The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

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The Neverending Stories Await the Sidewalk People of the Book

The old book shop is filled with charm and aroma and ambience and centuries of culture, all pressed together in comfortable intimacy and familiarity. This may be one of the few places you’ll ever visit where diversity is no longer an intellectual talking-point or an impossible dream.  This old book shop is a gathering place for all ideas, a place where diametrically opposing philosophies co-exist with a smug sense of humor, a smug sense that all philosophies are worth no more than a palm full of puns sifting through the fingers.

Old paper scraps and chips and shards and cuttings and flakes cover the floor of the shop, reminders that paper is vulnerable to age and wear. Among the ironies of the confetti scatterings are the ancient books, the books with pages still intact and white and durable. Old-time paper endures, these-days paper often consumes itself in acidity.

One more irony. Even the fragile paper survives if it is nurtured and kept safe from ultra violet rays, deep humidity and heated dryness.

So, what do we have here in the shop? Everlasting books, crumbling books, archival paper, disregarded paper. It’s a merry mishmash.

“Oh, I love the smell of books. Isn’t this great?” a customer extols the virtues of the time-travel vault I call a book shop. I hear this exclamation several times a week from wandering nomads who cherish the past and the preserved present and the predicted future.

So, each day I place a bit of book fragrance behind each ear, don my bookie demeanor, and spend the hours receiving books, searching for books, sprucing up books, researching books, cataloging books, pricing books, shelving books, answering questions about books, selling books, collecting books…and, once home, reading books and writing books.

And, should I dare to visit the darkened shop in the wee hours, I can listen to the books breathing and resting and committing the act of simply being available and open to examination by those whose mysterious quests will bring them to the sidewalk in front of the shop door just before opening time, anxious to continue the neverending tales


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

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The Morning of the Buttermilk Scarecrow Sky

The tall top-hatted scarecrow walks his wide-stanced walk along the shoulder of the gray roadway to my right, his unnaturally long arms stretched wide to catch the wind.

Protruding from his sleeves are bouquets of straw substituting for hands, and his topcoat and trousers are blousing in the breeze.

This fairy-tale mirage seems somehow normal once I notice that, as I draw nearer, the scarecrow is silhouetted against a remarkably glossy buttermilk sky, the likes of which I have not seen since childhood. The clouds gleam and march in spotted lockstep, and I may as well be observing a scene from some Maxfield Parrish/Hoagy Carmichael version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The sky is so vivid this morning, the scarecrow so alive, that, as I pass by, I realize that this scene will etch its way into my memory. I’ll never have to see the buttermilk scarecrow again, I’ll never even need to try and explain how it can be that a fictitious creature like this can be sauntering along on its merry way to…where? That’s because the snapshot has been taken and stored for further examination.

The rest is rumination and storytelling

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Grove of the Dolls

 Within the dusty attic of my mind reside Gothic memories that occasionally arise and remind me that regardless of how many times The Stories tell themselves to you, they are never quite finished. For every story told, there is always The Next Day, and what happened The Next Day.

 Here’s a true story that will never be completed. Fortunately, the human imagination, each human imagination touched by this story, will unwillingly carry forth the tale and conjure up possible Next Day scenarios. That’s part of the fun of storytelling.

 Here’s the true and actual tale hidden in my Red Clay Diary many years ago.


 Downtown Birmingham is the Tether.

You can enjoy being Downtown or you can enjoy returning to Downtown. Just take a trip 50 miles thataway or 50 miles the other way, then return to the City. This is about the time I went thataway…and was so glad to return safely—though altered!

The life-size mannequins inside the old tin shed are all tangled together in a silent and stifled orgy of lacquered intimacy.

There are mannequins fully dressed and carefully made up and there are mannequins old and weathered and strangely still youthful.

There are glowy-eyed mannequins staring into whatever comes before them but never changing the direction of the stare, prisoners frozen and sentenced to observe only that which presents itself to their direct gazes and steely peripheral visions.

There are male mannequins with sculpted hair and female mannequins with flared nostrils and delicate hands, there are mannequin heads and arms and legs and feet and torsos both dancing and as still as stones at rest in the countryside heat. And there are mannequins swinging from rafters and peeking from large pails, and next door there is another metal-roofed building with yet more mannequins and their neighbors.

The little town of Shady Grove, Alabama has no idea that these mannequins and body parts are living, never alive, in its midst. And no-one knows, either, that surrounding these mannequins are big reels of full-length movies and newsreels and ”shorts” and previews (trailers) and documentaries and cartoons, all in their original canisters, all in their original formats, 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, 8-millimeter, and photographic slides and transparencies, and, should you yearn to see one of these features, there are dozens and dozens of movie projectors and screens from every era—silent-movie hand-cranked projectors before the time of universal electricity, wide-screen movies before the time of TV-eating-up-the-world, military projectors designed to withstand V-2 or Scud Missile attacks, and projectors that were once handled by teenagers in high school science classes, and projectors that once had been operated in real movie theatres by real union-member projectionists.

The man who has coveted, stored, squirreled away and gathered all this mass of inert motion picture paraphernalia and this city of mannequins has also taken care to hoard hundreds of belts, projector bulbs, gears and sprocket-repairers, film editors and cutters and splicers and tapers, just in case the end of all other repair sources occurs during his lifetime.

And now, he is showing me his lifetime stash—which also includes a live nightmarish dog who barks perpetually day and night, never stopping, each bark accompanied by a three-foot leap into the air in a vain attempt to escape his fenced confines and energize all those mannequins—a truly possessed dog whose owners haven’t a clue.

Next to the sheds and shacks in the buggy country air are ten-foot-high stacks of very old grey and weathered mahogany boards that their owner has gathered from companies no longer needing them, and there is an old automobile splayed open to the world with wires running from under its hood into goodness knows what.

Inside his home, the man complains about the paper-thin ceilings that someone has spray-covered and which are now falling in from boredom and weariness, and his wife hides somewhere behind all his collectible mania, never presenting herself—a Gothic world that really exists if you go a few miles outside where you live now. A world not to be made fun of, since our world is just as offbeat and inaccessible to them as theirs is to us.

Maybe I’ll go back and visit this village of non-living comrades who in a way seem more alive than you and I and who certainly get along with each other better than you and I and who unlike you and I are totally accepting of their keepers—the insane leaping dog and the movie-mahogany-mannequin collector who is beginning to worry about what will happen to all his adoptees when he has become as lifeless-yet-attentive as they

Counting the Distinctly Remembered Pleasures

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Counting Pleasures Distinctly Remembered 

The brand-new year, barely distinguishable from the barely-old year, is upon me and must be dealt with.

As a ponderer of the unimportant but significant turnstiles of life, I could easily list some pompously conceived New Year’s Resolutions in a way that might induce you to believe I actually plan to follow them.

I prefer instead to list an item from page 48 of my imaginary BOOK OF COUNTED PLEASURES.

Here is one thing I count on to get me through my time on Earth.


Nothing quite compares to the comfort and small joy I receive from walking into the front yard each morning and picking up the day’s copy of the New York Times. What news both horrible and divine might tumble into my field of view once the paper is opened and flattened?

This predictable act will never become boring, since the paper’s delivery is so erratic.

Some days, the Times is hidden in damp bushes, not to be found till 48 hours later. At times the paper is soaked through so that each page bleeds into adjacent pages and becomes unreadable. Sometimes, the paper is in the street, nicely pancaked by passing vehicles. And on days when everything seems to be going right, an entire section or two of the new paper will be missing. So, each morning is filled with tension and expectancy—what will the paper be like today, will it even arrive today, will I find today’s some later day?

The serial drama continues when I “report” the missing or mutilated Times to the carrier. The response is always the same, “We’ll get another copy to you right away.” Almost never happens. I wind up searching for a replacement whenever I can find a vendor who still carries copies, but most days it just isn’t worth it. If I want to learn what is going on in the world I have to depend upon NPR or—horrors!—the unvetted Internet.

But the Joy is still there. The erratic appearance of the paper only serves to make more pleasurable the mornings when everything is in its place—the newspaper is on the sidewalk, nice and dry and beckoning—like this morning, for instance. And lo and behold—the magazine and book review supplements are present, too!

Life seems complete for about 20 seconds.

And 20 seconds of bliss scattered hither and yon throughout my days is the best I can hope for, in a world where sorrows and unwanted challenges vie for my attention, my time and my fragile soul

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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