F.W. Woolworth socks it to me

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/fwwoolworthsocks.mp3

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I don a fresh pair of socks each and every morning of my life, always wondering when I’m going to run out of the really good ones.

That’s right—I go through fourteen clean socks a week. I’m an Activities of Daily Living guy who uses routine and ritual to contain my excited and artistic impulses. If I didn’t subscribe to certain repeatable and comfortable exercises, I just might wander off absent-mindedly while imagining my next story, my next speech or performance, my flights of fantasy that allow me to compose and edit and manage the Muse who tracks me, my acquisition of rare and unusual reading material for longing customers.

So, wearing clean socks is part of the act.

This particular morning, I find two holes in the right sock and, since no-one in America has darned a sock since 1959, I reluctantly toss it into the trash. The abandoned sock is one of the last really good ones I’ll apparently ever own. Can’t find soft, durable and comfortable ones anymore.

I’m about to run out of the last F.W. Woolworth socks in the known universe.

A sock is not just a sock, you  understand. These socks were purchased at one of the final real variety department stores, purchased decades ago when stores still had clerks who knew where things were, and who gladly assisted you in finding them, making sure they were right for you and checking to see whether you had an enjoyable experience in the process.

Wonder when the last real store clerk disappeared from view? Looking around, it’s hard to see any evidence that they ever existed except in the minds of geezers of a certain age.

For instance, at the library, librarians sit staring at computers and don’t voluntarily look up. You have to stand over them and clear your throat loudly to get them to tear their gaze from the screen. Even then, they only know how to vaguely point directions without removing seat of pants from seat of chair.

The branch bank on the corner seems equally bereft of eye contact. Employees sit and stare at screens or bow their heads in religious adoration of hand-held devices. They not only find it hard to look at me, but there is impatience in body language and demeanor. Just let me get back to the real virtual world! they seem to be saying. They don’t seem glad to see me.

It’s hard not to feel guilty, interrupting these clerks who have learned to respond warmly to electronic messages and images. What an annoyance we real people are!

Anyhow, I miss the days of one-on-one real-time real-presence social exchanges. I’m adjusting to the lonely world of sock-hunting on my own.

There’s proof in the message—if I tried to tell you this sad tale in person, you’d be fidgeting and creeping toward the door, longing to get back to texting or youtubing or facebooking snarky comments about other people’s lives. But the fact that you read this story online simply means that I’m already on your side, despite my whining. We are virtual people communicating virtual information in a virtual world.

Wonder what the real world is like? Maybe we’d better look up once in a while, just to get our bearings.

Now that the F.W. Woolworth socks are depleted, I wonder what virtual socks will feel like

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed



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The Disembodied Book Re-animator Strikes Again

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/disembodiedbookreanimator.mp3

or read below…

The corpus delectable lies before me this morning, waiting for my re-animation skills to kick in.

It’s a book.

It is splayed open to the title page, begging me to bring it back to life. It is missing its hard covers, the tattered spine needs stabilizing, a few spots of age decorate its interior…but the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all intact and awaiting the touch of a reader or a collector or a hoarder.

There are many ways to resuscitate a book.

I can read it, thus infusing it with renewed vigor, donate my interpretation of the printed words to its 95-year-old collection of memories, turn its pages and admire the four centuries of trial-and-error printing craftsmanship that brought this object to this moment in time, marvel at the reproduction of the Edgar Allan Poe portrait facing the title page, ponder the life and times of publisher Charles C. Bigelow and Company, study the copyright year 1918 and determine what else of significance was happening in the world right about then, think on the near-century this book lay dormant and ignored in an attic of detritus, trace the route it took to arise from storage and wend its way into my hands this very moment.

I can also read its contents and marvel at the words that cause the imagination to become excited and nimble.

I can pick one story at random from this book, “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” and then imagine what the thousand-and-third tale might be, fantasize whether Scheherazade had another unpublished thousand-and-one tales within her, admit the fact that I, too, might have as many stories to tell if only I’d get on with telling them.

Upon further examination, I notice that the Scheherazade story has never been read by the owners of this book—the pages are still uncut, meaning that the avid reader of the day would purchase a book, take letter-opener in hand, and carefully slit the closed pages open so that the contents could be properly read.

This means that I could be the first person to read this story within the pages of this book. I will become the explorer, the adventurer, the first-ever enjoyer of these pages. Cheap thrills, but thrills, nonetheless!

What happens next to this tome? I might take it home and read it in lone silence. I might have it rebound and reinforced for its next 95-year journey, I might share it with another booklover, I might shelve it as is and hope that those who someday scrounge around the remains of my estate will do something more meaningful than send it to the dumpster.

For now, it is a foundling and must be protected from society’s thrower-awayers, society’s censors, society’s bookburners, society’s illiterates, society’s unappreciaters of the Past, society’s disapprovers.

How many booklives have I saved in a long lifetime? How many will I rescue from bookhell, how many more orphans will you and I conceal from the enemies of books?

The disembodied book re-animators of the would could be Us.

Or, if you don’t want to embrace the task, perhaps I’ll have to do it all by myself. But just think of the fun you’ll miss

 (c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed



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How to flu the croup

Listen to Jim: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/howtofluthecroup.mp3

or read on…

It was dark and dank, the night he discovered

what it was like to hold a handful of floor.

He crawled out of bed as if mired in thick molasses, each movement slow and painful, every muscle and joint aching.

He knew at last that he had entered Zombieville. Those laughable actors-on-screen, sporting more makeup and reconfigured profiles than a gated-community trophy wife, were no longer funny, pretending to be Zombies. Now, he was feeling what they were only acting.

That’s about what dozens of friends, customers, family members and acquaintances describe to me these past few weeks. And, unlike most illnesses, it won’t go away for a long time.

Everybody nowadays calls it the flu, but we oldtimers know better. It’s just a really, really bad cold with all the trimmings, and it makes you feel like life could be over at any moment. There is absolutely nothing funny about it, so the term feeling funny doesn’t quite fit.

We call just about every temporary affliction the flu. In my day and my parents’ days, it might have been termed the croupthe influenza, bronchitis, whooping cough, the crud, under the weather, or, for lack of anything specific, opportunity for a sick day.

The most annoying and fascinating aspect of this brand of flu is that it sucks your energy away in recurring waves. One moment you’re feeling energetic and hopeful, the next moment you hit a brick wall and find yourself sitting and staring into space, not even summoning up the will to read or engage in media or even talk.

We’re in this together, but nobody has enough gumption to throw anybody else off the lifeboat. We’ll sink or float and eventually get past this, but for the time being all we have is the knowledge that we are not alone.

Fact is, this particular sickness is relentless, long-lasting, infinitely variable, configured differently each day, and very competitive with the Wellness Gods. What I have found helpful and strangely comforting is the constant act of comparing notes. Each time I mention the Symptoms of the Day to someone, they verify that they had the same exact symptoms just two days ago. Everybody who describes what’s going on today gives me a chance to comfort them by saying, “That’s just part of this thing…it happened to me last week and it will probably recur one day when you least want it.”

Comparing notes, even with medical professionals who are going through the same symptoms, at least lets me know that I’m no worse off or better off than just about anybody else.

Strangely enough, the more extended the illness, the more episodes I have to look back upon and ponder, the more humor does creep in. It is kind of funny, the fact that every superior thought I ever had about being less ill than others, healthier than my contemporaries, wiser in my choice of lifestyle, the more humble I become. I now know that I’m no more damned immune to the vicissitudes of life than anybody else. Whether I like it or not, I’m as human and vulnerable to Nature as you are. I just hope we can all block this out of our conscious minds in a month and disremember the idea of illness. One fine day, you and I will feel so good that we’ll not even recall the Great Croup Flu of 2013.

It will feel good to be smug once more

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed



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How to write without having anything at all to write about

Listen to Jim: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/howtowritesmokestack.mp3

or read on…

Sometimes a writer’s great fear is that the keyboard sitting there right under the fingers will turn blank, useless. I know would-be writers who were so traumatized by the blankness of it all that they never, ever attempted to write again.

All us other writers know this feeling, but those of us who refuse to stop are the ones who keep turning out the books and stories and columns and poems.

Here’s an example of a piece that wrote itself without my help. Every line is true and actually happened. I just didn’t know the story was within me. I did not let the fact that I had nothing to write about stop my fingers from writing:


  It was a cool and clear and pleasant night, the night he raised his foot and placed it flat dead-center on the first rung. The rung felt solid and made a satisfying metallic thud when his shoe came to rest. There were no handrails on each side of the rung, so he grabbed the next rusty metal rung with both hands and gave himself a little lift with his other foot, then slowly unbent his rung leg so that he could ascend and place his other foot upon the rung. He gave the next rung up a quick shake to see whether its seeming stability was real.

      Looking straight ahead, he saw a rung right before his eyes, dividing the cold red bricks comprising the smokestack with a perfectly horizontal line. He looked down to the rung above the one he was facing and hesitated. Should he try to rise to this next one?  Why not? No-one else was around, the property from which the smokestack jutted was deserted this time of night. And the smokestack was just standing there, where it had been waiting for him for the fifteen years he had lived within sight of it.

His right foot rose and touched the next rung. Shifting his weight to the ball of this foot, he quickly and carefully brought his other foot up and, behold, he was standing on rung number two!  His hands went one at a time up to the next rung. He remembered the first rule of wing-walking: never let go of one thing until you’ve gotten hold of something else. He did not want to look up yet, because the smokestack was so very tall. He did not yet need to look down at the ground because he was just a few feet up. He still could drop to the surface and not get hurt. He looked up at the next rung and grabbed it, then down at the lower rung and repeated his previous motions, carefully climbing to the next level. Then, he proceeded to go several more rungs upward, taking care to be methodical, taking care to gaze only straight ahead at the old red bricks.

Before he knew it, he did not know where he was on the smokestack. Had he gotten halfway up? He knew he was too far up to drop back safely. He knew he would probably die were he to fall at this point, so he held on even tighter to the rusty iron rungs, aware that some of the cement holding the bricks together was beginning to flake off here and there in response to the unfamiliar tugging at the iron rungs imbedded in it. Still, the rungs seemed firm.

Should he continue? Should he go all the way to the top? Nobody would ever know if he decided to back out, decided to descend while he still had the strength. He tried to go down one step to see what it was like. He was surprised to find that going down to a lower rung was a lot harder than going up. His foot did not find the rung as easily as he had imagined. He could not see where his foot was on the rung because he was clinging so tightly to the upper rungs. He could look down from side to side, but he could not look straight down at his feet. He froze there for a moment, his breath made visible in the coolness of the night, his heavy breathing the only sound he could hear at the moment, the pounding in his ears was the pounding of his heart, the buzzing was from the adrenalin rush from this unfamiliar experience.

He squeezed his eyes shut, took a deep breath, and started climbing again. You’re only fifteen years old once, he thought. Soon, he was near the top of the smokestack. He must be near the top, he thought, though he could not quite look straight up. The next rung he grasped wiggled in the cement. It was coming loose from ages of neglect, ages of hot weather changing to humid weather changing to wet weather changing to cold weather changing to icy weather. Expanding, contracting, meshing cement against brick, different textures slowly eroding and grinding each other down and loose.

He tried not to panic. I’m too close to the top, he screamed without opening his mouth or engaging his vocal folds. Gotta do it, he thought. He parted his teeth and sucked in more cold air, then started climbing again. He was suddenly at the top, peering at the soot-stained interior of the thick smokestack rising above the town of Tuscaloosa, rising above his little neighborhood, overlooking Northington Campus and Northington Elementary School and the Board of Education and the University’s Student Housing and Eastwood Avenue and 15th Street.

Off in the distance he could hear the hollow mellow lonely sound of a train whistle. He could see the glow of lights from Downtown Tuscaloosa off in the distance. He could see the stars hanging exactly where they would be hanging a million years from now whether or not he ever made it down from the top of this smokestack, whether or not he ever told anybody what he had done, whether or not he ever even understood why he would do a thing such as this. He quickly started going down the smokestack rung by rung, forgetting how difficult it was going to be, determined to stay alive to the bottom, determined to live long enough to try to understand why anybody would do such a thing as climb a tall smokestack filled with loosening bricks and wobbling iron rungs in the middle of the night in the early part of his life.

When he wrote it all down a half century later, he began to understand why he had done it but he had great difficulty putting it all down so that you could understand it as deeply as he

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed



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