The Final Resting Place of All Objects Wonderful

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As Jerry Seinfeld recently insinuated, the daily repetitiveness of life can be mind-numbing if you let it get the best of you.
I understand the sentiment.
On any given day it’s easy to let down my guard and allow reality to creep in and crawl about, disrupting the fun and funny things that abound.
Fortunately, there are different kinds of reality, some frightening, some quite wonderful.
At the Museum of Fond Memories, I admit only the good realities, the good memories, the good memorabilia, shockingly stunning positive reminders of how nice life can be, how nice recalling the best of times can feel.
That’s why there are thousands of objects on view, each designed to caress a specific fond memory and jolt it into action before you have time to forbid its ability to make you smile—even when you are dead set against smiling this particular day. The right object will get to you, and you just may have a lovely moment you did not attempt to have.
Maybe I can get to you right this moment. If you dare to let me, simply click below and close your eyes for two minutes:

That wasn’t so painful, was it? Seinfeld would be proud.

Let’s do this again sometime

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Last of the Red-Hot Neighborhood Watchers

The Last of the Red-Hot Neisghborhood Watchers

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The Queen of Southside Birmingham is dead.

Long live the Queen.

Our 92-year-old neighbor Margaret Selman left us happy. She wanted nothing more than to join her late husband and best friend, Frank, and she died smiling and excitedly talking about the prospect. She left us neighbors happy—happy with good memories of the way she ran the ‘hood for nearly a century.

This is not some kind of soppy obituary designed to paint Margaret as a perfect person, not designed to make you think I was always the best neighbor I could be. I just want you to get a quick thumbnail image of Margaret in your mind.

First of all, her throne was the wrap-around porch of the big two-story 1906 home she and Frank kept immaculate all those years. She held court each evening when the weather was right, and folks came from miles around to sip some sweet tea and share gossip and laughter for a few minutes under Frank’s big ceiling fan.

Any evening you might see a parked police car, indicating some officers were sitting and chatting and catching up on street news. An occasional city council member or merchant or dogwalker or wanderer or priest might stop and smile and listen to Margaret’s very long, very detailed, and very accurate tales. And she remembered each and every person, if not by name, then certainly by physical description.

One other thing: Nobody ever said NO to Margaret and got away with it. She was a powerhouse persuader, and most of us just learned to give in and enjoy the ride. Frank never said NO to her, either. He would give her anything she ever wanted. And he loved every minute of it.

Margaret was a walking genealogy reference and historian—she could recite the names and addresses of each and every family who had lived in each and every house for a two-block radius over a seven-decade period. And she knew where the bodies were buried. She knew who was Catholic, who was Jewish, who was Heathen, who was kind, who was spirited, who was unkind. You could always run a character reference on someone you didn’t know.

And she was a great guardian of the ‘hood. At any hour of the day or night, she and Frank would chase ambulances and fire engines if they stopped nearby, always ready to help stressed-out people, always ready to fill in the details of the incident when you dropped by later.

This was Margaret’s neighborhood, and she felt safe and protected no matter what went on around her, because she remembered how safe and protected she had been as a little girl in the big house in the 1920′s and ’30′s. After all, she resided in the house for all but two of her 92 years and would never consider moving anywhere else.

Just the other afternoon, when Margaret’s daughter Becky walked across the yard to tell me her mom had gone away a few minutes earlier, still smiling, I felt the slam of a large dome dropping over the ‘hood. For a few moments, the dome retained all the laughter and fun we’d had over the  decades, laughing and talking and eating all the wonderful sweets the Selmans kept on hand for guests, all the babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies Margaret had bounced on her knee, all the time she’d come to our rescue and we to hers. Then, the dome lifted, no longer needed, since all the good times were permanently embedded in my own memories and the memories of everyone who ever spent time with her. Now we can carry her sweet smile and bawdy laughter with us as inspiration for how we will treat our own family and acquaintances.

Margaret and Frank were the models for what good neighbors can be.

And rather than wistfully rue their passing, it’s fitting that I carry their legacy forward and become a model neighbor myself. As difficult as that might be

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Mystery of the Tilted Skirt and the Airy Toga

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In memory most fertile, my time machine takes me back to THE STAGE….THE THEATRE…THE COMPANY OF THESPIANS.

I’m way back in time now, when I am  a young teenager who loves nothing better than to be On Stage, acting in a play. Performing gets into my blood early on, in grammar school, when I learn that the only time anybody pays attention to what I do or say is when I am in front of an audience.

Don’t ask me why this is true, I don’t understand it myself. Other shy people have shared similar experiences—being shy, some of them naturally gravitate toward the performing arts.

Anyhow, being an ACTOR is fun. Mainly, because I get to be around ACTRESSES—they pay attention to me while girls at school primarily ignore me.

The fact that I’m an ACTOR instead of an ACTRESS is quite a relief. I’ve learned that wearing a dress or skirt or toga on stage is no fun at all.

For instance, I go down to the high school auditorium to try out for a part in a touring PASSION PLAY—the theatrical troupe needs local extras and I’ve never been in a national production, so I hang around till they cast me as one of Jesus’ disciples. I’m in yet another play!

During first rehearsal, I learn two valuable lessons—first, never do anything to distract the audience. I’m sitting at the Last Supper and Jesus is passing around bread and wine. As the bread nears, I notice that a cup is blocking the way and will probably be knocked over by the distracted actor sitting next to me. I quickly move the cup—just in time—but am also quickly chastised for the unrehearsed movement. Oops! I just upstaged Jesus himself!

The other lesson I learn is that biblical garb is airy—I’m wearing a short gladiator-length tunic and feel about as naked as a newborn. How do women adjust to this kind of potential exposure? Being a “pro,” I pretend it’s not a problem and manage to perform in the play and retain my modesty, but a major life decision is made: I’ll never accept a stage role that requires any garb other than pants. I’m not cut out to dress like modern women or ancient men.

My father is partially relieved, since his generation quietly fears that, by hanging around gay men and loose women in the theatre, I just might “become” one of the former or carouse with one of the latter. I wind up carousing with less-than-loose women a bit, so he replaces his homophobia with loosewomenaphobia. Talk about mixed emotions—he’s relieved I’m not gay, but now he’s worried I’m going to get into trouble with them female types!

Anyhow, I still enjoy the fact that women usually wear dresses and skirts, but I’m glad I’m not required to wear them. After acting, I know how it feels, and I am left with a kind of awe at how self-confident women must be compared to men. Makes me respect them that much more.

Guess I’ll hitch up my pants and see whether Liz would like to carouse

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Outside-in socks, neatly folded underpants and buttoned-up Book-Em Danno shirts as evidence of character

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Outside-in socks, neatly folded underpants

and buttoned-up Book-Em Danno shirts as evidence of character


This evening, I open the first big bag of wash-dry-fold from an unfamiliar neighborhood laundry and wish for the best.

After all, for decades, the Laundry Ladies at the just-closed Flamingo Cleaners have been taking care of us—the Reed family of 17th Street South. Each week, I gather everything dirty-but-washable into these drawstring bags and toss them over the banister to the foyer below. The resultant THUDS are part of the ritual of the morning. Then, I lug the bags to the car and drop them off on the way to work. At the end of the day, there are few things more satisfying than still-warm gently-sorted-and-folded sweet-smelling garments ready to be tucked away in closets and drawers. The most satisfying part of this ritual is the fact that, in all these decades, I haven’t had to wash a single item of clothing myself!

Back in a previous life, the task of sitting for hours in a laundromat usually fell to me, and I always considered it to be an incredible waste of perfectly good time. I recall as a small child watching my mother literally toil over clothes-washing, having to stir  and scrub them by hand in a tub, rinse them, wring them out, hoist the water-heavy garments onto her shoulders to the backyard, where they were one by one tidily smoothed straight and hung out to dry, later to be brought inside, pressed, sorted, folded and put away.

But, as I say, I got out of having to feed quarters into broken machinery many moons ago, and my mother eventually got some machinery that made her life somewhat easier. I just never got her toil out of my mind and hoped my wife would never have to do what she had to do.

Anyhow, the Laundry Ladies always took care of the task, usually with good humor and silent professionalism. And, unlike Mother, they were paid to do so.

But today is the first day I’ve had to use a new wash-dry-fold facility, and I’m hoping for the best.

As I empty the clothes onto the upstairs master bed, I’m pleasantly surprised. And grateful! That’s because I begin to realize, as I put things away, that the new laundry folder has added personality to the process. My socks, always turned inside-out because I wear them that way, have been methodically matched and turned outside-in, because that’s the way socks should be. My BOOK-EM DANNO shirts are not only folded, but they are buttoned up—something I’ve never experienced. Everything is categorized and ready to use.

This might be evidence of someone who truly loves the job of washing-drying-folding, someone who takes pride in the task, someone who gains some degree of satisfaction from having done well what could be considered an uninteresting and repetitive chore.

So, what’s the difference between this service worker and my previous Laundry Ladies?

Not much, on one level—the Laundry Ladies were very proficient, friendly, poorly paid and overworked, but they kept on keeping on, doing what they could do, and doing it dependably well. The mysterious new laundry worker is equally task-driven and polite, but that extra bit of care, that WILLINGNESS TO DO MORE THAN THE JOB REQUIRES, speaks of an earlier generation, an almost forgotten work ethic that only us geezers with good memories recall.

This makes me wish to do a shout-out of THANKS! to all people who rise above their potentially humdrum jobs. The people who take time to find some joy and satisfaction in the hands they are dealt. The people who tend to do that special one little thing beyond the call of duty and cause an involuntary smile to appear on a customer’s face.

Makes me want to be a better worker myself

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Under the dome of Birmingham: Stalking the elusive mom and pop breakfast places

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The man of a certain age sits alone in the diner, his girth mastering most of the booth space.

He eats his breakfast as if he’s never eaten before, smacking and stuffing and sopping and glugging, like he’s not had a meal for days, though it’s evident that he’s been frequently well-fed and well-groomed. He leans into the food and stuffs away, his blow-dried sprayed whitening hair and monogrammed track pullover shirt quivering in the morning fluorescent light.

He is his own world for a few minutes in the crowded eatery.

Across the room, a mustachioed baseball-capped good ol’ boy with hand in napkinned lap eats mannerly and methodically, gazing all the while into the indiscernable space before him, ignoring the blaring TV set hanging from the ceiling.

Worldly waitresses, ears slanted from cached pencils, skillfully walk the tightrope assigned to their lot—the tightrope walk between appearing simultaneously aloof and chummy, careful to balance the roles of Mom and Flirt and Nurturer and Businesswoman while keeping all these morning shovelers of food happy and distant.

Four elderly men at Table 4 grunt and chat and laugh and tease as they relate oft-repeated stories about how the world is going to hell and how the young people these days…

They are having the best time they’ll have all day, for a smattering of minutes avoiding all responsibility and duty and honey-do tasks which will face them down later in the morning, no matter what.

One four-year-old sits with his grandmother and diligently stabs into waffles and syrup and butter with zeal usually assigned to a nervous dog digging for its favorite bone. In just a few years, he, too, will be trying to find the perfect breakfast place that replicates this perfect childhood experience he’s having right now.

He, like all of us in the diner, is imprinted with the combination of taste, texture, fragrance, feel of what it’s like to be in a safe, familiar, non-threatening place, being cared for by kindly strangers whose only goal is to feed you well and stay out of your way while you soak up all that nurturing atmosphere, the nurturing atmosphere you take with you to start the day right, even if later on, some grumbly non-breakfasted bastard wonders why you’re in a better mood than he is, and tries to take it all away from you

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