Scaping goats can be hazardous

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In the second sentence of his latest business column, billionaire Steve Forbes loses his way with this observation, “…but the overall direction is heading toward catastrophe.”


It’s not really bothersome to hear some yokel make such a gaff, but wouldn’t you think Forbes could afford a copy editor to protect him from embarrassment? Maybe his proofers and staffers are afraid to face him with grammar.

Or maybe I’m wrong—perhaps a direction could head toward something. Can a direction lose its direction?

In the same piece, Forbes says, “…governments are doing exactly what their forebearers did in the 1930’s…”

Really? Forebearers? Maybe Forbes was confusing the word forebearers with the four litter-bearers rich guys like him use to get from place to place. Maybe he forgot the fairy tale about the forebears and Goldilocks. Or did I lose count?

Where are the editors? My secret hunch is that Forbes’ staff is playing a passive-aggressive game: let the old man make a fool of himself instead of asking our opinion.  The emperor forebode criticism and see where it got him?

I’ll bet you four bodes that things will not go well at the editorial meeting next week. Someone’s goat will be scaped for sure

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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How to be a bookdealer and do nothing all day

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“Boy hidy, I sure wish I could own an old bookstore and sit around reading all day for a living!”

I get this all the time, in multiple variations, from customers and tire-kickers and browsers and odd assortments of other folks who’ve never been in the business of bookselling.

They see me behind the counter, static, sedentary, focused on repairing a book or entering a title into the database, or searching for a tome some caller needs now and this minute or yesterday in-a-hurry, if you please.

It’s all image and perception, this mythology about what old rare bookstores are like. I kind of like the fact that customers can’t see how it’s all done, the fact that it’s the bookdealer’s job to make it seem easy, effortless and somewhat magical.

Truth is, this is what today has been like thus far:

I pull into the driveway of an old suburban home at 8:15am, where a blue plastic tarp covers the garage entrance, barely obscuring the loot within—old Disneyesque collectibles, garden tools, moldy newspapers, cardboard-packaged kitchen gadgets, missing-paged cookbooks and the like. The proprietor drives up and unlocks the side door so that I can sort through the trove in several rooms. I spend the next 90 minutes hurriedly stacking books I wish to purchase, regretfully rejecting many that just don’t make the cut for a hundred and one reasons, smiling to myself at the amazing range of topics and generations and illustrators and authors whose works have traveled to this musty and lonely place. I feel sad at leaving them behind to an unknown fate, but it makes me feel good to rescue the foundlings I do pick in hope of providing a second life to each.

It is hot and stressful work, since I have to negotiate several sets of steps while peering over high piles of books I’m carrying to the car. Finally, when the vehicle is filled to the brim, I take my leave and head to the shop, hoping to arrive just in time to open the doors by 10:30. I run the car’s AC system full blast so that I’ll be dry and cool and calm by the time the first customer enters. I park the car, begin unloading its contents (this will take all of two days, one stack at a time), then neatly stacking, sorting, cleaning, pricing and readying the children for shelf-placement into the correct alphabetized categorized cubicles, where they will rest and thrive and eventually be selected by kindly foster parents who will care for them, enjoy them and, when the time is right, pass them on to yet another family.

The shop is filled with authors’ and illustrators’ lives between covers. Each little work will once more come alive at the kindly touch and perusal of the solitary understanding reader.

So, this is how I spend my morning so that you can glance at me behind the counter, wonder how I get away with doing not much of anything. The backstage work is everything. The preparation and cleanup are covert but necessary. The effort to please is paramount.

The rest of the day is spent showing off my adoptees and hoping you’ll see their beauty through my eyes.

Boy hidy, it’s fun doing something and making it look like nothing. Every magician knows this open secret. Ask me about our secret handshake

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Parallel Universes at Last Interact


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I am regarding a pebble.
This particular pebble rests comfortably in the palm of my right hand. 
Editorial correction: A pebble, which is inanimate, cannot rest comfortably, since that suggests some kind of will, a sort of purposeful action on the part of the pebble. It would be more accurate to say, “I am balancing this pebble in the palm of my hand, where it will remain until I decide to move it. It cannot move itself.”
This pebble is smooth and time-weathered and at first cold to the touch.
Slowly, heat from my palm transfers to the pebble, making it less than cold and closer degree by degree to the temperature of my palm.
Editorial correction: From my human perspective, I am making assumptions that may have no basis in known reality—I don’t really have proof that this pebble has been worn by nature, since it might have been thrown into one of those rock-smoothing machines and forced into simulated time-weathering. It might be more accurate to say, “This pebble is smooth, made so by forces of which I am not aware…”

Was this the pebble slung by David to topple the bully Goliath?

Or is it just a foundling awaiting the next post-holocaust race of small children who will pick it up for their homemade slingshots, or paint a tiny face thereon in lieu of store-bought dolls?

Editorial correction: We don’t know whether the Goliath story is accurate—perhaps he wasn’t a bully but a conscripted warrior who, because of his size and political vulnerability, was forced to battle the kid with the pitching arm. Maybe he was just a scapegoat or a foil.

And so on.

Storytellers and philosophers and scientists and artists see pebbles in  different realities, in sometimes diametrically-opposed mythologies. Each has a right to see a pebble in a highly individualistic way. Each is allowed to describe the pebble according to wishes, desires, training, each has a special parallax view. It is up to the writer of the moment to pull these disparate perceptions together into a work of art—such as a story or a treatise or a rainy-Sunday-afternoon meandering column such as this one resting within your field of vision


(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Backtiming Your Life


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I’m in the middle of preparing breakfast, juggling the eggs, tomatoes, cheese, onions, potatoes, butter, jam, biscuits, so that they are all ready to eat at the exact same moment—what we old broadcasters used to call backtiming everything.

Backtiming? Here comes a memory:

Let’s go way back to the days before computers: as a radio announcer, I need to end my music show at exactly 8:59:50 pm, so that a nine-second station identification and “time check” can be performed precisely one second prior to ”hitting the network,” meaning that my sentence has to stop one beat before the network newsperson begins reporting news. It has to seem effortless to the listener, but as any professional performer knows, you have to work hard to look effortless. So, how do I make that musical piece end at exactly 8:59:50 pm? Well, I check the length of the final song on the program. Hmmm, it’s three minutes and 21 seconds long. So, in order to end perfectly, the record must begin at 8:56:29 pm. That means that what I am ad-libbing right before the record starts has to end at exactly 8:56.28pm, but sound easy and natural to the listener. The entire hour is pre-determined this way, working backwards and then proceeding forward. Thus the term backtiming. Everything has to be backtimed

Do this backtiming thing a few thousand times and you never again have trouble making things end at exactly the right instant. It’s all done with computers these days, so announcers no longer need to know this stuff.

Back to the kitchen and making breakfast.

I’m not a good cook, but I do know how to make everything happen at about the same moment. The oven has to be preheated, biscuits laid out and ready to insert on signal, the onions and potatoes are sauteeing nicely, starting just early enough to time out with the eggs and sausage, the tea must be made and ready to go, the utensils and plates and napkins appear just in time…everything has to be hot and presented together, or my little show will be ruined.

I do pull it off, and you’ll have to ask Liz whether the whole thing is worth it.

I am now father and grandfather to several good cooks, but I recall how they, too, had to learn to backtime, even though they never heard the term. Margaret, for instance, used to cook for the family one night per week when she was a pre-teen. Having never heard that magic word, she at first took several hours to get everything ready. She merrily prepared one course from beginning to end, then began the second course to completion, then the third. After a while, she caught on to the fact that if the courses existed in parallel universes, they could be put together simultaneously and dinner ready in less than an hour. This is something you teach yourself, and to this day, she’s an efficient and wonderful cook.

So why did this whole subject pop into my head? Well, like much of my writing, it started out as an essay on the memories that inanimate objects contain, but my fingers wrote something else. Maybe I’ll get around to the inanimate-object thingy next week.

Stay tuned for station identification

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Too Late to Edit the Uneditable


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Free entertainment abounds in local publications.

This is an actual direct quote from the editorial page:

“…management, employees and loyal customers are rejoicing because of an unbelievable groundswell swell of support across the South…” There’s nothing sweller than a groundswell swell of support, don’t you know? Or a swell groundswell, especially if the groundswell is unbelievable. Why even make the statement if it’s unbelievable? The mental chaos is so swell, the reader forgets the purpose of the article.

Another editorial page quote:

“Our affection for the automobile and neglect of transit make Birmingham-Hoover area roads the second most deadliest in the U.S.” What’s worse than being the second most deadly of anything? The second most deadliest, that’s what’s worse.

Funniest newspaper quote of the year:

“Asked if it was against the law (to parachute off the top of tall Birmingham buildings in the middle of the night), Williams chuckled and said, ‘You just can’t go around jumping off buildings anytime you feel like it.’” Does this mean you are allowed to parachute-jump off buildings anytime you don’t feel like it? Or is there a certain time it’s ok to parachute-jump off buildings? Even if these questions are rhetorical, the statement itself is straight out of Mayberry or Dogpatch.

Alabama tour guide listing:

“ANNUAL TOUR OF HISTORIC MOBILE HOMES THIS MONTH” While the proofreader and editor took long naps, this went to press and was distributed throughout the English-speaking world, in order to attract tourists. To non-Southerners, it sounds like what they already may think of us—owners of mobile homes so old they are now historic. On the other hand, I’d love to see what a tour of historic mobile homes would be like. The residents of Mobile, however, are not amused. 

And this heading from an obituary column in a hospital employee newsletter:


Is this enough for now? If you know of other actual press quotes, send me a memoriam

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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