Born Beneath the Paper Mill Mist, Living Under the Truing Iron Man

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Early memories of my father always include the sounds of his four-second morning sneeze fit.

“Wah-CHOO!” again, and then it was all over.

Who knows where my father’s sneezes came from—there are suspects all around, but like all environmental irritants, it takes generations for subversive researchers to dig out the truth.

Could it be lung remnants of unregulated coal dust he breathed, working in the  1920′s coal mines of West Alabama? Could it be the rotten-egg-smelling mist that lay heavy on the morning air of Tuscaloosa back then, generated by the Paper Mill that dominated the town? Could it be some sort of undiagnosed allergy that today might be muted or mutated through mysterious prescriptions?

Maybe it was just hereditary, since I now have his same sneezes.

By moving from coal-mining country and paper mill stench in Tuscaloosa to densely-particulated air in Birmingham, back in 1969, did I manage to ameliorate my throat-clearing sneezing habits of old? Nope. Still do it, still don’t know the real cause, still muddle on through.

As I make these notes that you are now reading, I can see Vulcan the Iron Man through the window, a 55-foot-tall cast-iron statue of the Roman god of fire and armor—an unlikely overseer of Birmingham. He looks out over a vast valley where the particuates settle and are inhaled each day.

If you ever get to visit Alabama, don’t miss Vulcan. He’s what we have to show off—the world’s largest cast-iron statue. St. Louis has The Arch, Paris has The Tower, we have Vulcan.

Anyhow, one of the things I like about this enormous hulk is that, while macho and tough and stocky of build, he has a finer, more gentle side. For one thing, he is holding aloft a metal spear he is fabricating, gazing up the shaft to see if it’s straight and true, obviously taking great pride in his work above the hot anvil at his feet. The other nice thing about him is he’s thinking of his secret love across the valley, a 23-foot-tall gold statue of the beautiful (and nude) Miss Electra, symbol of the harnessing of electricity to make things work better.

There you have the romance and beauty of pollution. The unrequited affair of Vulcan and Electra, their pride in rising above the heavy, dusty mists, their stoic stances representing the spirit of all of us who are powerless to change the course of industry and nature, their very symbolism keeps us going.

No matter how tough things get, there’s always some hope that us little folk can keep our heads up, our pride intact, our babies nurtured, our kindnesses perpetuated, our love affairs familial and romantic and sustainable…

And each time someone nearby goes “Wah-CHOO!” it’s nice to reflect on what that strange noise means, it’s nice to raise a truing spear or a bolt of energizing lightning to the sky and give a silent salute to the meek—the meek, who will not inherit the earth but who can at least now and then contest the Will

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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How to Make Some People Look at You Funny

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Ok, ok, I’ll do it again!

People have heard I once did a treatise on hugging, and they’ve asked me to send it to them. To save time and pain, and because I keep forgetting, here it is again:

I am a hugger.

Not a mugger, not a lugger, not a slugger…but a hugger.

I generally keep my emotional and/or physical distance from strangers, but when I really like somebody, and when it is safe to do so, I tend to greet them with a hug—or at least a handshake.

Over the decades, I’ve evolved. One of the few advantages of aging is that I now see patterns in things, cause-and-effect phenomena in things…so that my behavior has subtly shifted.

A few things I’ve learned about hugging:

1.  Some people respond readily to a quick hug and seem flushed with pleasure at this nice surprise.

2.  Some people respond but quickly back away, as if they don’t know what to do after a hug.

3.  Some people stiffen and don’t respond to the hug. These are folks I won’t hug again, unless they initiate it.

4.  Some people back away and will do anything to avoid a hug in the first place.

5.  Some people hug a little too long and make me want to back away.

6.  Some people, at first reluctant at each hug, now approach me as if they will actually miss the hug if I don’t provide it.

7.  Some guys are huggable, but others try to avoid it because, well, they don’t think it’s guyish. These are often older or elderly guys, whose generation doesn’t cater to this kind of behavior.

8.  Some people exude a kind of sensuousness when I hug them, so I tend not to try to hug them again, lest something happens. This used to occur a lot more when I was young…with sometimes pleasant results. No more—I’ve been happily monogamous for many decades.

Even after studying hugging for sixty years, I still don’t know why most huggers pat each other on the back.  Maybe it’s a kind of sign language that says, “Just hugging! Nothing more is meant!”

Anyhow, there’s lots of horror and sorrow and grief in the world that’s beyond my control. Maybe hugging is something I can do that reminds me that people can be pleasant to one another, even when they can’t think of anything comforting to say aloud

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Secrets of the Garfield Underpants Exposed

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No-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Or closed minds.

Despite the fact that my—and your—profusely exposed inner and outer Activities of Daily Living are splattered all over the Internet by way of











hidden mics

loose lips

snarky gossip

…despite having my heretofore secret life spread-eagled to the ethos for anybody—or nobody—to examine, there are still many cloisterd corners of Me that are mine and mine alone—and you can’t access them without my permission.

You can’t hack most of my private being. Just try and see what doesn’t happen.

Take Garfield underpants, for example.

Many moons and suns ago, my family birthday-gifted me with a pair of Garfield underpants, decorated with hearts and Garfields. Not President Garfield, just Garfield the cartoon cat.

Life changed for me that day.

From then on, at least one day a week, I donned my Garfield underpants, put on the rest of my clothes, and set forth into the workday playday world to conquer or be conquered by circumstance or collusion, by accident or by conspiracy.

On my Garfield days, each time a crisis arose, I could handle it without losing it. If the chaos or confusion around me became extreme, I just looked inward, remembered the fact that out of sight of the wolves and bullies, my Garfield underwear could still make me smile.

I always knew something the attackers and whiners could not know. Garfield and I could get through the day unscathed, simply because we shared a secret goofiness that repeled all attacks of logic, overriding and distraction by others.

Some people were disturbed by my slight smile that could not be wiped away. Some got more agitated the better I felt. Some took inspiration from my attitude and calmed down and began finding reasons to smile themselves.

And if anybody ever asked what my secret was, I had the option to share or the option to hold back. No pop-up or spam or privacy search could break through and try to market me into purchasing six more pairs of Garfield underpants.

If this worked, why am I revealing all this right now? I’m not telling, but here’s a hint—eventually, the Garfield underpants wore out and I had to find another secret way to fend off the hornet’s nests. Now I have a new tool for survival. And the thing that makes me smile today is the fact that I’m the only person in the universe who knows what that is.

Time for you to go out and find some Garfield underpants for yourself. Keep a slight smile on your face and it’ll drive your enemies crazy while comforting your friends

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Strolling the Aisles of Counted Sighs

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The wizened old rare-book dealer emits an un-self-couscious sigh as he walks his hoarded aisles and straightens up what avid customers have re-arranged in their quest for just the right titles to adopt. He doesn’t know his sighs have been noticed by treasure hunters two rows over. Indeed, he is not even aware that he has sighed.

One collector is on hands and knees in front of the poetry section of the store, riffling through assorted titles in search of a book that, to the dealer, is in plain view. The dealer doesn’t speak up out of respect for the customer’s self-esteem. He figures that, should this woman get frustrated enough, she’ll wind up asking for the book, which he will gently fetch from the shelf and offer to her, thus curing her sigh attack.

A man rushes into the shop, proferring a one-dollar bill and asking for parking meter change. He sighs loudly, waiting for a palmful of quarters, which the shopkeeper gladly hands him in hope that he’ll return and browse. As the street man rushes out, the dealer suppresses a sigh, knowing from three decades of experience that he’ll probably never see this man again, and that the man will never realize he’s not even said, “Thank you!”

A young woman sequesters herself in the corner by mail boxes filled with letters and diaries and postcards, reading century-old love letters written by people whose lives are long past living but whose words still ring true and honest. She sighs sweetly, wishing that she could go back in time for just a minute, simply to tell the authors that she, at least, appreciates their desires and longings and wishes both fulfilled and unfulfilled.

Later, a four-year-old tagalong customer sighs loudly as she gazes at the basket of MoonPies and DumDums, her taste buds focusing all attention on the trove. Hearing her sigh, the bookdealer gives her one of each goody, making sure she takes the time to select the exactly correct flavor of the lollipop, the exact correct favorite that she just knows is better than all the flavors of the world.

One beyond-middle-age browser hastens to the front of the store, holding aloft the grail he’s been looking for since youth, a copy of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, “the funniest book ever written,” he exclaims, with a sigh of satisfaction.

Later in the day, when all living beings but the book dealer have departed, he listens to what should be the Quiet, but all he can hear are the sighs and whispers of thousands of bookie souls enjoying their peace, cherishing their own printed words and images, and awaiting the next flux of browsers who themselves will be unobtrusively browsed and examined by the books, the books who become observers of the 21st-century world they notice, bemused

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Pipe Dreams of the Bookladen Orphanage

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An energetic, robust customer bounds through the door of Reed Books. He is lugging a large box filled to the brim with pipes. “Here are some more things from the house,” he pronounces. Then, he hands the load over to me and rushes out the door while I search for a place to situate the box.

“Here’s the last of our stuff,” he announces, as he returns and unloads two large plastic containers of old books. He needs to retrieve the containers in order to haul future troves.

It’s like Christmas every day at the shop. Folks bring large trash bags of paperbacks, rickety wooden boxes filled with attic leftovers, linen-wrapped fragiles from another century, suitcases of old documents and memorabilia, purses packed with formerly-loved treasures, books upon books.

It’s a mistake to dismiss even the worst-looking arrival without first peering within, combing for the kinds of saleable, collectible items that keep the store running. There’s almost always something unique hidden among the gewgaws and doodads and thingamajigs and artifacts and disposables that are presented to me. Even the worst-looking or worthless-seeming items have stories to tell. I feel like a fortune teller or seer, as I explain the source or meaning of each societal leftover.

So, why do I accept today’s gift of a large box filled with smoking pipes? After all, this is a bookstore. Why pipes?

Well, at one time in this bookie world, pipes and tobacco and humidors and clippers and scrapers and cleaners and flexible stems and ashtrays and cigar boxes and humidifiers and smoking jackets were part of the setting in which books were read, collected, enjoyed, catalogued, referenced, displayed, meditated upon.

Today, lots of other accumulatables decorate rooms where books are cherished, replacing the now politically-incorrect smoking paraphernalia. Books are not read in a vacuum; they are enjoyed while the reader surrounds them with a favorite reading chair, a blankie, a snack, a cherished pet, photographs of family and friends, a cuppa java, a music reproduction device lurking nearby or stuck into ear.

The surroundings are part of the literary experience—unless you tend to read while suspended in darkest, starless space.

As I walk the aisles of century-laden books, my memory of each title encompasses everything that was going on while I was reading…when I touch a copy of ANTIC HAY by Aldous Huxley, I can almost smell the unmown grass surrounding me on the lawn of my childhood home as I once lay a-blanket, reading in the shade. I can feel my too-tight tennis shoes making editorial comments about the characters in the book whose shoes always fit correctly, I can sense the impending visit from a neighborhood playmate, I can conscript a bit of clover to use as bookmark, I can see the gaunt face of Huxley on the back cover, I can retrieve this visceral memory years later when I actually meet him at a lecture.

Each book in the big world has equal status in my tiny world. Each is conceived, edited, submitted, argued over, politicked, rewritten, slicked up, dumbed down, smartened up, designed, proofed, printed, even re-printed. Each book is purchased or shop-lifted, partially read or not read at all, re-gifted, torn apart for an art project, ignored in a corner for ages, chewed by the dog, passed on to another reader, thrift-stored or ebayed or donated, treasured in the family archives, burned at the stake.

Each book in the shop is my little orphan, awaiting adoption, nose pressed to the show window, hoping for a kindly reader to take it home where awaits an easy chair, a bookcase, a coffee table, a bit of reading light, nurturing, understanding, tolerance, respect.

Nearby, out of reverence for readers of the past, rest pipe rack, ashtray, wooden matches, and the old familiar fragrance of tobaccos past and pulp papers survived and, just out of camera range, the next reader, rubbing hands together gleefully in anticipation of the joys and sorrows and provocative ideas hiding between covers that shield the pages till just the right moment

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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