The Rise of the Drink Machines



Regarding the disregarded is my job as a writer, my task as a teller of stories.

It’s easy to notice the obvious, and there are plenty of other folks whose job that is.

But paying attention to the invisible, looking between the cracks, examining the interstices, walking backward in a forward-motion crowd, even describing things so obvious that they’ve become obscure…that’s my job.

1. The looming electronic soft-drink machine flashes its message: EXACT CHANGE ONLY. Only, what the exact change should be is not posted, leaving the caffeine addict no choice but to pour money in until something—or nothing—happens.

2.  The parking meter asks for quarters, but nothing happens when a quarter is inserted, leaving the visitor no choice but to pour more quarters in, just in case this magically fixes the problem.

3.  The flashing yellow light at a busy intersection totally confounds most motorists. Does yellow mean stop, does it mean speed up, does it act as a four-way stop, does the other driver know the same set of rules that you know? Most of us simply look both ways, make a wish and take the Acceleration of Faith, hoping that irresistible objects don’t suddenly meet and mess with the laws of physics. Either way, the light never stops communicating its uncommunicative message: YELLOWFLASH YELLOWFLASH YELLOWFLASH

4.  The elevator light doesn’t come on when you punch it, leaving you no choice to punch it again and again, just in case it didn’t get the message the first time. Then, another pedestrian arrives and starts punching, too. The elevator disregards us all and operates exactly as it is designed to. It’s the elevator’s world, we just live in it. And obey.

5.  The fast-food clerk has done her job so many times, she no longer feels the need to speak. Her economy of movement dictates that she simply sit there staring at me, slightly raising an eyebrow as if to say, “Come on, speak up. I don’t have all day.” I am amused and decide to play the game. I stare silently at her and raise an eyebrow, too. She doesn’t respond. Finally, I say, “Welcome to MacDonald’s, may I take your order, please?” She snaps out of her contempt, acts confused, then decides to take my order. She never knew what hit her.

6.  The city employees I most admire are the trash and garbage collectors. They do their jobs like clockwork, exposing themselves to every manner of germ and fragrance and dangerous object, come rain, drought, storm or darkness. They cannot possibly be paid enough, and certainly should make more than city leaders…about as much as surgeons. The only thing I have to do as a citizen is obey their rules, which are sometimes obscure. I obey because I don’t want them to fail to pick up my detritus.

7.  The city’s signage programs are useless because graffiti artists and taggers have obliterated virtually every signal that should be visible. Walls and fences are filled with their symbols. I feel sorry for them and have no respect for their misguided efforts—their work would indeed be deemed ART if it weren’t for the fact that said work is basically vandalism, destruction of property, trespassing, and sometimes ugly. They produce art without permission of the property-owners. While they are occupied doing their best—and worst—at 3 a.m. in the abandoned city, I would like to enter their abodes and spray-paint everything they cherish with images of my own design. Would they like coming home at sunrise to find caricatures of Billy Graham and Pee Wee Herman and Police Chief  Roper covering all they see? Just an idea.

Regarding the disregardable is a gift and a curse. Disregarding the all-too-obvious is next best. Forgetting the unforgettable, always remembering the forgettable…that’s what we writers do. I hope we have your sympathy…even if we don’t, we still have one shared secret that keeps us going:

This kind of life is sooo entertaining.

Get yourself a pencil and you can live it, too

 (c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Barney Fife Becomes Wyatt Earp Right Before My Eyes



The behatted security guard stands stolid at his post, at full attention, totally focused on mission. He is there at the corner each morning for all passersby to ponder.

In his hand is a Starbucks product, something to hold on to besides his weapon, which is neatly side-strapped and loaded for action. His dark eyeglasses perfectly match the starched and pressed khaki uniform and perfectly perched Smoky Bear hat.

He is one notch braver than Sheriff Andy, one degree below freewheeling Dirty Harry, firmly entrenched in his stoic protector image, embedded in his role as Defender of the Bank.

The Writer who passes by each day is like most folks in his reaction to the officer.

Seeing him each day, perception changes in an orderly fashion.

Here’s the order.

1.  At first, he looks silly and out of place. In a neighborhood known for its eclectic populace—tattoo parlor right across the street, walls and alleys of graffiti everywhere, a beautiful and poetic water fountain nearby hosting panhandlers and the homeless as well as smiling tourists and over-the-mountaineers who are here to eat high and then maybe get high later, bored teenagers looking for what they wish they knew they were looking for, intellectual occupiers, new-age dreamers, clueless pedestrians, fearful drive-bys on their way someplace else, worldly shop-owners, vacuous police officers, bright and alert CAP officers, city workers…they are all intermingling and drifting past this neatly pressed officer of the law.

2.  As you see him each day, each week, each month, he begins to look different. His belt-overhanging gut begins to seem appropriate to his loyalty to the corner, his hat is suddenly perceived as just the right hat with the just the right tilt, just the right fit, just the right symbol of dormant authority. His coffee cup is a compromise between doughnuts and diner hangout, his uniform looks like it belongs there, his demeanor again rises just above Andy, but now just below a modern-day Wyatt Earp.

3.  After a while, this corner-protector becomes a symbol of stability and gentility, a throwback to the weaving chaos of Five Points South. The protector may be a mere bank employee whose job is to symbolize safety and dependability, but his presence is now morphed and iconic, what we expect  to see every day, a touchstone of reality in a Jello based world.

We could use a few more street-based protectors around the rampant city—you know, officers who actually walk  the beat, merchants who dare to step outside their shops, blinking at the sun and showing us they are part of the ‘hood, elected city officials who actually dare to spend their wages inside the city instead of escaping to the shoppingmall ‘burbs each night. 

I’m present here in the city, so is the protector, so are the people both enfranchised and disenfranchised. We want you to brave the city streets, too—and get to know these passing spirits as real and necessary beings.

Y’all give it a try, you hear

 (c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Difference Between Texting and Chiseling

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The medium is the message, according to both Marshall McLuhan and Sherlock Holmes.

When McLuhan says this, he’s giving us a cautionary thought: Don’t be seduced by the tools you use to communicate an idea. Pay attention to the medium of transmission.

The question is, if you publish a thought twenty different ways, does it become twenty different thoughts?

Sherlock Holmes noticed everything about him—and he knew how a medium transforms an idea:
“…I offered to typewrite (some letters), but he wouldn’t
have that, for he said that when I wrote them (by hand) they seemed
to come from me, but when they were typewritten
he always felt that the machine had come between us.”

                           –From “A Case of Identity” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Here’s how to verify what I am trying to impart:

Take one of your  favorite anecdotes and tell it in twenty different media, each time conforming to the rules of the medium used:

1. Pencil on legal pad  2. Fingers on manual typewriter  3. Chisel on granite  4. Crayon on butcher paper  5. Ballpoint pen on sticky note  6. Voice on recording  7. Sermon from pulpit 8. Locker room anecdote  9. Tale around a campfire  10. Sign language  11. Scrabble tiles 12. Three words a day till it’s all told  13. Keyboard to desktop  14. Text message  15. A single Tweet  16. Blog column  17. Thirty-second verbal report  18. Message in bottle 19.  Time capsule  20. Morse Code

What happens each time you switch media? Does the tale get longer, shorter, faster, slower…does the vocabulary change…does editing occur…does rambling increase or decrease…does the story improve or get funnier or sadder…do you enjoy the tale each time or begin to see meanings and ideas you hadn’t noticed before?  And so on and so forth.

Now, take the same story and tell it to different audiences. How does it change when you conform to the mores and structures of each group? Rotary Club meeting, snickering behind the barn, strangers crossing the street, family gathering, kindergarten storytime, fancy restaurant by candlelight, pillow talk, your imaginary playmate, woman in a nursing home, customer, pollwatcher, panhandler. And so on and so forth.

McLuhan also says the medium is the massage, not just the message. The message transforms the tale, and the alert storyteller utilizes the medium to massage its meaning.

There, I’ve just shown you how to make one tale into twenty that are all alike and all different at the same time. Who else has taken the time to show you this? You can thank me later.

It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery of the twenty identical totally different tales. It just takes you, the teller of tales

 (c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Writers of Words Chaotically Converge

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There are workshops and conferences and gatherings and meetings where writers and wanna-be writers cluster to find The Secret. Big groups, small groups, tiny groups…all converge to learn something new about the mystery of being a writer.

But a startlingly easy way to energize yourself as a writer is to accidentally happen upon synergy, in the form of an unconscious conflagration of inspired artists who want to write write write.

This just happened at Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories.

They walked the hot asphalt streets of Birmingham for blocks and blocks, a mass of disparate personalities and cultures and ages and ethnicities, heading toward Mecca—the bookstore at the center of the universe.

The door opens to the shop, the chime starts chiming, and the unhuddled masses begin filing in, maybe twenty in all. They fill the space. They in no way resemble the majority of young patrons who usually visit us. The difference is palpable.

This amalgam of students, seventh through twelfth grades, is a joyfully seething mixture of authors and poets, diary-keepers and maintainers of notes…and they have one thing in common. Even the most sophisticated among them are excited to be surrounded by books and magazines and newspapers and postcards and letters and documents and sayings and ephemera.

They are ramped up by the sight of the written word, enthused by the spoken word, inspired by the sung word, motivated by the dramatized word.

These students of the Alabama School of Fine Arts are here because they want to be, even though they are led by creative writing teacher Stuart Flynn. Even though the bossman is present, the students want to be here! and the proof is in their joy, the proof is in the fact that they use their own money to purchase books when many their age would be investing in another snack or pair of shoes or one more concert. They are actually buying books!

Their youth and energy rev up the customers and the aged bookdealer, who takes pleasure in finding obscure titles they seek, in bantering with the more extroverted among them, in conversing with the quieter ones, in listening to their exclamations and comments and chatter. Two seventh graders are everywhere at once, asking, probing, absorbing and asking more, and one eleventh-grader comments with a grin, “Oh, they are such children, aren’t they?” She’s observing and making mental notes, as do all writers I’ve ever met. We can’t help documenting the world around us.

What would my bookie life be like if all the customers were this enthused?

Well, I’d be happy and worn-out at the end of the day…but that’s what going home to a quiet life and fondling a good book is for.

We bookies are such children, aren’t we

 (c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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GQ Tips on Fashion and Grooming

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If you don’t much care about fashion, it should be easy to take personal-appearance tips from the editor of GQ (Geezer Quarterly) Magazine.

I am that editor.


If you’re going to primp, do it once a day, preferably right before you let anybody else see you. It looks vain to keep checking your hair all day, so just do it right one time and forget about it. If you’re Clint Eastwood, you can get away with having a fluffy cowlick all day, because you’re Clint Eastwood. It doesn’t matter whether the rest of us walk around all day with cowlicks, simply because nobody notices.

Throw away all your socks and get a dozen pair in just one color, maybe black. That way, you don’t have to waste time finding matching partners, and black goes with everything. If you’re a geezer, people expect you to wear black socks. By the way, the same goes for underpants. Buy black ones and they’ll never look dirty.

If you don’t want your copious gut to call attention to itself, wear a black (there’s that color again!) t-shirt or a Book-‘Em-Danno shirt. Book-‘Em-Danno shirts are so colorful and distracting that nobody will focus on your flab. Besides, it’s kind of OK to be chunky when you’re wearing a Book-‘Em-Danno shirt.

The no-iron rule: select all casual clothes based on whether they have to be pressed after washing. Ironing is a waste of time and, like I said, after a certain age, everybody expects you to be wrinkled, but nobody expects your clothes to be wrinkle-free. Beware of friends and acquaintances who have their blue jeans washed, starched and ironed. There’s something a little bit wrong there.

Never, never do a comb-over…unless you go all the way. The only person who does his all the way is Donald Trump, and he only gets away with it because he’s rich and famous. Try to do your own Trump-over and see how many foxy gold-diggers hang out with you. Comb-overs have the same effect on people as toupees and hair club do-overs. Everybody notices them. And the best un-kept secret about toupees is: If you wear one, that’s all anybody will remember about you. Period.

Exceptions to the toupee rule: Give actors and performers a pass on their toupees. It’s how they make their living. They have to look suave to get jobs. Just enjoy how good-looking they are and let the snarky remarks slide.

All day each day, avoid looking at yourself in mirrors. It will only demoralize you. Nothing more disturbing than seeing the reflection of some old guy and suddenly realizing it’s you. Best to cherish how you appeared in high school—sans acne, of course.

Each pocket you add to your shirt ages you another decade. One pocket is useful, two pockets are overkill—you might as well wear a protector. The coolest thing to do is wear shirts without pockets, since pockets only encourage you to stuff things into them, thus bulking you up even more. 

On the other hand, make sure you utilize all the pockets in your trousers. Keep everything in them for easy access…and don’t ever carry a belt pouch (it looks like a snake that just swallowed something really huge). This allows you to keep both hands free, swinging loose and easy. Pretend you’re Clint Eastwood, loping along, looking purposeful and intense. Would Clint carry a back pack or brief case or pouch?

Don’t get me started about shoes. I learned early on that the only shoes worth wearing are the ones that fit comfortably from the first moment you put them on. If they hurt in the store, they’re never going to stop.      

Don’t wear trousers unless your pockets contain a set of keys, IDs, money.  This prevents hours of lost time searching for the above. Don’t put them down anywhere, ever!

Had enough of this for one sitting?

Why not absorb today’s GQ tips and see whether they work for you.

And stay tuned for more geezer wisdom as it occurs. Or recurs 

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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