket.

If I dig into my pocket right now, here’s what I come up with, all hastily and shakily written on yellow paper bits:

1. Spam inbox headline number one: YOU’RE PAYING $377.96 MORE THAN YOU SHOULD. An ineffectual message if ever there was one, since it does not induce me to open the email–why should I, when there is nothing more to learn? For instance, I agree: I’M PAYING $377.96 MORE THAN I SHOULD. Doesn’t matter where the money is going, I know that it’s wasted money and I also know that I wish I didn’t have to pay it.

2. Spam inbox headline number two: ELIMINATE ROLLS AND BRA WIRES. Another messsage complete in and of itself. It simply instructs me to ELIMINATE MY ROLLS AND BRA WIRES. That means I’ve got to reduce that cellulite floppy Pillsbury Doughboy belly of mine, and I certainly may or may not get around to doing that someday. I will look around to see whether there are any bra wires lying about, though I’m not sure what they look like. If I ever find and eliminate some you’ll be the first to know.

3. Spam inbox headline number three: GET SEXIEST LEGS EVER. Believe me, if I ever decide to get some sexy legs, I’ll obey the order. First I have to figure out whether they’re talking about replacing or upgrading my legs, or whether I’m supposed to find somebody with sexy legs and try to get them. Also, can they remain attached to a sexy body? What are the rules?

4. Spam inbox headline number four: STORE EVERYTHING IN A STEEL BUILDING. Do I have to? And does that mean everything, like everything in the Universe? Or does it mean just the stuff that’s lying around? And which steel building do they want me to use? Decisions, decisions.

and finally,

5. Spam inbox headline number five: FINALLY SMOKE ANYWHERE YOU WANT LEGALLY. You mean I can finally do that? You mean it’s finally legal to smoke anywhere? Where were you 30 years ago when I still smoked? And what good does this message do me now? I would not term this as successful target marketing.

I think I’ll leave my sticky notes home someday, just to see if I can act upon the world rather than have its billionfold messages act upon me

(c) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim: or read on…

The 82,000 mph Message


What does a message in a bottle have in common with a spacecraft speeding along at 82,000 miles per hour?


Funny you should ask. Actually, it really would be funny if you asked, since I never expect anybody to make such an inquiry in my lifetime.


So, since I’m doing all the asking today, I might as well do the answering, too.


My muse is a spaceship named Pioneer 10, and within this racing bit of machinery lies one tiny hope for our species—the hope that we will prevail (preferably in peace and prosperity) long enough to dive into deep space and retrieve this runaway child of Earth.


Way back in 1972 (or, as we geezers say, day before yesterday), a scientist named Carl Sagan, and his buddy, Frank Drake, learned that NASA was about to launch a missile to the stars, a missile that will be gone so long and going so fast, that it won’t reach a giant sun called Aldebaran for about two million years. But it was going to make the trip, anyhow! That’s the way visionary poets and scientists and hobbits think—two million years is nothing when you’re about to embark on an adventure!


Anyhow, the scientists asked NASA whether they could place a message on the Pioneer 10 craft—you know, just in case somebody or something intercepts and boards the vessel during its great visit outside our Solar System. Wouldn’t we want the interceptors to know who we are and where we are and whether we are invaders or explorers?


NASA agreed, and three weeks later, a gold aluminum anodized plaque with a message was installed on the space ship, and away it went!


Nearly forty years have passed, and Pioneer 10 is still travelling toward Aldebaran, even though it stopped sending us messages a few years back (even million-dollar batteries have shelf life).


I often think about Pioneer 10 and all that it means to me and my fellow earthlings, especially my fellow writers.


Placing a message in a bottle and casting it into unknown waters is the same as loading up a time capsule and burying it deep within a cornerstone, the same as wrapping a diary in a red clay clump and hiding it in an overgrowth of kudzu, the same as writing “Kilroy was here” on an urban wall, the same as pressing “enter” and sending a blast/blog/tweet/text/manuscript into parts unknown.


All us senders of messages just want to communicate that we were here, we once mattered, we were good to each other; we hope our readers will fare well and never forget the importance of messaging our lives to one another, never forget that the real people of the world are the little folks like us, the folks who don’t crave power, don’t want to harm, don’t wish to exploit…we’re just the people who matter, and we want to send hopeful messages to future generations and species who are searching for hope and meaning in their alien or alienated existences.


So, my muse, the small spacecraft/bottle called Pioneer 10, keeps sailing the interstellar seas. Someday, it will be intercepted and interpreted. The interceptors might be strange beings…or, I suspect, they might be us, the scientifically advanced us who found a way, one million years hence, to race into the vast distances and retrieve our beloved Rosetta Stone, our Grail, then re-read it and take heart in the fact that we once had great notions and powerful hope and unfettered love that we were willing to share through the eons with anyone open to the idea


© 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


The Accidental Universe inhabited by yours truly is a constant source of laughter and tears—then, more laughter.
Where else but here would you find such an eclectic and confusing array of philosophies and causes and anti-causes, such a head-spinning conglomeration of convoluted ideas and baseless opinions combined with precious moments of wisdom that are later twisted into their opposites by contrarians and cynics and pundits?
It’s a funny cosmos, a funny Earth, a funny melting pot of us suspiring beings who are just off-kilter enough to believe we are special or superior to everything and everybody else.
We are the Dreaming Animal, the being who believes that just because you feel something strongly, it must be true, it must exist, it must be the Only Way.
That’s what makes us funny. Flip a celestial coin and you are suddenly born an unreconstructed hippie in post-beat San Francisco…flip again and you incarnate as a peasant on a desert island…flip once more and you are who you are right now, right here.
Is the Universe a game played with loaded dice? And why do I, the Dreaming Animal, even conjure up such a notion, when I could be using my time more productively watching zombie housewife television or mindlessly thumbing texted messages to imaginary friends or twiddling my mantra in a secluded cave?
Send the answers to these and other questions to me, the post-Andy Rooney embodiment of benevolent geezerhood, who just wants to observe the enlightenment in your eye as you peruse the contents of my Museum of Fond Memories and the wonderful array of overlapping time machine artifacts it displays for the pleasure of all Dreaming Animals who wander in
(c) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed