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A tattered page from my Red Clay Diary…

I am on the last leg of the day, trying to get into and out of the Southside grocery store and make it home for some after-work peace and quiet.

As I pass the in-house buffet line en route to the dairy section, a clerk asks whether I want to pick up supper. I brusquely tell him “no” without pausing, then glance quickly at the prepared food and see that there are three small barbecue ribs left floating in their burgundy sauce. They are calling out to me.

We need to eat something fast-foody, so I say, “Uh, sir, I think I just changed my mind.” He walks over and I point to the ribs. “Can I just buy what’s left, and nothing else?” I figure that Liz and I can have a nice meal of leftover cole slaw and the ribs before collapsing into our post-long-day stupor at home.

While the clerk is weighing and pricing my order, the pleasant woman who usually works the counter walks up.

“Long day,” I say. “Yes, long day,” she says. We always exchange pleasantries. A woman and man pass behind me, heading for the produce section, and the clerk’s eyes flash. She looks at me knowingly and says something I don’t quite understand, nodding toward the couple. I ask for a repeat, she says the same thing, which I still don’t get, but it’s obvious she’s had an emotional PING and wants to share an opinion and a confession. It’s her body language that tells me this.

“Nobody’s going to do THAT to ME,” she says. I turn around but can only see the backs of the couple.

“What do you mean?”

“Her eyes all wide like that, it’s not right,” she says.

I finally figure out that she means the woman has two black eyes.

I say, “That’s terrible,” acknowledging the fact that she thinks the woman has been abused.

“No man will ever do that to me,” she confides with set jaw.

I cluck sympathetically and mouth some platitude in empathy.

She goes on.

“My ex-husband beat me up.”

“That’s terrible,” is all I can say again, and I mean it.

Her words tumble over the counter.

“He beat me with a hammer,” she continues.

“Holy Moly,” I say to myself and lean forward to learn more.

“But I got him good,” she brags.

I wonder how a small woman like this could stand up to an abusive male probably twice her size.

“I taped him up and set him on fire when he was asleep,” she says, proudly. “He’ll never do THAT to anybody again.”

I can only do what any writer might automatically do. I ask what happened next. There’s always a sequel, since no story ever really ends, you know.

“Did they do anything to you?” I ask. Both of us know who the They is I’m referring to.

“Heck, no, why would they?” she says.

I can only nod sympathetically again, mumble something about how glad I am she lived to tell me the story, and walk on over toward the dairy section for the half and half for Liz.

I pass by the couple and see the woman’s battered eyes for the first time. I know why the sight of them triggered the cook’s story. I wonder if this is what happened to her, too.

Later, writing this down for you to read, I wonder about barbecued wife-beaters and barbecue ribs and what kind of celestial relationship they might have to one another in this enormous and rather puzzling universe


© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

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My world is bordered by an oddly-shaped wall and sheltered by an infinite dome. An Alabama wall that extends from one special point in Tuscaloosa to another in Peterson to another in West Blocton to, finally, my current home in Birmingham. The dome is always above, itself a kind of enclosure that, with the assistance of gravity, does not allow escape.

I was raised on Eastwood Avenue in T-Town, visited and played with McGee relatives on Pat McGee Road in Peterson, and with Reed relatives on Rose Lane in West Blocton. Now, 55 miles from Eastwood Avenue, I live on Birmingham’s Southside and work on nearby 3rd Avenue North, Downtown.

That’s about the size of my world. Small, isn’t it?

But within that compound, under that dome, I can go anywhere, do anything, in my imagination.

Guess I was destined to be a writer of words, a teller of tales. And mainly, I more and more find myself preaching the gospel of Paying Attention. I enjoy pointing out the wonders and perplexities of life to help fortify my hunch that no matter how small the compound, no matter how fettered the body, this world is bigger than I can ever imagine. The dome is immeasurably high.

Whenever I seek consolation or protection or sanctuary from daily travails, I turn inward. Inward is the only peaceful place, the only constant I recognize in a shifting and sometimes shifty world. And Inward is all mine, a place protected from insurrection, a special community of one that I take with me wherever I go. A place I will take with me on the day that I finally Go.

One more meandering thought:

I no longer proselytize or try to tell others what to do with their lives.

I no longer rail against the way things are, for they are what they are.

I no longer think I can change the world or even alter the course of impending train wrecks I spy all about me. Instead, I now attempt to be the best side of me.

I now believe that it is important to observe those around me and simply be available when needed.

I believe in treating each encounter as if it is the best and final encounter.

I believe in leaving a trail of goodwill and kindness.

I believe that now and then this trail will provide solace to those who are ready to notice it.

I believe in all the great and wonderful times I’ve experienced within the wall and under the dome.

I believe in saying “I love you” to those I love, each and every time I encounter them–just in case they are in doubt.

And finally, as a writer who has learned a few lessons, I believe in shutting up in order to listen to you while you tell me about your life and feelings.

Go on, I’m listening


© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

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On the Kerouac Least Heat Moon Steinbeck road to somewhere that’s not Here, parts of my mind are rattling around in an effort to remain awake and alert.

I’m driving a certain distance, watching the highway the cars the drivers the signs the markers the passing foliage, all in an effort to arrive safely and in one piece at my destination. But this bundle of alertness doesn’t take up all the space in my head, so part of me just keeps on writing and making notes, marking notations, taking imaginary selfies of both world at large and thoughts internal.

Having never driven behind myself, I don’t know what my car and I look like to someone approaching from the rear. But I do know what the rear driver and car look like because the three rearview reverse-image mirrors in my vehicle reflect scenes from a life distantly lived, distantly imagined.

The Tastykake glazed cherry pie I’m munching on provides refreshment accompanying my three-screen viewing of this rear-approaching person, and I can’t help recording details. She is dabbing at her nose with a tissue while glancing at the reflection of a car behind her. She is talking animatedly to an invisible friend, or to a small child I cannot see, or to a phone buddy…or to herself. Diagnosis of schizophrenia is a complicated thing these days, it being the case that everybody talks to the vacant air just about all the time.

The great challenge of our species is how to fill the times in between with something worthwhile, or at least something non-damaging to others. What do I do with myself during the times in between? Observing what goes on around me, fore, aft, left, right, below, above, inside, out, is something to keep me busy and out of trouble.

The Tastykake is crunchy and dribbly, the roadway running beneath my car is potholed and patchy, the sky is cloudy and gray, the car behind me is mottled and old, I the driver am also mottled and old. But the neverending road leads on, the overlapping thoughts and feelings and imaginings continue unabated.

The reverse-image driver’s rounded face is unreadable. Her eyebrows point up, like a theatre drama/tragedy mask. Her expressions alternate between wonderment and pain. But she stays the course, managing the endless highway and the endless chatter and the runny nose and the hundredfold additional sadnesses and thrills with which she must deal.

I pass by a vacant Hamburger Heaven with an enormous CLOSED sign. I wonder whether this means Heaven is closed to all hamburgers, whether there are hamburgers in Heaven, whether Heaven itself has shut down, whether the neverending road is all there is.

At last I approach the City and watch as it absorbs the sunrise morning into its cement glass metal concrete brick self, only to reflect back at me its ambient light and heat. It is familiar and comfortable. It is my Kerouac Least Heat Moon Steinbeck Tastykake destination.

I dab cherry syrup from my beard, house my rusty metal steed in its stable, grunt my way to a standing position and continue the few steps leading to today’s next adventures

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

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