The Seventy-Cent Four-Minute Shopping Spree


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.


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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My Red Clay Diary continues to write itself each day. Here are a few things that flashed across my path this week:
Third Avenue North in front of the shop (Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories) has been barren but fun today (Friday). The Jackie Robinson film “42″ is being shot—in part—in Birmingham.
I’ve met film crew members who became customers (thank goodness! since regular customers were not allowed on the set)…strutted down a street bereft of traffic (going the wrong way on a one-way street—legally—is akin to walking naked down Madison Avenue)…eaten a hotdog prepared by Rhonda at Goodyear Shoe Hospital (Goodyear has been Downtown since 1919 and is still going strong)…discussed Birmingham and its beauty and style with the movie’s artistic director (these folks work really hard—they’ll be filming all night)…been dismayed by the rude attitude of a city employee (no matter how much the City attempts to bring wonderful things like moviemaking and sports to our area, the message never seems to trickle down to most workers, since they are just plain mannerless and humorless)…been delighted at how out-of-towners love our city (“It’s green, architecturally lovely, friendly, and the site of great eateries.”)…been happy to acquire some great books to add to our shelves (a carload came in today and another is due tomorrow).
And Saturday night, the entire experience was enhanced one degree by John Marc Green, the director of a new short film (Lippidleggin’), who hosted a screening at Five Points South. It was strange and exhilirating to see myself and fellow actors Whit Russell and David Seale on the big screen. They did a great job! Guess you’ll have to wait till film festival time to see the flick yourself. Stay tuned!
So…what’s a Red Clay Diarist to do next? The dilemma is always there—each time you see something fun and artistic and inspiring on the streets of the City, there’s often something that doesn’t quite fit with the rosy picture.
The good news is, the moment you get over your annoyance at those folks who just don’t care about Birmingham, there’s always something great and positive to note and ponder on.
Thanks goodness for the ponies we find among the haystacks of detritus. They keep us coming back for more
(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

Those who love are always around

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I can’t seem to rid myself of all the long-ago formerly-living people who have filled my life, fleshed out my life, enriched my life.

You’d think that, once people you know die, you’d be able to put aside your memory of them and get on with meeting new people, having new experiences.

Just doesn’t work that way.

There are many dead folk who continue to influence my life:

Helen Hisey, my 8th grade speech teacher, taught me not to be afraid of speaking my passion in front of audiences. She taught me that it’s OK to slow down and respect the crowd, have faith in their ability to absorb worthwhile information when it is delivered to them with  zeal and humor and love. Helen still guides me, all the way from my starring role in the play Tom Sawyer  (at age 13) to my role as Gabe in the new John Marc Green film Lipidleggin’  (at age 70).  

Sadie Logan, my 2nd grade teacher, brought me up from a very deep and fearful place to a position of importance. She never, ever stopped believing in me and letting me know that I was the most special kid on earth. Fifty years later, I learned that she made virtually every student she’s ever taught feel the same way. We are all the offspring of Sadie Logan.

Jon Charles Palmer and Elmo Riley and Pat Flood were my childhood playmates who just plain accepted me as their friend and never had any reason to harm or dismiss me, no matter how stupid I acted, no matter how far away and out of touch I became. I still hang out with them in memory ever fresh.

Frances Lee McGee Reed, my mother, always laughed at my corny humor, always knew I was special, never let me get away with a lie or an exaggeration or a misdeed, forever believed that I was Number One in her book—even though my brothers and sisters felt the same way. She taught me that the greatest entertainment there is, is people-watching, and I spend most of each public day doing just that, with her invisible presence setting me straight.

James Thomas Reed Jr., my father, taught by quiet example. He was clumsy aloud, but his image as a learned and wise man was powerful without words. He was my earliest example of what a real family man does—earn the living, bring home the pay, sit silently in an easy  chair after supper, reading books great and books seedy and books wise, from Mickey Spillane and Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs to Eric Hoffer and Harry Truman and Ogden Nash. A most educated man, though never a graduate, he set the example of steadfast tranquility.

Other dead people who look after me:

Pawpaw Burns was my elderly neighbor who showed me that if you really pay close attention to children, you can get through to them by simply noticing, simply respecting them for where they are at the moment. They can always tell.

Adron Herrin and Jack McGee and Brandon McGee and Pat McGee and Annabelle Herrin and Evey Hartley and Effie McGee and Georgia McGee and Gladys McGee and Matty Wooten and John McGee and Dinah Hassell and Elizabeth McGee and many other kinfolk accepted me, warts and all, and treated me with respect and good humor, making me react in horror when anybody tells me they are separated from their kin, cut off from the nurturing care that can come from kindly people who share your blood, if you will only let them.

There are crowds of dead people in my head and in my life and that’s OK.

Even better news: there are scores of living people who have helped me, too, many without even knowing it.

I see living people.

And, because of the wisdoms and comforts and joys left me by the deceased, I am better prepared than most to carefully weed out the unwise and hang only with the people who trust and accept me and make no judgements.

Thanks to those long-ago-passed, I have become a good student of life, and the lives they lived help me manage the bad days well, and enjoy the good days even more

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed













The Six-Smile Double-Grimace Tapdance Trek to Fond Memoryland

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Wending my way from abode to workplace each morning is an experience roughly like driving a bumper car down the freeway or tapdancing around hidden land mines. I’m so relieved and happy to arrive unmolested that I have trouble remembering what it was that made the trek such an adventure.

Let me go back ten minutes in time and examine what happened:

I’m grateful for the smiles. The clerk at the pharmacy is so pleasant and anxious to please that I just can’t help smiling right back. She always asks if anyone ever told me I look like George Carlin. I always reply that she’s the only one, but that I’ll take it as a compliment.

A close-cropped-hair young man stands at the corner outside the pharmacy and begins his panhandler routine. I just say no and wonder how he affords the cigarettes and cell phone if he needs to solicit.

There’s a sign at the corner, FUNKY FISH FRY, which is three days out of date. If I’m to enjoy the fish, I’ll need to re-tool the time machine.

At the post office, the clerk is all smiley and friendly today, primarily because I drew the one who knows how to converse. We have a good, informative time. Yet another smile.

I drop my laundry off and have a pleasant interchange with the employee, who by now knows way too much about me, since she’s been cleaning my clothes for decades. That’s yet another smile.

Driving on toward the shop, I have a revelation—one that I can share at a speech I’m giving this evening. My generation says DUH (pronounced DUUUUUHHH, as in stupid). This generation says DUH (pronounced sharply, DUH!, as in disdainful). There must be some metaphor there. Another smile, this time from me. 

Two large ladies, lawfirm employees, never see me, though I walk past within inches of them outside the shop each day. All they can concentrate on are the cigarettes they’re frantically puffing on, and the gossip they are loudly sharing. All I can concentrate on is not inhaling, since secondary smoke is inescapable on my block.

I finally arrive at the front door and get a special, gigantic smile from the Piggly Wiggly mascot head in the show window. Within seconds, I’ll be safe from dread, boredom, addiction, neediness and superficial patter, all of which I’ve experienced between home and store.

For a few seconds, I’ll be peaceful and secure.

Then, I’ll roll the stone from before the entrance and open myself again to the World, the friendly shoppers, the saber-tooth tigers and the constant surprises that I later can write about on my little computer screen, just for you

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

Me and My Muses

These students at Trinity School in Montgomery, Alabama attended my seminar, HOW TO BECOME YOUR OWN BOOK. They are book-ended by yours truly on the left, and teacher Robert McGowin on the right. A delightful, bright class!