Stalking the Century-Old Wilds of the Cracking Plaster Caves

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The old home is missing its people this evening. As I open the creaking door to enter, I become its sole inhabitant, since my wife is away at a meeting.

The ancient Persian rug in the foyer deadens the sound of my shoes, but the high plaster ceiling still echoes their presence. My breathing comes back at me, as does the sound of a wobbling plastic toy on a bookcase shelf, reacting to the ever-shifting foundation of this house atop limestone caves near Red Mountain. The foyer is airy, darker than the adjacent living room, where outside light beams in from three directions.

I hear the perpetual bark of a dog some two houses away, the beep-beep-beep of an alarm system waiting to be silenced, the click-clickety-click of several solar-powered figurines lining the window sills. An air conditioner creates its own ambience. Entering the kitchen, I ritualistically PLOP my bags onto counter chairs, flick and re-flick the overhead light till resident fluorescence decides to awaken, go to the sink and rinse my hands, the sound of a misty rain forest spray taking me back to another time, another clime. I pull the grumbling refrigerator door open, am embraced by the cranking ice maker and the mumbling motor, look long and hard into the incandescently lighted interior in hopes of finding something remarkable to eat. I settle on a sealed Diet Coke can which clanks against its buddies in the cardboard case in fond farewell to the closed quarters from which it is being liberated.

The metallic CLICK frees a certain amount of carbonated mist and the friendly fizz sound amplifies as I hold the container to my ear in remembrance of long-ago sea shells on sparkling white childhood beaches. I hold the drink high for a moment in a toast to the disregarding world and take my first noisy and quite satisfying sip.

The rest of the evening is spent traversing the caves of cracked plaster, each cave opening into another cave. The stairwell noisily welcomes my ascent, the first-landing double window splays images of the next-door house, the grassy alley below, the green and brown tree limbs, the ever-present phone lines and cable lines and electricity lines serving to feed the ancient hovels on this Birmingham street. Liz’s paintings adorn the walls and I find myself smiling at nothing in particular.

The upstairs hallway has a different humidity, a different temperature, a separate feeling. It is the gateway to a small bedroom that has served through the decades as kids’ room, art studio, ironing room, meditation room, guest room, catch-all room. The largest room, complete with unique colors and textures and soundings and fragrances has served as master bedroom, kids’ room, bookroom, closet room, video and audio room. The original  servants’ room has shifted purpose over the years, once a small child’s rainbow-bedecked bedroom, now a combined clothes closet and makeup-application and hair-do room.

Each cave is a special solitude, each worthy of notice, each deserving observation and contemplation in its own unique  way.

In the deadened hours of the night, walking from cave to cave, I am overwhelmed by the variety of stories these special spaces have absorbed over the past century or so. As I tread each floorboard, special occurrences shout their memories at me, each inch weaves a tale I am likely to miss if I don’t stop to reflect.

There is so much to learn and remember in this cave of caves, so much exploring to do, so many artifacts to examine and appreciate.

It is an exploration that will never really end

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Genuine Automatic and Guaranteed Profanity Cut-off Switch

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The genuine automatic and guaranteed profanity cut-off switch has served me well in life. For sixty years, it has kept me out of much trouble…and maybe caused more trouble at certain times.

Let me expound briefly.

First thing I learn on Day One of being an actor—at the age of 13—is, don’t carry who you are onto the stage. Save it for backstage.

This means that if you flub a line during a live performance, you don’t curse aloud. To do so, back in these olden days, will mean instant dismissal. Flub a line, just keep on talking till you find that line, thus making the other actors breathe sighs of relief. When something—anything—goes wrong during performance, don’t burden the audience with it. The show must go on!

I carry this bit of wisdom with me when I begin appearing on live radio shows, then again on live television programs. Flubs are acceptable. Losing It is not acceptable. It is easier on the radio, since you can simply flip a switch on the microphone, burst forth with a profanity or a sneeze, then switch it back on and continue as if nothing happened—the audience being none the wiser. During television shows, you can’t control the sound, so you just repress the urge.

In later life, after the broadcasting career, this little bit of enforced behavior stands me in good stead. When speaking before customers or in front of audiences, I am unable to curse involuntarily. To do so would make the audience uncomfortable, cause the subject at hand to become sidetracked, and generally ruin my timing and pacing—both of which are key to good conversation, good expounding.

To whom do I owe this early wisdom, this enforced behavior? Well, in early  broadcasting, my mentors were Harriett Rowand, Don Rollins and Joe Langston. In The Theatre, there were folks like Marian Gallaway, Frank Stallworth, Bill Fegan. I at least got to thank Joe Langston and Don Rollins for their help. I am guilty of never going back to thank the rest.

It seems that these tiny bits of knowledge, almost unnoticed when born, become bigger and more influential as time goes by. Therefore, in my lifelong archives of columns and stories and true tales, let it be known that my thanks is sincere.

Just saying

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Itsy Bitsy Red Clay Spider Takes a Shower on the Web

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I groggily open the shower door as part of my zombie-esque morning routine, prepared to permit the Hot Water Spray Gods to blast me awake and drive my adrenalin rush. It’s the only way I can truly come alive each day.

But today is special. Even without my glasses, I can see that there is something different about the shower stall.

Just above eye level, right over the nickel plated controls, there rests a large, red-clay-hued wiggling spider.

Thus, I am frozen in the metal pedestrian-sign pose of a man who has just heard an alarm go off.

Suddenly, all the moral and philosophical arguments of the ages rush together in my mind, and I am conflicted for a moment.

Is this a poisonous spider? I have no idea. If not poisonous, does this spider bite anyhow? Even if it is not poisonous or bitey, do I want to trust it not to leap upon my face while showering?

I have trouble killing anything at all, much less minuscule critters who are more pesky than dangerous. But I do know that if I don’t do something about this spider, Liz will be hysterical should it introduce itself later. I have to be The Man.

Where are my weapons? Uh, I don’t own any because I never have the desire to weaponize anybody or anything. But basic instinct prevails. Hoping the spider won’t leap upon my naked body as I draw near, I grab a box of Kleenex and solidly WHOMP the intruder.

The tale is over. The spider is now in that big web site in the Cloud along with all the other spiders we humongous humans have dispatched over the centuries.

The murder is swift—but painless? The only way to know is to interview the spider, who is no longer in any condition to reply. Did I  just set my Karma back a thousand years? Will all the insects I’ve encountered be waiting for me when I take my place beside them Up There?

I resolve to accept the fact that I am a serial killer. Won’t do me any good to continue the inner dialogue right now—there will be plenty of time to face things after something WHOMPS me down the road.

For now, I will merely take my shower, ask the spider for forgiveness, and go about the day with a touch more humility than is customary.

Now to get to work and face the REALLY dangerous realities, the ones you can’t solve with just one red clay WHOMP

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Memory of a Father Long Gone: Your People and My People are Historic Downtown Birmingham

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My friend, the late Marie Stokes Jemison, always had the same thing to say when she met somebody new, “And who are your people?”

Marie recognized that everybody was connected to everybody else. She just wanted to know exactly how.

When I drive around on this side of what we in Birmingham call The Mountain, I can’t help noticing how connected everybody is, and how every thing, even though inanimate, is connected to everybody, every living thing.

That philosopher guy, Emerson, said, “There is no such thing as history. There is only biography.” If you don’t believe it, try looking at a historic Downtown Birmingham structure without connecting it to somebody, lots of somebodies, as a matter of fact.

For the past 45 years, each time I pass by a certain building on Highland Avenue, I remember my father. Even though the building has been face-lifted and revived several times over the decades, one thing cannot be changed: my father helped build that building. And it is that fact alone that makes me realize how people-connected all the Downtown buildings are.

My father was a construction supervisor way back when, and his project was to build that building, and build it he did–with the help and companionship of a great diversity of people. Each brick in that building is engraved (but only in my mind) with the names of all the people who dreamed the building, who made the dream come true, all the people whose scraped knuckles and bruised fingers and dusty palms and stretched sinews made that dream come to life, made it last, down all the years.

Even one day in the future, when that building comes down, when that building is replaced with a new dream by a new diversity of minds and muscles, the essence of that structure will remain, as long as I and all the relatives and friends of those red-brick names remember

We all come from red clay and will return to some version of it. But in the in-between period, it’s good and right to recall the people who made Downtown come alive, who nurtured it for a while, who treated it with respect, who infused their dreams into its girders and bricks and planks and asphalt.

Become a tourist for a few minutes. Cruise Downtown. Look at the buildings. Look beyond, at the friendly ghosts who remain a presence here.

Don’t forget to wave and smile and nod

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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New Treatment for Restless Mind Syndrome

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New Treatment for Restless Mind Syndrome

I can’t stop my brain.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about.

Whether it is 3 a.m., when I am so full of ideas, thoughts, reflections, excitements and nutty dreams that I cannot remain aslumber…whether it is while driving along, dictating loose and rambling thoughts and considerations into my tiny recording device…whether it is during a long and boring conversation with a long and boring bureaucrat who just will not get to the point…no matter where or when I am, I cannot stop my brain.

Maybe we should term this Restless Mind Syndrome and find a cure for it.

Now…never again will Restless Mind Syndrome keep you awake at night. Just two doses of MINDTAMP and you can rest at ease and blithely go through life like the Pod Person you always wanted to be.

Some time ago, I found my own way to deal with Restless Mind Syndrome. I just write it out. I allow my fingers to do the therapy…but why not read what I wrote back then?

Here it is:


HE WAS COMPLETELY OUT OF JUICE, COMPLETELY OUT OF THE force that fed his muse, completely out of the running for cosmic insight and understanding.

He sat limp, dumbly staring at the keyboard, hoping that words would come and rise up and take over his fingers and make syllables, then sentences, then paragraphs, then Great American Novels galore.

But nothing happened.

He sat limp, staring morosely at the blank computer screen, feeling the faint radiation seeping into his brain and attacking his enfeebled thoughts and sucking them dry of life.

And nothing happened.

He sat limp, hoping that profundities would stir inside him and dribble over onto the machinery and create beautiful thoughts that would cause little children to clap their hands and old grumpies to chuckle and hide their mouths.

Lots of nothing continued to come forth.

He sat limp, wondering why his mouth was dry, his palms damp, his ears ringing, his mind racing, his thoughts crusty and useless. With blankness on the screen screaming at him.

He sat limp, admiring those who could always express themselves in ringing tones and glowing words.

And at that moment, he realized that what was going on was his writing, what was going on was what he had to say, what was seeming to be void was exactly the right thing to put down on screen on paper for comrades in writer’s block hell to share and find comfort in.

His fingers started to move and move and move



© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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