The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

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The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

I am behind the Times and learning to love it.

I’ll explain.

Reading the latest newspaper is my lifelong idea of what a learned and informed person does each day. Just sitting quietly alone at home or in a diner, scanning the pulpy textured pages, wiping ink stains onto my sleeve, searching for signs of hope or discovery, looking for a laugh or a tear to rev me up for the day…that’s a routine I would not want to abandon.

Way back, when Birmingham’s daily paper self-destructed and became a jumble of unvetted unedited unproofed words shaken and thrown onto shrunken pages that appear only periodically, my days were disorienting and somewhat content-less. So, I turned to the only still-daily publication I could mostly trust—the New York Times. It arrives each day at my home, usually locate-able in the shrubbery and often dry and crisp, ready to be opened.

To my amazement, often the Times carries more relevant news about Alabama than the News does. Unlike the News, no anonymous snarky comments are allowed or respected, and the Times’ internal editors are its greatest critics and proofreaders. It’s fun to see a paper actively trying to be better each day. It is comforting to know there are actually well-trained and experienced reporters and op-ed writers working away.

But, as with any wonderful change of habit, there are adjustments to be made.

The Times has to wend its way from New York to Birmingham, so through whatever elaborate process that entails, I get the news at least a day late. If this is Tuesday, that means I am reading Sunday evening’s and yesterday morning’s news. I am used to that, but wait!

Unlike the tradition of early delivery  in the wee hours of the morning, the Times carrier arrives as late as 9 a.m., which means I am already on the road to work…so I have to retrieve yesterday’s paper to read during the day, leaving this morning’s paper to be examined tomorrow.

Are you following me?

Basically, I am reading day-and-a-half-late-or-later news, way after it occurs. This leaves me out of step with everybody else. And actually, it is kind of nice.

Getting the news late means that I am basically a historian reviewing the world with some distance and perspective. The Times becomes a kind of daily weekly magazine.

After listening to folks wringing their hands about events over which they have no control, I get to quietly review what really happened through a lens that includes everything I’ve heard that has happened since. How can I explain this?

Since I know all the subsequent happenings  I can read the first reportage with a little more sagacity and perspective. It’s a kind of time-travel. The Times is a Times Capsule, freezing things in place long after they  happen, prepared to be examined by the likes of me. If I time-travel back two days and read the news, I can surprise those around me by predicting what will happen day after tomorrow. Uh, just take my word for it.

Anyhow, thank goodness for the Times. Its delivery to my home helps me maintain a tradition of calmly reviewing the day, after I’ve heard nothing but randomly excitable people repeating what they just read on Twitter or Facebook, what they have just been instructed to think by Fox and Rush.

I need a calming anchor in my day, and this is it


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Southside Progressive Buffet

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Southside Progressive Buffet

Not awake enough to face opening the shop this morning, I take a detour on the way to work and hope for some quiet reading time before showtime begins.

New York Times tucked under my arm, I negotiate with two McDonald’s clerks, finally obtaining a tray complete with paper placemat, icy water, scrambled egg, grits, sausage patty, biscuit, and some packets of substances dyed to look like butter and jelly.

I secure my bottom against the seat of the chair, spread my goodies about me, chastising myself for failing to bring earplugs to stave off the outrageously artless and booming music cut through with the distorted voices of employees making various jumbled announcements.

I say my mantra to reduce the ambient sounds inside my head and go through the ritual of preparing to eat and read.

As I try to ignore the world around me, things begin to catch my eye.

Two tables away, a middle-aged man keeps getting up to cross the room. I follow him with my eyes. He walks to the large trash receptacle, opens it up, bends over to rifle through previous customers’ leavings, retrieves a cup, fills it at the drink dispenser, and returns to his table, talking constantly to no visible person.

I assume he is speaking into one of those ear pod devices, but this turns out not to be the case. His animated conversation is with himself, or with a friend invisible to me.

After a bit, he returns to the trash, digs out the remains of a sandwich and commences to have breakfast.

I try to concentrate on my own breaking of the fast. I read the sordid news of the day. But part of me continues tracking the activities of this unnamed man.

This is not exactly something new to me. Now and again I see pedestrians near my downtown shop, unselfconsciously digging through concrete trash containers to assemble the makings of a decent meal. I long ago learned to keep to myself, just as they are plying their temporary trades by not intruding on my space. It’s a mutual demonstration of respect and manners.

But all this does remind me of the days, decades ago, when my kids and I would tour the drive-throughs of Southside Birmingham, putting together our own special dinners—each getting exactly the right thing. I preferred McDonald’s fries, Captain D’s catfish filet, Burger King’s Whopper Junior, Mac’s One-Stop’s Diet Dr. Pepper. The kids all had their special combinations, too. Once we were satisfied, we’d find a place at Phelan Park or the front porch of our house and dig in. We called it the Southside Progressive Buffet. Life was complete.

At any one moment, several billion people are eating what they can obtain, mostly enjoying their camaraderie or their alone time, doing the best they can do at staving off the encroaching, meandering thing called Activities of Daily Living.

And in silent homage, some of us quietly do our part—tip a little extra, donate something special, support causes that truly assist, pay a little more attention to those whose dignity is just as important as ours

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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Downtown: The Good, The Gooder, The Bestest

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The Good the Better and the Bestest

Every day is Tall Tale Day in Mister Reed’s Neighborhood.

I’m talking about all those The Glass Is Half Empty/The Glass Is Half Full stories that I listen to, here on Third Avenue North. These are stories about The City, and they are all a fun and sometimes disturbing mixture of urban mythology, high expectations, observation, low expectations, and a healthy salting of real stuff.

From the Red Clay Diary:

A rough-hewn woman with a tattoo (we’re talking sailor-biker bar type of tattoo, not surburban I-gotta-have-one-because-it’s-IN tattoo) says to me, “I wanted to make sure there’s a place to park Down Here (Down Here being Downtown), cause of the, you know, the stuff.”

Playing naïve, I say, “What do you mean, The Stuff?” and she says, “Well, I don’t want no crackhead jumping me,” to which I reply, “Oh, you must mean the homeless panhandlers—don’t worry about them, they’re harmless…and besides, I’m more scared to walk around in the Galleria parking lot at night than I’ve ever been, walking around Downtown at night.” I just have to rub it in and get my commercial in—quickly, before she disappears.

“Oh, yeah?” she says with interest, then kind of drops the subject, only she’s still in a hurry to hit the road. She only lingers because the shop is so damned fascinating to the uninitiated.

Earlier, a between-flight flight attendant comes into the shop for the first time, beaming ear to ear. After she has stayed a while, she volunteers, “Birmingham is one of my favorite cities!” This is the kind of day when I need to hear something good, so I urge her to say more. “Well, my favorite restaurant in the whole world is here, the streets are clean, the air is nice, the people are REAL friendly, and I feel so safe, walking around and taking the Dart.”

I just soak all this in, because it’s got to tide me over during the next three stories I will hear about how run-down or corrupt or ugly the city is.

I know the “ugly city” is not true, YOU know it’s not true, but it’s almost frightening how many people mouth off about Downtown without actually ever having spent a few hours touring and shopping and eating and just TALKING with people.

Mister Reed’s Neighborhood is either half-full or brimful of goodness, or it’s half-full or brimful of badness. Why is this so? Is it a matter of who’s doing the observing? Are both factoids true simultaneously?

Or should we simply go around, aggressively telling the good, the great, half-full-of-goodness stories, until they become contagious?

Bishop Spong once said that each city is as good or as bad as you expect it to be.

Wonder if he was right

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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The Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope Time Traveller

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The Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope Time Traveller

When he was a kid he used to dig into all those little classified ads and small display ads that were everywhere within the magazines and paperback books he read.

Back then, he would send off for anything he could afford and he would order anything that was free because he liked to get things in the mail…he liked to receive packages and envelopes from faraway places…he liked to open those packages and envelopes, never knowing what was inside each of them because by the time they arrived he’d already forgotten what he had ordered.

He enjoyed reading ads that touted services and items he felt he could never afford, and he always kept a mental list of things he would purchase if he suddenly had the means to get anything he wanted, and he even wondered how he would feel if he could purchase any and everything he wanted.

If that were the situation what could he hope for thereafter… what would his dreams be like after he had bought up everything in every ad in every magazine?

As he grew up and passed young adulthood, whizzed by middle age and verged on the edge of ultimate maturity he still liked to dream about those mail-order things he never got when he was a child. He daydreamed about the faraway places he would never travel to.

Now, as an adult, he at last could afford those mail-order items. But where were they?

The ads were no longer the same. The mail-order stuff he could buy now was different, inexplicable, not of his generation and time.

One day he passed by an old junk shop and saw a stack of magazines…the kind of magazines he read when he was oh so young…the magazines that had lurid pulp illustrations on their covers…the magazines that were packed with adventure and fantasy and humor and…ads.

On impulse, he bought those magazines and took them home to dream. A harmless and pleasurable act.

And one day, when he wasn’t really thinking too seriously about what he was doing, he bought some antique penny postcards and started mailing off requests for free things and more information, to the addresses that existed only when he was young, addresses with zone numbers in them, to companies that were so important in their respective communities that they had not needed street addresses—just the name of the city and state, you know. The very act of filling out those postcards was so nostalgic, so natural.

Then, he felt satisfied and drifted back into his memories of childhood and imagined what it would be like to actually receive mail from those long-departed places.

And one day, the packages and envelopes he had ordered started pouring in and he knew at that moment that he was at last in a place where no one could deny him his dreams and fancies…and after that he went about smiling to himself quite a bit more than one actually should smile at himself in times like these

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.

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