Earning Your Stripes on Christmas Eve

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Orange and white stripes make today’s fashion statement.

Or rather, orange and white-striped soiled cloth cut and stitched into loose-fitting outfits make today’s fashion statement.

It’s Christmas Eve morning and I’m driving north on Richard Arrington Boulevard toward the civic center, in the process passing between the Museum of Art on the left and the County Jail on the right. In front of the jail (the “Criminal Justice Center” to you), under the watchful gaze of Branko Medenica’s statue of a fallen warrior, “Centurion,” several inmates are sweeping and cleaning the front plaza.

It is cold, and the workers are focused on their task, as if sheer concentration might stave off the icy bite breezing up the sleeves of their uniforms.

To you and me and the rest of the city, it is merely a quiet, sunny, freezing day. All you and I can feel is how WE feel, so that if we’re in a good mood, the world seems to be filled with goodwill. If we are ill-tempered, the world is grouchy.

Should we briefly spy a handful of prisoners outfitted in orange and white getting some cold sunshine and exercise we can empathize for a moment, sympathize a second, even project ourselves into this outdoor scene. But we can’t BE these folks. We can’t lift their personal burdens. We can’t shorten the icy sunshine sentences they are serving right before our eyes.

All we can do is ruminate, speculate, even appreciate…then move on to our own specific worlds, whatever they contain.

Well, maybe we can do one thing more.

Maybe we can freeze in time this momentary picture—this snapshot of real lives on hold,  framed by an open plaza, overlorded by a humbled statue and spied upon by a passing motorist. Maybe this selfie of one moment in time can be studied and analyzed and pored over and re-imagined by people more proactive and creative than you or me. Maybe down the road some kind of social upheaval will cure the world of having to imprison or punish or enslave or subjugate. Maybe one day there will be no need for memorials, living or inanimate…memorials that rue the day someone was unjustly taken from us.

Maybe one day the only prisons in existence will be those within our own private thoughts and imaginations.

Meanwhile, the least we passersby can do is note the moment, bookmark the scene before us, return to it again and again until we come up with something better than voyeurism

© Jim Reed 2013 A.D.



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It’s just another day in the many lives of Birmingham.

25,000 Christmases and Still Going Strong

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One great thing about Santa Claus is that his energy is boundless.

During my many decades of living, I’ve observed Santa’s behavior closely–maybe more than most Santa observers. I’ve seen him take a nap now and then, but I’m always energized when he pops alert, wide eyed and ready to get on with the job of Santa-ing his way through life, through many lives.

My good fortune began at birth. My mother turned out to be a Christmas Mother, a woman who made each day of childhood a special occasion for all us five kids. Each day was a special gift to be carefully unwrapped and examined in awe.

Every day was Christmas in our home.

Mother had no patience with impatience. If things were gloomy, she tossed joy into our young faces and made sure we knew the secret of never being bored.

Not until middle age did I decipher her secret, not till then did I put into words the legacy Mother was trying to leave for her family: You’ll never be bored if you’re not being boring.

Another way to express this amazingly simple lesson:

Stop boring everybody and do something worthwhile.

And so on.

This thought is not necessarily earth-shaking, but its simplicity will work its way into your thoughts, your thought processes will massage and re-work it to your own liking, and–if you’re lucky–you’ll find a way to phrase it in words best suited to you.

Santa is never bored, because he’s too busy doing no harm. He’s too busy setting an example. He’s too busy never being bored.

I’m a lucky guy. I have experienced Christmas more than 25,000 times, and each day increases that number.

Mother’s daily example of good behavior, Santa’s daily example of goodness for the sake of goodness…they both live with me and make my best days even better than my previous best days.

Don’t miss Santa. He has much to tell you. And believe me, it won’t be boring

© Jim Reed 2013 A.D.



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Santa Almost Goes Postal


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 As I age and turn portly, I seem to look more like Santa Claus each day. Even little kids sometimes look up at me and say with awe, “Are you Santa Claus?”  I answer in various ways, depending upon mood and situation: “No, I’m not Santa, but I know Santa very well.” If the child is interested, I go further, “And right now, I’m making a list and checking it twice,” as I pull out sticky notes and pen.

It’s fun to chat with kids and to see the light in their eyes when they are enjoying our interactions.

The Ol’ Saint Nick mood is my favorite mood, and on my good days I try hard to hold on to it. I’ve found, in my dotage, that I have to cheer myself up when there’s no-one else cheerful at hand.

So, this morning, on the way to the shop, I drop by the Homewood Post Office to post a couple of books to customers far away.

As I enter the building, sporting my best Santa goodwill grin, I check with one woman to see if she’s already ahead of me in line. She smilingly insists I go ahead of her, as if to Santa, attention must be paid .

I walk up to the shorter of two clerks, an unfamiliar one who is wearing blue latex gloves and a deep frown, complete with zero eye contact. As always, in my best old-time announcer cheery voice, I say, “Good morning!” She mumbles. I hand her two small packages and, as I invariably do, I say, “These are media mail, with tracking, please.” She asks the familiar post-9/11 postal questions about whether there is dangerous material in the packages and I say, no, just books.

Then, staring at the scales to the side of her–and still not looking up or at me–she grumpily says, “Now, is there written material or anything else inside?” I say, “Nope, just books–media mail,” I stress.  She says “Are you SURE?”

I’m taken aback but remind myself that today, I am Santa and nothing can dissolve my good cheer.

To reassure her, I say, “I know the rules–been doing this for forty years. Books are media mail.”

She says nothing, weighs the first book, then for some reason slides it across to my side of the counter. I automatically pick it up, thinking she’s handing it back to me. She reaches over and snatches it from me. I raise my eyebrows, grin, and say, “Sorry, I thought you were finished.” She snaps, “No, I’m not finished,” and slaps a self-adhesive label on the package.

The clerk then silently weighs and labels the second package.

I automatically get my Amex card out as I do several times a week at the post office and swipe it across the lighted terminal–prematurely. She says, “It’s not ready!” I say, “Oops!” Then I say, “Is it ready now?” She snaps yes, so I do a successful swipe, then as always–usually for grateful clerks who appreciate being able to view the security number themselves–hold the card up for her to see.

She looks at it and says, “Say the number.”

Suddenly, I am gravely aware that her strange attitude/hostility is not my imagination–I know now that I have an annoying–and annoyed–clerk on my hands. The other clerk, the one with whom I’m used to having pleasant transactions, pretends none of this is happening and says nothing. She seems somewhat fearful.

Without thinking, and because all other clerks for the last twenty years have expressed appreciation for my showing them the card itself close up, I say, “Sorry, I can’t read this (as if I need reading glasses).” My sullen clerk, looking at the line of bemused customers behind me, sighs and takes down the number I’m displaying, as if she’s lost some kind of contest. The charge goes through, she literally tosses the receipt at me and gets ready for the next customer.

I automatically say a cheerful, “Thanks,” even though I’m not sure why.

I turn to go and notice the wide-eyed looks of the witnesses behind me in line.

All I can say with a smile is, “Ah…the spirit of Christmas. Geez!”

I get a laugh.

I have succeeded in not going postal.

I leave peacefully, hoping to have better luck at tossing my good cheer around someplace else today–maybe at my sanctuary, the bookshop at the center of the Universe.

Hope you, too, get through the day without going postal. Come down to the store and we’ll share war stories or just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of books well worth the time

© Jim Reed 2013 A.D.



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Spies Abound in the Cathedral of Books

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The attractive young customer brings her trio of old books to the counter where I stand half-hidden but ready to accept payment.

She’s purchasing 19th-century editions of Alfred Tennyson and Emily Dickinson and Robert Browning, three literary icons so famous that we’ll never appreciate them for who they actually were.

“Hmmm…Tennyson and Browning and Dickinson together!” I say, “I wonder what their dinner conversation together might be like?” I’m pondering aloud, to the delight of the customer. She smiles and wonders the same thing.

Then, the personalities of the three come to mind and I blurt out a thought, “I think what would happen is, Emily would excuse herself in mid-conversation on the pretense of going to the ladies’ room, then duck out and head for home.”

The young customer agrees. She accepts the packaged books and waves good-bye, perhaps continuing the fantasy of Emily and her two dates and what might have happened next in each of their lives.

My days are often like that. The irony of a bookstore is that authors are thrown together in oddly out-of-time, out-of-logic, outrageous ways, even before they arrive at check-out. Hemingway presses against Hesse, just down the row from Gellhorn…H.G. Wells stands near Virginia Woolf and embarrassingly close to his real-life mistress Rebecca West…Henry Miller is dangerously near Anais Nin, and Arthur Miller is right there near Marilyn Monroe.

Even more provocative is the fact that authors who would probably have disliked each others’ works are forcibly housed in proximity. Mickey Spillane razzes Rex Stout and mocks Georges Simenon…Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey cozy up but sneer at W.P. Kinsella and Alexander King and Charles Kingsley… Emily Bronte and Pearl Buck try hard to find common ground but fail.

Imagine the mutterings you might hear late at night should these authors’ books come alive and party once they know we’re out of earshot.

Another customer brings Mein Kampf and the New Testament and Bertrand Russell to the counter, and once again my mind runs wild. Jesus would definitely have to come between Adolf and Bertrand to break up the fight, don’t you think?

But wouldn’t you like to be an invisible witness during that conflagration?

Actually, truth be known, I suppose we readers actually are invisible witnesses…spies who listen in on unlikely conversations, chaotic encounters, entertaining and sometimes deadly confrontations.

That’s what reading is all about




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Books I’d Want to Read If Only They Existed

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Sometimes I just gotta pause and get something silly off my chest. These book titles are cluttering my mind.


Think and Grow Sluggish

 The Count of Monte Crisco

Apocalypse Week Before Last

The Lord of the Bathtub Rings

The Kindle Thief

The Next to the Last of the Mohicans

Munchies at Tiffany’s

The Whining

The Rise and Fall of the Third Facelift

Madame Bovine

Putin on the Ritz

Love in the Time of Croup

The Canterbury Tweets

Moby Bernie

Catcher in the Gluten Free Rye

Gone with the Breeze

Pride and Aimlessness

As I Lay Scheming

50 Shades of Puce

For Whom the Bull Toils

Mein Kampfire

Withering Heights

Fahrenheit 17 1/2

The Electric Band-Aid Ouchy Test

Abraham Lincoln’s Aerobics Class

The Outsiders Go Shopping

In Lukewarm Blood

Harry Potter and the Hangnail of Death

Twelve Years a Slave to Fashion

The Full Monty Python

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed



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