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The small asbestos-shingled 2 ½-bedroom bungalow on Eastwood Avenue is still the hub of our universe, back here in 1954 or so—the hub of the family of Frances and Tommy Reed (my parents) and their kids, mainly, Barbara Jean, Ronny, Rosi, Tim and me. These days, our worldly holdings are still modest. About all we have is each other, so we make do with that for the time being.
Summer is a time we all still get stuck together within the same walls now and then, and this is one of those days. Later on, we find less and less time to joke around, our innocence being so fleeting, but today we are lucky.
Here’s what’s happening:
One thing my older sister, Barbara, and my Mother, Frances, love to do more than anything you can name, is talk. I mean, really talk. And not to us younger kids, either. Barbara and Mother like to talk with each other. It’s a mystery that I can’t solve, but these two can both talk non-stop in unending sentences about everything under the sun. They kind of feed off each other.
Being a teenager, Barbara is excited and apprehensive about everything in her world, and, being an extrovert, likes to talk it out. Mother, still remembering how much fun and worry she herself had as a teenager, is eager to re-experience her life through Barbara as well as guide her past the potholes, should she stop talking long enough to listen.
It becomes a silent joke between Ronny and me, how Barbara and Mother, once they get
to talking, are oblivious to everything and everyone around them. Barbara’s usual disdainful comment, whenever she notices that one of us underlings is trying to say something, is, “Oh, just ignore them. They’re just trying to get attention!” When I hear her say this, I feel guilty for trying to get attention, like it’s a vanity or a sin or something, but years later, when infant Tim has become a full-grown adult, he puts me at ease by saying, “Yes, of course we were trying to get attention,” as if to say, “what’s wrong with that?”
But right now, in 1954, I don’t have the benefit of Tim’s wisdom, since he’s a toddler
walking around the un-air-conditioned house in a safety-pinned cloth diaper.
Whenever Ronny and I mention this talking thing to Barbara or Mother, they deny that they talk a lot or that they don’t know what’s going on around them when they talk. So, Ronny and I one day decide to take some action to prove our claim. 
My grandfather, Robert McGee, always smokes these great-smelling cigars, and when he
visits, he usually leaves a few for my father to enjoy. My uncle Buddy McGee, a World
War II hero, has left us his medals and military regalia, including his army cap. Ronny and
I gather the cap and the cigar and a box of wooden matches and find toddler Tim in the
kitchen, where we prepare him for the Big Talk Test.
Barbara and Mother are in the living room, sitting at opposing walls, and chatting away. We hand the cigar to Tim, who gladly places it in his mouth, mimicking his father and grandfather. We place the army cap on Tim’s head, which delights him, since he’s usually not allowed to play with our toys. 
Then, we light the cigar and make sure it’s puffing plenty of smoke. The deed is done, then. All we have to do is tell Tim to walk across the living room, between Mother and Barbara, and into the den, on the pretense of fetching something for us. Tim obliges and toddles straight across the hardwood floor, cigar in mouth and soldier cap on head, diaper hitched up safely and bare feet padding softly.
Nothing happens.
Not only do my sister and mother not miss a beat in their excited conversation, they don’t even look down to see Tim. We know this, because we’re peeking around the plaster wall to watch the action.
The experiment is a success, but we haven’t created the commotion we hoped for. Later,
we tell Barbara and Mother what we did, but they don’t believe us. “Oh, you’re just trying
to get attention,” Barbara says.
Yes, we are. And I guess we’ll always be doing that, Ronny and me, only this time we are
joined as adults by sister Rosi and brother Tim. The attention and attentions of Barbara and Mother will always be in demand. Mother’s been gone for years now, but Barbara has taken up the slack and talks to us, her kids and grandkids as much as ever, only now, we’re all grown up enough to know that what she’s talking about is important. 
And maybe sometimes we wish we had a lot worth talking about, too

Christmastime in the Best of All Possible Worlds

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Christmastime in the Best of All Possible Worlds

The man who needs to find hope is strolling the avenues of the city as Christmas Eve encroaches. Hands in pockets, he tries to break his habit of taking the same route each day. Today will be different, today, he may find hope.

He is walking north on 20th Street, gazing at facades and into windows to see what he never takes the time to see, inertia having jostled him along at a blinding pace for so many years.

He stops before this big show window and blinks hard, trying to figure out why he’s suddenly in another time and place. What he sees on the other side of the glass is a winter wonderland of electric trains, small villages, city streets, all bedecked and animated as if Christmas has never ended.

This can’t be, he opines. Fifty years ago and more, the city’s streets were lined with scenes such as this, filled with small wonders and pleasant surprises and best wishes. Back then, people would do something called window-shopping. Each merchant and street-level business would decorate in order to attract a sidewalk parade of delighted season-lovers.

He remembers how all that changed over the years, how a committee of tight-lipped judges began to forbid owners to place images and “distractions” in windows and doorways, as if they had forgotten what joy window-shopping brought to the city, what commerce the displays induced, what fond memories remained.

At the moment, the man who needs to find hope shakes off the negative memory and more carefully examines the snowy humor and goodwill in this special street-side window display. He has the notion that the long-ago idea of decorative, playful display on cold city streets has somehow thrived, somehow holds out against the dark forces that would dictate drab identical facades bereft of all personality and sharing.

After having his fill of time spent in another place, the man strolls on, hoping that, here and there, he will see other signs of life and joy proffered by establishments who ignore cold rules and just want to hand passersby a friendly gesture. And, much to his surprise, he begins to see other show windows with verve and personality laid out, this time on Third Avenue. There’s a shop with an enormous Piggly Wiggly mascot grinning perpetually at the gray day. There’s a place with nostalgic old street signs lighted up and receiving their proper respect. Here’s an import gift shop with wondrous one-of-a-kind items to dispense,  there is even one window filled to the brim with poinsettias bursting with color…and here and there, the wonderful historic buildings and signs of yore smile down upon him and warm his chest.

The man in the process of finding hope finishes his stroll for today, knowing now that tomorrow he can take another avenue and perhaps find even more evidence that the spirit of the city is still alive and thriving under the radar, just for you and me to discover.

This may not be the best of all possible worlds, he thinks. But it’s the world I’ve got. So I’d best redouble the effort to experience it. Before the colors fade.

Time’s a-wastin’

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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My Christmas Pulitzer Prize

This Christmas story happened a long time ago, butI re-read it every few years

because it tells me so many things about life, about paying attention…



Why did I ever go into retail?

Well, you know the answer to that—if you, too, are in retail.

I did it because I couldn’t think of any other way to be my own boss and actually provide food and shelter for the family, outside the corporate world. I couldn’t think of any other way to have the freedom to write what I needed to write, free of the Dilbert shackles of the corporate world.

So, a couple of decades later, here I am, the Christmas season upon me, at 4:50pm on Friday, just ten minutes till closing time, digging through computer-numbered boxes for a 1962 Esquire Magazine featuring Hemingway, a 1956 BBC Listener magazine containing a Salinger review, a first printing of Asimov’s The Martian Way, and a first edition copy of Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeams…got to get these things overnighted for an anxious customer and then make it to a bookshop across town to conduct a reading, all by 6pm.

The front door chimes go off, so that means somebody has entered the store, 150 feet up the hall and up a steep flight of red stairs. You know the mixed feelings you get: Damn! Now I’ve got to wait on somebody and still get my tasks done…if it weren’t for these pesky customers, I could make a living (!).

I head up the hall to see who’s there, passing the glowing lava lamps and glistening Santas that line the path, giving a fairyland glow to the gathering dusk. When I get to the front, I see a small, pointy-haired big-rimmed eyeglass man, standing and staring at me as if I’m about to hit him. I do my usual “Hello, how can I help you today?” customer-friendly voice thing, since I have never seen this guy before.

“Well, do you buy stuff?” he asks. I’m in a hurry, so this means my thoughts are going to be negative—I’m thinking he’s got the usual dog-eared Reader’s Digest Condensed books and Stephen King paperbacks that we see a lot of around here.

“Well, it depends on what it is,” I say, thinking this does not look like a millionaire about to donate his Gutenberg Bible to me. “We have just about everything, but we’re always looking for what we don’t have,” I say, motioning down the hallway at the 6,000-square-foot shop.

“What about this?” he says, pulling a rusty three-inch-tall miniature replica of a Sprite cola bottle from his pocket. It’s cute, just the thing I have all over the store for decoration, along with the life-sized Leg Lamp from Jean Shepherd, the seven-foot-tall Piggly Wiggly statue and the Pee-Wee Herman Playhouse suitcase, interspersed with books galore.

The next negative thought I have is that he will, like most people, have watched the Antiques Roadshow and determined that this is worth $32,000, of which I should pay him half for re-sale. I brace myself and say, “That’s neat. How much do you want for it?” He says in a small and meek voice, “What about a dollar?”

I am relieved and brighten up instantly, I pull a dollar from the cash tray, give it to him and he walks happily toward the stairs.

He bends to pick up two large and obviously heavy satchels he’s lugged up the stairs—I’m just now noticing them. Then, he turns and asks, “Can you tell me how to get to Jimmie Hale?”

The Jimmie Hale mission is for homeless people, and it’s seven walking blocks away. I give him instructions, he thanks me, then begins his painful descent. I wait in the foyer, hoping he doesn’t stumble, and hoping I can get the door locked behind him so I can head to the post office on my way to being an unknown author reading his stuff aloud.

I can tell he’s about halfway down the stairs when I hear his meek voice, “I read everything you write.” I freeze in place to hear more. “And I see your columns in the paper. You are a natural-born writer.”

I can only yell thanks! as he closes the door behind him and disappears from hearing. I rush down the stairs to lock up, look up and down the street, and see nothing. No trace of this fellow and his heavy luggage and his mild temperament.

I lock the door, take down the OPEN sign, and start up the stair, turning out lights as I go.

Back at my counter, I reach into my pocket for keys and find the tiny Sprite bottle.

I hold it up to the lava lights and note its special green glow. And I wonder what a Pulitzer Prize looks like. This may be as close to one as I’ll ever get, so I’m going to adopt it and keep it around to remind me that now and then—just every once in a while—a writer can get a good review, a good award, at an unexpected time from an unlikely source…and then wonder later whether it was all imagination.

At the reading, I tell the story of the little man and his Sprite bottle to Joey Kennedy, who is a genuine Pulitzer Prize winner. He grins ear to ear, because he knows all about fate and how things come to you only if you don’t look at them straight on

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Gradual Maturing of the Overwrought Booklover

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The Gradual Maturing of the Overwrought Book Lover

“I’m still trying to grow up, bit by bit by bit. I  kid you not.

Even at the age of what it is I am, I’m still trying to grow up.”

–Jim Reed

The anxious customer, fraught with self-imposed deadlines of earth-shaking immensity, enters the bookshop and proclaims, “Hello! Anybody here?” as if she’s summoning an aide to organize her affairs.

I wait a beat before replying, wondering whether this is the way she enters Wal-Mart or Publix. “Hello! Anybody here?”

“Good morning,” I say in my best and most cordial voice. Maybe she needs a little TLC.

“Oh, THERE you are!” she peers down her nose as if chastising me for my momentary invisibility. “I need books for my new bookcase.”

“Well, maybe I can help. What kinds of books do you like to read?”

She sniffs at the dusty air in something resembling disdain. “Oh I’m not going to READ them. I just need books to fill the shelves.”

I bite my tongue and switch over to my must-act-as-if-this-is-the-kind-of-work-we-do-every-day at Reed Books tone.

“OK,” I say. “Well, perhaps you would like to look around and identify the kinds of volumes you prefer…then I can gather more to your liking.”

“I don’t have time to look around, just show me your section of fine books—I need about four feet for the bookcase.”

I lead her to some turn-of-the-century titles with “nice” bindings to see whether these will do.

“How much are these?” she snaps.

“Uh, each one is a different price.” I pull several titles down and show her a range of prices, from $8.00 to $95.00.

“I’m not going to pay that much for ANY book,” she proclaims.

I keep trying to help.

“Well, what is your price range?”

She says, “Five dollars each is all I intend to pay.”

“Hold on,” I reply and scurry about making a sample stack of appropriately-priced volumes.

“These fall into that category,” I say.

She sniffs again and squints at the books. “Are they all leather bound?”

“Well, as you can see, they have attractive bindings but they are not leather—leather usually means much higher prices.”

“You don’t mean that!” Her haughty manner is not going to get to me, I decide.

She goes on, “Well they are all the wrong color, too. I must match them to my blue curtains.”

“Right. I need to answer the phone, so take a look around to see if there’s anything that suits you. I’ll be right back,” I say.

When I return to her, she’s standing with hands on hips, staring at a box of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books—sans dust jackets–that I am donating to The Foundry, since no-one has purchased one since 1986.

“These are mostly blue—what do they cost?”

HERE ARE THE THINGS THAT I DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “Ma’am, these are very inexpensive, but I would hesitate selling them to you,since any of your visitors, seeing them in your Liberty Park book cases, would know that no real book lover would ever invest in these.” I ALSO DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “I would recommend purchasing a variety of non-matching books, with some great classics and popular titles thrown in, so that it will appear that you actually have selected, loved and read each one.” AND, FINALLY, I DO NOT SAY ALOUD: “And I would encourage you to pick some titles that you will read yourself, just to season your conversation with the appearance of having intelligence.”

What I do say aloud is something like this, “Well, they are well within your price range, and we have enough to fill your space. Would you like for me to load them in your car?

The woman pays, her vehicle is full of books, and she rides away into the city sunshine.

There might have been a time when I would get all worked up and preachy in my effort to save the world through inducing people to enjoy reading. But what the heck. Non-readers have rights, too. I just don’t think they have as much fun as I

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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