I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates

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THE KEY is the key to successful roller skating.

This is way back when…in 1949, when I am eight years old.

Without The Key there is no way to get those skates to stay on. The only roller skates I know about are the kind you clamp right onto your shoes—or your sandals.

Even back when, it is obvious that roller skates are the poor person’s substitute for ice skates, ice skating being way more sophisticated. But I observe that only people who live in cold-winter places get to ice skate. In the movies, ice skating looks so smooth and graceful and kind of high-falutin’. Everybody from the debonair Fred Astaire to the round-faced Sonja Henie ice skates.

They make it look so easy, so possible, you know.

Never having ice skated, I am puzzled about why skaters skate backwards so much of the time. It doesn’t make a particle of sense, since I never see runners running backwards or bicyclers bicycling backwards or scooter-riders riding backwards.

Of course, the exception to this is my Uncle Adron, who can ride a bicycle backwards—a feat that is fun to watch because it is absolutely meaningless and useless. For the rest of my life, it’s the pointless capers I’ll witness that will give me the most enjoyment.

ANYHOW, back to the subject of roller skating.

Roller skates are sexless in 1949. If you have a skate key and a pair of pliers, you can adjust anybody’s skates to any foot length or shoe width.

Now and then, one of the skates will fly off a shoe and endanger other skaters and passersby. The shame of the failed designated skate-adjuster is akin to the shame a parachute-packer might feel if a ‘chute doesn’t open on cue.


There are two kinds of skating that I know about. The most fun skating is done on the asphalt in front of our house. It is fun mainly because I can pretend to be the world’s greatest skater. There’s no-one around to testify otherwise.

The other kind of skating takes place at a skating rink, where there is lots more space…the downside being that I and my fellow amateur playmates are always outflanked by skaters who are more skilled!

But the fascinating part of this story is that some of us kids now know what it is like to walk in one-sixth Moon gravity, because that’s the way you feel after a couple of hours wearing those heavy metal skates. First, you strain to carry the unfamiliar Jovian weight and you move in slow, painful motion, as if gravity has doubled up on you. Later, you take them off and you’re suddenly raising your feet higher than normal with each step. In just a short period of time, your body deserts its normal rules of conduct and adjusts to newer laws of physics.

Moon walking and Jupiter walking and earthbound walking overlap in just one after-school afternoon, just like I read about in the astronomy chapter of my science book in class!

And talk about complicated—trying to skate holding hands with someone else takes all the skill and concentration I can muster. Forget that!

Another thing—at my age, my buttocks are—what—just about two feet off the ground, but when my rollered feet swoop out from under me, in a jiffy that hardwood floor or the rising asphalt whaps me on the rear like God’s big fly swatter.

Suddenly, the one-sixth Moon gravity transforms itself into a humongous magnet and makes me aware of the one consistent boss I will have for the rest of my life—Gravity!

So, what have I learned by skating that will carry me through to advanced age? Even at the age of eight, I know that:  1. Controlling The Key imparts a certain status; 2.  Not everybody is destined to be a skilled athlete; 3.  Science helps explain a lot of mysteries, such as how gravity works in different ways, how skates that fly up will surely drop down, how rear ends are good at breaking falls; 4.  Things that happen in movies have little relation to what happens in everyday life; 5.   You can have just as much fun imagining things as actually experiencing them—and usually more safely, too; 6.  The Past is the safest place to live; 7.  Doing things backwards or the opposite way is real entertaining on an otherwise eventless afternoon

 © Jim Reed 2014 A.D.



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How to become your own story

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How many times have I told that same true story during my considerable lifetime? You know—the story that usually begins with, “Did I ever tell you about…?” or “Stop me if you’ve heard this…” or “That reminds me of the time I…”

How many times have I told that story?

An even more interesting question is, “Even though the story is the same, how has the telling of it evolved over the decades?”

And, to me, the most interesting question is, “How does each identical telling change each time I alter the medium in which it is told?”


You can find out how YOUR true story changes by switching media. For example:

Write the story using only a quill and ink on parchment paper.


Write the story using crayon on butcher paper.


 Write using ballpoint pen on a napkin.


Use large felt-tip marker on a legal pad.

Use an old non-electric spidery typewriter and typing paper.

Dictate the same story to a secretary or scribe.

Recite into a recording device.

Talk to a video camera.

Use an old inky fountain pen on acid-free paper.

Employ an electric typewriter.

Use a computer device.

Spray paint the story on a wall.

Carve the story into stone with a chisel.

Try to fill an exact space with the entire story (140 characters?).

Write with the other hand—see how different the story becomes.

Put the story to music and sing it entire.

Tell the story to a four-year-old, then write down how the child re-tells it.

Do a blog.

If you try these exercises, the results will be rather remarkable. You’ll begin to understand how the medium changes the message, how the settings alter its flavor.

And, most dramatically, you’ll see what a thoroughly practiced storyteller you really can be.

Give it a shot

(Adapted from HOW TO BECOME YOUR OWN BOOK by Jim Reed)


 © Jim Reed 2014 A.D.



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My Bodyguard

Time to re-visit a time, six decades ago, when for a year I had my own bodyguard. This story is true as well as actual:

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Arthur Voss was my bodyguard in the eighth grade. Dot Jones was my girlfriend. Pat Flood was my best friend. How did all of this come about? Well, I’ll tell you my version of the story, since most people in the story are dead or distant or disinterested.

This is a true story. It is also actual.

First day of eighth grade on the school grounds of Tuscaloosa Junior High. It must be recess time on the first day of eighth grade. I’m wandering around the red-dirt dusty summer grounds of the school. The sun is bright and stark and unflattering to the uncontrolled acne on passing faces, a bit too revealing of the unprofessional makeup work most of the coeds have done at home before school time.

One scowling guy struts by me and catches my eye. He must think I’m glaring a challenge at him, because he comes over, still staring, and punches me on the shoulder. I continue to stare back because I’m startled, because I don’t dare turn my back on him, because I don’t know any better. He’s a rough-hewn country-looking kid who wants me to know who’s boss. His scowl deepens and he punches me again, harder. I avert my gaze, pretending to suddenly remember an important engagement. “Dear me–must run. I left my baby on the bus!” is what I want to say, but I have no way of knowing whether that would just make him madder.

“Why’d he do that?” a tow-headed, barrel-chested student asks. I am standing to the side of the playground, wondering whether I am going to be punched again.

“I dunno,” I say.

Arthur Voss is this kid’s name. He is shy, too, and seems relieved that I’m willing to talk with him. Arthur is tough and knows a little about schoolyard survival. He never picks fights. But you can tell just from the way he stands that nobody is going to pick on him. He has a clean-cut no-nonsense air.

The bell rings and Arthur doesn’t go right in. Like me, he waits for the crowd to disperse. “Stick with me. Nobody’s gonna punch you again.” Arthur says this. I make a joke out of it because that’s usually how I survive. “You mean you’re my bodyguard?” I ask. “Yeah,” is all Arthur Voss says. We go our separate ways to class.

“Hey, this is Arthur, my bodyguard,” I say to Dot Jones, a very cute and perky petite blonde I meet at recess the next day. Dot is impressed and giggles her approval. Arthur just stands nearby and looks pleasant and alert. He really is my bodyguard! He’s always close by when we’re on school grounds before, during and after class. He makes no demands. We kid around, but he’s not prone to idle conversation. He’s just there. At lunch, we sit together with Dot and my other new friend, Pat Flood. Arthur is quiet, Pat is frenetic and funny, and Dot is giggly and cute. I actually have friends in junior high! Maybe I’ll survive eighth grade.

The two-step is all I can muster. If I want to dance with Dot Jones at the Friday night junior high gymnasium dances, I’ll have to learn how to dance. Dancing is the only way I know how to justify getting my body close to Dot’s body. We hold hands during school breaks, but there’s no body contact and definitely no kissing. Not even any smooching, whatever that is. I don’t know what smooching is, but I know I’m going to like it.

What is the perfume called that Dot uses? We do the two-step. We are exclusively paired and don’t want to dance with anyone else. Will I be in love with Dot forever? Will Arthur Voss remain my bodyguard for life? Is Pat Flood going to remain my best friend? I now know the answers to these questions, but in junior high I don’t. Shall I reveal the ending or leave you guessing? I’ve always felt I don’t want to know my own fortune, but in these pages, I sometimes do know how things turn out, but the story must be told while simultaneously the characters within don’t know outcomes even when their later versions do know the answers. Time travel is always confusing like this, but time travel must be done in order to get the stories told.

Will Pat Flood be my best friend till we’re 80 and barely able to remember the stupid and silly gags we loved, the snickering fun we had? The junior high school gymnasium doesn’t smell like sweaty locker room mildew tonight while the dance is going on. The nostrils only pick up what the sweet hormonal couple wants them to pick up. The smell of Dot’s perfume. The fragrance of the flower in her hair. The smell of Wildroot Cream Oil hair tonic from my fevered scalp, the rustle of one too many petticoats, the riding up of my underwear, the squeezing-toe leather shoes, the slow dance music, the dimmed gym lights, the chaperoning teachers, the coeds all transmogrified by their acne treatment salve, their new lipstick, freshly Pepsodented teeth, lacquered nails, home-permanent natural curls, saddle oxfords and penny loafers shuffling over the polished hardwood flooring, the scuffed shoe polish, the crepe paper decor, watery Kool-Aid punch, cool kids outside catching a smoke, brittle teachers, hawklike, searching for cool kids outside catching a smoke, pre-air-conditioning gym floor humidity-laden, red dirt and weeded grass and cool fungus fragrance outside the school while we wait for her father or my father to pick us up and deliver us to our respective homes.

Dad drops Dot and me off at her house while he gives us a full three minutes alone, during which he drives to the end of the block on the pretense of U-turning the damp green Willys car, and taking his time to do it as if he couldn’t just turn around in front of her house, but that would be dropping the pretense, wouldn’t it? Dad is complicit in the romantic effort to give us lovebirds a chance to cuddle, but all I can get the courage to do is shake Dot’s hand and run to the car, never having been kissed, never having kissed. Kissing would break the spell, don’t you know? The magic spell consists of never realizing your dream, which gives the dream such power, such magnification. The intense pleasure of anticipation is all there is, the knowing that if you break the spell with a kiss or a too-too touch, you just might fall from the grace of unfulfillment. The pressure of Almost is so powerful, so fantasy-making, so just plain carnal, though I’m not yet sure what carnal is, nor can I ever be sure. The overwhelming pleasure of knowing Dot and handholding Dot and dreaming of Dot and talking too long on the phone with Dot in the hallway of my parents’ home just feet away from their bedroom door, trying not to stand over the floor furnace too long, trying not to be heard by anyone but Dot.

You see, at this point, here at this moment, I close the red clay diary and close my eyes and almost nap, then open up, get alert, and start again that which is never ended–the story of me and Dot and Arthur and Pat and who we are and who we were before now and who we were before the before time, and then who we will yet be and who we might be once we stop being we four who walk the dusty earth of 1954 Tuscaloosa Junior High.

The faux doze starts once more, and I am closing the page, topping the pen, ready for the next episode of what’s happening these many decades later, tonight, on Planet Three.

Does Arthur Voss ever have to fight anybody on my behalf? No, but nobody picks on me the rest of eighth grade, thus I am afforded the opportunity and mixed-feeling pleasure of living to enter the ninth grade

 © Jim Reed 2014 A.D.



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