Television Reverse-Image Interview Exists Therefore It Is

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Television Reverse-Image Interview Exists Therefore It Is

 From a long-ago entry in my neverending Red Clay Diary:

So, here I am in a television studio playing the role of Momentarily Interesting Author, so that I can be interviewed so that I can get some free publicity so that maybe somebody will purchase a copy of my latest book.

Everything in a TV studio is one-sided, because reality separates itself from the Show That Must Go On. The cameras and lights and cobwebs and teleprompters and cuecards are all on one side of the room. On the other side is The Show—desks, chairs, heavily-made-up anchors waiting tensely for the commercial to end so that they can re-freeze those smiles that bring in those salaries.

I’m enjoying the spectacle but wondering whether the show would be twice as interesting if the cameras were moved to the Set and turned toward the reality part of the room.

What if the shows were shot vice-versa? Then, you’d see the backs of things: plywood housing Formica surfaces, polished non-carpeted floors nudging up to the frayed carpeting of The Set.

And get this: No living-flesh camera operators! The cameras are being controlled robotically, with no-one shouting orders or telling jokes in the earphones of bored camera operators, like in the early days. No ad-libbing, either.

The show is one extended Cold Read.

The anchors are people who are skilled at reading aloud without stumbling much, people who read well and animatedly without seeming to falter.

I look out the hallway door at mist and fog and green hills beyond the studio.

The reversed cameras would also pick up tiny but fascinating bits of visual material—makeup and mirrors and no-sweat pads resting on chairs, ordinarily out of camera sight.

In real life, the talking heads seem somewhat small and real and vulnerable—not anything like their electronic images. If the camera could capture that, wouldn’t everything we see on TV be a bit sweeter and less threatening?

I don’t know the answer to that—I was asking you!

I do my interview in four minutes and drive to the bookstore, wondering if a talent scout has caught my appearance and decided I’d be just the guy to do a regular show on books and writing, just the guy to influence a bunch of viewers to pull the plug and start reading and writing, instead of staring and writhing on crumb-stained sofas all over the land of viewerville


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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You can spot them immediately, and even though it’s happened a lot for the past several decades, you can’t help but avert your eyes at first, because it’s so painful.

I’m talking about the occasional appearance in the Museum of Fond Memories of those who walk among us as The Bookdead.

Their Look is always the same, and they frequently are in the company of book fans.

When the Bookdead person enters the store with the book fan, two things happen simultaneously. The book fan rushes to a favorite category and is lost to view in an instant. The Bookdead person stands in the middle of the aisle, as far away from each bookcase as the body can possibly be, and stares blankly ahead, stares at nothing in particular, stares at the brown wood between the books.

For years, I took as my personal goal the task of proselytizing, trying to show the Bookdead something that would be of interest, something that would spark a light in the eye, a rush of enthusiasm to the brain.

I seldom do that anymore, because it seems more productive to assist the book fan in the quest, the Bookdead being not the least bit interested in learning anything new, not excited at the prospect of having a eureka! experience.

By the time the Bookdead arrive at our doors, they are long gone away, taken from us by the regional pride of having never voluntarily read a book, or spirited away by palm-sized electronic devices, comfortable in the fact that books are somehow effete or geeky or sissy or nerdy or a sure sign that there’s something wrong with you.

I still dream of a day when the unexposed will suddenly shout with joy over the discovery of written words that can entice and excite and stimulate and make more bearable the activities of daily living.

But I realize that prodigals sometimes get way too much attention, ignoring the needs of those of us who love books, so, unbiblical as it may seem, I ignore the festivities celebrating the non-book-reader and concentrate instead on handholding those who want to continue the joyous fall through the looking glass, the fall that makes us see the world and ourselves in new and different and sometimes delightful ways.

Here, take my hand

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Truth About Authors and Books and Book Reviewers

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The Truth About Authors and Books and Book Reviewers

As a book reviewer, it’s hard not to cheat.

Some publisher or hopeful author sends me a package of material, including a book, and hopes that something within that package will inspire me to write a review.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Said publisher or author hopes that I’ll write a favorable review, something that will inspire readers to rush out and purchase the book.

That’s not quite true, either.

Often, said publisher or author wants me to say something that makes people—whether or not they are readers—rush out and purchase the book.

That, too, may not be the whole truth and nuttin’ but.

Said publisher and author would be happy (mostly) if the book became a million-seller, even if nobody read it!

Non-readers often buy books to give to people who accept them but never get around to reading them. Nothing sadder than a stack of unread books.

This is nothing new.

In my rare book emporium, I have lots of century-old books that have never been read. The proof is irrefutable. The unread volumes are full of uncut pages—pages that the publisher has failed to trim so that the book can be fully opened. These unread books are a joy to read, because it’s fun to take a bone letter-opener and slit each page open as the book is read.

It’s a nice romantic notion, the notion that this author’s book lay there for a century before anybody took the trouble to open it. And I am the first to read it!

Anyhow, as I say, it’s hard to refrain from cheating when I receive a book to review. First of all, it may come into my hands because my editor has heard great things about it, or because the author has been annoyingly persistent (this often works, fellow authors!) and I feel I have to review it just to be freed of this person, or the book may be by someone the literary world has deemed godlike—the writer who is good, therefore, everything written by said writer has to be good and don’t you the reviewer be the one to think differently!

And so on.

There are other factors that can influence the unwary reviewer. If you’re in a hurry, you’re tempted to skim the book or just read the jacket or the blurbs or the extensive synopses accompanying the book. Truth is, these synopses are designed to help the lazy reviewer get the job done, or to make sure the reviewer doesn’t miss the point of the book. Heaven forfend, the reviewer should find great meaning in the book that nobody else, including the author, has found!

So, the reviewer has choices. Read the book cover to cover without looking at the cover or the jacket or other reviews or synopses or blurbs, without regard to reputation and track record and age and gender and background.

This is almost impossible to do, so most reviewers don’t do it. But it can be done, fellow reviewer, just in case you are tempted to try it.

Try walking blindfolded up to a table of books-to-be-reviewed, pick the first one your hand touches. Have someone remove the jacket, tape over the title and author information. Then, for once in your life, read a book about which you have no pre-conceived notions.

What do you think would happen?

There are all kinds of possibilities: you might pan a book everybody else loves (your social life will be diminished), you might make inappropriate assumptions about the author (female, male, old, young, experienced, unknown?), you might mistake fiction for autobiography, you might lose a friend (Yipes! I just trashed a book written by someone whose company I cherish!), or, for once in your career, you just might write a review of great integrity, freshness, insight and importance.

You might start a trend.

Probably not

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The ROTC Uniformed Cushman Time Traveller Lands in Peterson

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The ROTC Uniformed Cushman Time Traveller Lands in Peterson

If I close my eyes, I am suddenly transported back in time more years ago than you have been alive. I have a busy if not full life in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. As a student at the University, I keep myself occupied by not studying, by being an on-air announcer at several local stations, by attending class in order to catch naps.

One class I am required to attend twice a week in full green wool uniform is the U.S.-run military program for male students called ROTC. Part of the reward for mandatory service in ROTC is the fact that the Army, needing soldiers for the neverending war in  Vietnam, has the theory that each of us will fall in love with the idea of giving up parties and romance and the good life to go to jungles far away, teaching enemies to do right.

That is why I am wearing a full Army outfit after my classes are over. That is why, this day, I hop aboard my tattered Cushman Motor Scooter and drive as far away from the campus as possible, as fast as possible, to create a breeze on this 80-degree afternoon. The duct-taped vehicle is my only means of physical escape from T-Town.

I head for the nearby tiny town of Peterson because I know how to get there. And because that’s where my grandfather’s general store is located.

I pull up next to the Sinclair pumps, park the scooter out of harm’s way, take a look at Grandmother Effie’s flowers in the front yard, open the Miss Sunbeam Bread-bedecked screen door, and enter the store. Store and home are physically connected, and my grandparents’ lives are played out in a situation where they are never away from home, never away from work.

Uncle Brandon is down on the concrete floor, constructing shelving out of cut strips of Coca-Cola signs. Uncle Brandon looks like a cross between Stan Laurel and Will Rogers and is as funny as both of them. We palaver a bit and I go looking for Grandfather Robert. “Hey, Granddaddy, how are you?” We shake hands instead of hugging, since I am almost grown up now. “Doing OK,” he replies, monosylabically answering my questions about life, liberty and the pursuit of Grapico drinks.

I wander around, inhaling the rich aroma of mildew, kerosene, bubble gum, ripe vegetables and leather combined with the powerful fragrance of my grandfather’s ever-present cigar. I observe off-shift coal miners stopping by for a drink and a chaw on their way home. “Gimme a Dope,” one of them smiles, slipping a dime onto the counter and grabbing a bag of Tom’s Toasted Peanuts which he carefully pours down the neck of a Coca-Cola bottle. Coke is Dope in these rural parts. I salivate at the thought of that heavy salt combining with the cane sugar fizz and making an unforgettable snack.

I’ve made my visit. Shown off my ROTC uniform. Bragged about my radio jobs. Gossiped a bit. Now it’s time to head west toward Northport for my evening duties at WNPT. I am refreshed. I’ve seen my grandparents and uncle as well as postmistress Aunt Gladys, I’ve sniffed the memories of my early childhood. I am refreshed and energized.

On the highway, I wend my way back to responsibilities and the feeling of purpose that to this day I get out of going to work each day.

I want to remain in Peterson and live the quiet life. I want to be an on-air star and impress people with my talent. I want to toss this cotton-pickin’ wool uniform and hide from the draft, I yearn to date coeds, laugh with my younger siblings Tim, Rosi and Ronny, hug my mother, talk to older sister Barbara, try to get through to my stoic dad, lie abed late at night and listen to reel-to-reel tapes of Bob and Ray shows, fall asleep to the jazz emanating from WWL in New Orleans.

All these generations later, I haven’t changed. I still want to be everywhere at once, every time at once. I still am happy at end of day in my solitude, floating in memories most textured and pleasing

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Two-Shoe Morning Begets the Two-Step Dance

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The Two-Shoe Morning Begets the Two-Step Dance

Bob the Groaner rolls himself out of bed and begins searching for his shoes. It is one of those days when things don’t magically proceed as planned in Bob’s perfect-world imagination.

Bob groans, shuffles about, finally finds at least one shoe and, for a mystical moment, decides that maybe today will be a one-shoe day. This turns out not to be such a good idea, what with the limping and the off-centeredness of it all.

Finally, Bob the Groaner locates the other shoe, then contemplates the mystery of why it always takes two shoes to get through the day. This starts him thinking about Things That Come in Twos.

Let’s see, he mumbles, what else will have to come in twos today? Well, there are two socks—it just doesn’t feel right, wearing one. There are two scrambled eggs waiting with two biscuits and two paper napkins at the diner. The parking meter requires two quarters, since when does it take just fifteen minutes to eat breakfast? Two panhandlers double-team him a block apart, each inadvertently reciting the same fake story about getting stranded with no gas and needing to get back to either Jasper or Gadsden—the cities are always interchangeable.

Bob sneezes once, then again, and realizes that it’s almost impossible to sneeze just once. There now, all better.

Two ambulances whiz past, going in opposite directions—this seems vaguely counter-productive to Bob.

The salesclerk at CVS asks him for his CVS card twice, forgetting that she’s already asked him once. Later, a customer enters his shop. He says, “Good morning, how are you doing?” She says, “I’m fine, how are you?” He says, “Fine.” She says “Good. How are you?” Is anybody paying attention here? he wonders.

Just before he turns the CD player on, he automatically says, “Ah one and ah two…” An old Lawrence Welk/Stan Freberg gag that only he understands.

Reviewing his morning thus far, Bob contemplates the routines that get him up and going, and all the mindless habits that are taken for granted. Does he remember to place the right shoe on the right foot and the left shoe on the left foot? Don’t have to remember, he thinks, I just do it. Thank goodness I don’t have to figure that out from scratch each and every day.

Many decades earlier, when young, Bob has to learn to dance in order to make himself presentable at a school function. Slow dancing is imperative if he wants to get really close to a girl, so his friend Pat tries to teach him how to do the Box Step. Being a clumsy sort, he finds that too complicated. So Pat teaches him the Two Step, commenting that even a moron can do the Two Step. Pat is right, and Bob the Groaner for once does not groan during the dance—he just grins ear to ear and inhales the lovely perfumed fragrance of his date.

Life comes in twos, Bob thinks that evening. You’re born, you pass. Stuff happens in between, often in twos. You may be a two-time loser. You may be a two-timer. You may be two-faced.

As he prepares for bed this evening, he carefully places his shoes where he can easily find them, thus avoiding the serial two-thinking thoughts that distract him from his duties.

Tomorrow, something else could trigger Bob’s stream of consciousness. Maybe he’ll start thinking about Threes…three meals a day, three little pigs, the Trinity, three sheets to the wind, The Three Amigos…

Bob the Groaner groans, then smiles his goofy smile and snuggles deep into his pillow, to sleep the sleep of someone who, though off-center, at least knows how to entertain himself

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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