Listen to Jim:

or read on…

I’m in the right-hand lane on 20th Street heading to the shop.

A van pulls abreast to the left of me, pointed in the same direction.

In the passenger seat of the van is a young woman  staring straight down 20th, only her vision is blocked by the hand mirror in which she views herself. In her right hand is a small artist’s brush with which she dusts her face in rapid, skillfully coordinated motions. In the process, her lovely skin is covered by a fine beige powder that serves to hide her distinguishing marks, such as moles, pores, birthmarks, discolorations, scars and any trace of eccentricity.

She slowly becomes as smooth-complected as the life-sized mannequin at Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories.

The van takes off and passes by and I am left to wonder about the airbrushing ritual. Does the young woman continue dusting her neck, shoulders, chest, armpits and all points south of 20th Street? Is she now a living beige mannequin ready to face the day? Could I identify her in a line-up, since she’s all smooth and featureless now? Is she happy with her newborn self? Should I airbrush myself and would anybody notice my lovely new complexion?

This seems like a lot of trouble, the things some of us do to remake ourselves each day, but I do understand it to some degree.

I spend each day airbrushing my comments and opinions and behavior, based on what I need to accomplish. Eating is important, so I brush over my suppressed retort when someone is rude—so that I can complete the sale and continue feeding my family. I tamp down my political opinion when someone rants a thought I don’t share. I hold back a funny remark when I sense that this particular customer is bereft of humor or spirit. I avert my eyes when someone unconsciously bends down to peruse a book and displays an intimate tattoo or bit of string underwear. I pretend deafness when someone spouts outrageously personal asides to a companion shopper. I hold my breath when it’s clear a customer hasn’t bathed or brushed for days—once they leave, I sigh and spray so that the next customer won’t have the same experience. I listen patiently to the extended tale someone spins in order to impress me or make me want to buy something they are trying to push.

And so on.

Like Zelig, Woody Allen’s fictional hero, I can shapeshift and airbrush as much as possible when it’s important to do so.

But it’s also so much fun to relax and chat freely with customers who are obviously open to verbal intercourse, receptive to ideas and remarks, relaxed within their own skin. When this happens, I can be myself and not be judged, the customers can be themselves and feel safe, and for a few moments, we can all put aside our airbrushes and get on with pleasuring ourselves with the dialogues of the day

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

We’re IN the in group now!

The Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau now honors  Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories in their new Birmingham IN guide. Pick up your copies of the IN guide at Reed Books & Vulcan Park and Museum & The Birmingham Store (2200 9th Ave North 35203) & the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.


Books I can’t find which means you or I will have to write them ourselves

Listen to Jim: or read on…

These are books that must be written, soon and by somebody.

The Vampire Bat Effect (sequel to The Butterfly Effect)

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People* 

Sometimes a Great Lotion

The Winter of My Contentment

Metaphor as Metaphor

How to Write Good Without Knowing Anything*

One Flew Over the—Oops! Didn’t See That Branch

Tequila Mockingbird

How to Eschew Obfuscation

I’ve Got Tears in My Ears From Lying on My Back in My Bed While

I Cry Over You (based on the song of that title)

Moby Ralph

Pitiful Expectations

Every Day is Eventually Yesterday

Atlas Whimpered

Daisy Wheel and Dot Matrix Do Dallas

How to Fail in Business After Trying Real Hard

Undead Poets Society

*(wait—that’s already been written!)

Don’t say I never gave you a good book title. The rest is up to you. Send mss to



Listen to Jim: or read on…

Where have all the old men gone?

As Bo Diddley said, “We’re a short time here and a long time gone.”

My neighbor, Frank Selman, died last week, and he’s already too long gone.

Frank was everything a good neighbor should be—attentive, witty, energetic, respectful of privacy, and always willing to lend a hand or a tool (as long as you brought it back in a timely fashion, in pristine condition).

When Liz and I and the kids moved two houses down from Frank in 1977, he and wife Margaret were already considered to be elderly, though if my math is correct, they were actually younger then than we are today…guess who’re the old folks now?

Frank kept his 1906-built home immaculate, and we kept our 1906-built home fairly straight most of the time, so I always admired his industriousness, always felt a bit guilty at my inborn Ludditeness. I am not a handyman.

Frank was 91 years old when he left the ‘hood. Wife Margaret is 91 and eager to leave us—she’s not well. All those decades of living close to Frank, all those generations being with the man she adored, seem to be pullng her away, yearning to join Frank on his journey.

Margaret and Frank were truly Southside Birmingham’s honorary village elders, and we hung on to every word Frank said, every bit of juicy gossip Margaret shared. They knew this century-old neighborhood better than all of us, and they remembered the names and periods of each person who had lived here. They were walking encyclopedic troves of historical fact and lore.

Are Liz and I the next village elders? Hardly likely. We’ll never live up to the standard that Frank and Margaret set, and we’ll never be quite as lovable.

So long, Frank. I hope you and your long-ago pet dog, Duchess, get to take extended walks together, I hope you find your old fishing buddies and have many opportunities to get out there and catch some, get out there and escape the cares of running a household, if just for a few hours.

And I hope that, once Margaret joins you, she’ll make a batch of spicy cheese straws in memory of me, the Selmans’ biggest fan

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed