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Here’s the way it works whenever someone is driving my mother anywhere.

Say we are cruising along, looking for 10th Avenue, Mother in the passenger seat, giving instructions to Dad.

Just after we whiz past 10th Avenue without seeing it, Mother yells, “Turn there!”

“Wait, was that the street?” my Father says, looking at the road dwindling in the rearview mirror.

“Yes, I told you it was the road–why didn’t you turn?” Mother frets.

“Because you didn’t tell us to turn till we passed it,” all us passenger kids exclaim in unison.

Mother doesn’t get it. Why can’t the car obey orders and just materialize on 10th Avenue? After all, it’s just an instrument piloted by a human.

My father, ever stoic and patient, ignores all this and looks for a convenient u-turn opportunity. We kids groan, because we know our mother’s habits oh so well.

For one thing, mother has never driven a car, so she has no feel for how to navigate. It just never makes sense to her that the car can’t read her mind, perhaps like the family mule did when she was a kid in the 19-teens of the 20th Century. The mule knew the way, but our father does not.

Another complicating factor in this scenario is the fact that mother always has trouble with the concept of Right and Left. If you tell her to look to her right, she has to stop and ponder–do you mean to her left facing you, or to her left from your point of view? You know how that works. If somebody has a particle of food on the right cheek, you get their attention and point knowingly to your right cheek. But, since the person is facing you, it is not clear whether you are acting as a mirror image–in which case it is apparent that you mean the left cheek–or whether you mean the right cheek, in which case a temporary dyslexia kicks in and the food-particle partner is momentarily confused, thus quickly moves to wipe both cheeks.

So, once Dad u-turns and heads back to 10th Avenue, he asks mother, “Which way do we turn?” Instead of saying right or left, mother points to the left from her lap–only thing is, Dad can’t see this, since he’s trying to stay on the road and avoid death. Mother doesn’t understand why he can’t look over at her and search for her hand motion.

Frustrated, Dad says, “Do we turn right or left?” Mother is confused and this time just points dramatically so that she can be seen.

We eventually get where we’re going, but Mom pouts because she has the vague feeling we’re all teasing her.

The sad ending to this story is that some of us kids inherit her inability to give or take travel instructions. Four of us kids to this day can’t find our way out of a dark and stormy night, and one kid–Ronny–beats the odds and learns how to find his way without having to depend upon us bumper-car meanderers.

After decades of trying to learn directions, I come to accept my limitations and turn them into field trips. Now I don’t mind not knowing how to get there, I just drive around till something looks familiar, enjoying the surprises along the way and in the process having experiences both scary and funny.

Want to go for a ride?

As the suit guy used to say, it will be an adventure, I guarantee






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Everybody who visits my life submits a manuscript for review.

Each customer, visitor, neighbor, pedestrian, drive-by-er, social media associate, broadcaster, beggar, salesperson, hustler, campaigner, seducer, attacker, bystander…each bows under the weight of  personal  baggage, and—again, whether consciously or comatosely—each reveals mysteries and secrets to me, to be digested later within the solace of my red clay diary.

Just a few tidbits from recent days…

An out-of-town visitor remarks with great enthusiasm that her time in Birmingham has been amazing and beautiful. She loves it all—the green hills, the hospitality, the kindnesses of strangers, the unexpected thrills emanating from the city’s shops and bistros and parks and museums and playplaces.

I love hearing how strangers view us, and I wish again that the town’s own denizens each felt as positive about our remarkable environs.

An NPR reporter, cold-reading his copy instead of testing it aloud, proclaims, “…Russia will not allow no fly zones over Syria.” I have to pull over to the curb, stop the car, and decide whether to rebuke or laugh out loud. Let’s see, does the announcer lack grammar training, as in “We don’t allow no fly zones down here,” or could he sober me up with proper pause and inflection, “Russia will not allow no-fly zones over Syria?” You just have to know in advance that the term no-fly zone is all the rage.

A young daughter and mother listen and lean forward as I answer their questions about the blank diaries and classic literature that abound and overlap in the shop. I suddenly realize that my ranting zeal about the craft of writing and journaling is actually being listened to! So I become more careful and specific about what I’m expounding. They issue forth from the shop, ready to compose great works on screen and paper.

Shop employee Marie laughs as I share another emanation I just heard on the air—an interviewer rapidly and efficiently raves on about the government’s outrageous “ex-pen-DITCH-yours of millions of dollars…” Expenditures of dispronounceables such as this make my scalp tingle. Maybe the on-air person needs an adjustment of expendentures. Then Marie says she just heard another newscaster talk about “the voe-LIGHT-uhl situation in Syria.” It’s a volatile world out there, this world of journalists who never had a class in pronunciation. Reminds me of the oldtime comedians Bob and Ray, who talked about attending DICK-see-uhn school. Sometimes their diction was Dickensian. They also described what it was like to go up in an uh-LIV-uh-ter, and they once interviewed a man who wrestled uh-LIGG-uh-ters for a living.

My spirits take an up-elevator ride and my fear of alligators is abated whenever I listen to old Bob and Ray recordings. Makes me forget for a moment that there are only three or four of us left who know things about words that communicate easily and without speedbumps.

My shop is a hideout and respite from the world of media which, this week, fill my cranium with such unnecessary information about some Russian poohbah who stole a ring given to him by some jock. Where is Reagan the one time you need him? He could be screaming, “Mr. Putin, give back that ring!”

 A pleasant customer and I are exchanging personal anecdotes about forgetfulness. She describes hearing her two-year-old son talking to himself in the next room. As he enters her room he pauses and says to no-one in particular, “Now, what did I come in here for?”

That reminds me, what did I have in mind when I started writing this column?

Truth is, I didn’t have anything in mind beyond allowing my thoughts to tumble out and land in a story—before they fall to the floor and roll under something 


Why, if I had my dictionary handy, I’d get you good!

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For once, I’d like to say something dramatically effective to win my argument with you.

“You dirty rotten scoundrel!”

“You’re just a…just a rapscallion, that’s what you are!”

“Why, you no-good son-of-a-son-of-a…”

“You terminological inexactitude!”

Mmm…I want to express my expletives in an original or surprising way, but I just can’t find the right word. Most current literary and journalistic and social mediaistic jargon is filled with a few key and unimaginative cuss words, most beginning with f and s and a and a handful of other worn-out exclamations.

I’d like to use a word that is either made up (that’s too easy) or resuscitated or reborn or hopefully funny.

What about You Simon Legree? Well, you’d have to be literary to know you don’t want to be called that.


What about “You slimy Ewok!” Well, only HGW would take umbrage.

Howz about “You dirty human!” But Pierre Boulle would just laugh.

You scum-sucking pig!” Only an Amigo can get away with that.

See how hard it is for booknerds to come up with something powerful? There aren’t enough fellow booknerds around who would “get” these allusions.

I’ll just settle for, “You cad!” That way, you won’t even be offended, I won’t get punched, no profanities will have been employed, and, as Dylan Thomas would say, “Then, we can both sit down and have some tea.” Just one nerd and one cad and some goodwill to round out the day.

There, that wasn’t so tough, was it?

Meanwhile, be prepared—I’m still trolling through all those old dictionaries I keep around the house and the shop, to find just the right word to diminish you and make you jealous of my word skills. Problem is, not all words appear in dictionaries—said dictionaries seem to go out of date upon publication. This has been true for several centuries.

Samuel Johnson said in 1755 that his own dictionary contained many defects but “…it is unavoidable; I could not visit caverns to learn the miner’s language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation, nor visit the warehouses of merchants, and shops of artificers, to gain the names of wares, tools, and operations, of which no mention is found in books…”
Geez, even the master himself was at a loss for words

Standing on the Corner Watching All the Folks and Critters Go By

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“Oh, look at that poor man!” Mother says, as she and we kids wait on the corner, scanning the horizon for the next bus. Mother is referring to an elderly slow-trekking man with a wooden walking cane. He’s wending his way through the side-walkers who are in front of the Bama Theatre here in Tuscaloosa, circa 1950.

We’ve occasionally missed the bus because we like to spend our time observing people and critters as they wade through their private lives on the streets of Tuscaloosa. It’s more interesting than any downtown parade, more fascinating because you can select which of  several simultaneous parades to enjoy.

There is the sidewalk parade passing by us bystanders.

Pedestrians, pets, strays, wheelchair-drivers, drunks, a beggar or two, all brush by each other following their personal destinies. 

There is the wheeled and pedaled and hoofed parade on the paved street.

This day, In 1950, there are still mule-drawn carts now and then, weaving bicyclers, motor scooters and cars and trucks and buses and service vehicles and even an occasional leftover WWII jeep, pieced-together jalopies and hot rods and some hand-pushed food carts.

There are the indoor lookers gazing out at the bystanders and the dual parades.

Men sit lathered in barber shop chairs, women sit in shoe shops, watching wistfully through the window while bored clerks grapple with their feet, secretaries on lunch break look down from upper-story offices, roofers with metal pails lean over to watch the ants below, movie theatre ticket booth teens stare selectively at their strolling dream hunks and pin-ups, a smiling police officer greets everybody by name…

Then there are the watchers sitting in parked cars, observing us all through rolled down windows.

Two kids in a back seat count the number of passing ladies’ hats, a passenger-seat woman refreshes her lipstick and checks out the shoe styles of other sapiens, one sweating man turns his back to the sidewalk, his head under the hood of a steaming car, one teenager lounges on the roof of a pickup truck, waiting for his father to return from city hall. 

There are the surprise paraders you don’t expect.

A man pokes his head up from a manhole in the center of the street and begins to struggle out. Driving drivers and the occupants of their vehicles gaze at the sidewalk parade, the bystanders and window-shoppers, the shadows of office workers near windows, all noting the milling behaviors on display in busy little T’town.

“Oh, my, look at her—isn’t she beautiful?” Mother exclaims about a smartly-dressed young woman, causing us to appreciate loveliness wherever it appears and the instant that it appears, as if each sighting could be the final one.

Back here in my home, many decades later, I realize that Mother’s gift to us kids is the gift of observation—more than that, the gift of appreciation—and the ability to find something special about everybody, even those every-bodies who don’t seem to deserve it. There’s always something.

Whenever I’m in an audience, I have the impulse to turn about and face that audience. I’d prefer to watch them watching the event than to watch the event itself. Even when I’m the event itself, I get a kick out of standing on stage talking or performing while secretly viewing the audience viewing me. They always have more to say than I. 

Wish I could take you back to the streets of Tuscaloosa back in the day, just for an hour. I think we would have a ton of fun watching the watching watchers

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Beauty is in the Heart of the Beholder

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A few words about the beauty within mirrors.

Most mirrors around the house are poor reflections on me.

That is, the harder and longer I gaze at myself in a mirror, the less I know exactly how I look to others, let alone to myself.

Just replacing a light fixture in the bathroom can make all romanticized images disappear—suddenly I see myself at high wattage, bereft of subdued shadings. Holy mackerel, where did all those blemishes come from, whence came the additional wrinkles and bags, how did I transmogrify overnight into a large prune with extra-long nose hair and unkempt blotches? When did I seriously begin to consider laving myself with pancake makeup, essentially to airbrush reality away from all undesirable features?

The mere act of cleaning the bathroom mirror can have the same effect.

Being a literary type, I search for solace among great works of literature:

“Am I beautiful? I think it must be the rose.

My hair–it only weighs me down.

My eyes–I only see with them.

My lips–they only help me to speak.

Of what use is it to be beautiful?”

–Spoken by the robot Helena in R.U.R. by Karel Capek

Helena must have looked into the wrong mirror the morning she spoke those words.

I know that I am not beautiful, but could it be that somebody, somewhere, under unusual circumstances, might consider someone like me to be beautiful? Again, what do my favorite authors say?

“Has any psychological experiment yielded

a more delightful suggestion than this one:

that there is a part of the mind without ambition

or information, which nonetheless is expert on what is beautiful?”
–Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I think I know what is beautiful, but how can I be sure that the red I see doesn’t come across as purple to you, that what I find repugnant might seem wonderful to you? I can’t see through your eyes.

As H.G. Wells once said, “Beauty is in the heart of the beholder.”

Karel, Kurt and H.G. are iconic literary figures, so, in the absence of any hard data concerning beauty, I must embrace their confusion and poetic ponderings. Must depend on the intrinsic and indefinable beauty that lurks here and there in great books…or in ornate mirrors…or in your heart

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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